An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Dominican College

Wicklow

Roll number: 61860V

 

 

 

Date of inspection: 12 - 16 February 2007

Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

1. Introduction

2. The quality of school management

3. Quality of school planning

4. Quality of curriculum provision

5. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

6. Quality of support for students

7. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

8. Related subject inspection reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Dominican College Wicklow. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

 

1.         Introduction

 

Dominican College Wicklow is an all girls’ school under the trusteeship of the Dominican Sisters.  It was founded in 1870 as both a boarding and day school.  The boarding section was closed down in 1983 and the school was renovated to meet the needs of the growing number of day pupils.  The town of Wicklow has witnessed significant change in recent years and Dominican College is now facing the challenges of providing second level education to a growing local population of students from a wide range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.

 

The school is due to move into a new phase of development as part of Le Chéile, a trust which is to take over the trusteeship of Dominican schools along with schools belonging to some of the other religious congregations involved in secondary education.  This presents a further challenge for Dominican College Wicklow as the current overlap of boundaries between the school and the convent will have to be formalised and will reduce the present size of the school plant.

 

 

2.         The quality of school management

 

2.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

According to its mission statement Dominican College Wicklow is a school which welcomes all students irrespective of cultural, social, religious or educational background.  It is a Catholic school providing a specifically Catholic formation, while at the same time welcoming students from other faiths and being sensitive to their beliefs and traditions. According to its mission statement the school aims to “educate the whole person and to encourage the qualities of truth, respect, responsibility, happiness and excellence in a caring Christian environment.” The educational philosophy inspired by the Dominican motto of truth also underpins the management of the school. This philosophy emphasises the education of the whole person in an atmosphere of trust and friendliness and, in partnership with the family, to prepare students to take their place in society as committed Christians.  An abbreviated version of the educational philosophy is published in the school journal.  In order to reflect the unique characteristic spirit of Dominican College Wicklow, it is recommended that the current mission statement and the educational philosophy be merged to develop one overall succinct mission statement for the school.  In addition to being published in the school journal, a revised mission statement should be displayed in a prominent position in the school as a constant reminder to students of the values inherent in the schools educational principles and traditions.

 

Policies and practices in Dominican College Wicklow reflect the school’s commitment to its educational philosophy and mission statement. Members of the board of management spoke of the importance of employing staff who support the Dominican ethos and of the need for the entire school community to uphold that ethos in a society which they perceived to place little emphasis on such values.

 

The high morale reported amongst members of staff has emanated from the care and concern shown by senior management for their well-being in the school.  Teachers were described as very caring and nice to the students.  Students spoke about their school in very positive terms. They considered making friends to be one of the most positive aspects of the school and this was facilitated in particular for sixth year students by the recent provision of a sixth year common room.  Members of the student council reported feeling that they have a say in the running of the school.  They feel they are involved and can make a difference.  The creation of a liturgy committee independent of the religious education department and the vibrancy of the liturgical choir reflect the school’s commitment to the spiritual and religious formation of the students.  Representatives from the parents’ association stated that they were very happy with the way the girls were being developed and prepared for life.

 

2.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management is properly constituted and comprises eight voting members, four nominees of the religious trustees, two parent nominees, two nominees from the permanent teaching staff.  The principal, who is a non-voting member, acts as secretary to the board.  The current board of management is in the second year of a three year cycle. Many of its members have received training provided by the Joint Managerial Board (JMB) for voluntary secondary schools and from the Dominican Order while others are due to attend training in the near future. In recent times, board meetings have taken place every month and it was reported that this represents a significant increase in the number of meetings held annually. Dates for board meetings are arranged at the beginning of the academic year, and it was reported that the advance knowledge of such meetings has facilitated very good attendance by all members.  A principal’s report, outlining all developments in the school, is provided at each board meeting.  There is a finance subcommittee, which meets prior to each board meeting and reports to the full board at the main meeting. Minutes are recorded of each meeting and circulated to the members of the board in advance of the following meeting. The minutes of recent meetings were reviewed as part of the whole school evaluation.  An agreed report is drawn up at the end of each meeting for dissemination to the teaching staff and the parent’s association.  Members of the board are to be commended for their effective organisation of meetings and for their commitment to the increased workload of the board of management.

 

Although representing sectional interests, the members of the board of management view themselves as a cohesive team working with management and staff.  Decisions are taken by consensus. They perceive the role of the board as supporting the principal in the effective management of the school.  In the previous academic year this has involved sanctioning the redecoration of the staffroom and the sixth year locker room and dining area, improved security for the school, and the purchase of computers.  The work of the board has also involved the ratification of school policies and discussion on future developments for the school.  The board is to be commended for its contribution to effecting change and school improvement.  

 

The board has identified challenges for the future and their potential impact on Dominican College.  They foresee an increased demand for places in the school which has a current student population of 524 students. They are also aware that there will be accommodation shortages when the school moves into the Le Chéile trust. Many of the school’s current classrooms and common areas are situated in a basement which is the property of the convent and the school is due to lose this accommodation area when it becomes part of Le Chéile and clear boundaries are established between the school and the adjacent convent.  Furthermore, the present building is not wheelchair accessible and, in the event of enrolment requests from students with physical disabilities, the simple provision of a lift will not resolve the problem. While these problems have been identified, there was evidence to suggest that the board, as yet, has not instigated specific action plans to meet these challenges and thereby fulfil their obligations in relation to the school’s admissions policy.  Apart from applications for repairs under the summer works schemes, there have been no building related applications in relation to the school since an application for a Physical Education (PE) hall in 1999.  While members of the board acknowledged the need for long-term planning, they articulated the view that they could only plan for the duration of their tenure as members of the board.  This suggests a need for greater ownership of the board’s remit in initiating strategic planning for school development. Given the above-mentioned challenges for the school, it is recommended that the board, as the manager of the school, becomes more proactive in forward planning, prioritising and drawing up action plans to meet these identified needs.

 

Parent representatives on the board of management report back to the members of the parents’ association. The recent increase in active membership of the parents’ association, which involves itself in fund-raising, and supporting sporting and social events, reflects a reciprocal support for the management of the school. The association, which meets once a month, reported experiencing a strong sense of partnership with management and staff in the education of their daughters.

 

2.3          In-school management

 

According to the educational philosophy of the Dominican order it is the task of each generation to re-examine its educational practice and see how it applies to changing circumstances.  The changes initiated by the new generation of senior management reflect a clear and effective response to this challenge.

 

Senior management meets each day to exchange information and discuss issues relating to school management. The principal reported consulting with the deputy principal on all issues and acknowledged the vast understanding of custom and practice in the school which the deputy principal brings to the school. The principal defined her role as one of leadership and the management of both the teaching and the administrative staff.  The principal has responsibility for the maintenance of the school plant, the development of school policies, curriculum provision and timetabling and liaising with the Department of Education and Science.  The duties of the deputy principal include the organisation of supervision and substitution for absent teachers and the management of students in terms of discipline and attendance.  In the current academic year, the work of the deputy principal also involves some teaching duties.

 

There is a clear vision for the future of the school.  Senior management aims to provide the highest quality of teaching and learning by a well-trained motivated staff to well-disciplined and happy students in an environment conducive to these purposes.  The evidence accrued during the course of the whole school evaluation suggests that the leadership role adopted by senior management since the appointment of the new principal has resulted in high morale among the staff, an openness to change and co-operation from all relevant partners in the pursuit of this vision. This has impacted very positively on everyone in the school.

 

Assistant principals (APs) support the principal and deputy principal in the management of students through their duties as year heads.  Other AP posts include examination’s secretary for both state and in-house examinations, public relations officer with responsibility for liaising with the student council and prefects, and dean of studies.  The duties of year head and co-ordination of Transition Year (TY) is included as part of the position of programme co-ordination which has an equivalence of an AP post.

 

Special duties post holders include fire officer and safety representative, environmental officer, and co-ordinator for Information and Communication Technology (ICT).  Special duties post holders also carry out a wide range of administrative duties.  Some have responsibility for the September and October returns, evening study and study skills, the book leasing scheme and the library, lunchtime activities, and the mock examinations and staff social activities.  Other duties include the overseeing of school facilities and equipment, the assessment of curricular needs and requirements, the co-ordination of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and liturgical and religious education and the organisation of prize day and mentoring for international students.

 

A fundamental review of posts of responsibility was undertaken in the past year.  Following consultation with the entire teaching staff, the current needs of the school were identified. A subcommittee comprising an equal number of assistant principals, special duties posts holders and non-post holders then worked on a proposed schedule of duties. Following lengthy discussion and revision, a final schedule of posts was drawn up and agreed.  The allocation of posts and their associated duties was then agreed following consultation with the relevant personnel, and provision was made for a regular and systematic review of posts. Senior management and staff are highly commended for the effective and inclusive manner in which posts of responsibility were reviewed and revised to meet the current needs of the school.

 

Year heads have a formal meeting with senior management every month.  Assistant principals as a group reported meeting informally, but not as a middle management team. The principal reported that there was no formal middle management structure.  While it is evident that post holders are actively contributing to the effective management of the school, it is recommended that a formal middle management team be established to further progress the school as an organisational structure.  Consultation between senior and middle management and the devolving of responsibility will give post holders greater awareness and ownership of their roles and responsibilities in the management the school.  Acknowledgement of post holders as members of a middle management team is also important in terms of teachers’ own professional development and advancement.  In addition, collaboration and the delegation of responsibilities will provide senior management with greater opportunity to focus on and plan for the emerging needs of school.

 

Senior management reported that there are approximately eight staff meetings held throughout the academic year.  The principal decides on the agenda, posts it up in the staff room a week in advance and invites further submissions from the general body of staff.  Minutes are kept of decisions taken, but there is no evidence of the discussion or concerns involved prior to the decisions. It is suggested that, when recording minutes of staff meetings, some indication be given of the richness of the debate underpinning any significant decisions taken.

 

A comprehensive staff manual has been issued to all teachers comprising information of relevance to teachers in their daily work and in their interactions with senior management and students.  This is good practice as accurate knowledge of responsibilities and procedures promotes fair and consistent practices when dealing with all members of the school community.  Daily notices are posted up on the staffroom notice board informing members of staff of all relevant news and ensuring optimum dissemination of information.  This is to be commended.

 

The code of discipline underwent a systematic review in 2005, the outcome of which, according to senior management, staff and parents, has led to increased satisfaction and compliance with the school’s accepted standards of behaviour.  This is to be commended.  The revised policy incorporates the concept of positive discipline promoting an appropriate balance between punishment and reward. A ladder of referral with clear procedures has been established for breaches of the code of behaviour and teachers are aware of the importance of recording and documenting all such breaches.  Sanctions are staged and range from lunchtime detentions through to suspension and expulsion.  Teachers are encouraged to use these sanctions with discretion and it was reported that the number of lunchtime detentions has reduced considerably in the current academic year, reflecting increased maturity and judgement in the use of this sanction.  Teachers also support each other in relation to disciplinary issues through the use of a system whereby disruptive students are temporarily transferred to the care of another teacher.  Teachers are to be commended for their support of colleagues in disciplinary matters. After-school detention is supervised by the principal and it was reported that this is used as an occasion to demonstrate pastoral concern rather than mere punishment. It is suggested however, that senior management should consider delegating the supervision of detention to middle management or the general body of staff.  All suspensions in excess of five days are sent to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB).  A significant decrease in the number of suspensions reported to the NEWB for the academic year 2005-6 is testament to the success of the revised discipline code.  Senior management and staff are to be commended for their work in implementing an effective discipline structure in the school.

 

As part of the concept of positive discipline, students who are perceived to have merited acknowledgement of their work or behaviour are given a positive affirmation note on a special yellow slip.  Students in receipt of five yellow slips are acknowledged at the weekly assembly for their year group and a letter is sent home to parents to inform them of their daughter’s achievement.  The establishment of protocols to reward good behaviour is good practice and to be commended.  It was reported however, that the practice of issuing these yellow slips has fallen into some abeyance as the term has progressed.  Teachers need to remain mindful that the students’ need for affirmation is as important as the need to sanction misbehaviour and that an appropriate balance should be maintained between punishment and reward thereby ensuring that practices reflect the policies. It is suggested that, given the negative connotations popularly associated with the issuing of a yellow card, a different colour be used for these positive affirmation slips. Consideration should also be given to including mention of the positive affirmation system and the range of sanctions imposed for misdemeanours in the school journal. 

 

The school’s anti-bullying policy is an integral part of the discipline system and bullying is considered to be a major breach of the discipline code.  Following a review of the anti-bullying policy, it is recommended that the term bully be changed to take cognisance of bullying as a behaviour which can be modified rather than as an aspect of personality. It is also recommended that consideration be given to adopting a more pastoral approach to what is a very complex issue. Supports should be put in place for both the individual who is being bullied and the individual who is bullying to ensure that both are fully integrated into the school community and that bullying does not reoccur. Protocols for monitoring such situations should also be introduced.

 

Attendance is monitored through the use of the computerised roll call which is taken during the first lesson each morning and at registration time each afternoon.  Teachers are also expected to take a roll in all lessons.  A note from parents explaining a student’s absence must be recorded in the school journal.  Parents are contacted by the class tutor, followed by the year head and then by letter in the event of a student’s continued absence.  Students who absent themselves frequently from school may be put on an attendance report which has to be signed by the teacher at the end of each lesson.  Absences of over twenty days are reported to the NEWB.  A significant decrease was noted in the number of such absences between the academic years 2004-5 and 2005-6, indicating the success of the school’s attendance strategy in reducing student absenteeism.  This is to be commended.

 

New teachers reported on the positive environment in the school and said that they are well supported by senior management and colleagues.  They had an induction day at the beginning of the academic year and were provided with an induction manual.   While they are not assigned to a master teacher, they have monthly meetings with the principal to discuss how they are getting on.  The deputy principal also liaises with the new teachers to ensure that they are not encountering any problems.  All members of staff are approachable and there is a buddy system to mutually support all teachers experiencing difficulties from individual students.  Subject department plans are made available to the new teachers as a means of providing direction for their individual schemes of work.  Senior management and staff are to be commended for their active support of new teachers. Consideration, however, should be given to assigning new teachers to a master teacher as means of supporting senior management in ensuring that new teachers experience a successful transition into their teaching career in the school and manage difficulties without always having to defer to senior management.

 

There is very good communication between senior management, staff and parents. This has manifested itself in the activities of a vibrant parents’ association working in collaboration with senior management to support student development and community spirit. Regular communication with parents is promoted through the use of the school journal, monthly and end of term reports, individual meetings with parents, formalised parent teacher meetings and parent information meetings.  The school also produces a newsletter and is in the process of developing a school website. 

 

The good collaboration between the school and parents is further manifested in the school’s involvement in local cultural and charity events organised by members of the Parents’ Association.  Students took part in the recent Wicklow 400 festivities.  Transition Year students engage in voluntary work with a local retirement home and help with horse-riding for children with disabilities and swimming for children with special needs. Contacts with the business community have resulted in sponsorship for a variety of school events. Senior management, staff and students are to be commended for their community spirit and commitment.

 

2.4          Management of resources

 

Dominican College Wicklow has a teacher allocation of 30.65 teachers, including two ex quota positions for the principal and for learning support and a .77 ex quota position for guidance.  In addition, the school receives an allocation of one teacher for deputy principal and one for projected enrolment, a .45 allocation for international students, a .27 allocation for programme co-ordinator, and allocations of 1.08 for special needs and .22 for students from the travelling community.  There are currently twenty nine permanent teachers on the staff and seven teachers employed as either temporary whole-time or regular part-time teachers.  One special needs assistant (SNA) has been employed to support an individual student in the school. Non-teaching staff include one full-time secretary, a caretaker, one full-time and four part-time cleaners. The school has recently appointed an additional school-funded part-time secretary.

 

Senior management reported that many of the teachers have committed themselves to the substitution and supervision contracts and engage in the supervision of students before school, at break time and lunchtime. Senior management undertakes the supervision at the end of the school day. The fact that students congregate together in different areas of the school building facilitates the supervision process. It was reported, however, that, in accordance with custom and practice in the school, teachers tend to walk around together rather than as individuals taking responsibility for different areas of the school, which in the case of Dominican College, are in opposing ends of the building. It was added that the cleaners and the caretaker are present at some of these times and keep an eye out for what is happening. While acknowledging their commitment to the well-being of the school, ancillary staff do not have any formal responsibility for supervision. It is recommended that the practice of teachers walking around together be revised to ensure that no populated area of the school is left unsupervised.  It is also recommended that the supervision rota either be extended to cover supervision at the end of the school day or cater for the provision of adequate supervision at the end of the school day should senior management be absent or unavoidably detained elsewhere.

 

There is a wide range of teaching experience on the staff ensuring a good balance between the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of maturity. Teachers are deployed in terms of their subject specialisms and senior management encourages subject departments to rotate between higher and ordinary level classes where possible, to ensure ongoing competency and experience in teaching to all levels.  This is good practice. However, senior management also retains the right, where deemed necessary, to assign teachers to particular classes and levels.    

 

There is good support for continued professional development in Dominican College Wicklow and teachers have been released for all relevant in-service.  The provision of a written report to senior management on the inservice provided and, where relevant, feedback to staff is to be commended as it encourages teachers to reflect on what they have learnt as a result of attendance at the course and support them in their continued work.  The principal is an active member the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and also benefits from the training and supports provided by Misneach, the leadership development programme for new principals.  Regular engagement by senior management with the relevant professional bodies is essential for good practice and is to be commended.

 

The school building is a listed building retaining many of the aspects and character of its former use as a boarding school. Many of the old dormitories have been converted for use as classrooms and old kitchens and dining areas have been revamped to provide common areas and locker rooms for students. There are several floors, many on different levels.  Science and Home Economics rooms are appropriately situated on the top floor.  The guidance and learning support areas are also situated at the top of the school thus ensuring a degree of privacy for students seeking help from the relevant supports. The discretion accorded to students in this regard is to be commended. Many repairs, renovations and refurbishments have been carried out in the school in the recent past to ensure greater comfort for students and staff alike. Senior management is to be commended for the efforts made to ensure a pleasant and positive working environment for all.

 

Classrooms, which are generally student based, are kept locked before school, at break-time and lunchtime.  Students eat their lunch and congregate at break time in the common areas in the basement area of the school. This facilitates the maintenance of clean and well ordered rooms.  Classroom and corridor walls are decorated with displays of subject related posters and samples of students’ work. The principal reported that the school has begun to display a student painting of the month on the corridor walls.  News items and photographs of interest to the students are also posted up in the corridors as part of the work of public relations.  The work carried out by the green school’s committee in encouraging students to take pride in their school and to recycle is also contributing to the good maintenance of the building.  The entire school community is to be commended for the care and pride shown in maintaining a clean and orderly building.

 

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is still at an early stage of development in Dominican College.  There are currently two computer rooms in the school.   The grants provided by the Department of Education and Science for ICT were used in 2005 to furnish and equip the first computer room with a small network with internet access.  In 2006, a second room was furnished and equipped with twenty one new computers, a laser printer and a laptop controlled data projector.  This project was financed through fundraising by the Parents’ Association.  Co-ordination of ICT is currently a special duties post and much of the work to date has involved troubleshooting and maintaining the hardware. First-year and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) students have one computer session each week while Transition Year students are timetabled for two periods per week.  Senior cycle Personal and Careers Education is also timetabled for the computer room for the purpose of downloading careers information and CAO applications. The computer rooms can be used by students at lunchtime under the supervision of sixth year students appointed as ICT prefects.  There is an internet usage policy in the school.  It was reported, however, that the computer rooms are currently not used to their full capacity. An in-school evaluation of ICT in Dominican College has pointed to the need to develop an effective cross-curricular plan for ICT to ensure its optimum use for teaching and learning by both teachers and students. It was reported that ICT is currently used for downloading materials and as a teaching tool in a small number of subjects, but there is very little interactive use of ICT for teaching. Senior management acknowledged that there has been reluctance among staff to embrace ICT as a teaching tool in the classroom and attributed this to a lack of experience and expertise among the general body of staff.  Senior management has responded to this by making ECDL courses available to teachers. It is recommended that all opportunities for ICT training be further explored to encourage greater use of ICT as a teaching tool in the classroom.

 

The school has a fire and safety officer.  This is a special duties post and involves ensuring that senior management is informed of all school hazards and that the relevant safety equipment in the school is in working order.  Students are made aware of the different fire exits and are trained to evacuate the building in a safe and orderly manner in the event of hearing the fire alarm.  Fire drills are held for students at regular intervals during the year.  Fire drills have taken place at times when students were both in and out of class to ensure full awareness of all protocols in relation to the safety of both students and staff.  This is good practice and to be commended.  

 

Subject department budgets have recently been introduced into the school.  This has facilitated the purchase of resources such as posters and audio-visual materials and other minor expenditure to support teaching and learning in the classroom.   Formal applications must be made to senior management for the acquisition of more significant resources. The allocation of annual budgets is to be commended as it promotes a systematic and collaborative approach to identifying, prioritising and requisitioning subject department needs.

 

 

 

 

3.         Quality of school planning

 

There have been two distinct phases in the school development planning process in Dominican College Wicklow reflecting the distinction between the permanent and developmental sections of the school plan. The school began the formal planning process in approximately 2002 and the initial years were spent focusing on the developmental aspects of school planning, work which was supported by inservice from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).  Having been introduced to the process, the staff identified five areas for development. These were effective learning, discipline and links with parents, staff development and communications.  Subcommittees were set up, met on a regular basis and worked on their targets. The oral reports on the work achieved by these subcommittees indicated high levels of commitment and effort and good progress in advancing the school development planning process.  Inservice from SDPI in 2004, with its emphasis on policy development and the impact of educational legislation and a further impetus mooted by the incoming principal, set the scene to move into a second phase.

 

This change of direction began in the academic year 2005-6 when new subcommittees were formed to work on the development of school policies.  Most teachers were allocated a class period as part of their timetable to work with their colleagues on school development planning.  Subcommittees were provided with templates and worked on the drafting of a very significant number of policies.  Draft policies were then circulated for discussion in the working groups before being circulated to the staff.  Both management and staff are to be commended for their extensive work and the energy with which they have embraced and progressed the school development planning process.  It is recommended that consideration be given now to planning for a consultative process with the relevant school partners and advancing the process to ratification of these policies by the board of management.  It is also recommended that all policies, once ratified be dated, in order to distinguish them from the draft policies.

 

Most policies required by current education legislation have already been ratified. Evidence was also 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.

 

The school now has a substantial planning file containing discrete permanent and developmental sections.  The permanent section, which is prefaced by the current principal’s aims and objectives for the school, comprises the mission statement, the educational philosophy, and both the school’s historical and operating context. The developmental section reflects some of the processes involved and procedures followed when developing various policies and initiating reviews. This is good practice and to be commended.  Policies are kept in a separate file.

 

The school is currently working on the development of a whole-school pastoral care policy and improving the policy on educational provision for students with special educational needs.  However, the allocation of a dedicated period for school development planning on teachers’ timetables has not been possible in the current academic year.  As a result, dedicated time for school development planning is incorporated into staff meetings.  Given these current constraints, it is suggested that consideration be given to the appointment of a school development planning co-ordinator to help sustain the progress achieved to date without further adding to the already significant work load of senior management.  Progress in school development planning should also be supported by the planned for establishment of an advisory board of studies.

 

 

4.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

4.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Dominican College Wicklow offers four programmes, Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).  It operates a forty five period week.  However there is a need to review time in school in order to be fully compliant with the twenty eight hours instruction time as directed in circular M29/95 Time in School.  

 

The school offers a broad range of academic subjects responding to the needs and demands of the current student cohort.  In accordance with its admissions policy, Dominican College Wicklow operates a policy of non-streaming when assigning students to base class groups on entry into the school.  There is however, concurrent timetabling in Irish and Mathematics in the second and third year of junior cycle in order to facilitate students taking higher or ordinary level, as desired or appropriate. This is good practice.  The allocation of an extra teacher to support teaching and learning in Mathematics in second and third year is also commendable practice. Timetabling at senior cycle is determined by the students’ subject options.  Senior management is to be commended for the organisation of its curriculum to best meet the overall needs of the students. 

 

Transition Year (TY) is compulsory for all students in Dominican College WicklowA fundamental review of the TY programme was completed in 2006 involving a questionnaire issued to teachers, TY and sixth year students and parents.  A subcommittee also discussed the programmes’ successes and identified areas for improvement.  The current TY programme proposes a variety of modules of four or six months duration in addition to a number of core subjects which are timetabled for the full academic year.  A Transition Year plan for the current academic year was submitted during the course of the evaluation outlining the rationale underpinning the programme and the course content.  However, the written plan submitted does not fully reflect the course content as currently taught in the classroom. For example, students are currently taking modules in Japanese, child care and psychology as part of the TY programme but these subjects are not mentioned in the TY plan for the current year. Conversely modules of beginners French and German are included in the plan but are not being taught.  It is recommended that the TY plan be revised to accurately document the range of subjects being offered in the programme.  It is also suggested that teachers remain mindful of the principles underpinning the TY programme which encourages teachers and students to look at new ways of teaching and learning and to ensure that  Transition Year is not  perceived as a three year Leaving Certificate.

 

In addition to their course work, TY students engage in a range of co-curricular and charitable activities, including among others, a module on the performing arts, the setting up of a mini-company, the staging of a musical and a fashion show and voluntary work in a nearby retirement home. The provision of a wide-ranging schedule of activities to enhance the students’ personal and social development is to be commended. It is recommended, however, that a set period of time be allocated on the timetable for such activities to ensure that disruption to core subjects is kept to a minimum.  Training in public speaking is offered each year in conjunction with students from the boys’ school.  Places on the course are limited and a fee is charged to cover the tuition provided by an outside professional.  Students are withdrawn from their timetabled subjects for this module. This needs to be reviewed as the absence of a significant number of students from lessons on a regular basis impacts negatively on the progress of all students in the class.  Given the benefits of such a course in building up students’ confidence it is suggested that ways be explored whereby, maintaining the same format and outcomes public speaking could be offered as a module incorporated into the timetable for all TY students.

 

Students also engage in two weeks work experience as part of their TY programme. Difficulties in finding placements means that each class group undertakes work experience at a different time of the year resulting in further interruption for some lessons.  It is recommended that the work experience component of the TY programme be reviewed and consideration given to finding alternative solutions such as blocks of community work to overcome the current difficulties. 

 

All students who have the appropriate subject combinations are given the opportunity to follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.  There is an induction period of one month at the end of which students choose whether or not they wish to continue with the programme.  Very few students drop out of the programme as it is perceived to be a very useful companion subject for students taking business subjects.  LCVP students are timetabled for two lessons a week in fifth year and three periods in sixth year in order to complete the link modules.  Students who are not doing LCVP are timetabled for study during these periods.  This represents a significant loss of instructional time for these students over the two year period.  It is recommended that the timetable be reviewed to ensure no loss of instructional time for students not taking LCVP.

 

4.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Incoming first year students are required to make some subject choices on entry into the school.  They choose two out of the following three subjects, art, home economics or science.  Given the importance of science and its need for a wide range of career options, it is recommended that consideration be given to introducing science as a core subject in first year, or including all of the above-mentioned subjects as tasters in the first year curriculum.  Students make further subject choices at the end of their first year in the school. They are supported in the making of these choices by the guidance service. Senior cycle subject options are determined by students’ needs and preferences.  These choices, which are made in the latter half of Transition Year, are informed by the results of the Differential Aptitude Tests and the supports and careers related information provided to both the students and their parents by the guidance service.  The supports provided to students when choosing their subjects is to be commended. 

 

It was reported that some of the students who are not studying Irish have not been granted exemptions by the Department of Education and Science.  Senior management needs to be mindful of the requirement for all students to study Irish, irrespective of their individual circumstances unless they have been accorded an exemption. 

 

4.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Dominican College offers a range of co- and extra curricular activities responding to the varied needs and interests of the students.   Some of these activities are organised at lunchtime while others take place after school. The co-ordination of lunchtime activities is a special duties post and responsibility for the organisation of an individual lunchtime activity forms part of three other Special Duties posts.

 

There is a very good commitment to co-curricular activities by teachers in many of the subject areas.  Students interested in music can join the liturgical choir and sing at all liturgical events taking place in the school.  An annual evening of music, comprising performances from students taking music practicals as part their certificate examinations, is also organised for parents by the members of the music department.  Home Economics students are afforded the opportunity to further their interest and creativity in textile design and craft skills as members of a students’ design club. Science students are encouraged to enter for the BT Young Scientist competition and there were three group entries from the school in the most recent competition. A science day is also organised each year for TY students with talks from visiting speakers working or studying in the field of science. Students participate in debating and public speaking competitions sponsored by many different national organisations. Interest and fluency in the Irish language is promoted through participation in Gael Linn sponsored Irish debates, Irish conversation classes and a ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’. Interest in Spanish, a new subject offered in TY and in senior cycle, is supported through the organisation of a Spanish society which meets monthly and organises activities promoting the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. Attendance at some of these activities during the course of the whole school evaluation indicated good student support and high levels of enthusiasm and appreciation for the co-curricular activities offered.  Teachers are to be commended for their dedication to furthering students’ interests and talents in a creative and enjoyable manner.

 

There is a strong sporting tradition in the school with significant successes achieved in hockey, athletics and netball.  Students also have the opportunity to play tag rugby and badminton at lunchtime and camogie, and Gaelic football both at lunchtime and in the evening.  Interest and participation on interschool show jumping is currently being promoted.

 

A school musical is organised every two years involving TY and fifth year students from Dominican College and male students from the other schools in the town.  There is also an annual school tour open to all students from second year to sixth year.

 

The co-ordinators of co- and extra-curricular activities are to be commended for the promotion of their subjects as enjoyable learning experiences and for their commitment to the students’ physical and social well-being.

 

 

5.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

5.1          Planning and preparation

 

Collaborative subject planning is developing across the school.  All subject areas evaluated have had some access to planning meetings, some as little as twice a year, others as often as twice a term.  In many cases meetings are minuted and minutes are presented to senior management.  This is good practice.  In addition, all subject teachers meet informally during the year.  In some subject areas inspected there was less evidence that teachers were planning cohesively as team.  Subject planning characterised by teamwork and ongoing collaboration should continue to be a focus of school development planning.

 

In some subject areas there is a co-ordinator of planning for the teaching and learning of the subject.  This role is generally rotated among teachers in order to give all the opportunity to take on this responsibility.  It is intended that the practice of nominating subject co-ordinators will be extended in order to enhance planning for teaching and learning.

 

All subject areas evaluated have developed subject plans.  Some of these plans are written as individual year group plans rather than as a cohesive overall plan for the teaching and learning of the subject.  However, many plans are comprehensive in nature comprising of themes and topics, planning for integration of grammatical structures, preparation for examinations, deployment of resources, short and long term priorities and development of cultural awareness.  The work on subject planning to date is recognised and commended.  However, it is recommended that collaboration on different elements of subject planning be continued to address issues which arose during evaluation such as developing learning outcomes, devising a strategic mid-term to long-term plan for subjects, customising different year plans into one style, and consolidating approaches to working as a team.  Planning for TY in the subjects evaluated was commended but it was felt that the programme detailed for TY in English did not reflect the good work actually going on. 

 

Many subject areas inspected are developing libraries or banks of resources suitable for teaching and learning.  Some teachers had gone to considerable lengths to prepare visual resources and diagrams for use in the classroom.  These should be retained for further use, shared and stored centrally as is the practice in some subject areas evaluated.   The high priority given to the development of resources for teaching and learning in Home Economics and English are particularly commended. The provision of a budget for the different subjects is welcomed and it is recommended that systems on how to prioritise and acquire resources be devised for all subject areas.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Planning for information and communications technology (ICT) was evident in some subject evaluated, however, it is recommended that planning for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning be commenced in all subject areas.

 

It was reported that planning for individual lessons was excellent.  Handouts and other materials were prepared and distributed among students.  Classes were well paced and adequately timed so that the aims and objectives of the lessons were achieved within timeframes of the class period.  The practice of informing students of themes and learning objectives for individual lessons was widespread and is commended as good practice.

 

Although most subject areas do not have base classrooms, it was reported that some efforts had been made to create stimulating and diverse learning environments in the classrooms.  This is good practice and is commended.

 

It was reported in many subject areas evaluated that teachers were availing regularly of continual professional development (CPD) and were attending inservice, where available.  They were also using websites and other links to teaching materials on an ongoing basis.  It was reported that teachers are supported by management to attend inservice and this is good practice.

 

5.2          Teaching and Learning

 

Inspectors observed excellent classroom management in all lessons.  Students and teachers had a good rapport and a strong work ethic among students was evidenced in some subject areas. Students were respectful and responsive in all lessons observed.  In some classes students were openly enthusiastic about their learning and were clearly totally engaged with the task in hand.

 

Innovative strategies were used in some subject areas to ensure that learning took place immediately in class even while activities such as roll call and homework correction took place, thus optimising time for learning.  This is good practice.  Teachers circulated around the classrooms among students affirming and helping them with ongoing work.  The practice observed in some subject areas of returning to learning outcomes at the conclusion of the lesson in order to recap and consolidate learning is commended.

 

Skilful strategies were employed to engage all students in the action of the lessons in most classes observed.  Good use was made of active learning methodologies such as group work and pair work.  In some lessons, students were given specific tasks to undertake and the nature of the tasks required students to apply skills in creative ways.  It is recommended that the practice of using group work and of using strategies to include all students in active learning should be consolidated.  It was further recommended in one area evaluated that students be challenged more effectively.

 

There was reasonable use of the target language in the modern language lessons observed.  However some opportunities to further embed the target language as the language of instruction and communication were not availed of.  It was also recommended that, where relevant, there should be less reliance on translation into the mother tongue.  More effective use could be made of linguistic scaffolding rather than translation in these cases.

 

It was reported that good quality teaching and learning aids were employed in most lessons observed.  It was recommended in one of the subjects evaluated that the visual aids used in the classroom be enlarged so they could be more effectively utilised during lessons.  It was also commented on that there was little reliance on the textbook during classes as teachers were drawing on a wider bank of notes and resources.   This is all good practice.  Extra curricular and co-curricular work was also commended in many of the subject areas evaluated where teachers sought to widen the experiences of the students in relation to teaching and learning, through field trips and other cultural and practical activities.

 

Differentiated learning was a feature of most of the classes observed.  Teachers showed a strong awareness of student capabilities and individual needs.  Students were challenged to the best of their abilities.  Students are encouraged to take higher level papers for state exams where possible and uptake for higher level is good across the subject areas evaluated.

 

5.3          Assessment

 

Formal house exams are held at Christmas and summer.  Reports are sent home to parents with the results of these exams.  Monthly progress report cards filled in by individual subject teachers are also sent home to parents.  This is a new innovation in the school and is very good practice.  State examination classes currently have examination at Christmas, and a mock examination in the spring after which reports are sent home.

 

Some subject areas have common end of term exams and this is very good practice.  However it was reported that common marking schemes are not in operation in these subjects.  It is recommended that this be addressed.

 

There was evidence that appropriate amounts of homework are regularly assigned and corrected in all of the subject areas evaluated.  It is clear that homework is designed to expand and develop work done in class.  Students keep folders in some subject areas which are a great resource for students and facilitate effective filing of work and notes.  It is recommended that this system be consolidated for relevant subjects.  The common marking system for homework among some teachers in one subject area evaluated is highly commended as it focuses on student motivation and achievement rather than over emphasis on errors.

 

 

 

 

6.         Quality of support for students

 

6.1          Students with special educational needs

 

Dominican College Wicklow has an allocation of one ex quota post for learning support and a 1.08 allocation for special education needs (SEN). There is also a special needs assistant (SNA) to support an individual student.  There is very good collaboration between the resource and learning support and guidance departments which is to the benefit of all students requiring resource teaching or learning support. At present, these students are withdrawn from class for individual tuition.  While this is working well and while there will always be a need for some one-to-one help, teachers reported that they would like to see a different timetabling model to address the issue of educational provision for students with SEN or requiring learning support.  One such model is concurrent timetabling and the learning support teacher included as an extra teacher in the subject block.  Such an approach, which facilitates methodologies such as co-operative teaching and in-class support is good practice and in line with current thinking on appropriate provision for students with SEN.

 

The learning support department also provides help in a range of other subjects, dependent on the needs of the individual students at the time.  This includes going into some junior cycle mathematics lessons to work with students needing extra support in the subject, working with senior cycle Home Economics students requiring assistance in completing their projects and the provision of extra support in Irish prior to the oral Irish examinations for Leaving Certificate. The success of the current provision for students with SEN or requiring learning support is evident in the uptake of higher level English at Junior Certificate and in the number of students with learning difficulties proceeding to third level education.  Teachers working with students with SEN or requiring learning support are to be commended for their work and contribution to this success.

 

Dominican College is currently building on its current whole school policy on educational provision for students with SEN or requiring learning support and some inservice on differentiated teaching has been provided. Work has also begun on the drawing up of individual education plans for students with SEN.  However, difficulties were reported in bringing together all the relevant persons for this purpose.  As a means of further building on the very good work achieved to date in the area of teaching and learning for students with SEN or requiring learning support it is recommended that a dedicated time for planning be allocated at the beginning of the school year and opportunities be created at regular intervals for subject teachers to discuss and evaluate the progress of these students and the success of their methodologies in effecting and sustaining student progress.

 

6.2          Other supports for students: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

 

Dominican College has an overall allocation of .67 of a teacher to support the educational provision for international students and students from the travelling community.  There are nine international students, six of whom receive additional literacy support three times a week on a one-to-one basis. Help with other subjects and project work is also provided to the international students taking the certificate examinations.  Individual tuition was deemed to be of more benefit than group sessions to the current cohort of international students. 

 

Students from the travelling community were reported to be very well integrated into the school community in Dominican College. In the current academic year they are withdrawn twice a week for additional support in individual subjects. While it is important to provide students from the travelling community with the necessary supports to ensure equity of educational provision and opportunity, it is equally important to remain mindful of the way theses supports are provided lest they compromise the students’ full inclusion into the school community.  It is thus recommended that the provision for students from the travelling community be reviewed annually to plan for the provision of supports most appropriate to their current needs. Such provision might include greater home-school links and homework supports as opposed to in-school help.

 

The school also welcomes a group of international students coming to Ireland to learn English for the duration of the academic year.  The current cohort includes ten Spanish, one Mexican, three German and four Japanese students.  Part of a special duties post has been allocated to the mentoring of all international students.  This involves liaising with year heads, checking on the students’ progress and where necessary talking to the host families.

 

All initiatives aimed at promoting full inclusion of students from diverse national, social and cultural backgrounds are to be commended.

 

6.3          Guidance

 

Section 9 of the Education Act, 1998 states that a school shall use its available resources to:  ensure that students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices.  In order to fulfil this legislative requirement, each school is expected to develop a guidance plan. This should be a whole school activity that is integrated into all school programmes.  There is currently no whole school plan for guidance in Dominican College.  However, it was reported that the school is currently in the process of developing a whole school guidance plan. 

Dominican College has .77 of an ex-quota position for the provision of the guidance service.  This allocation is supplemented by school management to create the equivalence of one fulltime post for the provision of guidance.  Transition Year and senior cycle students are timetabled for one period of personal and careers education per week.  The Transition Year programme includes preparation for work experience and the administration of the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) in preparation for making subject choices on entry into fifth year.  It was reported that students are given the results of these tests in terms of a score rather that in the more usual role profile format. In adopting this approach it is important that students are made fully cognisant of the meaning of their scores and how they may be interpreted. Guidance provision at senior cycle includes careers research and information, invited speakers, visits to open days and individual careers counselling for sixth year students. While guidance is not formally timetabled for students at junior cycle, the service is provided for these students to help them in their transition from primary to secondary school and when making subject choices.  School management is to be commended for ensuring that there is good access to the guidance service.

 

In addition, the guidance service supports all students during the course of the school year through the provision of personal counselling and, where necessary, referral to appropriate agencies.  Ongoing contact is maintained with social services and the Health Service Executive (HSE) and members of the guidance service attend case conferences on a regular basis. The guidance service also meets with the year heads and tutors at the beginning of the academic year and attends the monthly year head meetings.  Contact with the tutors during the year is on a needs basis. Parents can also access the guidance service to discuss their daughters’ progress, assessment results or difficulties.  It was reported that there is a high demand from students for personal counselling. 

 

Given the reported high demand for personal counselling it is recommended that a guidance plan be advanced without delay as a whole school activity integrated into all school programmes.  In this way programmes such as Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), learning support and resource teaching may be able to support the guidance service in promoting student well-being in the school.

 

6.4          Pastoral care

 

The school has begun the process of drawing up a formal pastoral care policy. While there is currently no formalised Care Team, practices in the school indicate a high level of concern for the students overall welfare, which is in accordance with the characteristic spirit of Dominican education.  Each class group is assigned a tutor.  The tutors’ role comprises both disciplinary and pastoral responsibilities, although tutors themselves reported that their role is primarily pastoral.  They meet their class group for ten minutes every day for registration, disseminating information and checking uniform.  Detentions are issued for failure to comply with the uniform code.  Tutors also deal with individual students who are experiencing difficulties and, where necessary, refer them to the guidance counsellor. The work of the tutors is to be commended in caring for the pastoral needs of the students. Tutors meet with the year head for their respective classes at the beginning of the year, but do not meet as an overall group of tutors.  Consideration should be given to organising a meeting of all tutors for the purpose of sharing ideas and good practice in best meeting the pastoral needs of students. There is no full-time school chaplain.  However, tutors are supported in their work by a member of the Dominican order who liaises with students on an informal basis, listening to them, encouraging them and, where appropriate, incorporating a spiritual dimension into discussions with the students.  This informal chaplaincy service is to be commended.

 

Tutors are also assisted in their work by sixth year prefects, one of whom is assigned to each class group.  Prefect duties include liaising with the class groups, watching out for any problems, listening to students who approach them with problems and co-ordinating fundraising. This is to be commended as it enhances the pastoral care provision in the school while at the same time giving prefects experience of responsibility.  Prefects have also taken on frequent occasions the registration class in the place of the tutor. While the practice of giving prefects this experience of responsibility is commendable, it is recommended that the tutor be present in the room when the prefect is taking registration.

 

The school has an active student council which is properly constituted and meets every fortnight after school.  An agenda is drawn up and minutes are kept for each meeting.  The work of the student council involves bringing issues of concern for students to senior management, co-ordinating fundraising and disseminating information.  Members reported a strong belief in the contribution of a student council in effecting improvements for students. They also developed valuable experience in organisational skills and team work.  The student council in Dominican College Wicklow is to be commended for its work in furthering the positive learning environment for the school community.

 

 

 

 

7.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

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.

 

 

8.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

                                                            School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

 

We, the Board of management of Dominican College Wicklow, welcome the report issued as a result of WSE carried out in January/February 2007.

It is a very positive response to what is good practice in the school and confirms the provision by the school of a very high quality education in a caring and safe environment.

 

The Board wishes to thank the Inspectorate for the professional way in which all areas of the WSE including the subject inspections were carried out and the sensitive understanding attitude that prevailed in their dealing with all sections of the school community involved in the process.

We also thank them for the accuracy of their assessment and all the positive commendations included in the report.

 

 

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.

         

 

The Board are happy to report that the majority of the recommendations made have either been implemented already or are in the process of being implemented and it is only where there is a financial implication or constraint involved in the recommendation that action hasn’t been immediately taken.