An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Joseph’s College, Garbally Park
Ballinasloe, County Galway
Roll number: 62880J
Date of inspection: 31March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Whole School Evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Joseph’s College, Garbally Park, Ballinasloe, Co Galway. 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 inspectors also met the trustees of the school. 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.
St Joseph’s College, Garbally Park, Ballinasloe is a voluntary secondary school for boys under the trusteeship of the Diocese of Clonfert. It was founded as a seminary in 1892 to help educate priests for the diocese and since its foundation it has also provided second-level education for boarders and for day students. In 1922 it moved to its present location when the Clancarty family sold Garbally with its beautiful main building (now the residence of the boarders) and large landscaped estate to the diocese. Since then the school has benefited also from the generosity of the Madden family, which has funded most of the school’s main building. The school is very well equipped with sports facilities including extensive and quite spectacular grounds and playing fields. The school is located on the western fringe of Ballinasloe, Co Galway and is contiguous to Scoil Muire, the Mercy secondary school. The schools co-operate to broaden the provision of subjects in each school.
The school’s catchment area is Ballinasloe and its surrounding area with boarders being drawn from a wider area within Ireland. In the early part of the current academic year the board of governors of the school decided to phase out the boarding part of the school with final effect from June 2008. While this decision cannot have been wholly unexpected in the context of the wide-scale closure of boarding schools particularly in the western part of this country, it came quite suddenly and has had quite a considerable impact on the students, staff, management and parents of the school. In particular the students who will be directly affected are very concerned. Another factor impacting on the school is the closure about two years ago of the local vocational school to second-level students, which has resulted in students with a wider range of interests and abilities coming to St Joseph’s than heretofore. The school’s enrolment includes students from a number of different countries, and of different beliefs and social and economic backgrounds as well as a significant number of Traveller students and students with special educational needs. The presence of such diversity in its student population presents challenges for the school and the staff and management of the school have a very good understanding of these challenges.
The school has a vision statement which reflects its Catholic, diocesan ownership. It states that the school aims to provide an education that will give its students the life skills necessary to live fulfilled lives. The vision statement also refers to the promotion of healthy relationships and collaboration within the school and the uniqueness of each student. While primarily and proudly proclaiming its characteristic spirit as a Catholic school, the school also welcomes students of other faiths. As well as providing in a comprehensive manner for the spiritual and faith development of its Catholic students, the school is active in meeting the needs of students who are of other faiths. In line with its characteristic spirit the school has an admission policy that commits the school to inclusiveness, to those who are disadvantaged or marginalised, and to a values-based Christian education in the Catholic tradition. The school is commended in this regard. The school’s distinctive ethos is celebrated each year at the school Mass and the prize giving on St Joseph’s day in early May. These are a bonding experience for all in the school community. The day of celebration includes a talent competition with lots of music and singing. A measure of the importance of this day is that its organisation is a duty of one of the school’s assistant principals.
The pride in their school and the sense of belonging and strong commitment felt by students were very evident during the meeting with the student council. An atmosphere of mutual respect and of caring was also evident between teachers and students in classes visited in the course of the evaluation. Students feel that they are valued and staff and management of the school use their best endeavours to ensure as far as possible that the experience of each student in the school is as productive and as beneficial as possible.
The characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in the way in which the needs of students are met academically, socially, and spiritually. The school’s chaplain plays a central role, much valued by all in the school, in the daily realisation of the school’s ethos. As part of its curriculum the school accords a central place to religious education and religious practices. This has been further strengthened by the formulation and implementation in the past year of a school policy on religious education. Sport also has a very important role in St Joseph’s College, being central to the ethos of the school, and it is seen as enhancing student-teacher rapport, building students’ teamwork skills and cultivating self discipline, and bonding among the students. Students see the school’s programme of sports as a strength of the school. The strong emphasis on sports, which is to the benefit of the students of the school, results from the commitment of the many members of staff involved. It is important that the school should continue to make relevant its characteristic spirit in the life of the school in the changing school context referred to earlier.
Up to the formation of the board of management in September 2004 the school was managed by a manager and the school principal attended meetings of the board of governors to present a report. During the evaluation the governors expressed their concern for the development of the school and its community and their commitment to developing the role of the board of management. The maintenance of clear communication between the board of governors and members of the school community is especially important at this time. The recent decision of the board of governors to phase out the boarding element of the school needs to be followed up with consultation and discussions with the school community. Following this there is a need for decisions and actions to address, as far as is possible, the concerns referred to earlier.
The school’s board of management, which is representative of trustees, parents and teachers, meets about once every six weeks. The chairperson of the board of management is a member of the board of governors of the school. The priorities of the board of management are the future development of the school in the light of the impending closure of the boarding school, ongoing review of the school’s curriculum, and catering for the full range of student abilities and interests. While the development of suitable accommodation and resources for the school is also a priority, progress on this is contingent on the plans of the board of governors for the school.
Decision making by the board of management is reported to be almost always by consensus following discussion. Good quality communication in the school community is fostered by the board through providing the parents’ association executive and the staff of the school with an agreed report following each of its meetings. There is a lot of satisfaction within the school community with the initiation of a board of management and the consequent perception of a less remote school management. In particular the parents’ association sees this as one of its achievements. The quality of the board’s communications with the school’s management, staff, parents and students will be tested as the board addresses its priorities in the context of the new reality of the school following the trustees’ decision on the boarders.
In carrying out its role the board of management has addressed itself to the responsibilities associated with the management of the school in a focussed manner. As well as its shorter-term administrative responsibilities the board has also moved to address longer-term issues. It is involved in the revision of the school’s admission policy and of its code of discipline. The board has initiated policy development though setting up an advisory board of studies to examine the school’s curriculum. In general the board of management has seen its role as to adopt and approve policies put before it. This is understandable at this early stage of its existence given the need to develop procedures and practices, and to address the more immediate issues arising in the school. However as the school planning process takes root on a broader basis in the school it is envisaged that the board will play a more active part. Part of this will include the encouragement of collaboration among the partners in the school community including parents. It is recommended that the board should seek the necessary training for its role in the school planning process from the School Development Planning Initiative (www.sdpi.ie).
The school has a long-established parents’ association, the executive of which meets on a monthly basis. This group is supportive of the school and sees the school’s broad curriculum and its first-year taster programme as being particular strengths of the school. The executive is briefed on a regular basis by the principal and draft school policies are submitted to it for consideration. The parents’ association has been generous in its support for the school. As well as its function as a representative body for parents, the parents’ association intends to develop further its role as a resource for the school. Issues reported by the parents’ association are concerns regarding the future circumstances of the school, reported difficulties in communication with the school, and the occasional decision being made by the school which impacted on parents and of which there was no prior notice. While being generally satisfied with the level of contact between them and the school, and the communication of information by the school, parents reported a perception that they are not always listened to by the school. There appears to be a need for clearer lines of communication between parents and school management when it comes to issues on which differences exist. There is also a need for consultation with the parents’ association at an earlier stage in the development of school policies than is currently the case, particularly where changes can have an impact on home arrangements. Perhaps the school, in conjunction with the parents’ association could initiate a review of this area.
As well as parent-teacher meetings and school reports the school issues a substantial bulletin to parents at the end of each term. This is commendable practice. Parents are welcome also to come to the school at any time. Interaction and co-operation between school and the parent body is a two-way process and parents are encouraged to involve themselves in the life of the school just as much as the school is encouraged to facilitate and encourage parents’ involvement in the school.
As would be expected with a school as well established as St. Joseph’s College, the school has strong links with the community in Ballinasloe. The community regularly uses its excellent sporting facilities and members of the community regularly attend its theatrical performances. The school also makes effective use of such supports as the visiting teacher service for Travellers, the National Council for Special Education, and the National Educational Welfare Board. The school also uses local services for referrals of students as appropriate. The school’s Social Action module within TY has a very strong impact on the links between the school and organisations in the wider community.
Leadership in the school is diffuse. The day-to-day management of the school is under the direction of the principal and the deputy principal who is also secretary of the board of governors of the school. The chairperson of the school’s board of management, who also has daily responsibility for the boarding school, is a member of the board of governors. While there is co-operation among the three people involved, the fact that the three levels of management of the school are represented on-site at all times provides room for a lack of clarity among the respective roles as perceived by the school community. This lack of clarity may result in a diminution of the status of the principal in the management and leadership of the school. Possible uncertainty in this regard should be addressed through the inclusion of a description of the role of the principal and the roles of the board of governors and the board of management in relevant documents, such as the staff handbook and the school plan.
The principal and the deputy principal work in a collaborative manner in leading St Joseph’s College through a sharing of the tasks associated with their roles. They set the tone for the rest of the school with the care and the concern that they show for all students and staff. They are supported in this by the huge sense of pride and mutual support evident among the staff and management of the school. St Joseph’s College has a very strong ethos and a sense of tradition and continuity, with several generations of many families having been educated there. This sense of continuity and tradition provide the principal and the deputy principal with strong guidance with regard to leadership and decision making within the school community. Their leadership, exercised in a low key and consensual manner, has guided the school well to date. However, as already adverted to in this report, it is now facing what are probably its strongest challenges since the school was founded. Effective leadership at the levels of principal and deputy principal, as well as at the levels of board of governors and board of management, will be required. This leadership, allowing for the different role of each level of management, will need to be exercised in a manner which is inclusive of all in the school community, especially teachers, parents, and students.
Descriptions of the duties of post-holders, with the exception of the principal, are included in the school’s comprehensive staff handbook. According to the principal the division of duties between principal and deputy principal assigns general responsibility for teachers to the principal and responsibility for students to the deputy principal. On the ground the division is more complex than this, with the deputy principal being responsible for the timetable, information and communication technology (ICT) in the school, rolls, student disciplinary matters including detentions, and the preparation of DES returns and statistics. The school’s assistant principals and special duties teachers carry out the duties assigned to them in a competent manner and they relate well to other staff and to students in performing these duties. As yet the devolution of duties and responsibilities which are inherent in the posts of responsibility has not developed to the extent that middle management in the school shares as a group in the management of the school and participates as a group in policymaking. This means that the principal and the deputy principal carry most of the responsibility for the day-to-day administration and management of the school. While this is understandable as a product of the management culture that existed in the school in the past, it is no longer appropriate to the needs of the school. There is now an urgent requirement for devolution of in-school management within the school so that the principal and the deputy principal have the time to deal with issues referred to in the report, which while not urgent on a day-today basis are of great importance for the future development of the school. It is noted that the Staff Advisory Council (SAC), which is a body elected by staff and is representative of staff of varying levels of seniority, is a respected forum within the school and that it addresses issues of concern to staff by bringing them to school management. The SAC appears to some extent to be a response to the absence of middle management structures in the school and its future role may require clarification once the middle management structures recommended in this report are initiated.
A review of the duties attaching to posts of responsibility should be initiated as soon as possible and this should be repeated on a regular basis. The internal review of the needs of the school which took place at the recent staff day is a useful preparation for this review. As well as addressing the duties of post-holders, the review should be aimed at giving them a greater role and responsibility in the management of the school. Such a change will require a sharing of authority and responsibility on the part of the senior in-school management team and a willingness on the part of school middle management to take on this authority and responsibility. As part of a revised middle-management structure assistant principals should meet as a group along with senior school management on a regular, perhaps weekly, basis. As well as broadening the basis for policy making and decision making within the school, this change should result in the senior management of the school having more time to devote to providing the leadership that the school will need in the coming years.
Students and their welfare, educational, social and personal, are at the heart of St Joseph’s College. Their needs guide all school policies and actions and are at the heart of all decision making. It was evident to the evaluation team that the relationship between school management and staff on the one hand and students was one of caring and mutual respect and trust. These relationships, as observed in the course of the evaluation, are of high quality and they contribute in no small way to the quality of the teaching and learning environments observed. The school is highly commended in this regard. However during the evaluation it was evident that there was a pre-occupation with disciplinary issues and processes within the school and that the current system brings many such issues to the principal and the deputy principal. Although there are behaviour issues with some students, the number of students involved is quite small as is evident from the comments of the inspectors who visited classes.
The school’s code of discipline Regulations for Students is a rather lengthy, complex and at times contradictory document that is currently under review. Sanctions in the code include suspension, detention, and meetings with the year head. Because of the high number of student suspensions each month, an adjustment to the school’s policy on suspension resulted in the introduction of internal suspension as an alternative to keeping students at home. It is suggested that students and the parents’ association should be involved in the current review of the code of discipline and that in it the school should take account of the need to express the code in a positive manner that is accessible to students and to their parents. The use of terms such as ‘serial offender’ and ‘detainee’ should be avoided. Account must also be taken of the role of the board of management. There should be a greater emphasis for students and classes on rewarding good behaviour.
In the implementation of the code of discipline there should be a more graduated approach with a greater involvement of year heads with parents as a matter of course and fewer disciplinary issues coming to senior school management. Currently disciplinary files on students are held by each of the parties involved in implementing the code, that is, year heads, assistant year heads, principal, and deputy principal. As a result, students’ complete disciplinary records may not be easily available and maintaining the data in the system takes up a lot of staff time. To reduce the number of different files held on individual students ICT should be used to a greater extent in the administration of the school’s disciplinary processes. To co-ordinate the implementation of the disciplinary system in an effective manner year heads should meet on a regular basis.
While to date school management and staff have not had a strong culture of self-review and self-evaluation, informal review and evaluation of the activities of the school have taken place on a limited basis. It is suggested that the opportunity should be taken at this time to engage in a review and analysis of the strengths of the school, the challenges facing the school, the opportunities for developing the school and the threats to its future. Such a review should be inclusive of the partners in the school community. The school’s vision and mission statement should also be included in this review. As an initial step the board of management of the school in co-operation with the senior in-school management and staff and with the involvement of the members of the school community should develop further their vision for the school so as to guide the school in its strategic thinking and policy-making. The fundamental aim of all review and evaluation activities in the school should be the assurance of the highest quality learning experience for all students.
The principal reported that teachers are employed by the school following interview by a sub-committee of the board of management. Staff is provided with access to continuing professional development, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) being one area in which several members of staff have received considerable training. As well as staff funded by the DES, the school has employed a guidance counsellor as well as some part-time staff from its own resources. The school employs one administrative staff member as well as a caretaker, both of whom have a key role in the successful operation of the school. School management values their contribution. The good order and general attractiveness of the extensive school grounds are other results of the considerable resources applied and the efforts made by the school, its staff and students.
The age profile and the gender profile of staff members have implications for the future staffing of the school and for the curriculum of the school and both need to be taken into account in future resource planning. Half of the school staff is male and about a third of the school staff will probably be considering retirement in the next five to ten years. Given present national trends in relation to the predominant gender of second-level teachers, and the reduction in the size of the school which is at present taking place, careful planning will be required in order to ensure that the future staffing of the school continues to meet the curricular and other requirements of the school. Teacher in-career development will also have a major role to play in this regard. It is not evident that planning for staffing has taken place to a sufficient extent as evidenced by the necessity of the school having to employ the guidance counsellor from its own resources. School staffing policy should be kept under continual review by the board of management. The board is commended on the initial step in this direction that it has taken with the initiation of the advisory board of studies.
Accommodation for the school is in three main blocks: an adapted coach house which was the original school building; a group of eleven prefabricated classrooms; the main block of the school which contains three large and well-equipped science laboratories as well as the administration offices, library, a Material Technology (Wood) room, an Art room, a small number of classrooms as well as two study halls, one of which doubles as a canteen by day. The main building also includes rooms for use by year heads in meeting students, a prayer room/chapel, and a games room. There is in addition a small building, which contains facilities for Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies. The school, as well as about one hundred acres of playing pitches and seven handball alleys, has a sports hall and access to a concert hall. Its science laboratories are other strengths of the school’s facilities. School management has been creative in the use made of the school buildings and facilities and in the adaptations made to school plant to meet changing school needs. While the coach house building, which, in addition to classroom facilities, contains two Metalwork and Engineering rooms, has been well maintained, it is no longer fully suitable for its current use and school management acknowledges this. Given these facts and the number of pre-fabricated classrooms, it is evident that a major building project is required if the school is to have suitable classrooms and other facilities in the future. The school needs to re-evaluate the school buildings in the light of current and future requirements so as to determine the extent to which they are still suitable for the purpose for which they are used.
School management is committed to further increasing the provision and use of information and communication technology (ICT) across all aspects of school life and to this end it has made extensive provision funded from the school’s own resources. The school has two well-equipped computer rooms which are based on thin client networks and file servers. Despite the acknowledged high level of expenditure by the school on ICT, there are resource problems and also problems with how resources are applied in this area. Few learning areas in the school have access to broadband with the notable exception of the special education and Science area and, while the school makes some use of ICT in administration, there is scope for a greater use. Dissatisfaction with the school’s network was reported during the evaluation, in particular at the difficulty of access by students and staff to the computer rooms, unreliability of the school network, and slowness to take full advantage of the benefits of broadband. A lack of relevant software in the technological subject was also reported. Responsibility for all aspects of the school’s ICT infrastructure currently falls on the deputy principal who is called upon on a daily basis to address problems in the network and it is acknowledged that were it not for his contribution the school’s ICT infrastructure would be of lower standard.
The key issues in relation to ICT are increasing the number of staff involved centrally in this area, identifying the future role of ICT in the school, and planning to achieve that role on a short, medium, and long-term basis. There is a need to prioritise broadband access in classrooms and work areas and to provide easy access to ICT for students possibly in the school library. Planning must also take place for the acquisition of resources, including hardware and software. In the short term school management should ensure that the school’s existing ICT resources are distributed on an equitable basis as between subject departments and functions such as guidance, learning support, and administration. A small of group of staff, including the co-ordinator of ICT in the school, under the aegis of the school-planning group recommended later in this report, should undertake a needs analysis through surveying staff and students. Professional help should be obtained in this task through the National Council for Technology in Education via its local ICT advisor. The school’s ICT policy document should also be revised.
The library is located in the school’s main building but, according to the student council, with the exception of some up to date careers and third-level education-related material the stock of reading material in the library is underused, rather dated and of little interest to students. The library is used also to store some obsolete ICT equipment. The library as equipped at present does not appear to be meeting its potential as a central resource for staff and students in the school. The acquisition by the school of a more up-to-date stock of books, the provision of tables and chairs which students can use, and also some internet terminals for use by students are required if the school’s students are to gain full benefit from the library. The posting of some appropriate and visually-attractive material on the wall of the library should also be considered.
The school has a safety statement that was compiled and has been updated by an external firm. Members of staff are made aware of the safety statement and safety officers and a safety representative have been appointed. A safety survey of the school has been undertaken and sources of risk have been identified and categorised as to level. The safety statement has been reviewed at regular intervals, in line with best practice.
The school is in receipt of additional teaching resources from the Department of Education and Science. The school is also entitled to a guidance counsellor and learning-support hours equivalent to half of a fulltime teacher on an ex-quota basis. In the case of the allocation for Traveller students part of the allocation is being used for purposes which while not directly related to Traveller education are reported by the principal as also benefiting Travellers in the school. The school is requested to continue to ensure that before allocations of teaching hours are used in this manner the specific educational needs of individual Traveller students are being fully met. It was reported that the additional capitation grants received by the school in respect of Traveller students are being fully expended for that purpose.
A whole-school planning process is not operational in St Joseph’s College at present, nor has the school made use in recent years of the supports to school planning provided by the SDPI. However up to about 2001 the school was active in planning with the support of SDPI. Some school policies have been developed and the board of management of the school has approved a number of these. It is noted also that teacher have engaged in subject planning in all subject areas and in doing this they have displayed a high degree of collegiality and collaboration. This is highly commended. With the exception of the school’s code of discipline, the school’s health and safety statement, and the admission policy, the school policy documents that have been developed are not dated nor are review dates included. Neither is there a record in policies as to when they were adopted or approved and by whom. School policy documents have not been developed from an inclusive process and their drafting appears to have preceded consultation with the partners. Policies are prepared by the principal and circulated to the staff, parents’ association, and board of management for approval before being adopted.
There is a need for clear and effective leadership at all levels of school management in the school planning process. The board of management in particular should take responsibility for promoting and formalising school development planning in the school. There is a need for a school plan, including policies, as a support and as a backdrop for all that is happening in the school. While no school plan exists at present, the school does have policy documents and a comprehensive staff handbook that would form part of it. To guide the development of the school plan the board of management should include it as an item on the agenda for its meetings.
The principal indicated his intention of broadening the base for school planning within the school through setting up a planning group, which would drive the process forward within the school. It is important that this group would operate within a culture of collaboration, which would be led by the principal and deputy principal. This group should be set up as soon as possible to co-ordinate planning in the school and should set as its priority the development of a school plan. Involvement at a meaningful level of all in the school community should be sought, encouraged and facilitated, and to this end there should be consultation with management, staff, parents and students. It is recommended also that the school should seek advice and support from the Department of Education and Science School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).
The work of the school planning steering group should be guided by the priorities resulting from the review process referred to earlier in this report. A number of subgroups should be set up involving other school staff, each focusing on a particular area, e.g. curriculum, home-school links, extra-curricular activities, sports and games, discipline, pastoral care, and staff development. Action plans should be developed in a small numbers of areas of school life initially and, as familiarity is gained in the planning and development processes, a larger number of areas of school life should be the subject of the different stages of the planning process. Outcomes of the recent staff day (December ’05) provide a basis for the co-operation and collaboration that will be necessary as the school works towards the development of a school plan.
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. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
A distinguishing feature of the curriculum of St Joseph’s College is its breadth and balance. The school endeavours to cater for the curricular needs of all of its students; the curriculum is reflective of a school which, according to its principal, prioritises the wishes and requirements of students. The curriculum includes all of the science subjects, all of the technological subjects, and both French and German. Two of the business subjects are offered to senior-cycle level. As part of an informal arrangement students from St Joseph’s College take Music and Accounting at Scoil Muire and students at Scoil Muire take Physics and Applied Mathematics at St Joseph’s. The junior-cycle curriculum of the school includes a taster programme in first year following which students choose the optional subjects that they will take in second year. A feature of the curriculum of each class in the school is the inclusion of Computer Studies, Religious Education, and PE. The school’s senior-cycle curriculum includes Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme as well as the Established Leaving Certificate. The school has recently applied to include the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) on its curriculum. As student needs have changed the school has recognised the need to review its curriculum, particularly at senior-cycle level. It is recommended that the advisory board of studies should consult widely and inform the school community, including the parents’ association, in advance of deciding on proposals that are to be put to the school’s board of management and board of governors. As not all subjects are represented on it, the board should make sure that the contributions of all subjects in the school’s curriculum are recognised in its deliberations. Finally the potential benefits of developing the current curricular arrangement with Scoil Muire need to be included in all deliberations on the school’s curriculum.
The first-year taster programme, which includes all subjects on the junior-cycle curriculum aims to ensure that students are well informed when making their choice from the range of optional subjects in junior cycle. However, because of the number of subjects that are included in the taster programme the time allocations for some are below the recommended level, which may have consequences for student achievement in these subjects. As students are aware from the beginning of first year that they will not be continuing with all of their subjects there is a likelihood that as the year progresses they will become less involved in those subjects which they are going to drop. It is noted that the advisory board of studies is reviewing the first-year taster programme with a view to achieving a better balance between the teaching-time requirements of the subjects in the first-year programme and the commendable desire of the school to provide students with experience of different subjects before they make their choices. A taster programme of shorter duration may be the way forward here.
The school has a number of students with special educational needs who are on reduced curricula and a smaller number with reduced timetables. A small number of students also have literacy difficulties and problems with absenteeism. It is suggested that in catering for these students the school should seek the advice of the visiting teacher for Travellers (VTT), the Special Education Support Service (SESS) (www.sess.ie), and the Second-Level Support Service (SLSS) (www.slss.ie). The relatively large number of students who are exempted from the learning of Irish raises two issues: the need for so many students to be so exempted, and the use which the school makes of the student learning time made available by this exemption. Students with exemptions from Irish are currently supervised during Irish lessons with the aid of a grant from Galway Rural Development. The school is exploring the LCA and also seeking advice from the Junior Certificate School Programme Support Service so as to better meet the needs of all of its students. The school is commended on these initiatives. The advisory board of studies is aware of the need to incorporate the development of teaching methodologies as well as review of the curriculum in its work. In this regard it is noted that there is an ongoing debate among the staff of the school on the merits of its current mixed-ability class organisation system as opposed to the adoption of streaming. It is strongly recommended that, before making any change from the current mixed-ability system, the school should consider how the existing system could be further improved at school level, subject department level, and in particular at individual teacher level.
A consequence of the breadth and balance of the school’s curriculum is that with so many subjects on offer the demand for some of these subjects is likely to be rather low with a resulting drain on the resources of the school. At present the school has teachers in excess of its quota, and the planned closure of the boarding school will also have an impact on the choices open to students. Whatever revised curricular arrangements are recommended by the advisory board of studies it is unlikely that they alone will be sufficient to strike an acceptable balance between the needs of the student cohort and the resources available to the school in the absence of a further development of the current arrangement with Scoil Muire. This co-operation occurs at present on an informal basis and as a result there is a loss of instructional time for students of the subjects concerned. It is outside the scope of this report to do other than strongly recommend that St. Joseph’s College should explore with Scoil Muire the feasibility of formalising the present curricular links and developing them further in the interests of the students of both schools.
At junior-cycle level, as well as the taster programme referred to earlier, there are some other issues which need to be addressed. Junior cycle students have just two classes each week for Geography and for History, which renders course completion in these subjects difficult. At junior-cycle level Science classes are allocated five class periods each week from second year on, which is more than for most other subjects. This apparent inequity in the treatment of subjects should be addressed. There is a strong emphasis on ICT in the curriculum. First-year students are allocated two classes each week for Computer Studies and all other junior-cycle classes have one class. Transition Year students are timetabled for three classes of Computer Studies each week and fifth and sixth years each have one class each week. It was reported by students that classes in Computer Studies are sometimes devoted to other subjects. The school’s ICT policy document makes little reference to the content of the junior-cycle curriculum for Computer Studies. However the programme for Computer Studies in Transition Year refers to students becoming “familiar with basic computer operations”. It is queried why this might still be necessary when each student would have already had about one hundred and twenty classes in Computer Studies during junior cycle. The school should carry out a review of its provision in Computer Studies, with a view to reducing the number of classes for the subject and refining the syllabus. The review should also take into account the fact that many students have computers at home, the increasing extent to which ICT will be incorporated into teaching and learning in all subjects, and a greater general availability of ICT to students in the school, as recommended elsewhere in this report.
The school is highly commended on the exemplary planning and organisation that go into its Transition Year and the quality and level of information provided in advance to parents. The school’s Transition Year, which dates back to the inception of the TY in the 1973, is a highlight of the school’s senior-cycle curriculum. The Transition Year commences with the Registration Evening early in September during which parents and students are given a detailed introduction to what will be happening during Transition Year. As part of this students are required to set the goals which they would like to achieve and parents are given guidance on how they can support their sons during the programme. For students the highlights of the year are two days in an outdoor activity centre early in the year, the work experience module, and the social action programme. One of the aims of the social action module is to give students knowledge of the social services that exist in the wider community and how through personal involvement in them they can make a contribution to the community. During it they have daylong workshops on areas such as physical and mental disability, and childcare. They also have work experience in one of these areas and visiting speakers come to the school.
The Transition Year ends with the Graduation Night, which is attended by students and their parents. Students are assessed during TY and these assessments are used in the reports sent home at Christmas and in June. A feature of the TY each year is that students are requested to evaluate it at the end of the year. This is commendable practice. The whole-school nature and wide programme for the school’s TY is emphasised by the fact that thirty teachers are involved in it. It is noted however that the technological subjects do not feature as highly in the programme for TY as they do in the rest of the school’s curriculum. It is recommended that the programme for TY should be kept under continual review, especially with regard to the need for a significant input from the technological subjects, enhancing cross-curricular links, and review and updating of syllabuses.
Staff members are deployed within the school in accordance with their skills and qualifications and as part of the school’s policy on whole-staff involvement in the provision of support for students in need of learning support and with special educational needs more than half the staff has timetabled hours in respect of learning support.
Subject choices are made by students at the end of first year, and programme and subject choices are made either at the end of third year or of Transition year. The school makes use of the Facility options package in managing its subject choice process. Students select the top six subjects which they would like to take, without ranking them, and the school guarantees that each student will be allowed take four of these. While this is a fair system, there is a possibility that a student would not be allowed to take their top two subject choices. It is noticed also that the current subject option groupings preclude fifth year students taking both Physics and Chemistry nor can they take both Economics and Business. In sixth year, students can take both Physics and Chemistry but cannot take both Economics and Business.
The school provides a high level of support to students and their parents when subject and programme choices are being made and parents are happy with the quality of this support. The role of the school’s Guidance department is central to the arrangements in the school for student subject choice. The school provides meetings at which the principal and other members of staff address parents and at which parents can get relevant information. From a review of the presentations made to parents and the information circulated it is evident that there is a high level of guidance, support and advice given to students and their parents in this area. All students are encouraged to choose from the full range of subjects and from first year onward students are made fully aware of the consequences for the future education and career opportunities of the subject choices which they make. The board of management of the school considers the level of support given to parents to be a strength of the school. The approach taken to student choice of subjects and programmes is thorough, comprehensive, and inclusive and is a clear indication of a focus on the welfare and needs of students.
The school boasts a wide range of sports and extra-curricular activities that are aimed at developing the skills, interests, aptitudes and knowledge of students. The school is fortunate in the commitment of the many teachers who provide these experiences for students. As with other schools providing comprehensive extra-curricular programmes there are issues regarding classes missed by staff and students but the school has a strong policy on ensuring that where teachers are away such classes are given appropriate work to do. Parents appreciate the work done by management and staff in relation to sports and other extra-curricular provision. They see the sporting opportunities that the school makes available to its students and the school’s sports facilities as very positive aspects of the school’s provision.
Students’ interest in sport is fostered through internal school competitions and these give everyone the opportunity to participate. Each class has two class periods each week for Physical Education (junior cycle) or Games (senior cycle) and in fifth and sixth year these are timetabled simultaneously with the LCVP link modules and students taking the LCVP take Games once every five to six weeks. As well as the school making use of local sporting facilities, the school also benefits from the local sports clubs in terms of training and coaching. The school has over the years enjoyed considerable sporting success.
The school is active in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities other than sports. The school brings in a professional producer each year to produce a play from the Leaving Certificate English programme. In TY students are trained by a barrister and participate each year in a competition for TY students which is organised by the Law Society and which involves coming to the Four Courts to argue cases. The school has represented Ireland in London as the winner of the Irish competition. The school is also involved in debating and public speaking. Each year students from the school are involved in the Young Scientist competition. These are but some of the extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in which students from St Joseph’s participate. The school orchestra and the school choir, in which the boarder students play a major role, is another distinguishing element of the school. School tours take first years and TY students out of the country each year. Finally the school magazine The Fountain provides an outlet for the literary talents.
A key feature of the extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in the school is their cross-curricular emphasis. They also serve to create and further the bond between staff and students in the school, which was evident during the course of the evaluation. In planning and organising such activities it is necessary that students, whose families might not have the required resources, are facilitated by the school in participating in them. The management and staff of the school are highly commended on the commitment of time, energy, enthusiasm and care which they bring to these activities.
Planning and preparation of a high quality was noted in the subjects inspected and this planning and preparation involved a high degree of collegiality and collaboration among subject teachers. Teachers in all the subject areas have engaged in subject planning and this was evident from documentation including schemes of work and subject planning documents at a subject department level and at an individual teacher level. Teachers are encouraged to use the subject planning process to continue sharing best practice, vision, knowledge, and experience. In planning and preparing for teaching and learning in their subjects, teachers meet formally and informally. It is advised that formal meeting times be agreed for all subject areas and that for all subjects the outcomes of these meetings be communicated to senior school management. Good practice in the linking of subject plans and classroom practice was observed and these links were most notable where lessons were taught in line with the planned sequence and time. Teachers, in nearly all the subject areas have developed teaching resources for use with students.
Teaching and learning is the central activity of the school and management, planning, support for students, and curriculum organisation activities are aimed at facilitating the optimum learning experience for students. The quality of teaching and learning in the school is also enhanced through the assignment of mentors to teachers new to the school as part of an induction programme. Where student disciplinary issues threaten the progress of the other students in a class the school has procedures involving parents and including a case conference where appropriate.
Subject inspectors reported a high overall quality of teaching and learning in each of the subjects inspected. Each lesson observed had clear aims and objectives the implementation of which was supported by a variety of resources. In some subject areas the use of prepared resources permitted a greater focus on the teaching and learning process, which along with a gradual development of the lesson topic, can promote high quality teacher-student interaction. The purpose of each lesson was established at the beginning of the lesson and one example of highly effective practice in this regard was the use made of the whiteboard to present the lesson aims and key outcomes for students. Homework assignments were integrated into the beginning and end of each lesson, which created continuity in learning through links from lesson to lesson.
In most subjects inspected, students were taught in mixed-ability settings, using a range of methodologies. The methodologies ranged from whole-class input to individual support for students and made appropriate use of visual, audio, and tactile aids to learning including chalk/white boards, overhead projectors, ICT, and 3D models. In some subject areas there is scope for teachers to share their experience in regard to mixed-ability teaching so as to further develop best practice. This could be done as part of ongoing subject department planning and resources of the SESS and the SLSS could be made use of in this regard.
Lessons were appropriately paced, covered suitable topics, and most were differentiated to take account of the needs of individual students. Effective methods of questioning, using different question types, were employed in all subject areas and had the effect of actively engaging students in lessons. There is scope for further use to be made of higher-order questions in some subject areas. Terms and language particular to individual subjects were used, and students displayed a good ability to understand and apply such terms. In the case of the language inspection, the target language was used in teaching. However, there is scope for greater use of the communicative approach to promote the spoken language among the students.
All classrooms were well managed and safety was a high priority in laboratories and practical subjects’ rooms with the school’s discipline code being maintained. Students were motivated and challenged by well-managed learning activities. Teachers actively engaged with students during lessons at both group and individual levels, by consistently monitoring students’ ability to understand topics. Overall, an appropriately ordered learning environment was created and maintained in all lessons observed.
Most teachers have teacher-based classrooms and while there was evidence of good use being made of some of these rooms for the display of subject-related materials, there is scope in some cases to build on good practice. Very good rapport between students and the teachers was evident with students engaging readily with their teachers and students’ responses and questions being accepted and dealt with affirmatively.
Overall, students displayed good levels of knowledge and understanding in the subjects inspected. The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions, and was also evident in the competencies exhibited during individual and group work especially in practical activities. The quality of students’ written and practical work was of a standard consistent with the range of abilities in all classes observed. In some of the practical lessons, students were encouraged to note their observations and results as they worked. There is scope for this good practice to be encouraged in all such classes.
One of the ways in which a high quality of teaching and learning is assured at a whole-school level is through the review by school management of the school’s results in the State examinations. In addition, year heads, as well as having a pastoral role, have an overview role in the monitoring of students’ academic progress. The school has procedures to monitor student progress and where a student is not achieving appropriate action is taken.
The school has a whole-school homework policy and in most subjects evaluated homework is set and corrected on a regular basis and there was some evidence of feedback in student homework copies. There was further use of feedback in some subject areas, for example, in students’ notebooks, on drawings and through oral feedback on practical assignments. It is recommended that feedback to students on their work should be extended to all student work in all subject areas as reinforcement to student learning and motivation and as affirmation of students.
Other assessment modes observed in the subjects evaluated included continuous assessment, common assessments, project work, and written, oral and aural work. As part of subject planning it is recommended that the teachers in each subject area should share and formalise best practice in homework and assessment. It is suggested that the range of assessment modes used in each subject area should be further developed to ensure that the key subject-specific skills and competencies are regularly assessed. It is further suggested that consideration should be given to linking the assessment of all student work so as to reward the completion by students of homework, practical work and in-class assignments.
Non-examination classes sit formal house examinations at Christmas and again prior to the summer holiday, and Junior and Leaving Certificate students sit their “mocks” during the second term. First year students are continually assessed and they sit a further exam at Easter after which they choose their optional subjects for second year.
There is regular communication between the school and students’ homes. The results of students’ assessments and house examinations are communicated to parents by means of school reports twice yearly. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organised annually. Further contact with parents is organised within school systems, for example newsletters, phone-calls, letters, case conferences and meetings by appointment. Students are encouraged to take subjects at their highest level in the State examinations and decisions in this regard are taken at the latest time in the year of such examinations. Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects and enthusiastically and willingly engaged with the inspectors during the evaluation.
St Joseph’s College is in receipt of additional supports from the Department of Education and Science for the learning needs of a number of students with special educational needs. The co-ordinator for learning support and the other teacher with a major involvement in this area are assisted by a large number of teachers in the school in implementing programmes of support for these students. As well as the two specialist teachers, one fully trained in the area, and the other currently receiving training, the school has a special duties teacher as learning-support administrator and one special needs assistant. The duties of the learning-support administrator are closely related to those of the co-ordinator for special needs. The school’s learning-support department has a dedicated resource area and the use of a number of computers and dedicated software. The learning-support and resource-teaching provision in the school is fully supported and indeed led by senior school management and the school’s board of management in a manner that is reflective of the characteristic spirit of the school. The school and the staff members concerned are commended for their attitude and their professional approach in this area and the recommendations in this report are aimed at the further enhancement of an already well-organised service.
The school’s formal policy on the education of students with special educational needs, which is included in its admissions policy, welcomes students with special educational needs and explains how the school requests either resources through the special educational needs organiser (SENO) or an assessment through the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). The policy concludes with a description of how students’ needs are addressed by the school. As well as this policy the school has a policy on class withdrawal for learning support, which states the criteria used. Both policies operate within a framework of inclusion of students with special educational needs and those requiring learning support, and such students are fully accepted as part of the school. This inclusion is reflected in comments made in the subject inspection reports attached to this report. It was reported that the additional resources supplied to the school by the Department for students with special educational needs were fully used for this purpose. It is recommended as a guide for all in the school community that the existing policies in the areas of special educational needs and of learning support should be reviewed and expanded. Among the aspects that should be included in an expanded policy document are procedures for liaison with the teachers delivering the support, and for the support of these teachers and of subject teachers who have students with special educational needs in their classes. The policy document should also include a description of how learning support and special education are organised in the school, the procedures for working with feeder primary schools in this area, procedures for determining and documenting the learning needs of students with special educational needs and students in receipt of learning support, and policy on keeping and sharing of students' records. The school’s policy on the exemption of students from the study of Irish could also be addressed in this document. While the preparation of such a document will take some time, the process involved should be of assistance to the school in reviewing and further enhancing its work in this area.
The learning-support co-ordinator and the other teacher mainly involved in learning support meet twice weekly to review how the programme of learning support in the school is running and make any necessary changes. They also meet informally with subject teachers to discuss progress, resources, and lesson planning and to provide support and advice and to suggest strategies. They give briefings at staff meetings and meet the principal on a regular basis. It is recommended that the co-ordination of teachers in special education and learning support in the school should focus on the content of the programme to be covered so as to ensure that the identified learning needs of the students are being met, especially where subject teachers do not have a background in special education. (The advice and support of the Special Education Support Service can be sought in this regard.) Such co-ordination may be difficult to achieve in the present situation where so many teachers have an involvement in this area. It is recommended also that the core learning-support teachers and the other teachers with substantial involvement in learning support along with the learning-support administrator, the principal and the guidance counsellor, should be designated as the school’s learning support team and should meet several times each year. There should also be meetings from time to time of the entire group of teachers with an involvement in special education and learning support, perhaps in association with staff meetings.
The high number of teachers involved in learning support and special educational needs teaching in the school raises issues of communication and support of these teachers. The attached subject inspection reports provide an indication of the range of current practice in the school. It is reported that the assessment reports of students are available to the teachers of some subjects only; the school’s education support team liases with those teachers in this regard. It is recommended that this should happen for all subjects. It is not clear what training has been received by the teachers providing the learning support other than the two teachers principally involved. All teachers involved in special education need to be provided with the training necessary to carry out this role; one way of doing this would be inputs from the specialist special education teachers at staff days.
It is noted that the learning-support provision in the school is the subject of continual self-review on an informal basis. It is suggested that this informal review could be strengthened were it to be supported by a more formal type of review in which the views of all the participants, including parents and students, were sought. Such a review could, as well as feeding into the planning and regular evaluation of the service, also provide a basis for the development of the learning-support policy document. Following from such review and also from this report the school should make contact with the Special Education Support Service so as to meet the continuing professional development needs of all in the school in this area.
The forthcoming visit by the learning-support co-ordinator to the school’s feeder primary schools is in line with best practice. Such visits are part of the provision of a continuum of educational and care provision for students with special educational needs. Parents of students with special educational needs are informed of the progress of their children through the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each class, and they can make appointments to come to the school. It is important that this level of contact with parents should continue especially in the light of the upcoming initiation on a statutory basis of individual educational plans for students where parents will have a central role. (See draft guidelines for the preparation of individual education plans recently issued by the National Council for Special Education.) The school has links with outside agencies such as NEPS, the visiting teacher for Travellers, the special educational needs organiser, and Youthreach in catering for the needs of its students receiving learning support.
While the increase in the number of Traveller students and international students attending the school has posed challenges to the school on a number of fronts, the school has been open, welcoming, and inclusive as its enrolment has changed and has made every effort to respond in an appropriate manner to the needs of its changing student cohort. The challenges for the school are in three areas: attendance, behaviour and achievement, and they are manifest mainly in relation to the school’s Traveller enrolment. The regular interactions of the visiting teacher for Travellers (VTT) and the educational welfare officer (EWO) with senior school management are supports to the school. Because for some students and their families suspension from school is seen as a reward rather than a deterrent, the school has initiated a policy of internal suspension for such students. It was reported that in the case of some students behaviour issues may arise as a result of a lack of awareness on their part of the social norms of a second-level school. For this reason it is suggested that the school be systematic in its response so as to minimise their impact on the educational processes in the school.
While the school is active in supporting Traveller students and gives strong encouragement to them to remain in school, it was reported that their attendance and achievement levels are unsatisfactory. There is an obvious connection between the two. Traveller students benefit from the provision of resources to meet the learning needs of all students in addition to their specific allocation. They also have a support requirement in relation to the completion of homework, and encouragement to value second-level education. There is scope for further development in the school’s response to the particular needs of these students in planning for transition between primary and second-level school, and for a greater linkage between primary and second-level schools in supporting this transfer.
In order to improve the attendance and achievement levels of this small minority of students the school needs to increase its efforts on a number of fronts, and its actions should be co-ordinated at management level. As a first step the school’s current involvement with the VTT should be further developed. The VTT should be invited to meet and address school staff and to meet on a regular basis with year heads and the school’s learning-support team. There is also a need for considerably increased liaison by the school with feeder primary schools so as to ensure effective planning for the smooth and effective transfer by students from primary to second level. As well as its current transfer programme from primary to second level, the school should give serious consideration to the organisation of a specific intervention for Traveller students, with the co-operation of the VTT. It is recommended also that these students should be allocated a class period each week during which issues arising for them at an individual level could be addressed with the aid of an identified teacher as part of the school’s care provision. The Department of Education and Science publication Guidelines for Traveller Education in Second-Level Schools also provides useful information in this regard.
The school has contact with external agencies and representatives of some of these were met during the course of the evaluation. The school makes referrals to such agencies and the school’s involvement with them is of benefit to its students. Assurances were given that before referring students to such agencies the school first attempts to deal with the issues giving rise to the referral. This is good practice.
The school has a guidance counsellor who provides a guidance service for students, which is based on guidance plans for each year. As well as advice on careers, subject choices, and third-level courses students are provided with guidance on study skills, time management, and exam technique. The service is supported by a range of careers and third-level-related material in the school library. Student referrals to the guidance department come from senior management and from year heads. It is recommended that the existing guidance plans for each year should be further developed into a whole-school plan through the establishment of a school guidance-planning group and with the involvement of staff, parents, and students. The availability of ICT in the guidance area is quite limited and this restricts somewhat the guidance service to students. The provision and use of ICT in the guidance department should be further developed, with students and guidance staff being given greater access to the school’s ICT resources so as to get information on careers and third-level opportunities.
One area that was repeatedly identified during the evaluation was the need for a greater linkage between home and school, especially in the case of some students in the school. The school does not have a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, but in the past a teacher was allocated some hours for this purpose by the school. As the allocation by the Department of Education and Science of a HSCL depends largely on factors outside the control of the school, this issue should be addressed as part of the school planning process with a possible view to allocating some of the school’s existing resources to this area. Such an initiative would also assist in building up expertise within the school.
It is evident that the school sets a very high priority on the pastoral care of its students and that this is effective in practice. The guidance counsellor and the chaplain are the principal agents of pastoral care in the school and while there is no care team as such, all teachers in the school carry out a pastoral role. The year heads, assistant year heads, and senior in-school management are especially involved. While the staff members involved in the pastoral care area used in the past to meet as a group this is not currently the practice. It is suggested that the school could organise this function on a more systematic basis with the establishment of a care team which would be facilitated to meet on a regular basis and whose work should be supported by thorough and systematic record keeping. The care team, as well as including the chaplain and the guidance counsellor, should also involve senior school management, representatives of year heads, SPHE teachers, and the school’s anti-bullying co-ordinator. This team’s remit should be to co-ordinate the school’s care system, including the work of the year heads and the class tutors in this area. A broader group that would include students and parents should review and further develop the school’s pastoral care policy document. The pastoral roles are backed up by a class monitorial system that monitors students’ academic progress and attendance. A considerable resource in the student pastoral care area is the training in SPHE which has been received by many staff members. The school’s first year-sixth year council through which a number of sixth year students each take responsibility for mentoring a small group of first years is a commendable involvement of students in this area. The school makes use of external support where necessary in the pastoral care area.
The school’s anti-bullying policy and its anti-bullying co-ordinator are other elements of the school’s pastoral care provision which are also related to the school’s disciplinary system. It is suggested that the school, while continuing to be active in countering instances of bullying should review its anti-bullying policy to include more detail on the procedures involved in the school’s response to instances of bullying and on how it raises awareness of bullying as an unacceptable form of behaviour. (See DES guidelines on bullying, September 1993, on DES website.) These should also be referred to in the school’s disciplinary code.
The school’s chaplain plays a central and highly important and effective role in the life of the school. Alongside his current assignment to a parish, the chaplain provides a comprehensive programme of spiritual development in the school which includes spiritual support for students and for staff, daily Mass in the school, and outings for each class on a spiritual theme. As well as this there is an emphasis on the practical expressions of their religion such as the raising of awareness of the third world and collecting money for third world charities. External involvement in the school’s chaplaincy function comes through retreats that are held for each year group and from guest speakers especially in sixth year.
The democratically elected and representative student council in the school plays a valuable role in school life and serves as a means by which issues affecting students can be addressed. The student council works in co-operation with the principal and members share a mature and a reflective approach to its work. Perhaps its work would gain a wider audience in the school were brief reports of its meetings with the principal to be posted on the staffroom notice board. A very strong commitment to the school and a pride and sense of belonging were very evident during the meeting with the student council. Overall the student council is most impressive in the contribution that it is making to school life and its members are commended on the level and quality of their commitment.
There is very good informal communication among the members of the school community, including parents, staff and management and the challenge for the school is to build further on this. Many of the recommendations and suggestions in this report are aimed at further enhancing communication. The renewal and development of the school’s website has the potential to increase the accessibility of the school and its programmes and policies to all in the school community.
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.
Subject inspection reports in Irish, Science and Chemistry, Technical Graphics/Drawing, Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, and Business subjects are appended to this report.
Eagraítear na ranganna sa scoil seo trí chomhamchlárú. Bíonn deis ag gach scoláire an leibhéal is airde a bhaint amach san ábhar. Bíonn cúig rang in aghaidh na seachtaine ag gach rang sa scoil ach amháin an chéad bhliain ina mbíonn ceithre rang agus an idirbhliain le trí rang in aghaidh na seachtaine. Rang singil amháin sa ló a bhíonn ann ach amháin sa séú bliain ina bhfuil dhá rang ar siúl in aon lá. Moltar go ndéanfaí athbhreithniú ar an eisceacht seo de bhrí gur fearr do na scoláirí ionchur rialta laethúil a fháil. Bíonn ranganna chumais measctha sa chéad bhliain agus san idirbhliain. Is ar bhonn ranganna sruthaithe a eagraítear na ranganna sna blianta eile. Roinntear na scoláirí trí scrúdú comónta ag deireadh na chéad bliana agus bíonn teacht ar na scoláirí ar an ábhar ag na leibhéil éagsúla agus bíonn solúbthacht maidir le leibhéil a athrú. Tá ardmholadh tuillte ag an scoil don fhealsúnacht is don chleachtas seo.
Ag am na cuairte áiríodh, de réir fhorálacha Imlitir M10/94, díolúine ón nGaeilge a bheith ag líon réasúnta mór scoláirí. Moltar athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an soláthar do na scoláirí seo. Tugadh le fios go ndéantar gach iarracht, fad is atá na ranganna Gaeilge ar siúl, ranganna breise tacaíochta sa litearthacht agus san uimhearthacht a chur ar fáil do na scoláirí le díolúine acu. Nuair nach mbíonn rang tacaíochta ar siúl comhthreomhar leis an gceacht is ceart, nuair is cuí, cuireadh a thabhairt do na scoláirí seo páirt a ghlacadh sa cheacht. Rachaidh an rannpháirtíocht seo i bhfeidhm go mór ar fhoghlaim is féin-mheas gach scoláire sa rang. Moltar polasaí scoile a fhorbairt i leith na Gaeilge le béim faoi leith ar rannpháirtíocht san ábhar.
Tá cúigear múinteoirí ag múineadh na Gaeilge sa scoil. Cé nach gcuirtear aon bhuiséad faoi leith ar fáil do mhúineadh na Gaeilge, tuigtear ó labhairt leis na múinteoirí agus leis an mbainistíocht, go gcuirtear aon riachtanais a bhíonn acu ar fáil, ach iad a chur in iúl. Bhí raon leathan áiseanna agus acmhainní le feiceáil sa scoil, ina measc áiseanna ríomhaireachta agus clos-amhairc. Tá seomra ranga ag ceathrar múinteoirí agus i ngach seomra a breathnaíodh bhí fístéip, cófra, téipthaifeadán agus osteilgeoir ar fáil ann.
Tugadh le fios go mbaintear úsáid as foilseacháin chomh maith le suímh gréasáin ar nós www.scoil.net agus fístéipeanna ó TG4, Gearrscannáin san áireamh. Cuirtear na scoláirí ar an eolas faoi choláistí samhraidh agus le linn na cuairte chonacthas céilí an-dheas eagraithe ag an idirbhliain agus tá creidiúint tuillte ag gach duine a raibh páirteach ann. Mar a bheifí ag súil le is trí chur chuige cumarsáideach mar seo a fhoghlaimíonn na scoláirí. Tá leabharlann sa scoil freisin agus moltar cur leis an méid leabhar nua-aimseartha atá ann go háirithe do na scoláirí le Gaeilge mhaith acu. Chomh maith le sin tugadh le fios go bhfuil fáil ag na múinteoirí Gaeilge ar sheomra ríomhaireachta sa scoil ach nach mbaineann na múinteoirí úsáid rialta as teicneolaíocht eolais is chaidrimh (TEC) i dteagasc agus i bhfoghlaim na Gaeilge. Moltar go ndéanfaí athbhreithniú ar leas a bhaint as TEC mar is ceart go dtuigfeadh na scoláirí gur teanga bheo í an Ghaeilge sna meáin nua-aimseartha chomh maith.
Sa scoil seo is léir go bhfuil aird dírithe ar an tábhacht bhunaidh a bhaineann le pleanáil. Tuigeadh ón mbainistíocht go bhfuil sé mar pholasaí sa scoil oiread taithí agus is féidir ar na leibhéil éagsúla a roinnt go cothrom ar na múinteoirí ar fad agus tá an polasaí seo le moladh.
Is ar bhonn foirmeálta a fheidhmíonn na múinteoirí Gaeilge mar Roinn. Bíonn cruinnithe foirmeálta ag an Roinn ceithre huair sa bhliain agus tá comhordaitheoir rothlach ann. Roghnú téacsleabhar, roghnú chláir chomónta agus acmhainní, roinnt scoláirí i ranganna, agus a n-oiriúnacht don leibhéal ag a mbíonn siad ag tabhairt faoin nGaeilge, an phríomhaidhm a bhíonn leis na cruinnithe. Cuirtear eolas agus cáipéisíocht ar na cruinnithe sin ar fáil don bhainistíocht.
Is léir go bhfuil an-chuid pleanála ar siúl sa scoil seo. Chonacthas cáipéisí de phleanáil phearsanta na múinteoirí agus cuireadh ar fáil plean na Roinne. Bhí rian an mhachnaimh le sonrú ar na cáipéisí seo. Tréaslaítear leis na múinteoirí faoin bpleanáil phearsanta agus faoin gcomhphleanáil atá ar bun don Ghaeilge. Tugadh suntas faoi leith don scrúdú comónta atá ann do scoláirí na chéad bliana agus na scéimeanna oibre atá ann do gach bliain. Is iontach an rud é nuair atá múinteoirí ar aon fhocal faoi obair na bliana agus moltar an deis seo a thapú agus díriú ar, ní hamháin clár na hoibre, ach ar mhodhanna teagaisc a bheadh oiriúnach don chlár roghnaithe sin agus na torthaí foghlama a ghabhann leis.
Aithnítear an ríthábhacht a bhaineann leis an teanga labhartha i múineadh na Gaeilge agus moltar, chun cur leis an méid déanta go dtí seo, miondíriú a dhéanamh ar mhodheolaíochtaí chun teanga labhartha na scoláirí a chur chun cinn sna ranganna Gaeilge. D’fhéadfaí iniúchadh a dhéanamh ar an gcothromaíocht idir teagasc uile-ranga agus teagasc grúpa nó ar na modhanna difreálaithe atá in úsáid agus a d’fhéadfadh a bheith in úsáid sa seomra ranga. Is ceart an deis a thapú, go háirithe nuair is léir go bhfuil sprid chomhoibritheach den scoth i measc na múinteoirí Gaeilge sa scoil seo agus is múinteoirí díograiseacha iad. Chabhródh treoirlínte an tsiollabais fhéin go mór agus an obair seo idir lámha ag múinteoirí Gaeilge na scoile maraon leis na seirbhísí tacaíochta atá ar fáil ag www.slss.ie agus ag www.sess.ie .
Tá sé sofheicthe go bhfuil fíorshuim ag na múinteoirí Gaeilge i bhféin-mheas na scoláirí a chothú. Slí amháin chun é seo a chur i bhfeidhm sna seomraí ranga ná trí dheiseanna a thabhairt do na scoláirí a dtimpeallacht fhoghlama féin a chruthú. Chonacthas samplaí den scoth d’obair na scoláirí ar na ballaí i ngach seomra ranga. Téann timpeallacht tharraingteach spreagúil fhoghlama i bhfeidhm go mór ar fhoghlaim na scoláirí agus is inmholta an rud é go bhfuil na seomraí chomh dea-fheistithe sin. D’fhéadfaí cur leis an dea-chleachtas seo trí leas a bhaint as TEC . Bheadh deis ansin ag na scoláirí scileanna inaistrithe a fhoghlaim agus a chleachtadh agus, ag an am céanna, bheadh an múinteoir ábalta freastal ar riachtanais fhoghlama idirdhealaithe na scoláirí.
Tá pleanáil agus ullmhúchán de chaighdeán ard sa scoil seo agus tá an-mholadh tuillte ag na múinteoirí agus ag an mbainistíocht.
Tugadh faoi deara ins na ranganna ar fad ar tugadh cuairt orthu go raibh atmaisféar fáilteach oscailte idir na scoláirí agus na múinteoirí. Bhí caidreamh réidh ag na múinteoirí agus ag na scoláirí lena chéile. Chuir an méid seo go mór leis an gcomhoibriú a bhí le feiceáil i bpróiseas na foghlama agus an teagaisc a bhí ar bun. Léirigh na scoláirí go raibh siad sásta a bheith rannpháirteach agus go raibh tuiscint acu ar an ábhar. I ngach rang a breathnaíodh bhí ceartú cneasta ar dhearmaid na scoláirí agus i bhformhór de na ranganna bhí an gramadach fite fuaite go nádúrtha sna ceachtanna le béim, mar is ceart, ar thábhacht na gramadaí don chumarsáid seachas aon ní eile. Bhí ábhar na gceachtanna ag teacht le siollabas na Roinne agus le raon suime is cumais na scoláirí.
Léirigh na ranganna a breathnaíodh go raibh pleanáil chuí déanta ina gcomhair agus go raibh leanúnachas i gceist. Bhí plean ann do gach rang agus cuireadh aidhm na gceachtanna in iúl go soiléir do na scoláirí ag tús na ranganna mar a mholtar. Leagadh béim chuí ar leathnú foclóra agus ar struchtúr na teanga a mhúineadh. Baineadh úsáid as an gclár bán chun ábhar na gceachtanna a choimeád chun tosaigh. Bhí de thoradh ar an bpleanáil chríochnúil seo go raibh struchtúr agus gluaiseacht bhríomhar faoi na ceachtanna. Rinneadh gach iarracht an Ghaeilge a úsáid mar mhéanteagaisc agus mar ghnáththeanga cumarsáide ranga, fiú sna ranganna is laige, agus tá an modh oibre seo inmholta.
Ba léir gur chaith na múinteoirí an-dua leis an réamhullmhúchán agus bhí leanúnachas sna ceachtanna le feiceáil i ngach rang. Thosaigh gach ceacht leis an rolla agus le hiniúchadh ar an obairbhaile ón lá roimhe agus chríochnaigh an ceacht le hobairbhaile a d’éirigh go nádúrtha as an obair ranga. Moladh na scoláirí chomh minic agus ab’ fhéidir le linn na gceachtanna agus bhí féin-mheas is féinmhuinín na scoláirí chun tosaigh i ngach rang. I bhformhór de na ranganna a breathnaíodh baineadh úsáid as tascanna éagsúla, mar shampla ag léamh, ag scríobh, ag freagairt ceisteanna ó bhéal, agus uaireanta ag obair i mbeirteanna. Moltar an modh oibre seo a chur i bhfeidhm chomh minic agus is féidir mar luíonn sé le réasún, nuair atá tascanna éagsúla ann, go mbeifí ábalta comhtháthú a dhéanamh ar na scileanna teanga go léir laistigh de rang amháin. Chomh maith le sin is ceart, mar chuid den cheacht, deiseanna cumarsáide a thabhairt do gach scoláire i ngach rang chun an teanga labhartha a chleachtadh agus chabhródh obair bheirte, obair ghrúpa, piartheagasc, rólghlacadh agus araile chun é seo a chur i gcrích.
I rang amháin a breathnaíodh bhí na scoláirí ar tí cárta poist a scríobh. Baineadh leas as an gclár bán chun cuspóir an cheachta a choimeád chun tosaigh agus cuireadh ceisteanna ar na scoláirí chun iad a dhíriú ar an dúshlán rompu. Tugadh bileog oibre réamhullmhaithe do gach scoláire chun cabhair a thabhairt dóibh agus iad i mbun a gcuid oibre. Don chuid is mó bhí na scoláirí ag obair ina n-aonair agus moltar deis a thabhairt dóibh ceisteanna a chur is a fhreagairt ar a chéile le linn na réamhscríobhneoireachta. Dar ndóigh d’fhéadfaí an seomra a eagrú ionas go mbíonn na scoláirí ag scríobh lena chéile chomh maith. Tugadh suntas faoi leith sa tslí go raibh obair scríbhneoireachta na scoláirí ar taispeáint cheana féin sa seomra ranga agus go raibh fhios ag na scoláirí go mbeadh an obair idir lámha ar na ballaí freisin chomh luath is a bheadh an ceann sprice bainte amach ag an rang. Tá an-mholadh tuillte ag an múinteoir don chleachtas seo a spreagann na scoláirí a seacht ndícheall a dhéanamh mar is léir dóibh ó thosach go mbeidh torthaí a gcuid oibre ar taispeáint go poiblí.
Faoi stiúir chliste an mhúinteora bhí taispeántas poiblí de shaghas eile ar siúl i rang eile ar a tugadh cuairt. Trí rólghlacadh bhí beirt scoláirí ag cleachtadh a gcuid Gaeilge labhartha agus a gcomhghleacaithe ag féachaint orthu. Is inmholta an cleachtas é na scoláirí a chur chun cainte lena chéile. Tá ard-mholadh tuillte ag an múinteoir don chur chuige seo. Trí thaifeadadh a dhéanamh den sár-chleachtas seo bheadh gaisce eile déanta mar bheadh scileanna teanga agus scileanna inaistrithe á gcothú ar aon uain. Is ceart obair an ranga seo a cheiliúradh is a scaipeadh. Is í aidhm gach ceachta feidhm teanga ar leith a thabhairt chun críche. Mar a breathnaíodh sa rang seo is trí obair bheirte is obair ghrúpa a éiríonn leis an múinteoir, ceacht a chruthú is a chur i bhfeidhm, a thugann aird d’idirspléachas na scileanna teanga go léir.
I ngach rang a breathnaíodh cuireadh béim faoi leith ar thorthaí foghlama a bhí ag teacht le réimse cumas na scoláirí. B’amhlaidh an scéal i rang sa Timthriall Sinsearach ina raibh na scoláirí ag cleachtadh a gcuid scileanna sa teanga labhartha. Bhíothas an-tógtha leis an gceartú cneasta agus an deis a fuair gach scoláire labhairt is foghlaim. Chuir an múinteoir ceisteanna ar na scoláirí duine ar dhuine, agus nuair ba ghá leis tháinig scoláire eile i gcabhair ar a chara. Moltar cur leis an dea-chleachtas seo trí leas a bhaint as modhanna éagsúla ionas go mbíonn deis labhartha níos minice ag na scoláirí. Mar atá thuasluaite is ceart athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar obair ghrúpa agus go háirithe ar na scileanna teanga atá riachtanach chun, ní hamháin ceisteanna a fhreagairt ach iad a chumadh chomh maith.
Is léir go bhfuil dlúthcheangailt idir scileanna labhartha agus cumas scríbhneoireachta scoláirí. I rang eile bhí ‘ceacht an lae’ leagtha amach ar an gclár bán agus bunaithe ar litir fhoirmeálta a scríobh ar an timpeallacht. Cuireadh tús leis an rang trí cheisteanna oscailte a chur ar na scoláirí a tharraing a n-aird ar an ábhar a bhí le plé acu sa litir. Baineadh leas as réimse leathan de cheisteanna agus ba léir go raibh Gaeilge mhaith ag tromlach de na scoláirí agus ar a dtoil ag roinnt acu. Faoi luas tapaigh lean an ceacht ar aghaidh agus trí bhileog oibre agus osteilgeoir cuireadh na scoláirí ar an eolas faoi cad a bheadh ag teastáil chun aidhm an cheachta a bhaint amach. Ag teacht i dtreo deireadh an cheachta rinneadh achoimre ar an méid a bhí déanta agus ba dheas a fheiceáil go raibh an múinteoir sásta cead a thabhairt do scoláire amháin na pointí ag teacht ón urlár a chur ar an gclár bán. D’fhéadfaí cur leis an dea-chleachtas seo freisin trí chuireadh a thabhairt do na scoláirí páirt níos gníomhaí a ghlacadh sa rang trí achoimre a ullmhú is a chur i láthair os comhar an ranga.
Chomh maith leis an measúnú laethúil is leanúnach sna ranganna, déantar measúnú ar na scoláirí trí scrúduithe rialta i rith na bliana. Cuirtear scrúduithe ar na scoláirí go foirmeálta, um Nollaig, agus sa samhradh. Mar a luadh cheana bíonn scrúduithe comónta ag scoláirí na chéad bliana agus is ceart an cleachtas inmholta seo a chur i bhfeidhm leis na blianta eile nuair is cuí. Reáchtáiltear triailscrúdú don tríú bliain agus don séú bliain san Earrach. Tugtar le fios gur ar scileanna scríbhneoireachta, léitheoireachta agus éisteachta a bhíonn na scrúduithe seo dírithe don chuid is mó. Mar ba léir sna ranganna ar tugadh cuairt orthu is í an teanga labhartha croílár an tsiollabais agus, dar ndóigh, ní lú tábhacht atá le héisteacht agus le labhairt ná atá le léamh agus le scríobh. Moltar, dá bharr, go ndéanfaí measúnú níos leithne ar an teanga labhartha freisin. Séard ab’fhearr a dhéanamh chun é seo a chur i gcrích ná trí bhreathnú is trí mheasúnú leanúnach sa seomra ranga. D’fhéadfaí teastais shimplí a bhronnadh orthu siúd atá ag déanamh a ndícheall an teanga a labhairt agus nóta a chur sa tuairisc a théann abhaile. Coimeádann na múinteoirí cuntas ar na torthaí ina ndialanna féin. Seoltar cuntas ar na torthaí a ghnóthaíonn na scoláirí abhaile chuig na tuismitheoirí dhá uair sa bhliain. Tugtar deis do na tuismitheoirí dul i dteagmháil leis na múinteoirí le linn na bliana.
Léirigh na cóipleabhair a breathnaíodh go raibh obair déanta is ceartaithe ar raon leathan ábhar a bhí ag gabháil le riachtanais an tsiollabais. Tugadh aird i roinnt de na cóipleabhair ar na nótaí pearsanta is treoir a bhí ann ón múinteoir. Tá a leithéid de chleachtas inmholta agus téann sé i bhfeidhm go mór ar na scoláirí. Is mar chuid den fhoghlaim é an ceartúchán agus moltar go leanfaí ag seiceáil obair scríofa na scoláirí go rialta ionas go mbíonn dearbhú is treoir le fáil ag na scoláirí ar conas a gcuid oibre a fheabhsú. Ba léir go raibh leanúnachas ann idir obair ranga agus obair bhaile. Bhí forbairt fhoclóra ar siúl i ngach rang agus bhí cóipleabhar nó fillteáin ranga ag na scoláirí ina raibh na scoláirí ábalta stór focal, pointí gramadaí agus araile a scríobh isteach. Foghlaim conas eagar a chur ar thógáil nótaí, sin ceann de na céimeanna tosaigh san fhoghlaim neamhspleách.
Tar éis doiciméid phleanála a bhreithniú, plé a dhéanamh leis an bpríomhoide agus leis na múinteoirí Gaeilge, agus measúnú a dhéanamh sa seomra ranga, áirítear na buanna seo a leanas ar eagrú, ar fhoghlaim agus ar theagasc na Gaeilge sa scoil:
Déantar na moltaí seo a leanas ar mhaithe le cabhrú le soláthar don ábhar agus múineadh an ábhair féin sa scoil:
Classes in this school are arranged by joint timetabling. Each student is given the opportunity to reach the highest level in the subject. Each class in the school has five classes per week except first year, which has four classes and Transition Year which has three classes per week. There is one class per day except in sixth year which has two classes in one day. It is recommended that this exception be reviewed as it is better that students receive regular daily exposure to the language. There are mixed-ability classes in first year and Transition Year. Classes in the other years are streamed. Students are divided into classes following a common examination at the end of first year. Students have access to the subject at the various levels and there is flexibility where changes of levels are required. The school is deserving of much praise for both its philosophy and practice in this regard.
At the time of the visit it was found that a considerable number of students were exempt, in accordance with the provisions of Circular M10/94, from the study of Irish. A review of such exemptions is recommended. It was reported that every effort is made to provide exempted students with extra support classes in literacy and numeracy while Irish classes are in progress. When such support classes are not held in parallel to the lesson, these students should be invited, where appropriate, to join in the lesson. Such participation will positively impact upon student learning and self-esteem. It is recommended that a school policy be developed with a particular emphasis upon student participation in the subject.
There are five Irish teachers in the school. Although there is no specific budget for teaching Irish, it is understood from talking to teachers and management that any requirements they have are provided for on request. A wide range of teaching aids and resources was evident in the school, including ICT and audiovisual aids. Four teachers have their own classrooms and rooms observed had a video, cupboard, tape recorder and projector.
It was reported that use is made of publications as well as websites such as www.scoilnet.ie and videos from TG4, including Gearrscannáin. Students are kept informed of summer colleges and during the visit a very nice céilí, organised by the Transition Year, was held and all those involved deserve credit. As one would expect, it is through such a communicative approach that students learn. The school also has a library and it is recommended that there should be a greater number of modern texts in it, especially for the students who have good Irish. While teachers of Irish have access to the school’s computer room, they do not make regular use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning of Irish. It is recommended that greater use of ICT be considered as students should be made aware that Irish is relevant to modern media also.
In this school attention is clearly focused on the basic importance of planning. It was understood from management that it is school policy to give all teachers as much experience as possible at the various levels and this policy is to be commended.
Irish teachers operate as a department on a formal basis. The department has formal meetings four times a year and the position of coordinator rotates. The primary aim of departmental meetings is to choose textbooks, common programmes, and resources, to allocate students to classes, and to assess their suitability for the level of Irish undertaken by them. These meetings are recorded and documentation is made available to school management.
It is clear that there is quite a degree of planning taking place in the school. Teachers’ personal planning documents were observed and the department’s plan was provided. It was clear from these documents that much thought had gone into their preparation. The teachers are commended on their individual and joint planning in relation to Irish. Particular note was taken of the common examination for first year students and of the schemes of work for each year. It is recommended that attention be focused, not only on the programme of work but also on teaching methods which would be suitable for that chosen programme and for the desired learning outcomes.
The huge importance of the spoken language in teaching Irish is recognised, and to enhance what has been accomplished thus far, it is recommended that there be a focus in Irish classes on methodologies which would advance students’ oral proficiency. An examination could be carried out of the balance between whole-class teaching and group teaching or of the differentiated methods which are in use and which could be used in the classroom. This opportunity should be grasped, especially as there is clearly an excellent spirit of cooperation among the dedicated teachers of Irish in this school. The syllabus’ guidelines would be of assistance to the Irish teachers in this task along with the support services at www.slss.ie and www.sess.ie.
The genuine interest of the teachers of Irish in nurturing students’ self-esteem is apparent. One way of implementing this in classrooms is by giving students the opportunity to create their own learning environment. Excellent examples of students’ work were on the walls of each classroom. This pleasant, inspiring learning environment has a huge impact on students and is to be commended. This good practice could be further enhanced using ICT. The students would then have an opportunity to learn and to practice transferable skills and, at the same time, the teacher would be able to meet the individual learning requirements of the students.
Planning and preparation is of a high standard in this school and both teachers and management are deserving of much praise.
A cordial, open atmosphere between students and teachers was noted in all classes visited. Teachers and students had an easy relationship with each other. This greatly enhanced cooperation in the learning and teaching process. Students showed their willingness to participate and also their understanding of the subject. In each class observed students’ mistakes were gently corrected and in most classes teaching of grammar was naturally interwoven throughout, with appropriate emphasis being placed on the importance of grammar primarily for communication. Lesson content was in line with the Department’s syllabuses and catered to the students’ range of interests and abilities.
The classes observed showed evidence of appropriate and consistent planning. There was a plan for each class and the aims of lessons were clearly outlined to students at the start of class. Vocabulary development and teaching the structure of the language were appropriately emphasised. The whiteboard was used to keep the content of lessons in focus. As a result of thorough planning there was a good structure and a pace to the lessons. Every effort was made to use Irish as the teaching medium and as the ordinary language of communication, even in the weakest classes, and this practice is to be commended.
Teachers clearly had made a great effort with preparation and lesson continuity was apparent in all lessons. Each class began with roll call and inspection of the previous day’s homework and the lesson ended with homework which evolved naturally from classwork. Students were praised as often as possible during the lessons and students’ self-respect and self-confidence were emphasised in each class. In most of the classes observed a variety of tasks was set, for example reading, writing, answering questions orally and sometimes working in pairs. It is suggested that this would happen as often as possible as when a variety of tasks is used all language skills can be integrated into one class period. In addition, it is recommended that communicative opportunities form part of the lesson to allow for practice of the spoken word where pair-work, group work, peer teaching, role-play, etc. could facilitate this further.
In one of the classes observed the students were about to write a postcard. The whiteboard was used to keep the lesson objective to the fore and students were asked questions to focus them on the task ahead. Each student was given a worksheet which had been prepared earlier to assist them in their work. Students were generally working on their own and it is suggested that they be allowed to ask each other questions while writing initial drafts. I might be possible also to arrange the room so as to allow for students to write to each other. It was especially noted that students’ written work was already displayed in the classroom and that the students were aware that their work would also later be displayed. The teacher deserves much praise for this practice which encourages students to do their very best as it is clear from the start that the product of their efforts will be publicly displayed.
Under the teacher’s direction a public display of a different kind was under way in another class visited. Two students were practicing their oral proficiency through role-play while their classmates watched. The practice of having students converse with each other is to be commended and the teacher is commended for this approach. Making a recording of this excellent practice would build on it as it would simultaneously foster language skills and transferable skills. The work of this class should be celebrated and shared. The aim of each lesson is the accomplishment of a particular language function. As observed in this class it is through pair work and group work that the teacher succeeds in creating and implementing a lesson which takes into account the interdependence of all the language skills.
In all classes observed the learning outcomes emphasised were appropriate to the students’ range of abilities. This was also the case in a senior-cycle class in which students were practicing their spoken language skills. The gentle correction and the chance each student was given to speak and to learn are commended. The teacher questioned students individually and where necessary another student came to his classmate’s assistance. It is recommended that this good practice be developed using various methods so that students will have a chance to speak more frequently. As stated above, a review should be made of group work and especially of the language skills needed not only to answer questions, but also to ask them.
There is obviously a close connection between students’ spoken skills and their writing ability. In another class the lesson topic was set out on the whiteboard. This was based on writing a formal letter on the topic of the environment. The class commenced with students being asked open questions which focused their attention on the subject of the letter. A wide range of questions was used and it was apparent that most students had good Irish and some were quite fluent. The lesson progressed at a fast pace and students were reminded of the aim of the lesson through the use of worksheets and the overhead projector. Towards the end of the lesson the work was summarised and one student wrote the principal points onto the whiteboard. This commendable practice could be further developed through inviting students to take a more active role in the class by preparing a summary to be presented to the class.
As well as continual daily assessment in classes, students are assessed by regular examinations during the year. Students are formally examined at Christmas and in summer. As previously ststed, first-year students have a common examination and this commendable practice should be implemented in other years as appropriate. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students have their mock examinations in spring. As was apparent in the classes visited the spoken language is at the heart of the syllabus and, of course, the skills of listening and speaking are no less important than those of reading and writing. Therefore, it is suggested that students’ spoken language be assessed in a wider range of situations. The best way of achieving this would be through continual observation and assessment in the classroom. Simple certificates could be presented to those trying their best to speak the language and a note could be included in the report which is sent home. The teachers keep a record of results in their own diaries. A report of the results achieved by students is sent home to parents twice a year. Parents are given the opportunity to contact teachers during the year.
Student copies observed illustrated that work was completed and corrected on a wide range of topics in accordance with the syllabus. In some copies, personal notes of guidance from the teacher were observed. Such practice is commendable and very much influences students. Correction is part of learning and it is recommended that students’ written work be regularly checked so that students are provided with affirmation and direction on how to improve their work. There was obvious continuity between classwork and homework. Vocabulary development was carried out in each class and students had copies or class folders in which they could write vocabulary, points of grammar, etc. Learning how to take notes in an organised manner is one of the first steps in independent learning.
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 Irish and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry 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 principal and subject teachers.
There is good support for the study of Science as it is a core subject at junior cycle. A wide range of science subjects is offered at senior cycle. Students may study Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The school offers the Transition Year programme during which students gain exposure to senior cycle science subjects. This is good practice as it informs students’ choices when selecting their senior-cycle subjects. Subject choice at senior cycle is student driven and this is good practice.
The number of students taking Chemistry varies from year to year. Currently, the uptake of Chemistry in sixth year is low and in fifth year is moderate. While acknowledging that subject choice is student driven, examination of the factors that affect students’ subject choices at senior cycle is advised. The results of this examination might inform strategies that encourage greater uptake of Chemistry at senior cycle.
All Science and Chemistry classes are of mixed ability. Classes generally retain the same teacher from year to year. This practice supports continuity of learning and is commended.
The time allocation for Science is four class periods per week during first year and five class periods per week during each of second and third years. This allocation is appropriate and ample. The time allocation for Chemistry is five class periods per week for each year of senior cycle. This allocation is appropriate. The time allocation for both Science and Chemistry includes double class periods. This is wholly appropriate as it facilitates student performance of practical work, which is an intrinsic part of the Science and Chemistry syllabuses.
The school has three science laboratories and a demonstration room. The laboratories have adjoining preparation areas. These facilities were viewed during the evaluation. The science facilities are clean, bright, and well maintained. Good work has been done in organising the laboratories and the preparation areas. The science staff is commended for this work.
There is awareness among the science staff in relation to students with special educational needs. Planning documentation for the sciences referred to beneficial use of group work in involving such students and in building positive working relationships. The documentation supplied also referred to small-group and one-to-one tuition that assists students in writing up their experimental work. Where a student’s special educational needs have been formally assessed, the resulting psychological assessment report is available to teachers. The school’s learning-support team identifies students with special educational needs and liaises with the science teachers to exchange this information. Interview with the science teachers revealed a desire to build on existing knowledge and best practice in working with students with special educational needs. In this context, provision for further and ongoing liaison between the science staff and the learning-support team is recommended. Such liaison should provide opportunities for the sharing and dissemination of methodologies and best practice to support teachers in their work with students with special educational needs. Support in this area may also be accessed from the Special Education Support Service, www.sess.ie.
There are two notebook computers, one desktop computer, and two data projectors available to the science staff. Internet access is enabled in the laboratories and demonstration room. It is reported that some teachers use their own notebook computers in planning, preparing, and teaching their classes. The science staff reflects the desire to continue to develop the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Science and Chemistry. Good practice was reported in one subject area where students are given, at the start of the school year, copies of the ICT-presentations that will be used during the year. Internal expertise in the use and integration of ICT has been identified. Accessing and sharing this expertise during subject department planning is advised, to support teachers in integrating ICT to enhance students’ learning experiences.
There is good support for teachers’ continuing professional development. This is evidenced by the fact that science teachers have been facilitated in attending the relevant Junior Science Support Service in-service education courses. The school reports support for teachers’ involvement with relevant professional associations and participation in subject association conferences. The recent activity of science staff in action research in conjunction with the National Biology Support Service is noted and commended.
There is a positive atmosphere of collaboration and collegiality among the science teachers. The science staff has actively engaged with the process of subject department planning. The role of science co-ordinator is rotated among the science teachers and this good practice contributes to a sense of shared responsibility and teamwork.
The science teachers meet formally and informally to plan for the teaching and learning of Science and Chemistry. A formal Science plan and a formal Chemistry plan were presented for inspection. Both documents were developed during the subject planning process and this is good practice. The plans include similar themes and follow a similar structure. This shows continuity of planning from junior cycle to senior cycle. References to the aims and objectives of junior-cycle Science and senior-cycle Chemistry, laboratory safety, timetabling and time allocation, grouping of students, class organisation, planning for students with special educational needs in Science, homework, cross-curricular planning, resources, ICT, record keeping and reporting procedures, professional development, teacher induction, and programme content and timing are variously included in the plans viewed. In particular, it was evident from observation during classroom visits that implementation of programme content and timing was working well within the agreed plan. It is recommended that the science teachers continue to build on the good work done to date in subject planning. Focus for future work should include examination of the factors that affect students’ subject choices at senior cycle, sharing practice and extending the range of methodologies used with mixed-ability groups, and linking assessment with both homework and student performance of practical work.
All lessons observed were appropriate to the relevant syllabus. All requisite equipment and materials were to hand and had been prepared in advance. Teachers demonstrated a high level of subject matter expertise as was evident in good preparation for class topics.
Established classroom routines were evident in the lessons observed. Lessons variously began with checking of homework, roll call, and recap on previous learning. The use of established routines when beginning lessons is good practice as it facilitates good classroom management.
The main methodologies observed included questioning, ICT-based presentations, use of whiteboard, discussion, student performance of practical work, student note taking, and use of overhead projection slides.
Questioning was used in all lessons observed. Directed questioning was the predominant questioning style used. This was appropriate as it enabled teachers to pose questions to the entire class group and then to engage students individually. The majority of questions posed were recall based. In some cases, higher-order questions were used to challenge students to further consider their responses. It is encouraged that, where appropriate, further use be made of higher-order questions to engage students in considering and developing their ideas and observations. Good practice was observed where teachers created opportunities for students to ask questions. Such practice allowed students to have their individual questions answered and assisted teachers in gaining feedback on students’ understanding.
ICT-based presentations were used effectively and clearly. The whiteboard was used in conjunction with the ICT-based presentations to further develop and explain the topics under study. The use of colour when presenting diagrams was noted. This is a useful practice as it facilitates highlighting important points and adds depth and detail to diagrams. Overhead projection slides were used effectively to note and highlight key learning points. Student note taking was used to provide students with a copy of the main learning points and this is good practice. Where discussion was observed it was structured and contributed to learning.
Student performance of practical work was observed and it was noted that students worked well in their groups. Safety was emphasised in the performance of practical work. Students were involved in setting up for and tidying up after their experimental work. This is good practice as it provides motivation by enabling student autonomy and encourages students to accept responsibility for their work. Good laboratory practice was observed where students were encouraged to note their observations and results as they worked. It is encouraged that students in all class groups be motivated to develop this practice. Teachers circulated among students as they worked and provided advice, guidance, and affirmation. This approach is commended as it seeks to meet students’ individual learning needs and supports a positive atmosphere of co-operation and collaboration.
Where practical work and related activities were observed a beneficial level of independence was afforded students in their work. Given the level, year group, and abilities of the students this was wholly appropriate. It was noted that teachers, where needed, gave every support to students in their work.
In seeking to build on the significant experience and expertise of the science staff, it is recommended that the subject planning process be used to facilitate sharing of practice and extending the range of methodologies used with mixed-ability groups.
Students were attentive and engaged in their learning in all lessons observed. Observation of students’ responses to questions posed by their teachers, questions posed by students, and interaction between the inspector and students showed that students had generally good levels of knowledge and understanding in the topics under study.
Discussion with students showed that they had a generally good understanding of the scientific terminology used in the lessons observed. In some cases, students would benefit from opportunities to further practice and develop phonological awareness of some terminology used. Providing some reading time and using questioning to facilitate practice in new terminology could help to develop students’ phonological knowledge.
Affirmation of students’ work and responses was a notable feature of all lessons. There was very good rapport in the lessons observed. It was noted that students were addressed by name. Students engaged readily with their teachers and students’ responses and questions were accepted and dealt with affirmatively.
The learning atmosphere in the laboratories was that of a scientific learning space. Some rooms had educational charts and posters on display. Scope for display of recent students’ work was noted. Such displays when regularly undertaken could further enhance the learning environment, provide useful learning resources, and act as a source of motivation for students.
Students’ progress and attainment is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. This is appropriate.
Homework was a feature of the lessons visited. This is appropriate as regular setting and correction of homework reinforces students’ learning, provides opportunities to receive feedback on students’ understanding, and motivates and affirms students in their work.
The main methods used in assessing students’ practical work are oral feedback by teachers during and on completion of the work and monitoring of students’ write up of their work. Samples of students’ work were viewed. Good practice was observed where students wrote up their experimental work in their own words. All students should be encouraged to include a brief description in their write up of the planning they undertook prior to performing the experimental work. Good practice was observed where there was regular correction and annotation of students’ work. Comments affirming students’ efforts were noted. The use of such comments supports the positive working relationships and good rapport that was observed in the lessons visited. Ongoing correction, annotation, and affirmation of students’ work in all classes are encouraged. In developing students’ scientific literacy, it is advisable, when correcting students’ work, to draw students’ attention to misspellings and advise on their correction. Establishing a system where the teacher makes a mark on a line where a misspelling has occurred and the student is required to find and correct the error on that line could be considered. Such a system encourages students to accept greater autonomy and responsibility for their own learning.
Linking assessment, homework, and student performance of practical work was discussed with teachers. The development of this practice is encouraged, as it would combine affirmation and reward for students’ work across a range of endeavours. It would serve to augment current practices by not only indicating and valuing academic achievement in written assessments but also by including reward for efforts made in homework on a regular basis and skills mastered in the performance of practical work.
There are good structures in place that facilitate communication between the school and home. These structures include newsletters, parent-teacher meetings, phone calls, reports, letters, case conferences, and meetings by appointment.
Students are encouraged to take Science and Chemistry at the highest possible level in the State examinations. Decisions on the level to be taken are informed by students’ performance in both the Christmas and mock examinations. The final decision on the level to be taken is made by students in consultation with their parents and teachers. This is appropriate.
Interview with students showed there to be generally good levels of interest in the sciences. Such levels of interest reflect positively on students’ experiences of the sciences in school.
Teachers beneficially support students’ involvement in a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities such as the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, trips to third-level colleges, Science week, educational trips, and links with related subject areas. Teachers’ support for students in these activities is acknowledged and commended.
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 Science and Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing 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 principal and subject teachers.
St Joseph’s College has a taster programme for all optional subjects in first year. At the end of first year students choose the optional subjects they wish to study for the junior certificate. First year students have one double class periods per week for Technical Graphics. In second and third year students have four class periods per week. As students have Technical Graphics once per week in first year, absences have a greater impact on students’ exposure to the subject. It was outlined during the course of the inspection that the curriculum of the school is currently under review. In light of this review process, it is recommended that Technical Graphics should be timetabled for four class periods per week in each year of junior cycle or the current shortfall in first year should be made up in second and third year.
In senior cycle students are given an open choice of optional subjects and subject bands are developed based on the majority of students getting their chosen subjects. This student centred approach to subject choice is to be highly commended.
There are three rooms in St Joseph’s College that are used to teach Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing (TG&TD). The resources available to teach TG&TD vary considerably from room-to-room. One of the rooms is a general-purpose classroom and has flat desks that are used as drawing boards and a whiteboard with a sliding T-square and drawing instruments. A second room, which is used for Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies (MTW&CS) theory lessons, has flat desks that are used as drawing boards and a blackboard with drawing instruments. The room that is timetabled for the majority of TG&TD lessons has raised benches and stools with angled drawing boards and has a whiteboard. All rooms have student T-squares and overhead projectors. It is suggested that the teaching and learning resources in the main TG&TD room should be developed and this room should be used for all TG&TD lessons or suitable drawing boards and teaching equipment should be provided for in all classrooms used for TG&TD. Each student has their own drawing equipment and drawing folders. There are a number of plotters and computers in the main TG&TD classroom that are obsolete. It is suggested that they should be removed from the classroom along with the unused tables and storage presses. It is further suggested that the TG&TD teachers should develop a list of equipment and resources that would benefit the teaching and learning of TG&TD in the school, and that these should be factored into the budget for the subject over the coming years.
School management encourages staff to attend continuing professional development (CPD) courses where possible.
The TG&TD teachers are not always informed of students with special educational needs and those who require learning support at the start of each year. It is suggested that the school management and the education support team in the school should inform teachers at the start of each year of those students presenting with special educational needs and those who require learning support so teachers can plan for and develop strategies to help these students in their subject areas.
There is a technology subjects (TG&TD, MTW&CS and Metalwork) faculty in St Joseph’s College. The faculty meet formally at the start and end of each year and on an informal basis throughout the year. There is no agenda and minutes are not taken for these meetings. It is suggested that the school management facilitate the technology subject’s faculty formal opportunities to meet throughout the school year, during a staff day for example. It is suggested that the school management in conjunction with the faculty should draft an agenda for each meeting. The teachers should record the minutes and items for action of each meeting and feed this information back to the senior in-school management. This will provide a greater level of structure to develop the faculty and will help in planning provision for each year.
The TG&TD faculty have developed a scheme of work for each year of junior and senior cycle the content of which is appropriate to each year group. New topics are introduced at appropriate times to build up the subject matter incrementally. There are both long and short-term schemes of work contained in the subject plan. The long-term schemes of work outline the topics covered by each year group. The short-term schemes of work outline the topics covered each week. In some instances the topics are broken down to detail the specific rule, theorem or construction method under study. This was particularly evident in the scheme for the first term of first year. It is suggested that this level of detail should be developed for all schemes of work. This level of detail was exemplified in the class year planner of one teacher observed. Schemes of work should be working documents associated with particular class groups and it is suggested that the current template could be easily adapted for this purpose. It is recommended that the “notes” section of the current template should be used by each teacher to review each topic and note any issues that have arisen to aid revision of the topic at a later date and planning for subsequent years.
All of the teachers of TG&TD are to be highly commended for developing teaching resources for each topic in TG&TD. These vary from overhead transparencies of rules, theorems, geometric constructions, State examination questions and solutions to 3-D models and posters. Such resources help students in visualising the abstract and making it more concrete.
Two junior cycle double lessons in Technical Graphics and two senior cycle single lessons in Technical Drawing were observed during the inspection. In the Technical Graphics lessons observed the topic covered in one lesson was Conic Sections and in the other lesson observed was Transformation Geometry: Translations, Central and Axial Symmetry. In the Technical Drawing lessons observed the topic covered was Contouring and Earthworks and in the other lesson observed was Roof Geometry and Solids in Contact.
It was evident from classroom observation that considerable thought is given to short term planning and preparation for all classes. In all lessons observed some or all of the following teaching materials were prepared: handouts, overhead transparencies, 3-D models, posters and completed technical drawings by the teacher. All students had access to T-squares and there were spare student drawing instruments. Such planning and preparation for each lesson ensures that teachers can focus on teaching and learning activities throughout lessons.
Each lesson observed had clear aims and objectives. The purpose of each lesson observed was established at the beginning of the lesson. In some lessons observed instructions for the set-up of drawings were printed on the whiteboard. This is to be commended as very good practice especially in the mixed-ability lessons observed where students at ordinary and higher level were studying different topics. All teachers employed appropriate methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. In some instances teachers used the chalkboard or whiteboard to demonstrate how the TG&TD problems should be drawn. In other instances this was done through the use of overhead transparencies, students drawing sheets and drawing sheets completed by the teacher. Such demonstrations form an extremely important part of TG&TD lessons as they allow students to observe the teacher modelling the correct practical application of the graphic language. In particular the use of teacher technical drawings and part completion of student drawings is highly commendable as it allows students to observe good quality draughtsmanship.
In all instances subject matter was built up in incremental steps and there was a high level of teacher-student and student-teacher interactions in the completion of each TG&TD problem. In all lessons students were encouraged to solve problems themselves. In doing this teachers used a variety of strategies such as: 3-D models and prompting for Roof Geometry and Solids in Contact, sketches and prompting for Conic Sections and Transformation Geometry.
The TG&TD teachers used the technological terminology associated with TG&TD continually during all lessons and students communicated effectively using this terminology. Familiarity with and appropriate use of this terminology is essential in the study of TG&TD and the approach adopted by all teachers is commended.
In all lessons observed teachers moved constantly around the room engaging with students and monitoring and assessing their understanding of the topics under study. Through this constant interaction classroom discipline was sensitively maintained and an appropriately ordered learning environment was created. This teacher-student interaction also helped to ensure that individual students remained engaged with lesson activities and afforded teachers the opportunity to offer assistance to individuals when required.
Effective classroom routines were evidenced during all lessons observed. Students tidied up after each lesson and put drawing sheets and instrument away. Routines around teacher demonstrations and question and answer sessions have been developed that ensure all students are attentive and engaged.
An excellent rapport based on mutual respect between students and the teacher was evident in all lessons observed. Students readily engaged with all classroom activities and their contributions were appropriately affirmed by the teacher. As a result, students in all classes evaluated were enthusiastic, motivated and worked to the best of their abilities in an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions and complete TG&TD problems during the lessons observed. The quality of students’ drawing portfolios was of a standard consistent with the range of abilities in the classes observed and was commendable. The content of junior and senior cycle student portfolios was appropriate to the year group and the syllabus. However first year students have covered a small number of topics and teachers should focus on the quality of draughtsmanship.
There are some examples of student drawings, architects drawings and posters on display in some of the drawing rooms. The quality of student work and the display of this work is to be highly commended. It is suggested that this practice should be extended to all drawing rooms. It is further suggested that the technical graphics teaching staff should put student drawings on display in areas outside of the classroom, on a dedicated technical graphics/drawing notice board for example. It is suggested that this notice board should be in an area where the entire student body can view it. This will project a more positive image of the subject and help serve as a stimulus and source of motivation for the present cohort of students.
All classes sit tests in each subject at Christmas and non-examination classes sit tests in summer. First year students also have examinations at Easter. Examination classes sit mock examinations in February.
Other assessment modes used included checking of drawing sheets and homework. Homework is assigned on an irregular basis. Students are generally asked to complete drawings started during class time. It is recommended that a more structured approach in the setting, correcting, grading and recording of homework in TG&TD should be undertaken. All year groups should be assigned homework on a regular basis and it is suggested that in addition to asking students to complete drawings students should also be set new problems which are based on the topics covered during class time. From a review of student portfolios it was noted that teachers check drawing and initial them. It is recommended that teachers should provide feedback on student drawings on a regular basis to inform students of the mistakes they are making. This will also highlight for teachers the areas in which students are having most difficulties.
Teachers keep records of student attendance and the results of student assessments are recorded systematically. Teachers also keep a record of the State examination questions completed by each student. In senior cycle students are also provided with a list of these questions. It is suggested that this practice should be extended to include a list of all drawing sheets completed by each students in each year group. This will allow students to keep track of the drawing sheets they should have competed for each topic and will also allow teachers to monitor those areas that particular students have missed.
The results of students’ achievements are communicated to parents by means of school reports. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organised each year and this allows parents to meet subject teachers and discuss students' progress.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s College, Gearrbhaile, Beál Átha na Slua, Co. na Gaillimhe. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) 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 principal and subject teachers.
Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) are offered as junior and senior-cycle optional subjects respectively in this boys’ school. All first-year students study MTW as part of a year-long taster programme of optional subjects and exposure to all subjects is commended. Final subject choices are made at the end of the taster period. In the current school year there are also two MTW class groups in each of second and third years. A system of optional subject banding based on students' choices is operated when students enter senior cycle and in the current year there is a CS class group in each of fifth and sixth years. Senior-cycle students study CS as part of the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) or as one of a combination of optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students on the school's Transition Year programme do not currently study a module related to MTW or CS and it is recommended that such a module be considered for inclusion in the programme in future years.
One double class period per week is allocated to MTW during a taster programme in first year and second and third year classes are allocated one double and two single class periods per week. The current junior-cycle allocation for MTW is not appropriate, because of the reduced time available in first year, and should be increased to the equivalent of four periods per week for each year of junior cycle to ensure that adequate time is available for the syllabus to be completed. It is noted that an advisory board of studies is currently examining the provision of the taster programme within overall curricular provision in the school and that this may affect the allocation to all junior-cycle optional subjects in future years. CS is allocated five periods per week, including one double and three single class periods, in fifth and sixth years and this is appropriate for the subject.
The school has two MTW/CS rooms and a third classroom used for theory lessons. One MTW/CS room is located in the main school building while the second room and the theory room are located in another building on the campus. All three rooms are well-equipped and suitable for the delivery of the MTW and CS programmes. The MTW/CS room located in the main school building however, does not have a store room and this results in some congestion as all materials and students' project work must be stored in the room. It is recommended that measures to address the storage issue in this room be explored as soon as is practicable. The external MTW/CS room is spacious and well-equipped and has a large adjoining store room that is also used for project work. The theory room is located on the upper floor of this building, is spacious and suitable for the conduct of theory lessons. Large three-dimensional models of building details used as teaching aids are retained in the room and placed on the floor or on tables at the rear. It is recommended that additional wood and building technology wall-charts be displayed to complement existing examples of students' work and to improve the visual aspect and general teaching and learning environment in the room.
Currently, there is no computer access in the MTW/CS or theory rooms and the school's computer rooms are not equipped with drawing software appropriate for use in MTW or CS. It is recommended therefore, that arrangements for access to appropriate software for MTW and CS students be made as soon as is practicable.
Health and safety issues are addressed at appropriate times during MTW and CS lessons and safety awareness and practice are being promoted in the MTW/CS rooms. A limited number of wall charts related to a variety of safety issues are displayed in the MTW/CS rooms and procedures for dealing with accidents are in place. The emphasis on safety procedures and practices is commended but it is recommended that additional safety posters related to the general workshop safety and the safe use of hand and machine tools be displayed. While The MTW/CS and theory rooms are specifically cited in the school's health and safety document it is recommended that formal procedures to monitor, audit and review occupational health and safety issues on a regular basis, in line with Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools (2005), be developed in the school.
An informal, collaborative approach to subject planning is adopted by the school's MTW/CS teachers and a high level of co-operation and peer-group support was evident during the inspection. While this approach is working well it is recommended that an opportunity for MTW/CS teachers to meet formally be facilitated at the beginning of each school year and that subject-related issues discussed should be recorded and reported to the principal.
A comprehensive subject plan for MTW and CS has been developed and is being implemented by teachers in the school. This plan includes programmes of work for each subject and year group and is in line with the requirements of the syllabuses. Teachers also had comprehensive individual subject planning documentation. This level of subject planning is commended.
MTW and CS students sit State examinations at the level appropriate to their abilities. Teachers liaise with the school's learning-support and resource team when planning for students with special educational needs and arrangements to cater for the differentiated needs of students in the subjects are commended.
Provision of materials for the subject is organised using a requisition system and items of equipment identified as necessary by the teachers are provided following a request to the principal. This arrangement works well in the school.
The school’s behaviour code was maintained and implemented and an appropriately ordered learning environment was created and maintained in all lessons evaluated. Learning activities were well managed and students were motivated and challenged by them. Lessons were appropriately paced to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses, were suitable for the time of year, and took account of the differentiated needs of individual students. This is commended as good practice.
The teachers employed appropriate methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used.
Students in Junior Certificate MTW classes were engaged in the realisation stages of project work for State examination purposes. Project work was being well-managed and all the practices associated with the design-and-make process were being undertaken. Leaving Certificate project work was also under way and a variety of wood-craft, architectural models and building detail projects was being undertaken for examination purposes. Teachers are commended for their organisation, safe conduct and management of all practical activities and project work. Efforts should continually be made however, to further enhance standards of students' practical skills.
Classroom routines were evidenced during all lessons observed. These are particularly important in specialist classrooms as they serve to ensure that the learning environment is well organised, managed and safe during activities. These practices are commended.
Textbooks are used for MTW and CS theory but were not heavily relied upon during lessons evaluated. A wide variety of resources has been identified and/or developed by teachers and is used effectively to complement texts, for reference purposes, to supplement lesson content, and for homework assignments. This approach is commended.
The technological terminology associated with MTW and CS was used continually by the teachers during lessons and students communicated effectively using this terminology. Familiarity with, and appropriate use of, this terminology is an integral part of the technological process and the approach to using terminology adopted in the school is commended.
Global and directed questions, including higher order questions, were used effectively to revise material covered in previous lessons, to introduce new topics, to direct student attention and to summarise at the end of lessons.
The wood and construction technology principles demonstrated during practical and theory lessons were presented incrementally and teachers scaffolded student development in the topics covered during lessons. This constitutes excellent practice.
Three-dimensional models related to wood and construction technology topics were displayed in the MTW/CS and theory rooms and were used as teaching aids at appropriate times during lessons. This promoted the development of students’ thinking from concrete to the abstract and is highly commended.
During lessons the teachers moved around the classrooms and engaged with individual students. This helped to ensure that individual students remained engaged with lesson activities and afforded teachers the opportunity to assist individual students when required. This is commended as good practice.
The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions during lessons and was also evident in the competencies they exhibited during individual and group work during practical activities.
The quality of students’ written and drawn classwork was of a standard consistent with the range of abilities in the classes observed. The content of students' notebooks and portfolios in MTW and CS was appropriate to the year group and the syllabuses. Freehand and ruled drawings were of a standard that displayed a mastery of the knowledge and competencies associated with a wide variety of syllabus topics and was commendable. Efforts should continually be made however, to enhance standards of freehand and ruled drawings in order to emphasise the importance of these forms of technological communication.
Opportunities for students to engage in independent and collaborative learning were built into the lessons evaluated and this is commended.
An excellent rapport between students and the teachers was evident during the lessons evaluated. This promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning where students appeared secure in the knowledge that their contributions to and participation in lessons were being encouraged and welcomed. Students readily engaged with classroom activities and their work and contributions were appropriately affirmed by the teachers.
Non-examination classes sit formal house examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holiday. First-year students are continuously assessed and they also sit an examination at Easter. Junior and Leaving Certificate students sit an examination at Christmas and a mock examination during the second term. These examinations are employed to monitor student attainment in MTW and CS.
A range of other assessment modes related to subject-specific objectives is also employed. Practical, project, written theory and drawn classwork is assessed, commented on, graded and recorded. Homework is also regularly assigned in MTW and CS.
The quality of record keeping of student attendance is of a high standard and the results of student assessments are recorded systematically. Students' attainment records are also used to identify trends in students' achievement and to address the needs of individual learners. This practice is commended.
The results of students’ achievements are communicated to parents by means of school reports. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organised annually and this allows parents to meet subject teachers and discuss students' progress.
Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm and curiosity for the subjects during the inspection and their skills and knowledge levels, relative to age, ability, and class level were appropriate. Students enthusiastically and willingly engaged with the inspector during the evaluation.
An analysis of the schools Junior and Leaving Certificate examination results is undertaken each year and this analysis informs school planning in the subject area.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of MTW and CS and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s College, Ballinasloe. 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 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 principal and teachers of business subjects.
Business Studies is a core subject for the first year of the junior cycle and an optional subject for the remainder of the cycle. On completing the junior cycle, students may choose the Transition Year (TY) programme, or go directly into the Leaving Certificate (LC). Business subjects are catered for in TY with modules in Business, Economics and Mini-company. It is recommended that the TY business modules be reviewed with a view to ensuring greater cohesion between the modules and an integrated approach to cross- and co-curricular activities. For the LC, all three senior-cycle business subjects, Accounting; Business; and Economics, are offered annually to students. “Ab initio” study of senior-cycle business subjects is provided for, in line with the syllabuses for these subjects. LC students may also qualify for participation in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) by virtue of their optional subjects choices for the LC. Students are well supported in subject and programme choices through advice from various subjects’ teachers, links with the guidance counsellor and open nights for parents and students, at key intervals during their education.
The school seeks to maximise business subjects’ provision for students in LC. For 2006/07 there was insufficient demand for Accounting to merit the formation of a class group for this subject. Through co-operation with the neighbouring girls’ school a small number of boys take Accounting in the girls’ school. While such co-operation is commendable, there are issues arising that may be counter-productive to the needs of these students. It appears that these students do not have full-timetable exposure to Accounting in the girls’ school, as the two school timetables are not synchronised. A private arrangement between a teacher and these students is in place, to bridge the gap in timetable time. Nevertheless the preferred solution would be to synchronise the two school timetables, so that these students could have continuity in teaching and learning. It is recommended that the synchronisation of the school timetables be explored with the other school. There is also a minority of students, who are studying both Business and Economics, despite the fact that both subjects are in the same option band and are thus timetabled concurrently. The effect of this arrangement is that these students do not get full timetable exposure to either subject. This is undesirable, as these students do not benefit from the recommended teaching time necessary for delivery of both syllabuses. Therefore it is recommended that the school ensures that all students receive their full entitlement to teaching of all senior-cycle business subjects.
Apart from the exceptions highlighted above, class period provision is satisfactory for all business subjects including the Enterprise Education element of the LCVP Link Modules. The placing of double-class periods during times that school games normally take place has an impact on both teachers and students, who are timetabled during these times. This is especially so for the junior cycle. Therefore, it is recommended that every effort be made to ensure that such double-class periods are not placed at these times and that generally there should be an even spread and distribution of class periods for all business subjects across the school week. In the case of LCVP, aspects of the Link Modules are timetabled alongside PE classes. This should be examined to ensure that all LCVP students have full exposure to the LCVP Link Modules.
Students are well catered for in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as all students are provided formal time for ICT classes. As there is limited use being made of ICT equipment in the teaching of business subjects, it is recommended that the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of business subjects be considered, in the context of subject planning. This is especially relevant to Business Studies, as this syllabus carries stated objectives for the development of ICT skills.
Most business teachers have teacher-based classrooms. While all of these rooms are being used as a resource base for business subjects, one of these rooms is well used for the display of business-related materials. It is recommended that the business teachers, in the context of subject planning, ensure that all of the base classrooms are used to maximum effect. As part of this recommendation, a resource plan for the acquisition of suitable ICT equipment to support the integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of business subjects should also be developed.
Business subjects’ students are taught in mixed-ability settings. The business teachers have good links with the learning-support and resource team, as some of them also take some students for learning-support classes. In order to enhance these links, it is recommended that the business teachers, in the context of subject planning, identify commonly used business terms and calculations for inclusion in extra tuition for selected students in both English and Mathematics.
The business teachers have developed a series of individual plans for the range of business subjects. These plans are comprehensive and address a broad range of teaching and learning activities. The plans were developed mostly in the teachers’ own time. A good collegial approach to subject planning was evident, especially in Business Studies. There is scope to ensure that the business teachers have opportunities not only to monitor and discuss the implementation of the subject plans, but also to continue to share their experience and expertise. Therefore, it is recommended that formal time for such ongoing planning be provided within the school calendar and the framework for existing staff meetings. Over time, the focus of planning could address a number of issues including, among others, a review of the TY business modules, and the development of a vision for business education across the school. The review of the TY business modules is important as TY is a bridge between the Junior and Leaving Certificates, and “ab initio” study of Leaving Certificate business subjects is catered for. The development of a vision for business education across the school would promote an integrated approach to business education in the junior and senior cycles.
There are effective cross- and co-curricular links in the teaching of business subjects. Cross-curricular links exist between business subjects, Mathematics, English, ICT, and special education. A variety of co-curricular links occur through the TY and LCVP work experience modules, the use of guest speakers for selected topics, the operation of a school bank, participation in various business competitions, student projects on various businesses and business people, and the use of externally generated business materials, such as Business 2000. It is recommended that the business teachers, in the context of subject planning, share and formalise ideas in this area. The inclusion of such items in the subject plan for business subjects would not only contribute effectively to the vision of these subjects, but would also ensure that all business subjects’ students may benefit from cross- and co-curricular activities.
In all lessons observed, links to the business subjects’ plans were visible, as lesson topics were in line with the timed content delivery. A range of resources has been developed to support the implementation of the plans in the form of worksheets, summary notes for key points of some topics, and the use of external resources to support learning. Monitoring of plan implementation was a feature of all lessons, through the use made by teachers of their organisers. As the need arose, flexibility was evident in the sequencing of topics, in order to meet the needs of some students in mixed-ability settings. Such flexibility is an indicator of the centrality of the needs of students among the business teachers.
There was a good variety of teaching methodologies used in lessons observed. These ranged from whole-class input to in-class student assignments that promoted and assisted student learning. Homework formed an effective link from lesson to lesson, and homework completion was monitored at the start of each lesson. Where students were designated as higher and ordinary level for the State examinations, effective teaching differentiation was used. The pace of lessons was suited to the needs of students in a mixed-ability setting. Every effort was made to ensure that students understood key aspects of lessons before moving on to new material. Individual support was provided, where necessary.
The white board was used effectively to show worked solutions to questions and students were directly involved in the build up of these solutions using their completed homework as a guide to the solution. The use of the whiteboard and overhead projector to highlight key lesson aims and key words or concepts arising, was particularly effective as a reminder to students of the relevance of the lesson, as well as creating a link to the class textbook. The range of ability in some of the lessons observed was wide. This creates challenges for teachers and students. It is recommended that continuing professional development (CPD) for mixed-ability teaching and learning be considered in the context of ongoing subject planning. This CPD could usefully start with the business teachers discussing how they approach teaching in mixed-ability settings, as there is a high level of experience among the team. The outcome of such discussion could affirm existing good practice and highlight CPD needs in this area. Such CPD could be provided in the context of school development planning (SDP).
Classroom management was good. This arose principally because all of the teachers are experienced practitioners, and have a good relationship with their students. Students were actively engaged in the flow of lessons, and effective questioning techniques were used to maintain interest and attention. Where some students were inclined to be inattentive, low-key methods were used to encourage attention and participation in the flow of the lesson. Effective use of eye contact, voice variation and student questioning ensured that the flow of lessons was not disturbed. Teacher-student interaction was positive and effective. Student affirmation was an important feature of lessons observed, and evident mutual respect between teachers and students contributed to pleasant classroom atmospheres.
Students displayed good understanding of key concepts in all lessons observed, and good ability to apply these concepts to the outside world. This understanding was prompted by the use of examples related to the interests and local environment of students. Once these examples succeeded in assisting student learning, students were prompted to apply their learning to the broader national and international business environment. Broadband has the potential to bring the broader business and economics environment into the classroom, further enhancing opportunities for students to effectively apply their learning. Good guidance and support were provided to students preparing for the State examinations in 2006, through reference to answering techniques and ways of maximising student performance in these examinations.
The school has a whole-school homework policy, and does not have a whole-school assessment policy. There is good practice among the business teachers in line with whole-school practice. An examination of a sample of student copybooks and teacher records, in all lessons observed, highlighted generally good practice. Copybooks were monitored regularly. All were annotated, and some had supporting and guiding comments. Apart from in-house examinations at Christmas and either the pre- or summer examinations, the business teachers carried out continuous assessments at key intervals in the school year. The frequency of these assessments was variable among the teachers. This variation arose mainly because of the structure of different business syllabuses. There is a joint approach to continuous assessment at junior cycle among the business teachers. Effective record keeping of assessment results, homework completion, absenteeism, and lesson implementation was evident among the teachers. It is recommended that the business teachers share and formalise best practice in homework and assessment, as part of subject planning. This would be especially important in the junior cycle, where all of the teachers teach Business Studies. Clear and consistent homework expectations and standardised continuous assessment procedures would be beneficial to students. The Assessment for Learning (AfL) project, information on which may be accessed on the web site of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie, would prove useful here. Naturally such planning would be a useful support to a whole-school review and development of homework and assessment policies.
Students are encouraged to take business subjects at their highest level in the State examinations and decisions in this regard are generally taken at the latest time allowed. This is good practice as business syllabuses are framed so that students may be taught these subjects in mixed-ability settings.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of business subjects at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of St. Joseph’s College, Garbally met on October 3rd, 2006 to discuss the contents of the Whole School Evaluation Report. Overall the Board wishes to welcome the general conclusions and observations contained in this report.
The Board felt it was comprehensive, thorough and balanced. The many positive attributes noted by the Inspectors, particularly in the core area of teaching and learning was particularly gratifying. The Board will be seeking clarification from the Governors around the future configuration of the school plant particularly in the context of the closing of the boarding facility and the observations of the inspectors regarding the unsuitability of the Old Block as an educational resource appropriate to the needs of our students now.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· Rights and responsibilities of parents
· Rewarding good behaviour
· Joint supervision during breaks
· Sharing curricular resources i.e. music, tech graphics