An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Good Counsel College
New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63610I
Date of inspection: 31 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Whole school Evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Good Counsel College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the college as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the college. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the college’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ council. 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.
Good Counsel College is a non fee-paying voluntary Catholic secondary school for boys. It is one of two schools in Ireland under the trusteeship of the Augustinians. The college attracts students from a very wide region and caters for the needs of students from many areas including New Ross, South Kilkenny and many parts of South Wexford. Students from over forty primary schools choose to attend the college. These students come from socially and economically diverse backgrounds and from urban and rural areas.
Enrolment in the college has been steadily bordering on 700 in recent years. It is reported that a number of factors may impact on this in the future including the relationship of the school’s catchment areas with the school transport system and possible rationalisation of educational facilities in New Ross.
The Augustinian philosophy of education states that the human person is a rational believer in whom reason and faith complement each other. The Augustinian school is seen as a Christian community where the participants in their search for truth relate to each other in a loving and respectful manner. This philosophy, which highlights care and respect as key values, informs the work of Good Counsel College.
The college is Catholic in ethos but accepts students from other denominations and backgrounds. It is mindful at all times of the personal and socio-economic backgrounds of the students. A respectful, safe, friendly environment exists. Pastoral care permeates all aspects of the college and promotes the holistic development of the individual. Parents commend the friendliness, support and communication and there is evidence that the college has a strong unwritten policy of giving students a second chance. The college does not currently have its own mission statement. Therefore, it is recommended that a mission statement be drawn up in consultation with staff, parents, students and the board of management to characterise the Augustinian educational philosophy and the particular values of Good Counsel College.
The board of management of Good Counsel College has been properly constituted. There are two teacher nominees, two parent nominees and four trustee nominees on the board. The chairman of the board and the secretary to the board are also trustees of the college. The board also has a recording secretary. The talents of this diverse group of individuals are harnessed to the maximum benefit of the college. The current board was constituted this school year. Training is provided for new board members.
The board is aware of the trustees’ articles of management for Catholic secondary schools and its statutory obligations and duties. The trustees work in partnership with the board maintaining systematic and regular communication. The trustees have developed a good working relationship with the college community through the board in order to ensure that the principles and core values of the college are adhered to.
The board is very involved in the whole life of the college and is conscious of its responsibilities as seen by members’ willingness to be available to work on a range of issues. It meets every month and on additional occasions when required. The minutes of board of management meetings are evidence of how the board is involved in all aspects of college life from management and planning to support for students. The work of the board in this regard is commended.
The board of management takes a leadership role in the life of the college. All policies are regularly reviewed following evaluation and consultation with the college community including staff, parents and students. Priorities of the board include expanding the curriculum to include senior Technology, ensuring the existing balance of academic and practical subjects is maintained, co-operating with the trustees in investigating the future of educational provision in New Ross and implementing the recently issued Financial Guidelines for Voluntary Secondary Colleges. The board also supports teachers’ continuous professional development. It prioritises the development of an educational and pastoral role by staff and promotes involvement of staff and students in the extra-curricular life of the college. The board sees itself as playing a major role in the creation of a safe and positive atmosphere within the college community and in running the college in a structured and accountable manner.
Decision-making is based on consensus by the full board, sometimes after issues are discussed and debated at length. An agreed verbal report from the board is disseminated to staff and parents’ council meetings and is available for individual viewing and consultation on request. It is recommended that an agreed written report to supplement the verbal report on the work of the board be made more widely available to staff and parents’ council officers.
The principal and deputy principal have clearly defined roles and complement each other in the day-to-day management of the college. They meet each evening to review daily issues and plan for the day ahead and meet before board of management meetings to prepare the principal’s report to the board. They play an active part in checking attendance each morning and in dealing with discipline incidents which may be of a serious nature. They have a constant presence on the corridors and show very effective leadership skills. Communication with the staff is very good and there are regular staff meetings to discuss issues.
The principal has taken a leadership role in the college and is working on many issues including developing the college plan, issuing proposals to restructure the posts and consulting with the board to improve college facilities. The duties of the deputy principal include managing the supervision and substitution system in the college. The work of senior management is commended.
Assistant principals (APs) carry out a range of managerial duties. These include responsibility for examinations, health and safety, college resources, consultation with outside bodies, staff development, curriculum development, discipline, public relations, sport and programme coordination. Assistant principals’ duties are, in general, carried out effectively. Currently assistant principals have few common duties and have no formal meeting times. They see their duties as essential to the operation of the college but ones that cannot be carried out by senior management. Some APs report back to the principal but there is no formal structure for this. It is important that the role of all assistant principals be developed and that a team approach be adopted in the shared responsibility for the management of the college. It is therefore recommended that the organisation of meetings be reviewed so that all assistant principals are consulted on a regular basis on management issues.
The functions of the special duties teachers (SDTs) are generally administrative in nature and include the book rental scheme, sport, anti-bullying, Information Technology, maintenance and lockers. In addition four special duties teachers are year heads. While these duties are carried out effectively there is an inequity in the responsibilities assigned to such posts. This issue is currently being addressed by the college.
In the recent past an extensive process was engaged in to review the posts of responsibility in the college on the suggestion of staff. The staff appointed a committee to review current posts and to decide terms of reference for the formation of new posts. The work of all concerned in the development of this process is highly commended. The inequities of the present system have been addressed and elements of responsibility and time have been built into the proposed structure.
The role of year head is both pastoral and disciplinary. For example, the year heads constitute the college’s discipline committee. Formal discipline committee meetings are organised twice each term with the principal in attendance. Currently the guidance counsellor does not attend these meetings. It is recommended that the guidance counsellor should meet with the year heads on a needs basis with a view to discussing the welfare needs of students.
The role of class tutor is voluntary. This role includes administering the code of discipline and looking after the pastoral care needs of students. The class tutors are very effective in carrying out their duties.
Staff presented as being very dedicated and committed to their work. They have embraced change well and are constantly reviewing and evaluating all aspects of college life. They co-operate with and feel supported by management.
A clear ‘ladder of referral’ system operates in the college in the administration of the code of discipline. This incorporates class tutors, year heads, deputy principal and principal. A very good relationship between staff and students exists in the college. There is effective management of students and few discipline problems. Students were polite and friendly and also well presented in terms of uniform. The ‘roll of merit’ in the college places a great emphasis on positive behaviour and is student friendly. Those students whom teachers consider to have worked to the best of their ability and who have co-operated with their teachers and fellow students are entered on this ‘roll of merit’ which is displayed in a prominent place in the college’s main entrance area. Encouraging and acknowledging positive behaviour is seen as paramount by college management in promoting the ethos of the college and in creating a respectful and supportive environment.
Communication with home is regular and effective through parent-teacher meetings, information evenings and many informal events. Parents are very involved in the life of the college. A very active parents’ council represents them. Members are to be commended on their work. Year heads and parents are in frequent contact.
Strong links have been created with the local primary and post-primary schools. For example, there has been co-operation between Good Counsel College and the local girls’ secondary school in Transition Year through work experience and various curricular modules. There are also effective links with the local community. The community strongly supports the college’s fundraising efforts through the parents’ council and the college’s strong sporting tradition is supported by the local community.
Good Counsel College has a teacher allocation of forty-three whole-time equivalent posts. This includes the ex-quota positions of principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor and learning-support teacher. The college has also received additional allocations for the Guidance Enhancement Initiative, programme provision, curricular concessions, international students, special needs students and Traveller students. There is a wide range of teaching experience in the college with many recent appointments and many long-established teachers working in the college. Teacher allocation is deployed effectively.
Teachers are allocated to different programmes and levels on a rotating basis in the core subject areas. This is good practice as it enables them to develop individual competencies and expand the expertise within the overall subject department.
The college encourages and facilitates all teachers who wish to pursue continuous professional development. Teachers in all subject areas are facilitated by management to attend relevant inservice courses and teachers in some subject areas reported attending courses in their local education centre. This is to be commended. The college participates in the National Induction Pilot project being run by University College Dublin. This involves the mentoring of newly qualified teachers. The college is to be commended for its involvement in the project and its commitment to newly qualified teachers.
The college employs four part-time supervisors who help with supervision in the mornings and during college break times. In addition they may be requested to cover for absent teachers or those who are on other duties. The supervisors have informal monthly meetings with the deputy principal and are well informed about the college’s code of discipline. They have been involved in the development of the college. For example the suggestion to open an entrance to the pitches from the first-year area due to overcrowding came from the supervisors and was adopted by the board of management. This is commended.
The ancillary staff are very dedicated to their work, play a pastoral role and feel valued by the college. College administration is very good and the secretaries and caretaker are well organised in their work. The college matron and her staff are in charge of the dining facilities provided to staff and students. This work is commended.
College facilities include playing pitches, a sports hall and a church. Two of the former dormitories which are part of the campus, have been converted, with parents’ council support, to a pastoral care centre and a learning-support centre. The college buildings and grounds are very well maintained. Funds have recently been raised by the parents’ council to refurbish the ceiling of the college assembly hall. The church is used each morning for a year group mass and assembly. The college’s sports hall is fully utilised. The college has plans to build a new Technology area in advance of offering senior Technology to Leaving Certificate students. Plans for the future include the provision of a college library, building a separate block of toilets and the completion of the college entrance and driveway project.
Subject classrooms are generally well equipped and well maintained and provide suitable learning environments in most cases. Classrooms are predominantly teacher based with the exception of some specialist areas and the first-year classrooms which are student based. This provides the opportunity to create a print-rich environment for the students, as was evidenced in many of the subjects inspected. However, the display of subject related materials could be extended in some curricular areas. The current absence of a college library is regretted as access to books for reading and research enhances the teaching and learning of all subjects. However, interim measures taken by some subject teachers to promote individual reading and research are to be commended.
The use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a teaching tool currently depends on the desire and willingness of individual teachers to embrace it rather than being subject department policy. There was evidence of teachers in some subject areas using ICT in the classroom, while others used the internet to access relevant websites to provide supplementary notes for their students. ICT provision incorporates a specialist computer room, a learning-support room equipped with eight computers, a staff room computer and some individual computers in specialist rooms. The computer room is fully utilised with maximum use from Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students. Broadband has been installed in the main college building and the pastoral care centre. Application has been made for funding to extend it to other areas of the college campus. It is noteworthy that the college is currently part of a national pilot project which aims to filter internet content centrally. A limited number of data-projectors are available for use in the classroom. It is recommended that ICT facilities continue to be upgraded and that staff be facilitated in enhancing their ICT skills. The college does not currently have a website. It is recommended in light of the installation of broadband and enhancement of computer facilities in the college that a website be developed. This would have many advantages for the college including dissemination of information to parents, prospective students and the wider community. It is also recommended that a college policy on ICT be developed.
While there is no annual budget for subjects, resources for the teaching and learning of the subjects inspected are generally provided upon request. However, the need for a centralised storage area for subject specific resources was identified for some subject departments. Some specific subject grants are administered by the relevant subject departments. The board of management has plans to introduce subject budgets. It is recommended that teachers carry out an audit of existing resources with a view to planning for the acquisition of resources over a period of time.
The college’s health and safety statement is reviewed annually. It is noteworthy that the college’s health and safety officer carries out a yearly safety evaluation for staff and students and publishes the results. The safety statement is drafted in consultation with staff. This practice is highly commended.
School development planning (SDP) was initiated with the assistance of a facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in early 2004. This process was followed up with the formation of specific task groups, subsequent meetings and a review of task group work facilitated by the SDPI. There was further input from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) in 2005.
Significant progress has been made in embedding the planning process within a short period of time. Many board of management meetings have devoted considerable time to planning issues and policy development and the school plan is comprehensive regarding many areas of college life. Priority areas have been identified and action plans devised to address the important needs of the college. Staff are committed to the SDP process as they can already see the results of their involvement especially in the introduction of the ‘roll of merit’ and mixed ability teaching in first year.
The SDP process was developed through the formation of five task groups after staff considered what needed to be done and how to move the process forward. The task group on subjects and courses considered practice in other schools, surveyed parents and teaching staff and made recommendations. As a result of this process, mixed-ability teaching has been successfully introduced into first year with inservice training provided by the SLSS. This is an example of very good practice and is commended. In addition, as a result of the survey of parents and teaching staff, satisfaction was expressed at subject choices in first and second year.
There is no formalised subject department structure in Good Counsel College. Such a structure would assist the curricular planning process and would streamline the assessment and evaluation of programmes and subjects. It would be of great benefit to practical subjects in their organisation of specialist rooms. It is recommended that college management gives consideration to the development of subject departments, each of which should appoint a co-ordinator on a rotating basis. It is also recommended that management give consideration to the creation of more opportunities for formal planning and evaluation meetings.
The learning task group was successful in introducing the ‘roll of merit’ into the school’s code of discipline as unmotivated and disruptive students were reported to be undermining morale. This is commended as it places a great emphasis on encouraging positive behaviour. A dean of studies was proposed to administer the ‘roll of merit’ and to support student learning. It is envisaged that this will form part of the proposed new post structure in the school.
In addition, task groups were formed to address discipline, staff welfare and college accommodation. The current discipline system was in general found to be satisfactory. Support from management and colleagues was found to be good. Overcrowding of corridors, refurbishment of the college toilets and the urgent need for a second entrance and walkway to the college were highlighted by the college accommodation group. The latter issue has now been successfully dealt with by the board of management. This is an example of needs of the college being addressed as a result of a wide-ranging consultative process.
In order to streamline the SDP process it is now timely that a review takes place. It is important that the SDP process be revitalised in order to build on the good work already achieved. It is recommended that the college should proceed to appoint a school development planning co-ordinator as outlined in the proposed new post structure. In addition consideration should be given to the facilitation of meetings of senior management with co-ordinators of the task groups on a more regular basis.
Good practice is seen in the way relevant policies are presented to the student council and the parents’ council as part of the planning process. An ongoing example of this is in the recent review by the board of management of the dignity in the workplace policy and the ongoing consultative process in the development of the substance misuse policy and the smoke-free workplace policy. The board has requested review groups to be formed for the development of Social Political and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE) policies. The work of the board in this regard is highly commended. The college sees its current policy development priorities being in the areas of special needs, pastoral care and counteracting early school leaving. The college now has a strategic vision and the whole college community is carefully planning the way forward. The college is commended in this regard.
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. Designated liaison persons have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The college provides the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year programme, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme to its students. The curriculum has good breadth and balance as evidenced by the range of subjects on offer. The college is constantly evaluating and reviewing the curriculum on offer to students.
The college offers Religious Education as an examination subject at junior cycle and the possibility of offering it at senior cycle is being pursued. Physical Education (PE) is offered for four class periods per week - two for PE and two for PE Games - which reflects the strong sporting tradition in the college. Technology is offered at junior cycle and the introduction of senior Technology is being vigorously pursued. SPHE is offered at junior cycle and the possibility of introducing it at senior cycle is under review. There is no double class allocation in Science and class contact time is short of syllabus requirements. The college should consider increasing time allocation in Science from three to four periods per week in line with syllabus requirements. In addition it is recommended that Science be allocated a double class period per week so that sufficient investigative activities and project work can be carried out effectively. Similar recommendations were made but were not implemented for Junior Certificate Science in the Subject Inspection Report of November 2004.
The introduction of mixed-ability teaching in first year is generally seen as successful. It was reported that this new departure reduces “ghettoising” of first years, improves attendance and leads to fewer discipline problems. There is a commitment to reviewing the process with the possibility of the setting of classes being re-introduced for Mathematics.
There is satisfactory provision for all the subjects inspected in relation to the allocation of time. However, there is a need to review the timetabling of some of the core subjects in order to ensure that students have more regular contact with the subject. It is recommended that the school gives consideration to the formation of a curriculum advisory committee. The duties of the planning group on subjects and courses could be expanded to meet this need. The above issues could be addressed together with the possibility of enhancing the curriculum choice offered by introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) into the college. It is acknowledged that the college considered the LCVP option in the past.
The organisation, planning and formulation of the college timetable are carried out by senior management, with the principal in charge of deployment and rotation of teachers within subject levels. The morning break needs to be officially timetabled in the interests of health and safety.
Students are well supported by their subject teachers and the guidance counsellor when it comes to making decisions around subject choice. Every effort is made to meet the needs of students in setting up subject bands each year. The open choice of subjects at senior cycle is commended.
Transition Year students choose their Leaving Certificate subjects in May of each year. This is commended as it allows students to make an informed choice for Leaving Certificate.
All students entering first year attempt all subjects with the exception of the modern European language which is chosen prior to entry. In some years the college offers two of the three languages due to timetabling constraints. As a result difficulties may arise when students enter Transition Year. If the subsequent year does not have the same language this may result in a very small class in fifth and sixth year which is a strain on college resources. There are taster courses in first year in Art, Business Studies, Technology and Technical Graphics. At the end of first year students generally take two of these four optional subjects to Junior Certificate level. Those who have decided not to study the European language may take an additional subject. It is commendable that the vast majority of first-year students have been given their chosen subjects in second year.
Third-year students are introduced to the various subjects and senior cycle programmes through several presentations from subject teachers and programme co-ordinators. In addition a handbook on senior cycle subjects prepared by the guidance counsellor is given to students. Subject choice is discussed with parents at a specific meeting. The support given to students is highly commended. Several rounds of subject choices at Leaving Certificate level are convened in an attempt to facilitate as many students as possible. Particular care is taken to facilitate those choosing minority subjects such as Accounting and Chemistry.
There is evidence of a demand from parents for the introduction of Music on to the curriculum. It is recommended that the college should consider introducing Music as a module in the Transition Year programme and consideration be given to offering it as an examination subject in future depending on levels of student interest and uptake in Transition Year.
The college offers a good Transition Year programme. Each part of the programme is evaluated and modifications are made in following years. A comprehensive written programme exists. There is no TY advisory core team. It is recommended that a Transition Year core team be established and that this team have regular planning meetings to review and plan the way ahead for the TYP. The curriculum is balanced with some modules including Community Care, Electronics and Japanese, being shared with the local girls’ post-primary school. It is recommended that when academic subjects are taught in Transition Year that teaching should be carried out in an innovative way in accordance with The Transition Year Programme Guidelines for Schools, (DES 1995). Work experience is offered for two two-week periods each year. The college is finding it increasingly difficult to find substantial work placements for students. The LCA work experience runs concurrently with Transition Year and suggestions have been made to separate the work experience elements of both courses. Guidance is essential in the TYP so that students can make informed choices. It is recommended that consideration be given to the inclusion of Guidance as a module in the Transition Year programme. Many special events are organised and a foreign trip is planned. There is a credit system in the programme with students receiving certificates at different levels depending on their level of achievement. This is very good practice and is commended.
Parents are introduced to the LCA programme during the third-year subjects and programmes information night. The programme has parental and teacher support and is constantly evaluated. This is very good practice and is commended. On completion of the programme many students opt for suitable apprenticeships. A number of students have dropped out of the programme as they received apprenticeships while on work experience. The college sees this reduction in numbers as affecting the morale of students and teachers. The college is currently part of a pilot project to capture LCA credits online. This is commended.
The college offers a wide range of co-curricular activities. The contribution of teachers to co-curricular activities is commended as it provides students with the experience and enjoyment of a subject in a variety of environments. Transition Year students have been involved in many ‘calendar’ activities including an induction trip to Dunmore East Adventure Centre for team building, the Young Social Innovators Showcase in Waterford, involvement in the college musical “Honk” and the trip abroad. LCA students exhibit their work as part of their Vocational Preparation Enterprise project.
The college has applied for the Green Schools Award. This is an innovative and well-run programme that promotes very good practice. The excellent work and efforts of all concerned is highly commended.
The college has enjoyed considerable success particularly in hurling and Gaelic football. This remarkable success makes Good Counsel College one of the leading schools for Gaelic games in Leinster. Every student has the option of partakinhg in some sport or activity but there is active discouragement of students from involvement in more than two team sports. Many matches have been organised at weekends or at a suitably convened time and this is commended. Concerns have been expressed over the loss of class contact time due to the organisation of extra-curricular activities during the college day. While recognising that great efforts are made by college management to minimise any disruption it is recommended that continuous efforts be made to employ subject specialist teachers to teach classes during necessary and unavoidable absences. This practice should form the basis of a policy on extra-curricular activities.
The numerous activities offered to students include skiing in Europe and the US, visits and trips to various exhibitions and music venues including the Wexford Festival Opera, film, chess, athletics, basketball and quizzes. Teachers are very dedicated and give of their own time in many of these activities. The activities promote links with parents, past pupils and the wider college community and are commended. Public speaking and debating activities play a great part in forging links with other colleges. Teachers recognise that involvement in these activities improves relationships with students and raises morale. Their work in this area is commended.
Management at Good Counsel College facilitates meetings of the various subject groupings at the beginning of the college year and at the end of staff meetings. All subject departments reported meeting informally throughout the year or on a needs basis. Some plans submitted included long-term objectives while others focused on curriculum content or work schemes including planning for resources, co-curricular activities, or incorporating ICT into the teaching and learning of the subject. Some subject departments spoke of increased collaboration among its members in the past year due to the introduction of mixed-ability teaching in first year. However, there is a need for greater formalisation and development of subject planning as a collaborative subject department process. Recommendations include the provision of appropriate time for subject planning meetings and, where they do not already exist, the establishment of subject co-ordinators on a rotating basis to organise and chair these meetings and to disseminate information. Minutes should be kept of all formal meetings. Subject plans should set out aims, objectives, desired learning outcomes and key skills for the students in each year group and the methodologies best suited to the teaching and learning of the subject. An inventory of resources should also be compiled. Consideration could also be given to the introduction of an assessment policy for the various subjects.
Subject planning for Transition Year should reflect the aims and objectives of the TY programme as laid out in circular M1/00. A range of very progressive initiatives was evidenced in some subject areas during the evaluation process. However there is a need in other subject departments to review their Transition Year programme in order to give the students the opportunity to experience new ways of looking at and learning the subject.
There were examples of good short and long-term planning by individual teachers and evidence of careful preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of resources and the skilful integration of audio-visual and ICT into many of the lessons.
A broad range of lessons was observed in all the subject areas inspected. Lesson content was appropriate to the needs and abilities of the students and in some subjects its purpose was shared with the students from the outset. Most lessons were well structured, clearly focused and suitably paced.
A variety of methodologies was observed, ranging from traditional whole-class teaching to the integration of ICT. Examples of more independent learning through the use of pair and group work were also observed. It is recommended that in lessons where whole-class teaching prevailed students should be provided with greater opportunities to learn through investigation and acquire the skills to enable them to take greater responsibility for their learning.
Question and answer sessions were used effectively in most lessons to involve students in their learning and in some cases to promote higher order thinking. Students in many subject areas were challenged to further their thinking, to explain and to justify their answers. This is good practice which should be extended to all lessons.
Where used, the board or overhead projector (OHP) was effectively employed to record key information from both teachers and students. There were, however, instances in some lessons where the use of an OHP would have enhanced the methodology being used to teach the particular topic.
Differentiated teaching was facilitated through individual assistance from teachers in some subjects and the provision of graded worksheets as supplementary material for other subjects. Teachers are to be commended for their response to the differentiated needs of the students.
There is good support for students with learning difficulties or special education needs. Students are withdrawn for the core subjects from the mainstream group. Subject teachers reported good liaison between them and the learning support department. This is to be commended.
There was evidence of a positive learning environment and good rapport between teachers and students throughout. Students demonstrated clear evidence of learning and were confident in their interactions throughout the lessons observed.
Student progress and achievement in Good Counsel College is assessed in a variety of ways, including questioning in class, homework and regular or ‘end of topic’ class tests and formal examinations.
The college journal is used by students to record homework assigned and as a means of ongoing communication with parents. However, there was evidence to suggest that greater vigilance is needed in monitoring these journals as a review of the journals indicated that some students were not recording their homework assignments. It is thus recommended that the use of the student journal be reviewed and steps be taken to ensure that students systematically record their homework in all subjects into the journal.
A review of students’ copies revealed evidence of homework being assigned regularly and in most cases appropriately monitored. The inclusion of affirming comments or suggestions for improvements as observed in some students’ copies is to be commended and it is recommended that such good practice be extended to all corrections. Students should also be encouraged to monitor and amend their own work. A practice of self-review following the mock examinations was evidenced in some lessons. This is to be commended. There was evidence of good records being kept by teachers of student progress. A record of attendance should also be kept.
First second and fifth year students sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer after which reports are sent home. Certificate examination students have formal examinations at the end of November and sit their ‘mock’ examinations in the spring. The uptake of higher level in the certificate examinations has increased in many of the subjects evaluated while students receiving learning support are actively encouraged to take ordinary rather than foundation level in the core subjects. This is to be commended. Parent-teacher meetings take place annually for each year group. Contact is also maintained with parents through the student journal.
The college identifies, through entrance assessments, those students who may have difficulties in areas of reading, language, writing, perception and numeracy. The main feeder primary schools are visited in May to identify learning difficulties of incoming students. The principal meets the parents of incoming students with special education needs (SEN) during the summer. All avenues are explored to ensure that there is a continuity of support given to students with support needs. The resource teachers are informed of the progress of students with special education needs during the first few weeks of term. Teachers are advised to adopt various teaching strategies to assist these students. There may be withdrawal of small groups for the duration of the programme or for a specified period. Individual support is used sparingly. It is significant and commendable that students feel fully integrated when receiving SEN support. There is good communication with the general teaching body regarding the number of students receiving support.
There is a well-resourced learning-support centre incorporating an office for the learning-support co-ordinator, an ICT room specifically fitted with software for students with SEN, rooms for small group work and a room for one-to-one teaching.
The college has currently the services of one learning-support teacher post and twenty-nine hours resource allocation. These allocations are used appropriately. The learning-support services are very professional and effective. A team of teachers is involved in the delivery of the programme. It is important that experienced teachers as well as new teachers constitute this team. There is a need for a meeting time for teachers of SEN to discuss subjects and areas of the curriculum and it is recommended that these teachers have regular planning meeting. It is recommended that a special education needs and resource policy be drawn up.
A small number of international and Traveller students attend the college and they are well accommodated. The college receives a language support allocation of sixteen hours and thirty minutes. This allocation is used appropriately. Students who are deemed to be disadvantaged are given appropriate support by the college. International students are supported by a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) service and have access to a Polish translation service. The college has access to a sign language service. The college chaplaincy gives extra support to students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds and provides support by liaising with homes.
Good Counsel College has a full-time guidance counsellor and shares a further guidance counsellor with the local girls’ post-primary school under the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). The guidance department works well as a team and meets formally once per week to plan and evaluate college guidance. Both guidance counsellors share the teaching of the timetabled fifth and sixth-year lessons. The classes are split and both counsellors complement each other in their approach and work. All students receive individual guidance and the workload is divided depending on the issues concerned.
The guidance counsellors are involved in open days and work with the learning-support service regarding incoming assessment tests. Local primary schools are visited, there is liaison with sixth-class teachers and psychological reports are collected. There is good dissemination of information about first-year students to relevant teachers at staff meetings. Guidance counsellors divide their time between providing career guidance and counselling. At junior and senior cycle there is a strong emphasis on goal setting. Third-year students partake in a careers project and receive advice on subject choice and study skills. The guidance counsellors advise on work experience and subject choice in Transition Year. In fifth year differential aptitude tests (DATs) are set and corrected, students visit college open days and career interest tests are set. There are a number of senior cycle careers evenings for sixth-year students. Speakers are invited to the college and there is curriculum vitae and interview preparation.
The college has a guidance plan in place. It is recommended that this plan be further developed in consultation with all relevant teachers. The college should make use of two recent publications in this process: Guidelines for Second Level Colleges on the Implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, relating to access to appropriate guidance, (Inspectorate, DES, 2005), and Planning the College Guidance Programme, (National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2004). It is commendable that the continuous professional development services of the National Council for Guidance in Education are availed of by the college guidance department. This process will greatly help with the enhanced guidance plan development.
The full-time chaplaincy looks after spiritual and bereavement issues of students together with co-ordinating the Rainbows Programme.
The college has an informal and wide-ranging pastoral care arrangement. The year heads and class tutors have a distinct pastoral role with students. The college sees its pastoral care team as consisting of the anti-bullying co-ordinator, guidance counsellors, college chaplain, principal and deputy principal, the college matron, the learning-support teachers and the SPHE co-ordinator. It was reported that a general practitioner practice in New Ross strongly supports the college and is regarded as part of the pastoral care team. The college is part of the Respect pilot programme for the teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Parents are involved together with teachers and students.
The college makes every effort to deal effectively with bullying. Counteracting bullying has a high profile in the college with the appointment of an anti-bullying co-ordinator. It is recommended that in addition an anti-bullying core team be formed to advise the co-ordinator and to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the school’s anti-bullying code. It is commendable that the anti-bullying code is printed in the student journals and is evident in every classroom. It is reported that a culture has developed in the college where the norm is to report instances of bullying. This is highly commended. Awareness has been raised and there is whole school involvement in the process. This is an example of an effective strategy that the college has recently introduced in the area of pastoral care.
The college has prioritised the development of a pastoral care policy and it is recommended that this process be pursued and finalised as soon as possible.
Prefects and Meitheal leaders play an important role in the pastoral care of students. They are role models who set good example for students. They play an active part in the mentoring of students. Training is provided for these students.
The college has strong links with outside agencies and support bodies. There are good links with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). In conjunction with Wexford Organisation for Rural Development (WORD) the college can access a mentor system for students who need support from an adult figure in their lives. Through the Ferns Diocesan Youth Service (FDYS) students have access to a professional counselling service in relation to bereavement and substance misuse. The strong links which the college has built up with support bodies are commended.
There is a good sense of ownership of the college by students in that the student council has elected members and its own constitution which clearly lays out its role. It is consulted on relevant college policies. Meetings with class representatives are organised. There are good lines of communication from students’ class representatives to student council members. The student council praised the anti-bullying system in the college. In addition it is commendable that a number of very useful proposals for improvement were formulated by the student council. However, they have concerns over their influence and feel that they are not consulted on all issues they regard as relevant. Many of their concerns are in fact dealt with over time. Overall the student council is effective and praiseworthy in promoting the welfare and interests of the student population.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ Good Counsel College is true to the Augustinian philosophy.
§ The board of management is ably involved in the management of the college, is professional in its approach and aware of its role and duties.
§ The principal is an effective leader and has facilitated much positive change.
§ The principal and the deputy principal work together in a mutually supportive, efficient and effective manner.
§ Post-holders have clearly defined roles, are actively involved in college administration, pastoral and year head duties. The post system is currently under major review and is being restructured to meet the needs of the college.
§ Teaching staff, with strong support from senior management and the board of management, have engaged effectively with the school development planning process. The direction ahead for the college in a time of change has been comprehensively taken on board.
§ There is a broad range of subjects and programmes, and students are encouraged to pursue their studies at a level that is appropriate to their abilities. Support structures are in place to facilitate students in this regard. Parents and students are well informed regarding curricular choice.
§ The extensive co-curricular and extra-curricular activities further enhance the positive relationships that exist between staff and students. The commitment shown by teachers and staff in facilitating the wide range of activities is praiseworthy.
§ The degree of personal commitment shown by teachers in supporting students with special education needs, international and Traveller students is good together with the co-ordination of this support.
§ The co-ordination of guidance and counselling and the delivery of this service to students are commended.
§ The pastoral care of students is given a high priority by the board of management and by all members of staff in Good Counsel College. The work of all concerned including class tutors, year heads and the college chaplain is commended.
§ The student council, prefects and Meitheal leaders play an active part in developing a strong sense of ownership of the college by students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
§ A mission statement should be drawn up by the board in consultation with staff, parents and students to reflect the Augustinian philosophy to Good Counsel College.
§ College management should give consideration to the creation of more opportunities for planning and evaluation meetings.
§ ICT facilities should continue to be upgraded and staff should be facilitated in enhancing their ICT skills. A college policy on ICT and a college website should be developed.
§ The college should proceed to appoint a school development planning co-ordinator as envisaged in the proposed post structure. Subject departments should be developed each of which should appoint a co-ordinator on a rotating basis.
§ A curriculum advisory committee should be formed-the duties of the planning group on subjects and courses could be expanded to meet this need. LCVP should be considered again as an option. The college should consider increasing time allocation to Science and reconsider the timetabling of the subject.
§ A Transition Year core team should be established. The team should have regular planning meetings to review, evaluate and plan the way ahead for the TYP. Modules on Guidance and Music should be considered for inclusion in the TYP.
§ The college should consider formulating a policy on extra-curricular activities. During such activities continuous efforts should be made to employ subject specialist teachers to teach classes during necessary and unavoidable absences.
§ A special education needs policy should be drawn up. The Guidance plan should be further developed in consultation with all relevant teachers. The development of a pastoral care policy should be pursued and finalised as soon as possible. Consideration should be given to the formation of an anti-bullying core team to advise the co-ordinator and to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the school’s anti-bullying code.
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:
§ Subject Inspection of English – 31 March 2006
§ Subject Inspection of German – 31 March 2006
§ Subject Inspection of History – 31 March 2006
§ Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 31 March 2006
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Good Counsel College wholeheartedly welcomes the Whole School Evaluation Report from the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science. The recognition of the excellence of all the partners who make up Good Counsel College is most encouraging. The College notes in particular the acknowledgement of the fact that the Board of Management “is very involved in the whole life of the college.” It is also noteworthy that “the work of senior management is commended” and that “the Principal and Deputy Principal have clearly defined roles and complement each other in the day - to -day management of the College.” The Report points out the “effectiveness” with which both Assistant Principals and Special Duties Teachers fulfill their responsibilities. It is important to note that the class tutors, who work on a voluntary basis, are singled out as being “very effective in carrying out their duties” Neither can we gloss over the praise for the staff in general : “Staff presented as being very dedicated and committed to their work. They have embraced change well and are constantly reviewing and evaluating all aspects of college life. They cooperate with and feel supported by management.” This is, of course, borne out by the individual subject reports:
“All classes were conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect.” ( Maths )
“The fact that high standards are expected by teachers of their students can be observed from the steady increase in the number of students sitting higher-level English in both Junior and Leaving Certificate state exams in recent years. In addition, no student has every sat foundation-level English in the school.” ( English )
“The use of PowerPoint in some lessons greatly enhanced the impact of the message being presented . . . Discussion of the material encouraged the full engagement of the students” ( History )
“Good progress in learning was evident because lessons were well structured and delivered in a lively, engaging manner at a good pace. This was due in no small way to the German Department’s personal and professional commitment to the subject and to the students.” (German)
The healthy involvement of our parents is also commended recognising that “Parents are very involved in the life of the college.”
Above all Good Counsel College is made up of our students. It is very important to us that our visitors recognised that “A very good relationship between staff and students exists in the college. This is attributed to “effective management of students and few discipline problems.” The experience of the Inspectorate matches our own when they mention that “Students were polite and friendly and also well presented in terms of uniform”
Students’ behaviour is also supported by a key area: Student support through Learning Support and Pastoral Care. The Inspectors noted that “All avenues are explored to ensure there is a continuity of support given to students with support needs.” Guidance also supports students and the Report notes that “All students receive individual guidance and the workload is divided depending on the issues concerned.” Equally the school is uniquely privileged in having a full time chaplain who “looks after Spiritual and bereavement issues of students”
Of course the key to this is acknowledged by the Inspectorate when they noticed that “There is a good sense of ownership of the college by students”.
Good Counsel College views itself as a community of friends. We are heartened that the Inspectorate noticed that “the College makes every effort to deal effectively with bullying. Counteracting bullying has a high profile in the college . . . A culture has developed in the college where the norm is to report instances of bullying”.
That peer support is central to Good Counsel College was also noticed in that our senior Students - Prefects and Meitheal leaders, “are role models who set good example for students.”
Good Counsel College also acknowledges and welcomes the recommendations of the Inspectorate.
The staff, management, and Board of management welcome WSE in that it opens up the day to day operation of the school to public scrutiny and gives an independent / outside evaluation of the school structures.
However it should be pointed out that the disruption to the school during this evaluation was quite considerable. Amounts of class contact time lost and cover required for teachers who had to meet with the inspectors made operation of the school during that week very difficult.
The recommendations made to school fell broadly into two main categories.
(1) The regular meetings of a TY advisory core team would require a time allocation.
(2) The establishment of a curriculum advisory committee would require extra time.
(3) The setting up of a group to formulate a policy on extra - curricular activities also requires time.
(4) A special education needs and resource policy is recommended, and also a time for SEN teachers to meet to discuss subjects and areas of the curriculum.
(5) An anti-bullying core team is also recommended.
(6) Establishment of a rotating coordinator in all subjects areas and time to provide for strategic planning is recommended.
(7) A college policy on ICT should be drawn up.
The majority of teachers in the school are timetabled to the maximum hours teaching, and a large number of teachers are also contracted to carry out further supervision and substitution work, so it is very difficult to see where time for such meetings will come from. There is no suggestion that the Department of Education and Science will provide extra time for these meetings.
It is worthy of note that Good Counsel College exceeds the obligatory 28 hours teaching week where all students have a full 30 hours instruction every week. Class contact time is maximised also by the fact that the College never takes a half day or finishes the day early. Every day is worked up to 4 o’clock.
At the commencement of the WSE both the BOM and the Staff asked the inspectors if extra resources would be provided to help implement recommendations made in the report. The answer given was that extra resources would have to be applied for from the building section of the Department and there would be no link between provision of extra resources and the report. The recommendations made include:
(1) Provision of a school library.
(2) The creation of a language block.
(3) A centralized area for the storage of English resources.
(4) Provision of OHP and other appropriate resources in maths.
(5) Provision of a history resource area with appropriate material for school.
(6) ICT facilities should continue to be upgraded and staff should be facilitated in enhancing their ICT skills.
(7) A College website should be set up.
Each of the above resources would require a considerable financial outlay for the college and this money has to be found in addition to money which is already being used up on current projects.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
§ .At the Staff Meeting of November 27th an outside facilitator from SDPI has been engaged to commence work on a College Mission Statement.
§ A process to facilitate meetings of Guidance Counsellors / Chaplain with year Heads has been introduced. A process to facilitate meetings of Year Heads / Tutors has been introduced.
§ A complete new suite of 24 PC’s has been purchased and installed in the Computer Centre. A College website is now in place. No funding from the Department was forthcoming for these projects.
§ The College, under a Review of the Posts of Responsibility, has appointed a school development planning co-ordinator.
§ LCVP is being actively considered again as an option.
§ The time allocation to Science has been increased and the timetable revised accordingly.
§ A Transition Year core team has been established and meets regularly.