An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60820E
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Loreto College was founded in 1833, one of a number of Loreto schools established in Ireland in the nineteenth century by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM). The school was housed at first in a building in Harcourt Street, which soon proved too small. The premises on St Stephen’s Green was purchased, and the school moved there in 1841, expanding into an adjoining house in the 1970s. There was a boarding section in the school which was closed many years ago. A tragic fire in 1986 virtually destroyed the school and took the lives of six Loreto sisters. The decision was made to stay ‘on the Green’, and for two years the school was temporarily housed in nearby Harcourt Street, while the re-building took place.
In 1988 the college re-opened and has continued to educate girls in the refurbished, extended and modernised buildings on St Stephen’s Green. The college has developed in many ways since the 1980s. The challenge of maintaining Georgian buildings, utilising them as school rooms, and blending these premises with the more modern sections dating from the 1920s to the present, has been met by successive principals and boards of management. The secondary school has, at present, 563 students and over forty staff, and is currently led by its first lay principal.
The school, located in three adjoining buildings at 53-55 St Stephen’s Green, has a city centre location. However, the majority of its students, drawn from a wide geographical area, largely come from north and south Dublin suburbs, north County Dublin and County Meath. A smaller number of students come from the local, inner-city area. These have been the traditional catchment areas for the school over many years. Each year, approximately thirty students from the Loreto Junior School (on the same site) enter first year making up about one-third of the annual intake. There is a small intake of students, generally from other schools, into other classes, when vacancies exist. Loreto College is a traditional school in that families, over generations, have tended to send their daughters there, and the community largely comprises siblings, daughters of staff members and of past students, and nieces of Loreto sisters. A small number of students from abroad attends the school, usually because their families have moved to Ireland, either temporarily or permanently.
Ninety-six girls are admitted to the new first year each autumn. They are divided into four class groups, and this remains the pattern for the school. Class size remains at this level, and year groups in the school do not exceed ninety-six students.
Loreto College is part of a system of schools whose ethos is influenced by an order whose founder had strong and enduring views on religion, education, a caring society and positive Christian values. The Loreto philosophy informs the ethos of the school, its board of management, policies and leadership in many respects. It has been referred to, for that reason, as a ‘small school within a big school’, and aspires to create a caring society among its members. The board of management summarised the ethos of Loreto College as being ‘a school within which every child can shine’.
The mission statement of the school contains many elements of the Loreto philosophy. The aim is to provide a rich and diverse curriculum catering for the needs of each individual student in an atmosphere of mutual respect and justice. Reference is made to a holistic education in which students strive for excellence in the pursuit of knowledge. Social concerns and spiritual values are central to the philosophy while sporting and cultural endeavours are also encouraged. The school challenges every student to realise her full potential and to recognise the dignity of each human being.
All of the activities in the school, from the curriculum to extra-curricular activities, from codes and policies to staff, board, parent and student meetings, strive to reach the aims and philosophies encapsulated in the vision of the school. They are successful in that quest, to judge from the evidence found in students’ achievements, the day-to-day life in the school, and the atmosphere in Loreto College that is constantly referred to by staff and students alike.
Policies strive to be fair and yet efficient, codes are equitably created and implemented, the daily life of the school and the atmosphere which pervades its activities all convey the mission of the school, and there is clearly a strong element of leadership and collaboration in achieving this. There is a clear religious life in the school, in keeping with the Loreto philosophy and practice, and this is to be seen in school masses, in Religious Education and in many extra-curricular activities and projects.
The leadership, pastoral and administrative systems seek to implement the ethos and mission of the school. The principal and deputy principal embody the theory and practice of the school’s philosophy and characteristic spirit by the manner in which they run the school.
In 2002 a Loreto education meeting took place in Kolkata in India. At this meeting a set of common international guidelines were drawn up. This document presents a series of challenges to management and staff in all Loreto schools. Twice a year, principals of Loreto schools come together for inservice during which the Kolkata document, and progress on its principles, is discussed. Evidence of its importance and implementation were seen in Loreto College.
The board of management, which meets regularly during the school year, comprises eight members: four represent the trustees (of whom one is the chairperson); two members represent the parents; and two represent the teachers. The principal, who is non-voting, is secretary to the board. She presents a report to each meeting of the board of management, and takes minutes of the meetings. She works closely with the chairperson of the board. Letters to parents, and newsletters, are sent by the principal in her capacity as secretary to the board. The board has a three year term of office, and teachers and parents’ representatives are nominated at a staff meeting and at an annual general meeting of the parents’ association respectively.
The board, which receives inservice training from the Loreto Education Trust and the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), is clearly aware of its responsibilities and role. It gives time and consideration at its meetings to planning, to current and future needs of the buildings and equipment, to policies and codes as brought before it through the principal for discussion and ratification, to current and immediate needs, and to items referred to it by the principal in her report. Where there are serious breaches of discipline, or difficulties and changing circumstances in the lives of students, these items are brought before the board by the principal.
Finance is dealt with, on a day-to-day basis by the full-time bursar, who furnishes financial reports and accounts to the board. The board considers financial matters and calls a finance sub-committee at regular intervals. The accounts are externally audited annually, and these are then presented to the board, and in turn to the Loreto Education Trust and to the JMB.
The board discusses policy documents and codes for the school: these are analysed, if necessary amended or redrafted, and finally ratified. Current issues have included health and safety and dignity in the workplace. If necessary, votes are taken on issues before the board, but this is reported not to be a regular occurrence as consensus is the usual means of concluding matters. It was clear, from the meeting with the board, that all parties voice their opinions and that the board is very active in discussing matters regarding all aspects of the school, and its future. This is to be commended.
All policies are carefully analysed and discussed by the board before being ratified. An example of this is the admissions policy, which is specific and well-drafted, making the criteria for admission to the school clear and understandable.
In planning for the future of the school, the board has discussed, in recent meetings, curriculum development and review, updating of computers, extra classrooms, continued refurbishment of science laboratories, and the upgrading of home economics and art facilities.
Communication to and from the board is primarily through the principal. A report is agreed and presented to the parents’ association, who also issue their own newsletter ‘Green Scene’. There is clearly good and positive communication between the various interests represented on the board.
While the board is committed to projects which will improve the fabric and facilities of the school, there is perhaps an over-emphasis on that area. Planning in regard to the future policies and directions of the school, as well as a mid-term to long-term plan for Loreto College, receive less stress. It is recommended that planning in these areas, which comprise the forward strategy of the school, become a priority for the board of management.
The leadership and management of the school are carried out effectively and in a caring and co-operative way by the leadership teams and by the staff in general. The school operates effectively and the senior management team is visible and accessible. Year heads and class tutors are frequently in touch with their classes and in turn discuss the ongoing needs and progress of their students with the principal and deputy principal. This is to be applauded, and accounts for the good relationships which exist between management and staff.
The principal and deputy put together the deployment and timetabling needs for the school year. Their requirements when finalised are contracted to a computer operator who constructs the timetable in collaboration with the principal. This is reported to have worked well in its first year of operation, and is under review as it progresses. The principal and deputy meet every morning at a set time, then meet informally during the day, and finally review the day when they come together after school. In this way their collaboration and communication in regard to all school matters is kept up to date, and enable outstanding matters to be attended to or resolved by the end of each school day. When student absences are collated in the morning, these have to be followed up and the management team stays in contact with the office and the year heads regarding this. This is good practice although it is possible that too many people are involved with student attendance procedures.
Both principal and deputy choose to teach, to keep in touch with both the students and their subjects. While this increases their overall work-load, they regard it as being helpful in terms of knowing the students and in keeping in touch with their subject areas, which is why they continue the practice.
Staff meetings are held regularly. There are usually five meetings per year and they have a detailed agenda. The chair of the staff meeting rotates, as does the role of secretary. Neither the principal nor deputy chairs these meetings. It has been the practice in recent times to divide the meeting into smaller groups to discuss planning issues, subject department business, or other matters that arise. The staff come together again at the end of the meeting for a plenary session. This system is reported to have been successful and also has the effect of encouraging all teachers to participate in the various groups, thereby having an input to the staff meeting as a whole. This is good practice.
There is evidence of good communication and collaboration between the principal and the deputy and they act together, or in complementary roles, as the situation demands. This is commendable management practice and benefits the school as a whole.
In-school management includes the assistant principals (APs) and the special duties teachers (SDTs). There are currently eight AP posts and eleven SDTs. While these groups of teachers do not generally meet as a management team, they have diverse duties and carry these out well. Of the eight assistant principals, six are year heads and carry out administrative, disciplinary and pastoral roles with their respective years, while the remaining two APs have duties regarding the school year book and the management and development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The year heads meet together weekly and are joined by the principal and deputy at those meetings. Their duties regarding their students are broad and ongoing, but they do not, as APs, carry duties beyond those of their roles as year heads; that is to say that their role in middle management could be developed.
The SDTs carry out a very wide and varied range of duties, from examination organisation to Transition Year (TY) coordinator, and from health and safety to School Development Planning (SDP). The workloads vary enormously in SDT duties but all are making a significant input to the life and organisation of the school. Dedication to allocated duties is a hallmark of the school, and many of these teachers are also voluntary tutors of classes. The time spent in their duties, though obviously varying from time of year to focus of activity, is considerable, and their assistance is appreciated by the senior management team.
There is a review of posts meeting due in the near future, and there are several issues which will be discussed and dealt with at that stage. It is clear that the jobs have grown over the years so that the spread of work is not always logical, sometimes overlaps, and occasionally gives a heavy burden to an individual. This will provide material for thought and planning at that meeting.
While the year heads meet as a group as described, there is no APs meeting or SDTs meeting during the year. It is not clear that holders of these posts regard themselves as part of school management. They see themselves as assisting management, which is a different matter. The fact that they are all in many and various ways contributing to the management, organisation and running of the school, needs to be analysed more closely. The roles of post-holders need to be more clearly defined for the future.
Students in Loreto College are effectively managed as a school body, as year groups and as individuals. The year head system, in place for some time, is effective and consistent in looking after and managing the students. The newly-revived tutor system assists the year heads in their work in the pastoral sense, and the role of tutors as SPHE teachers is developing at present. This will link pastoral care, daily contact and the SPHE programme together, which is good practice.
The tutors do not have a disciplinary role: this is left to the year heads and the senior management team. The tutors are therefore more easily able to become involved in the SPHE area with each class and each student. The job of tutor is linked more to the teaching role and is intended to be a support system for the students. As yet, students do not appear clear as to whether they should refer in the first instance to tutor, year head or prefect. This ought to be clarified in the coming year.
The code of behaviour for students has been laid down, amended and updated over the years, fully utilising the consultation process with the education partners in the school. It is a logical and positive document, accentuating the principal virtues and traits which the school wishes to inculcate in its students. The overall headings under which the code is written, comprise ‘sharing, working, giving, showing’ and each of these attributes is reflected in the code. The document itself is short, positive and stresses what students ought to do rather than what they ought not to do. There is a positive section on health and safety for students and the sanctions paragraph at the end is short and specific. There is a clear ladder of referral in the school, and most misdemeanours are handled at class or year level. More serious breaches are referred to the principal or deputy. Parents (and students aged eighteen or over) are also advised in this document of their rights under sections 28 and 29 of the Education Act 1998, and of the role of the board of management under the Education Welfare Act 2000, should the situation require it.
Communication with parents is good in Loreto College. There are annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. Information meetings regarding student subject choice, higher options, and programmes such as Transition Year are also held. The parents receive written reports on their daughter’s progress each term.
The parents’ association has an annual general meeting with a guest speaker and an opportunity to elect representatives to the board when required. The parents’ association newsletter, ‘Green Scene’, advertises their activities and records projects and recent meetings. It is currently being proposed that the parents’ and the school newsletters merge under the title of the parents’ publication.
The school does not have a prospectus, although it does issue a folder of relevant documents to prospective parents of the school. It is currently planned to create a school website, and it is recommended that this would be a suitable location for the prospectus and a web-based version of the newsletter, whether of the merged or separate variety. The prospectus could also incorporate the variety of forms and information issued to parents prior to their daughter’s arrival at the school. This co-ordination of information through the communication medium of both print and website is recommended as a positive way forward. The school also publishes an excellent year book, currently the responsibility of an AP, to which many teachers and students make major contributions. It is well illustrated and constitutes a very valuable record of the school and its students from year to year. This is to be commended.
The student journal provides a further means of communication. At the back of this book are tear-out pages for parents and school to communicate about absence, lateness, work and progress. This system is used and is reported to work well. A mobile-phone based initiative called ‘text-a-parent’ is used to alert parents to an event, or a notice being sent to them. This positive use of ICT has met with approval by both parents and school. These communication methods are to be commended. Parents report that they appreciate the ease with which they can contact the school and the attention and assistance given to them regarding their daughters. It is clear that there is good communication between school and parents and this is applauded.
The school communicates at several levels with the community and agencies outside the school. There is the link with the Loreto schools through the Loreto Education Trust, which not only provides information and communication but also organises annual inservice courses in management and for new teachers, among others. The management team also takes part in principals, deputies and management organisations, and with agencies for social and charitable work for staff and students. The school is very involved with bodies which run projects, competitions, extra-curricular activities which mutually benefit the students and other institutions.
Great care is taken in the deployment of staff each year to balance the needs of subjects and to address areas where there may be needs in the school as regards curriculum and spread of subjects. Teachers are generally very well qualified to teach their subjects, and some have changed direction in their careers and have taken on different specialisms. Teachers report that they have sufficient time for teaching their subject in almost all instances, although there are a few cases where the balance of timetabling class periods across the week, or the provision of sufficient time for individual subjects, has not yet been possible. Some of these issues arise through the subject inspection reports and the matter has been discussed with teachers and management. Recommendations in those reports refer to these matters. The school complies with Department requirements regarding staffing and tuition hours.
The allocation of rooms, in such an old building with varied sizes of classroom, poses a problem which has been generally very well dealt with. The policy of changing to teacher or subject-based classrooms some years ago has been largely successful and is supported by most teachers. Surprisingly, perhaps, in a school building of such complexity, very little time is lost in students travelling between classrooms, and punctuality was observed in almost all instances. This is to be commended. A positive result of this system is that rooms give evidence, by the material on their walls, of the ownership and interest shown by teachers in their subject bases. This is good practice and its development is to be encouraged.
At present, there is a large number of new teachers on the staff, fourteen in all. Some of these are studying for their Higher Diploma in Education, but the majority have joined the staff from other schools in the past few months. The school organises induction for new teachers, supplies them with an excellent hand-book, and also offers them the facility of a Loreto-run course for new teachers. Some have availed of the latter, and all report that they have benefited from the induction process in the school. This is to be commended, especially as the newer teachers state that they feel most supported by the existing staff and management, and have been made to feel part of the school very quickly.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is in operation at many levels in Loreto College. Teachers attend courses held by their subject associations and the school supports them in this. There is good attendance at inservice courses provided by the Department of Education and Science through the various subject support services, particularly where there are new syllabuses being introduced. Several members of staff have taken part in ICT courses, through the education centres and the National Council for Technology in Education (NCTE), and this is to be applauded. It is clear that many teachers are upskilling themselves and they are to be encouraged in this as it enhances their teaching methods and assists them in keeping pace with curricular and syllabus change.
In recent years there has been major development in the buildings and facilities in Loreto College. This development can be seen in the provision of new and valuable facilities and resources for the students. These include science facilities, updating of specialist areas and the resource centre. The parents were instrumental, with the board, in the creation of the all-weather sports pitch which has reduced the amount of time students were required to travel to train for their sports. The sports hall is an excellent facility as is the recent development of a free-standing building with independent facilities for lectures, activities and meetings.
Much attention and work has gone into updating and improving the science laboratories: one was refurbished in 2005 and another was updated this year with the help of the Department’s summer works scheme. This has been most successful and it is now hoped to go further and refurbish the third laboratory in the coming year. This initiative is to be commended.
The resource centre is a very good development in which the school library and the ICT room are adjacent, and complement each other in their functions. Students can use the library, consult the internet, use computers for writing projects, and access careers material, all in the same area. Two part-time librarians ensure that help and advice are at hand for students, and the resource venture is to be applauded.
ICT is being developed well in the school. A new suite of computers has been installed in the ICT/resource centre, and there are older computers available in other areas for use by teachers and by students. This is a positive use of resources. The number of data projectors is increasing and it is hoped that this will assist in developing the use of ICT in several different subjects. The school is to be encouraged in this policy and teachers are commended for their work so far in ICT. There are many ways in which ICT has assisted teaching and learning in the school, and its spread to all areas is recommended.
Teachers have put great efforts into developing their rooms and displaying both student work and subject-relevant material to assist students in studying their subjects. This is good practice which is to be commended.
The good condition of the school facilities and the work being put into classrooms, public areas, sports facilities and the grounds bear testimony to the excellent work and standards of the maintenance and cleaning staff, and the backing they receive from management.
The administrative area is similarly kept up to date: ICT was introduced some years ago into the administration of the school and its development has helped in keeping the school abreast of modern developments. It is recommended that the school complete the updating of office systems. The financial administration is carried out by the bursar who is also dealing with modernised systems and this is to be applauded.
Health and safety are the responsibility of all on the premises but the special duties post for this ensures that this area is under specific management. The health and safety statement is up to date and there are sufficient notices and warnings around the school to alert all the occupants as to precautions and evacuation procedures. Fire drills take place on a regular basis and the evacuation time for clearing the building safely is reported to be satisfactory. This is good practice. It is also noted that the school has been devising ways of keeping students’ bags and possessions out of public access areas, and those involved in this initiative are to be applauded.
School planning has been undertaken in Loreto College since its official inception in 1999. Under three principals since then, there has been gradual development of school planning as a process. School development planning moved forward in Loreto College in 2003, with the circulation of questionnaires and the establishment of new priorities for planning. In that phase it was planned to review school uniform, establish a students’ council, work on anti-bullying policy, discipline and communication, and to set planning on a more formal basis.
The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) was involved in assisting the school at this stage with its development plans. The plans referred to above and some further additions including learning support and the creation of a student journal were worked on as priorities. An SDT post coordinating school planning was created and the process was put on a more formal footing. Planning was discussed at staff meetings and progress was made.
By this stage there was a definite ‘static’ plan in existence which dealt with policies, codes and general school documentation. In 2005-2006 there was a further initiative, involving SDPI. It was decided initially to concentrate on subject departments and to address the organisation and updating of the teaching and learning of subjects in the school.
Earlier this year the planning meeting, facilitated by SDPI, sought to prioritise further the plans for the school. The outcome of the meeting was that such areas as a review of posts of responsibility (this is a specific process to be considered independently but also as an overall part of school planning), ICT, curriculum overload, communication, student welfare, and inclusion of all students, were to be the principal focus for work by the school.
Through staff meetings, year head meetings, and at board of management level, there is a great deal of thought given to review and self-evaluation in Loreto College. The current phase of school development planning involves all subject departments in review and evaluation in their own specific areas and in the school in general. The continuation and development of these activities is to be encouraged as a means to overall school self-evaluation for the future.
From the outset the board of management and the senior management team have been deeply involved in the process which is now reaching a critical point, as there are several major areas to work on, as detailed above. The coordinator is now to be supported by a planning committee or core team, and this will greatly reduce the heavy load of coordinating all school planning issues.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Currently, in conjunction with staff meetings, which break up into smaller groups for the purpose, the teaching and learning part of the plan is being developed, while the other items identified above, are being taken on by the principal, staff and planning coordinator. The school has taken planning seriously, has developed many well-thought-out policy documents and is in the process of updating others. It is vitally important, on an administrative note, that all policies and codes should be clearly dated and marked as to whether they are draft documents. This will clarify the process for the future. It is also recommended that the support team for the coordinator be given specific duties and ways in which they can move the process forward and relieve the coordinator of some of the burden of the many aspects of school planning.
The assistance given by the SDPI team at their most recent planning meeting should be implemented in order to make realities out of the plans being discussed. A realistic timeframe needs to be adopted to succeed with the plans proposed.
Loreto College has a broad and balanced, though not all-embracing, curriculum in place. There are curricular areas which are developing and others for which there is management intention to expand, for example, Applied Mathematics and Classics. The board of management observed that the curriculum suits the students in the college and that they achieve very good standards across the board. There is a strong tradition of academic excellence in the school and there is a desire to succeed which was evident in the teaching and learning observed in the school. The school succeeds in providing a good curriculum which satisfies the needs of most students, and is in compliance with the Department regulation as expressed in Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.
It is clear that the curriculum is neither narrow nor limited, as the breadth of activity is strong across the spectrum and in many departments, as well as being strongly supported by an excellent extra-curricular programme. This reinforces the educational experience available to the students and is commented on by staff, students and parents alike.
Some subjects have not been available due to lack of demand or resources, but one of those, Applied Mathematics, has been restored by means of collaboration with a nearby school. This cooperative effort whereby a further subject can be provided is to be commended. There are other areas and other programmes which are not currently available in the school, but it is clear that, where possible, the school will discuss these or make efforts to introduce or re-introduce such items. These ideas should be agenda items for the school development planning committee.
The problem of what is described in the school as curriculum overload has been addressed in part by requiring students to make some subject choices before entering first year in the school. This is achieved by inviting parents or guardians of students about to enter first year to an information meeting in the spring before the student enters the school. The selection of compulsory and optional subjects is explained to parents, and there is a broad choice with a solid core. This year it is reported that 100% satisfaction was achieved in allocating subject choices.
Selection of subjects for Transition Year (TY) is reasonably easily achieved, as the TY is optional but taken by almost all students. The choices within the TY are often back to back, or rolling modules, enabling a great variety of choices to be provided. The TY programme is extremely flexible and very well constructed, leading to great praise for the year from parents, students and teachers. Again, as with SDP, the core team or support committee for TY should be encouraged to take more of the work of organising and running the year as it is a huge undertaking currently for the coordinator. The very success of the TY has created this situation and it is recommended that the support mechanisms be strengthened in this area.
In approaching their Leaving Certificate years, the students have to undertake a major subject choice process. This is greatly assisted for them by the support given by year heads, guidance and management, as well as by all the subject teachers. There is an information meeting for parents in February before students enter fifth year. Students are given information and assistance by each subject teacher and by the guidance counsellor after which they select their preferences. Again, as with first year, the fifth year student cohort has achieved 100% satisfaction with availability of subjects. This is difficult to do and is to be applauded. There are currently fifteen optional subjects available outside the core subjects which include RE, PE and Career Education as well as Irish, English and Mathematics.
The spread of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities available to all students constitute one of the great strengths of the college.
The strongest aspect of the extra-curricular activities is their breadth and diversity: every available field of endeavour is included in the programme which students may experience. It would appear that every student is involved in both co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in some form or other. There is a great variety of games and sports to select from, and the school excels in many of these. The trophy cabinet bears witness to many generations of success in this area, and it is to be applauded. The school also has a very strong association with the Young Scientist events going back over many years, and the students’ roll of honour in that area is exceptional. A vast amount of energy, enthusiasm and support is given to students in these areas.
This is also true of the Young Social Innovators, the Young Entrepreneurs and in debating and public speaking. Again the trophies on display show many years of success in these fields. Participation of the students in Model United Nations, and also in the Gaisce awards, is to be applauded. The school has a well-deserved reputation for excellence and performance in music – choral, orchestral and instrumental, and the students perform in many venues, whether it be a feis, a mass, or a concert. During the time of the evaluation, the first lunch-time concert of the year took place in the school, and the annual school mass was held in a nearby church.
The students also participate in social, justice and religious extra-curricular areas, including ‘Mission Possible’, Amnesty International projects, and Fair Trade activities. Some of these are generated by the Religious Education department, where students are also involved in Loreto activities and projects. What is most important here is that students are encouraged to be involved, to question and to be active in their learning. This is highly commendable, as is the emphasis on non-competitive as well as competitive activities
There are many links both through Loreto contacts and local branches of other organisations to associate the students with the world outside their school. There are community activities and there is also involvement with charities, some of which was taking place during the evaluation. The school also maintains its link, established under Cooperation North in 1986, with Glenlola College, Bangor. This is to be commended.
There was strong participation in languages week, including competitions and language tutorials for students and teachers. The involvement of all members of the school community in this activity is to be applauded as a serious effort to become involved in a practical project.
The most important aspect of this programme is the high level of participation by both students and teachers in the process. A great deal of effort and skill is required to keep such a programme going and the staff are most generous in their input. This is appreciated by the students who certainly appear to enjoy all the activities they can participate in and benefit from.
Subject department planning is collaborative and extensive. There are regular department planning meetings, which have an agreed agenda and recorded minutes. The provision of time for this support to subject planning is commended. There is a subject-co-ordinator for all of the subjects evaluated.
Much good practice in this area is being implemented. For example, in some department meetings, time is allocated to exchanging resources. This practice particularly facilitates new teachers.
Exemplary subject department planning has been developed in some areas by collaborative team-work. Teachers have collaborated to develop common long-term plans. However, some areas such as curriculum content, learning objectives, effective teaching methodologies and resource provision should be reviewed and updated for some subjects. The work done to date on subject planning is commended.
All subject department plans contained details of approaches to aid students with special educational needs (SEN). Some subject departments should plan further in the area of differentiation for the mixed-ability groups by developing a bank of appropriate resources. In some subjects an additional class group is formed. This ensures that class groups remain small and students can follow a level appropriate to their abilities. This excellent support for students is highly commended.
The extensive planning in place for implementation of the Transition Year (TY) programme is noteworthy. The programme includes self-development and leadership skills, research techniques, project work and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) applications. In some subjects it is recommended that the TY plan should be updated to detail the actual taught programme.
There was good planning for innovative use of ICT in the classroom. Some subject areas were introducing ICT into the classroom on a phased basis, while others were planning to develop their own competencies in the use of ICT in lessons. This is highly commended. Printed material was professionally produced with the aid of ICT and some interesting visual items had been sourced on the internet.
Best practice was demonstrated in the consistent and thorough preparation for the lessons observed. In some subjects topic specific worksheets were designed according to the desired learning outcomes for the lessons.
Lessons were well structured and lesson time was used very efficiently. There were high expectations of work ethic in classes. Student-teacher relationships were very positive and there was strong enthusiasm for the subject matter of lessons. The pace of learning was appropriate both to the topic and the ability of the group. The purpose of lessons was established from the start of class so that students were aware of the work to be covered. This is highly commended. There was evidence that the syllabuses in all subject areas were being well covered.
The mixed-ability setting worked very well as the students were well motivated and students of different ability were challenged to keep up. Teachers constantly moved around the classroom and used the opportunity provided by group or individual work to monitor progress. A feature of the majority of lessons was the very good student participation so that all students were actively involved in their lessons and learning.
All students were included in questioning and students were willing and comfortable enough to ask questions also. The questions used varied in format and were challenging and affirmative. Question and answer sessions were used to recap on previous learning and to check and ensure comprehension. Students were challenged to think about their existing knowledge and experiences of a particular topic and this was built on in the subsequent development of the concept. Questioning was used effectively to determine an understanding of the tasks set for students. In this regard teachers are recommended to challenge students to expand their vocabulary of subject specific terminology. The use of higher-order questions allowed students to build on their prior knowledge, justify and explain their thinking and methods.
A range of effective and varied teaching methodologies was used to develop and reinforce learning. The board and overhead projectors were effectively used to support learning by integrating oral and writing skills. A variety of methodologies was observed integrating the various language skills to very good effect. Much active and interactive learning was observed. This is highly commended. There was a good balance between theory and practice where appropriate in that the information being given by the teacher was integrated with appropriate student activities. Learning was reinforced in some lessons through teacher-led demonstrations and student demonstrations. Teachers are recommended to identify and avail of opportunities to integrate ICT where appropriate into lessons.
Students displayed familiarity and competence with the concepts and skills necessary to complete their courses and it was clear that they had a very good knowledge of their course content. They readily engaged with class activities and were purposeful in their work. For example a thematic approach facilitated the integration of the different language skills.
In all lessons an orderly learning environment was maintained and lessons were conducted in a warm friendly atmosphere of mutual respect. Students worked hard and discipline was very good. There was evidence of a good rapport and mutual respect between teachers and students. Teachers were generally diligent and enthusiastic in their teaching which had a motivational effect on students.
High standards are expected and achieved in the quality and content of student written work. Modes of assessment include question and answer sessions, the setting and correction of homework, class tests and end-of-term examinations.
There was evidence that the school homework policy was well implemented on a daily basis. A review of student copies revealed evidence of homework being assigned, corrected and annotated. This practice enables students to develop and strengthen their own learning.
Parents are kept well informed through use of the school journal, school reports, phone contact where necessary and annual parent-teacher meetings. Transition Year students receive reports in January and June, while all other students receive reports at Christmas, Easter and summer. This good practice focuses students and keeps them motivated in their work. Some subject departments apply a system of continuous assessment and this practice is commended. A variety of modes of assessment are used by teachers during classes and at the end of units of work. These include informal assessment during classes through observation, questioning and the level of engagement of students in the completion of set tasks.
Students in the school are well motivated and have high expectations. The vast majority of students choose and achieve well at higher level in the Certificate examinations.
Where new or revised syllabuses are being introduced, teachers have incorporated innovative assessment strategies. These include the use of self-assessment to promote assessment for learning, and the allocation of a portion of the marks to the performance and recording of practical work. This has encouraged high standards in report-writing by students and is commended.
There are very few students presently attending the school who have special educational needs. It was reported that parents whose daughters experienced difficulties often had these already attended to prior to entry to second-level schooling, and often outside the school system. Before the students commences first year, reports are received and assessments provided where appropriate. Much work is carried out in the phase before the student arrives at the school. The school works in close liaison with their appointed Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO), prior to the arrival of the student, and maintains close contact once they are attending the school. There is currently no Special Needs Assistant (SNA) in the college, although the board often makes provision for support where the need arises. There is a very caring atmosphere in evidence, and students experiencing physical and other disabilities are supported with great care.
Resource hours are provided: the current allocation is four hours per week. There are further needs which are attended to by subvention by the board of management. Currently the board funds eight to ten students for learning support, and is always made aware of needs by the principal. Various techniques and learning strategies are employed in assisting students who require learning support, and one-to-one teaching is common in this area. In some instances where the full timetable of subjects is too great, subjects are reduced and assistance is given in a withdrawal situation.
In some years, smaller, banded, classes are created to assist those having difficulty in particular subjects. Some support is given to students by withdrawal from class, but this is not the most common method of support. In particular, it is not the policy of the school simply to withdraw students from Irish classes. Management seeks to promote Irish as a subject, and exemptions from it are infrequent. Students coming from abroad are encouraged to study Irish: this is good practice on the part of the school.
Year heads assist greatly with students who have various problems in the school, whether learning, physical or other. They liaise with other teachers and use a communication system in the staff room to ensure that proper care and attention are given to students who are experiencing difficulties. Names are not publicised and the system works on the basis of cooperation and discretion on the part of the teachers. This is reported to work well in most circumstances. It is the policy of the school, and is one of the current planning priorities, to encourage full inclusion of all students in the work and activities of the school.
There are few students in the school who come within these categories or descriptions, but the practice of inclusion as described in 6.1 above, is also the policy in these areas. There is a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere in the school, and if any student has particular requirements, they are dealt with discreetly, whether they are to do with religious practice, physical problems or disadvantaged circumstances.
The board of management has a practice whereby students whose families are placed in difficult circumstances are considered in an understanding manner, and financial arrangements if necessary are put in place to ensure that the child remains at school as far as possible. While the school is fee-paying, it is the policy of Loreto to deal with difficulties as supportively as they can.
The guidance system in the school provides both individual and classroom assistance and information for students. One-to-one meetings with students take place, particularly in the fifth and sixth years (and in other years as required), sometimes with parents present, as needed. There are guidance classes in fourth, fifth and sixth years, one lesson per class every week, where students are prepared for all possible options for their lives and careers after school. The students carry out a career project and are prepared for the higher options day.
Guidance, career, and higher options material is located in the resource centre where both library and computer facilities are available. Students are assisted in making their CAO and UCAS applications on-line. There is a strong tradition in the school of moving on to third-level courses, and this is addressed by the guidance service.
Guidance also has a role and an input into TY where there is emphasis on transferable skills, life-skills, self-assessment in TY and preparation for selection subject options for the Leaving Certificate. The guidance counsellor arranges psychometric tests and differential aptitude tests (DATS) for all students in the TY. Assistance is also given in this year to the TY coordinator in relation to the students’ work experience programme.
Currently there are no formal guidance classes in the junior cycle years, but there is guidance assistance at induction for first year, including the running of diagnostic tests at intake.
The guidance plan for the school has been initiated, but is still at a very early stage and needs development as soon as possible. The current plan is very basic and will require work on its particular application to the school and its students. When developed, the plan will also identify specific requirements for each year group and the manner in which these can be implemented. It is recommended that this should be a priority for the school.
Pastoral care in the school pervades the whole of the school experience for students in Loreto College. As referred to in 2.3 above, the class tutors are appointed to look after specific classes and to have a strong pastoral role. The tutors are also becoming the SPHE teachers for their classes- this process is under way at present. The year heads, all of whom are APs, take responsibility for all the classes in their year and liaise closely with the class tutors. The year heads deal with attendance, discipline, paperwork and also pastoral care for their years, and they meet weekly with the principal and deputy. The senior students’ committee, chaired by the head girl, and assisted by her deputies, ensures that there is one senior student allocated (by lot) to look after a class in the school.
The principal and deputy also see themselves as having an overall responsibility in the pastoral area, and are well acquainted with the year heads, the tutors and the students. They are constantly updated by their meetings with the year heads each week.
Whereas the individual teachers involved in the care system do their jobs well and communicate among their colleagues, there is a need for all those involved in the caring and pastoral roles to meet together reasonably frequently. While there is an efficient communication system in the staff room, it cannot be universal in its coverage, and a meeting with minutes and agenda for action is the recommended way forward for the care team in the school. The restoration of the full guidance and chaplaincy service will assist in this area.
There is a high degree of cooperation apparent in the school, between students, class teachers, year heads and management. Students are known and addressed by name and there is respect in evidence between all parties in the school. The ‘buddy system’, which operates between sixth and first years, is a successful means of introducing, helping and integrating new students into the life of the school and its activities. The head girl and prefects are allocated one to a class, and there is a student leader (or ‘prefect’) elected by each class to represent and assist in the life of the students in the class. Classes also elect a representative to the student council which further involves students in the life and activities of the school as a whole. All of these aspects of networking the life of the students with the overall school are carefully monitored and encouraged by the management which supports and interacts with the different elements of the system. This is good practice and clearly assists in the caring atmosphere of the school.
The prefect, senior student committee allocation, and buddy system where relevant, all contribute to the communication and support system which is a positive and integral part of the management of students. It also assists in creating the caring society which the board and the principal refer to frequently. Once all the roles and personnel are clarified, at both staff and student level, this could be a model of good practice and is to be highly commended.
The student council, which is elected formally and represents the students across all the years, adds to the support for students and the role they themselves play in management in the school. Their agenda, ideas and resolutions have been positive and have brought forward improvements, activities and an ownership of school life which is commendable. A particular success was the running of school ‘spirit week’, a series of events to encourage greater participation of students and to raise the ‘school spirit’. The students have also learned the workings of democracy and the importance of interaction with each other and with the staff and management of the school. This is good practice.
Parents are consulted regularly in the life of the school. There are annual parent-teacher meetings, parent information meetings, opportunities to meet the guidance counsellor, social events and liturgical occasions, which can all be useful in maintaining communication. If a parent wishes to meet with a tutor, year head, or with the principal or deputy, that can be easily arranged, and the principal is always available to meet parents when possible. The parents’ association praised the open communication between parents and school, and are aware that any problem they, or their daughter, may have can be discussed and resolved in the school. This open system of communication augments the overall care system in the school and is to be commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available: