An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 Meánscoil Na mBráithre,

CBS, Ennistymon, Co. Clare

Roll number: 61940T

  

Date of inspection: 5 May 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006

 

 

 

Introduction

1. The quality of School Management

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

1.2 School ownership and management

1.3 In-school management

1.4 Management of resources

2. Quality of School Planning

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

4.1 Planning and preparation

4.2 Teaching and learning

4.3 Assessment and achievement

5. Quality of Support for Students

5.1 Students with special educational needs

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

5.3        Guidance

5.4        Pastoral care

6. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report


This Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Meánscoil na mBráithre, CBS Ennistymon. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Meánscoil na mBráithre, CBS Ennistymon is a Catholic voluntary secondary school for boys under the trusteeship of the Christian Brothers and as such the school fully subscribes to the religious and educational philosophy of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice. The Christian Brothers have a long and proud tradition of education in Ennistymon. In 1824, at the request of Rev. Peter O’Loughlin, then Parish Priest of Ennistymon, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice sent three brothers to the town to establish a Catholic school for boys of the area. Second-level pupils continued to attend classes in the old building until 1970 when the existing school was built. The CBS primary school is located next door.

 

This small all-boys’ secondary school referred to locally as the Monastery, located in the town of Ennistymon is serving a predominately rural population. The catchment area is shared with the local vocational school and local girls’ secondary school as well as secondary schools in Gort, Lisdoonvarna, Spanish Point and Ennis. The school’s enrolment has been constant in recent years with a current enrolment of 188, which represents a slight decrease from previous years. The school’s intake from its feeder schools spans all academic and socio-economic groupings in the town and its environs.

 

The school operates an inclusive, non-selective, open-door enrolment policy, which results in a diverse range of academic abilities among students currently attending the school although traditional expectations of high academic achievement remain prominent. This provides a challenge to the school in ensuring the appropriateness of its curricular provision as well as providing support for the more diverse learning needs of students. The school is aware of the challenges presented by these developments.

 

The question of rationalisation led to an initial agreement in November 2002 to amalgamate Meánscoil na mBráithre, the Convent of Mercy and the Vocational School into a new Community School. An announcement was made on 29th September 2005, by the Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin TD that Meánscoil na mBráithre would be one of the twenty-three new post-primary schools to be amalgamated under the Government’s Public Private partnership (PPP) programme over the next three years. Schedule of accommodation for the proposed new school is based on an enrolment of 650 students. Progress has been significantly delayed as the site chosen for the new building has been acquired from the Mercy Order under the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme and papers for transfer of the site are currently with the Chief State Solicitor’s office. 

 

During the whole school evaluation (WSE) process the board of management, parents, senior management, staff and students cited the amalgamation as a significant challenge facing the school and expressed frustration with the delay in progressing the amalgamation. Some reservations exist with regard to losing the close family atmosphere, which currently prevails due to the small numbers; however, the school community is cognisant of the fact that they must be forward looking.

 

 

  1. The quality of School Management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The characteristic spirit of Meánscoil na mBráithre derives from the religious and educational philosophy of the founder of the Christian Brothers, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice and is outlined in the school’s mission statement: “We are a voluntary catholic secondary school under the trusteeship of the Christian Brothers, focusing on the importance of a value-based Christian education in the Catholic tradition”. The school’s ethos declares: “CBS Ennistymon is based on Christian values, acknowledging the rights and responsibilities of each individual, assuming a sensitivity to and responsibility for the needs of others”.

 

Throughout the evaluation the school’s spirit was described by the various parties consulted as one of inclusiveness, caring, openness and respect and the school aims to offer a good all-round education. This characteristic spirit is lived out in the day-to-day life of the school and pervades the support, care and encouragement given to students, and the wide curriculum and activities provided for them. The school’s crest features the traditional Christian Brothers’ crest with the motto “Facere et docere” which means” To do and to teach” emblazoned on it.

 

Students presented as being happy and reported on the friendly and respectful atmosphere between staff and students. The parents’ association emphasised the caring supportive atmosphere, the open-door policy and the very good communication within the school community. The school population is relatively small therefore, teachers know all students. An atmosphere of caring and a strong sense of loyalty and camaraderie among staff and students were evident during the evaluation. A particular feature of Meánscoil na mBráithre is the great awareness amongst the whole-school community of the school’s ethos. A noteworthy sense of community and partnership is prevalent in many aspects of the school from parents, to students, to staff, to the board of management and to Trustees. These bodies work hard, separately and together to promote the ethos of the school. A strong tradition of charitable projects at home and abroad is supported and there is also evidence that students have a strong social conscience as demonstrated by their fundraising activities and links with the local Community Day Care Centre.

 

Meánscoil na mBráithre admits students of other faiths on the basis that it is a Catholic school and it endeavours, where possible to accommodate their faith needs. Regular prayer and various liturgical celebrations take place such as religious feasts and a celebration Mass for the beginning of the school year as well as a Leaving Certificate Mass, which is held each May.

 

Members of the board of management and the parents’ association stressed the goodwill and commitment shown by teachers to their students and the school, and described how this manifested itself in the classroom and in their dedication to the numerous co-curricular and extra-curricular activities taking place in the school. There is a high level of engagement by many teachers in voluntary activities including the class tutor role, and a wide range of extra-curricular activities catering for all age levels in the school. Photographic displays, trophies and displays of students’ work adorn the hallways and celebrate the successes and achievements of students in a range of activities. The school has a positive code of behaviour and students are affirmed and rewarded in such areas as sports, arts and attendance. Academic achievement and special appreciation awards are presented at the school’s annual awards day. In addition the board of management presents service awards to teachers in recognition of their long years of service to the school.

 

 

1.2 School ownership and management

 

In the context of this report the school community is taken to include the board of management, in-school management, staff, parents and students. The school is vested in its trustees, the Christian Brothers, whose trust arrangements are currently being reorganised nationally.

 

The first board of management appointed by the Trustees was set up in 1996 and the current board is in the first year of its three-year cycle. The composition of the board follows the model set out in the Articles of Management for Catholic Secondary Schools. It comprises four trustees’ nominees (one of whom is chairperson), two parents’ nominees and two nominees of the teaching staff and the principal acts as secretary to the board. The board meets regularly and there is generally good attendance at these meetings, which have a formal agenda and recorded minutes. A short agreed report is disseminated by the board to the teaching staff through one of the teacher nominees. The further dissemination of this agreed report to the parents’ association and in time to the student council is recommended, as this would enhance communication within the school community. The chairperson and the principal maintain regular contact between scheduled board meetings. The principal’s report, an account of current school issues, is currently the main communication link between the principal and the board of management and the parents’ association.

 

The board of management is professional in its approach and board members demonstrate a strong commitment to the school and to upholding its Catholic ethos. Members are committed to fulfilling their role, responsibilities and statutory obligations. The key development priorities for the board are the advancement of the amalgamation, the progression of school development planning and maintaining high quality teaching and learning at the school. While the board of management does not get involved in the day-to-day running of the school, it is involved in staff appointments, promotions, policy matters, finance and from time-to-time discipline issues. With the support of the school’s senior-management team, the board actively encourages, supports and facilitates staff to participate in appropriate post-graduate studies, and this is appreciated by staff. The board takes an active role in approving policies and procedures brought forward by in-school management.  Before being ratified and then implemented, all aspects of these policies are discussed by the board.  The principal advises the board on various matters relating to the school, issues are discussed openly and decisions are reached democratically through consensus. Thus the board views its role as that of support to the in-school management team while also functioning in an advisory capacity. Accounts are audited annually and a recently established finance sub-committee will provide more detail and insight into the financial affairs and responsibilities of the school. It is recommended that the board continue to be proactive in terms of promoting collaboration with regard to policy review and to involve the whole-school community in the process. Furthermore it is suggested that it devise strategies to ease the transition and develop areas necessary to cope with the amalgamation despite the uncertain time frame.

 

The Christian Brothers through their Education Office support the board of management with training and various in-school activities and through the provision of an educational consultant to assist in the amalgamation process. There are plans to establish a joint-steering committee to co-ordinate the planning and integration of the three existing schools, as was suggested by the Commission on School Accommodation (2001).

 

Established in 1998, the parents’ association is active in Meánscoil na mBráithre and has been involved in many projects over the years, especially with fundraising, scheduling of guest speakers, the provision of additional accommodation, promoting healthy eating and providing an effective communication system between the school and parents. The parents’ association communicates well with the larger-parent body through school notices and the newsletter. The board communicates with the parents’ association through the principal who attends all association meetings. In addition a teacher representative sits on the parents’ association and this assists communication between the school and the parents. The teacher representative assists the parents’ association with the production of a detailed school newsletter twice a year. The board plans to make greater use of the school newsletter in order to enhance communication across the whole-school community.

 

While the parents’ association is consulted and kept informed regarding issues and changes in school, evidence suggests that the involvement of the general parent body as partners in contributing to school policy and management tends to be peripheral. While parental involvement is invited, senior management and the parents’ association are disappointed with regard to the lack of participation of parents in general. There is some concern regarding the poor turnout for the annual general meeting of parents. The parents’ association surveyed the larger parent body in 2004 with regard to their role in the school and there was a low rate of response. It is recommended, therefore, that existing structures that allow for communication and consultation with and among parents, and the parents’ association in particular, be further developed so as to allow for more enhanced and effective interaction. In addition, the board and senior management should continue to support the parents’ association in its endeavours to enhance communication and collaboration with the larger parent body as this will strengthen the role of the parents’ association and improve communication and enhance collaboration to assist the board in its executive role.

 

The parents’ association expressed satisfaction with regard to how the school operated and how the family atmosphere of care and respect was fostered in its everyday operations.  Parents also felt it was a comfortable environment for their children and acknowledged the respect the staff had for the students and the sense that each student received individual attention.  The parents’ association also commended the staff for the level of commitment and support given to their children.

 

Management conducted a detailed survey measuring student satisfaction with the school two years ago and some proposals have been implemented and therefore changes were made to school life as a result of this survey. Currently the student council is occasionally consulted on issues of school management and students can have issues of concern communicated to management via teacher representatives. It is recommended that greater levels of consultation and dialogue with the student body be further developed.

 

The board is well positioned to promote a greater sense of partnership, collaboration, communication and co-operation within the entire school community. It is therefore recommended that the board reflect on how best to achieve this.

 

 

 

1.3 In-school management

 

The in-school management team consists of senior management personnel comprising the principal and deputy principal as well as the middle-management team of two assistant principals and four special-duties teachers. The senior-management team, consisting of the principal and deputy principal provides very good leadership and both work effectively and co-operatively in a complementary manner. Both have been long-serving teachers at the school, the principal held the position of deputy principal for a number of years and both have been in their current senior-management positions for the last six years. Due to the small size of the school, the deputy principal has almost 17 hours of class contact and the principal teaches eight hours per week, which is in excess of their requirements. While this keeps them in touch and benefits the general teaching load, it does add to the already heavy workload, which they carry. Their management style is open, collaborative and consultative and they are committed to providing a caring, supportive learning environment and maintaining good academic standards. It is testimony of their commitment to their roles that they both participated recently in the Leadership Development for Schools management course, Forbairt.

 

The principal and deputy principal consult regularly and share common objectives in the performance of their respective duties. The principal deals with staffing, the timetable, budget/funding, accommodation, maintenance, liaison with community groups and is a class teacher and secretary to the board of management. The deputy principal is responsible for monitoring attendance, punctuality, substitution and supervision, and is a class teacher. Internal day-to-day matters and duties around administration, discipline, examinations, the proposed amalgamation, the curriculum, school development planning, interactions with parents and the local community are shared.  The visible presence of the principal and deputy principal on corridors and outside ensures that they are accessible, encouraging punctuality and positive relationships, while at the same time maintaining good discipline. The openness and willingness of the principal to listen to and engage with others transcends all interactions throughout the school. Staff members are empowered through the delegation of tasks and responsibilities. This has helped to achieve a positive working environment for staff.

 

The school currently has 12 permanent and 3 pro-rata part-time teachers, approximately 47% male and 53% female. Staff members are involved in many school initiatives and through these make a vital contribution to the characteristic spirit of the school and the attainment of its educational goals. There are numerous teams operating in the school comprising both post-holders and non-post-holders alike. It is highly commendable that teachers, some of whom are employed on a part-time basis, contribute voluntarily to various areas of school life and demonstrate a sense of commitment that is much appreciated by management, parents and students. A number of staff members outlined that the openness and support they receive from senior management encourages them to become more involved in the organisation and management of the school.

 

The two assistant principals’ posts and the four special duties posts are clearly defined and very good use is made of the experience and expertise of the personnel involved. Job descriptions specifying the duties assigned to each of the middle-management posts exist. The assistant principals carry out the duties of school bookshop and the book rental scheme for junior cycle, school development planning and co-ordination of Transition Year. The special duties teachers have a broad range of duties including house examinations officer, programme co-ordinator, public relations officer, student council co-ordinator, environmental enhancement officer, Science co-ordinator, editor of newsletter and parents’ association teacher representative. Post-holders also act as the class teacher for a specific year group where their brief involves monitoring behaviour and attendance, dealing with discipline issues, student welfare, academic progress and maintaining parental contact as necessary. The recently introduced class tutor system, which emphasises the pastoral role of teachers and students’ need for life balance, is a positive initiative. Individual class teachers take charge, on a voluntary basis, of each class group and tutors schedule time with individual students in order to discuss academic progress, study habits, subject choices and any personal or social issues affecting that student.  Class teachers and class tutors tend to remain as teacher/tutor of a specific year and students move onto a new tutor/teacher the following year. The development of mechanisms for communication whereby class teachers may meet regularly with the class tutors of their particular year group is recommended in order to ensure greater clarity regarding their roles. This may be considered in the context of the development of pastoral care structures and policy for the school as outlined in section 5 of this report. 

 

It is noted that many of these post-holder duties demand a considerable amount of co-ordination and linkage with other individuals or groups, and that teachers in performing them give freely of their time. In this context it is important that post-holders are supported in the fulfilment of their duties through regular meetings of post-holders, on either an individual or group basis, with the principal, so that aspects of duties requiring support on the ground or further staff development needs may be identified and acted upon. Duties are carried out in a professional and commendable manner and teachers demonstrate a high level of commitment to the school.

 

Due to a projected drop in enrolments next year, the school will suffer a reduction in teacher allocations e.g. the loss of hours for the post of the co-ordinator of programmes, the loss of the 0.5 ex-quota allocation for remedial education and a three-hour reduction in Guidance hours. In this context, it is recommended that it is timely to review the roles and responsibilities of middle-management in order that they may continue to reflect the changing needs of the school. It is further recommended that, the supports to be provided to post-holders as well as the accountability involved in being part of the middle management of the school be accorded greater priority.

 

Communication structures in the school are wide and varied and clearly work along well-established lines. The board of management liaises primarily with the school principal and its communication with other staff is primarily through the teacher nominees on the board. At another level, senior management personnel and teaching staff have developed a system of communication involving, for example, the daily notice board in the staff room, informal announcements at break times, staff meetings and the school newsletter. A number of staff meetings are held each year and these usually include a planning element. The fact that staff members have an opportunity to add items to the agenda in advance of meetings illustrates the inclusive and open approach of management. Staff meetings should continue to be varied in their timing and structure with a view to ensuring that groups for example learning support and class teachers/class tutors have an opportunity to report to whole staff on ongoing business, and that task groups, which may be identified in the context of school development planning (SDP), can report to whole staff regarding progress on designated tasks.

 

The staff room is a friendly place where staff members tend to interact openly with one another and with visitors. There are two wireless broadband enabled computers available for staff use and display boards on the walls are used to good effect. The school is to be commended for providing a teaching resource storage area off the staff room to support both planning and preparation for classes. There were plenty of teaching resources in evidence. The visible presence of senior management in the staff room and their open-door policy are indications of the open communication between management and staff.

 

It is acknowledged that there are some unresolved uncertainties and apprehensions amongst the staff about the impending amalgamation. Management should seek to continue to address the concerns, apprehensions and aspirations of staff in relation to the amalgamation process. Effective communication and collaboration and the further development of good relationships in the school community should continue to be a priority for senior management.

 

Management adopts a positive approach to the management of students and this is generally very effective.  A key element in the management of students is the expectation of and affirmation of positive behaviour. This is evident in the way staff and students interact, and in the recognition of positive contributions to school life in the school magazine, sports day and awards day. Positive staff-student relations are promoted by the school’s characteristic concern for the individual students’ progress and well-being. Student-staff relations are enhanced through activities such as sport, outdoor pursuits, music, fundraising, and competitions. A sense of belonging and community is evident in the student council and students involved displayed a high level of maturity, co-operation and leadership skills. Issues from the student council are communicated to management via the teacher representative. The school has been successful in sustaining a disciplined and positive learning environment. Attendance is well monitored and students are required to produce an absence from school docket. Records of student attendance are computerised and absences of twenty or more days are reported to the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB). The school’s admissions policy, which was recently revised, is open, transparent and fair to all parties. Management of students is supported by policies that have been developed in the school, including policies on admissions, behaviour, school attendance, homework and anti-bullying.

 

Openness and willingness of the school management to communicate and consult with staff, parents, students, the local community and outside agencies are commended. Parents are communicated with through a range of methods including the assessment results booklets on student progress, opportunities to attend parent-teacher meetings, open evenings, memos, school Masses, the school newsletter and the parents’ association. Individual parents may also contact the school to set up an appointment. Further evidence of the good relationships between home and school is provided by the attendance of the principal and a teacher representative at the meetings of the parents’ association who expressed satisfaction with the level of communication provided by the school. The school should continue to facilitate meaningful collaboration with parents and in particular the involvement of parents in their children’s learning and in all decisions pertaining to that learning.

 

The school maintains well-developed links with a variety of businesses, agencies, organisations and support services in the local community. Outside groups make good use of the school’s excellent playing field and of the school’s facilities for meetings and the school make good use of the local community centre. Students frequently get involved in the production of the local town musical. Local businesses demonstrate a high level of good-will towards the school as evidenced by their co-operation with work experience for TY and LCVP. Contact with local primary schools is effective and it is hoped that these links will be strengthened in the future especially to ease the transition from primary to post-primary for all students and in particular those with special educational needs (SEN). 

 

While there is as yet no provision for formal review and evaluation of the work of school management at any level, there is a sense of self- and peer-evaluation amongst post-holders who normally report on their work at staff meetings and via the school newsletter to the wider school community. At senior-management level, review and evaluation take place on an informal basis as decisions are made, implemented, and their effects evaluated. It is recommended that formal review and evaluation be developed over time with regard to the work of senior management and post-holders.

 

 

1.4 Management of resources

 

In-school management actively seeks all necessary resources, both material and personnel to support the work of the school. Issues such as maintenance of buildings, limited resources, lack of classroom or recreational space and restrictions around having a small teaching staff have been the priority matters for management in recent years while awaiting the proposed amalgamation. It is acknowledged that the school has made great efforts to overcome these issues as they could have serious curricular implications in the short-term. Members of the teaching staff, and supporting personnel are deployed appropriately in line with their subject specialisms and school requirements. Teachers within subject departments collaborate and agree responsibility for higher and ordinary-level classes, rotating this from year to year if that is desirable. As outlined earlier, the school will suffer a reduction in teacher allocations for 2006/07 due to a drop in enrolments. The school is dependent on concessionary hours to maintain the present level of curriculum provision. This continues to be challenging for management in such a small school with a small teaching staff that has the desire to continue to offer a wide curriculum. Senior management tries to facilitate the optimum deployment of teachers, so that individuals are encouraged and recognised for their potential, talent or skills. The versatility among teachers to teach subjects that are not their main subjects and their willingness to take on challenges to meet students’ needs was notable. Furthermore, staff is facilitated and encouraged to participate in continuous professional development (CPD), including, attendance at support-service courses. In fact some teachers have been involved in the delivery of teacher in-service programmes nationally. The board of management supports the payment of subject association fees for teachers and occasionally pays for registration fees for post-graduate courses in line with their CPD policy. This has led to increased expertise in some areas of provision of the school. In general, additional designated teaching hours are being used for the intended purpose.

 

The secretarial and maintenance staff that is employed on a part-time basis work effectively. They make an important and valued contribution to the smooth administration of the school’s daily routine and in caring for students.

 

The school is fortunate to have an excellent playing field which is well utilised by students and other visiting clubs. Shower and changing facilities are incorporated into the boys’ toilets. Parents and students expressed their particular concern at the absence of essential PE and recreation facilities such as a gym, games facilities, school library and canteen facilities for students.  The school therefore has an arrangement with and pays a fee to the local community centre for students to use the facilities for games and other occasions such as the awards ceremony.

 

The main school building is in good condition, as the school population expanded in size, various extensions were added, mainly in the form of prefabricated units that have now outlived their lifespan. Classrooms are student-based as a result of space restrictions. Student lockers are located in their classrooms. Teachers move between classrooms and have to gather and carry materials from room to room.  Apart from the specialist rooms, this does not facilitate the display of subject-specific work in classrooms. Specialist rooms, which are frequently shared, consist of an Art room, a computer room, a small woodwork room and a well-maintained and resourced Science laboratory.

There is a strong sense of pride in maintaining the appearance of the school buildings and grounds.  Regular cleaning, good care taking, including regular painting, have extended the life of school buildings. The care taking and cleaning staff are to be complimented for maintaining the building to its present standard. The absence of litter both inside and outside the building was a very notable feature.

 

 

The model of support for students with SEN and learning support is based on a mixture of one-to one support, small group withdrawal and the creation of smaller classes in some subject areas. This arrangement makes the maximum use of the schools available resources. There is however, no specific learning support or resource room available.

 

While no formal budgets exist for the different subject areas, resources are generally allocated on the basis of teacher requisition. In order to ensure that all teachers are aware of available teaching resources relevant to their subject area it is recommended that such resources be catalogued annually by subject departments. These should be stored centrally and therefore made accessible to all teachers of the subject. This process will also allow for a review of the usefulness of current teaching resources and for an assessment of future resource needs.

 

The school has a Safety Statement, which was drawn up by the staff a number of years ago and there is evidence of good practice in relation to health and safety matters. Nevertheless it was noted that fire drills are not a regular feature of the school year. Therefore, it is recommended that the Safety Statement be reviewed as a matter of urgency to ensure compliance with current legislation (Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005), and that a system of regular fire drills be put in place. The schools Health and Safety officer should consult with management and subject teachers during this work. A review of safety issues is planned for the Materials Technology (Wood) classroom in line with the guidelines provided in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (2005). 

 

In general, the school is well-resourced in educational hardware and the school is now broadband enabled. Teachers have access to overhead projectors, computers, television and video equipment. There is one reasonably well-equipped computer room in the school; and TY and LCVP students usually get priority to use the facility. In addition TY students have access to two Apple Mac computers for digital photography and video editing which forms part of the Media Studies module in TY. The school has been very resourceful in developing its own recording studio and photography dark room. A moveable laptop and data projector are available for teachers to share and there is a dedicated computer work area in the staff room for teachers. In addition the computer room and Science laboratory have a computer and data projector available. This does much to ensure that teaching and learning are at their most efficient in the school and it is commended.  The school is a recognised test centre for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) examination and students are encouraged by management to complete the ECDL. An acceptable use policy outlines the use of the school’s internet resources in the school. On occasion, subjects such as Irish, German and English pre-book the computer room for classes and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is also well-utilised in the areas of Maths and Science. These developments are to be encouraged and commended.

 

 

2. Quality of School Planning

 

The school has been involved in the process of school development planning (SDP) since 2000. External factors: national industrial relations issues during 2000-02; and the planned amalgamation of the three local post-primary schools, slowed progress for a period of time. Nevertheless, the school has carried out a whole-school review, mainly through the teaching staff, students, and some parents on selected issues. The review process with staff is ongoing through staff meetings, especially the end-of-year review meeting. The entire student body was surveyed two years ago, and TY students have been asked their opinions on the effectiveness of the TY curriculum. This review process has facilitated the identification of a number of issues for policy development. There is a well-established culture for planning among the teaching staff, and planning is ongoing. There is a good mix of planning activity ranging from issues of a legal nature to policy issues that have been identified at local level to assist the smooth running of the school on a day-to-day basis. Linked to this is an increasing focus among teachers on subject planning.

 

There are good structures in place to assist ongoing progress in SDP. One of the in-school management team carries responsibility for co-ordinating SDP activity from year to year. The SDP co-ordinator links to the principal and deputy principal during the year to discuss progress on the completion of agreed tasks. The principal, deputy principal and SDP co-ordinator comprise the steering group for SDP. Time for SDP is provided for in the context of the school calendar and normal staff meetings. The school is active in promoting continuous professional development (CPD) for staff in SDP. This has arisen through attendance by senior management at some of the regional seminars organised by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), as well as the annual SDPI summer school. In 2005, two staff members successfully completed the Higher Diploma in Professional Education Studies (School Planning) through a joint initiative by the SDPI, the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), and the Department of Education and Science (DES). These teachers support in-school SDP activity by facilitating group work. It is intended to use a mix of in-school and external facilitation as SDP progresses. The structures, time allocation and support for staff CPD are all commendable.

 

Senior management and the teaching staff are effectively leading the process of SDP with good support being provided by the board of management, mainly through formal policy adoption, and encouragement for staff CPD. The trustee group provides good support to the school mainly on school ethos, and templates for policy development. Consultative structures are in place for students through the students’ council, and for parents through the parents’ association, and both of these groups are consulted as the need arises. Nevertheless, there is scope for greater involvement of all the school partners in SDP. The centrality of the board in this regard should not be under-estimated, as the board is made up of nominees from the trustees, the teaching staff, and the parents. Therefore, there is a natural opportunity to extend the communication process that is already in place for the teaching staff through the agreed report from board meetings being shared with the parents’ association in the first instance and with the students’ council in time. This would certainly improve communication with parents and students and would also create an opportunity for the more active involvement of parents and students in the various stages of SDP: review; design; implementation; and evaluation. Therefore it is recommended that this should be explored at board and staff level with a view to developing it over time.

 

The school has an emerging school plan with a considerable amount of information in place for the permanent section of the plan. Linked to the statements of school ethos and mission is a range of policies that has been adopted by the board of management. These policies cover issues such as admissions, student behaviour, homework, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), internet acceptable use, anti-bullying, dignity at work, CPD, and school attendance. There are policy gaps of a legal nature. In particular the school’s Safety Statement needs to be reviewed and updated, as outlined earlier. While a very well formed programme of vocational guidance has been planned and implemented in the school, it is recommended that the process of whole-school Guidance planning should be initiated in the context of school development planning. In addition unwritten policies and procedures in relation to learning support, special educational needs and pastoral care should be formalised. There is scope for the SDP steering group to collate these policy statements into one folder. Once done, it will be possible to identify the constituent elements of the permanent section of the school plan. Therefore, it is recommended that the steering group, as a matter of priority, take on this task.                         

 

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, 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. The principal and deputy-principal have been appointed as designated liaison persons in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

As stated earlier, the school is involved in a planned and long-awaited amalgamation of the three local schools. This has influenced developmental priorities for the school as an element of joint planning for curriculum provision at senior cycle exists among the three schools, and some joint CPD has occurred among the three teaching staffs on a number of issues. In a sense, there is a twin-track approach being adopted in relation to the developmental section of the school plan. In this context, it is noted that a joint-steering committee is to be established as recommended earlier, to progress planning for the planned amalgamation, and simultaneously SDP will continue in the school on the school’s own developmental priorities. It is acknowledged that the time focus for SDP at single-school level has been shortened over time because of expectations regarding the planned amalgamation. Through no fault of its own, the school is forced to engage in short-term planning with a consequent lack of strategic planning. At the time of writing, the school had identified the following developmental priorities alongside the amalgamation priority: ongoing policy development, ongoing subject planning with a focus on teaching and learning, special education, and the use of ICT in teaching and learning. The teaching staff has identified these priorities at staff meetings. There is scope to involve the other partners in identifying their priorities. This could be done in the lead up to the amalgamation so that the transition from one school setting to another is smooth, and the characteristic spirit of the school is not lost in the transition phase. Therefore it is recommended that through the board of management a whole-school review focusing on the schools strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats, should be initiated among all the school partners as soon as practicable. The SCOT analysis or Diagnostic window may be a useful tool in undertaking this focused review.                   

 

While the teaching staff has developed a culture for review especially through the end-of-year staff meeting, there was little evidence of formal review and evaluation mechanisms at all levels of the school. Nevertheless, a pro-active approach is being taken to issues arising under review through existing staff meetings, as there is a willingness to alter policy and practice for the good of the school community. This is commendable, and is best exemplified by the recent introduction of the class-tutor role alongside the already established class-teacher role. It is noted that this new system will be reviewed at the end of this school year. There is scope to formalise review and evaluation mechanisms in the context of the school plan. Therefore it is recommended that the board of management considers how best to do this in conjunction with the staff, parents, and students.

 

 

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

 

There is a broad curriculum with a range of subject options accommodating the abilities and requirements of students. The programmes currently on offer are the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate Established (LCE), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), which has been available for the last nine years, and the Transition Year (TY) Programme, which is optional and has been available in the school since 1986.

 

The school is to be commended for providing as wide a range of subjects as possible, within the available teacher allocation, which maintains breadth and balance in scientific, aesthetic, technological and academic education. Subject provision is informed by the need to ensure ease of assimilation of year groups following amalgamation. One of the school’s greatest strengths is the close curricular co-operation, which exists among the three second-level schools in Ennistymon, which has developed on the understanding that amalgamation is imminent. Therefore, the subject choice structure at senior cycle operates in co-operation with Scoil Mhuire, the local girls’ secondary school and Ennistymon Vocational School thereby giving students the broadest choice possible. In addition, informal links exist among teachers of some subject areas such as Science and Geography across the three schools with regard to sharing of ideas and resources and it was reported this has resulted in a strong uptake of such subjects at senior cycle. The school reports that the wide subject choice helps retain students in school. Delay with the proposed amalgamation has however prolonged an unsatisfactory position with regard to loss of class time and timetabling constraints because of students being facilitated to take some of their subjects at senior cycle on three separate campuses. Funding from the board of management has in the past helped to supplement the teacher allocation and the concessionary hours provided by the Department of Education and Science. Despite difficulties in securing and maintaining adequate material and human resources the school’s efforts to retain the existing range of programmes and subjects have been successful. Management has responded to the needs and interests of the school community over the years through the introduction of such subjects as Materials Technology (Wood) and Art. Whilst management would wish to extend the range of subjects to include, for example, Music, this is not possible in the present circumstances.  The fostering of the current inter-school co-operation at a local level is highly commendable as it is very worthwhile and should contribute to the ease of transition for students and teachers of all three schools.

 

Deployment of staff and timetabling take account of the curricular needs of the students as well as the skills, qualifications, willingness and aptitudes of teachers. The time allocated to subjects is appropriate and in line with syllabus recommendations. Class periods are also fairly well-distributed throughout the week. The school operates a forty-three period week; periods are forty minutes long and all three schools in the area finish early on a Friday, therefore the school is compliant with the length of the school year in accordance with circular letter M29/95.

 

In first and second year, students are divided alphabetically into mixed-ability classes. Similarly, the single TY core group is of mixed ability. In third, fifth, and sixth years, a combination of setting for the core subjects and grouping by mixed-ability for the optional subjects is used to place students in classes. To facilitate student choice and movement between levels most classes in the main core subjects are concurrently timetabled for third and sixth years.

 

Co-ordinators for TY and LCVP exist and the programme co-ordinator currently fulfils the post of LCVP co-ordinator. Programme plans for both TY and LCVP have been developed and are reviewed regularly. The school is proactive in promoting such programmes to the extent that there is usually a class group of twenty in TY annually and the majority of senior students currently participate in the LCVP. Access to LCVP is determined by the subject groupings, which students select. However, there is an issue in that not all students who take subjects to qualify for LCVP choose to undertake the link modules and management facilitate this by the scheduling of an additional class for this group. It is recommended that the school should notify parents regarding non-participation and continue to highlight the broad educational value of the LCVP Link Modules to all students. The TY and LCVP programme co-ordinators bring enthusiasm and conviction to their roles, which together with a high level of administrational and organsiational skills, ensures that programmes remain true to their ideals and objectives. There is scope to develop a team approach among the LCVP teachers and Guidance and this should be explored. The TY programme has made optimum use of individual teachers’ knowledge, skills and interests; for example, students have the opportunity to engage in such areas as Media Studies and Horticulture.  Work experience is a highly valued part of these programmes. A common perception in the school is that TY and LCVP create opportunities for students to develop a life balance and this is commendable. From discussions with students and examination of their work it is clear that they benefit from and enjoy participating in both the TY and LCVP.

 

First and second years, third years and TY, and fifth and sixth years are concurrently timetabled on different days for Physical Education (PE). Students are provided with an opportunity to become involved in a variety of games and athletics during PE and computers are timetabled opposite PE in all years. In addition TY students have four periods of computers per week. While the option of computers opposite PE is worthy, the school should continue to ensure that all students participate in some level of PE in school in line with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and to ensure health and fitness. Whilst there is provision for mini-company within TY, and mini-company projects have obtained considerable success for students to date, the mini-company module was not visible on the TY timetable, and no written plan for the module was evident during the evaluation. It is recommended that this module be given its proper place on the TY timetable and that, in the context of subject planning, a plan for the module be developed by the business teachers, as part of an overall plan for the range of business subjects on offer to students. Furthermore, the dispersal and use of some of the hours for Guidance, Learning Support and Special Educational Needs is somewhat unclear on the student and teacher timetables. It is therefore recommended that the full use of such hours be clearly outlined in the context of the school’s timetable and planning documents.

 

Curricular issues, subject and programme choices are reviewed and discussed at staff meetings annually and outcomes revert to the principal and deputy principal for further action. However, in order to develop this good practice further, it is recommended that management should establish a formal mechanism for review such as an Advisory Board of Studies, as provided for in the Articles of Management. This group could undertake a curriculum review or a review of aspects of the curriculum using the SDP process. In doing so, the group could liaise with staff, parent and student representatives to reflect on overall curriculum provision, engage in future planning and advise the principal and board of management accordingly. Management is very aware of its duty to ensure that the range of programmes and subject choices on offer continues to meet the needs, aptitudes and ambitions of all students.

 

 

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Students and parents are very well informed of the programmes and subjects on offer for junior and senior cycle. The involvement of parents at key stages, such as the transition from primary to post-primary and from junior into senior cycle is actively encouraged by the school. The school hosts an open evening in January and taster classes are provided in March. Primary schools are also visited before Christmas by the principal and the guidance counsellor to provide prospective students with information and reassurance as to the transition process.

 

Junior-cycle students are offered English, Irish, Mathematics, German, History, Geography, Science, Technical Graphics, Art Craft, Design and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and either Business Studies or Materials Technology (Wood). In addition students undertake SPHE, PE and Computer Studies. Students, on entry to the school, receive taster modules in Business Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) during the first term. On completion of these taster modules, students must choose one of these subjects for the remainder of the junior cycle. Some teachers, parents and students expressed concern about first years having to choose between Business Studies or Materials Technology (Wood) and for some subsequently having to take up the subject on an “ab initio” basis for Leaving Certificate. It is noted that resource restrictions appear to have prompted the arrangement. Nevertheless it is recommended that the school should review this arrangement. The provision of another foreign language as an option on the curriculum was mooted in a number of meetings with inspectors, however this is not achievable within the current resources but will occur in the fullness of time as a result of the proposed amalgamation. Greater ongoing provision for Art Craft, Design at junior cycle was debated at some meetings with inspectors and the parents’ association would welcome this. Also planning is underway for the provision of a Geography module in TY. It is recommended that during curriculum review consideration should be given to the issue regarding first years having to choose between Business Studies or Materials Technology (Wood) and the ongoing provision for Art Craft, Design at junior cycle.

 

A parents’ information evening for TY and LCVP occurs annually and to ensure greater clarity it is recommended that students attend with their parents in the future. The choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination is made in third year or in the optional Transition Year and is well facilitated by a variety of staff including the guidance counsellor, class teachers, tutors and subject teachers. A student-friendly system of open choice operates.  Students are invited to list their preferences and then an option pool is constructed to accommodate those preferences in so far as possible in the context of available resources. This process is done in collaboration with the other two local schools and aims to provide the maximum number of students with their desired subject choices. An exemplary programme of vocational guidance has been devised and is being implemented and incorporates visits to and presentations by representatives of various training and educational institutions.

 

English, Irish, Mathematics, German, Religion, Career Guidance, PE and Computers, are usually studied by senior-cycle students and the balance of subjects, usually three, are chosen from the following twelve-subject range that includes, History, Geography, Agricultural Science, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Accounting, Business, Art, Technical Drawing, Construction Studies and Home Economics (Scientific and Social). The inter-school co-operation endeavors to ensure that schools locally will accommodate “ab initio” study of subjects at senior cycle which is commendable. There is evidence of some valuable cross-curricular links across programmes such as LCVP and the Mini-company in TY and subject areas for example English with Business and Media Studies, History and Geography, Physics and other subjects, History and ICT, Irish and ICT however; there is scope to formalise such links and these could be further developed over time.

 

In relation to exemptions from studying Irish, the school currently has on file the case of six students and in examining the issue of these exemptions it was noted that the school deals with this matter with great care.

 

 

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The school is well entitled to pride itself on the level of involvement and very good range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities available at Meánscoil na mBráithre. Students are actively encouraged to strike a life balance and become involved in such activities as sports, artistic, cultural, spiritual and social activities, which support and enhance learning and help them to develop personally and socially. The level of uptake in activities both co-curricular and extra-curricular provision at the school is very significant and is part of the characteristic spirit of the school in terms of the voluntary commitment of all teachers to these activities. Staff members are highly commended for their dedication to the provision of a holistic and well-rounded education for students. All activities are undertaken on a voluntary basis, this unselfish and diligent commitment by teachers, despite the lack of facilities, is particularly meritorious. Provision for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities could be further enhanced if more parents and members of the community were actively involved in the organising and running of such events.

 

A wide range of sporting activities available to students includes Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, athletics and basketball and the school has enjoyed much success at local, provincial and national levels. In addition students attend an outdoors pursuits centre, sometimes camping and some participate in local sports such as surfing and golf.

 

The students’ cultural, artistic, spiritual and social development is facilitated through a myriad of co-curricular activities such as school tours, trips to the theatre, media studies, mini-company, educational competitions, school publications, public speaking, writer-in-residence, Seachtain na Gaeilge, quizzes, board games, Green Schools activities, fund raising for charity and organising church celebrations. The TY Media Studies module and the writer-in-residence programmes, in particular, are commended as highly innovative and student-centred. Exceptionally gifted students are supported to enter competitions and to attend summer programmes such as those organised by the Irish Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI) at Dublin City University and University of Limerick.

 

Through the student council the school has conducted various fundraising activities for charities at home and abroad. There is a strong tradition in the school of social, community and international projects, school tours and excursions, which requires great commitment from teachers and students. The school promotes exchanges and the CBS Immersion Project for teachers and students in developing countries where the Christian Brothers are established such as Lusaka. Students are actively encouraged to participate in the local town musical and a number of subject-related field trips and religious retreats are organised locally. The school is congratulated on the success of one of its students in the Young Scientist and Technology competition earlier this year. There is provision for both the less academic and the exceptionally talented to excel in many of these areas.

 

The school newsletter is produced twice a year and is a conduit of information regarding the school and its activities. Staff and students all contribute to the newsletter providing in-depth information about events in the school, articles of interest, extra-curricular activities, photographs and new developments in the school.

 

The school promotes and celebrates achievement by students in many aspects of school life in the local newspaper, school newsletter and school notice boards. In addition the annual presentation of a range of student awards including the Edmund Rice and Gaisce awards promotes a positive school spirit, positive behaviour, achievement and demonstrates a greater awareness of the school as a community. The board of management financially supports extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in line with Christian Brother ethos. Anonymous donors make donations for scholarships, incentive awards, high achievement subject awards and sports day awards. The parents’ association is also supportive through fundraising events and it was clear that parents and the board appreciated teachers’ work in this area.

 

The school arranges access to pitches from local GAA clubs and the hire of the local community centre for many of these events. The school has established very good links with local businesses, and local industry and this facilitates work experience/shadowing associated with the TY and LCVP. Speakers are invited to the school to address students regularly and visits outside the school are arranged to support students in their educational and career choices. Good links are also maintained with local financial institutions, the day care hospital, past students and teachers and these people are invited back to student awards days and reunions.

Management, staff and the student council are encouraged to continue to develop and sustain this excellent range of activities and continue to explore all areas of interest to the student body.

 

 

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

4.1 Planning and preparation

 

All subject departments have engaged in subject planning to a greater or lesser extent, some having made greater progress than others and some have developed effective monitoring procedures for the implementation of subject plans. This complements and enhances existing practices of individual subject planning, collegial sharing and informal consultation. Teachers in each subject had carried out the necessary planning and preparation for their classes. Planning in subject departments should be extended further by including teaching methodologies, resources, homework and assessment expectations, differentiated approaches, and the use of ICT in teaching and learning. Cross- and co-curricular links were evident and planned for in some subject areas and where these links exist they should be included in subject plans and structured in an appropriate manner.

 

 

4.2 Teaching and learning

The curricular areas included in the evaluation were English, Guidance, Physics, Geography and Business subjects (Business Studies and Business). Specific findings and recommendations for each of these areas are included in the subject inspection reports, which form appendices to this report. The following are the general findings and recommendations on teaching and learning.

 

There was evidence of very good short-term planning and preparation for teaching. The lesson content was appropriate and in line with syllabus requirements. Lessons had clear objectives, were well structured, sequenced and at a pace consistent with the students’ levels and abilities.

 

Effective teaching and learning were evident throughout the lessons observed and in some cases the very high quality of teaching and learning was impressive. Teachers used appropriate language with their students, and gave clear explanations and instructions in lessons evaluated. In some classes observed, teachers established strong links between the content of lessons and students’ prior knowledge and experience. Teaching and learning were particularly effective where opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. A variety of teaching methods was observed in the various subjects over the course of the evaluation including individual work, pair-work, group work, demonstration, question and answer session, discussion, teacher/student reading, in-class writing, prediction, creative modelling, pre-reading, picture perception, brainstorming, story-telling, co-curricular and cross-curricular linking. This best practice was appropriate to the students’ abilities, needs and interests and is highly commended. Effective use was made of a blend of student and teacher activity in many classes. Almost all students were engaged in their learning and showed good interest. In order to ensure fuller engagement of all learners in all subject areas, it is recommended that stimulating audio-visual/ICT resources, clear support notes and more active and differentiated learning methodologies be more consistently used. Teachers are advised to continue to add to their repertoire of active learning methodologies such as language and textual games, project work, role-play, hot-seating and group work which continue to actively engage students in their learning.

 

In the classes observed, teaching was clear and accurate and student understanding of the concepts and principles of the lesson was usually facilitated through the use of clear questioning and explaining and the use of examples. Some questioning targeted students’ higher order thinking skills and is commendable. Global and targeted questioning was employed by many teachers, however, teachers in all subject areas should strive to use variety in questioning styles so as to maximise student involvement across the ability range.

 

There was a suitable variety of activity in each lesson observed, ranging from teacher input to student involvement in the flow of lessons. There was significant student engagement through the use of age and interest appropriate examples for selected topics, which built on students’ prior learning and experience. Given the time of year some lessons were focused appropriately on revision in advance of end-of-year assessments and preparation for the State examinations. This revision was structured within revision plans and in some cases exam-answering technique was provided to students. Overall, there was evidence of very good experience and expertise being applied in a wide variety of class and subject settings. It is recommended that such experience, expertise and resources should continue to be shared among teachers for the benefit of the students in the context of ongoing subject planning.   

 

Effective use was made of a variety of resources and learning aids such as worksheets, summary sheets, handouts, relevant magazines, examination papers, textbooks, novels and teacher-created cards. The whiteboard was also used effectively in many classes to structure lessons and record students’ responses and there is scope to further develop its consistent and structured use. In some of the classes observed, teachers had made efforts to create a motivational, print-rich environment as a support for teaching and learning despite classrooms being student based. This good practice should be extended across all subject areas as appropriate.

 

Some very good use was made of the school’s ICT resources and equipment in such subject areas as Physics, English, Irish and Media Studies. Given the advent of broadband in the school, it is recommended that ICT be integrated into the planning and delivery of all subject areas through the subject department structures within the current availability. It is recommended that the training and upskilling of staff continue to be encouraged as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning. The sharing of valuable in-school expertise in ICT should continue to be explored in this regard.

 

Classroom management in the lessons observed was clear and effective. It was evident that very good rapport and mutual respect exist between students and teachers in the lessons observed. Equally classroom atmospheres were very positive. The students were well behaved and secure in their interactions with teachers and they were addressed by their first name and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts. This atmosphere reflected the impressive level of teacher preparation and the variety of teaching strategies and stimulus material used endeavoured to engage students in their own learning. Discipline was sensitively maintained by all teachers and students were focused on their learning. It was evident that students had achieved a good level of understanding of the various subjects and displayed skills appropriate to their class group and level.

 

4.3 Assessment and achievement

 

Meánscoil na mBráithre has a whole-school policy for homework and a well-established, comprehensive system of assessment. Prior to entry, information about registered students is gathered from parents and primary schools by the principal and teachers.  Formal assessment for screening and diagnostic purposes is carried out by the learning-support co-ordinator, beginning in September and continuing throughout first year. Tests of reading comprehension and mathematical ability are administered early in the year and basic reading is assessed in the case of students who require further diagnostic and supportive interventions.  The results of these assessments are interpreted for teachers by a staff member qualified in their administration who also assists in monitoring progress and in learning support. 

 

Close monitoring of students in first year and second year is achieved by reporting and analysing the results of a series of five in-class assessments in each subject in each year. Formal, house examinations of one-and-a- half hour’s duration are undergone by first, second and fifth years at the end of the school year, by third, fifth and sixth years at the autumn mid-term break and Christmas, and by fifth years at Easter. In addition, third and sixth years sit pre-examinations at the spring mid-term break.

 

The results of all assessments are recorded in assessment booklets, which are then signed by parents and, when appropriate, follow-up contact with the school occurs.  A progress report is sent at Christmas and at the end of the school year to the parents of those participating in the Transition Year Programme. Concerns about student progress in any year group are discussed with parents at annual parent-teacher meetings or by individual contact initiated by parents or teachers.

 

The school is commended for its efforts to cater for the assessment needs not only of its own students but also of those in the other schools in the town.  The co-ordination of house examinations is only one example of collaboration by the schools in the best interests of students. The board is pro-active in supporting student progress by facilitating after-school study for students. The tracking of students who have completed their schooling is a further indication of the school’s interest in their continuing progress.

 

Students demonstrated a good understanding of materials presented and they were generally engaged during lessons.  Student responses and observation of work in copybooks showed high levels of confidence and competence in the work being done.  Assessment in its varied forms was woven effectively into teaching and learning.  The use of questions, the monitoring of homework assignments, the observation of student written and verbal responses were among the assessment modes observed and the use of affirmative and formative comments was particularly noted. Teachers should add to their assessment repertoire such aspects as peer assessment and establishing criteria for assessment. The Assessment for Learning (AFL) project at www.ncca.ie may be a useful reference point to assist teachers in planning for assessment. The practice in most subjects of setting common examination papers, and of using agreed marking schemes where practicable, is highly commended and should be extended where possible.  It is suggested that, with the current emphasis on subject department planning and in the interests of continuity, the good practice observed in all lessons be further formalised as part of learning and teaching policies.

 

The school undertakes a detailed analysis of student achievements in the State examinations and results, including a comparison with national norms, are discussed among subject departments in the autumn. This good practice should inform future planning.

 

 

5. Quality of Support for Students

 

5.1 Students with special educational needs

 

The school is committed to helping all students to reach their potential and is continually active in seeking material and personnel resources for all students, including those with a disability, special educational needs (SEN) or from a disadvantaged or minority background. Gifted students are also supported to excel. There are less than ten students currently in receipt of educational support. Additional supports include the concurrent timetabling of most of the core subjects where possible and the creation of additional small class groups for students requiring more individual attention. The school has an allocation of 0.5 ex-quota whole-time teacher equivalent for learning support presently allocated to one teacher who acts as co-ordinator of learning support and resource, however due to falling numbers the school will lose this allocation for 2006/07. The school also has an additional allocation of 0.77 for special educational needs, which is currently spread out among three teachers, one of whom has a recognised qualification in special education. One student has a full-time special needs assistant (SNA) who is suitably qualified and maintains a diary on the student’s daily progress and displayed impressive knowledge and sensitivity with regard to students with special educational needs. The co-ordinator of learning support and resource works effectively with the Guidance Counsellor and class tutors, and due to the small size of the school there was evidence of very effective informal communication among class teachers, class tutors and the other subject teachers in order to cater for the needs of all students.

 

Strengths of the school’s learning support and resource service for students include identification procedure, flexibility of provision, experienced staff and collaboration with parents, subject teachers, local schools and outside agencies. First-year students are screened for learning difficulties using standardised tests in September to determine their particular needs and a programme of support is planned accordingly. Teacher and parental observations are also considered. A letter is then sent to the parents/guardians of students with potential learning difficulties by the principal, requesting permission to do further testing on those students. Once permission is granted, those diagnostic tests are conducted, students’ learning difficulties are identified, and they are then timetabled for one-to-one, pair, small group or small class support on a withdrawal basis. Students are usually withdrawn from English, Irish, or Maths and occasionally from Business Studies, History, Geography, Science and Technical Graphics. Every effort is made to liaise closely with the classroom teacher with a view to following the same subject content as the rest of the class during support teaching time. Subject teachers are made aware of individual students’ learning difficulties and support strategies informally. The team of teachers associated with students in receipt of learning support and resource meet on a regular basis for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of individual education plans (IEPs) and reviewing individual student progress. Given that literacy, numeracy and resource support is offered to junior-cycle students only at present, it is recommended that provision should also be made for senior-cycle students who are eligible for such support. It is important that the school remain flexible and open to the ways in which students may be grouped in order to best serve their learning and social needs. The school endeavours to ensure that students in need make an application for reasonable accommodation for State examinations (a reader or a tape recorder and waivers in grammar and spelling) as necessary.

 

The learning-support co-ordinator has started to formalise the planning of provision for students in receipt of support through the development of IEPs, which are reviewed regularly. The learning-support and resource team should give some consideration towards producing education plans in electronic format in the future to allow for amendments to be made efficiently. Also, while a draft document describing the screening and diagnostic testing procedures used by the learning-support co-ordinator has been prepared, it is recommended that the school review current practice and subsequently, in consultation with the school community, prepare and implement a whole-school policy document on learning support and special educational needs provision for inclusion in the school plan. This might include an outline of the procedures used to identify students with learning support needs, a brief description of how learning support is organised in the school and how student progress is monitored. It should include a description of the roles and responsibilities of teachers in the school and a clear statement about the interface between the learning support team and class teachers. The Learning Support Guidelines, Department of Education and Science, and the NCCA Draft Guidelines for teachers of students with mild and moderate general learning disabilities, should be consulted during this process. The Special Education Support Service (SESS), is available to offer support as the school’s policy and practice develops www.sess.ie).

 

Good relationships with outside agencies such as the school’s Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) and Mid-Western Health Board staff (Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, and Clinical Psychologist) have been built up by the learning-support co-ordinator and it was reported that such links have a positive effect with regard to inclusion of students. The importance of a strong home and school partnership is recognised as vital therefore the learning support and resource team communicate regularly with and are available to meet parents at parent-teacher meetings or by individual appointment. The team understands the importance of having parents involved in supporting their child and wishes to further develop this aspect of student support in the future.

 

The learning-support and resource team are given formal opportunities to address the school staff on key issues at staff meetings. To further build on the very good work taking place, it is recommended that continued training of staff take place both at a specialist level, where individual members of staff could attend the relevant courses to qualify as learning-support and resource teachers, and at a whole-school level with further opportunities for in-house learning in specific SEN areas. Furthermore, the school should facilitate further on-going training by inviting specialists to speak with the staff from the learning-support and resource team and the staff in general, (as has occurred in the past). It is recommended that opportunities to share the experiences and expertise of the learning support and resource team with whole staff be arranged so that whole staff may be updated on new approaches or strategies for teaching and learning in a mixed ability teaching environment. Such updates would greatly assist ongoing subject planning.

 

 

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

 

Meánscoil na mBráithre is not designated as disadvantaged and it draws students from a cross section of the community.  There are currently two Traveller students and no international students enrolled. The school is in receipt of an allocation for Travellers of 0.34 of a teacher’s annual contracted hours for approximately 7.6 hours per week, as a larger number of Traveller students had initially enrolled.

 

Commendably, the school has built up very good relationships with parents of these students, through the visiting teacher for Travellers (VTT). There are some positive structures in place in the school such as subsidised school outings, the book rental scheme for junior cycle and annual awards, which support the effective participation of students who are disadvantaged or from minority groups. The school exercises discretion in providing additional forms of support to ameliorate hardship and all students are well integrated into school life. The school relies very much on the voluntary work undertaken by class tutors and class teachers in conjunction with guidance personnel and the principal in assisting students in need of support.

 

The VTT aims to maximise participation of Traveller children in the life of the school and reports very good communication with management, career guidance, learning-support and resource personnel at the school. Although attendance and progress can be haphazard, the school makes very good efforts to educate, assist and retain the maximum number of Traveller students. The school was delighted recently to be in a position to provide a scholarship to a Traveller past-pupil to embark on a third level course. As part of continuous professional development for management and staff it is recommended that, the VTT be provided with opportunities to conduct briefing sessions with the learning support and resource team, guidance teachers and in time the whole staff.

 

 

5.3   Guidance

 

Evaluation of the Guidance and counselling provision is included in the separate Subject inspection report attached.

 

 

5.4   Pastoral care

 

Pastoral care is intrinsic to the operation of school life and activities in Meánscoil na mBráithre. Although there is currently no formal pastoral-care policy in the school, it was most evident that practice underlines the fact that care and support of students are core values in the school and teachers act in a pastoral, as well as an academic capacity. The school is committed to the welfare of students and a care structure exists comprising class tutors, class teachers, RE teachers, SPHE teachers, learning-support team and guidance personnel. A high level of communication and generous co-operation exists among management, staff members and parents in relation to student care and this is commendable. The small numbers of students imply that staff members have a very good knowledge and understanding of students in their care however, there is scope to formalise roles and procedures in relation to pastoral care.

 

The school has redeveloped a comprehensive code of behaviour, based on the values of mutual co-operation and interdependence. Management proposes to achieve a positive approach to fostering co-operation and interdependence by improving communication across the whole-school community, reinforcing positive student behaviour and supporting staff in the implementation for the code of behaviour. Ultimate responsibility in matters of discipline rests with the principal and he is assisted in this task by the deputy principal, the class tutors, class teachers and the subject teachers. Class teachers maintain a “red book” in the staff room where teachers can record incidents of poor student behaviour.  The “red book” is reviewed during the week and after a student has received two entries the class teachers must engage with the student regarding this poor behaviour in advance of any application of sanctions. On receiving three entries, the student is summoned to meet the principal or deputy and a letter is forwarded home. On receipt of a fourth entry the student is placed on detention. If a student is placed on detention on three occasions this could lead to suspension. Clear disciplinary procedures and rules for detention exist and the disciplinary committee intervenes as necessary. Given that issues in relation to discipline are a relevant part of pastoral care, the disciplinary committee should regularly review the implementation of the code of behaviour in order to ensure an effective and streamlined approach to discipline as part of the pastoral care structure.

 

The school had developed a policy and programme for SPHE that is taught to all junior-cycle classes and the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme is provided as an integral part of this. SPHE in the school community is complemented by the existence of an anti-bullying policy, substance abuse policy, as well as a policy on child protection.

 

The strong Catholic ethos of the school supports the commitment to pastoral care. The local clergy liaises with the school with regard to liturgical services. The school does not have access to a full-time chaplain and while this reduces the service that the school would like to be able to provide for students, the class tutors, class teachers and Religion teachers work within the constraints that this imposes.

 

The annual sports day and the awards day are among the highlights of the school year and have a high profile in the school and the organisation of this is commended. These events promote the ethos of the school in that they reward attainment in many areas of school life.

 

Students, by their involvement in the students’ council, provide effective support for, and representation of, students’ needs and interests. A students’ council has been in existence in the school for many years and is elected annually by the staff and is co-ordinated by two teachers. The present students’ council, made up of senior-cycle students, representatives of which met with the evaluation team, are clear about their role in the school.  The students were very impressive in how they conducted their business in terms of planning a programme for the year, and keeping minutes of meetings, evidence of which was provided to the evaluation team.  They communicate with the whole-student body through notice boards, visits to classes and teachers make announcements in classes. They are involved in a wide range of activities such as fundraising, assisting with school events, representing student opinion within the school community and enhancing communication among staff and students and among schools locally. As a means of further increasing the profile of the student council, it is recommended that they should consider ways of making the council more representative of all year groups, consider ways of making themselves identifiable in some way so that students can approach them as necessary and consider how best to involve the student cohort in the annual election procedures. The student council should also develop their own constitution, which should then be discussed at a whole school level and then presented to the board of management for ratification. (cf: Second level student councils in Ireland: a study of enablers, barriers and supports. Stationery Office Dublin, April 2005) and Student Councils: a voice for students, Department of Education and Science, 2002. The student council could take a more proactive role in promoting positive behaviour and maintaining the school environment perhaps by setting out to achieve Green Flag status for the school over an agreed time frame.

 

In keeping with the more formalised approach the school is taking to other policies within SDP, documenting the effective pastoral care approaches inherent in school practice should be considered at this stage. It is timely to co-ordinate the work of teachers in this area with a view to establishing a pastoral care team in advance of the proposed amalgamation. This could provide a formal structure for the transfer of information on students and facilitate early identification of students in need of support and this will formalise and consolidate the good work already being done by individuals and small groups. This will involve investigating ways in which Guidance, learning support, RE teachers, SPHE teachers and in particular the class teacher/class tutor system could contribute to formalising pastoral care, and involve parents and students in policy formulation in this area.  The school has membership of the Irish Association of Pastoral Care in Education (IAPCE) at Marino Institute of Education and they should be consulted as the school develops its policy and practice in relation to pastoral care. The newly established role of class tutor should be reviewed and evaluated across the school community and the critical incidents response plan, which the school is currently working on, should be included in any future care policy.

 

 

6. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.

 

 

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

 

Subject inspection reports in English, Business Subjects, Physics, Geography and Guidance are appended to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

 

This Subject Inspection Report

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil na mBráithre, CBS Ennistymon, County Clare. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the subject teachers and principal.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Whole school support and resource provision for the teaching and learning of English is very good in Meánscoil na mBráithre.

 

Timetabled provision for the teaching of English in Meánscoil na mBráithre is in line with syllabus guidelines.  Students have four classes of English a week in Transition Year (TY), and have five classes of English a week in first, second, third, fifth, and sixth years. The distribution of English classes over the school week is good. In first and second year, students are divided alphabetically into classes. Similarly, the single TY core group is of mixed ability. In third, fifth, and sixth years, setting is used to place students in classes. To facilitate student choice, English classes are concurrently timetabled for third and sixth years. If it were possible, concurrently timetabling fifth-year English classes would be another support for facilitating student movement.

 

Students from the local vocational school who wish to study higher-level Leaving Certificate English are accommodated in Meánscoil na mBráithre because their own school is not in a position to offer a dedicated higher level Leaving Certificate class. Such efforts to cater for individual student needs by the second-level education providers of Ennistymon are highly commended.

 

General resource provision for the teaching of English in Meánscoil na mBráithre is very good. All rooms have whiteboards and access to TVs and VCR/DVD players. The school makes funds available for the purchase of resources on request. Two internet-enabled PCs and a printer are located in the staffroom, providing teachers with the opportunity to download resource materials to complement their teaching. Teachers can also reserve the school’s laptop and data projector for multi-media presentations to their classes. Finally, the school is in the relatively unique position of having its own home-made dark room, audio-recording studio, digital cameras and video equipment, and two Apple Macs capable of digital editing. Hence, Meánscoil na mBráithre possesses an invaluable resource for enabling students to gain a working knowledge of photographic, radio and film production, thus supporting their study of film in Leaving Certificate English. As for print, software and audio-visual aids for teaching English, those resources are located in various rooms in the school. Given that the only central storeroom where those resources could be gathered is already cramped, it is recommended that a list of those resources (indicating the room in which they are located) be compiled and added to the subject department plan, to make all teachers aware of the resources potentially available to them.

 

While Meánscoil na mBráithre possesses no library or library books, some of its junior-cycle students are encouraged to engage in personal reading by their English teachers. For instance, students in some junior-cycle classes are encouraged to become members of their local libraries and to prepare book reviews and/or to conduct research in their libraries. Also, TY students are brought to the Ennistymon public library for briefings on library use and on the Dewey Decimal system of organisation by the librarian. It is recommended that a similar programme be organised for junior-cycle students and it is suggested that assignments could be given to students requiring them to borrow books from the Ennistymon library, which has evening opening-hours twice a week. Finally, additional motivation to read for pleasure could be provided by encouraging students to identify and collect newspaper/ magazine articles of interest to them, by involving students in “World Book Day” activities, by inviting students to participate in the M.S. Readathon or other suitable reading challenge activities.

 

In relation to the school’s book rental scheme, very good collaboration takes place among the English teachers in arranging for the transfer of book-sets from one class to another. It is suggested that, as part of the subject department planning process, the English department may wish to plan for the purchase of additional class-sets of novels and plays, to cater for the needs of ordinary and foundation level junior-cycle students in particular.

 

An array of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities supports the teaching and learning of English in Meánscoil na mBráithre, for which its teachers are highly commended. The “jewel in the crown” of those activities is the school’s TY Media Studies module. As part of that course, students learn to shoot and develop their own photographs, to script and storyboard mini-programmes, and to record and edit audio and film presentations. The best student radio programme is broadcast on the local radio station every year and students have placed in the top three in national film competitions (the Gael Linn Film competition, for example) in the past. Visits to recording studios and to the local radio station are also part of that course. Not only does the module engage students in purposeful active learning and in teamwork, but it also trains them to produce professional quality radio, film, and powerpoint presentations. Clearly, this training could be put to use by the English department for its own benefit (for example, the production of powerpoint presentations on particular authors/texts/themes for use with junior/senior-cycle students). Another innovative co-curricular activity recently introduced in Meánscoil na mBráithre was the employment of a writer-in-residence, who worked with second-year students for one-and-a-half-hours a week over eight weeks. Again, the drafting/redrafting process students learned during that project has been of considerable benefit to their writing. Finally, students are encouraged to submit articles to the school newsletter, to enter writing competitions, and are taken to theatres to see professional productions of plays. The management and teachers of Meánscoil na mBráithre are highly commended for their commitment to providing such stimulating co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for their students. 

 

In relation to professional development opportunities for the English teachers of Meánscoil na mBráithre, all staff avail of inservice organised by school management. In the past, those courses have focused on classroom management, mixed-ability teaching, and on differentiation (with a follow-up inservice on differentiation planned for 2006/07). Clearly, continuous improvement in learning and teaching is a core value of Meánscoil na mBráithre. In the past, two members of the English department were able to avail of the inservice provided by the Teaching English Support Service (TESS) to prepare for the introduction of the new Leaving Certificate English syllabus. To help those members who were not in a position to avail of that inservice, it is suggested that in-house discussions on the main methodological and assessment innovations contained in that syllabus be organised by the department. A collaborative examination of the Draft Guidelines for Teachers of English LC Syllabus could be one means of facilitating that in-house professional development. Lastly, it is suggested that, where feasible, members of the English department attend TESS courses when they are offered in their geographical area.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The English teachers of Meánscoil na mBráithre recently began formal planning as a subject department to complement and enhance existing practices of individual subject planning and informal consultation. This process has been supported by the scheduling of three formal meeting times for the subject department in the school year. It is also hoped to gradually allocate more time for subject department meetings as part of staff meetings/development days. School management is commended for its initiatives and plans in this regard.

 

A collaborative, supportive team spirit was evident among Meánscoil na mBráithre’s English teachers during the subject inspection. By the time of the evaluation, the English department had prepared a draft “curriculum content” plan for each year group. The department is commended for its work on that plan. Looking toward the future, subject department planning that facilitates the sharing of professional expertise and resources will be a useful support not only to the English department of Meánscoil na mBráithre, but also to the English department of the proposed amalgamated second-level school in Ennistymon. Consequently, to provide that dual support, the following recommendations are made. First, it is recommended that a departmental co-ordinator be elected on a rotating basis and that the draft subject department plan be placed in a lever arch file (or other suitable filing arrangement), to which the draft curriculum content plan, the agenda and minutes of subject department meetings, the syllabuses and teacher guidelines for the Junior and Leaving Certificate English courses, SEC Chief Examiners’ reports and marking schemes, and Teaching English magazines should be added. Second, it is recommended that sections be added to the subject department plan compiling methodological suggestions and teaching resources that have been found effective by the members of the department. Third, it is recommended that a section be added to the subject department plan for homework and assessment expectations and procedures. That section could document the subject department’s collective expectations for presentation standards for student work, appropriate types and amounts of homework (including the number of assigned essays per year), and samples of student work across the ability range for peer assessment and creative modelling purposes. Ultimately, the formalisation, documentation, and compilation in a single file of discussions that are already ongoing is what is envisaged.

 

What was evident from Meánscoil na mBráithre’s TY English plan was that a good deal of cross-curricular linking with subjects such as Business and Media Studies is taking place through activities such as mini-company production of booklets (the North Clare Telephone Directory and the Ennistymon Community Book), through the scripting of radio and film programmes, and in the preparation of documentation associated with the Gaisce Awards. This is best practice and is highly commended. If the rest of the TY English plan were restructured into thematic/project units of that type, then student engagement would be even more heightened. Examples of such thematic/project-based activities might include preparing sections of the school newsletter, staging (and possibly filming) plays to give students insights into the mechanics of drama, and preparing powerpoint/paper projects on particular texts/authors. Furthermore, it is suggested that as part of the development of students’ life skills, attention could be devoted to remediating students’ individual writing problems in TY English. Lastly, in reviewing its TY English module, the English department may find the article “The Teaching of English in Transition Year: Some Thoughts” useful (Teaching English magazine, Spring 2006, pgs. 11-12).

 

In all classes observed, the range of work planned was appropriate. Structured delivery and careful prior preparation of material (handouts, advertisement cards, and laptop and data projector) indicated that teachers were engaging in short-term planning. Short-term and long-term plans were presented for inspection. Such preparation shows great dedication.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

Effective teaching was observed over the course of the evaluation. In all classes visited, the pace and content of lessons was appropriate, lessons were well-structured and purposeful, and there was evidence of good short-term planning. Objectives in all classes were clear and were in line with syllabus requirements. Teachers used appropriate language with their students, and gave clear explanations and instructions in all lessons evaluated.

 

The resources used by the English teachers included handouts, whiteboards, novels, teacher-created laminated advertisement cards (A4 size) and a laptop and data projector. Where possible, it is recommended that more multi-media stimuli and concrete artefacts be utilised in the teaching of English, to cater for students’ different learning styles and ability levels. Also, the English department is encouraged, over the coming years, to utilise the school’s laptop and data projector to support its teaching. To compensate for the fact that the school’s broadband connection is not always reliable, it is suggested that teachers could “save” websites they want to show students as files, for use at a later point. In that way, film clips of poets reading their own work or being interviewed, maps and photographs of the places where texts are located and so on could be used to vivify texts, thus increasing students’ engagement in particular units of work. To help the teachers become more confident users of the laptop and data projector, it is suggested that the school’s Media Studies teacher and/or the ICT advisor attached to the Clare Education Centre could be consulted for advice.

 

A variety of uses of the whiteboard was observed over the course of the evaluation, including setting questions for discussion, eliciting and listing names and traits of the characters in a studied text for revision purposes, recording students’ responses to questions, and recording homework assignments. All of these were sound educational activities and are commended. For the additional purposes of modelling how students might organise their ideas for writing tasks and of vocabulary reinforcement, it is recommended that the whiteboard be used in a more consistent, structured way across the entire department. Such practices will equip students with an ever-expanding reserve of vocabulary, syntactical structures, and writing models. Also, students could be occasionally utilised to record class feedback on the whiteboard, thus enabling teachers to devote more attention to stimulating class discussion and to monitoring student behaviour. Lastly, the requirement that students transcribe board work into their copies will provide them with an invaluable revision aid.

 

 

All teachers used questioning to good effect to stimulate and interact with students and to structure the learning activity. In a few classes observed, the exclusive questioning technique employed was a global one, resulting in whole-class answers. This technique was excellent for generating classroom discussion and debate. However, best practice involves the interweaving of global and targetted questioning (directing appropriate, achievable questions to different students across the class group). Varying questioning styles in this manner will maximise the involvement of students across the ability range.

 

All teachers built on students’ prior knowledge and experiences to deepen their understanding of texts being studied. For instance, by linking a studied novel and play through the theme of land, one teacher made both texts more relevant to students’ life experiences and family backgrounds. Another elicited students’ familiarity with Johnny Cash to activate their prior knowledge of ballads. Media studies was linked to the local newspaper (the Clare Champion) in another class. Finally, the choice of a short story with a setting familiar to all students (a classroom) also captured students’ interest. Such linking of students’ localities, personal experiences, general knowledge, and content studied in other classes with lesson topics is highly commended.

 

A variety of teaching methods was observed over the course of the evaluation including question and answer, teacher/student reading, in-class writing, prediction, creative modelling (where a teacher-prepared answer to an examination question was read to students who had already attempted the question themselves), pre-reading (where difficult vocabulary in a text to be read was discussed in advance and definitions of words were projected on the whiteboard), picture perception (where students were asked to identify elements of advertisements from pre-prepared laminated cards), and cross-curricular linking (where students’ historical and geographical studies of the US were invoked in discussing a particular novel). It was also reported that teachers occasionally screen relevant films to help familiarise students with certain texts, that CDs of familiar ballads are played to vivify the study of poetry, and that students learn to storyboard sequences and to write scripts as part of the TY Media Studies programme. This is best practice and is highly commended. Over the coming years, it is recommended that the English department continue to add to its repertoire of active learning methodologies by experimenting with techniques such as pairwork, language and textual games, project work, role play, hot-seating, and group work.

 

Through the subject planning process, it is recommended that the English department of Meánscoil na mBráithre pool its resources and professional expertise in relation to the teaching of writing. For instance, it is recommended that the practices of presenting students with concrete objects and asking them to write descriptive essays about them, of directing students to write their homework answers on state examination style paper to help them judge the length of answers required, of using the whiteboard for vocabulary development and modelling purposes, and of drafting/redrafting units of work should be extended across the department. Also, it is recommended that the department demonstrate and encourage creative modelling in all junior and senior-cycle English classes and that it experiment with writing frames and cloze tests. Distributing anonymous samples of student work to encourage students to identify the strengths and areas for development in those samples, and introducing criteria for assessment to help structure such peer assessment discussions are other strategies that will support the teaching and learning of writing in the school.

 

Excellent rapport between teachers and students was evident in all the classrooms visited. Discipline was sensitively maintained by all teachers. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses and integrated them into the lessons. Almost all students were engaged in their learning, were eager to discuss and debate issues, and were given many opportunities to do so. In tackling this limited issue of unequal student engagement, it is recommended that audio-visual/ multi-media resources and active learning methodologies be more consistently used. Also, it is advised that handouts/support notes for students be prepared as clear, accessible revision aids (ideally with a relevant photo/illustration) rather than as handwritten scripts. Furthermore, the fact that the staff of Meánscoil na mBráithre has received inservice on differentiation and plans to receive further input on that topic in 2006/07 will also increase the English department’s ability to cater for the learning needs of all students.

 

In some of the classes observed, teachers had made efforts to create a motivational, print-rich environment to support the teaching and learning of English. The resources displayed in rooms included a photograph of the school’s 2005/06 writer-in-residence (Ré Ó Laighléis) and samples of the essays he helped students revise and improve, samples of formal letters and application forms, and of photographic storyboards produced by TY students. It is recommended that such good practice be extended across the entire department. Among the visual aids teachers may wish to display in their classrooms might be posters featuring key words associated with genres, key quotations from plays, posters featuring photographs and timelines of studied poets, posters of studied plays, and so on. It is suggested that some of those aids could be produced by TY English students. By posting samples of students’ work on classroom walls, teachers will be simultaneously reinforcing students’ learning and celebrating their achievements. The creation of such print-rich environments throughout the school will be a key motivational support for the teaching and learning of English in Meánscoil na mBráithre. 

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student competence and progress in English in Meánscoil na mBráithre, including oral questioning, written assignments, continuous assessment, and formal examinations. Building on the practices of individual teachers in the school, it is recommended that the modes of peer assessment and discussions about criteria for assessment now be added to the assessment repertoire of the entire English department.

 

Appropriate records of students’ results are kept by all teachers in Meánscoil na mBráithre. In addition to recording results, it is recommended that such assessments be used as diagnostic instruments, whereby the most common grammatical, spelling, and/or organisational errors of each student are identified and lessons are prepared to help remediate those problems. Also, the department may find the Assessment for Learning materials developed by the NCCA to support post-primary English useful in this regard.

 

Homework was being regularly set and corrected in almost all classes observed. Teachers called out homework assignments orally at the end of the class in the majority of classes observed. For the benefit of students who are less academically inclined, and who tend not to remember homework tasks set orally, it is recommended that teachers write such assignments on their whiteboard and allow time for students to copy down the assignment. Teachers may even wish to write homework assignments on the whiteboard at the beginning of class, as a reminder to themselves of the task they want to set to reinforce classwork. Such note-taking would be facilitated if all students had a dedicated homework journal/ notebook and if a school-wide expectation was communicated that all students were required to place that journal/notebook on their desks for use at the beginning of every class. To help ensure that homework is regularly set and incrementally increases in difficulty for different year groups, it is recommended that the English department agree its homework expectations (types of homework assignments, number of essays per year, standards of presentation in copies and so forth) as part of the subject department planning process. Lastly, it is suggested that the department also discuss copy and/or folder systems of organisation for junior and senior-cycle students, so that students will be able to easily access their notes for revision purposes at the end of both cycles.

 

Evidence was noted in a number of classes of detailed feedback being written on students’ assignments, with teachers balancing the identification of student errors/omissions with affirmations of what students had done correctly and with developmental feedback on how they might improve their work. This is best practice and is commended.

 

For first and second-year students of Meánscoil na mBráithre, there are five continuous assessments and one end-of-year house examination. For third and sixth- years students, there are two house examinations and a pre-certificate examination. During their fifth year, students have four house examinations that are co-timetabled with the other second-level schools in the town, to enable all second-level Ennistymon students to study subjects unavailable to them in their base schools in other locations.  That co-timetabling arrangement is also made for sixth-year house and pre-certificate examinations. Such co-operation among schools evidences the commitment of their combined staffs to the best interests of their students and the collaborative nature of the school managements involved. This is best practice and is highly commended.

 

When setting Summer house examinations for fifth-year students, common examinations and agreed common marking schemes are prepared by teachers. It is encouraged that this best practice be extended to other year groups, through the setting of common elements in year-group house examinations. For example, reading comprehension and unseen poem sections can be common. Where different text choices have been made, generic questions can be set. Common criteria of assessment can also be agreed. These practices will facilitate comparison of attainment across year groups, thus providing an evidence base for planning to meet students’ needs and for recommending the most appropriate class-placement for individual students.

 

The school reports that liaison with parents is good and that parents are very supportive. The standard formal structures for parent-teacher meetings and for reporting to parents are in place.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation, when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil na mBráithre, Ennistymon. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in business subjects and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Business Studies is an optional subject for the junior cycle. Students, on entry to the school, receive taster modules in Business Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) during the first term. On completion of these taster modules, students must choose one of these subjects for the remainder of the junior cycle. Business teachers and some business students expressed concern about this arrangement. It is noted that resource restrictions appear to have prompted the arrangement. Nevertheless it is recommended that the school should review the arrangement. This recommendation arises because of the concern expressed, and the fact that a high proportion of senior-cycle Business students are taking up this subject on an “ab initio” basis. The fact that “ab initio” study of Business is accommodated is in line with syllabus objectives for the subject.   

 

On completion of the junior cycle, students may choose the Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate (LC). While there is provision for mini-company within TY, and mini-company projects have obtained considerable success for students to date, the module was not visible on the TY timetable, and no written plan for the module was evident during the inspection. It is recommended that the mini-company module be given its proper place on the TY timetable and that, in the context of subject planning, a plan for the module is developed by the business teachers, as part of an overall plan for the range of business subjects on offer to students. Senior-cycle business students may study both Accounting and Business. This is possible because Business is available within Meánscoil na mBráithre, and Accounting and Business are also available to students through curricular co-operation with the local all-girls school. Senior-cycle students may qualify for participation in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) by virtue of subject option choices for the LC. Senior-cycle students are supported around optional subjects choices through a free choice of a wide range of subjects, after which option bands are set up, as well as advice from individual subjects teachers and class tutors. Where difficulties arise around such choices, parents are advised and consulted with a view to resolving the issue. The school has a wide range of subject provision. This is assisted at senior cycle through curricular co-operation among the three local schools, in advance of amalgamation. Overall, students are well supported in subject choices for both junior and senior cycle.

 

Class period provision for business subjects is satisfactory. At junior cycle, however, while Business Studies is allocated four class periods for each of the three years of the cycle, these are placed on the timetable as two double-class periods. This arises because Business Studies is placed opposite Materials Technology (Wood) for the full junior cycle. It is recommended that every effort should be made to span one of these double-class periods across two days, thus increasing the number of times each week that Business Studies students meet their teachers, and to ensure a balanced distribution of these periods across the school week.

 

The school has a computer room, with some mobile ICT equipment and also has wireless broadband. Apart from ICT timetable provision for TY students, and LCVP students, who have access to ICT for course work, other students do not have dedicated ICT timetable provision, except as an alternative to a timetabled double period for games. All students are encouraged to acquire the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), as the school is a centre for the ECDL.  Business Studies has stated syllabus objectives for ICT, and Business lends itself to the use of ICT as an aid to teaching and learning. Therefore, it is recommended that the business teachers, in the context of subject planning, identify how best to fulfil these syllabus objectives, and explore the use of ICT as a teaching and learning aid to business subjects.

 

Classrooms are student-based. This arises because of space restrictions. There is scope to develop a business-news board as a means of displaying business-related materials, so that business students may have an opportunity of displaying various business projects and of keeping up to date on business-news stories. The news board could be developed and maintained by business students as part of TY. Therefore, it is recommended that this matter should be included as part of ongoing subject planning. The web site of the Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland (BSTAI) at www.bstai.ie has useful links that may assist this task. 

 

Business students are taught in mixed-ability settings. There was a high level of care and concern for all students evident among the business teachers. The issue of teaching in mixed-ability settings has formed part of whole-staff continuing professional development (CPD). There is scope to develop cross-curricular links between the business teachers and their learning-support and resource colleagues. Therefore, it is recommended that basic business terms and calculations should be identified by the business teachers and shared with the learning-support and resource teachers for inclusion in extra classes in English and Mathematics that may be provided to designated students.                                         

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The business teachers have developed a comprehensive plan for business subjects. The focus of this plan was mainly Business Studies and Business. The plan was developed as part of ongoing school development planning (SDP), and in this context was supported by the provision of time during this school year for subject planning, and internal facilitation of the process by two teachers who have qualifications in SDP. The business teachers also meet regularly during the school year, mainly in their own time. The subject plan was mainly content-focused with year plans, term plans, and lesson plans evident. Well-structured revision plans were a feature of the subject plan with adequate time built-in for revision for the State examinations. Linked to the timed-content plans was a system of assessments that are given during class time, on completion of key aspects of revision. These assessments were supplementary to the whole-school approach to homework and assessment. Apart from content, the subject plan also focused on aims and objectives of each subject, cross-curricular themes, teaching and learning resources, ICT, health and safety, and special educational needs. There is scope to further develop these headings. Nevertheless there is a good structure and approach to subject planning for business subjects.

 

Cross- and co-curricular links were evident mainly in TY and LCVP. In TY, co-curricular links occur through the work experience element of TY, and participation in the mini-company promoted by a local branch of a large financial institution. A guest speaker informs TY students of the competition, and personnel from the financial institution interview students for key positions in the mini-company. This years project won the local and regional finals and went on to compete in the national finals. Co-curricular activity in the LCVP occurs mainly through the work experience aspect of the programme as well as guest speakers, and visits to outside agencies as part of the Link Modules. Cross-curricular links were mainly evident through the TY mini-company, where a range of subject areas is combined from year to year to support the completion of various mini-company projects. There is scope to formalise good practice in cross- and co-curricular links for TY and LCVP in the context of subject planning, and to explore how best to transfer such links into other business subjects. Therefore it is recommended that cross- and co-curricular links are included in the subject plan.

 

In all lessons observed, supplementary materials were developed and used to assist the implementation of lesson plans, and effective monitoring procedures for the implementation of subjects plans were in place.    

                                            

 

Teaching and Learning

 

In all lessons observed, lesson structures were of a high standard with links to previous learning being made through the monitoring of student homework and re-capping of previous material. Effective use was made of whiteboards as visual aids to learning by displaying worked solutions to set questions, as well as building up solutions to questions with the assistance of students. This was especially effective in questions of an Accounting nature, such as Ratio Analysis and Household Budgets. There was a suitable variety of activity in each lesson observed, ranging from teacher input to student involvement in the flow of lessons. Students were actively involved in lessons through teacher questioning and the use of aids to learning such as summary sheets, word games, and worksheets. The pace of lessons was well suited to the needs of students in a mixed-ability setting. There was a suitable mix of activity with sufficient time being given to students to explore and share their learning, through direct involvement in the flow of lessons and short in-class assignments. When students worked on these assignments, the teachers monitored and supported individual student effort. Overall a suitable blend of teaching methodologies and learning aids was used in lessons observed.

 

Students were well behaved, and classrooms were well managed. This effective management was contributed to by clarity of teacher communication, planned activities being effectively implemented, and motivated students, who were attentive to classroom activities. Classroom atmospheres were positive and affirming. There was a high level of mutual respect evident in all teacher-student interactions. This was enhanced by sensitivity among the teachers for student learning, and a relaxed conversational style of teaching. Overall positive learning environments were experienced in all lessons observed. There was a high level of experience and expertise among the business teachers. Subject planning is the ideal opportunity for colleagues to share and discuss this experience and expertise, with a view to recording existing best practice in teaching as part of the developing subject plan. Therefore it is recommended that teaching and learning styles should become part of ongoing subject planning.     

 

Students displayed a commendable ability to know and understand business concepts. They were well able to apply these concepts to previous learning as well as to examples from the local and surrounding business community. Such knowledge and understanding was assisted by the integrated nature of the junior-cycle syllabus, and the use of a business magazine to supplement the textbook at senior cycle. The success of the TY mini-company and the display of their projects also contributed to students’ awareness of the practical application of various business concepts. Given the timing of the inspection, there was an appropriate emphasis on preparation for the State examinations, and in this regard students were being well prepared with structured revisions plans, in-built assessments, and advice on exam answering techniques for maximum marks.

                        

                 

Assessment and Achievement

 

The school has a whole-school policy for homework and a well-established assessment system. There was evidence of efficient practice among the business teachers not only in homework monitoring but also in assessment. This practice among the teachers was in line with the whole-school approach.

 

An examination of a sample of student copybooks and teachers’ records highlighted a significant build-up of homework with annotation and guiding comment being used in some copybooks. The sequencing of homework was in line with the subject plan. It is desirable that homework and assessment is included in the subject plan, so that good practice among the teachers can be shared and formalised. Therefore it is recommended that this should form part of ongoing subject planning. The Assessment for Learning (AFL) project at www.ncca.ie may be a useful reference point from which to consider this matter.

 

Business students are encouraged to take their subjects to the highest level in the State examinations and decisions in this regard are taken at the latest possible time. This practice is in line with the business subjects’ syllabuses as these are designed to be taught in mixed-ability settings. Parents are involved in such decision making, especially where there is a variation between the school’s and individual student’s opinions of the most suitable level to maximise potential.

 

The school compares students’ outcomes in the State examinations with the national norms each year. The business teachers discuss and reflect on these at the beginning of each year. This is commendable practice, as it highlights the confidence the teachers have in their professional relationships for the good of students.

 

                  

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of business subjects and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS Ennistymon. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in CBS Ennistymon and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Geography is a compulsory subject in junior cycle in the school and is allocated three class periods per week. Geography is not present in the current Transition Year (TY) programme although elements of Tourism studies have been included in the programme in the past. The TY programme does include a History module. Notwithstanding the staff resourcing and timetabling issues that exist, it is recommended that school management consider strategies to include elements of Geography within the TY programme either as a stand-alone module or as part of the current History module.

 

Geography is an optional subject at senior cycle and experiences a very strong uptake. The strength of the subject at senior cycle is a product of the commitment of both the school management and the Geography teachers to the subject. Students, at senior cycle, are given an open choice of subjects. From these first choices, option blocks of subjects are created in line with student demand and available teaching resources. Senior-cycle classes are allocated five class periods per week. Geography class groups at both junior and senior cycle are mixed-ability in nature.

 

The subject choice structure at senior cycle operates in co-operation with Scoil Mhuire, the local girls’ secondary school and Ennistymon Vocational School. As a result of this co-operation there are two senior-cycle Geography class groups in the current fifth-year and two in sixth year. Students from all three schools attend one Geography class group in the CBS. Another Geography class group operates in Scoil Mhuire. At the appropriate times students make their way to either school to attend their Geography lessons. This level of co-operation and sharing of resources ensures the strength of the subject at senior cycle and is to be commended.

 

Class groups are based in particular classrooms due to space restrictions and the teacher moves between classrooms as the timetable dictates. As a result, teachers must gather and carry their teaching resources to the appropriate classroom as required. Each of the Geography teachers has gathered and stored a range of useful teaching resources and these are shared with other teachers as required. It is recommended that the Geography teachers catalogue all the available teaching resources for the subject. These should be stored in the central resource area next to the staff room and therefore made accessible to all teachers of the subject. This process will also allow for a review of the usefulness of current teaching resources and for an assessment of future needs.

 

The integration of ICT into teaching and learning in Geography is advancing. The members of the Geography teaching team have accessed some ICT training through the Leaving Certificate Geography Support Service and the school has wireless broadband access. A recently acquired mobile unit containing a laptop computer and data projector is now available for use by all teachers in the school. There is clear evidence that this unit is being used to support teaching and learning in some Geography lessons.  These developments are to be encouraged and commended.

 

There is clear evidence for the provision for students with special educational needs (SEN) within the Geography lessons. Differentiated teaching strategies are considered within the context of the mixed-ability lessons. One of the Geography teachers is also the learning support and resource teacher. Students who are withdrawn from time-tabled lessons for extra support receive appropriate support in Geography within this process.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

There was clear evidence for extensive and effective individual planning and preparation for the lessons observed. Programmes for individual class groups were in evidence as were appropriate revision timetables for class groups approaching state examinations. Individual teachers had prepared focused worksheets on particular topics including crosswords, quizzes and short answer questions using diagrams and Ordnance Survey (OS) map extracts. The classrooms observed were also decorated with posters and diagrams, many of which were produced by students. There was also some evidence of individual planning to integrate ICT into teaching and learning in Geography. The level of individual planning and preparation for Geography teaching is to be highly commended.

 

The Geography teachers are also engaged in effective collaborative planning for the subject. This work has been completed as part of the whole-school engagement with school development planning. The Geography teachers have a curricular plan for all classes outlining an agreed teaching programme with textbooks and resources to be used. The teachers also have discussed and agreed on both the timing and form of assessment to be used. This level of formal collaborative planning for the subject is to be highly commended. It is recommended that, over time, the Geography teachers build on this impressive work to focus on teaching methodologies and differentiated approaches to teaching and learning that could the applied to the mixed ability classroom settings in the school. 

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

There was a very high quality of teaching and learning in evidence in all the Geography lessons observed. The learning intention was clearly set out from the beginning of the lessons and was central to their progression. A range of methodologies was in evidence. Lessons were focused appropriately on revision in advance of end of year assessments and state examinations. This revision was structured within a revision plan that was given to each student. Teacher questions were the principal teaching method used.  Questions were ranged throughout the lessons some requiring responses from named individuals and others aimed at the students as a whole. A combination of questions requiring factual answers and those requiring higher order reasoning and analysis was in evidence. In all cases the questions were clear and the students were both affirmed and encouraged to develop their responses as appropriate. These methods were also supported by the use of the white-board to record key points and terms and as the process was advanced the outline structure to written examination questions emerged. Students recorded these points in their notebooks. This effective methodology was also varied through the use of worksheets and short written exercises given to students at appropriate points in the lesson. The questions used in the worksheet were central to the revision strategy and reflected the form and structure of examination questions. In all lessons observed students were engaged actively in their own learning and the teaching strategies used to achieve this are to be highly commended.

 

The classroom management in the lessons observed was clear and effective. As students were engaged by the teaching methods used, the management of students was not overt and did not detract from the progression of the lessons. The use of targeted questions and a variety of classroom activities ensured constant student attention and the seamless management of the lessons. The classroom atmosphere was very positive. The students were courteous and secure in their interactions with teachers. Students were addressed by their first names and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts. This atmosphere reflected the impressive level of teacher preparation and the variety of teaching strategies and stimulus material used to engage students in their own learning.

 

There was clear evidence that students had achieved a level of understanding of the subject appropriate to their class group and level. The mixed ability nature of the lessons was obvious from the range of student responses and from the varying quality of work in student notebooks. In all lessons observed differentiated questioning was in evidence and it was clear that learning was taking place.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A range of assessment modes was utilised in Geography lessons. Oral assessment was incorporated into all lessons. As the appropriate focus of the lessons was revision of the work completed during the year, students were questioned on the topic for study to establish the depth of learning and understanding. An examination of students’ copies and folders revealed a high standard of work. Homework was corrected and graded and teachers’ comments were in evidence. In all lessons observed, students were impressive in their understanding and application of geographical concepts.

 

Formal assessments include class tests and regular monthly assessments. The results of these tests are recorded in a student assessment results booklet that is sent home regularly for the attention and signature of parents or guardians. Students in third-year and fifth-year also sit mid-term tests in the first and second terms. All class groups have Christmas examinations and first- second and fifth-year students also sit an end of year examination. Third- and sixth-year students sit pre-examinations in advance of both the Junior and Leaving Certificate. The results of all assessments and examinations are reported to parents through written school reports and at parent -teacher meetings.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of Geography and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil na mBráithre, CBS, Ennistymon, Co. Clare. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teacher.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Science is a core subject in junior cycle and at senior cycle the school offers the following science subjects: Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The some aspects of senior science subjects such as Chemistry, Physics and Horticulture are also included in the school’s Transition Year programme. The school is able to offer such a range of senior cycle science subjects as a result of the close curricular co-operation, which exists among the three second-level schools in Ennistymon. The order of popularity of the Leaving Certificate subjects in Scoil na mBráithre is Agricultural Science, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. Physics, in common with the other senior science subjects is allocated five class periods each week, including one double class period.

 

Physics classes have the use of the school’s laboratory, which is quite well equipped. It was noted that recommendations made in the previous report on Junior Science in the school with regard to the storage of chemicals in the laboratory have been addressed. The laboratory is broadband enabled and during the lessons evaluated full and appropriate use was made of this facility. Physics staff in the school has undertaken substantial professional development in recent years and the results of this were evident in the manner in which the school’s Physics programme is being delivered.

 

The school is congratulated on the success of one of its students in the Young Scientist and Technology competition earlier this year.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The school plan for Physics 2004-2006 gives a comprehensive overview of Physics provision in the school. As well as providing the context for Physics within the school curriculum and the overall Science provision, it includes detailed material on the delivery of the subject in the school. Some cross-curricular links between Physics and other subjects are indicated as are the considerations which impinge on catering for students with special educational needs in the subject. A plan of work for the Physics programme over the two-year senior cycle is included and the equipment and resources available to support the programme have been listed. The plan also includes information on homework policy, assessment, record keeping, reporting to parents, and health and safety, as well as recent professional development undertaken. The Physics plan represents the fruits of a clear understanding of the value of planning along with a desire and an ability to communicate to students a comprehensive and clear knowledge and understanding of Physics. Should further development be considered in relation to the plan, perhaps a section for students of Physics could be included, which could include such information as the termly programme and the nature of the homework, experimental work and the assessments which they will be undertaking as they progress through the course.

 

The lessons observed provided evidence that the school plan for Physics is implemented and is reflected also in planning which takes place on a weekly and a daily basis. Resources for the classes observed were readily to hand and the ease and apparent informality with which each class progressed was an indication of the amount of prior planning and preparatory work which had taken place.

 

Planning and preparation for the teaching and learning of Physics in this school is of a standard which seeks to continually push forward the bounds of what is desirable and feasible in giving students of Physics an understanding for and a love of Physics.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

The lessons observed were impressive in the extent of the preparation which had taken place, the degree of student involvement, the clear sequencing of the material of the lesson, the incorporation of the school’s ICT resources and the quality of the interaction between the teacher and the students. The first lesson, which was in the area of current electricity, led from an examination of current electricity and an exploration of Ohm’s law to an experiment performed by the class which sought to verify Joule’s law. Material from the Junior Certificate Science programme was used as a basis for the development of students’ knowledge of current electricity. The format of much of the lesson was a PowerPoint presentation, which, as well as incorporating all of the theory involved, explored, through the use of appropriate hyperlinks, the applications of the theory and problems in which the theory was illustrated. The hyperlinks also led to graphical demonstrations which illustrated and explained current electricity, including simulations. The hyperlinks were accessed through the school’s broadband network.

 

It was noticeable that the students were involved in the presentation of the lesson and in interacting with the software which was in use. There was a calm atmosphere of work in the class. It was evident that students’ expectations in respect of the lesson were of working together and interacting with the subject matter of the lesson. Students’ views and ideas were continually sought.

 

During the latter part of the lesson students worked together as a group along with the teacher to carry out the experiment. Temperature readings were taken using an interface with the computer and smaller groups of students took turns to carry out part of the experiment. Readings, as they were obtained, were examined thoroughly by the class as a group and reasons for inconsistencies were explored.

 

The second lesson observed, a sixth-year lesson on waves, used similar methodology to that of the first lesson observed. Once again the involvement of the class in the lesson was notable. In both lessons, the same whiteboard served as a screen for the PowerPoint presentation and also as a board. This facilitated writing on the PowerPoint display and using it to spark further trains of enquiry. The experiment in this class was carried out in a similar manner to that of the earlier class.

 

Physics students have three notebooks: for practical work, for homework, and to note down, in an ordered manner, the principal points as they progress through their Physics course. Those notebooks examined in each of the classes were of a high standard and served a useful purpose for the students.

 

In summary the teaching and learning, including the class organisation and management, seen in the Physics lessons observed were of the highest quality. A possible development, in the light of the new Junior Certificate Science syllabus, which places a strong emphasis on student-based practical work, could be that students would carry out some of the experimental work in smaller groups. It is recognised that this is probably not feasible at present but, as more equipment is acquired by the school, it might be possible.  

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A feature of the classes observed was the continual emphasis on the checking through questioning of students’ understanding of the material being covered. This is exemplified by the manner in which students in both classes were continually occupied. While the experimental work was being carried out, students not engaged in carrying out the experiment were given problem sheets to fill in. In this way each student was given the opportunity to check their own knowledge of the topic. The seamless weaving of assessment into the teaching and learning process in the classes observed represents highly effective practice.

 

As well as feedback following the checking each day of students’ homework fifth year students are assessed in a formal manner four times each year and Junior and Leaving Certificate students are assessed three times, including the pre-Leaving Certificate examination. Except for the pre-Leaving Certificate examination each of these examinations lasts ninety minutes and the three schools in Ennistymon co-operate in holding them. Normal school classes are suspended for about three and a half days each time. In the case of Physics at least it is questioned whether assessments of the formality involved are necessary on such a frequent basis. It is acknowledged however, that reviewing this practice is not within the power of the school alone.

 

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of Physics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Meánscoil na mBráithre, CBS, Ennistymon.  It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of provision in Guidance and makes recommendations for the further development of Guidance in the school.  The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms, viewed Guidance facilities, interacted with students, held discussions with teachers and parents and reviewed school planning documentation.  Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and guidance team.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The boys’ secondary school in Ennistymon is one of the earliest of the Christian Brother Schools.  It was founded in 1824 and is situated within three hundred metres of its famous waterfalls. Preparations for the proposed amalgamation of the three schools in the town have been in train for a number of years and have involved them in high levels of co-operation, particularly the subject choice structure for the senior cycle curriculum which operates in co-operation with Scoil Mhuire, the local girls’ secondary school and Ennistymon Vocational School and in planning and inservice days attended by the staff of the three schools.  Similarly high levels of co-operation are evident in the, mainly informal, care and support structures of the school. 

 

The level of support for students is very high.  Links between those involved in learning support and Guidance, for example, are continual and informal and the recent introduction of the class-tutor role alongside the already established class-teacher role brings a level of formality to the process.  Class teachers deal with issues related to attendance and discipline and the role of class tutors is pastoral.  No fully-qualified guidance counsellor is currently employed.  A Counsellor-in-training attends the school for four hours per week in an unpaid capacity and provides a supervised service of personal counselling.  One teacher is participating in the Graduate Diploma in Career Guidance and Counselling at the University of Limerick but is not, at present, timetabled for Guidance.

 

Eleven hours per week have been allocated to Guidance by the Department of Education and Science for the 2005–2006 school year.  The enrolment of 188 students in September 2005 entitles the school to an allocation of eight hours in the 2006-2007 year.  The dispersal and use of some of the Guidance hours is somewhat unclear.  All senior classes are timetabled for two forty-minute periods of Career Guidance, a total of six hours and forty minutes. In addition, class tutors are timetabled for 40-minute weekly tutorial time with each year group.  It is recommended that the use of the hours allocated to Guidance be clearly outlined in the context of the school’s Guidance plan and programme.

 

An exemplary programme of vocational guidance has been devised and is being implemented.  The programme is delivered through Career Guidance classes timetabled for fifth- and sixth- year groups and incorporates presentations by representatives of various training and educational institutions.  Visits to those institutions and to relevant open days and career events are also organised for and by students.  Because of the informal contacts which are a notable feature of the school, much work with students at both junior and senior levels is co-ordinated by staff responsible for the provision of various programmes such as Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education, the optional Transition Year and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.  Subject choice, mini-company, healthy eating, mock interviews, work experience and many other extra- and co-curricular initiatives are organised on a needs basis with the commendable co-operation of teachers.  Reflecting the Catholic ethos of the school, students and staff are heavily involved in charitable and social action and have been recognised for these efforts by the Edmund Rice Awards.

 

Incoming students are provided with opportunities to visit the school prior to entry.  An open evening is arranged for all potential students and taster classes are provided in March.  Pupils from local primary schools attend these classes, organised as part of the school day.  The principal and teacher of Career Guidance visit Primary schools before Christmas to provide information to prospective students.  New students choose either Business Studies or Woodwork as Junior Certificate subjects having had some exposure to both in the early stages of first year.

 

The choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate Examination is made in third year or in the optional Transition Year and is facilitated by a variety of staff including class teachers and tutors.  A student-friendly system of open choice operates.  Students indicate preferences and a table of optional subjects is drawn up which best matches preferences and available resources.

 

The Transition Year is regularly reviewed.  Such reviews are commended and suggested for all programmes.

 

Links with outside agencies are managed by the principal and have been well established with, for example, the National Educational Psychological Service, social services and the Centre for Education Services at the Marino Institute.  A small number of referrals are made to external agencies for counselling or psychological interventions in collaboration with parents.  Referrals internal to the school are made in the context of day-to-day communication with relevant staff.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

A good deal of Guidance related school planning has occurred and is in process although formal whole-school Guidance planning is in its infancy.  Policy formation has been a major feature of planning to date.  Policies on admissions, student behaviour, homework, SPHE, internet acceptable use, anti-bullying, dignity at work, continuous professional development (CPD), and school attendance have been ratified by the Board of Management.  Elements of the Guidance programme, such as the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, Transition Year and SPHE are already in place.  The process of subject department planning has been initiated.  Staff inservice on child protection guidelines and on the special needs of students has been initiated and it is noteworthy that all staff attended these sessions. 

 

In order to integrate these elements and to prepare for the development of the service in an amalgamated setting, it is recommended that whole-school Guidance planning be commenced.  Excellent resources for this purpose are available from the School Development Planning Initiative at sdpi.ie and from the the National Centre for Guidance in Education at ncge.ie.  The National Centre for Guidance in Education also runs a Guidance planning course, details of which have been circulated to schools and which may be of interest to staff in the longer term.  A core document in the preparation of a Guidance plan should be Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance published by the Department of Education and Science in 2005.  The broad definition of Guidance used in the document and the links with other student supports will provide a structure on which to base the plan and programme at whole-school and at Guidance team level.  The balance of personal and group Guidance, junior and senior cycle inputs, counselling and class work should be addressed in the planning process.  Other issues such as cross-curricular planning, continuing professional development, particularly counselling supervision, and communication with management, programme co-ordinators and others involved in student support, will also need to be addressed in the plan.  The process should be based on priorities established following a review of student needs in consultation with staff and parents.  It is recommended that some, regular meetings of those involved in planning student support be initiated and, especially in the context of pending amalgamation, that those meetings be minuted.

 

No dedicated office for Guidance and or for counselling purposes is available at present.  A small library of prospectuses and other literature is located on shelving in a senior classroom.  Access to a telephone, the internet, copying and printing is arranged with senior management. A computer is also available in the staffroom.  It is anticipated that a Guidance suite will be a feature of the building proposed for the amalgamated schools. 

 

Information and communication technology (ICT) is readily accessible by students in class groups and on an individual basis.  Access is arranged with the ICT co-ordinator or in consultation with teachers.

 

The management facilitation of continuing professional development is commended.  Much work has been done in preparing for amalgamation and a certain frustration by the pace of progress should not cloud the value of progress to date.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

A fifth year class (year one of the Leaving Certificate course) was observed in the course of the inspection.  The major topics of the lesson were the career investigation and qualification levels.  The lesson was well planned and executed.  Materials were to hand and relevant and students’ own experiences of work and study were elicited as the lesson progressed.  Students participated well and showed interest by asking questions and providing informed answers to the questions raised.  A variety of methods was utilised during the lesson including brainstorming and story-telling in addition to appropriate use of the board and questions.  Good rapport was evident and a brief discussion revealed an engagement with decision-making, a thorough understanding of the implications of choices made and a responsible attitude to the future among students.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Regular assessments and reports are a notable feature of the school.  A combination of end-of–year and continuous assessments is made during each year, varying from a total of five in first and second year to two in Transition Year. Formal assessment for screening and diagnostic purposes is carried out by the learning support co-ordinator beginning in September and continuing throughout first year.  Tests of reading comprehension and mathematical ability are administered in the earlier stages and basic reading is assessed in the case of students who require further diagnostic and supportive interventions. Parent information is also sought at parent-teacher meetings held for the various year groups.

 

Some use of interest inventories and non-standardised instruments such as that available on QualifaX.ie is made in Career Guidance classes at senior level as an aid to decision making and vocational choice.

 

The destinations of students who have left the school are tracked by the Career Guidance teacher.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 guidance team and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report