An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Maynooth Post-Primary School

Maynooth, County Kildare

Roll number: 70700A

 

 

 

 

 

Date of inspection: September 2006

Date of issue of report:  22 February 2007

 

 

This Whole School Evaluation report

Introduction

1. The quality of School Management

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

1.2 School ownership and management

1.3 In-school management

1.4 Management of resources

2. Quality of School Planning

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

4.1 Planning and preparation

4.2 Teaching and learning

4.3 Assessment

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

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Maynooth Post-Primary School. 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 parent teacher 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

 

Maynooth Post-Primary School is a co-educational and multi-denominational school. It is maintained by County Kildare Vocational Educational Committee. The burgeoning population of Maynooth has created demands for placements in the school as is reflected in the enrolment figures which have risen from 110 students in 1973 to 821 in 2006. This trend is set to continue and it is expected that in future years Maynooth Post-Primary School will be required to cater for approximately one thousand students. County Kildare VEC is committed to progressing the physical development of the school with the assistance of the Department of Education and Science and an extension is currently being built that will enable the school to cater for 850 students. The new extension is due for completion in February 2007. County Kildare VEC has indicated that additional accommodation will continue to be provided to enable the school to cater for one thousand students.

 

Maynooth Post-Primary School has a non-selective entry policy. The majority of the students live in the immediate locality and have attended the local primary schools. One of the primary schools, Gaelscoil Uí Fhiaich, educates students through the medium of the Irish language. Maynooth Post-Primary School has provided a facility that enables the former students of the gaelscoil and other all-Irish primary schools to continue to be educated in large measure through Irish until they complete their Junior Cycle Programme. One class group in each of the three junior-cycle year groups caters for the students who expressed a preference to receive their education through Irish. Demographic changes and the location of several multi-national companies in close proximity to Maynooth have contributed to families from many countries settling in Maynooth. The cosmopolitan make-up of the local population is also reflected in the diversity of nationalities among the student population.

 

The Whole School Evaluation process focused on management and planning, overall curriculum provision and support for students. Meetings were held with the Board of Management, the principal and deputy principal, the teaching staff, representatives of the Parent-Teacher Association, members of the student council and the ancillary staff. In addition, the report includes evaluations of five curricular areas: English, Art, Home Economics, French and Biology. 

 

1. The quality of School Management

 

Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The characteristic spirit of Maynooth Post-Primary School emanates from the values that underpin its ethos. The school is a caring and vibrant learning community. The palpable regard for the students permeates the school community and promotes the importance of mutual respect and caring.  There is a commitment to the partnership between staff, students and parents. This inclusivity supports the academic, social, cultural, physical and spiritual development of all the school’s students. Proactivity and reflection are also some of the visible manifestations of the school spirit. The many documented school policies provide clear evidence of the school’s commitment to continual progress and development. The reflective practices have a wide brief ranging from a review of the school’s Mission Statement to the school’s participation in educational projects.  At the time of the writing of this report the school’s Mission Statement is being reviewed by the teaching staff and their educational partners in order to articulate anew the essence of the school’s purpose.

 

 

1.2 School ownership and management

 

The Board of Management has been entrusted with the management of the school on behalf of the school’s patron, County Kildare VEC. The nine members of the board include the three nominees of the trustee, two representatives of the community and two representatives elected by the teaching staff and parents respectively. The board is a sub-committee of the parent VEC and has been established in keeping with the instruments and articles of management specified under Part iv of the 1998 Education Act and the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 2001. Since the school is maintained by County Kildare VEC, the board is not a body corporate and ultimate responsibility for the management of the school rests with the trustee. The present board is in the second year of its three-year term of office and is the second board of the school to be appointed. Meetings of the board are convened monthly or as often as is required during the academic year. The principal acts as secretary to the board and is a non-voting participant.

 

The representatives of the constituent parts of the board form a cohesive unit and have a clear view of their role in the management of the school. Their first priority is to support the provision of a holistic education for the students. The board appreciates the importance of school development planning and plays an active role in the ratification of school policies. The regulatory responsibilities of the board with regard to staff, students, resources and expenditure that come within the remit of the board are conscientiously undertaken. The progress being made in the construction of the new extension is closely monitored. The preferred means of reporting back to the VEC, teaching staff, parents and the student council is to convey the minuted decisions of the board following upon each meeting. It is a tribute to the board that a consensus of opinion is always reached at its meetings. Notwithstanding this achievement it is suggested that an agreed statement be formulated when conveying information about the issues discussed and the decisions reached at the board meetings.  The sense of partnership and the good gender balance that are distinctive features of the board are commendable. The provision of training for new members of the board will help to consolidate the sense of partnership so it is recommended that the provision of training for board members become a firmly established practice.   

 

 

 

1.3 In-school management

 

The close working relationship of the principal and deputy principal provides an important example of the spirit of partnership that is present in the school. They have each taken responsibility for a number of defined tasks, yet the responsibilities that they have assumed frequently act as avenues to cooperation between them. For example, the principal has ultimate responsibility for the internal organisation, management and discipline of the school. The deputy principal has a significant role in the planning, documentation and review of school policies. The two areas of responsibility are supportive of each other in ensuring the efficient administration of the school. The efficacy of their partnership is also demonstrated daily by their meetings to discuss issues such as supervision cover, the communication of information to teachers and  school matters requiring their attention. The responsibility for student discipline is shared overall. The principal has assumed responsibility for discipline among the senior-cycle students and the deputy principal oversees discipline among the junior-cycle students.

 

The principal and deputy principal recognise and value the contributions made by the post-holders, Assistant Principals (APs) and Special Duties Teachers (SDTs) to the efficient administration of the school. The importance of the role of the APs is denoted by the fact that they meet formally with the principal and deputy principal at regular intervals. During the current academic year, 2006/2007, there are monthly meetings scheduled throughout the year with the exception of December, 2006. The APs form a designated senior management grouping within the internal organisation of the school. The scheduled meetings adhere to a strict agenda and the decisions are recorded. The principal meets with the SDTs once a year and the meeting discusses issues relating to the post-holders and their posts of responsibility. The meetings that the principal holds with the APs and the SDTs are another example of the partnership style of management. The consolidation of the partnership between the post-holders, APs and SDTs, would, however, benefit from the holding of a plenary meeting of all the post-holders, chaired by the principal, at the start of each school year. The plenary meeting of all the post-holders would help to underline the importance of partnership in the school and establish another managerial practice to maintain the effectiveness of the school’s internal organisational structures.

 

The posts of responsibility have been reviewed twice in recent years and agreed procedures are followed in the allocation of vacant posts. The responsibilities of each post-holder include an area of educational input, a definite administrative function, and an area of student welfare. The thought and work given to reviewing the post structure are acknowledged.  In relation to the present post structure it is recommended that the responsibilities assigned to year heads be reviewed so that they are not required to fulfil responsibilities that are additional to their duties as yearheads.  The yearheads have responsibility for relatively large numbers of students and play a key role in the pastoral care of the students in their respective year groups. It is also recommended that the position of subject convenor be decoupled from the duties of post-holders in order to encourage the rotation of the position of subject convenor among the members of the various subject departments.  Such a move would help to maximise the involvement of the members of each subject team in the planning and development of their subject throughout the school. The compilation of a school annual to celebrate and record the events of each year is advocated. School annuals have a very definite contribution to make in creating awareness of the school as community.  The restructuring of an existing post to take charge of this initiative is suggested.

 

Good communication is a feature of the school’s organisation. The staff room has several noticeboards for various purposes including daily and monthly planners. A connecting door leads to the newly equipped teachers’ workroom where a yearly planner is affixed to the wall. A weekly typed memo is distributed to the staff. The school’s internal intercom system is used to convey information twice daily at 10.20am and 2.30pm. The teachers have also been allocated pigeonholes for receipt of communications. Several staff meetings are held during the course of the school year and these meetings follow set agendas for which staff input is welcomed.  The staff meetings are chaired by either the principal or deputy principal. A new teachers’ handbook containing much useful information has been given to every teacher and is colour-coded to facilitate access to information.  The principal and deputy principal regularly visit the staff room and personally convey information to individual teachers should the need arise.

 

An appointed mentor to new teachers supports their successful induction into the school. It is noteworthy that the school is participating in the National Pilot Project on Teacher Induction, which is researching and cooperating with Irish primary and post-primary schools in the provision of appropriate support structures for newly qualified teachers.  The project is funded under the National Development Plan through the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education and Science. New members of the teaching staff in Maynooth Post-Primary School are provided with an induction pack and teachers’ handbook to help them settle in. They are enabled to become involved in their subject departments and are given the opportunity to attend the cluster meetings for schools that are organised by the National Pilot Project. In the wider context of the entire teaching staff, teachers are encouraged and supported in becoming wholeheartedly involved in the life of the school. This is reflected in the support given to the continuing professional development of staff and in the delegation of various responsibilities to the staff through posts of responsibility and informally through voluntary work.

 

The efficient administration and upkeep of Maynooth Post-Primary School is strongly supported by the services and commitment of the ancillary staff.  They each, whether as secretarial, caretaking or maintenance personnel, make an important contribution to the school.

 

A range of policies and practices have been put in place to ensure that the students are educated in a secure, supportive and caring environment. The school’s admissions policy, for example, states clearly that prospective students and their parents must read and accept the school’s contract of learning and behaviour.  The Code of Behaviour states that all members of the school community have the right to be treated with respect and to work in a clean, calm and safe environment and, details at some length how this central principle is to be put into practice. The school has ratified policies on Child Protection, Anti-Bullying, Attendance and the inclusion of international students as well as a corpus of other policies to safeguard the rights of the school’s students. The attendance and punctuality of the students are monitored by a computerised swipe-card system, Anseo, that requires every student to register his/her attendance in the morning and after the lunchbreak before classes commence. The class tutors meet their class groups at 9am Monday- Friday and cooperate closely with the designated yearhead in ensuring that students comply with the school rules. Students who have been absent from school are required to hand their class tutor a written note explaining their absences upon their return. Records of student absenteeism amounting to twenty or more days are reported to the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) as per requirements. Students who need to leave school during the course of the day must be collected at Reception by a parent or guardian. In such instances the yearhead must be informed in writing before permission is given to the student to leave the school premises.

 

There is an established system of referral for dealing with problems of a disciplinary nature. The subject teacher has primary responsibility for discipline within his/her own classroom and may decide that the most appropriate means of dealing with an act of indiscipline is to speak to the student about the matter or impose a sanction of extra work or detention. The parents or guardian of the student must be informed if a sanction of detention after normal school hours is imposed. The subject teacher also has recourse to various standardised school forms to record and inform parents/guardians, class tutors and yearheads of serious breaches of discipline. The yearhead has the authority to suspend a student for a limited period. There is also a standardised school form that is used for the purpose of affirming students. It is a letter of commendation and it is sent to the home of the deserving student.

 

The students’ council was founded in 1996. It is another embodiment of the spirit of partnership in the school because it is a means of encouraging the involvement of the students in the affairs of their school in cooperation with the board of management, teachers and parents. The members of the council are elected by the students in their respective year groups. They have no constitution as yet, but plans are afoot to draw up a constitution after the election of council representatives from the new first-year entrants. Management has assigned a member of the teaching staff to act as a liaison teacher in order to assist the students’ council. The teacher is assisting the council in developing its leadership role, acts as a link between the students’ council and management and provides support in whatever ways may be needed. In-service support for the role of liaison officer to a students’ council is available from the Curriculum Development Unit (www.curriculum.ie ). The provision of opportunities for the students’ council to meet with the representatives of other students’ councils should be considered in order to enable the student councillors to exchange ideas with fellow councillors and to support them in firmly establishing the council in the organisation of the school. The training that has already been organised for the student representatives is commended.

 

Management values the involvement of parents in the life of the school and maintains a strong communication with them. The establishment of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) preceded the construction of the school and was set up to acquire a co-educational school for Maynooth. The PTA is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. A representative committee is elected at the Annual General Meeting of the PTA for a one-year term of office. There is no limit placed on the number of committee members. Meetings of the PTA committee are held monthly. The principal attends the meetings and keeps the PTA committee informed about the school. The PTA has a clear sense of its role, which is to contribute to the development of the school and render practical help in every way that it can. The PTA committee is involved in the ratification of school policies, organising speakers to address parents, informing parents about the importance of the voluntary subscriptions that are used to support the upkeep of the school and fundraising for resources for the school such as the new library. The committee is a proactive group and is currently considering the extension of the period of office of PTA committee members from one to three years in order to maintain the momentum of initiatives adopted over a longer period of time. The PTA has also set up a website (www.ptampps.ie) to facilitate their dissemination of information.

 

There is good communication between the school and the parents and guardians of the students. A school calendar of events is given to each student at the start of the new academic year and provides advance information about organised events and holiday breaks. A parent-teacher meeting is organised for each year group. Reports on students’ progress and their examination results are communicated to their parents or guardians twice yearly. Members of the examination classes preparing for the state examinations sit trial junior and leaving certificate examinations during the spring term. There are several information evenings organised for parents, guardians and students in the various year groups such as those that deal with subject options and programme choices for senior-cycle students. A number of newsletters are produced at set intervals during the academic year that also provide information about the school.

 

1.4 Management of resources

 

Maynooth Post-Primary School is a well-maintained school. The effective management of resources is a priority task. The increase in student enrolment has meant that the school’s resources must be carefully managed to ensure that the quality of education provided for the students is maintained. The school building has been extended three times and a fourth extension is due to be completed in February, 2007. The new extension will include a full size gymnasium, general-purpose classrooms, an information technology suite, a guidance room and a tiered lecture room. The construction of the new extension has impacted temporarily on the availability of classroom and office space but this situation has been resolved through staff cooperation and the use of some rooms, e.g. the library, as classrooms for a short period. The principal is the designated officer with responsibility for Health and Safety.

 

The reception desk is located in the main foyer and a welcoming, orderly atmosphere pervades the interior of the school. The majority of teachers have their own base classrooms. These are located in the main school building and in some prefabricated classrooms that are located in close proximity to the school building. The students adhere to a one-way system in parts of the school when moving to their various subject classes. The specialist subject rooms include the practical subject rooms for Wood Technology, Metalwork, Technical Drawing, Art, Construction Studies and Engineering. The school has four science laboratories, one of which is currently being refurbished, a gymnasium, music room, home economics rooms and a computer room. The teachers involved in providing supportive services to students such as the guidance counsellors, the educational support teachers and the teacher of English as a second language have designated rooms. Senior students have been allocated an assembly area, where the school tuck shop is also located. Plans are well advanced to provide the TY students and junior-cycle students with assembly areas of their own. Lockers are provided for the students and these may be accessed at set times. The extensive demands on the computer room have meant that it is heavily booked for class use but this situation is set to improve when the new information technology suite becomes available. The staff room is a large room and is equipped to facilitate the work and relaxation needs of the teachers.

 

Management recognises that the teaching staff are the primary resource of the school. The teachers are appropriately deployed and qualified for the most part to teach their subject specialisms. Individual teachers have posts of responsibility for programmes such as TYP and LCVP, the timetable, the co-ordinating of the sporting activities, overseeing the arrangements for students’ subject choices and the monitoring of the school’s ICT equipment.  It is recommended that management note any anomalies in the academic qualifications of the teaching staff and seek direction from County Kildare VEC and the Teaching Council, if required. The accommodation of teachers in attending in-service training in their specialist subject areas is part of the custom and practice in the school. In addition, the school has participated in a number of educational projects such as TL21. The latter is an ongoing collaborative and research project conducted under the aegis of NUI (Maynooth) that has a particular focus on the teaching of Maths, Gaeilge, Science and English and, the integration of information and communications technology (ICT) into teaching methodologies. Maynooth Post-Primary School has also participated in the EU Pilot Project on Evaluating Quality in School Education. A total of 5 Irish second-level schools and 96 other schools from 17 countries participated in the pilot project. There is a long history of association with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and the school’s participation in the National Pilot Project on Teacher Induction has been effective in enabling management to assist the integration of new teachers into the teaching staff.  The importance of the provision of teaching aids such as audio-visual equipment to support teaching and learning is recognised by management. 

 

2. Quality of School Planning

 

School Development Planning (SDP) is viewed by management, the teaching staff and their educational partners as a highly important activity that is enabling the school to achieve its goals. The SDP steering committee consists of two members of the teaching staff. They ensure that the momentum of planning is maintained and actively encourage collaboration in the planning process. The school’s Mission Statement has a special role in providing a focus to school planning and in articulating the principles that underpin all policy statements. The educational partners within the school community are currently collaborating in reviewing the school’s Mission Statement and their collaborative approach to the task is commended.

 

The list of ratified policies that has been adopted by the school community includes the Admissions policy, the Code of Behaviour, the Health and Safety policy and the Child Protection policy. A number of other policies are in the process of being reviewed. Twelve task committees have been organised among the teaching staff for this purpose and are at present involved in this work. The drafting of policies such as the school’s Guidance policy and the Assessment and Reporting policy is receiving attention. This is laudable work. It is recommended that consideration be given to the documentation of a policy on Curriculum Provision and Planning. This would entail outlining the curricular programmes provided by the school and drawing together policies that have already been ratified in relation to homework, assessment, students with special educational needs, the inclusion of international students, ICT usage, educational outings, etc.. The Curriculum and Planning policy should also contain a summary of the planning structures and functions of the subject departments. Reference should be made to the initiatives adopted in relation to provision made to meet the needs of students who attended gaelscoileanna, international students, whose primary language is not English, and the relatively recent addition of new subjects to the curriculum such as Japanese. The place of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities merits inclusion in the policy as well.

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is a very important component in the breadth and quality of education available to the students. It is a popular and well-received programme as evidenced by the fact that, although it is optional, relatively large numbers of students (77 in the current academic year, 2006/2007) elected to join it. The time and energy devoted to ensuring the success of the school’s TYP are acknowledged. The planning activities and resultant documentation for the Transition Year 2006/2007 include: Subject/Module Schemes folder, the folder containing the calendar of organised events that are planned for the current cohort of TY students and the Outline of the Transition Year Programme. It is recommended that the aforementioned be merged into one folder and that the coursework plan for each subject and module in the school’s TYP be collated. The Transition Year Curriculum Support Service (TYCSS) is a worthwhile source of information on all aspects of TY programmes in schools and may be contacted at www.slss.ie.

 

Outcomes:

The commendable engagement of the school community with SDP means that there is a large corpus of planning documentation available to help sustain the quality of education provided for the students. The collaboration of all concerned has helped to consolidate the school’s core values of partnership and inclusivity. SDP has enabled the teaching staff and their fellow members of the school community to become actively involved in helping the school to develop. The review that is being undertaken of the school’s Mission Statement and ratified policies herald further changes while the commitment to self-evaluation indicates that all challenges will be met over a period of time. SDP is an ongoing process operating in a proactive school environment that it has helped to create. 

 

 

 

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Four curricular programmes are offered to the students. The Junior Certificate Programme is the mandatory programme; the Transition Year Programme (TYP) is optional for students and, senior-cycle students elect to pursue either the Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Management strives to provide a wide range of subjects in each curricular programme in order to meet the students’ needs. Educational support is provided to meet the learning needs of individual students and includes the teaching of English to international students whose primary language is other than English. All subjects are taught at higher and ordinary levels. English, Irish and Mathematics may be taken at foundation level in the junior cycle and Irish and Mathematics may be taken at foundation level in the senior cycle. The introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied was considered in the past but the school community decided against it because it was felt that the four curricular programmes and the planning that underpinned them catered well for the students.

 

The timetabled structure of the school day consists of forty-minute class periods in the morning and thirty-five minute class periods in the afternoon from Monday-Thursday each week. The timetabling arrangements for Fridays are that the junior cycle class groups have eight periods of thirty-five minutes’ duration and that fifth and sixth-year students have seven class periods of thirty-five minutes’ duration. The TY students participate in their work experience programme every Friday and are not present in the school on that day. Efforts are made to ensure that the pattern and distribution of the periods allocated to the many subjects support the teaching and study of the coursework. However, attention is drawn to the fact that there are several instances in the allocation of class periods to junior-cycle class groups for Science, History and Geography where the class periods occur on consecutive days. This has resulted in a long interval occurring in the affected subject between the last class of one week and the first class of the following week. The allocation of double periods only to a subject as occurs in the case of Home Economics in the junior-cycle timetable merits review. The situation pertaining to SPHE for some third-year class groups whereby a fixed period on the timetable has not been allocated to the subject should also be reviewed.

 

The concurrent timetabling of the core subjects English, Irish and Mathematics and the blocking of the optional subject choices underpin the timetabling of the two leaving certificate curricular programmes. The application of concurrence to each of the three core subjects facilitates the setting of classes and the organisation of class groups for particular levels of study in the subjects. The study of Japanese, which was offered to TY students as an ab initio language module in 2004, is now available to the current fifth-year students as part of their leaving certificate programme. Eighteen students will sit Japanese in their leaving certificate examinations in 2008. The breadth of the subject range available to senior-cycle leaving certificate students is laudable but attention must be given to ensuring that all students receive a minimum of 28 hours of instruction per week as per circular M29/95. The current timetabling arrangements have resulted in a shortfall in the requisite 28 hours of instruction for a number of fifth and sixth-year students. The review of the timetable should also take account of the impact of designated study periods as a contributory factor. It is advocated that consideration be given to providing Religious Education classes for fifth and sixth-year students in defined time slots for the subject rather than the present coupling arrangement with Gaeilge.

 

The school’s TYP is overseen by an appointed coordinator. The programme offers students a wide range of subjects and the opportunity to gain work experience. A number of subjects are a set part of the programme for the entire year while others are delivered in modules for a fixed length of time. The programme therefore, provides TY students with an opportunity to consolidate subjects that they have already studied, to try out new subjects and to participate in a wide range of activities which will enhance their personal development. For example, TY students retain contact with core subjects such as Maths, Irish and English, have the opportunity to study Drama, participate in the annual school musical, visit places of cultural interest and attend talks given by guest speakers. There are opportunities to become involved in supporting philanthropic groups and to develop interests in leisure activities such as hillwalking, ice-skating and dancing. The mentoring of first-year students is another commendable activity undertaken by some TY students.

 

The LCVP requires students to choose two Leaving Certificate subjects from a specified list of subjects and to complete a course of study in a modern European language. LCVP students must also complete the study of two link modules, Enterprise Education and Preparation for Work. Responsibility for the school’s LCVP is entrusted to a coordinator as in the case of the TYP. The students who opt for the LCVP have the choice of taking six leaving certificate subjects and the link modules in place of a seventh subject or they can take seven leaving certificate subjects and the link modules. Students who take the first option are timetabled for a double class period devoted to computer usage, the link modules and one period for the language module (French or Spanish) over the two years. Students who choose the second option must have elected to study a leaving certificate language for their final examinations from the range available to them i.e. French, German or Spanish. They are timetabled for one class period for computers and one class period for the link modules.

 

    

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The prospective, new first-year entrants to Maynooth Post-Primary School are assessed at a date agreed with the five primary feeder schools in its catchment area. The assessment comprises three one-hour assessment tests in Irish, English and Mathematics. These tests are based on the coursework for the three subjects studied by the students in fifth and sixth class. Prior to the students’ entry to their new secondary school they also complete a subject options form indicating their preferred subject choices from three pre-set groups of subjects. The study of a continental language is compulsory for all students and, consequently, the students are presented with a choice of three European languages, Spanish, French and German, in their first option block of subjects. The second optional subjects grouping comprises Wood Technology, Metalwork, Home Economics, Music and Business. The third optional subject block consists of Art, Technical Graphics and Business. The students choose one subject from each block. Upon entry, the first-year students are organised into two bands and are assigned to mixed-ability class groupings within the particular band in which they have been placed. In the current academic year 2006/2007 the larger of the two bands comprises approximately two thirds of the new first-year entrants and includes the class group organised for the students who attended gaelscoileanna. The optional subject blocks are available to the students in both bands but German is provided in one band only. Learning support is available to the students who require it in both bands.

 

The arrangements for students’ choice of subjects in first year are guided by established procedures but advice is available to prospective new entrants and their parents at all stages. The principal visits the local primary feeder-schools and meets with the students and their teachers prior to enrolment. The students are informed about Maynooth Post-Primary School and the date of enrolment, which occurs on the last Saturday in January prior to their entry in the following August. The optional subjects form includes information about the subjects to assist students and their parents in making an informed choice. It is recommended that the school prospectus, which is being drawn up, be given to students during the principal’s visit to the local primary schools. Consideration should also be given to establishing a formal role for the school’s guidance and counselling team in assisting the new students and their parents at key points in the transfer process such as the enrolment day, the formal assessment period and the early stages of the students’ entry into secondary school.

 

At the end of their junior cycle third-year students must decide whether to pursue the TYP, the LCE or the LCVP. The students are supported in making the transition to senior cycle through the advice they receive from their subject teachers, the relevant programme coordinators, the guidance team and the admissions officer whose responsibilities include advising students about the subject options within the two leaving certificate programmes. Information nights are organised for students and their parents to explain the programmes available to senior-cycle students and the fifth-year subject options available. The students then complete a questionnaire to ascertain their choice of curricular programme. The students intending to proceed to the leaving certificate programmes indicate their preferred optional subject choices from the wide range of subjects that is offered to them. This information is used to arrange the subjects into option blocks. The attention of students, who opt for LCVP, is drawn to the requirement to select a suitable subject grouping from the specified list of subject groupings given to them and the requirement to study the two link modules.  

 

 

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The holistic education of the students is important to all the education partners in Maynooth Post-Primary School. Appreciation of the contribution that co-curricular and extra-curricular activities can make to ensuring that the students receive a well-rounded education is evidenced by the wide range of activities that are organised for the students. Members of staff give willingly of their time to train male and female school teams in Gaelic football, camogie, hurling, soccer, rugby and athletics. There is also the opportunity for students to join an Aerobics class which convenes weekly in the gymnasium. Hiking activities are organised for first-year and TY students who participate in the Gaisce awards project.

 

The staging of the school’s annual musical has proved popular and successful. It signifies a remarkable achievement that is all the more commendable for the manner in which it draws together a large cast and crew consisting of students, teachers and parents. The sense of community within the school is also fostered in a special way through the organisation of events such as the Ceremony of Welcome for the new first-year students and their parents, the Christmas Carol service, Seachtain na Gaeilge, the Sports Day and charitable events for which the participation of the students is actively sought. Encouragement is given to students to become involved in debating in Irish and English, public speaking, film studies and a broad range of other interests such as the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, the Astronomy Club and the Intel project. School tours to places of interest are a feature of school life and include an annual continental tour. Visits to the theatre, art galleries and field trips are organised and LCVP students have visits to local firms arranged for them.

 

All involved in providing co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for the students are to be commended. The activities bring an added dimension to school life that is invaluable in enhancing the quality of education provided for the students and the activities help them to become aware of ways in which they can foster their own development through lifelong education.   

 

 

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

4.1 Planning and preparation

 

Subject planning has been firmly established in Maynooth Post Primary School in the context of a good level of engagement with school development planning.  Good department structures were in place in the case of all the subjects inspected.  All have co-ordinators whose role includes chairing meetings, promoting collaborative practices and liaising with the principal and deputy principal on matters relating to the subject.  A schedule of regular meetings facilitates subject planning.  Agendas and minutes are written and decisions made are recorded and copied to the principal.  This is good practice.

 

Planning documents in various stages of development have been drawn up in each of the subject areas inspected.  In general, the focus in subject planning was on the content to be covered within a particular period of time.  The setting of clear and time-referenced targets is an essential aspect of good planning, and the subject teams are to be commended for undertaking this work.  Subject plans are best viewed as work in progress, requiring an ongoing process of review, addition and amendment.  In their continuing engagement with subject planning, subject departments should emphasise this evaluative and reflective aspect of planning with particular reference to fulfilling the aims and objectives of the relevant syllabuses, as well as the covering of course material.

 

In further developing subject planning, it is recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on both teaching methods and learning outcomes.  Statements relating to the term’s or year’s work are most helpful where they specify objectives in terms of skills and knowledge.  A concentration on methods and strategies in subject department meetings creates a very good opportunity for sharing successful practice and for encouraging innovation and experiment.  Similarly, placing an emphasis on learning outcomes ensures that the department collectively identifies the skills and concepts to be taught, thus giving a real impetus to the planning of teaching strategies, resources and methods of assessment.

 

A high level of individual planning and preparation was evident in the lessons observed.  Teachers are particularly commended for the preparation of imaginative and challenging materials which were used in a number of the lessons observed.  Given the level of expertise and creativity among the teaching staff, it is recommended that all subject departments promote a co-operative approach to developing teaching resources and sharing effective teaching strategies.  This kind of development of the collaborative practices already in place will assist individual teachers and benefit students.

 

Greater use of ICT both to facilitate planning and in the delivery of subjects is to be encouraged, especially in the light of the planned expansion of computer facilities within the school.  In particular, ICT has a role to play in the devising, storing and sharing of resources.  A model that has been observed working successfully elsewhere is the creation of a subject folder on the school intranet which can be used to store and access shared resources.  It can also be used as a convenient central location for documents such as the subject plan and year plans, past house examination papers and so on.

 

In relation to planning the resourcing of subjects, greater flexibility in relation to budgeting would enhance subject planning, especially where resources and equipment are ongoing concerns.  It is recommended that this issue be dealt with in such a way that requirements are made known to the principal. They can then be addressed within the framework of the VEC budgeting mechanisms.

 

 

4.2 Teaching and learning

 

The lessons observed during the evaluation were conducted in an orderly and supportive manner and were characterised by a sense of purposeful work.  In most lessons, a clear objective had been established at the outset.  This worked best where an explicit statement was made, giving the lesson topic, the activities planned and the outcomes expected.  The strategy of sharing lesson objectives with students reflects the emphasis on more active learning which informs the TL21 project, in which the school has a considerable involvement.  Although lessons were generally well planned, it is suggested that some further thought be given to the structuring of lessons and the linking and sequencing of topics and activities so that they form a coherent learning unit.

 

The topics covered and the textbooks and materials used were in line with the various syllabuses.  Although over-reliance on textbooks was very little in evidence, the need to create supplementary learning materials, for example tailored to a particular class group, should always be borne in mind.  Good practice was seen where specific topics were treated in such a way as to highlight their relevance to the students and to make clear links with the students’ experience and knowledge.  It is recommended that this good practice be extended as one likely to promote student engagement and interest.  In the area of vocabulary acquisition, both in language subjects and where technical and subject-specific vocabulary was being taught, good practice was also observed where a strongly thematic approach was used, creating meaningful clusters of words that students could assimilate more readily.  Again this very good strategy should be employed wherever appropriate.

 

A variety of teaching methods and strategies was observed during the course of the inspection.  Those that required the active participation of students were seen to be most effective in stimulating students to think about the topic and to move from information gathering to a more searching inquiry.  It should be noted here that active participation covers a wide range of classroom activities: discussion and debate involving all students as both speakers and listeners; the performing of specific tasks in practical lessons; pair and group work with clear tasks and targets, and the more creative forms of participation such as role play.  These contributed to a stimulating learning environment in which productive work took place.

 

Questioning was used effectively to test students’ understanding and recall, and was seen to work best for this purpose when directed at named students.  More speculative open questions were also posed, and were most successful where they were designed to stimulate discussion and to encourage students towards a more precise and thoughtful response.  It was particularly noted that many students were able to ask very searching questions themselves and were at ease with and capable of holding their own in lively class discussion.  It is recommended that particular attention be given to the use of higher order questions that demand a more analytical and reasoned response.

 

In a number of cases effective strategies were used to develop particular skills, such as listening skills.  It was also observed that many students showed considerable levels of accomplishment in the work they were doing, and teachers should consider ways of extending the range of skills of these students.  The linking of target skills with the strategies most likely to develop them has already been mentioned in 5.1 above as a fruitful area for further work in subject planning.

 

The classroom was managed effectively so as to create a supportive learning environment.  Interaction with students was friendly and sensitive, and there was a good rapport between students and teachers.  Students were strongly affirmed in their work, and simple strategies such as teacher movement around the classroom facilitated good monitoring of students at work and one-to-one interaction where necessary.  Although the current building programme has placed some temporary additional strain on the accommodation in the school, it was noteworthy that a number of rooms were very good resources for the subjects taught in them.  It is recommended that the use of the classroom as resource be maximised, especially in the light of the imminent expansion of the premises, and that, where subject teachers are without base rooms, a dedicated room for the subject be developed and resourced appropriately.

 

On the evidence of observation during the evaluation process, and with reference to other information such as the results gained by students in state examinations, overall student achievement is high.  In addition, students themselves appear motivated and have high aspirations, and these are affirmed and encouraged by the school.  Given this prevailing atmosphere of high expectations by students along with their commitment to their studies, the teaching staff should particularly concentrate on productive and innovative ways of challenging and affirming them.

 

 

4.3 Assessment

 

A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress. Ongoing assessment of students takes place through teacher observation, monitoring of their participation and work in class, oral questioning, written assignments, class tests and continuous assessments based on classwork and project work.

 

The school has a homework policy. In some instances, subject-specific assessment policies have been developed and general points regarding homework procedures were noted in departmental documentation. This good practice could be extended. Each subject department should develop its own policy and procedures to reflect a range of assessment modes and to encourage consistency in practice.

 

Some very good practice was observed with regard to the setting of homework activities, though care should be taken to ensure that the assigned work is in line with the rationale and approaches recommended in junior and senior-cycle syllabuses. Observation of student copybooks indicated some very good practices with regard to the checking and annotating of work. Useful teacher comments in some copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good practice should be extended to encourage students to reflect on their work and highlight areas for improvement. Assessment for Learning (AfL) criteria should be devised and documented by subject departments. These should be developed as part of the teaching and learning process and used to assess student attainment throughout the school year. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.

 

First-year, second-year and fifth-year students sit formal in-house examinations at Christmas and in summer. Third-year and sixth-year students are assessed at Halloween and by mock examinations in the second term. Students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and the school strives to ensure that students take the certificate examinations at the highest level possible. It is commendable that, where necessary, common examinations are set and relevant coursework components for specific subjects are included.  

 

Records of assessment and attendance are systematically recorded in the teachers’ diaries. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in a subject over time. Such information can form the basis of very useful evidence when communicating student progress to parents, advising both students and parents on their choice of subjects at senior level, and when giving advice about the most suitable level of examination paper for individual students to choose in certificate examinations.

 

 

 

5. Quality of Support for Students

 

5.1 Students with special educational needs

 

The management and teaching staff are committed to ensuring that students with special educational needs are identified and receive the learning support that they require.   This is stated in the school’s Special Educational Needs policy and applies to students with learning difficulties, students with disabilities and students who are exceptionally gifted. The provision of learning support is provided by a core team of three teachers in the main but also involves members of the teaching staff, who have been timetabled to assist students with learning difficulties for one or more timetabled class periods each week.  The core team have a designated learning support room which is equipped with four computers and resource materials. The extent of the provision for educational support is acknowledged. However, it is recommended that the pool of resource teachers rendering educational support be much reduced in order to establish a more cohesive group, facilitate liaison with the core team of learning-support teachers and provide training for all the resource teachers involved. The Special Educational Needs policy should also be reviewed to include a clear outline of the supports provided for students who are exceptionally gifted.

 

The core team of learning-support teachers undertakes the work of identifying the students with special educational needs. They obtain the information from the students’ enrolment forms, the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) reports, meeting with parents on the enrolment day, contact with the local primary schools, contact with the Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO) and the administration of a GRT11 reading test when the students complete their assessment tests. The NRIT test is subsequently administered to all the new first-year students in September each year and individual diagnostic reading tests are organised for any students who have a reading age of less than nine years. The core team provides a list of the students’ names to the principal, the yearheads and language co-ordinators. They meet with the special needs assistants, who have been assigned to individual students, to brief them about their students and they meet separately with the resource teachers to brief them about the students whom they will be assisting.  It is advocated that the core learning-support team also liaises formally with the guidance counsellors with a view to identifying where the expertise of the guidance counsellors could be utilised during the course of this commendable work. The results of the tests, the reports and the information received about students with special educational needs are treated with sensitivity and confidentiality at all times.

 

It is school policy to integrate students with special educational needs into the mainstream class groups. Consequently, efforts are made to provide learning support periods for students at times when their withdrawal from class would have least impact on their general progress. For example, students with special educational needs who have an exemption from studying Irish are often withdrawn during the Irish periods for their class groups. It was reported that, while literacy and numeracy support are provided, there is an imbalance in the provision of literacy and numeracy support, so a review of the present provision of literacy and numeracy support may be timely. The progress of students in receipt of learning support is tracked and reviewed. A file is kept on each student and individual educational plans (IEPs) are being used to ensure the progress of individual students. It is recommended that IEPs be used to assist the resource teachers involved in learning support to record the targets and progress achieved by the students assigned to them. It is further recommended that formal meetings be scheduled monthly to enable the core learning-support team and the group of resource teachers to discuss issues and monitor progress.

 

 

 

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

 

The care and regard that is tangible in the school extends to all students, regardless of their means or background. Management maintains close links with the local primary schools, which together with the school’s communication with parents through personal contact and the various meetings that are organised, enable the school to become aware of students’ circumstances at an early stage. The international students attending the school have all been fully integrated into mainstream classes. The school has documented an Intercultural and Inclusion policy that clearly enunciates support for the international students. A qualified TEFL teacher (teacher of English as a foreign language) and a designated room for language support have been allocated to assist students whose primary language is not English. The students’ class periods for English language support are timetabled to ensure that the students can be withdrawn at the most suitable times for them. It is suggested that consideration be given to exploring the possibility of inviting the parents or guardians of international students to visit the Language Support Room occasionally as a means of maintaining good communication links with the homes of international students and supporting the progress of the students.

 

 

5.3 Guidance

 

The school’s guidance and counselling service is provided by a team of four qualified guidance counsellors. They have a dedicated office that has been equipped to meet their needs and a new fully equipped office will be allocated for their use upon completion of the new school extension. The guidance team collaborate well together and hold weekly meetings to plan and review their work. The guidance counsellors are actively involved in supporting the transition of students from primary to secondary school, from junior to senior cycle, and from school to further education or the workplace. They are in the process of drafting a whole-school guidance plan. When drafted, the plan will be circulated initially to management for consultation and then to the other educational partners within the school community.

 

Members of the guidance team visit the first-year class groups in early September and inform the students about the school’s guidance and counselling service. During this first meeting they establish an important contact with the first-year students and encourage them to avail of the guidance and counselling service. The guidance team liaise closely with the students’ tutors and yearheads and provide assistance to individual students who are referred to them. Personal counselling is also provided to students who request it. Advising and assisting third-year students to make informed decisions about their subject choices are important aspects of the guidance provided for this year group before they progress into the senior cycle. An interview is conducted with each third-year student individually to discuss each student’s subject choices and career options. Guidance counselling is a formally timetabled subject for TY students and Careers Guidance is part of the link modules that LCVP students study in fifth and sixth year. The sixth-year guidance programme includes a wide range of initiatives to help the final-year students in achieving their goals, such as the interviewing of every student and the organisation of an information evening on the CAO application system and careers for parents and students.

 

The guidance team provide very important assistance and support for the school’s students. Their work is acknowledged and encouraged. It is advocated that a review of the balance of provision for guidance and counselling between the junior and senior cycles be conducted. The exploration of a more defined role for the guidance team in the enrolment and assessment of the new first-year entrants prior to the commencement of their first year in the school should be undertaken. The conducting of interest inventories with the second-year students is another suggestion for consideration. It is recommended that the guidance plan details how guidance and counselling are integrated into the school’s four curricular programmes and the supports for students such as SPHE, CSPE and pastoral care. The guidance plan should also provide information about the guidance programme of support available to international students and other minority groups. The continued development of initiatives to track the progression of students to third level, further education/training and the workforce is encouraged.    

 

 

5.4 Pastoral care

 

The pastoral care of students is a fundamental value in Maynooth Post-Primary School. Management has ensured that the organisational structure of the school provides a network of pastoral care supports for the students.

 

The yearheads and class tutors have a special role in relation to the care of the students. Each yearhead remains with the same year group of students as they progress through their secondary schooling unless the students opt for the TY programme upon completion of their Junior Certificate examinations. The yearhead is assisted by a special-duties teacher where the number of students in the year group does not exceed 150 students and by two special-duties teachers where the year group consists of more than 150 students. The esprit de corps and bonding of students in a year group benefits from the meeting together of the year group. It is suggested that in the next review of the posts of responsibility consideration be given to exploring how the yearheads and their assisting special-duties teacher(s) might benefit from the refocusing of their present duties to enable the individual yearheads to plan a calendar of opportunities for their respective student charges to meet as a year group. The practice of the yearheads themselves meeting together to discuss the pastoral care of their students is encouraged.

 

The class tutors have a special responsibility for the general well-being of the students in the base class groups into which the students have been organised. They meet their class groups daily. They assist in the personal development of each student by generating a good class spirit and dealing with issues as they arise. They help students to develop a sense of belonging to the class and to the school. The class tutors meet monthly with the yearhead of their students to discuss issues but may liaise more frequently with the yearhead. The subject teachers, learning-support teachers and guidance counsellors are also in close contact with the students. They support the progress of students through their work and help the yearheads to become more informed about the students in their respective year groups.

 

The same regard for the pastoral care and welfare of the students is evident in many of the documented school policies among which is the critical incident policy. A mentoring initiative has been established whereby senior students befriend and assist junior-cycle students. For example, TY mentors support the first-year students in settling into their new secondary school. The mentors, who are all volunteers, participate in a training day, which helps them to acquire a clear understanding of their role and the skills required. In the eventuality that a mentor becomes aware of a student experiencing a particular difficulty such as bullying, the matter is referred to the most relevant authority in the school.

 

The sense of care that is present in the school is demonstrated too by the memorial garden that is in a centrally located open area within the school building complex and by the Ciaran Dockery   Award, which is given to a chosen leaving certificate student each year. Ciaran Dockery was a former deputy principal of the school and the memorial trophy in his honour, a sculpted piece of bog oak, is engraved each year with the recipient’s name. The memorial garden and the award recall the lives of a number of former students and staff in ways that strongly convey the caring nature of the school community.

 

 

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 Biology, Home Economics, French, Art and English are appended to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

 

Firstly, I welcome the report and thank the Department of Education and Science Inspectorate for their comments and recommendation.  It is difficult to respond adequately to a fifty page report in two hundred and fifty words.  However, it is incumbent on Management of Maynooth Post-Primary School to address and challenge some of the recommendations.  A response from the various subject departments is also included with this reply.

 

Annual Budgets

 

This issue arose a number of times.  The fact is that all expenditure has got to be processed through the V11 (order book).   The  Auditor to the VEC insists that all purchases are made through the order book.  It should be noted that all requests for materials over the past three years have been approved by the Management.

 

During the past four years the post structures have been reviewed twice, all in compliance with regulations. 

 

SPHE for the vast majority of classes is treated as a core subject.  Two class groups in third year have a rotation where other core subjects  i.e  English, Irish, History, Geography and Science drop a class period per week on a rota basis.

 

It is school policy to integrate students with special needs in all classes.  A large team is needed to deliver an effective support service. 

This model is successful

 

 

We have excellent co-operation from staff who are always willing to assist those students requiring learning support.

 

Some of the Assistant Principals have as part of their duties the role of year head.

 

The timetable is controlled by the availability of staff resources.  Priority is given in the first instance to Leaving Certificate students.  This can sometimes control or restrict timetable options.  However, job-sharing can further restrict the timetable.  

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

  1. Training of Board of Managrment members has taken place.

 

  1. Joint meetings of the Board of Management and PTA have also taken place.

 

  1. Post reviews have commenced.

 

  1. The school guidance plan is progressing, as is further development and expansion of the TY programme

 

  1. ICT

 

(a)     We have purchased twenty laptops as a support for teaching and learning.

 

(b)     Training is in use of ICT in the classroom is being provided.