An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

  

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

The Abbey CBS

Station Road, Tipperary Town

Roll number: 65490L

 

  

Date of inspection: 27 February 2006

Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006

 

  

Introduction

1. Quality of School Management

1.1   Characteristic spirit of the school

1.2   School ownership and management

1.3   In-school management

1.4   Management of resources

2. Quality of School Planning

The School Plan

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

3.1   Curriculum planning and organisation

3.2   Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

3.3   Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

4.1   Planning and preparation

4.2   Teaching and learning

4.3 Assessment and achievement

5. Quality of Support for Students

5.1   Students with special educational needs

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

5.3   Guidance

5.4   Pastoral care

6. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report


Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of The Abbey CBS.  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.

 

 

Introduction

 

The Abbey CBS has a long and interesting history.  The Augustinians established a friary on the banks of the River Ara, in County Tipperary around 1300.  This was suppressed during the reign of Henry VIII in 1539.  The site came to prominence again following the Cromwellian invasion.  As supporter of Cromwell in Ireland, Erasmus Smith was granted large tracts of land in Tipperary.  Following the restoration of the monarchy, Smith, in an attempt to keep favour with Charles II, offered to establish schools in Tipperary, Galway and Limerick.  In 1680, Tipperary Grammar School was established on the site of the Augustinian Friary for the education of protestant boys from the tenant families on the Smith lands.  The grammar school survived on the site until it ceased to operate during the civil war of 1922-23.

 

In 1941 the Christian Brothers moved into the buildings of Tipperary Grammar School to establish the Abbey Christian Brother’s School (CBS).  Despite a fire shortly afterwards, the school continued to operate on the site and a new building was opened in 1955.  The school, still known locally as the Abbey School or simply “the Abbey”, was extended in 1980 and 2003 and is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its establishment as a Christian Brothers School. 

 

The legacy of Erasmus Smith lives on in the Abbey as the Board of Management, following a long legal route, has accessed the Erasmus Smith Trust fund dating back to 1660.  This fund is currently administered by the Department of Education and Science.  This school is the sole beneficiary of the fund and the resources of the fund are used for maintenance, renovation and the purchase of equipment for the school.  A very effective and valuable use of the Trust was the renovation of one of the old grammar-school farm buildings to create a resource centre for students with special educational needs, which was opened in 2005.  This centre was named in honour of Mary Rice, daughter of Edmund Rice, who was married and later widowed before founding the Christian Brothers. 

 

The Abbey has a current enrolment of 422 boys and serves Tipperary town and a wide hinterland in the surrounding countryside.  Following the pursuit of academic excellence, sport is significant in the atmosphere and tradition of the Abbey.  Hurling, Gaelic football, rugby and soccer have a high profile on the sports’ calendar and past pupils have featured prominently on county and provincial teams in a number of sporting disciplines.  The school was recently awarded the accolade of being one of the five most sporting schools in the country.

 

1. Quality of School Management

 

1.1   Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The Abbey is an inclusive school.  It welcomes, respects, and accommodates students from all socio-economic backgrounds and all ability levels.  It is a school that strives for excellence in all its activities and equally welcomes and includes a significant numbers of students with special educational needs.  The school ethos clearly reflects the tradition of Blessed Edmund Rice that embodies the care and development of all students, academically, in sport and in extra-curricular activities.  The characteristic spirit of the school, as set out in the mission statement, includes a Catholic ethos, academic achievement, care for students with special educational needs, good relationships, effective discipline and the holistic development of students.

 

There is clear evidence that this ethos is lived in all areas and activities of the school.  A sense of caring, mutual respect and high expectation permeate all school activities.  The impressive “India Project” is just one example of how this ethos is lived within the school.  A student initiative to provide a wheelchair-accessible toilet area and a wheelchair ramp for a classmate is another example.  There is a caring, ordered and secure atmosphere in the school.  Students are positive and open in their engagements with their peers and teachers.  Staff is very supportive of school management and relationships are extremely positive.  The very significant contribution and support of teachers to activities outside of the classroom is testament to the sense of teamwork that pervades the whole school.

 

The representatives of the parents’ association also share this awareness of the ethos of the school.  Their experience and that of their sons exemplify an open and transparent and inclusive school philosophy. Attendance at parents’ association meetings is always high.  At these meetings the principal reports and discusses school activities.  The parents feel included, involved and listened to.  They are fully aware of all school activities and are consulted on all major school events.

 

The board of management also clearly reflects this school ethos.  All members share a central concern for and loyalty to the school and its students.  The board is clearly supportive of all school initiatives to broaden the school curriculum, develop school facilities and extend the range of extra-curricular activities to meet the needs of all students. 

 

All members of the school community share a clear vision for the school that centres on meeting the needs of all students in an inclusive, secure, caring and respectful academic environment.  

 

The school very effectively communicates this ethos to the school and wider community through a school newsletter The Abbey News, a yearbook and very professional school videos and DVDs.  The school newsletter, which is sent to all parents by post, provides comprehensive information on all school activities and is illustrated with high quality photographs.  The school yearbook is a Transition Year   project and both records and celebrates the range of school activities throughout the year.  This Abbey Annual is produced to a very high standard of publication.  It celebrates all activities and achievements and is a valuable record for students leaving the school.  School activities are also recorded on video and DVD, producing a high quality audio-visual record of school projects, matches and trips abroad.  The gallery of photographs on the school corridors also gives a clear sense of tradition and celebration of achievement at all levels in the school.  All these media help to effectively communicate the lived school ethos to all members of the school community.    

 

 

1.2   School ownership and management

 

The board of management, which meets regularly, is appropriately constituted and takes an active role in the running of the school.  The principal acts as the main conduit of communication to the bodies represented on the board, by reporting regularly to the trustees, the school staff and the parents’ association.  The board fully engages with its responsibilities and statutory obligations.  It has a clear vision for its role within the school and is engaged actively in the school planning process.  At meetings, key policy documents are discussed in detail, amendments are outlined and suggestions from both the staff and parents’ association are discussed.  Policy documents are reviewed regularly and ratified by the board.  The board has agreed to revisit a statement in the admissions policy relating to its concerns in the past regarding the appropriate provision of resources by the Department of Education and Science in advance of enrolment.

 

The board of management has clear development priorities for the school.  The provision of a new Physical Education (PE) hall is the major priority on the agenda of the board for the future development of the school.  Curricular planning and the associated development of subject departments have been identified as further priorities within the school.  The board has a clear and effective relationship with the CBS Education Office and liaises with this office on an ongoing basis to ensure that developments in the school are aligned with the ethos of the Christian Brothers and the founding intention of Blessed Edmund Rice.   The board is concerned on an ongoing basis with the strategic use of the Erasmus Smyth fund and, currently, with the issue of fencing the school grounds.

 

The board is actively engaged in the management of the school and is clearly supportive of the principal.  It has a visibility in the day-to-day school activities.  The board members regularly attend school events and are particularly supportive of the various team sports.  There are clear and appropriate lines of communication between the board, the parent’s association and the teaching staff.  It is clear that the board of management is centrally involved in what was articulated as “Team Abbey”; a phrase used within the school to encapsulate the sense of teamwork that exists between the parents’ association, the board, the school management and the staff. 

 

 

1.3   In-school management

 

The principal is a very effective school leader.  The vision of this leadership is clearly visible in all areas of the school.  This vision is grounded in the school ethos and pervades all procedures and relationships in the day-to-day running of the school.  The leadership of the principal has transformed the culture of the school to one that reflects and provides for the educational needs of the community.  Inclusion is a central plank of this leadership style.  It is also characterised by effective communication, personal contact, availability to all staff and students and visibility on the school corridors.

 

The vision of this leadership has resulted in the widening of the school curriculum to include the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) at senior cycle and the expansion of the uptake of the Transition Year programme.  This vision has also facilitated the implementation of structures to cater for a significant number of students with special educational needs.  This has involved the school facilitating the training of teachers, the development of a team approach to learning support and the inclusion of a number of special needs assistants (SNAs).  This project has culminated in the development of the Mary Rice Resource Centre to support these students. 

 

The principal and deputy principal are an effective team.  Both are highly visible throughout the school and are in constant informal communication.  All aspects of school administration, financial management, student attendance and the construction of the school timetable fall within the duties of the principal.  The deputy principal is centrally concerned with student issues while also carrying an appropriate teaching load.  The deputy principal acts as year head for first-year students and takes a supervisory role throughout the school, focusing particularly on the student locker room.  Standards relating to uniform, punctuality and discipline ensure an ordered and structured learning environment for the students.  The deputy principal also informally supports and communicates with all staff members and students in the normal interactions of the school day.  He acts as examinations secretary for the State examinations and organises the evening study programme. 

 

The middle management team consists of a number of assistant principals and special duties teachers.  All posts have clear and identifiable duties attached and there was clear evidence that these duties are effectively carried out.  In the main, assistant principals act as year heads with a particular focus on discipline and academic progress.  Other assistant-principal posts have clear and appropriate duties assigned to the post.  Special duties posts involve a range of duties including programme co-ordinators, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), school attendance and the co-ordination of learning support.  It is clear that the middle-management team makes a significant contribution to the effective organisation of the school through the fulfilment of these duties.  There was also evidence of the informal support from teachers, including post-holders, for all school activities.  Teachers provide significant extra voluntary support for colleagues engaged in organising a range of sporting activities, the school show, the school tour and the myriad of other extra-curricular activities that are ongoing in the school.

 

The middle-management team does not have a formal leadership role outside of their assigned post duties.  It is recommended that this group meet formally during the year and focus initially on leading the identified priority of curricular planning.  The group could also reflect on their key role in the running of the school and could provide an important discussion forum with the principal and deputy principal for school initiatives and developments into the future. 

 

The management of the students in the school is also very effective and is grounded more on trust than on control.  The school rules are clearly stated in each student journal.  These rules arise from the code of discipline that was drafted, discussed and agreed by the parents, students, the teaching staff and the board.  Discipline and pastoral care operate in parallel within the school.  A clear focus on school attendance is also central to the care of students in the school.  The school has introduced an innovative swipe-card system that records morning and evening attendance.  A number of post-holders continually monitor and carefully record attendance patterns.

 

Parents spoke highly of their confidence in the care structure that exists throughout the school and stated clearly that the attention to the careful induction of first-year students was particularly effective.  This care and individual attention at this vulnerable stage in a new student’s life was reflected in the personal letters drafted by the principal and the carefully-planned programme for first-year students during their first days in the school.  Parents were high in their praise of this process. 

 

The atmosphere throughout the school is calm.  Students move about the school to their various activities without the need for overt high-profile supervision.  There are no closed-circuit television cameras and the intercom system is rarely used.  A prominent chalkboard is used to post notices for all sporting activities.  During break times, students are visibly engaged in sports training and other activities with their teachers.  The students throughout the school are courteous, confident and assertive.  There is a strong sense of calm, confident good humour in the school.  Students and teachers smile within this atmosphere of mutual respect. 

Students are afforded a clear voice in the school through the student council.  The council has elected representatives from each class and meets monthly during the school year.  The council has been active in raising issues with the school principal and has managed to effect some appropriate changes.  These changes include the opening of the school shop at break times, the provision of improved student lockers in a locker room and the extension of the signal for class change.  This has allowed the signal to be heard outside the building in the school grounds.  The council was also active in the provision of Music as a subject at junior cycle.  The student council has also effected the provision of a public phone for students and a suggestions box that allows all students in the school to communicate issues or concerns to school management.  Issues arising from the suggestion box are monitored by a designated teacher within the pastoral-care team and are communicated for appropriate action to the relevant team or individual in the school.  The representatives of the student council clearly stated that, as students of the school, they felt cared for, respected, involved and listened to in all aspects of their life in the school.

 

Communication is used very effectively in the management of the school.  The school communicates with the parent body, students and the wider community through the parent newsletter Abbey News, the yearbook Abbey Annual and through the local newspapers.  Parents were high in their praise of the quality of communication between home and school and of the availability of school management and teachers if requested.  Internal communication is less visible but equally effective.  The open leadership style and availability of the principal and deputy principal facilitate effective communication throughout the school on a daily basis.  Groups of teachers concerned with pastoral care and learning support meet at set times each week at a time when all concerned do not have timetabled lessons.  Equally, informal contacts and discussions relating to school issues take place throughout the day.  Staff meetings are held at intervals throughout the year to facilitate formal meetings of subject groups and meetings of key teachers involved with curricular programmes. 

 

The school has also developed very useful and important links with the local community and enterprises in the town.  The local Excel Centre is used to present the annual school show in conjunction with St Anne’s Secondary School and the local sports centre is also used to provide a wide range of sporting activities, particularly for the Transition Year programme.  Local enterprises provide work-experience opportunities for TY, LCA and LCVP students.  A past pupil of the school, who is now engaged in the electronics industry in California, USA, provides substantial resources for the “John Ryan Scholarship Fund” that assists students from the school in accessing third-level education.  This benefactor has also provided substantial funding for the development and equipping of a computer room in the school. 

 

 

1.4   Management of resources

 

There are 37 teachers employed in the school and of these, 25 are permanent whole-time teachers.  All teaching resources are appropriately deployed by school management to meet the teaching needs of the school and the range of subjects on offer.  In the main, teachers are allocated to base classrooms which facilitate the storage of resources, student records and the effective maintenance of classrooms.  Continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers is facilitated through attendance at in-service programmes as subject syllabuses are revised.  CPD has also been provided in the school to support the introduction of LCA and SPHE.  In-service training has also focused on Traveller culture, pastoral care and fire safety.  The school focus on the provision for students with SEN has resulted in four teachers being facilitated by the board of management to pursue a graduate diploma in learning support in recent years.  This facilitation is to be highly commended as it has brought clear skills and strategies to the organisation and provision of learning support and resource teaching in the school.

 

The school has two administrative office staff, one caretaker, two canteen staff and three cleaners.  The school office is well organised and is accessible to teachers and students as appropriate.  The placing of a photocopier and telephone in the staff room has relieved the overuse of the administration office by teachers.  The effective work of the caretaker and cleaners was clearly visible in the tidiness of the classrooms, corridors and school grounds.  The administrative staff, the school caretaker, the cleaners and other support staff are clearly an integral part of the very effective school team.

   

Little remains of the original buildings associated with the Tipperary Grammar School with the exception of some walls and a handball alley.  The current school building can be viewed as three building phases.  The 1955 building is dominated by a central tower with two single-storey wings.  This now contains the school office and visitors’ room and a series of general classrooms and small teaching areas.  The Erasmus Smith fund and a DES summer works scheme are being used to renovate and redecorate these classrooms and restore the windows.  The 1980 extension included the provision of extra classrooms, a physics laboratory and a staffroom.  A further extension in 2003 provided classrooms for Construction Studies, Materials Technology Wood and Technology.  The school yard and dressing rooms were also improved at this time.  In 2005 the Mary Rice Centre was added to the school facilities. 

 

The school is engaged in an ongoing process of developing the ICT infrastructure throughout the building.  Much progress has been made in the development of a new computer room in the school.  A further room provides computer access to students studying LCA and LCVP.  A hard-wire ICT network is now being extended throughout the school.  Outside of the computer rooms ICT access is currently available in the science laboratories, in the Mary Rice Centre and in the Construction Studies, Materials Technology Wood and Technology rooms.  ICT is well integrated into Transition Year and both LCA and LCVP.  Students following these programmes have significant access to the ICT facilities.  Both the LCA and LCVP students have appropriate access to ICT on the timetable to facilitate the completion of tasks, assignments and the LCVP portfolio.  In Transition Year, the students take modules on the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and also study JAVA programming in co-operation with the Tipperary Institute. 

 

The school has identified the area of curricular planning as a key priority for the future.  Towards this end, it is recommended that the integration of ICT into teaching and learning in general classrooms be pursued as a parallel goal.  To facilitate this process in the short term, ICT access should be provided for teachers either in the staffroom or in another area but outside of the timetabled computer rooms.  A mobile unit containing a laptop computer and data projector could also assist in the integration of ICT in classrooms.  Some provision for the development of ICT skills among the teaching staff should also be facilitated.  The resources provided by the ICT advisor in the local Education Centre should be used to assist in these developments.

 

Appropriate attention is paid to health and safety in the school.  The school has a safety statement and has carried out a comprehensive risk assessment in 2003.  There is an ongoing focus on fire safety that resulted recently in the installation of new fire-exit doors in a main corridor in the school.  Given the renovation of the science laboratory and other areas of the school, it is recommended that a further review of the safety statement and risk assessment should take place in the short term.  The health and safety of staff members has also been addressed recently by an impressive school initiative to provide a medical check, partly funded by the board of management, for all staff members.

 

 

 

 

2. Quality of School Planning

 

The School Plan

 

There is an effective ongoing school planning process in the school.  This process has taken place at a number of levels.  The principal and the board of management have clearly progressed the preparation and ratification of required policy documents.  These include the admissions policy, the code of behaviour, anti-bullying policy and substance abuse policy.  These policy documents, among others, have been neatly bound and circulated to all members of the school community.  Volume two of these school policy documents is now ready for ratification and volume three is planned.  This planning process has involved the use of policy templates provided by the Marino Institute of Education, Centre for Education Services Initiative.  This service guides Christian Brothers Schools through the process of developing key policies.  These templates provide the overarching framework within which key policies are framed in the context of individual schools.  In the Abbey, these templates have been used to draft key school policies.  Draft policies are discussed by the board, the staff as a whole, and the parents’ association and amendments are made.  The final drafts are then presented to the staff and parents’ association and are ratified by the board.  The board of management has a clear vision of future planning priorities and is aware of the necessity to review the policies on an ongoing basis.  This planning process has been very effective for the school community and the level of engagement, consultation and discussion around these developments is to be highly commended. 

 

In parallel with these developments, an impressive planning process is in place amongst the teaching staff.  This planning process, both formal and informal, has developed as the school context changed and as different programmes were introduced.  The introduction of the LCA programme and Religion as an examination subject are clear examples where teachers have engaged in effective planning for the smooth implementation of these initiatives to meet the students’ needs.  The school has developed policies and procedures to promote academic excellence through the constant monitoring of student progress.  The ICT policy and the Guidance plan are other examples of this organic, teacher-driven planning process.

 

The outcome of these parallel processes has been the development of an evolving school plan.  The plan has set clear development objectives and has identified achievements and areas for future development.  In terms of policy development, the school has achieved almost all of the targets set by the plan.  Planned developments for the school in general and those relating to curriculum are also outlined and the level of achievement of these targets is equally impressive.  It is clear that the outcomes of these planning processes have had an important impact on the operation of the school and on the quality of the educational experience of the students.  Future school planning priorities include the ongoing campaign for the development of a full size PE hall, policies for the provision for students with special educational needs, pastoral care, record-keeping and staff professional development.

 

Curriculum planning has been identified by school management as a major planning priority in the short term.  In this process it will be necessary for subject teachers to focus on differentiated teaching methodologies, teaching resources and a range of assessment methods.  The support provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) should be used to guide this process.  Equally, it is recommended that the experience of the middle-management team be utilised to assist in this subject-driven process.  Members of this team could be assigned to working groups of cognate subject teams to direct and document each stage of this process.

 

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, September 1999) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004).  Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board has adopted and implemented the policies.  A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.  In-service training has been provided for the school staff and some members of the board relating to these issues

 

 

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

3.1   Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The curricular programme offered by the school has evolved over time and has been adjusted to meet the changing needs of the students.  The Erasmus Smith Trust requires the school to offer Agricultural Science at senior cycle and in the past the school had a working farm attached.  The school offers a comprehensive curriculum at both junior and senior cycle.  Underpinning the whole-school curricular plan is the concept of open choice and access to all subjects and programmes, the maintenance of small classes and high academic expectations for all students.  The whole-school curricular plan clearly reflects the school ethos.

 

In first year all classes are of mixed ability in nature.  In second year, the core subjects of Gaeilge, English and Maths are banded to allow for the creation of class groups approaching the higher, ordinary or foundation syllabuses in these subjects for Junior Certificate.  The timetabling of these subjects allows for maximum flexibility and movement of students between levels within these class groups.  All other junior-cycle class groups are of mixed ability in nature.  The flexibility in the timetabling of junior cycle to meet the varying needs of all students is to be highly commended.

 

The senior-cycle curriculum is similarly organised to provide students with the maximum choice to meet their individual needs.  On completion of junior cycle, students are offered four optional programmes for senior cycle.  Students can choose the TY programme or on entering fifth year can choose between the established Leaving Certificate, the LCVP or the LCA programme.  The planning for these curricular programmes has evolved since the introduction of the Transition Year option in 1994, the LCVP in 1997 and the LCA in 2001.  All of these senior cycle programmes are planned for and organised in accordance with the appropriate regulations and programme guidelines.  The school is to be highly commended for offering the widest possible range of curricular programmes at senior cycle and in doing so, catering for the needs of the diversity of its students.

 

 

3.2   Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Following enrolment, first-year students study a core curriculum of Gaeilge, English, Maths, History, Geography, PE, Religious Education (RE), Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE).  They then study all the optional subjects for the first year with a view to choosing a further three subjects to continue to Junior Certificate.  The optional subjects offered by the school are: Materials Technology Wood, Technical Graphics, Technology, French, German, Business and Art.  Music is also available but as an extra subject outside of the normal school timetable.  Access to Music as an examination subject was facilitated following requests from the student council and parents.  The school makes every attempt to accommodate student choices within the available teaching resources.  In the current year it was possible to accommodate all requested subject combinations for first-year students transferring into second year.  All subjects have the appropriate time allocation within the timetable.  The school is to be highly commended for offering such a comprehensive curriculum at junior cycle as it allows all students access the maximum range of choices at senior cycle.

 

It is noteworthy that SPHE is now taught within a single stand-alone timetable period in first year.  In second and third year SPHE is attached to the timetable for Junior Science.  It is recommended that the practice of providing a single class period, now established in first year, be continued as students transfer into second and third years in the future.

 

Third-year students receive the appropriate guidance to inform their choice of programmes for senior cycle.  A meeting of all the parents of third-year students is held to discuss the details of all options and the subject groupings required for access to LCVP are clearly outlined.  As a result of this preparatory work, third-year students make a clear informed choice of programmes as they advance into senior cycle.

 

The Transition Year offers an excellent educational experience for the students and deals appropriately with the overall aims of the programme.  According to the school’s TY plan the programme deals with the “education for maturity with an emphasis on social awareness and increased social competence, education through experience of adult and working life and the promotion of general, technical and academic skills”.  A significant and growing number of students opt for TY before continuing with the further two years of senior cycle. 

 

The TY programme is divided between a ‘taster programme’ for all senior-cycle subjects, work experience and activities ranging from the school show to outdoor pursuits and video production.  One significant element of the programme is the driver education module where students take driving lessons on a driving track in the school grounds and complete the driver theory test.  The programme also has a significant ICT skills module and has an appropriate focus on career guidance to assist students in subject and programme choice for fifth year.  There is significant cross-curricular work, particularly in the video and DVD production module and in the development of the Abbey Annual.  The ‘taster programme’ also provides very significant guidance for students facing their subject choice for fifth year.  The TY students were very positive about the programme on offer, on the flexibility it allows them to specialise on specific skills, particularly in sport, and on the exposure to the range of senior-cycle subjects.  Notwithstanding the overall quality of the programme, it is recommended that the Transition Year teaching team revisit the TY plan to reflect on the teaching methodologies and assessment procedures used in the subjects in the ‘taster programme’.  These should be articulated as part of the TY plan.  Consideration should be given to the creation of a short annual teaching plan for each subject detailing the content, teaching methodologies and assessment methods to be used. 

 

Prior to transfer into fifth year, students have an open choice of subjects.  These subject choices are processed to offer the greatest possible first choices to students.  Students are asked to choose seven subjects in order of their preference.  These choices are then processed and the school has succeeded in providing a significant majority of students with their preferred choice of subjects in the current year.

 

Students opting for the established Leaving Certificate programme choose from the wide range of subjects on offer.  Core-subject groups are banded appropriate to the level of the subject.  Outside of the core subjects, most other subject groups are of mixed ability in nature.  Optional subjects are timetabled to provide the maximum accessibility for students within the available teaching resources.  All subjects are timetabled appropriately within subject syllabus guidelines.

 

Students opting to study the LCVP are given the appropriate choice of subject options.  They are also timetabled appropriately for the link modules of enterprise education, work experience and ICT.  Students produce a portfolio, mainly during the fifth year, for completion during sixth year.  Access to a language module is also provided for those students entering the programme who are not studying a modern language for Leaving Certificate.  It is noteworthy that a very valuable ICT support for LCVP students is provided by the programme co-ordinators.  This allows student access to an LCVP resource on the school computers to assist in the completion of their portfolio for assessment.  This innovative development is very appropriate to the spirit of the programme and is to be highly commended.

 

The LCA is a further option for students in senior cycle.  Both school management and teachers are committed to the programme which meets the needs of a group of students.  There is an ongoing commitment to the professional development of teachers relating to the programme.  This contributes to its effective delivery.  The organisation and planning of the programme is facilitated by a co-ordinator.  Careful attention has been given to the timetabling of the programme to ensure the appropriate allocation of resources.  A work-experience module of one day per week has been developed and a comprehensive range of elective modules is on offer to provide the students with a high-quality broad-based educational experience.

 

 

3.3   Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

There is an excellent range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities on offer to students.  Sport features centrally, but not exclusively, in the school’s extra-curricular programme.  Sporting participation and achievement are central to the Abbey traditions.  Participation on the playing pitch also reflects many of the elements of the school ethos including good relationships, effective discipline and the holistic development of students.  All students are encouraged to participate in sport at a level to suit their skills and interests.  It is noteworthy in the school newsletter and yearbook that the emphasis is on participation, commitment and celebration rather than solely on the achievement of victory.  Hurling, Gaelic football, rugby and soccer feature highly on the sports calendar while basketball, tennis, badminton, swimming, and athletics are also prominent.  In-school tournaments are also a significant feature of the sports calendar.  These tournaments allow all students to take part in school sporting activities in a spirit of fun and enjoyment.  The organisation of these tournaments and the school sports day form a central and valuable role for TY students.  All aspects of these whole-school events are organised by the Transition Year students.  This involvement is then followed by the recording and publication of these activities by the students in the school yearbook Abbey Annual and on DVD.  These inter-disciplinary activities are a very clear example of an effective TY student experience. 

 

Co-curricular activities are also central to the student experience in the Abbey.  The range of activities includes an annual school tour, a language exchange programme, an annual school show, chess, inter-school debating and inter-school quizzes.  The school’s language exchange programme is significant among these activities as it provides students with the opportunity to interact in the target language.  The school has accessed Comenius funding for international language-based educational projects over the past number of years.  These projects also combine with the town-twinning programme.  Of equal significance as a co-curricular activity is the very impressive Abbey India Project.  This immersion project involves students in fundraising to take part in a two and a half-week visit to a partner school in Shillong in India.  The students work together and experience life with the students of this Christian Brothers school in India.  This project forms part of the Edmund Rice Immersion programme that is co-ordinated by the CBS Education Office. 

 

The commitment of teachers and school management to the organisation of all these activities was cited by parents and students as a key element of their school experience.  This continued commitment by teachers to these very valuable elements of the school is to be highly commended.   

 

 

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

4.1   Planning and preparation

 

Teachers meet regularly on an informal basis to discuss pertinent issues and some formal meetings have been organised in the past.  This is very positive for teaching and learning.  Teachers have also collaborated in the organisation of co-curricular activities and this is to be commended.  The development of subject department planning has been identified as the next area to be addressed as part of the school development planning process in the school.  There is good informal collaboration between subject teachers.  It is recommended that the development of subject departments should continue to be advanced and that the position of co-ordinator be assigned on a rotational basis within subject departments.  This would allow for the leadership skills that such a role entails to be experienced by all members in each department.  The placing of departmental meetings on a more formal basis through the taking of brief minutes would also be of benefit. 

 

A high level of individual planning was in evidence in all subjects.  Teachers presented short-, medium- and long-term schemes of work.  Stores of teaching resources were kept to be used in each subject area and there was a good level of planning for lessons.  There was also evidence of the development of the use of some electronic resources.  Planning for the teaching of individual subjects is in the early stages of development.  It is recommended that subject plans be developed in order to consolidate the good planning by individual teachers as well as the collaborative atmosphere which exists in the school.  Such curricular planning might include: the setting of short-term targets for teaching and learning; the development of common plans for each term; the adoption of differentiated teaching strategies on a departmental basis and common approaches to assessment.  These developments could be achieved in the short to medium term within the identified priority of subject department planning.

 

There is clear evidence that planning and preparation for the TY programme is both comprehensive and very effective.  In this context it is recommended that teachers review some aspects of the plans for the subject-specific “taster programme”.  These plans should avoid an over-reliance on areas which students may encounter again as part of their Leaving Certificate studies and should emphasise a range of different methodologies and assessment strategies. 

 

 

4.2   Teaching and learning

 

The standard of teaching and learning throughout the school is very good.  There were many examples of good, and some excellent, teaching practice in evidence.  There was effective lesson planning and teachers had high expectations in relation to the work and behaviour of their students.  These combined to enhance student learning successfully. 

 

In most classes clear explanations were given at the start of lessons to ensure that students had a clear understanding of the learning objectives.  It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons in order to assist students in evaluating their learning and progress.  The good practice of employing a plenary session at the end of a lesson to consolidate student learning, which was observed in many instances, should be adopted in all lessons.  Lessons were well structured and paced to meet the needs of the students.  Appropriate homework, which expanded on and enhanced the work carried out in class, was assigned. 

 

A variety of teaching approaches, which were generally well matched to students’ learning needs, was employed.  These included questioning, oral work, role-play, teacher demonstrations and student tasks.  Teachers are to be commended on the broad range of teaching resources that were appropriately utilised, including the whiteboard, textbooks, Television and video, tape recorders and other visual stimuli.  Focus on the development of language, specific to the individual subjects, was a characteristic of many lessons.  It is noteworthy that the whiteboard and blackboard were used to integrate student oral suggestions with written work and to highlight salient points.  Visual stimulus materials were successfully used in some instances to enhance student understanding.  Effective use of video, interspersed with comments from the teacher and questioning of students was also observed in some lessons.  In one instance, ICT was used very effectively to develop student understanding of a difficult topic.  These excellent resources should be exploited, where appropriate, to further augment student learning.

 

There were some good examples of the use of active-learning methodologies that were appropriate to students’ needs and abilities, and which resulted in a good balance between teacher input and student activity.  In other lessons, there were few opportunities for students to become actively engaged in their own learning.  It is recommended that a range of active teaching and learning methodologies be employed, including short tasks, pair work and small-group work, to further enhance student engagement in the learning process.

Classroom management was very good and a pleasant and positive atmosphere was predominant.   A very good teacher-student rapport existed, and relations were grounded in a sense of mutual respect.  Student participation was warmly welcomed and all contributions were affirmed appropriately.  Teachers are to be commended for their part in generating this warm atmosphere that impacts very positively on student learning.

 

4.3 Assessment and achievement

 

A range of assessment modes is used to assess student learning and progress.  These include questioning in class, written homework, written and oral class tests and formal examinations.  There was a very good quality of questioning in evidence in all lessons.  Questions varied from those targeted at individuals to general questions directed at the whole class.  Both questions demanding specific answers and more open questions were used.  Students were encouraged consistently and prompted by their teachers to develop their answers and all attempts were affirmed.  In all cases it was clear that students had an appropriate understanding of the topics for study and there was a high standard of achievement.

 

Appropriate homework tasks were assigned in all lessons and teacher comments were formative.  Teachers are encouraged to explore other strategies relating to formative assessment through a focus on Assessment for learning (AFL).  These strategies encourage the sharing of the learning intention and assessment criteria with the class from the outset and encourage comment-only feedback on assessments.  Teachers record student progress in class-based and formal assessments.  This helps build a profile of student achievement over time and allows the teacher to monitor progress.  In some lessons, oral language skills and student practical work should be included as a component of school assessments as appropriate.

 

On enrolment in the spring, new students are assessed in Gaeilge, English, Mathematics and reading.  The results of these tests are used for monitoring and screening, particularly by the learning-support team in the school.  Follow-up tests in reading and general reasoning are also given to first-year students in the autumn.  In third year all students are assessed for aptitudes and specific abilities prior to transfer into senior cycle.  These assessments, organised by the guidance and learning-support teams, are particularly effective in monitoring student progress and reflect the spirit of care provided for all students in the school. 

 

The school has a very clear and effective structure to organise formal assessment.  The organisation of house examinations is allocated to an assistant principal post and the monitoring of student progress forms part of another.  Formal examinations are held on four occasions for second- and fifth-year students.  First-year and TY students have two formal assessments while third-year students have three.  Leaving Certificate students have monthly assessments.  Student progress in all of these assessments is monitored.  Feedback is given to the staff members as appropriate.  Feedback to parents is provided through parent-teacher meetings and written reports.  Parents receive a written report following each formal assessment.  This very effective assessment process reflects the high expectations of the school in terms of student learning and achievement. 

 

Student achievement is also celebrated in the school through an awards scheme sponsored by both the teaching staff and the parents’ association.  Ten students are nominated by teachers and ten by the students themselves.  Selection criteria include academic achievement and effort, sporting achievement and effort, co-operation and efforts to surmount personal challenges.  This award scheme has an important place in the school community and again reflects the ethos of inclusion.

 

 

 

5. Quality of Support for Students

 

5.1   Students with special educational needs

 

The school has developed an excellent structure, organisation and expertise in providing appropriately for students in need of learning support and for those with assessed special needs.  There is a clear and effective learning-support team in the school.  This team is supported by school management and is led very effectively by the learning-support co-ordinator.  Members of this team have been facilitated by the board of management to complete a post-graduate diploma in learning support.  The skills and methodologies arising from this course have informed the teaching strategies and organisation of this support for students.  This team meets regularly to discuss and review strategies and the progress of individual students.  The team also has developed links with the Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland, showing an awareness of the special needs of able students. 

 

The school has a significant number of students in need of extra support.  These students are identified in advance of or following enrolment.  There is very effective contact between the school and the feeder primary schools to assist in identifying students in need of support.  Parents are included at the earliest possible stage in planning for the individual support for students.  The school has created a home school liaison officer (HSLO) post from within its own resources.  This role is very helpful in communicating with parents.  As with other areas of the school, clear and efficient communication between teachers, parents and students facilitates the delivery of these supports.  The allocation of available resources is co-coordinated with the special educational needs organiser (SENO) for the region.

 

Provision for these students includes a variety of strategies.  Students are withdrawn from some lessons for individual or small group support.  Some students have modified programmes and timetables appropriate to their individual needs.  There are a number of special needs assistants (SNAs) who support individual students.  This group of special needs assistants have integrated effectively into the school staff and provide valuable support for these students in a full-class setting.  The provision of the Mary Rice Centre has enhanced both the visibility and effectiveness of this very significant aspect of the life of the school.  The success of the school in supporting students with special educational needs is further evidence of the lived ethos and inclusive nature of the school. 

 

 

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

 

The school has a very small number of students from minority groups in need of extra support.  All resources allocated to these students are used appropriately.  In some cases, extra support in language skills is provided and in other cases, a modified timetable and a teacher mentor are in place.  The parents of these students are included and communicated with, regarding all decisions and support strategies.  The HSLO actively facilitates communication with parents.  In all cases these students are supported very effectively.  This support is organised, monitored and reviewed by the learning support team. 

 

 

5.3   Guidance

 

There is appropriate and effective provision and delivery of guidance in the school.  The guidance allocation for the school has been enhanced, based on the school’s participation in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI).  This provision has been further supplemented from the school’s own resources.  The excellent and co-ordinated services of the guidance team, the class tutor system, the HCLO role and links to social services and community organisations have been very effective in addressing disadvantage and maintaining student retention in the school.

 

Guidance is present at a whole-school level.  The guidance team is engaged in all student transitions including those from primary to post-primary, from junior to senior cycle and post- Leaving Certificate.  Guidance is timetabled for third-year students at junior cycle, in TY and for all three programmes at senior cycle.  The guidance team has a central role in vocational preparation through links with employers, colleges and training agencies.  The team is also involved in the organisation of work experience in TY, LCVP and LCA programmes at senior cycle.  The care role of the guidance team is clearly evident in the pivotal involvement of a Guidance Counsellor within the pastoral-care team and the provision of appropriate individual counselling support to students.

 

There is clear evidence of effective planning for Guidance in the school.  It is recommended that the school engage in a review of the Guidance plan to identify current school needs.  Within this process, the roles and responsibilities of all staff in relation to Guidance should be defined and clarified.

 

 

5.4   Pastoral care

 

The school has an effective and sensitive pastoral care structure.  This ethos of care for students permeates all aspects of the school.  All staff members have a clear awareness of their care function both within the classroom and in all school activities.  The pastoral structure is focused on a care team that includes a Guidance counsellor, the learning-support co-ordinator and the HSLO.  This group meets on a weekly basis and can include the school chaplain. 

 

The pastoral-care structure runs in parallel with the discipline process.  The key element of both processes is communication.  The class tutor and year head monitor student behaviour and progress throughout the year with the student journal as the main medium of communication with parents.  Persistent problems in relation to behaviour may result in a complaint sheet being lodged with the year head by any subject teacher.  A series of monitor cards follow this stage where each teacher must sign the student’s card on completion of satisfactory behaviour.  Parents are also contacted at this stage.  A board of discipline marks a final layer within this process, where students are met by a group of assistant principals and the deputy principal.

 

The Guidance counsellor is in regular informal contact with the class tutor and year heads to identify students whose behaviours may require alternative approaches.  The care team make appropriate interventions when required and as appropriate.  It is reported that both systems are intertwined very effectively.  This effectiveness is measured by the infrequency of board of discipline meetings.  Problems of student behaviour are largely solved at class-tutor or year-head level.  The effectiveness of these processes was also echoed by the confidence of parents in the care provided by the school and by the sense of fairness and security expressed by students.  The quality of care in the school community clearly reflects the lived ethos of the school.

 

 

6. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed. 

 

 

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

 

Subject inspection reports in Science and Chemistry, Guidance, French and English are appended to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry

 

 

 

Subject Inspection report

 

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

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Chemistry in the Abbey CBS was carried out over two days.  Science is in a strong position in the school, in line with the commitment given to train students in Agricultural Science when the school was founded.  Junior Certificate Science is a core subject.  The school's commitment to offering Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Agricultural Science as compulsory modules in the Transition Year programme is commended, not least because it provides an opportunity to further develop the scientific literacy and science process skills of the students.  Each student has two single lessons per week for each module, for the duration of half of the year.  This is good provision.  However, management should consider the allocation of double lessons in TY in order to facilitate the further enhancement of student practical skills.  It is also noteworthy that Leaving Certificate subject pre-selection does not occur in TY, allowing students an extra year of experience and maturity before making their choices.  The school currently offers Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Agricultural Science as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level.  The uptake of these subjects is generally good.  It is suggested that management and staff continue to be proactive in their encouragement of student uptake of all science subjects. 

 

The Abbey has a good resource in its science personnel.  The science teachers are committed and collaborate in the management of resources.  It is noteworthy that all science classes at both senior and junior cycle are of mixed ability, thus facilitating the setting of higher expectations amongst the students and consequently better attainment levels.  It is commendable that all students are encouraged to study higher-level Science at Junior Certificate and final decisions regarding chosen levels are not made until either Christmas of third year or after the pre-examinations. 

 

The time allocation for the sciences at Leaving Certificate is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses.  However, the time allocation for Junior Certificate Science is slightly below that recommended in the syllabus.  While wholly mindful of the timetabling challenges faced by perceived curricular overload, it is recommended that avenues for increasing the class contact time for Science be explored.  Timetabling otherwise supports the delivery of the curricula, with almost all classes receiving an even spread of classes over the week.  This is commended.  With the increased emphasis on practical work and specifically on the investigative approach to Junior Certificate Science, it is recommended that all class groups be timetabled for one double lesson per week.  While the complexities of timetabling are fully acknowledged, management should consider these issues when timetabling for coming years.  

 

A subject ‘taster’ system is in operation in first year.  This is praiseworthy as it assists students in making informed subject choices for Junior Certificate.  Appropriate Guidance support augments this process further.  Similarly, modules of all Leaving Certificate subjects are incorporated into the TY programme.  Students entering fifth year are also supported commendably in making appropriate subject choices.  This is facilitated both by regular lessons with one of the Guidance counsellors in third year and in TY, and individual guidance.  It is good to note that students have input into the creation of the subject-option blocks.  Student initial choices are used to create a “best-fit” model for senior-cycle subjects.  The parents of fourth-year and Transition Year students attend an information night on all of the programme and subject options available in senior cycle.  Generally, classes retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle, and again in senior cycle.  This commitment by management is applauded.  It is school policy to rotate the teaching of Chemistry for Leaving Certificate.  This is commended as it broadens the professional expertise available in the school. 

 

The school has a strong commitment to caring for the needs of students with diagnosed special educational needs, and those whom the school has identified as needing some extra support in dealing with the challenges of the curriculum.  The SEN team is very dedicated to providing a high standard of learning and teaching for the students in their care and collaborate with subject teachers on an ongoing basis.  The care of these students is considered a whole-school issue, as evidenced by the inclusive practices observed in science lessons.  This is highly commended. 

 

The school is well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with two well-equipped laboratories.  Management and science teachers are commended on the extensive work involved in the renovation of the second laboratory.  All laboratories provide a visually rich environment, which enhances student learning.  It is good to note that student work is also on display.

 

There is a high level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses in the laboratories.  It is good to note that considerable work has been done on the storage of chemicals in the laboratories.  Building on this good work, it is recommended that the chemicals be stored according to storage classifications, thus ensuring the segregation of the oxidisers and the flammable chemicals.  It is best practice to store flammable chemicals in a flame-resistant press.  Information on the storage of chemicals can be obtained on the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website, http://chemistry.slss.ie/.  Copies of the published guidelines on safety – Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science in 1996 are available in the laboratories. 

 

The school has a Health and Safety Statement and a risk assessment was undertaken in 2003, the process involving consultation with members of the science department.  It is recommended that this risk assessment be reviewed, particularly in the context of the renovation of the Junior Science laboratory.

 

It is good to note that management provides financial support for the updating, repair or enhancement of existing resources.  The laboratories contain computers, televisions and VCR units.  An overhead projector is shared between both laboratories.  There is a recently-refurbished ICT suite in the school and a smaller room containing older computers, both of which can be used for the teaching and learning of the sciences.  Data-logging equipment has also been purchased for the teaching of science.  All laboratories have recently acquired internet access.  Management is to be commended on the provision of such facilities.  The science teachers are encouraged to build on the good practice and expand the use of these ICT facilities to support the teaching and learning process. 

 

Management encourages teachers to avail of all continuing professional development (CPD) training being offered.  All teachers have attended in-career development in the sciences.  This is commended.  Whole-staff development days, including those focusing on SPHE, LCA and Traveller culture have also taken place.  Management encourages the professional development of its teachers and provides financial support for membership of the professional associations and for further study.  This is laudable. 

Management and staff are commended for the development of links with local industry.  A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extra-curricular science activities, including fieldtrips, trips to the Young Scientist exhibition and entry to the Science Olympiads.  Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities. 

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The development of curricular policies has been prioritised as the next area to be addressed as part of the process of school development planning.  Co-ordination and communication is conducted informally among the teachers in the main, thus establishing and maintaining collaboration.  In addition, the science department is commended on the many formal meetings held prior to and during the renovation of the Junior Science laboratory.  Well-stocked laboratories provide evidence of successful planning for resources.  While there is no science co-ordinator, a system is in place for the management of resources in the laboratories with one teacher acting as the purchasing manager.  The laboratory access rosters provide further evidence of collegiality and collaboration.

 

Outline schemes of work, both monthly and half-termly indicate a good level of individual planning.  It is recommended that the science department build on this good practice and the level of collaboration already in place, by developing a common programme of work for the revised Junior Science syllabus.  This would enhance the standardisation of learning and teaching of Science across the school and initiate the process of putting a science curriculum policy in place.  It is suggested that these plans could be developed to include the resources available for the learning and teaching of each topic, as is already the practice in some instances. Optional assessment methods and exam preparation, as well as continual revision work, could also be included when and where appropriate.  Subject syllabuses and Guidelines for Teachers should provide the basis for such detailed planning.

 

While in some instances, written TY programmes of work have been developed to generate student interest in science, topics on the Leaving Certificate syllabuses form the nuclei of the science modules in the main.  It is recommended that all written science programmes be revised in keeping with the TY philosophy of a broad-based education, to focus on increasing students’ understanding of the world around him or her and the way things work, rather than on topics from the Leaving Certificate, and to accurately reflect the learning experiences of the students.

 

There was clear evidence of thorough planning and preparation for the lessons observed and the quality of this was very good.  Lessons observed were found to reflect syllabus requirements.  The teachers’ willingness to share resources they have found effective in teaching, supports collaboration and collegiality in the planning and delivery of the curriculum. 

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

The overall quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry is very good throughout the school.  The short-term planning for all of the lessons visited resulted in well-structured lessons which were student centred, and directed at a pace appropriate to the students.  There was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons by linking with, and building on, students’ prior knowledge and experience.  In some instances, the correction of homework was used as the initial activity of a lesson, thus reviewing and consolidating prior learning.   Some very nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students were observed.

 

Effective and diverse teaching methodologies were employed in the lessons observed.  These included student practical, questioning, use of ICT and audiovisual aids.  Teacher instruction was clear, competent and accurate.  In some instances the blackboard was used effectively to reinforce significant points.  There were some good examples of the use of active-learning methodologies that were appropriate to students’ needs and abilities, and which resulted in a good balance between teacher input and student activity.  This was particularly good in a junior-cycle lesson visited, where excellent employment of student activity demonstrated effectively the effect of exercise on heart rate and breathing. 

 

Visual stimulus materials were used very effectively in some lessons.  Exemplary use of ICT was employed to introduce and subsequently broaden the topic at hand.  Animation helped student understanding of difficult concepts.  It was good to note the discrete role played by textbooks in general.  Excellent use of short video clips to support student learning was incorporated into some lessons.  Effective questioning on the topic in question supported these video clips and thus enhanced student learning.  It is suggested that teachers expand the use of these facilities to support the teaching and learning process.

 

Practical work was highly organised, and students were supported in their work as their teacher circled the room.  Students worked in pairs or groups of three, were confident and capable in setting up and completing the tasks and their practical skills were well developed.  Due regard was given to safety procedures. 

 

Teachers have an acute awareness of the students in their classes who require learning support and, in general, demonstrate a willingness to adapt their approaches to suit individual student abilities and to incorporate more appropriate methodologies.  Student worksheets were used to reinforce student knowledge and understanding and facilitated the teacher in providing individual student support where necessary.  It is good to note that differentiated examination work was observed in State examination classes.  In these latter two instances, consideration might be given to paired work, thus facilitating peer-assisted learning and promoting student discussion.

 

Questioning was used very effectively to introduce topics and to check student understanding and previous knowledge.  A combination of open and more focused questions was used.  Teachers’ good questioning skills ensured that all students were included and encouraged to give extended answers.  The same question was often imaginatively and systematically covered in a variety of ways, which promoted student response.  Consistent checking of students’ comprehension in an interactive manner optimised students’ engagement in the learning process.  The policy of directing questions to individual students, which generally speaking is employed by the teachers, is noted as good practice, and it is recommended that this be continued and further developed where appropriate.  Students’ responses indicated good understanding and knowledge.

 

A warm and mutually respectful relationship exists between teachers and students in the school.  Classroom management was very good and a pleasant and positive atmosphere, which was wholly conducive to good learning, was predominant.  The students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process.  They are encouraged to work hard and achieve their best by committed and competent teachers.  Student participation was warmly welcomed and encouraged and effective use was made of student affirmation.  The laboratories and the demonstration room were enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters and anatomy models, which provided a stimulating learning environment. 

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A range of assessment modes is used to assess student competence and progress.  These include questioning in class, written homework assignments, topic tests and formal examinations.  Formal examinations are held four times a year for fifth- and second-year students, three times yearly for third-year students and twice a year for first-year and TY students.  Leaving Certificate students have monthly tests.  It is good to note that parents receive written reports following all formal examinations.  In addition to these reports, ongoing student progress is also given to parents through annual parent-teacher meetings and newsletters.  Parents may also meet with management and teaching staff by appointment.  This is commended. 

 

The lessons observed showed a good level of student achievement.  Students are positive about science, are enthusiastic about their learning, and display a conscientious approach to homework.  Teacher questions were, for the most part, answered fully and indicated a good level of understanding on the part of the students.  Prompting was used in some instances to improve student answers during the lessons.  This is commended. 

 

There was evidence of good practice with regard to the regular setting, checking and monitoring of homework in the teaching of Science and Chemistry in the school.  It is good to note that some student copybooks illustrated a number of good examples of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AFL).  Further information on AFL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.

 

Practical notebooks are generally of a high standard and are monitored in some instances.  It is recommended that the good practice of assessing students’ practical work and laboratory notebooks as a component of the end-of-term examinations and which is employed in some instances, be introduced into all year groups.  Such practice is encouraged as it reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus in particular.   An aggregate mark that includes both practical and written components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of the student’s ability in the subject.  It also provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course and ensures regular monitoring of student laboratory notebooks. 

 

It is good to note that assessment results are recorded in teachers’ journals.  This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time.  It is school policy that an analysis of the State examination results is presented at staff meetings.  A system is in place to identify and monitor under-performing students.  This is commended. 

 

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

 

Subject Inspection report

 

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

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Guidance provision at the Abbey CBS is well integrated into programmes and into the normal work of teachers.  A caring atmosphere pervades the school and is supported by staff in their practice and in their consciousness of the basic values of Christian Brother education.  Senior management is very supportive of those directly and indirectly involved in Guidance.  The formation of structures and teams for whom Guidance is an important element of their work, has been facilitated.  The development of the class tutor system, the year heads and the welfare teams is ongoing and very well documented.

 

The Department of Education and Science allocation for Guidance purposes is seventeen hours per week.  This allocation is based on enrolment in September 2004 and on the school’s participation in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative.  It is an indication of the positive regard for Guidance that more than three hours have been allocated from the school’s own resources.  Good use is being made of this allocation.  A commendable balance of classroom and one-to-one work, planning and management activities is achieved by the active and informed guidance counsellor whose interventions on behalf of students are effective and thoughtful.  It is noteworthy that training and qualifications are a significant factor in the allocation of Guidance responsibilities in the school.  A part-time teacher who is a qualified guidance counsellor is employed and has been timetabled for work with students taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Transition Year (TY) programme.

 

The hours allocated to the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI) have been used in accordance with the proposals made on application for the scheme.  The focus on the junior cycle is particularly commended.  The excellent individualised service of the guidance counsellor, the class-tutor structure, home-school-community liaison and the established links to social services and to community organisations are reported by the guidance counsellor to have had a large impact on countering disadvantage and on school retention.  The roles and responsibilities outlined in documents prepared by the school relating to the Guidance and, in particular, to the GEI show a strong consciousness of the need for clarity in a complex area.  It is recommended that this documentation be extended to all staff, programmes and subjects so that their Guidance roles and responsibilities, particularly in the area of care and welfare, are clarified and noted.  The attendance of the guidance counsellor at middle-management meetings and his role as member of the care team is further evidence of the school-wide nature of Guidance.  The care team is composed of the guidance counsellor, learning-support co-ordinator and the teacher with responsibility for home-school liaison.  The team meets weekly and reports directly to the principal.

 

Student transitions are very well managed.  The transition from primary to secondary school is a process which begins almost a year before entry.  An open night, parent information sessions and student assessments are arranged while potential students are in sixth class.  The principal meets incoming students during visits to primary schools in the catchment area and individually with parents in June of the year of entry.  A phased introduction to the school is arranged at the beginning of the new academic year.  Induction includes presentations on settling in, the role of the class tutor and tours of the school to familiarise students with its layout and history.  Social, Personal and Health Education classes continue the process.  A further meeting takes place in October as part of the process of monitoring student wellbeing.  This meeting is attended by parents, the principal, guidance counsellor, learning-support co-ordinator and the teacher responsible for home-school liaison.  Class tutors also attend and meet the parents of students in their care.  Monitoring continues through the students’ time at the Abbey from both the learning and welfare perspectives.  The weekly meeting of the care team has proven to be an effective forum in which emerging concerns are identified and responded to.

 

The guidance counsellor is heavily involved in support of the transition from junior to senior cycle.  Information evenings are arranged to explain the process of choosing programmes and subjects to the parents of prospective students of the LCA, TY and Leaving Certificate programmes.  Much of the administration of the system of subject choice for the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate Examinations is handled by the guidance counsellor.  Student preference is polled during the spring term and matched to available resources.  Subsequent work with individuals and their parents aims to fine-tune the process to student aspirations.  High satisfaction ratings are achieved.  These efforts, to maximise student choice in an open-choice setting, and following ‘taster years’, are highly commended.

 

Fifth- and sixth-year classes, including classes taking the Leaving Certificate Applied and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, are timetabled for Guidance.  Guidance counsellor access to junior cycle and Transition Year classes is regular and targeted, especially prior to major decisions regarding subject choice and in relation to study skills, transition, work-experience and preparation for examinations.

 

The Guidance office doubles as a counselling room and is provided with a telephone, a computer with internet access and storage facilities.  It is located in a relatively quiet area of the school, suited to the need for confidentiality and silence.

 

Student access to Guidance-related information is arranged by appointment with the guidance counsellor.  Most vocationally relevant information is available on the internet and in software such as Qualifax.  A computer is accessible in the Guidance office for this purpose and broadband access is arranged in the impressive Information and Communications Technology (ICT) room in consultation with the ICT co-ordinator.  Internet access to Guidance material is somewhat limited in this office and consideration might be given to means by which this could be widened.  Information is also posted on various boards throughout the school and in a classroom dedicated to Guidance lessons, which also hosts a library of career and college information.  Such variety is commended.  A themed approach to the presentation of information can also be useful, especially when used in conjunction with other activities such as work experience, visits to the school by college representatives and in-school events.

 

Six teachers form the Social, Personal and Health Education team.  The guidance counsellor collaborates with the teachers in programme planning and facilitation as, for example, the Mol an Óige and Rainbows programmes and with specific topics such as bullying.  The involvement of senior students in presenting to junior classes on course-related topics has also been facilitated.  A possible extension of this involvement might be a mentoring or a paired-reading scheme in which senior students assume some involvement in the care and progress of those new to the school.

 

Support for students with special needs is provided by an excellent and well-managed learning-support team.  The broad definition of special needs is commended.  It is evident that the needs of all identified groups are being catered for, including those from the Travelling community and those for whom English is a foreign language.  Links to the Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland indicate the growing awareness of the special needs of able students.

 

Vocational preparation is enhanced by links to employers, colleges and training agencies, such as Fáilte Ireland, Youthreach and FÁS.  Speakers regularly visit the timetabled fifth- and sixth-year Guidance classes and students are facilitated in visiting college open days, career exhibitions and employer information sessions.  Commendable use is also made of past students of the school who regularly present to senior classes on matters concerning career decisions as, for example, during a recent, strategically-organised and successful careers seminar.  Progress of past students is tracked by the guidance counsellor, especially in the first year after leaving the school.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Clear evidence of Guidance planning to a high level was observed.  The documentation of the guidance counsellor’s programme, responsibilities and schemes and their links to the whole-school programme was in keeping with the Inspectorate (2005) Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance.  The staff has been consulted, first-year students have been surveyed and feedback from sixth-year students has been sought in relation to the school’s Guidance needs.  It is proposed that parents’ perceptions will be sought and incorporated.  The opinions of the student council might add valuable insights and could be ascertained as part of the review of needs.  It is also noted that, in accordance with best practice, the plan, policy and programme will be reviewed annually.  Without over-formalising the procedures used, and in the interests of continuity and clear communication, it is recommended that a minimal level of formality be brought to meetings by the use of brief records or minutes of decisions made, actions to be taken etc. 

 

The school shows a model of good practice, and is particularly congratulated for having put its proposals into action following its successful application for the Guidance Enhancement Initiative.

 

To broaden Guidance planning into whole-school planning, the review already in progress will need to be supplemented by an analysis of the identified school needs and a set of plans outlining the actions to be taken to fulfil those needs.  These tasks should be achievable and time-limited.  Those with responsibility for bringing the tasks to fruition should be identified and their progress monitored.  Structural changes and additions to the Guidance programme should be accompanied by a clear definition of roles and responsibilities for maintaining those services, especially in the area of student care and welfare and in the development of a system of ‘positive discipline’ based on responsibility and reward.  As already recommended above, the Guidance roles and responsibilities of all staff should be clarified and noted as a necessary component of the plan. This will also ensure consistency and continuity of the Guidance programme.  The National Centre for Guidance in Education (2004) document, Planning the School Guidance Programme is an essential reference for Guidance planning purposes and can be very usefully supplemented, especially in the early stages of planning, by the materials relating to Guidance review to be found at http://www.ncge.ie/documents/Guide_Counselling.pdf .  The school is commended for its obvious familiarity with these documents and for its development of elements in response to prioritised needs.

 

The Guidance network extends beyond the school.  Excellent collaboration between the members of the care team and the staff in general ensures constant monitoring of student progress and wellbeing.  Cases which require resources beyond those of the school are referred to external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service, the National Education Welfare Board or to professional counsellors as the need arises.  Those and other community services are also called upon to provide visiting speakers to Guidance-related classes such as Social, Personal and Health Education, Religious Education and to lessons in which issues of a social and personal nature are being discussed. 

 

Continuing professional development is an important facet of the work of the guidance counsellor and of those involved in Guidance.  Its consideration is an essential feature of school development planning.  Attendance at professional development sessions organised by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors is facilitated by the school and the cost of professional supervision has been subsidised by the board of management.  These arrangements are further evidence of the value placed on the Guidance service by the school and are lauded.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

One senior-cycle class was observed in the process of the inspection.  The lesson was based on the experience of a mock interview and in the preparation of a questionnaire for market research on fuel use.  Students engaged well with the teacher, were attentive and followed instructions.  The general atmosphere was relaxed and the teacher had good rapport with students and used first names on all occasions.  Handouts were well prepared and at hand.  Student notebooks were distributed at the beginning of the lesson and were used effectively for recording notes, comments and impressions in the form of a reflective journal.  The teacher showed a high level of competency in dealing with the material.  Questions were used well and students, by their responses and questions, showed understanding and interest in the topics covered.  Good use was made of the whiteboard.  Using a variety of topics during the lesson was an effective means of holding student attention.  The session ended with a summary of the material and directions for further action.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

As part of the transition process, new students are assessed in Gaeilge, English, Mathematics and reading in May prior to entry.  The results of the tests are used for monitoring and screening purposes, especially by the learning-support team.  Follow-up tests in reading and in general reasoning are administered in the autumn of first year.  In third year, as part of the transition to senior level, all students are assessed for aptitudes and specific abilities.  These assessments form part of the pre-Junior Certificate examinations and are followed by individual and group work with the guidance counsellor. 

 

Formal examinations are held on four occasions for second- and fifth-year students.  First-year and TY students have two formal assessments while third-year students have three.  Leaving Certificate students have monthly assessments. 

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in French

 

 

Subject Inspection report

 

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

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

French and German are the two continental languages offered to students in the Abbey CBS.  First-year students study both languages initially, and then have the option of continuing with one or both languages to Junior Certificate level.  French is the more popular of the two languages on offer in the options block and there are usually two classes formed for French each year.  Access to the study of the language is open to all students, including those with special needs.  French is a compulsory subject in the Transition Year programme (TY) for those who previously studied the subject to Junior Certificate level.  It reverts to being an optional subject in senior cycle. 

 

Timetabling provision for the subject is satisfactory.  In first year, there are three class periods per week.  This increases to five class periods per week in junior cycle.  In Transition Year, the subject is allocated four periods per week.  In senior cycle, students have six periods for the language.  This is seen as beneficial for both students and teachers in their preparations for the Leaving Certificate examination.  Classes are generally of mixed ability for French throughout the school with the exception of the final year.  A further sub-division of classes takes place at the start of the final year when an extra grouping is formed to allow for a division into higher- and ordinary-level classes.  This is to be commended as it allows for smaller classes and enables teachers to focus on examination work.  Students in both junior and senior cycle are encouraged to take the higher-level course.

 

Two members of staff currently teach French.  The teachers have designated classrooms and have made excellent use of the possibilities afforded by the base classrooms for creating a culturally-rich language-learning environment through the permanent display of posters, maps and project work.  A notable feature was the display of objects pertinent to the topic being studied in the lesson.  Each object was given its French name and served as a visual stimulus during the lesson.  Tape recorders and CD players are provided and a television and video recorder are available.  Funds are made available for the purchase of new resources as required. 

 

Co-curricular support for the language includes visits by a French theatre for school groups which is subsidised by the school, and a French exchange.  As part of a Comenius project, the French teachers established links with a school in Parthenay in France and a bi-annual exchange programme between the two schools for approximately thirty students has been ongoing for more than fifteen years.  This is partly subsidised by the school.  Students are also encouraged to undertake work experience in France and contacts have been set up with a number of organisations for this purpose.  Involvement in co-curricular activities is to be commended as it enables students to use their knowledge of the language outside of the classroom and so helps to make language learning an enjoyable experience.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

No formal subject planning meetings for French currently take place but there are regular informal meetings between the two teachers to co-ordinate textbooks and assessments.  As part of the ongoing School Development Planning programme in the school, it is expected that more attention will be given in future to the creation of formal subject planning structures.

 

There is evidence of long- and short-term individual planning for French, as witnessed in the documentation available and in classroom work.  Schemes of work and resources for classroom use are carefully filed and use is made of worksheets and handouts.  In Transition Year, the teachers of French decide on the year plan in accordance with the school’s TY policy.  In order to plan for the future development of the subject, it is recommended that the teachers build on their individual work on subject planning by jointly compiling formal written plans and by setting short-term targets for teaching and learning in French. 

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

The lessons observed were well structured and students engaged in a variety of activities during the lesson period.  These included listening to tapes, using the textbook or worksheets, correction of written exercises, games and oral work.  The material chosen was generally interesting and well matched to the students’ ability while the variety of activity helped to maintain the students’ interest and attention. The range of methodologies used is to be commended. In order to bring together the key points from the various activities and approaches, it is suggested that a short period of review or consolidation of learning at the end of a lesson should be introduced if not already in place.

 

The use of French for classroom management was generally good.  The language was used in interactions with students and for teaching the lesson content.  This included age-appropriate games and quick introductions in the target language while on other occasions, suitable target language input was provided in managing the lesson and in illustrating aspects of the course.  In order to encourage students to avoid translation and to make more use of French for communication purposes, it is recommended that suitable strategies be included when planning lessons.

 

Attention was paid to pronunciation in all of the classes observed.  It was particularly evident in junior-cycle classes where an emphasis was put on ensuring that students used the correct pronunciation of numbers and letters.  In this instance, the use of games allowed for the monitoring of learning and pronunciation in an unobtrusive way, while at the same time providing opportunities for students to consolidate their knowledge.  On other occasions, students were reminded of the rules for correct pronunciation so that they could self-correct.  The teachers are to be commended for the sensitive manner in which mistakes were pointed out and the correct pronunciation given.  In order to further develop this high standard of pronunciation, it is recommended that consideration be given to ways in which tape work might be used more extensively for this purpose.  Taped passages could be successfully replayed for pronunciation purposes at the end of class and this would also enhance students’ global listening skills.

 

 

Oral work was a feature of some of the classes.  Students worked on preparation for the Leaving Certificate oral examination through a question-and-answer session with the teacher.  There was evidence of a good level of knowledge in their answers and it was obvious that they were accustomed to speaking French.  As the methodology used involved the questioning of individual students by the teacher, it is suggested that more use be made of pair- and small-group work to further develop students’ oral skills.  This would enable students to become more confident in asking questions and would allow them to engage in peer learning.  It is also suggested that the use of an overhead projector in such lessons would facilitate note-taking, while allowing the teacher to maintain contact and the sense of a conversation with students. 

 

Written work and an analysis of common errors was the theme of a lesson where students worked on a section of the examination paper.  The aim of the lesson was to show students how to prepare their ideas and how to structure their answers.  This was achieved through the use of the whiteboard with students contributing suggestions and ideas.  There were some good examples of extending students’ range of vocabulary for written tasks by giving synonyms and appropriate phrases, and building up confidence in structuring a paragraph.  The whiteboard was effectively used to consolidate this learning by integrating the students’ oral suggestions with the written work.  Part of the board was used as a rough-work section before the group’s efforts were written up.  Students’ motivation and interest were successfully encouraged through the simple technique of asking the students to spot the deliberate mistakes in the text written on the board.  This strategy obviously appealed to the competitive nature of the students who vied with each other to find the mistakes.  It also had the benefit of making them reflect in a positive way on their knowledge of grammar, and helped them to realise the importance of accuracy in their written work.  A similar approach was likewise taken with another class who also enjoyed pointing out what they thought were the teacher’s mistakes!  Whereas the correction of written work, such as letters, can be a laborious task when undertaken as a whole-class activity, this innovative approach made it more of a game for students and consequently more enjoyable, and is to be commended.  As this particular strategy represented a new approach, it would be important for time to be spent in evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy with the students.  In the same way, it is recommended that the desired learning outcomes for a lesson be shared with students in order to assist them in evaluating their learning and progress.

 

Students had a worthwhile opportunity to engage in active learning through the study of a well-known poem by Jacques Prévert.  An integrated approach was taken to the teaching of grammar with the poem chosen to illustrate the use of a linguistic structure. This was taught using a tape of the text as well as simple props which were deployed to prepare for a role-play situation.  The props enhanced the strong visual nature of the poem and allowed for an explanation of the different elements of a typical French breakfast.  The addition of a visual stimulus is to be commended as a way of adding richness to the lesson as well as increasing students’ cultural awareness.  The students’ willingness to engage in the role-play and their enjoyment of the text demonstrate the ways in which drawing on a range of text types can motivate and stimulate interest, as well as highlighting the benefits of an active-learning approach. Giving students the chance to engage with the text as a piece of literature and allowing them to explore creatively its meaning, would augment and reinforce student learning. Open-ended questioning and a replaying of the taped version are recommended in this regard as a way of encouraging familiarity with the text. To accommodate different learning styles, the grammatical aspects of the text could be assigned as a homework exercise.  

 

There is evidence of a positive relationship between teachers and students, as seen in all of the classes observed.  The classroom atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to learning, and classroom management is very good.  The students are cooperative, motivated and respond well when questioned.  They show interest and enthusiasm and participate readily in the work of the lesson.  Students’ efforts are regularly supported and affirmed by the teachers who encourage each individual to take an active part in the lesson.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Students’ progress in French is assessed through classroom activities, monitoring of homework, informal class tests and formal school examinations.  An examination of a sample selection of student copybooks and files provided examples of a variety of written exercises, which had been corrected and commented upon by the teachers.  Student folders revealed evidence of a number of handouts which are used by the students to revise work done in class. 

 

The system of formal school examinations varies according to the year group involved.  First-year students have examinations at Christmas and in the summer, while all other year groups have additional tests at the October mid-term.  A structured system is in place for Leaving Certificate students who sit monthly class tests, following which a report is sent home.  The students are given a target or number of points for which to aim, and their achievement in the monthly tests is duly scrutinized and monitored.  It is considered by the teachers that this system works well in that it helps to keep students motivated during the year.

 

Suitable modes of assessment are used for French with all groups having a listening test as part of their assessment.  First, second and Leaving Certificate classes also have a test of their oral proficiency.  As an assessment of oral competence helps to validate the work done in class on this key skill, it is recommended that the language teachers look at ways of extending this practice to include all year groups. 

 

Progress reports are issued to parents regularly and parents may also avail of the opportunity afforded by the annual parent-teacher meetings to consult with staff. 

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of French and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

 

Subject Inspection report

 

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

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The Abbey CBS is a boys’ school under the trusteeship of the Christian Brothers.  There are three English classes in first year, four in second year, three in third year, two in Transition Year and three in fifth year.  There are two English classes in sixth year.  In addition to this, there is one Leaving Certificate Applied class in both fifth year and sixth year.  Classes in first, second and third year have five English lessons per week, which is good provision.  In the case of first-year classes it is suggested that, where practicable and within timetabling constraints, a greater spread of lessons across the week might be of benefit.  This would allow for the maximum number of contact points between students and the subject to be achieved.  Classes in Transition Year (TY) have four English lessons per week, which is also good provision.  Classes in fifth year have six English lessons per week.  This is very good provision.  Classes in sixth year have five English lessons per week and this is good provision.  Classes in the Leaving Certificate Applied Year One and Year Two have three lessons in English and Communications per week, which is adequate provision.  Classes are timetabled concurrently in all years, apart from first year.  This is sound practice, facilitating ease of movement for students between levels where necessary.  Teachers generally teach either junior- or senior-cycle classes and there is not a significant amount of rotation of teachers between levels.  It is recommended that there should be greater rotation of English teachers between levels and cycles.  This would aid the creation of a wide skills’ base in the English department with all teachers maintaining a familiarity with the particular subject pedagogical needs of different class groups.  Classes generally retain their teachers through either the junior cycle or the senior cycle.  This is good practice, allowing for the development of consistent pedagogical approaches over a number of years.

 

Classes in first year are of mixed ability.  Setting is used in second, third, fifth and sixth year.  Students are assigned to classes based on teachers’ recommendations which are, in turn, informed by the monitoring of class work and examination results, along with parental wishes.  Teachers encourage students to sit the higher level examination in junior and senior cycle where such an option seems at all possible.

 

At present there is no school library, but plans to develop such a facility exist.  A number of teachers have been involved in researching this endeavour.  This work is to be commended.  In the current absence of a library, teachers maintain booklets which are used to inculcate an appreciation of reading amongst the student body.  In first and second year, students maintain a written record of the books they have read and regularly present book reports to teachers.  Teachers also provide DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time for students on occasion.  This tactic is to be especially praised as it ensures that students maintain a sense that reading can be a purely pleasurable activity, outside of the contexts of school or work.  Booklets are renewed by teachers through a combination of student subscriptions and a budget designated by school management.  The efforts of teachers with regard to the provision and utilisation of these booklets are to be recognised and praised.  Further areas which could be explored in the creation of the new library might include: the display of peer reviews around the library area and throughout the school as a marketing tool for the facility; the promotion of reading competitions; the use of the library by all subject departments as a tool for research; teacher modelling of reading in the library; the involvement of the student council in book choices for the library and the purchase of an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction texts.  These latter texts would prove useful as an enticement for reluctant readers to explore the library.  The school is referred to www.cilip.org.uk, the website of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals as an additional resource in this area.  Further ideas might be accessed through Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project a research report published in 2005 by the Junior Certificate Schools Programme Support Services.

 

All classrooms in the school have a television and video.  Access to audio-visual equipment for English teachers is excellent.  This is very positive, given the importance of the study of film in the current Leaving Certificate syllabus.  It is worth noting that the original initiative towards this provision was at the suggestion of the students’ council and that this is indicative of a strong working relationship between students and the other educational partners in the school.

 

Broadband internet access has been installed recently.  There is a new computer room with thirty computers and another computer room contains ten computers.  There was some evidence of the use of ICT in English classes.  Teachers are encouraged to expand and develop the use of ICT in English, not only as a means of enhancing students’ technological literacy, but also as a motivational tool in the development of other, more traditional, forms of literacy.  The use of word-processing packages by students to draft and redraft their homework, for example, could greatly enhance their appreciation of the writing process.  Equally, the setting of a web quest for students to pursue at home could provide opportunities to integrate the language and literature elements of the syllabus, alongside a growing discernment among students regarding the use of the internet for research purposes. 

 

There are informal induction procedures for new teachers of English.  Teachers meet with new teachers and discuss the subject regularly on an informal basis.  It is suggested that these induction procedures should be formalised through incorporation in the English department’s subject plan and might be expanded to include discussions regarding topics to be covered, methodologies utilised in the English department and planning timescales.  The subject plan itself might, in time, prove to be a key part of any new teacher’s introduction to the teaching of English. 

 

The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development.  Of particular note is the involvement of English teachers in the creation of students’ education plans during a recent in-service training session.  The school’s approach here is to be praised.  A number of teachers have attended courses in the Limerick Education Centre in the past and this engagement with their own professional development is to be commended.

 

Teachers organise a number of co-curricular activities in connection with English classes.  Some of these include: visits to productions in the local theatre; visiting drama productions; and visiting poets and inter-class debates.  Teachers’ efforts in this regard are to be commended.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Teachers meet regularly on an informal basis and there is good collaboration between members of the English department.  Texts to be studied are synchronised between teachers at these informal meetings.  Teachers are commended for their commitment in this regard.  At present there is not a subject co-ordinator for English.  It is recommended that a system involving the appointment of a rotating co-ordinator be implemented in the English department.  This would allow for the dispersal of leadership responsibilities throughout the department, along with an awareness of the opportunities and challenges which such a role entails.  It is further suggested that brief minutes of English department meetings should be kept and stored in the subject folder as a means of recording decisions taken.

 

Subject department planning is in the early stages of development.  It is planned that the next phase of the school’s involvement in the School Development Planning process will focus on this area.  This is positive.  It is recommended that the English department should develop an English subject plan.  Typical areas for exploration as part of the creation of such a plan might include: common, skills-based termly plans; analysis of State examination results and uptake versus national norms; subject induction procedures; methodologies employed in the teaching of English and the use of ICT in the English classroom.  A useful template, along with other resources in the area of subject planning, can be accessed through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie.  Resources with particular relevance to the teaching of English can be accessed at the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website at www.slss.ie

 

Texts are varied at junior and senior cycle.  Teachers discuss the success or otherwise of particular texts with reference to their perceived difficulty and suitability for students, while maintaining a consciousness of the need for some synchronisation of texts between levels in order to facilitate student movement.  This is good practice.  Teachers are encouraged to continue to vary texts to suit class context and to expand this practice where possible.  This approach not only meets the aspirations of the syllabus, it also serves to increase students’ engagement with the texts they are studying. 

 

There was evidence of significant amounts of planning for the English and Communications course in the Leaving Certificate Applied.  In the case of the Transition Year programme, it is recommended that a subject-specific English programme should be created.  This programme should avoid an over reliance on texts or poetry which will be encountered again during students’ Leaving Certificate studies, as is currently the case.  Instead, a number of possibilities should be explored, some of which might include: the creation of portfolios of written work in English which would be assessed as part of students’ overall mark for the year; a published Transition-Year class compendium of students’ work; increased use of active methodologies and experiential learning; oral presentations by students, again with marks awarded towards their final grade in English and cross-curricular links with other subjects.  Such a Transition Year English programme might be developed by three or four English teachers and then discussed and adjusted by the entire department.  Support for this endeavour can be accessed through the Transition Year Support Service website, www.transitionyear.ie, which provides a useful template for the creation of a subject-specific programme for TY. 

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

Evidence of planning was presented by teachers in all classes.  In many cases there was also careful record keeping regarding student achievement.  Objectives were clear in almost all classes.  In the one instance where this was not the case, a statement at the beginning of the lesson, to be reiterated at several points during the lesson, regarding the anticipated outcome of student activities would have been of benefit.  In one instance, the teacher’s facilitation of students’ efforts through the provision of pens and highlighters illustrated a conscientious approach towards the preparation of the lesson.  In another class the teachers’ interdisciplinary approach to the subject pointed towards a significant amount of planning, allied with an imaginative approach towards the subject.  Pacing was good in all classes.

 

A range of different resources was used in the teaching of English.  Some of these included: the blackboard; the whiteboard; textbooks; newspapers; photocopies; tourist brochures; television and video; keywords and a tape recorder.  The use of the U2 song Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own in a senior-cycle class alongside Paul Simon’s I am a Rock suggested a high level of engagement by the teacher with students’ interests and students responded to the exercise in kind.  The utilisation of Tipperary tourism brochures by another teacher, in connection with a brainstorming exercise, was also worthy of note. Students consequently displayed great interest in the associated written exercise.  As a further enhancement of the lesson ICT might have been harnessed to encourage students’ research and writing in the specified genre.  In another class, the use of highlighter pens by junior-cycle students to focus their attention on different parts of a newspaper front page was enjoyable, relevant and facilitated well by the teacher.  The appropriate use of a video in a senior-cycle class was also notable, interspersed, as it was, with comments from the teacher and the class, alongside notes written on the blackboard.  An awareness of the relevance of dictionaries to the teaching of English was evident in a number of classes.  It is suggested that all students would benefit from using a dictionary and thesaurus as part of normal practice in English classes.  Such an approach would not only serve to highlight the centrality of vocabulary to the subject for students, but it would also familiarise them with the skills necessary for the utilisation of such texts.  Teachers are to be commended for the wide range of resources used in English lessons and the English department is encouraged to continue to expand this part of its practice. 

 

Lessons began in a variety of ways, frequently with questioning of students as a means of revising topics previously covered in lessons, which in turn provided a useful access point to new areas about to be explored.  Homework was examined and used in this manner as well, allowing time for students to settle into an ‘English mindset’ at the beginning of lessons.  In one lesson a guided-reading approach was adopted, with students being directed towards certain questions prior to reading the text in question, thus increasing their active engagement with the text.  This was good practice and might have been enhanced still further through a move to group or pair work once the initial reading had been completed.

 

Several classes featured students reading aloud from texts.  In two classes this was particularly worthwhile in connection with a drama piece where students and teachers adopted the personae of different characters.  The modelling of reading on the part of teachers in this instance was sound practice and students responded to the activity enthusiastically.  Throughout the reading teachers emphasised key character points for students.  In another junior-cycle class, the reading aloud of a novel was positive, allowing the sounds of a particular dialect to be appreciated by students while a sense of character was also developed.  This practice would, however, have been enhanced through a greater emphasis on the language utilised by the author, encouraging students’ responses on this subject and focusing on the novel as a creative model through which students’ own writing might be influenced. 

 

Questioning of students was used frequently during lessons as an evaluative and teaching tool.  A mix of global and directed questioning was used and questions were distributed well across class groups.  In one instance a greater emphasis on the need for higher order questions and the need for evidence to support students’ answers would have been of benefit. 

 

A number of classes featured opportunities for students to write their own work.  In one senior-cycle class this involved an exercise based around the imagery used in a piece, with students expected to write their own responses.  The creation of a brainstorm around a letter-writing exercise in another class was also worthwhile.  This might have been further expanded through the use of group and pair work, allowing students to share ideas and develop their oral communication skills.  In general, there was little evidence of the use of pair or group work in English classes.  Consequently it is recommended that these and other active methodologies should be adopted across the English department. 

 

There was a good focus on language in a number of classes.  In one junior-cycle class the importance of words was highlighted by the teacher, thus encouraging students to expand their vocabulary.  In a senior-cycle class there was a clear and expert delineation of the language of film, examining the means through which one of the comparative modes was evoked.  This was most beneficial, allowing the class to dissect the director’s approach with great skill and students responded well to questions asked.  While there was some evidence of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in classes, in general this was not the case.  It is recommended that the English department increase the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus as part of its approach to the teaching of the subject. 

 

Good discipline was maintained in all classes.  Teachers were universally affirming to students.  There was a good relationship between teachers and students in all classes.  A particularly effective seating arrangement in one senior-cycle class involved the teacher ensuring that all students were seated towards the front of the classroom and then sitting amongst the student body as an aid to communication.  This spoke of a high degree of expertise with regard to classroom management, alongside the good relationship which existed between teacher and students.  The use of humour by a number of teachers was another effective classroom-management technique which also enhanced the relationship between teachers and students.  In one classroom the seating arrangements were cramped, inhibiting the potential for pair or group work to be used.  However, it is reported that these desks are being replaced in the near future with seats and tables more suited to students’ needs.

 

In almost all lessons students were engaged by the work being undertaken.  Students responded well to questions and participated diligently in note taking from the whiteboard or blackboard.  Students were willing to communicate with teachers and, in a number of instances, were clearly enjoying their experience of English lessons.  The use of a keyword sheet in one lesson worked well, while a call to compare the written and sung versions of a popular song also enhanced students’ experiences.  In the one junior-cycle class where students responded less well to class work, while they engaged with a writing exercise diligently, the greater use of active methodologies would have significantly enhanced students’ experiences of the language and literature which they were studying.  Possibilities to increase student engagement here might have included: the writing of timed exercises in class, these exercises to be reported back to the class as an audience of peers; text-marking; cloze exercises; note taking; hot-seating and freeze-frames.  These approaches would add to students’ capacity for oral communication in English, while also allowing for greater differentiation between abilities in the class group.

 

There was some evidence of a print-rich environment in English classrooms.  Teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this practice where possible.  Potential ideas in this regard might include the display of keywords and character diagrams, along with a range of genre exercises completed by students.  This latter approach would encourage the development of an appreciation of the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing amongst the student body.  It would also greatly enhance students’ understanding of audience as it applies to their own work

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Homework was regularly assigned and corrected.  There was evidence of formative, comment-based assessment being used in almost all classes.  In one instance, this written feedback to students was of a particularly high standard.  In another class, the teacher listened to students’ homework and then provided oral feedback, thus adding to the impact of the comments made through their immediacy.  The maintenance of copies of previous State examination papers and the marking criteria associated with them by another teacher was most diligent and a powerful resource in informing the correction of students’ exercises.  Teachers are encouraged to expand their use of comment-based, formative assessment where practicable and within time constraints.  The department is also referred to the NCCA website, www.ncca.ie, and its research regarding assessment for learning, as a further aid with regard to assessment practices in English.  The potential to include an English assessment and homework policy as part of the English subject plan might also be explored.

 

There was some evidence of the integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabus in the setting of students’ homework.  However, it is recommended that this approach be adopted more widely across the English department as a means of engaging students more fully with the texts they are studying, while simultaneously enhancing the language skills which the syllabus demands.  Possibilities might include the setting of genre exercises with students adopting the persona of a particular character or language exercises which utilise the text being explored as a resource for creative modelling of good writing. 

 

Formal house examinations are held at Christmas and Easter for all year groups.  There are also formal house examinations at the end of the year for all year groups, apart from those students who are sitting the State examinations in June.  These students participate in mock examinations, normally during February or March.  Common examinations are not generally set for year groups, although this practice has occurred occasionally for first-year groups.  The English department is encouraged to expand this practice where possible, as a means of providing a clear analysis of student achievement across the cohort in particular year groups.  Where it is not practicable to set common examinations, the possibility of some examination components being set in common between different classes might achieve the same result. 

 

Each year group has a parent-teacher meeting once a year.  Parents of sixth-year students receive monthly assessments regarding students’ progress in all subject areas, with the equivalent points total allocated to the grades awarded.  Homework journals are also utilised as a means of maintaining communication with parents and there is an ‘open door’ policy towards parents should they have any concerns regarding students’ experiences in school.  This is commendable.

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management of the Abbey CBS is delighted to welcome this overwhelmingly positive Report.  We are pleased that the Inspectors have recognised:

 

a)       that the Edmund Rice tradition of inclusivity is lived in all areas and activities of the school

b)       that there is a caring, ordered and secure atmosphere here

c)       that there is a high quality of teaching and learning throughout the school with many excellent examples of teaching practice in evidence and appropriate homework being assigned

d)       that following the pursuit of academic excellence the enthusiastic participation and the achievements of students in sport are central to the Abbey tradition

e)       that the continued commitment of teachers to the wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities offered is to be highly commended

f)         that students move about the school calmly without the need for overt high-profile supervision or closed-circuit television cameras.  The students are courteous, confident and assertive and students and teachers smile within an atmosphere of mutual respect

g)       that the school has developed an excellent support structure for pupils with special needs.

h)       that there is appropriate and effective provision and delivery of Guidance and that there is an effective and sensitive Pastoral Care structure

i)         that the Principal and Deputy-Principal are an effective team

j)         that parents feel included, involved and listened to

k)       that the board is centrally involved in the management of the school and in what was articulated as “Team Abbey”, a phrase that encapsulates the sense of teamwork that exists between the parents’ association, the board, the school management and the staff.

 

When we first got news that we were to be the subject of a Whole School Evaluation our first reaction was one of apprehension, feeling threatened and wondering how we would fare out.  These feelings were exacerbated by the knowledge that we would be one of the first schools to have a WSE Report published on the website of the Department.

 

From our first meeting with the Inspection team, however, our worries began to be allayed.   The Inspectors treated everyone in an open, respectful and professional manner.  The entire school community was encouraged to give of its best and we believe that we rose to the challenge.  For us WSE was a most positive and empowering experience.  We would very much like to acknowledge the courtesy, friendliness and understanding of people’s natural nervousness shown by the Inspection team.

 

 

Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection