An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Meán Scoil an Chlochair
Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath
Roll number: 63221U
Date of inspection: October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Meán Scoil an Chlochair, Kilbeggan. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Meán Scoil an Chlochair, Kilbeggan, is a co-educational voluntary secondary school under the patronage of the Sisters of Mercy, northern province. It was granted secondary status in 1964 and it became one of the first co-educational secondary schools in the country at that time. The school is committed to its Mercy tradition and the provision of a Catholic education remains the foundation on which its culture and ethos are built.
Meán Scoil an Chlochair is the only post-primary school in Kilbeggan, a small rural town of almost 1,000 inhabitants. The town has a large rural hinterland and there are a number of small villages nearby. Kilbeggan is situated on the N4/M4 route, and because of its proximity to Tullamore, Athlone and Mullingar, it is expanding rapidly at present. The school currently has an enrolment of 385 students, having undergone a period of rapid growth over the last seven years. Consequently, the diversity of needs of students has increased also. A large number of people are continuing to move into the area and it is estimated that the school will have to provide for up to 550 students in the next eight to ten years. The Area School Development Plan for the N4/M4 Area, 2004 – 2010, published by the Commission on School Accommodation in May 2005, has recommended a new school on a green field site for Kilbeggan. The trustees and management are currently pursuing this recommendation with the Department of Education and Science. These factors, when combined, present a number of challenges and opportunities to the school in terms of physical development, curriculum provision, staffing and planning.
Meán Scoil an Chlochair currently offers a wide range of subjects, including Irish, English, Mathematics, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), History, Geography, two modern European languages,, a full range of Science, Business and Technical subjects, Home Economics, Art, Music, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education (RE), Physical Education (PE) and Information Technology (IT).The school offers its students a total of four programmes: Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate (Established) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). A broad range of extra- and co-curricular activities is included in the curriculum. Both cultural and sporting interests are catered for, and there are activities to promote and highlight moral and social issues.
Meán Scoil an Chlochair was given disadvantaged status by the Department of Education and Science in 1994 and as a result is in receipt of funding and other supports to assist students in attending and benefiting from their time spent in school. The present staffing allocation is 23 permanent whole time posts, 0.59 posts for Guidance and Counselling, 0.5 posts for a home-school-community liaison co-ordinator, 2.75 special needs assistants (SNAs) posts and five other posts, including concessionary, temporary whole time and part time teachers. The school is currently operating within its quota. Administrative and support staff includes one school secretary, a caretaker and two cleaning staff.
The mission statement of Meán Scoil an Chlochair is based on the ethos of the Sisters of Mercy:
Mercy Secondary School, Kilbeggan, is a voluntary secondary school established in 1964 by the Sisters of Mercy. Some years later, it became one of the first co-educational schools in the country. Whilst there is less participation by the Sisters of Mercy today, providing a many-faceted Christian education remains the foundation stone on which its culture and ethos is built.
Mercy Secondary School aims to provide an educational environment where our students can develop a mature understanding of themselves and others and can develop to their full potential in every aspect of their education – moral, academic, social, aesthetic, physical and spiritual.
In accordance with the foundress of the Mercy schools, Catherine McCauley, her gospel and legacy, we show a special interest in the poor and disadvantaged and those with special needs.
This statement is a reference point for many of the policies, procedures and activities of the school. It should ideally be the starting reference point for all of these. Management and staff are conscious of the level of esteem in which the school is held in the community. The school is blessed with community support and is an integral part of the community, which identifies itself with the school. A sense of community is apparent in the school, though this does not always translate itself into team spirit and teamwork. Management and teaching staff have a strong sense of where students are coming from. Academic standards are good and there is a move underway at present towards a more complete and effective student-centred pastoral care system to support adequately the wider range of student abilities and backgrounds now entering the school. The school strives to cater for the specific needs of all its students, from those who need a high level of support to those who are academically strong.
The principal and deputy work to ensure that the mission statement of the school is fulfilled in its systems and daily routines and in the interactions of all those who work and learn in the school. They carry out their duties in an open and democratic manner. The pastoral element of the school’s mission is coming into greater prominence with the development of new and more student-centred systems. Management and teaching staff take pride in their school and its achievements. They show an emerging sense of ownership of the school. The officers of the parents’ association have a realistic but very positive view of the school and are very supportive of management and teaching staff.
The strengths of the school include a generally good level of discipline and respect for all, good academic standards and excellent student/staff relationships. Teachers are committed to their students and work hard on their behalf. Students and teachers know each other well because of the small size of the school.
The school is managed by a board of management which is properly constituted. This board is now entering the final year of its three-year term of office. The commitment of board is apparent, not least from the fact that all members attended opening meeting with the inspectors. The diversity of background of board members is a big asset to the school. Frequent and regular board meetings are held in order to expedite business. On occasion, because of exceptional circumstances, the board may hold extra meetings.
The chairperson has an excellent working relationship with principal and there is frequent contact between them. The members of the board expressed support for, and admiration of, senior management on a number of occasions and are very supportive of all that is going on in the school. All board members have been provided with training through the trustees of the school and one member has also had training from the VEC system. While the board claims to have an understanding and knowledge of the role and responsibilities of a board, a degree of vagueness among some individual members regarding their role was evident. It was apparent to the inspectors that there is a core group with a greater awareness of in-school issues and more involvement in decision-making; for example it was apparent that not all members were equally informed of or involved in the implementation of the recommendations of recent subject inspection reports. All decision making is by consensus. Sub-committees such as the finance sub-committee are formed to deal with specific issues and outside expertise is sought when needed, for example to assist with health and safety and with and legal issues.
The board feels that school is achieving its mission. All students are being well catered for, both academic and non-academic. There is concern that all students reach their full potential. The board is aware of curriculum provision within the school and of the level and quality of learning support provided and it plans ahead in curricular areas.
There is evidence that, at times, the board tends not to be pro-active in carrying out its functions, but to approve and support as far as possible whatever initiatives come from the principal, teaching staff and parents. The board has not been very involved in the development of policies. There has been a tendency to allow the principal, staff or others, to come up with and develop ideas. The resulting plans and policies are then discussed, reviewed and amended at late draft stage by the board, before a final, agreed policy is approved.
The board as a whole needs to take a more pro-active approach to its leadership role. It must be very clear on its role and responsibilities and it must develop its own clear operating procedures in order to fulfil this role. It must ensure that all members are involved in discussions and decision making and it must demonstrate a greater level of leadership in taking initiatives and in the development of the school and its policies and plans, for example by adopting a more involved approach to policy development and the review of inspection reports.
It is recommended that the board should make contact with other boards and see how they operate. The board should be instrumental in leading and managing a change in the organisational culture of how the school is managed at all levels towards a culture that is willing and able to adapt, in changing times, to keep abreast of students’ needs and to provide for them. The members of the board may find that continued training from a variety of sources is necessary in order to do this.
The secretary of board liaises regularly with the trustees and a copy of the minutes of all board meetings is sent to them.
Following each meeting of the board an agreed report is issued to staff by placing it on the notice board in the staff room. A verbal report of proceedings is also brought to the parents’ association via their representatives on the board. The board is satisfied that communications are adequate and effective. Some information also feeds in to the board from students through the parents’ association, for example issues with regard to the healthy eating franchise. It is recommended that the board, perhaps through the principal, should issue a regular newsletter or report on its activities to the school community.
One of the main priorities of the board for the future is the provision of a new school on a green-field site, adjacent to the present restricted site, as recommended in the Area School Development Plan for the N4/M4 Area, 2004 – 2010, published by the Commission on School Accommodation in May 2005, and the trustees are currently in negotiation with the Department of Education and Science on this issue. Other priorities include the introduction of an enhanced year head and tutor system, the provision of an AONAD facility for those students who attended a Gaelscoil prior to enrolment, the continued development of school policies and of subject departments, the expansion of the TY to include a second class group and to examine the possibility of offering the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) course. Work is currently underway on the year head and tutor system, and on policy and subject department development.
The key success of the current board has been to keep the school going in the current demanding environment. There is a strong feeling that the school is improving and strengthening its profile at present.
The officers of the parents’ association demonstrated a very strong and admirable commitment to the school. They are familiar with the mission statement and feel that the school lives up to this as best it can. They said that the school goes out of its way to help pupils, is a very caring school and a safe and secure place for their children to learn in. They expressed the view that communications with the school are excellent and that the principal is very approachable and supportive. There is an open door policy and teachers make themselves available to meet parents. The board has not met with the parents’ association although it has a direct link through a member who is an officer of the parents’ association. It is suggested that the board should meet regularly with the parents’ association as a group in order to improve communications and to discuss, in a more effective and efficient manner, issues of mutual concern. It is also suggested that the parents’ association give consideration to finding a means to include all parents in the process of electing its members rather that just relying on the attendance of parents at its annual general meeting, as is current practice. It is recommended that the parents’ association issue a regular newsletter to parents, giving details of their activities, plans and communications with bodies such as the board.
Senior management demonstrated a great awareness of the ethos of the school and worked hard to ensure that this was maintained in a rapidly changing working environment. The principal is the first lay person to hold the position and is very conscious that there is visible expression of Mercy ethos in the school. The teaching staff are obviously committed to carrying out their duties in the best interests of their students. There is an emerging sense of middle management as a tier in the management of the school and an increasing level of ownership of the school among the teaching staff.
Student representatives see the school as a small, friendly and supportive place. A students’ council was set up two years ago, replacing a system of student representatives. They see their role as representing students in bringing issues to the attention of teachers and management. They have had active involvement in some school issues to date though their role in policy development has been limited. It is recommended that the students’ council be given a more active role in the development of school policies. The liaising teacher must communicate with the staff and principal and help to find a real role for the council. It is important that they see value in what they do. It is commendable that the students’ council has received training and has had the opportunity to meet with the members of students’ councils from other schools. It is important that this continues to enable them to grow into their role and to support new members. The curriculum development unit of the City of Dublin VEC, at Sundrive Road, Crumlin may provide support. A more open and inclusive means to elect or choose members of the students’ council needs to be considered. This does not preclude the involvement of staff members. The term of office of the students’ council must also to be clearly defined. Final year students are also involved in a formal mentoring system to support new first-year students. This is an excellent support for new students and both student council members and mentors feel well supported by management.
The school is now at a crossroads in its development. The challenges facing the school include working under difficult physical conditions, planning for the anticipated increase in numbers, and rebalancing the administrative and pastoral aspects of the duties of post holders. The school, under the leadership of the board, must undertake a fundamental review of its mission. It must look to its founding purpose and re-establish its raison d’etre and its vision and devise a school plan to attain this. This plan must state the aims and objectives that the school wishes to achieve and set out the means by which it intends to do this. From this will follow a clearer picture of the needs of the school and its students and thence the opportunity to devise a system of posts and supports which will fulfil these needs. This school plan will serve to ground and link all other plans and policies developed by the school. It is important that all staff members, in the best interests of the school and the students it serves, contribute to and progress these changes as expeditiously as possible, in a spirit of cooperation and openness. It is also important that the concept of teamwork should be emphasised and developed in this process.
There is evidence that the principal and deputy principal work together as a team and are supportive of each other. They each have their own complementary responsibilities. The duties of the principal are very wide-ranging and encompass all the areas of the school’s activities. These duties include liaising with and working with the Department of Education and Science, the trustees, the board, staff, parents, students and other outside agencies as well as managing the school on a day-to-day basis, and maintaining a teaching role.
The deputy principal deals with many in-school, day-to-day matters and assists with supervision and substitution arrangements and discipline, along with carrying out a number of administrative duties including timetabling. The deputy principal also has eight hours and 40 minutes of class contact each week. The deputy principal maintains an obvious visibility in the school between classes and during breaks and also deputises for the principal when required.
The principal and deputy don’t meet formally but do have frequent short, casual meetings to discuss ad hoc issues, to make arrangements for the handing over of responsibilities when the principal is absent and to clarify positions and agree a common approach before staff meetings and meetings with parents. It is recommended that the principal and deputy arrange regular formal meetings in order to ensure that sufficient time is allowed to discuss all issues of common concern and to monitor the on-going progress of the school. Communication among staff members and management appears to be good and much information is shared on a casual basis, for example at lunchtime.
The current system of posts of responsibility evolved over a number of years and it is generally acknowledged that it no longer meets the needs of the school. It is also recognised that the workload attached to some of the posts is excessive. Post holders tend to carry out their duties in a compartmentalised manner and with insufficient consideration of the “big picture.” Due in no small part to the efforts of the principal, there is an emerging awareness of middle management and of its role in school management. Substantial changes are underway at present which aim to reorganise and restructure middle management functions to reflect the current and anticipated needs of the school. These include the development and implementation of a more student-centred pastoral care system and the continued provision of appropriate support for an increasing number of students with a diverse range of needs, while maintaining and improving existing academic standards. This development includes the introduction, from November 2006, of year heads for all junior cycle classes with consequent redistribution of some duties.
It is strongly recommended that a fundamental root and branch review of the post system be carried out, following an analysis of the needs of the school, as part of the overall review process outlined in section 2.1 above. This should be led by the board. It should be carried out with reference to the mission statement of the school, in a spirit of cooperation, with the best interests of the students in mind and giving consideration to the talents, experience and interests of post-holders. Particular cognisance should be taken of the terms of Department of Education and Science circulars 04/98 and 05/98 and ppt29/02. There should also be an emphasis on the teamwork aspect of the work of the post holders with a view to facilitating a more supportive and unified environment among staff members as a whole. There should be absolute clarity with regard to the duties attached to each post. Implementation of posts duties should be monitored and evaluated on a frequent basis. The principal and deputy should meet regularly with middle management, in plenary session and with a definite agenda and targets, to assist the process of reform and improvement.
The level and manner of communication with parents/guardians at an individual or family level is good and a variety of instruments are used, including the student journal, parent-teacher meetings and reports. The school operates an open door policy for parental contact and contact is as frequent and detailed as circumstances demand.
Management highlighted the quality of links with outside agencies, including the local community, GAA and pitch & putt clubs, and local agencies such as the Gardaí, the health board and the local Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO).
As there is no full and comprehensive long-term induction programme for new staff members in place currently, it is recommended that one be put in place. NUI Maynooth and UCD are running programmes in this area which may be of assistance.
The number of teachers is within quota at present and teaching time is efficiently utilised in line with teacher qualifications and specialist subjects, with some minor exceptions for specific reasons. It is recommended that timetabling next year should take full account of the specialist subjects of teachers and that the SPHE co-ordinator be chosen from among the SPHE teachers.
Management is very supportive of continuous professional development of staff members. Attendance at DES-provided in-service is always facilitated. Subject association fees are paid by the school and Learning Support courses, School Development Planning courses and other relevant courses in teachers’ own time are also supported. Further areas for professional development, including training for year heads, training in language support and training for the new home-school-community liaison co-ordinator, have also been identified and are currently being assessed and addressed.
The school consists of a number of separate buildings, of various ages and states of appropriateness, some of which are linked by outdoor covered walkways and some of which are separate. Although the buildings are well maintained and the school is making the best use of the available facilities, accommodation is a major problem. Application was made, and approved, under the summer works scheme of 2005 for an upgrade to the school toilets. Because of the nature and layout of the school, heating costs are very high, and this is a major drain on available funding.
There is a lack of PE facilities. The gymnasium is small and unsuitable for its purpose, being housed in a converted shed. The school applied under the summer works scheme of 2006 for an upgrade of the PE Hall. This was not approved due to the recommendation of the aforementioned N4/M4 area development plan. In addition, the school will be losing the use of a music room, in the adjacent convent building in the immediate future.
Specialist rooms for practical subjects are available as required and management works towards keeping rooms and equipment as up to date as possible, although there is an apparent shortage in the availability of overhead projectors. Subject departments apply for a budget at the beginning of the school year and are generally given what is requested.
There is one IT room available. There is a lot of pressure on this room, as a large number of students require access. There is currently no system of prioritising classes for access though students may have access at lunchtime, if a teacher is using the room at the same time. There are no dedicated computers for Art, Materials Technology (Wood) or for Metalwork. There was evidence, however, of some good examples of IT being integrated into teaching and learning in some subjects on a daily basis.
A strategy for the long-term development of IT facilities and services is needed. The development of such a strategy should begin with the appointment of an IT co-ordinator, perhaps as part of the review of the post system, and the finalising of the IT plan currently under development. Training should be provided as required when further needs have been identified. Broadband must be made available throughout the school to facilitate the dispersal of some computers to classrooms and specialist rooms and the provision of dedicated computers for those subjects that require them. A system to prioritise access to the computer room for certain classes needs to be agreed and implemented. A means of providing lunchtime or evening access to the IT facilities for students must be investigated while there is a deficit in the availability of computer time for students.
Ancillary staff are very positive about the school and feel well supported and valued in the performance of their duties. They feel their work has a valuable contribution to make to the running of the school.
Good resources are available to cater for students with special education needs. Minority groups have integrated very well into the school. The extra teaching resources that have accrued to the school because of its disadvantaged status, along with those that have been granted on the basis of specific programmes and initiatives, have been absorbed into the generality of teaching hours to provide for smaller class sizes and this has benefited all students.
The school has a comprehensive health and safety policy covering all aspects of the school’s activities and accommodation. Inspection visits from outside consultants are also used to keep the policy updated and relevant. Fire drills are conducted each term, though some of the detailed arrangements need to be re-examined in order to devise a means of ensuring that an up to the minute roll is brought to the assembly area. The area close to the deputy principal’s office, where many student lockers are situated, remains unsafe because of the low fence opposite the lockers and the different levels of the two pathways there. This area must to be made safe. In addition, procedures should be adopted to ensure that only appropriate staff deal with students who are ill.
There is a strong desire at all levels to continue the substantial engagement that has already taken place with school development planning. Commendably, much work has already been completed and more is underway in a number of areas. Further work is being planned as continuing needs are identified.
In general, teachers and parents come up with a framework for policies and the board becomes involved at a late stage. A special duties teacher mediates the planning process, in conjunction with the principal. While planning is part of two special duties posts, there is some lack of clarity regarding the precise process being followed and a clear, consistent and obvious method of policy development seems lacking. Consequently, it is recommended that the process underpinning the development of school policies should be reviewed. A more discrete and identifiable planning team should be appointed to work under the supervision of the planning co-ordinator. A clear and consistent approach to the development of school policies needs to be defined and implemented and all partners must be given an opportunity to feed into the development of all draft policies at as early a stage as possible. The involvement of the board at an early stage in initiating, planning and developing school policies is also desirable, in order to give direction and to show leadership. The position of school planning co-ordinator is a senior position and it is recommended that it should properly be held by an assistant principal or deputy principal.
There are some good examples of student involvement in the planning process, for example in the development of the code of behaviour and healthy eating policies. Policies are implemented by and under the control and supervision of the principal.
The furthering of subject department planning and the development of programmes of work have been prioritised by senior management but there was no real mention of subject planning among the teaching staff and no desire was expressed to have subject co-ordinators. It is recommended that the issue of subject department development should be progressed at an early date in order to formalise subject department structures. The position of subject co-ordinator should be rotated by agreement among the department members. Time should be allowed for subject department planning meetings. The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) can provide much valuable assistance here.
Although there is no formal school plan in place (see section 2.1 above), many of the elements of a plan have been developed. There are a number of policies already in place and others are in preparation. Listed below are some of the areas where work is already complete:
· Admissions policy
· Health and safety policy
· Code of behaviour
· Suspensions and exclusions policy
· Prevention of bullying policy
· Learning support policy
· School trips policy
· Homework/study policy
· Internet acceptable usage policy
· Policy statement and code of practice on measures to combat harassment
· Bereavement checklist
· SPHE policy
· Substance use policy
· Smoke-free workplace policy
The Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools, published by the DES in 2004, have been adopted as the school’s official policy on child protection by the board, in accordance with DES circular M44/05. A designated person and a deputy designated person have been appointed as required by the procedures detailed in the guidelines. The board has stated its commitment to its obligation to provide students with the highest possible standard of care in order to promote their well-being and protection from harm.
An ICT policy is currently being developed by ICT staff and is being implemented pending ratification by the board.
It is intended to review a number of existing policies in the light of experience in the near future. The following recommendations may prove useful in this process:
The admissions policy should be reviewed and amended as a matter of urgency so that statutory obligations pertaining to the Education Act (1998) and the Equal Status Act (2000) are observed, to ensure that pupils with special educational needs are enrolled without delay and that additional resources, if needed, are requested following the pupil’s enrolment. Issues in relation to the clear identification of feeder schools should also be clarified during this process.
A review of the code of behaviour would be timely in light of changes to the year head system. Sanctions to be imposed for breaches of the code need to be more clear-cut and have a clear progression, and the ladder of referral should be clarified also. It is also recommended that positive discipline/discipline for learning is introduced as part of this review. The inclusion of the code in the students’ journal is a positive step, but the system of sanctions must be included also.
The expressed desire to design a coursework programme in IT for junior cycle students should be done on a collaborative basis by a representative team of teachers under the supervision of an IT co-ordinator. In addition, the existing internet acceptable use policy needs to be extended to include all users of the system.
The role of the teacher should be explored and stated in a review of the homework/study policy. Likewise, parents should be made aware of the role they can play in supporting their children.
An RE policy is at an early stage of development at present and it is intended to develop a critical incidents policy, as a matter of priority, in the near future.
There is a need, in planning for the future, to take account of demographic changes in the Kilbeggan area and to consider the potential effects of these on the school. Key challenges such as limited physical space, restricted sporting facilities, increasing numbers and a broader range of student abilities and backgrounds must all be given due consideration in the planning of future policies.
Procedures for monitoring and a time frame for evaluating, reviewing and updating all plans, policies, and their implementation should be an integral part of all plans.
As stated earlier, there should be an emphasis on teamwork and cooperation in the development of plans and in designing the implementation of these plans, once again with a view to facilitating a more supportive and unified environment among staff members as a whole and enhancing the spirit of cooperation and collegiality among management, teaching staff and the school community as a whole.
The increased involvement of both post holders and non post holders should continue to be facilitated where there is a desire for engagement. Post holders, in particular, should be encouraged to develop their posts in the light of their interests and the needs of the school.
The school offers Junior Certificate, TY, Leaving Certificate (Established) and the LCVP. The school timetable is appropriate, consisting of 42 class periods of 40 minutes each, coming to a total of twenty-eight hours of instruction each week. Classes finish at ten minutes past one o’clock on Fridays and it is recommended that steps be taken to even out the school day to avoid this early finish.
A very wide range of subjects is offered, both academic and practical, which is admirable in a school the size of Meán Scoil an Chlochair. This is not without cost and the board has borne such costs in order to continue to support as wide a curriculum as possible and to maintain the availability of subjects which continue to attract students. There is general satisfaction that the curriculum offered currently meets the needs of the student cohort although the parents’ association expressed a desire to see LCA on the school curriculum. Management have stated that this would be difficult, given the range of subjects and programmes currently being offered and in light of staff availability. It is recommended that the possibility of offering the Leaving Certificate Applied course should be given serious consideration, given the increase in numbers and the changing needs of the students entering the school. The presence of an excellent learning support system and of the LCVP is not enough to overcome the difficulties some students have and the school should try to expand its range of courses where such are available.
With the exception of Mathematics after the first term of first year and of Irish, English and Mathematics classes in second and third year, junior cycle classes are of mixed ability. All junior cycle students receive one period each of CSPE, SPHE, PE and computers each week. While it is admirable that PE is provided for all classes, consideration must be given to providing a double class each week for all students. Where possible, classes have the same teacher for CSPE and SPHE for all three years to ensure continuity. This is good practice.
Teachers, parents and students have all expressed great satisfaction with the implementation of TY. This programme is optional to students. It is activity based, wide ranging and offers students the opportunity to explore areas that are not on the Leaving Certificate programme. Students who follow this programme have consistently performed better in the Leaving Certificate than their peers. The range of modules offered in TY is dependent on teacher allocation and continuity of provision of specific modules has been difficult on occasion. While TY offers an opportunity to students to study non-traditional areas, gender balance has tended to be a problem and needs to be continuously monitored, with intervention taking place when necessary. It is recommended that positive steps be taken at an early stage in junior cycle to address potential gender balance issues in TY before they become problematic.
There is a core team of teachers teaching the TY programme. Three formal meetings of this team are held each year along with many informal and ad hoc meetings. Good planning has contributed to the success of this programme. Feedback from parents and students is used in the planning of subsequent programmes. However, a greater degree of consistency in the quality and extent of planning at subject level is recommended. In particular, a greater emphasis should be placed on developing cross-curricular links. The leaflet “Writing the Transition Year”, available from the Second Level Support Service (www.slss.ie), will be of assistance.
Almost all students who study the appropriate subjects follow the LCVP. Some students choose their subjects so as ensure a place in this programme. A team teaching approach, based on specific expertise of teachers, has been implemented in the teaching of the LCVP since September of this year. This will make it easier to bring new teachers into the programme, as they will have to concentrate only on specific modules within the programme. There is scope for more direct input by the Guidance department in the relevant sections of the LCVP. There is a core LCVP team that meets at least three times each year. Both LCVP and TY team meetings need to be minuted and other teachers involved in these programmes should be given the opportunity to contribute to the agendas for these meetings. Non-LCVP students have a study period during Link Module classes. This arrangement for non-LCVP students during Links Module time need to be reviewed; it effectively penalises them for not taking the programme in that they do not receive the required minimum of 28 hours’ tuition weekly.
The home-school-community liaison co-ordinator and the principal liaise with and visit primary schools from December onwards to gather information on incoming first-year students. An information night/open night is held for parents of incoming first-years early in the year and all students sit entrance examinations shortly after. The purpose of these examinations is to identify students who may have special needs; they are not used for selection.
Incoming first-years study a core curriculum and also choose three subjects from a possible seven. They are given information on the seven subjects and list them in order of preference. The school tries to give all students their first three choices and encourages them to take a broad range of subjects. Consideration should be given to the year head for first-year students being involved in open nights and in the induction programme for these students. It is recommended that there be greater input from the Guidance department, and at an earlier stage, in assisting junior cycle students in their choice of programmes and subjects. It is also recommended that consideration be given to the introduction of a taster programme for incoming first-year students to enable them to make a more informed choice of subjects. Strict guidelines as to how to present these programmes to students should be agreed and adhered to in order to present a realistic view of each subject. In the absence of a taster programme, the quality of information on the optional subjects could usefully be improved, once again to assist in subject choice, but also to avoid gender stereotyping.
An information night/open night is also held for parents of third-year students to assist these students in their choice of subjects. A separate information night is held for those who are considering TY. Management recognises the need to re-examine current practice by which two open nights are needed to cater for parents of third-year students and is considering combining them next year in order to present the TY option to a wider audience. It is suggested that parents and students should be made aware of both TY and LCVP as early as possible, for example from when the first information nights are held for parents of incoming first-year students, and they should be presented as part of a whole-school integrated curriculum.
An open choice, followed by the construction of a “best-fit” set of subject options, is to be implemented in the coming school year for students going into fifth year, replacing a system where choice was restricted. This poses a challenge to the school in terms of teaching resources but is a positive step. Carer must be taken to ensure that subjects are positioned appropriately in the timetable so as to avoid the “ghettoisation” of any subjects. It is important that all subject time tables are included in the normal school day so that no student is disadvantaged. In addition, subject options must be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure relevance and so that the needs of students continue to be met.
A wide range of extra- and co-curricular activities is offered and supported, involving all areas of instruction. These activities include:
· Gaelic games
· Horse riding
· Lunchtime sports
· TY Music programme
· Religious events
· Foreign and other tours
· Study skills course
· Dissolving boundaries programme, involving links with a school in Northern Ireland
· Lunchtime activities
· Public speaking
· Green schools
· Fundraising for charities
· TY and LCVP work experience
· TY on-line courses in DCU
It has been a feature of the school that students, because of their rural background, tend to mix socially across year groups and that in many instances local parish and sporting networks prevail. Every attempt is made to ensure that extra-curricular activities are available to all students. It is acknowledged that such activities contribute to the good relationships between staff and students that exist in the school.
An assistant principal is sports co-ordinator and is assisted by a team of teachers. There are over twenty different teams in the school. The sports committee meets at lunch-time and tries to limit the number of away teams to one at a time in order to resolve difficulties with supervision in a school of this size. There is no cost to students to participate, in line with the school’s policy of inclusion. It is important that a second adult is available for emergencies on all school trips. It is essential that this is facilitated by an appropriate means. It is suggested that all staff members who travel with school teams be given training in first aid.
Staff have stated the benefits they feel that students gain from participating in these activities. These include: leadership skills, experience in training teams, self-confidence, community spirit, helping students to find their niche, contributions to the holistic development of students. These activities are an example of the mission statement in action. No restrictions are placed on students participating in activities, except to ensure that no-one is so involved as to suffer academically. It is recommended care be taken with regard to confining some activities to certain groups only, for example TY and public speaking, and that all non-sporting activities be made available to as many students as possible.
The positive relationship between the school and the local community is exemplified by the sponsorship received for the musical and the substantial bursaries received from the pitch and putt club to assist students going on to third level colleges.
There is a cost, in personal terms, to teachers in providing these opportunities for students and their efforts to provide this high level of extra- and co-curricular activities are indeed praiseworthy.
There is evidence of co-operation and collegiality among teachers in the subjects evaluated. In most subject areas, teachers of the same subject meet a few times a year to discuss the delivery of the curriculum and the sharing of available resources. However, to support more effective long term and short term subject planning and guarantee the best use of available resources, the development of more structured subject departments throughout the school is highly recommended. A recognised co-ordinator for each subject area should be selected to oversee subject planning and promote the subject in the school. Co-ordination duties should include chairing department meetings, keeping records of these meetings and advising management on issues related to the subject area. It is also recommended that the co-ordination role should rotate regularly to allow for the sharing of skills and the development of managerial expertise among staff.
Ideally, subject departments should meet formally once or twice per term and then informally on a few occasions as a team. Items such as curricular planning, the choice of texts, resources, timetabling, class organisation and methodologies should be among the issues discussed at subject department meetings. Plans for each year group should also be drafted to include a list of course topics, time allocations for chosen themes and co-operative approaches to aid delivery and evaluation of the subject. These subject planning sessions should also facilitate discussions about how to progress programme development in such areas as TY which adopts a modular framework approach. The greater use of differentiated teaching strategies, the sharing of resources and materials and common modes of assessment should also be topics for consideration.
In all subject areas, individual schemes of work should include the range of methodologies to be deployed, assessment processes and expected learning outcomes. At the end of each year, subject teams should engage in both individual and group evaluation processes to inform future subject planning and school management. Advice and support on planning, preparation and teaching strategies suitable for mixed-ability classes may be obtained from the Second Level Support Service www.slss.ie. In addition, the acquisition of new and updated resources should be an integral part of each plan.
There was evidence of good short-term subject planning in most subjects. Good lesson planning in subjects included the choice of well-chosen topics for lessons which were clearly presented, the selection of good support materials and the planning of appropriate homework. However, in order to maximise the use of available resources, the deployment of a more varied range of methodologies in subjects and full use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in each subject area, it is recommended that resources should be included in the planning of each subject. This would facilitate discussion on the greater use of new approaches and methodologies and allow resources and expertise to be shared.
Short-term planning for the lessons observed was generally good. The prior preparations that had been undertaken by the teachers meant that each teacher had an informed overview of the structure and pace of the lesson. Thoughtful teaching strategies ensured purposeful engagement with topics in the majority of lessons. In some cases, more careful consideration should be given to the sequencing of lesson content to ensure that students have sufficient background knowledge and key skills to enable them to remain effectively engaged with lesson content. Care should be taken to develop strategies whereby basic skills and knowledge are learned when students have taken up a subject ab-initio for Leaving Certificate.
All lessons observed had a clear focus. The good practice of sharing viable learning objectives with the students was noted in some lessons. This good practice is encouraged further to enable students to focus on their own learning and facilitate self-evaluation at the end of the lesson. A variety of strategies proved effective in establishing clear links with previously taught material. These strategies provided opportunities to provide instant feedback and affirmation to students and promote peer learning. This impacted positively on the quality of student learning.
There was evidence of good quality teaching and learning in the lessons observed. A range of teaching methodologies was used effectively in lessons. Teacher explanation was clear, accurate and contextualised. Best practice was observed when the blackboard was used to good effect to develop lesson content, reinforce lesson themes or summarise material. On occasion, the use of spider diagrams proved particularly effective in providing and summarising lesson content. This commendable strategy could be promoted as a way of helping students retain information.
There was some very good use of exemplar materials such as pamphlets, texts, overhead transparencies, handouts and diagrams to stimulate interest, simplify or illustrate concepts and reinforce learning. This good practice should be encouraged as the incorporation of visual stimuli into lessons enriches student learning experiences and accommodates the various learning styles evident in mixed-ability classes. To extend this good practice, it is recommended that the benefits of information and communications technologies such as multi-media projectors, computer software, the Internet and PowerPoint presentations be explored, developed and incorporated into lessons.
There was some very good emphasis on the key words and technical language of the topic. Best practice was observed when these words were written on the blackboard and students subsequently wrote the information into their copybooks. Such good practice reinforces student learning and helps them to develop the linguistic skills necessary for written examinations. This strategy could be developed by displaying the key words of the topics on a wall chart or flip chart so that they can be revisited regularly in subsequent lessons.
The involvement of the students in their own learning was maintained by a variety of strategies. Questioning was used to good effect to stimulate interest and check learning and understanding of lesson content. In some lessons students were engaged in well-organised group work and pair work that developed creativity and communication skills, consolidated learning and promoted co-operative learning practices. These commendable practices also provided teachers with opportunities to circulate among students, diagnose difficulties and assist individuals. Further opportunities for active and autonomous learning should be incorporated in lessons.
There was a warm rapport between teachers and students in all the lessons visited. The teachers sought to motivate their students and encourage learning at all times. Classes were, in almost all cases, orderly and purposeful. In some subject areas the physical environment of the rooms was greatly enhanced through displays of educational posters, student project work, various leaflets and relevant newspaper articles. Such practices are highly praiseworthy and should be encouraged in all subject areas. Wall displays that are changed on a regular basis serve to stimulate and engage student interest. Displays of student work also promote a sense of student ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment.
Student responses showed them to be articulate and confident in most cases. In the majority of cases, interaction with the inspector indicated a good knowledge of the key concepts and skills of the topics being taught. It was noted positively that, in some instances, the homework activities assigned were designed to encourage students to assume responsibility for their own learning. This is good practice.
Students enrolling in the school undergo an assessment process to ascertain learning needs. These tests should be reviewed annually. Interest inventories are widely used to assess individual career path development. Good use is also being made of web-based instruments to research interest areas and career possibilities. There is evidence of good records of assessment results being kept for Guidance and for the other subjects inspected.
A variety of assessment procedures are in use across subjects, including continuous assessment based on class-work, projects, assignments and homework, and formal written examinations. Practical work is graded at the end of each assignment. Oral questioning enabled teachers to gauge students’ understanding and attainment.
Systematic records are kept of students’ during-term, end-of-term and end-of-year assessment/examination results. These records provide a means of tracking students’ progress and of informing judgements.
Mock examinations are held for examination classes early in the second term. End-of-term and end-of-year results are communicated to parents and guardians.
Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for every year group. Students’ journals, personal contact and the ‘on report’ system also are used to communicate assessment information to parents.
Assessment criteria need to be developed and documented in some subject areas; it is recommended that these be developed as part of the teaching and learning process, and used to assess student attainment. There is no formal procedure for common assessment in some subject departments; this is a matter which should be explored to ensure standardisation.
There is a very thorough policy for learning support currently in place. It was drawn up by the learning support co-ordinator and covers all aspects of the excellent learning support provided. Planning for the current year is appropriately based on this policy. There are ten teachers and three special needs assistants in the learning support team. They are very enthusiastic and committed, their work underpinned by modern thinking and approaches, continuous upskilling, and a proactive approach to their work. Many aspects of the work of this team are an example of best practice.
Programmes of work are adapted to meet the needs of individual students and progress is monitored continuously. Students with specific learning difficulty all have individual education plans (IEPs) and the implementation of these is monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis and plans are adapted as necessary. Comprehensive records are kept on the progress of all students receiving support. A mixture of individual support and small group work is used to support students. Literacy, numeracy and subject specific support are provided as required. There is a literacy development framework in place, developed in conjunction with the English teachers. This helps to support work going on in other areas. Group education plans are used for students who attend in small groups. It is recommended that a similar numeracy strategy be developed. Short-term support is also available for students, as necessary, and is followed by reintegration at an appropriate time, in order to avoid creating a dependency.
The learning support team are moving to team teaching next term – the learning support or resource teacher will work in collaboration with subject teachers in class at the same time, in order to support inclusion. No child is stigmatised and learning support is viewed as a normal part of school life.
Students are mainly identified and selected by means of testing and by consultation with parents and primary school teachers and consideration of reports, along with input from the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator. A referral system also operates within the school. First-year students are assessed prior to and during first year and on an ongoing basis, as need arises, depending on individual cases. It is recommended that the Guidance department should be involved in the identification and selection of students for learning support.
The level of training for learning support team members is good. One team member is fully qualified and another is currently in receipt of further training. Team meetings are held once per term and the SNAs also attend. Minutes of these meetings are kept. The learning support co-ordinator meets the principal as the need arises. All teachers on the team have a folder with the programme of work for all students for the year. There is one small learning support room available. The school library and additional classrooms are used as needed. There are ICT packages available to assist learning support. The learning support co-ordinator maintains contact with the local special education needs organiser (SENO) and NEPS psychologist as necessary.
Communication with parents is ongoing. A variety of mechanisms ensures that there is good communication between the learning support team and other staff. A slot is reserved at staff meetings for the LS co-ordinator to inform other teachers of current issues. Leaflets and guidelines on specific conditions are made available to all in the staff room. An information folder is kept in the staff room with strategies for various conditions. All teachers get a list of their students who are in receipt of learning support and every opportunity is availed of to highlight and promotes learning support as a whole school activity.
The SNAs interviewed were very positive and committed. They have received training for their roles and they feel very well integrated into the school, being viewed as a valuable resource. Commendably, they were very quickly accepted by teaching staff. Reasonable accommodation is used in in-house examinations, as in the certificate examinations and, in so far as is possible, the same reader is used for a student for each paper the student sits.
As previously stated, the school was granted disadvantaged status in 1994, and has one disadvantaged area post along with a 0.5 HSCL post and the services of a part-time counsellor, funded by Westmeath Partnership Area Development Company.
Evidence was provided of the ability of the school to adapt its curriculum to the specific needs of students when the need arises. One example is the reduced curriculum and extra learning support recently provided for a specific group of students who were in danger of leaving school early.
There is a tradition of many settled traveller families in the locality and traveller students have become very well integrated into both the school and the community. There is a growing number of international students in the feeder schools. These are gradually coming through the system into the post-primary school. Some still need language support and the learning support co-ordinator liaises with a team of four teachers to give additional support as needed. Since September of this year, students have been following the Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) programme and receive two classes of language support for two years, with further learning support if needed. It is intended to explore further CPD possibilities in the area of language support.
As the school has been given disadvantaged status, funding is available to support a breakfast club and lunch club for students. Other supports provided include a books rental scheme available to the parents of all students. Links are maintained with the DCU Centre for Talented Youth by the learning support co-ordinator to support exceptionally able students. The principal also liaises with the Maynooth access programme.
It is recommended that the breakfast club be run from within the school and not in the shop across the road as at present. It is also recommended that the gender balance in various subject areas/levels be monitored in order that specific supports can be targeted to address gender issues at the earliest possible opportunity.
A Guidance counsellor works part-time in the school and takes up eleven of the thirteen available hours. The Westmeath Partnership Area Development Company funds a part-time counsellor for the school. This counsellor is mainly involved in counselling but also takes the remaining two hours timetabled for Guidance, working with second and third year students. This arrangement poses a major challenge for the delivery of a guidance programme throughout the school.
The Guidance counsellor is in the school for three days each week and will attend for two days per week next year, on a rotating basis with the other voluntary secondary school with which her time is shared. A draft Guidance plan has been developed to cater for the needs of all year groups.
The Guidance counsellor deals mainly with fifth and sixth year students. The other counsellor, as already stated, is mainly involved in counselling but also has two hours timetabled for Guidance with second and third year students.
The provision of a comprehensive Guidance and counselling service is an area of concern to parents. It is recommended that the school explore the possibility of creating a full time post for Guidance. LCVP and TY both have guidance modules and the extra teaching hours provided by these programmes could be used, along with SPHE, to make up the hours for Guidance and counselling.
As with all plans, the Guidance plan should be evaluated and amended as necessary after an appropriate period of time after consultation with management, staff, parents and students. It is recommended that the Guidance department become involved in the delivery of certain aspects of the Link Modules as part of the LCVP.
It is recommended that the Guidance department should have an input into first year induction and subject choice. With more comprehensive information, gender imbalance in some subject areas could be avoided from an early stage. It is recommended that subject and programme choice issues are addressed at as early a stage as possible with third year students.
Although there is no formal, written pastoral care plan in place, many of the elements of a good pastoral care system are in operation and there is a growing awareness among both management and teaching staff of the importance of pastoral care. Students are held in high regard by teachers and all interactions among teachers, management, ancillary staff and students are characterised by respect for individuals. The new year-head system that is being introduced on a phased basis is a very positive move towards a more student-focused and student-friendly system and there is a move towards a more appropriate balance between administrative and pastoral functions in the review of middle management currently under consideration.
A new HSCL co-ordinator has taken up duty from the beginning of the present school year. This person will be receiving specific training in early November. The new HSCL co-ordinator has demonstrated a good awareness of the role as support to students’ families and has prioritised getting to know people, promoting parental involvement through developing appropriate activities, for example badminton, courses for parents, mathematics for fun. A number of parents have already become involved. The new HSCL co-ordinator must draw up a plan of work for the year, in conjunction with the staff members who are involved in the pastoral care of students, to inform staff as to her role and of the work that will be done, and to allow teachers to inform her of issues as appropriate. The HSCL co-ordinator also intends to re-establish the local committee and to carry out a survey on leisure facilities. It is recommended that school make up the other 0.5 HSCL hours as a matter of urgency. HSCL needs to be expanded to a full post, brought centre stage and integrated into the life of the school, with more support and training provided and made part of a whole school approach to pastoral care.
It is recommended that an overarching pastoral care policy should be documented in order to formalise the excellent work already being done and to define clear aims and objectives. This will ensure a systematic approach and help to identify deficits in the system. A pastoral care policy will also help to identify the pastoral care team more clearly, define their functions and interactions with other staff members and outline clearly the procedures to be followed in such difficult cases as may arise from time to time and where defined procedures must be followed. It is very important that an overall pastoral care co-ordinator be appointed. The HSCL co-ordinator should be part of the formal pastoral care team which should meet regularly. It is recommended that the integration of Guidance, counselling and HSCL services should be planned and implemented as part of the overall integrated pastoral care programme.
It is recommended that the revised year head system should be extended to all year groups as soon as is feasible. The role of the year heads in discipline must not come into conflict with and overtake their pastoral role. Clear lines of communication should be established between year heads, class tutors, the HSCL co-ordinator and others involved in the pastoral care of students.
It is recommended that the first-year year head, with the assistance of the Guidance department, should have a role in co-ordinating all supports for incoming first-year students. Senior management have recognised the need for a person with overall responsibility in this area.
Consideration should be given to positive discrimination measures to support boys in specific curricular areas so that they perform at the highest level of which they are capable, rather than cluster in ordinary level classes or become associated with discipline issues. Training in differentiated teaching methodologies, along with appropriate input from the Guidance department, may be of assistance here.
A system for tracking the initial destinations of past pupils will prove useful in motivating students and in informing the school as to the relevance of the subjects it offers.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes this report and wishes to thank the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science for its comments and recommendations. The Board was most impressed by the thorough nature of the evaluation process. The school community found the experience to be very positive. It promoted teamwork throughout and affirmed school’s commitment to providing the best possible educational experience for our students.
Specific positive comment on the following was particularly gratifying to see: -
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The school community has identified and agreed an overall strategic vision for School Development Planning to build upon the recommendations in the report. Specific focus on key action plans across the following areas is in progress: -
a) Policy development and review with
particular emphasis on Mercy Secondary School’s founding principles and
b) An enhanced schedule of Posts of
Responsibility with emphasis on Pastoral needs of students and compliant with
the relevant D.E.S. circulars.
c) A review of demographic developments
and specific curricular / co-curricular needs of students as we develop and
look forward to our new school.
d) A review of our curricular programmes and subject options at both Junior and Senior Cycle. This will take account of student needs and will be conducted in partnership with parents, students and local community.
The implementation of the above goals and objectives will ensure the further development of the school. Our work is in keeping with our on-going commitment to the education and personal growth of our students in Kilbeggan.
The Board of Management would like to invite a representative of the Inspection team to re-visit the school over the next school year to review the initiatives in progress and further support the work of the school.