An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Patrick’s Community College
Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 70710D
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Patrick’s Community College, Naas. 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.
St. Patrick’s Community College was established by County Kildare Vocational Education Committee (VEC) in 1930 to provide vocational education for students in the town of Naas. The town and its surrounding area have experienced a significant increase in population and have seen considerable demographic changes in the locality in recent years. St. Patrick’s second-level enrolment currently stands at two hundred and eighty students and has increased from a figure of fifty-five first-year enrolments in 2005 to eighty first-year enrolments in 2006. The school’s catchment area covers both a rural and an urban base and St. Patrick’s offers a wide range of courses and programmes to its students to meet the ever changing demands of its student and learning community. One of the school’s most significant advancements over the years has been the successful integration of students with Special Educational Needs and from minority groups. St. Patrick’s is the largest Adult Education and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) provider in the town, forming a considerable part of the further education provision of Kildare VEC. The most defining impact on the school in the coming years will be the provision of a new school building. The move to a new school building, which will accommodate between 800 to 1000 students, will provide an opportunity for consolidation of the place of the college in the educational landscape into the future.
“We provide a caring learning environment where all aspects of the student are valued and nurtured. The ethos and culture of the school promotes high standards of effort and achievement”. The values expressed in St. Patrick’s mission statement, as exemplified in the above excerpt, are lived out to the full in the day-to-day running of the school. The atmosphere, as experienced by inspectors in the school and classrooms, was one of a student-friendly, caring environment, and teachers consistently implemented measures to ensure that students were being supported to achieve their maximum potential. The evidence from observations both within and outside the classroom confirms the commendable efforts of school management and of teachers alike to encourage the student to achieve high standards at the most appropriate level. This is excellent practice.
The school’s philosophy articulated in its mission statement not only guides behaviour and learning but also shapes and informs the decisions made in the school. The school mission statement is a reference point and it underpins the strategic thinking and planning for the priorities of St. Patrick’s Community College. This is borne out in school documentation examined. The mission statement has been very well elaborated into appropriate aims and goals, which underpin the school’s structures and policies. The ways in which the school ensures the continued achievement of the objectives of the mission statement, as evidenced at the time of the evaluation, are commendable. It is recommended that in the coming years and in its new broadening context, the school, with the support of its board of management and the VEC, should explore ways of ensuring the continued achievement of the objectives of the mission statement.
St. Patrick’s core values have a resonance with the stated values enshrined in the vision of County Kildare VEC, clearly articulated in its first Five Year Education Plan, just recently published. “We will educate our students so that they are ready to undertake the roles, responsibilities and challenges available to them in further education, in business, industry, the professions, public service and society.” The Five Year Education Plan is the strategic document which will guide the organisation and development of County Kildare VEC’s education service until 2011. The commitment of County Kildare VEC to providing quality and flexible education opportunities is clearly being fulfilled in the educational provision of St. Patrick’s Community College. In this context, it is recommended that the board of management of St. Patrick’s should devise a systematic means of tracking on an ongoing basis the destination of past pupils. This will provide vital validation of the extent to which this vision of County Kildare VEC is being implemented and has been achieved in practice.
County Kildare VEC provides an enabling managerial and support framework for schools within its VEC system. Without being intrusive on the work of the school, the VEC is there to guide and steer the quality of the education provision in its schools and colleges, as outlined in its Five year Plan. The benefit and effectiveness of such a support framework were evident in different aspects of the management of the school. For example, County Kildare VEC has direct responsibility for staff recruitment and appointments. The board of management praised the quality, competence and commitment of the teaching staff selected by the VEC. In fulfilling its role in relation to financial and budgetary matters in its schools, County Kildare VEC concentrates on the regular and close monitoring of the school’s expenditure of its financial and teacher allocation. This is achieved through close liaison with in-school management and the board of management and the monthly and annual records examined demonstrate the meticulous attention to ongoing expenditure, ensuring accountability and transparency.
Since the establishment of boards of management in Kildare VEC schools, there have been to date only two boards for St. Patrick’s. The present board of management is in place for the past two years and from the point of view of membership, there is very little overlap with the previous board. The board of management acts as a subcommittee of the VEC and the nature of this structure ensures a two-way flow of communication: any issue for the school can be raised at VEC level, if appropriate, and equally, the members of the VEC sitting on the school board can communicate the VEC priorities and issues to the school. The board’s experience in working within this structure has required compromise in reconciling the priorities of the VEC with the decisions and wishes of the board of St. Patrick’s at a given point of time.
The board of management of St. Patrick’s Community College in its composition and in the implementation of its role fulfils the requirements of the Education Act. The board has representatives from different community and business groups and the board members bring a complementary range of skills and experiences to their role in the management of the school. Membership of the board also allows stakeholders or former recipients of education within the college “to give something back”. The potential of the board to promote the values aspired to by the school and to communicate these aspirations to the wider community is considerable and should be further exploited over time. It is recommended therefore that the board of management should ensure that the wider school community are made more aware of the work, the role and effectiveness of the school and indeed of its own role in the governance of the school.
Since its establishment, the board has concentrated on the procurement of an alternative site for a new school building, a site offering opportunities for expansion and development for the school. This presented a considerable challenge to a newly established board and it is commendable that this objective has now been successfully achieved. The board has been effective in its work in the area of ratification of policies. It is recommended that the board should now initiate an incremental process of strategic planning to ensure the school’s direction and be proactive in providing management and leadership into the expanding new school context. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) articulated in the course of the evaluation that he will also be looking to the board in relation to the strategic planning for the continued growth in enrolments and for development towards the new school building. To achieve this will require the board of management to meet more frequently than it does so at present.
The board characterises its work as equitable and this is evident in the care and attention given to ensuring that all students get an equal chance of education and to complete their education. The board is very proud of the retention rates of St. Patrick’s. In its short life to date, the board has been systematic and fair in establishing, following and monitoring procedures for enrolments, attendance and suspensions. This is commendable. The board works through the principal in an open way and, in discussion with inspectors, acknowledged the principal’s capacity to keep the board accurately informed of issues and developments. The board is effective in cooperating and communicating with parents. Subsequent to the appointment of the current board, a Parents’ Association was re-established. The formation of an active Parents’ Association will provide important and invaluable assistance to the board and the school at a time of significant change.
The VEC provides training for boards of management. Training for members of the board is planned by the VEC in this coming term, and it is recommended that board members should avail of this in order to help them develop as a cohesive, confident and proactive board in establishing St. Patrick’s direction and image to the future.
The vision for St. Patrick’s Community College has been articulated by the principal in the Five-Year Plan drawn up at the time of appointment to the school in 2004 and has provided the overall framework for the strategic planning and development of the school since his appointment. The stated aims of his Five-Year Plan include: increasing of the enrolment numbers; raising of the profile of the school; reviewing the current curriculum and educational programmes provided by the school; continuing structural and visual upkeep of the present school plant; and ultimately, developing an educational campus allowing expansion of both student intake and curriculum provision. The principal’s stated aims have been progressed to the extent which would indicate that the targets set are achievable within the five year timeframe. The principal is to be commended for his effective leadership.
The senior in-school management team demonstrates a capacity for leadership, which is characterised by dynamic open discussion and strategic thinking informed by clarity of direction. The different strands of management within the school work together not independently. Discipline issues which had been taking up much of senior management time are now effectively and efficiently delegated to an appropriate structure within the school. The discipline system and the school management system is the better for it now. Through effective leadership, in-school management has succeeded in creating and in sustaining a collective school spirit of commitment and a unity of purpose in implementing the school’s core values. This collective vision has ensured the continued growth of the school into a quality education establishment.
An important part of the leadership of the senior in-school management team involves visibility within and outside the school. The principal and deputy-principal operate in the school very much as a management team. The constancy of their presence in the school corridors and classrooms and their attendance at school events and activities ensure not only adherence on the part of students to an agreed Code of Behaviour but interactions which are characterised by trust and respect. This is in line with the philosophy of the school’s mission statement and is to be commended. Observation of the daily meeting of the senior in-school management team provided evidence of the range of matters requiring their immediate attention: matters relating to management of students, management of teachers (and in particular the organisation of suitable substitution for certified sick leave, both long- and short-term) and management of resources. Regular meetings of the senior in-school management team ensure a considered response to potential problems so that response is consistent with school policy. School management is to be commended for this approach.
The senior in-school management team demonstrates not only willingness but also an ability to listen. The management team brings skills and experience in the management of people to its respective roles. Training in the area has also been of benefit, for example, the dedicated training for deputy-principals provided by County Kildare VEC. The complementarity of their roles is evident in the way in which the deputy-principal has effectively developed and consolidated the role of liaison/conduit of communication to and from the staff within the school, freeing up the principal for the completion of a multiplicity of managerial tasks. The impetus or initiative for change can come not only from school management but also from teachers, parents or students. It is significant that the same aims articulated in the senior management’s Five Year Plan, were also echoed in the response of the Assistant Principals of the school, when asked for their perspective in relation to the priorities for the school. The achievement of these objectives will bring a challenge for the senior management and staff of St. Patrick’s. Evidence suggests that at this crucial time of school development, the senior in-school management team will provide the strategic leadership and initiative to meet the needs of an expanding cohort of students, at the same time ensuring a continued quality of provision in meeting and nurturing the needs of individual students, as pertains in the school at present.
The root and branch review of the posts in all VEC schools conducted by County Kildare VEC has also played its part in the development of an effective middle management structure. The fact that the review was conducted by external consultants- external to the school and also external to the VEC- strengthened its impact. The benefit can now be seen in a structure which is working efficiently and effectively. Duties are clearly designated, equitably distributed and regularly monitored. The provision of a weekly meeting time for Assistant Principals provides the opportunity to address immediate issues as well as strategic long-term or system issues. Through these developments, a sense of a true middle management team is emerging; the collective wisdom of teachers is respected; teachers and/or post-holders execute real decision-making roles, particularly in the area of management of students. This way of working together brings an additional dynamic to the management of the school and is an example of good practice.
In-school management promotes and facilitates the involvement of parents in the school in many ways, ensuring a flow of information, regular contact and appropriate arrangements to facilitate awareness among parents of the school’s procedures and systems. Contact and links with parents on student progress, behaviour and attainment are regular, systematic and open. Members of the Parents’ Association spoke warmly of their positive experiences of the school and acknowledged the co-operation and appreciate the support of teachers and school management. The parents see their Association as giving a voice to the parent body and as a bridge between parents and the school. They praised the open door policy of the school. The provision of four newsletters per year, in which activities and achievements of the school and students are reported upon in detail, also contributes to communication with parents and the wider school community. Notification of forthcoming events, such as the school’s open night, is also advertised through local media, newspapers and through parish newsletters.
When discussing the most rewarding aspects of school management’s work in the course of the evaluation, the successful management of students and seeing the successful integration of a student into the life of the school were highlighted. A Student Council was set up last year and the main objective now is to embed it into the school culture and thereby become a true partner in the school community. In the current year the focus of the students is on publicising the work of the Student Council through the school newsletters and school notice board, establishing the profile of the Council and strengthening the student voice.
Technology has played its part in the refinement of the monitoring of student attendance: the electronic swipe card system in place in the school provides immediate data on attendance: the analysis of student attendance patterns and trends is expedited, so that not only the school but also the VEC has an immediate overview of trends in attendance. The necessary systems for the monitoring, follow-through on problems and support for students are also now in place. In this era of technology, it is important and it is recommended therefore that school management continues to ensure that these parallel structures of monitoring and support retain a balance for the right and the good of the individual student.
Teaching staff are deployed appropriately, in line with their subject speciality and the requirements of class formation and student choice. The principles of inclusion and equity are reflected in the timetable and define the organisation of the curriculum. The Special Needs Team through their organisation ensures the optimal deployment of additional resources acquired for the needs of their specific student groupings. The school is also in receipt of point five of a Guidance Counselling post and the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) scheme has been in place since 2001. To ensure that the priorities of the school underpin the decisions of the timetable, school management was already forming its thinking for the following year’s timetable at the time of the evaluation, early in the first term. Planning for the timetable and the mechanics of drawing up the timetable are carried out efficiently and effectively.
It was noted, however, that the current timetabling arrangements fall forty minutes short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours of tuition. The school indicated that it would be addressing the matter and making adjustment to the timetable. When addressing the question of tuition time, school management should revisit the early Friday afternoon school closure time to accommodate the tuition time required.
In the area of management of staff, in-school management ensures that supports are in place for the effective induction of new teachers. New teachers receive two forms of mentoring at school level: from a senior member of staff, a link person to the structures, systems and student supports of the school, and from a subject colleague in the relevant subject area. The school planning documentation also contributes to effective staff induction. The school was also part of a pilot project run by University College Dublin (UCD) in Teacher Induction. School management is to be commended for facilitating involvement in such an initiative.
County Kildare VEC has as one of its goals the provision of appropriate training, policy guidance and support to school management. Training for all Assistant Principals and Deputy-principals in the County Kildare VEC scheme has been provided, helping to ensure a cohesive approach to the fulfilment of responsibilities and the development of middle management structures. Administrative staff in the scheme has also been in receipt of training. This is commendable. There was clear evidence of good administration in St. Patrick’s to support and enhance the core pedagogic mission of the school. The development of a structured VEC Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme at county level for the school’s key resource, its teachers, is recommended. This would help to ensure the ongoing professional development in the crucial area of teaching methodologies and learning strategies, as well as providing support at a whole school level.
Continuing professional development is given a high priority by school management and is facilitated in a planned way. Training in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has been provided both formally and informally by the internal school ICT coordinators. ECDL classes were provided for teaching staff, the benefit of which is to be seen by the effective deployment of ICT observed in some subject areas.
Budgeting and planning for the ongoing upkeep of the school is effectively dealt with by the board of management and the VEC. In recent years there has been continued targeted investment in the maintenance and improvement of the existing school building and infrastructure. The importance of maintaining not only the safety but also the appearance of the school surroundings to project a positive school image and environment is recognised and a number of improvements to the school plant have been carried out. While acknowledging that some improvements or updating of equipment and/or of specialist rooms will be carried forward into the planning for the new school, required improvements have been undertaken. In this context, and regardless of future substantial investment and building plans, essential improvements to the existing plant should continue to be undertaken.
The school is equipped with resources required to support teaching and learning. All subjects can benefit from the provision of the three well resourced computer rooms, while other subject areas have appropriate provision of relevant specialist rooms e.g. science laboratories, sports hall, home economics rooms, hair salon. The planned provision of computers in classrooms will provide an excellent opportunity for the increased use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning in all subject areas. The school library is at present used as a classroom. In the context of planning for the new school building, consideration should be given to the provision of a shared resource area to optimise access to ICT, to material resources, to study and library facilities to support the curriculum of the school and the work of individual students. A Health and Safety statement has been developed and Health and Safety is an assigned Special Duties Post, which includes a range of monitoring duties. Written reporting with recommendations for improvement to school management is a commendable practice.
Two years ago, Co. Kildare VEC applied to post-primary administration of the Department of Education and Science (DES) to source funding to pilot a new initiative to support students with attendance and/or behavioural problems which would help to ensure their retention in school. The VEC sought two whole-time teacher equivalents to establish and maintain a social inclusion workshop. The VEC was granted additional funding for one year to continue the work of the project. An essential pre-requisite to the retention of such an initiative is the availability of physical space to accommodate the workshop. Options regarding the availability of appropriate accommodation in the existing school site should be explored to provide additional classroom space required for the continuation of such a worthwhile project.
The previous management team in St. Patrick’s had firmly established procedures and good practice in relation to planning. From 2000 onwards, St. Patrick’s has been engaged in a systematic planning process through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), having recognised the need to formalise and coordinate the good practice already established. School planning has also benefited from the additional expertise acquired in the area by school personnel, which has resulted in an enrichment of the process.
In March 2004, an external SDPI coordinator facilitated the most recent planning process, through which four main areas of priority for the school were identified. This priority list was arrived at through discussion and consultation, task groups were set up and a review was conducted of the priority areas. Significant is that all priorities for development have the student as its focus. This is to be commended. In the course of the evaluation, many tasks identified for school improvement and priorities for development were observed to have been addressed and indeed, continue to be addressed in practice. Subject planning is another key element of School Development Planning which is being addressed.
The revision of the Student Journal is an illustration of how the development planning process works. The outcome of the task group’s work in this area is tangible evidence of the effectiveness of both the process and the product. The committee’s ideas were brought to staff, parents and students for their view and consultation. The end product, the Student Journal, facilitates monitoring of attendance records, standardising procedures and consistent application of school policy and is now used comprehensively and consistently for the benefit of student, parents and the school. This is evidence of a quality inclusive planning process enhancing the school’s performance and is commendable. Arising out a review of work completed to date, and as a logical follow-on to the work on the Student Journal, it is recommended that a task group be identified to review the school’s Homework Policy. This could be developed in parallel with the proposed review of the discipline system which will be targeted by the SDP process.
Another example of planning in action was the process surrounding the re-introduction of Transition Year (TY). School management and staff are to be commended for the targeted manner in which review was undertaken and the decisive way in which the reintroduction of TY was acted upon for the current school year. Specific targets and timeframes were adhered to in order to present a revised TY programme and subject specific TY syllabuses and modules to both parents and students. Notwithstanding the work completed to date, the subject plans for TY should be reviewed in light of this year’s experience and presented in electronic format perhaps using the excellent existing ICT module for TY as a prototype. In the course of the re-introduction of TY, all the stakeholders in the school community had the opportunity for discussion and for raising issues and to contributing to the decision making process and to curriculum development. Endorsement of the decision is ensured by the collaborative nature of its development.
At the end of the school year 2006, the permanent part of the school plan was finished and disseminated amongst the school community. The School Plan is now the school’s reference point from a documentation point of view: policies, programmes and curriculum, structures and sets of procedures are now in place. The School Plan has provided the basis for the Teacher Handbook. This could also be readily amended to provide a Parents’ Handbook. As articulated to inspectors in the course of the evaluation, the whole school community is committed to the ideal of the school plan being a living working document, constantly being reviewed and renewed in its implementation. The work achieved is an example of excellent practice.
There is also a process folder which documents the ongoing work in review and improvement. The final part of the School Plan documents the audit of what has been achieved and the priorities for completion. The work achieved in this area by the school is exemplary. The school’s audit of school planning issues since 2004 demonstrates the school’s progress to cohesive, collaborative developmental planning. There were good examples of systematic review and improvement observed in the course of the evaluation. In the area of management of human resources, school management plays an ongoing role in the promotion of self-evaluation practices and in the development a culture of self-reflection at school level and, through the CEO, at system level.
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, 1999, updated issue May 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 procurement of a site for a new school has created a sense of urgency that might otherwise not have been a feature of the planning process. In this context, the essential educational developmental planning will be the responsibility of in-school management, with the board of management of St. Patrick’s, including key stakeholders, parents, teaching staff and students. There is evidence that the impetus and vigour which characterise the school development planning process will continue into the current situation.
Senior management is effective in being innovative yet pragmatic, introducing and leading initiatives which are appropriate, viable and sustainable for their student and teacher cohort. The school’s response to the students enrolling in their school is to seek the optimal range of subjects, programmes and initiatives to support their successful integration and education. The range of initiatives and programmes to meet the needs of the student cohort, and to offset disadvantage where necessary, was commendable - the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Leaving Certificate Vocational programme (LCVP) and the Transition Year programme.
Significant to the delivery of the programmes and initiatives was the team approach and the level of cooperation across programmes and subjects, which is essential, for example, for the successful and smooth implementation of the school’s work experience component across three programmes. The result of the effective implementation of the programmes was evident in the classes and activities observed in the course of the evaluation. Planning is a large part of a programme coordinator’s role in the many programmes on offer in the college. Exemplary work was being carried out and continues to be carried out by programme coordinators. The successful planning for the implementation of the TY programme is exemplified in the sample of subjects inspected as part of this evaluation.
One of the first objectives targeted by the principal was the broadening of the curriculum. The core curriculum at junior cycle in St. Patrick’s has broadened to encompass subjects with an academic, a practical and a vocational orientation. Since 2004, History and Geography have been introduced to the core curriculum at junior cycle, as well as Science. The spread of subjects is broadening and new teachers have been recruited to meet the needs of the broader curriculum. The school at present is in a phase of transition in terms of curriculum development and the increase in student numbers will allow for the recruitment of teachers of further new subjects. The process of expanding the curriculum to meet the need of a broader cohort of student has been firmly established, and it is recommended that this process continue as the increases in student numbers and teacher allocation allow.
ICT supports are also crucial in meeting the needs of the school curriculum and individual learners. ICT is offered as a distinct subject and the school has developed an exemplary syllabus for ICT, building from first year to sixth year. School management and the ICT coordination try to ensure as equitable and feasible an access as possible for the current demand.
St. Patrick’s is the largest Adult Education provider in the town and classes are ongoing on four nights a week. Certified courses and courses in the leisure area form the majority of enrolments. The Adult Education team is to be commended for its practice of review and evaluation. In this way the Adult Education team is kept up-to-date on demand, popularity and success of the courses and classes. The administration and organisation of such a large programme of courses for County Kildare VEC is undertaken by a team of personnel, which are very well supported by school management and the VEC. Resources acquired for the delivery of Adult Education and PLC courses augment the provision in the school.
St. Patrick’s is one of the longest established education centres offering Post-leaving Certificate (PLC) courses in Kildare. In recent years, the student body has diversified, including people returning to second chance education and members of the international population. Of the students who completed the Business and ICT for Mature Students course in 2006, the majority of whom are now in either full or part-time employment. During the academic year of 2003/2004 St. Patrick’s was pioneer in setting up a two year specialist PLC course for Students with Special Needs entitled Information Technology and Life skills. This is a commendable development. Of the cohort of students who completed the two year programme in May of 2006, there is evidence of progress to further education or to direct employment. St. Patrick’s is one of the most innovative venues for Equestrian courses in Ireland. The equine courses are designed in the main in partnership between the relevant industry experts and the equestrian tutor team at the college.
Teamwork and delegation of duties are critical factors in the successful implementation of the PLC programme of courses. Good teamwork will ensure the equitable and efficient distribution of work. It is recommended therefore that, where a large area of responsibility has been delegated, such as the PLC area, team leaders strive to delegate as effectively as possible to achieve an optimum level of performance in fulfilling the full range of duties assigned. This will also facilitate school management in the monitoring and review of the effective delegation of duties.
The school works on the principle that each student is entitled to access any subject and is to be commended for this. In offering subjects to incoming first years or at key times within the school cycle, the school aims at achieving lines of maximum satisfaction on the part of student and parent wishes and needs. The school is commended for the ways in which it provides information and guidance to students and their parents in relation to different curricular choices and options.
Classes are organised along ability lines though they are not strictly streamed. A class has been designated each year as a special needs class and accommodates students who have special educational needs. There is also a grouping for students who have been identified as having high levels of ability. To ensure that there continues to be a growing cohort of students striving towards higher level, the school has devoted sometimes scarce resources to the provision of subjects to the more able students. The remaining two classes are of mixed ability.. Movement between class groupings is permitted to allow students to follow a subject at a level appropriate to their needs and ability or indeed to transfer to a different grouping. This is commendable.
The Special Needs class curriculum has an emphasis on targeted support and a rich mix of practical subjects. This is commendable and is in line with best practice. Students within the Special Needs classes study an extra practical subject, which replaces a language component studied by other classes. The Junior Certificate School Programme supports students who are studying this curriculum. The JCSP is a well co-ordinated programme within the school. In the meeting of JCSP teachers observed, information on new additions to the programme was disseminated and teachers were encouraged to keep the momentum in the delivery of the programme. This was done effectively. Teachers are to be commended for their work in monitoring of student progress and for the professional judgement required. The effort in this area of the curriculum, as in many others, is characterised by team work: parents, teachers, students collaborate in the successful attainment of common goals.
In senior cycle students currently have the choice of studying the LCA or the LCVP. The provision of LCVP to main stream Leaving Certificate students is a curricular decision which is appropriate and in line with the school’s stated aims for its students. The LCA is characterised by good teacher-student relationships, facilitated not least by the fact that the year head for LCA carries through from year one to year two and also acts as programme coordinator contributing to the positive and enabling learning environment created.
There are a wide number of sports available for the students in St. Patrick’s. Both school management and professional personnel in the area of PE and sport are role models for the students in terms of participation, competitiveness and achievement. The procedures in place to help to guarantee a safe, secure and successful participation in sport both within and outside of school are transparent, equitable and clearly communicated. Through the involvement of the key qualified PE personnel, the interface with PE provision is well established. The school’s extra-curricular team bring an optimum level of skill and organisation coupled with an enjoyment and commitment to education through sport, contributing in no small way to the holistic development of the students. The school is to be commended for this.
There is equity of access, and good participation rates both by girls and boys are evident from school statistics and displays of achievement. The school can hold its own in many sporting spheres and obtain successes. There has been a great increase in the variety of sports available to students in the last few years. The sports range from boys and girls Gaelic football to athletics and basketball. The school is introducing volleyball on request from the international students. Equestrian sports form a part of the JCSP and LCA programmes.
Non-sporting extra-curricular activities include chess and involvement in musical activities and dramatics. The addition of Music to the curriculum and the employment of a music teacher have greatly enhanced the provision in terms of musical activities both within the curriculum and in the extra-curricular area. During the course of the inspection there was an opportunity to observe the choir practising after school. There was excellent attendance and a good balance of participation between boys and girls and a wide spectrum from different classes and year groups. Clubs such as Club na Gaeilge, the Breakfast club are also features of the extra-curricular provision. School tours form a regular and integral component of the palette of extracurricular activities available to students.
The school significant work achieved in School Development Planning has been extended to the different subjects, with staff being given dedicated time for this process. Junior cycle subject plans are complete and subject plans at senior cycle are the focus of this years planning days. The commitment of staff to the aims and outcomes of planning for individual subject areas is commended. All subject areas inspected have developed significant planning documents, with both short-term and long-term goals being explored. Individual subject plans include descriptions of curriculum content, effective teaching strategies, resources to be used, assessment methodologies and professional development. Some plans outlined exciting innovations in cross-curricular planning and it is recommended that cross-curricular planning be extended to all subject areas. On completion of the senior cycle subject planning process, it is recommended that subject planning documentation should be clearly presented and disseminated to ensure that plans when adopted are subsequently implemented in practice on a daily basis.
The facilitation of regular planning meetings and the appointment of subject coordinators have contributed to the developments in subject planning and collaboration among subject teachers. Planning for subject areas within programmes such as JCSP and LCA is commended. Planning for the use of ICT in some subject areas is well developed and ICT is being utilised in innovative ways for effective teaching and learning. It is recommended that planning for the use of ICT in all subject areas should be prioritised for further development.
Planning for Health and Safety and the conduct of regular Health and Safety audits in relevant subject areas was deemed highly satisfactory. Planning for the provision of a wide range of resources is underway in most subject areas. Much work has been gone into enhancing the range of modern resources available to subjects. It is recommended that all subject areas develop a bank of resources which can be centrally accessed by teachers. Short-term planning for lessons observed was excellent with a range of teaching and learning aids being provided for both academic and practical work.
The planning in place for the newly reinstated Transition Year for the individual subject areas was commendable. Planning for subjects was, for the most part, in line with programme objectives and recommended approaches. For example, the Science module has been designed to present the sciences in an applied context and there was a balance in content for the student in the Biology, Physics and Chemistry disciplines. In the subject area of PE, the activities were such that they would contribute to the development of lifelong leisure and leadership skills that will be of use to students in developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Opportunities are also provided for students to develop research techniques through the preparation of projects and oral presentations. However, the planning documentation for Irish in TY would benefit from the inclusion of more variety in content and approach. In relation to French the introduction of some simple aspects of learner autonomy which would facilitate self-directed learning as promoted in the TY guidelines was recommended.
Teaching and learning was regarded as very good in all subject areas inspected. In the languages inspected, there was evidence of consistent use of the target language as the main language of communication and instruction in the language classroom. This is commendable practice. Strategies for active student participation in class and for the promotion of the use of the target language were also deployed. Further strategies could be collaboratively developed in this area. Also in the language classes observed, appropriate emphasis was placed on correct pronunciation and effective use was made of repetition in order to ensure that students were comfortable with new words and phrases. In all subjects observed, varied and effective methodologies were deployed in the classroom leading to students being continually challenged and interested, for example, the teaching methodologies employed in practical classes were commended. Students learned effectively through a wide range of approaches to practical elements of the lessons, including a “learning by doing” approach to acquiring specialist knowledge.
Consistently well-structured and well-paced lessons with ample opportunities for students to engage in group and pair work were features of the lessons observed. Tasks set were purposeful and of good standard. Role-play was also effectively used. Students were interested and engaged in classes observed and discipline was consistently very good. Links with students own lives and areas of experience contributed to student engagement. Teachers circulated classes and interacted with individual students, when required. There was an excellent rapport between students and teachers in classes observed and students were continually affirmed for effort and good work. In some classes observed the purpose of the lesson was explicitly communicated to students. Students were asked to reflect on previous learning and in activities, such as role-play, students drew on previous learning. The sharing of intended learning outcomes and the encouragement of learner autonomy as observed are commendable practices. It is recommended that this practice be extended in all classes.
Good and effective use was made of the white boards and overhead projectors in classes in order to illustrate points and concepts, and to provide new vocabulary. The print-rich environment in classrooms was praised and it was recommended that the practice of displaying relevant posters and student work should be maintained and extended as much as possible. The use of a broader range of resources was recommended in some subject areas.
The subject inspection reports referred to consistent and regular assessment of student achievement. Students are examined frequently throughout the year through class tests at the end of chapters or topics or on a monthly basis. A range of assessment modes are deployed. Practical work is assessed regularly and credited. The policy within the language areas of assessing all of the different language skills is to be commended. It is recommended that the approach of assessing oral language skills from first year be embedded and developed as appropriate in the different languages.
Homework is regularly given and corrected with annotated feedback for students. Good use is made of the Student Journal to communicate progress in homework assignments. In line with the school’s intention to develop an overall homework policy, it is recommended that consistent approaches to the giving of homework be developed within all subject areas. Teachers keep detailed records of student assessment and achievement which are used at parent-teacher meetings, and in some cases these records form part of overall yearly results. This type of formative assessment is good practice.
Students are supported and advised in their choices regarding ordinary or higher levels for examination purposes. The school has conducted an analysis in relation to choice of level by students at Junior Certificate level and particularly the trends in relation to males and females in aiming at higher or ordinary level. This is commendable practice. It is clear from minutes of staff and management meetings, that student expectation and achievement of standard are questions which require constant attention. To initiate the analysis at junior cycle allows time for the school and teachers to encourage students to have higher expectations and to achieve higher standards at Leaving Certificate level, which is valuable.
Regular and systematic analysis of student attainment data is also an annual feature of the school’s practice. This is commendable. This analysis contributes to informing and directing improvements in resource coordination and support for students. It also creates awareness among the school community, teachers, parents and students, of the importance of need for continuous striving towards improvement and stretching the boundaries of attainment and achievement. To ensure that each individual student attains his or her maximum potential, the school should continue to monitor student uptake of appropriate levels and achievement in state examinations.
Students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) come from all over the county to attend St. Patrick’s. Students are provided with specific support tailored to their individual needs, on a one-to-one or small group basis, as well as being successfully integrated throughout the school. The school works on the principle that each student is entitled to access any subject and is to be commended for this. Class formation allows for some students with Special Educational Needs to be integrated into a mixed-ability grouping, if appropriate. The provision of LCA and JCSP also supports this objective. The SEN department deploys many ways of providing learning support, creating a secure structure for learning; ensuring growth in terms of social and emotional interaction. These include: team teaching, one-to-one tuition, Individual Education Plans, subject specific support, personal development, literacy and numeracy support. There was a highly tuned awareness of the needs of the students demonstrated in the course of the evaluation. Planning was also underway to initiate a programme of awareness for students, which would involve giving students an understanding of different types of learning difficulties in order to help students interact and relate to each other. This is commendable.
Integration and inclusive practices are the hallmark of the work of the Special Needs team, which is to be commended for its exemplary work in this area and in supporting in such a professional manner both teachers and students alike. The “Staff Information on Students with Special Educational Needs, School Year 2006/2007” document is an example of the standard of documentation produced by the Special Needs coordinators. The detail and care with which this information is compiled is exemplary. In this way, the school tries to ensure its readiness for the learning difficulties students present with and the smooth transition of students from primary to second level. Sensitivity is demonstrated in relation to testing of students and the information about students. Parents are also sensitively kept informed of the provision being made for their child. This work is an example of excellent practice.
The successful implementation of the learning support for students requires constant liaison. The weekly scheduled meeting time has facilitated the formalising of ongoing and regular sharing of information and updates on progress. The ways in which the school creates the enabling environment in which their students with special educational needs can learn is commendable. In this context, it is recommended that the Special Needs Team devise a programme to equip subject teachers with teaching strategies for learners experiencing difficulty in the mainstream classroom and thereby enhance their capacity to support SEN students.
The Social Inclusion workshop is a positive intervention for students experiencing difficulty, which was piloted in St. Patrick’s over the past two years with funding for the specific purpose acquired by the VEC. There were many factors which contributed to the success of the workshop, not least the tailoring of a learning programme to the student’s articulated needs, resulting in a gradual reintegration and reconciliation back into mainstream. The concept of a dedicated workshop worked very effectively and the school is to be commended for this pioneering and caring work. It is recommended that school management find a way of retaining a workable model of the Social Inclusion workshop within the context of a reduction in the funding available. Through its participation in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS) initiative, the school will have access to the supports of the new integrated School Support Programme (SSP).
The local Juvenile Liaison Officer is also a useful contact and resource for the school in the care and monitoring of potential students at risk, exercising an effective preventative role. St. Patrick’s has benefited from the open relationship which has developed over the years in the area of support for students. The school has also benefited from another external support to the school is the Visiting Teacher for Travellers service. The Visiting Teacher has full access to the teachers in the school and visits families with the HSCL officer.
Since 2000, there have been international students attending St.Patrick’s Community College and since then, the numbers of international students have continued to grow. In order to provide for the international students, a coordinator has been appointed and teachers for English as a Second Language (ESL) have been recruited. The school provides an orientation day for the international students and their parents, subsequent to which, students are assessed, parents are interviewed and students are then categorised according to their linguistic needs. The students are assigned to class groups in a mixed ability setting and there is constant review and flexibility regarding their optimum placement. This is excellent practice. The school has been very successful is addressing the linguistic integration of their international students and now wants to address the more complex issue of the social and intercultural integration. Access to relevant training both for students and teachers in the area of intercultural differences and anti-racist bullying is also being planned. Parents of international students are provided with free classes in ESL through the Adult Education provision. The HSCL coordinator visits the homes of international students and encourages parents to attend classes. Key school documents have been translated into the languages required, mainly by the students themselves. The progress achieved in the successful integration of international students in the school, socially, linguistically and academically is commendable.
The School Plan clearly documents the school’s policies in relation to guidance and counselling. The school has also developed a Guidance Information Booklet for dissemination to students, parents and the wider school community, including adult learners. This is good practice. The School Plan also includes the school’s Guidance Plan, which outlines the guidance activities chosen for each year group to respond to student guidance needs. This is a useful foundation document, which covers the many aspects of the guidance role, from counselling, consultation, assessment, referral, classroom guidance and vocational preparation.
Guidance documentation prepared clearly meets the objective of identifying student needs and developing the school’s response. It also outlines clearly the communication structures for parents. Due to the extensive nature of the role and the whole school approach to Guidance involving teachers, tutors, year heads, the Care team, the Special Needs team, SPHE teachers, the Guidance Plan should be elaborated further over time to include methodologies and approaches for cohesive delivery of the content outlined. The Guidance department also makes a significant contribution to the work experience modules of the LCA and LCVP, as well as the career investigation for LCVP. In this context, the Guidance department, together with programme coordinators, should introduce a process of tracking the destination of its Leaving Certificate students to ascertain the numbers who access employment or go on to further studies. Such destination tracking will provide the school with indicators of attainment and possible future direction for the school’s programmes and its students.
The Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) scheme is an extension of the educational philosophy of the school reaching out to the families most at risk of not being included or not including themselves. Prior to the re-establishment of the Parents’ Association in the current year, there had been a Home School Liaison Committee for some years facilitating parental involvement in their children’s education. This is commendable. A variety of classes are offered to parents including literacy and numeracy, ESL and cookery classes. At a more formal level meetings with parents or parent groups are organised in the parents’ room.
In line with best practice, the HSCL service provides detailed planning documents and records of work. These ensure immediate and essential access to information and open communication with school management and other relevant school personnel. Examination of the documentation provides evidence of a wide range of activities in line with school objectives and with planning documentation. There was evidence of liaison with relevant school personnel in deciding schedules of home visits. The ongoing links with outside and community agencies was also evident from records of work and planning documentation.
All teachers are involved in the provision of pastoral care, but in particular class tutors, year heads, the Care team and guidance and counselling are an integral part of the school’s pastoral care system. The role of the year head as defined in school documentation and as observed in practice in the school, both within and outside the classroom, is an example of excellent practice. The year head role is both pastoral and disciplinary. Interactions, approaches and decisions taken are governed by the overarching principle of fairness. The school has a very diverse set of students with very different sets of needs and differences – social, cultural, linguistic and special learning.
The role of year head is embedded in the middle management structure. The year head is the first point of contact for the student, the parent and the class teacher. The way in which the discipline system operates illustrates this. Discipline issues which had been taking up much of senior management time are now effectively and efficiently delegated to an appropriate structure within the school. It is recommended, therefore, to continue the developments in effective and efficient delegation to support the school’s successful growth and expansion. Communication is a priority for the year heads: communication with students, parents, with the school, whether school management, teachers or class tutors. The student journal covers all aspects of the discipline system and is very effectively used. Records such as the student information sheet, the conduct report contribute to the efficacy of record keeping. The daily time allocation to the contact with students at tutorial or registration is invaluable, the benefit of which was observed in the course of the evaluation.
A peer mentoring programme for first years is carried out by Transition Year students and an induction day is organised specifically for first years in September. Such a provision ensures a familiarisation with school values and structures as soon as possible after admission to the school and is to be commended. There was evidence of the mentoring system working effectively, and in the meeting of the Care Team observed in the course of the evaluation, the student mentoring system was also drawn upon, where the relevant student mentor could assist in communication and contact with students experiencing problems.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
· Subject Inspection of French– 29 September 2006
· Subject Inspection of Irish– 22 September 2006
· Subject Inspection of Physical Education– 22 September 2006
· Subject Inspection of Science and Biology – 22 September 2006
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of St. Patrick’s Community College wish to acknowledge the professionalism of the team of inspectors from the Department of Education and Science and the sensitivity and respect shown at all times towards all the schools shareholders. The whole evaluation process has proved an energising and affirming experience.
The school authorities are particularly pleased that the inspectorate have recognised the following;
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection a
Implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management wish to advise the Department of Education and Science that the following actions have been undertaken;