An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Arklow Community College
Arklow, County Wicklow
Roll number: 70740M
Date of inspection: 5 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Whole School Evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Arklow Community College. 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, the CEO of County Wicklow VEC 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 senior management, 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.
Arklow Community College has a long tradition of providing technical education in the Arklow area. Technical schools were set up in 1905 in different locations in the town, to meet the educational needs of the community. They were amalgamated in 1915 in a new building. The school moved to its present location in 1974 as Arklow Vocational School and adopted the current name in 1993. For one hundred years it has given the town a co-educational, multi-denominational, non-selective day and evening educational service. The provision of PLC courses in the school has facilitated members of the community to return to education locally allowing them to enhance their employment prospects.
There is great pride among members of both management and staff in the history, development and background of the school. The history of the school is documented in a commemorative book. Centenary celebrations last year saw many events take place culminating in an unveiling of the centenary sculpture. This was designed by a member of staff and represents the school’s journey through the past one hundred years. The school’s crest was drawn by a former student and depicts the learning tradition of the school combined with Arklow’s maritime heritage.
Arklow Community College is one of three post-primary schools in the town. The school is located on the outskirts of Arklow, a town which has grown substantially in population in the past number of years and has become part of the Dublin commuter belt. Students come mainly from the town but also from the wider catchment area of surrounding rural primary schools. The school caters for students from a wide range of social backgrounds and a wide range of abilities, including those with special educational needs, and has a very good reputation for catering for students with such diverse needs.
The school presently provides free education to 307 mainstream students. More boys than girls attend the school; seventy percent of the mainstream students are male. There are seventy-eight students participating in PLC courses, all of which are female.
The issue of restricted accommodation in the school building and the provision of a sports hall have been pursued by management for some time now and the application for a proposed development has reached architectural planning stage. Management very much hope to move this forward as soon as possible and provide enhanced facilities for staff and students.
Parents and students clearly wish to gain from the quality of care and education provided in this school and the numbers of incoming first years has been increasing steadily. In particular, the past two years has seen the first-year intake increase to more than twice what it was in 2002. To accommodate the increasing numbers, the number of first-year groupings was increased from four to five class groups and management foresee that this will be sustained in the future. Management reported that they admit all students who apply to the school and have at times taken students who were originally enrolled in another school.
The school has disadvantaged status and is presently part of the Stay in School Retention Initiative (SSRI). The school has been invited to participate in the new Department of Education and Science Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS) programme for schools.
The school’s mission statement is: “Arklow Community College aims to provide quality education for all students by preparing them for the challenges of life. We are committed to promoting Christian values in a caring and respectful environment, by encouraging positive contributions from parents, students, teachers and the local community.” This overarching aim is also reflected it the school’s behaviour policy which is based on the key principles that there will be “good relationships and co-operation among all”, “equal and fair treatment of all” and that “praise, encouragement and reward will be used as mechanisms for the formation of good behaviour and academic excellence”. Discussions with each of the parties consulted confirmed that these aims are achieved in all levels of the school. Parents feel that the school gives a prompt response to problems should they arise and that students are treated both fairly and sensitively. They also reported that the school brings out the best in their children and that they were glad they had chosen this school.
The one fundamental rule in the school is that everyone must show respect, concern and consideration for each other at all times. The quality of interactions and relationships observed throughout the school indicates considerable success in achieving this objective. Good rapport was evident between teachers and students both inside and outside the classroom. The school presents as a very settled environment in which the atmosphere is respectful and welcoming. Students demonstrated good order at all times and standards of behaviour were clearly understood and accepted. The success of this positive atmosphere is fostered by a sincere commitment to care for the individual by all staff, effective pastoral care and discipline systems and the ‘open door’ approach taken by senior management.
County Wicklow Vocational Education Committee (VEC) is the patron of the school and has overall responsibility for staff appointments and appointments to posts of responsibility. The school derives considerable support from the VEC, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Education Officer (EO). Support is particularly provided in the areas of continuing professional development for staff, support networks in key areas and also through encouragement for ongoing development and strategic planning for the school. This is highly commended.
The school’s board of management, which is a sub-committee of Co Wicklow VEC, comprises four VEC representatives, two community/industry/education/trade representatives, two parents’ representatives and two teachers’ representatives. The CEO and EO may also attend board meetings from time to time. The board has a term of office of three years and the current board is in the third year of appointment. The board meets at least once per school term. An agenda is circulated prior to each meeting. Minutes are taken at all meetings by the school principal acting as secretary to the board and these are circulated to all members. Overall the board comprises a combination of skills drawn from various professions locally. Some of the VEC members of the board have had training to support them in their role and the VEC intends to provide further training in the future and this should be pursued.
VEC representatives on the board keep the patron informed of developments and the VEC produces an annual report on all its schools. The board supports partnership and inclusiveness in decision making and sees itself as a forum for issues to be brought forward and discussed. The representatives effectively bring forward issues from their bodies and also bring information and responses back following each meeting. The principal and the chairperson of the board are in weekly contact. The board values greatly the contribution, input and support of the parents’ council, the chairperson of which is a member of the board.
The board of management takes an active interest in, and is very supportive of the school, particularly in the way in which the school has been able to expand and develop in recent years. Board members attend the school’s open day and other promotional activities. The board sees itself as an overseer in ensuring educational provision for the community. Priorities that occupy most of the time of the current board include wider issues such as: pursuing the proposed school extension and sports hall; modernisation projects under the summer works scheme; development of the PLC courses; promoting involvement with community groups; and funding. The board is also aware of its responsibilities and statutory obligations and is supported by the legal services of the VEC.
The board entrusts the responsibilities for management of day-to-day issues to the senior management team in whom it expressed considerable confidence. For example, school documents, the school timetable and details of suspensions and student welfare are handled by school management. Such matters are subsequently brought to the attention of the board through the principal’s report. In this way the board provides more of a supportive role and is therefore not primarily involved in management issues. For this reason it is recommended that the board should examine its overall role in relation to school management. The board should also give greater consideration to issues pertaining to the curriculum, to student attainment and to the necessity to have an ongoing review of policies.
The acting principal and acting deputy principal of the school were both appointed in 2001. At the time of their appointments they had to tackle falling enrolments and discipline issues and have succeeded in both of these. Enrolments to first year are increasing significantly and discipline is firmly established in the school. There is evidently a very good working relationship between the principal and deputy principal. Their skills and talents are complementary and result in the effective and smooth running of the school. The principal and deputy principal are visibly engaged in the daily life of the school and in the professional work of teachers and post holders. They interact in a positive manner with all and make considerable efforts to make themselves available to students and their parents at all times. This approach has proved effective. They are very supportive of staff who feel they can approach them on any issue. The principal and deputy principal are well aware of the challenges that face the school and work actively to implement change wherever necessary and to plan for the future of Arklow Community College.
The principal is strongly supported and held in high esteem by the board, patrons, middle management team, staff and parents. Duties of the principal include liaison with the VEC, promoting School Development Planning (SDP) and planning for the proposed extension. Duties of the deputy principal include responsibility for supervision and substitution and detention. Both the principal and deputy principal take responsibility for the deployment of staff and the formation of the school timetable.
There has been effective and commendable delegation of responsibilities to middle management posts which has allowed the principal to concentrate on the growth and development of the school. Staff of the school respond well to this delegation. There is a collegial and cohesive atmosphere among all members of staff and morale is high. Teachers of the school have a positive input into decision making and this is commended.
Middle management consists of ten assistant principals, thirteen special duties teachers and a home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) teacher. Clarity exists around each role as posts of responsibility carry detailed job descriptions. Deployment of posts of responsibility is generally very good with positive use of available skills and considerable devolvement of work. Expectations from the principal are high regarding the fulfilment of duties and the principal endeavours to talk to each post-holder weekly. Generally, teachers conduct their roles with commendable dedication and commitment. However, not all post-holders have an entirely equitable division of responsibilities and some duties have become obsolete. Posts of responsibility should be continually monitored by management to address such issues.
Within this school the assistant principals, which include the year heads, are referred to as part of the senior management structure. They conduct weekly management meetings with the principal and deputy principal. An agenda is circulated for this meeting and business is kept succinct. The weekly review involves discussions pertaining to student discipline and pastoral care arising from the work of year heads during the preceding week. In addition, the principal discusses new developments with this group before bringing them to the rest of the staff. The assistant principals, therefore, are given a primary role in decision making in their school and this has resulted in empowerment and a feeling of ownership.
There is effective and ongoing dissemination of internal information through the staff handbook, daily staff newsletters and regular staff meetings. The staff handbook is comprehensive and contains essential information on the aims, systems, procedures and policies of the school. The daily staff newsletter is prepared by the school secretary using contributions from teachers across the school and this is circulated at break time. It details the many activities taking place in the school, gives an account of student achievements and also includes elements of ‘housekeeping’. Staff meetings are held one afternoon each week for one hour, for which students leave the school half an hour early. This ensures that teachers are kept well up-to-date and have a good input into developments in many facets of school life. An agenda is set and minutes are maintained. These meetings sometimes contain an element of subject department planning. Notice boards on the walls of the staff room are used to display general school information and activities. All of these methods in promoting good internal communication are highly commended.
Teachers that are newly-appointed at the beginning of the school year are well supported in making the transition to the school. The school has a teacher induction policy. This is supported by the VEC who organise a detailed induction programme for new teachers. However, there is a need to provide greater support and assistance to substitute teachers who are appointed during the school year. Management should ensure that these teachers receive the planning documents and resources particular to their subject area and the schemes of work for the class groups.
Each year head has overall responsible for monitoring the welfare of a year group. A training workshop for year heads has been provided by the VEC and it is reported that this has been very effective. Management feels that the role of year head has improved greatly in recent years and is working very well. In addition, each class group is assigned a class teacher. Both the year head and class teacher monitor entries in student journals and liaise closely with each other on issues of individual students. By liaising with management and key staff, year heads and class teachers effectively provide an integrated approach to both discipline and pastoral care.
Matters of student discipline are initially dealt with by the teacher involved. They are supported in this by the class teacher or the year head and by senior management. In the event that a sanction is required the detention system may be used. Detention is noted in the student journal and recorded centrally. Students may be put on ‘report’ by their year head. This report must be signed by teachers at the end of every lesson. Parents are informed of disciplinary issues as soon as possible and their co-operation is sought. Overall discipline is established through clearly-defined and well-explained rules which are reinforced at assembly and at meetings with parents. Serious behaviour offences are dealt with by the principal, and strategies are evaluated at staff meetings. Procedures for suspension are clearly outlined. At the beginning of the school year each student is given a copy of the code of behaviour. This contains a declaration which parents must sign accepting that their child will abide by the code. Student files which include progress records and discipline sheets are used at meetings with parents. Overall, the discipline system is fair and is based on a caring ethos where misbehaviour is approached in a way that endeavours to get to the cause of the problem by talking with the student. This is highly commended.
The school has an attendance and participation policy. A part-time attendance officer monitors attendance and lateness by individual students and encourages more regular attendance by all students. This service is working very well. It is suggested that management explore the possibility of computerising this system as it makes record keeping immediate and more accessible. Information on school attendance and the duties of parents under the Education Welfare Act are all outlined in the school’s Guide for Parents. Registers are taken in the morning and afternoon. The attendance officer telephones parents immediately where there is an unexplained absence. Absences over twenty days are referred to the Education Welfare Board. Truancy entails a minimum of two hours detention. Repeated offences, however, are usually an indicator of some personal difficulty and are dealt with in a caring manner by the year head or other staff as appropriate. This may involve a meeting with parents to highlight concerns.
Teachers keep an active and constant supervisory presence in the school and its grounds. There is a clear code of practice for supervision and substitution. Prefects take responsibility in this area and help the teacher assigned with this duty. SNAs are also involved in supervision of students. Students may remain on the premises for the full school day or, with parental permission, leave the school during the lunch period.
The school actively strives to facilitate the engagement of all parents in the school at different levels. The familiarisation night for first-year parents and the information evening for the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) are important channels through which procedures and practices in the school are introduced. In this way parents get to know the staff of the school, become familiar with the pastoral care and discipline systems and feel involved from the outset of their child’s education. In addition there are parent-teacher meetings, reports are sent home and a number of letters are sent out to parents during the year. Parents are actively encouraged to come into the school and to make contact with the relevant personnel to discuss issues openly. Parents feel strongly that the staff are very approachable and that a genuine culture of care exists. Parents report that there is good discipline in the school, that class sizes are small, that the relationship between students and teachers is good and that their child is taught at a level suited to their needs.
The school is involved in a new education initiative called the ‘Partnership Project’. The project seeks to encourage greater involvement by parents in all aspects of school life and was implemented on a trial basis with one first-year group. It is hoped to continue with this initiative.
Arklow Community College Parents’ Association was established in the 1980s. It is affiliated to a national body and sends representatives to national meetings. The association has been governed by a draft constitution for some time now and it is suggested that the move to accept the constitution be undertaken as soon as possible. In the school, the parents’ council is composed of approximately ten members. The council is hoping to recruit more parents of first-year students. The council is active and meets four to six times a year in the school’s parents’ room. It is recommended that the council formalise their meetings and adopt a system of keeping minutes of all meetings. The principal and deputy principal and a staff member as parents’ council liaison officer may also attend meetings from time to time. The role of the council has changed over the years from one which concentrated mainly on fundraising to one which now collaborates with school management on school policies and issues such as the school uniform. There is a good working relationship between the board of management and the parents’ council. This collaboration is to be commended. The parents’ council indicated a number of issues that were of concern, such as the lack of Physical Education facilities and accommodation difficulties. Overall they expressed considerable satisfaction with the school, its management and in particular the strong commitment to the welfare of all students.
The school has produced a Guide for Parents which is given to parents of incoming students. As well as containing a welcome from the principal, the guide includes much information on every aspect of school life; school structure, subjects, timetable codes, uniform, breakfast club, lockers, canteen, book rental scheme, map of school and all policies that are relevant to parents. This guide provides comprehensive, clear and appropriate information and is highly commended.
The school has a website and this provides a valuable opportunity to showcase the school to the wider community. As well as providing up-to-date information about the school and the programmes it provides, the website is used to highlight the achievements of the school and its students. In addition, a colourful school newsletter is produced twice per year at Christmas and summer and this encapsulates the sense of community and celebrates successes in many areas.
An open afternoon and evening is held in the school during the spring term for students interested in attending the school and their parents. As well as being able to tour the school and meet key staff, promotional presentations are displayed depicting each subject and curricular programme offered. Prefects and students are actively involved in promoting their school during the occasion and student projects are displayed.
The profile of the school has improved in recent years among the community. Notes on school events, photographs, and other school information are submitted to the local newspapers for publication. Valuable links have been forged with many of the employers in the town through work experience programmes.
There are thirty-five teaching staff including the principal and deputy principal. This year the teaching allocation from the VEC is 34.38 wholetime teacher equivalents (WTEs). The school has a full-time caretaker and a full-time secretary, two canteen staff and three cleaning staff. Additional staff includes four PLC tutors and eight Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). As well as meeting the full requirements of their timetable teachers also participate in extra-curricular activities and many are actively engaged in the school environs after school hours, for example giving extra tuition to students in preparation for examinations. The commitment and enthusiasm of teachers toward their school is very positive and is highly commended.
In general, teachers are assigned to classes with the opportunity to rotate levels among all members of the subject department and this is good practice. For the most part teaching staff are deployed appropriately in line with their subject specialism. However, it emerged that in one example there was doubling up class groups for a lesson. This represents inappropriate deployment of teachers and should discontinue.
The principal, the board of management and the VEC all encourage a culture of professional development among staff and this is highly commended. This currently includes support for some teachers who are undertaking diplomas. Teachers are supported in attending inservice in their particular subject areas or programmes and membership of subject associations is encouraged. In addition, the annual staff day has allowed staff to focus on areas for development.
The school provides a welcoming environment for students and their parents. The school entrance, garden and immediate environs are well presented and very well-maintained. The cleanliness and orderliness of the school environment are to be commended. The school corridors are decorated with some historical artifacts and numerous photographs depicting both past and recent achievements and activities. There is a well-run and efficient canteen which is availed of by the majority of students. Good use is made of available resources and specialist rooms. However, due to increasing student intake, general accommodation is limited and three temporary buildings are currently used as classrooms with a further four temporary buildings to be added over the summer break to accommodate increasing numbers next year.
Facilities for Physical Education (PE) are particularly limited. Currently there is no sports hall. There are two playing pitches on the school’s grounds and one basketball court which is in poor condition. The school canteen and Technical Drawing room are used for some activities, such as table tennis. In this way the school is making the best use of available resources and this is commended. The school has found it necessary to utilise a local sports centre to expand the range of physical activities. In addition, there are limited changing facilities in the school. Resources for PE are viewed as an integral part of overall school facilities among parents and the wider community and it is recommended that the enhancement of these facilities should be considered on an interim basis.
The school library has a reasonable stock of books and the borrowing system is in the process of being computerised. The school library facility is seen as an important part of the school and is incorporated into the various programmes and initiatives such as ‘Readathon’. However, access to the library is limited as it is used as a classroom and it is only open to students once a week. Currently the public library is being used at times for student research. The deployment and use of the school library should be fully reviewed and it should be developed as a central accessible resource for each subject area and for teachers and students alike.
There is one well-equipped computer room with internet access. Broadband has been supplied to the school and it is hoped to connect it to all teaching areas as soon as possible. In addition, several computers are available in the library and in a limited number of some specialist areas, such as science and learning support. It is recommended that these computers be networked. Staff have access to one computer in the staff room. The computer room is mainly timetabled for Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) classes, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) classes and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) classes and the current deployment of this facility meets the needs of these groups. However, access for other groups is limited. A popular computer club during one lunch time provides an additional opportunity for students to access Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and this is commended. The deployment of the computer room, therefore, needs careful review and possible restructure in order to increase availability and accessibility. In addition, the modernisation of the adjacent typing room should be given serious consideration. With new equipment it could be serving the dual purpose of both ICT and keyboard skills training.
Classrooms are largely allocated on a teacher basis and this works well. Many classrooms have attractive displays of subject-specific materials and current and contemporary material features in these displays. Portable audio-visual resources are available but the range, quality and use of these vary. As the classrooms do not have blinds it is sometimes difficult to use these resources. Ways of rectifying this should be explored. Furthermore, measures should be taken immediately to improve essential classroom resources and facilities for the use of teaching aids in classrooms.
ICT facilities are not a feature of general classrooms and it is recommended that over time computers and data projectors would be added to classrooms so that ICT applications can be integrated into everyday teaching and learning practices. It is recommended that a policy of effective usage of ICT in the delivery of teaching and learning be promoted within each subject area. Consideration should be given to building on existing ICT skills and to put in place a suitable training programme for all members of staff.
While no formal budgets exist for most subject areas within the school, resources are provided by management on request from the subject teachers. In the practical subject departments, teachers generally manage the sourcing and re-stocking of materials within an annual budget.
There is an environment committee among staff in the school which deals with the physical environment of building and grounds as well as recycling. School resources, including playing pitches, are available to the local community and are used after school hours by community groups. This also includes provision of evening classes.
Health and safety is given careful attention. The school’s health and safety statement which was completed in 2002 is now due for review, particularly since a number of issues identified have been dealt with as part of the summer works scheme. A member of staff acts as health and safety officer. There are fire drills and first aid kits are available around the school.
The school has been actively engaged in School Development Planning (SDP) since 2002 and has obviously gained significantly from the process. The principal has been instrumental in promoting SDP. The participation of the principal and two other teachers in the Diploma in Professional Education Studies (School Planning) has undoubtedly supported the process greatly. The school has engaged the expertise of specialist speakers in the field of education and this has yielded positive benefits.
A SDP committee was set up in 2002 and an initial meeting assisted by the results of a survey highlighted the school’s strengths and weaknesses. Because student literacy and numeracy were of particular concern to the committee, a training seminar was held and a number of initiatives were introduced in this area. Since then whole staff inservice topics have included, counteracting bullying and anger management, raising student self-esteem, achieving positive behaviour and ‘the effective school’, all of which the staff found to be very productive. As part of the planning process small groups of teachers were set up and worked on a range of areas that were prioritised for development. Activities during 2005 focused on the promotion of the school in the community and centenary celebrations. In the current school year the SDP process has concentrated on subject department planning and this is scheduled to continue. Involvement in each of these planning activities over the past few years has provided a valuable opportunity for the staff to reflect on current practices in the school, to guide change and to improve the quality of education provided to students. Through SDP the school has adapted to both external and internal change and has grown positively as a result.
The VEC has provided considerable guidance to the board in the area of policy making. Generic policies from the VEC are examined at length by the staff of the school and may go through several drafts before being accepted. In this way the policy is localised to the particular school. The parents’ council is involved in reviewing school polices and this is good practice. Once the consultation process is completed the policy is sent for legal clarification to the VEC and is then ratified by the board of management. The role of students in policy making is evolving and the students’ council was involved in reviewing the school’s mobile phone policy. There is scope for further development in this area and this should be encouraged and facilitated.
Many policies have been completed to date and these are appropriate to the needs of the school. Parents feel in particular that the behaviour policy and the anti-bullying policy are effective. The guidance policy and the special educational needs policy are currently being drafted. These are to be discussed among all partners and this should progress as soon as possible. Co Wicklow VEC is exploring the development of a policy on supporting students. In tandem with this, the school should focus next on formalising the existing systems for dealing with both pastoral care and critical incidents into school policies.
The school hopes to appoint an SDP co-ordinator and this will undoubtedly streamline the process and ensure the ongoing compilation of the school plan. The priorities for SDP for the coming year are to review the junior cycle curriculum and subject choice groupings and to consider the introduction of a ‘high achieving’ class in the junior cycle streams. These priorities are appropriate to the needs of the school.
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.
Arklow Community College operates a forty-two period week and includes a free half day for students. The school timetable comprises a total of twenty-six hours and five minutes of tuition. This represents a shortage of tuition time for students. In addition, the timetable for two of the JCSP class groups has been shortened by an extra half day and this practice should be discontinued. The matter of compliance with the length of the school week should be addressed and the timetable revised in accordance with circular M29/95 to provide for the minimum number of instruction hours in a school week which is twenty-eight.
The school curriculum encompasses both academic and vocational subjects. The school operates a system of streaming at junior cycle in which the two curricular programmes are provided; the Junior Certificate (JC) programme and the JCSP, which was introduced five years ago. The JC groups each comprise fewer than twenty students. In JCSP groups the class size is generally ten to fifteen students. However, numbers in JC classes can approach thirty students at times for optional subjects chosen by a large number of students. Class sizes for practical classes are moderated and this is good practice.
JC students are timetabled for thirteen subjects. Eleven of these are examination subjects. Having this number of subjects available has caused difficulties with curriculum provision. For the majority of the JC groups there is no provision for PE, Computer Studies or Careers on the timetable and there are only four (three in some circumstances) periods per week allocated to Irish, English and Mathematics. These shortcomings have already been identified by both staff and management and a major review of the curriculum at junior cycle is planned.
First-year JC students sample four of the six optional subjects on the curriculum and then make choices between these subjects at the end of September. This is very supportive of students and is commended. However, this system is not applied to the third option for which girls usually take Home Economics and boys take Metalwork from the outset. A small number of exceptions have occurred where students expressed a desire to follow the alternative subject. This particular choice should be reviewed so that both subjects are seen as realistic options for boys and girls alike.
Students who follow the JC programme are concurrently timetabled for English and Mathematics. This is good practice as it provides students with the opportunity to move between classes and follow these subjects at either higher, ordinary or foundation level as appropriate to their individual abilities. However, this opportunity is not extended to JCSP groups at present and this should be re-evaluated so that JCSP students have access to different levels. It is recommended that concurrent timetabling in English and Mathematics be extended to all groups in any given year. Consideration should be given to applying this system to Irish in junior cycle.
With a view to addressing all of these issues, the curriculum for Junior Certificate needs to be revised and rebalanced. The school should consider moving some subjects between the core curriculum and the optional bands. It is recommended that this review be immediately prioritised for the coming school year.
Although the curriculum for the JCSP is reduced, it still provides a broad and varied range of learning experiences for students. Fourteen subjects are timetabled and most JCSP students take eight subjects in the Junior Certificate examination. PE is part of the curriculum for JCSP classes as is appropriate. The timetable includes five periods per week allocated to Mathematics and this is best practice. However, as for JC, the number of timetabled classes for Irish and English in JCSP is also limited and this should be revised. In addition, only one group is timetabled for Computer Studies. Overall practices in place for the JCSP and the running of the programme are commendable. The availability of this programme in the school contributes greatly towards student retention and to individual achievement, successes and enjoyment of school.
There is a need to examine the curricular status of Irish in junior cycle. It is only allocated two periods on the timetable for some groups. A very large number of students (seventy-four) have exemptions from Irish and this should be monitored closely. The school should also review the place of Irish Cultural Studies in the JCSP.
The school provides three programmes in senior cycle: the LCVP; the LCA programme; the established Leaving Certificate (LC) programme. In general most JCSP students go on to study the LCA programme but not exclusively. Examination of the school timetable reveals that an appropriate number of class periods per week are allocated to the subjects in each programme. The curriculum in senior cycle is generally broad, and matches the needs of the students. However, LCVP students do not have timetabled PE and while recognising the constraints of the timetable this should be reviewed. In addition, LC students are timetabled for homework supervision. The practice of providing homework supervision should be reconsidered as this erodes tuition time.
The arrangements for choice of subjects for Leaving Certificate should be re-examined. There are twelve optional subjects on the curriculum and these are pre-arranged into option blocks. The system of offering students free choice and then forming option blocks based on a best fit of all choices has been surveyed in the school but difficulties were experienced and this was discontinued. Consideration should be given to the reintroduction of this system as there are limitations to the current process. LCA students have a choice between the Engineering and the Hotel, Catering and Tourism vocational specialisms. The gender imbalance found in this option in junior cycle also exists here and this should also be reviewed.
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is provided in the school timetable for all class groups in junior cycle and for senior cycle students as part of their Religious Education classes. This incorporates provision for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). The RSE programme is integrated with other subjects on the curriculum and this is best practice. Four teachers have undergone intensive training in the area of SPHE and there is a co-ordinator for the programme. Outside speakers are sometimes invited to address issues in more detail. Students’ social and personal skills are also developed through the additional timetabled class in Personal Development for some of the JCSP groups. This is to be commended.
The JCSP, LCA and LCVP programmes are very well established in the school. A member of staff in a post-holding capacity has been appointed to co-ordinate each programme. The individual co-ordinators ensure compliance with department guidelines while also adapting the programme to the needs of students. However, many of the duties currently being carried out by the individual co-ordinators should be part of the role of the school’s programme co-ordinator. The role of programme co-ordinator should be re-evaluated according to circular PPT 19/02.
The school offers three PLC courses; a one-year FETAC Secretarial (legal) studies course, a two-year Beauty Therapy internationally-recognised course, and a one-year FETAC course in Child Care. Enrolments for each course are high and many students receive qualifications with distinction and merit on graduation. The courses are well-resourced and are conducted in specialised rooms in a section of the main building. Both the principal and the board of management wish to develop the PLC section of the school and additional programmes are planned for the future. However, for the moment, the numbers of students in the PLC is capped at seventy.
The Transition Year Programme was provided for in the past but subsequently discontinued and it is generally accepted that with current numbers it is not appropriate to re-introduce it. The work experience element of the LCA and LCVP, meets in part, provision for an aspect of the TYP.
Within the system of streaming, incoming students are placed in class groups based on the outcomes of a number of assessment tests for literacy, numeracy and reading. The allocation of students to class groups is given careful consideration each year. Following the analysis of the assessment tests the learning-support teacher, the career guidance teacher and the HSCL teacher visit the primary schools to get information and a more holistic view on each individual student. They may also use psychological reports where available. Based on a compilation of all this information the students are placed into their class groups. There is occasional mobility of students between streams and this is commended.
Students are very well supported in making the transition from primary school. Parents and students are invited to a familiarisation evening in the school prior to entry into first year. During this meeting they are made aware of the benefits of the JC and JCSP programmes, the subjects studied and choices that have to be made. This involves contributions from the principal and key staff such as the career guidance teacher, learning-support teacher and first-year year head. The first-year students’ first day in the school is dedicated to familiarising the students with their new environment. During the day, subject teachers visit the first-year classes to give an outline of subject requirements.
At the end of junior cycle students must choose between the three senior cycle programmes and make subject choices. A member of staff in a post-holding capacity co-ordinates this process and oversees the smooth transition of students from third year to fifth year. This involves disseminating information to the third years following which both parents and students are invited to attend an information evening and presentations are made on each option. Students are also advised by their subject teachers, the career guidance teacher and co-ordinator of each programme before making their choice. All options are also outlined in detail in a letter to parents which is sent home in the month of March allowing them sufficient time to contemplate choices.
The school is to be commended for offering students a particularly diverse range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Support is provided on a largely voluntary basis although there are some activities assigned as part of posts of responsibility. Through involvement with students at this level a culture of trust is built up between student and teacher and it is an important vehicle in which many pastoral care issues are identified. The commitment of the staff involved is praised.
There are school teams for a range of sporting activities and these participate in inter-school competitions. The annual sports day is a very popular event in the school calendar. The school participates in the Junior Achievement programme, involving a partnership with business volunteers from some local companies. Some co-curricular activities are funded through the schools participation in the SSRI. Likewise, other activities have arisen out of JCSP initiatives such as the paired reading scheme. Numerous activities take place in the sciences and in particular there has been a considerable rise in entries to the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. There have been theatre trips, a trip to Newgrange and a visit to the Dáil. Activities of the drama club culminated in a performance of their play in the Arklow Music Festival which won first prize. Recently a group of students won their category in the Irish Times competition for a student magazine. Social awareness is strong in the school involving numerous fundraising events for charities. Students participate in the VEC’s Environmental Awards Programme and LCA students promote recycling week. School teams have participated in the Wickow County Council Environmental debates.
There is a great sense of pride and celebration in this school. Successes are acknowledged by management who regularly make in-school presentations and also attend many events. Student participation is high and is also affirmed and encouraged through corridor displays and notices in the local media. Many promotional DVDs have been produced to demonstrate the activities undertaken. This represents good use of available ICT resources and is commended. The weekly half-day and lunch time facilitate some activities but there is an event scheduled for most days in any given month, except for the last term. Activities are co-ordinated through a monthly event calendar and are also promoted in the daily staff newsletter.
All these activities are commended as they contribute greatly to enabling students to develop both socially and personally and to improve their skills of communication. The range of co-curricular activities provided complements and enhances students’ attainment of learning outcomes in the programmes followed.
Four subjects were inspected: French; History and Environmental and Social Studies (ESS); Mathematics; and Metalwork and Engineering. In all subjects inspected, there was evidence of good practice in subject department planning. Subject planning has recently been the focus of SDP and this has clearly assisted in further improving the quality of planning that already existed. Planning has been formalised in the sense of having meetings for each subject team and plans laid down for the subject. The commitment of teachers to the planning process is highly commended.
There are both formal and informal planning sessions in the four subjects inspected, which has led to co-ordination of planning and curriculum, and development of materials and methodologies in those subjects. There was evidence of cohesion in the teams and a collaborative approach to planning for the subject and this is to be commended. Records of meetings and decisions taken are maintained. Some subjects have developed long-term plans looking forward to a year or more in advance, and this is to be commended. In other instances the planning focused on existing practices and a description of the year’s work, and in these cases, further strategic planning for the subjects is recommended.
Subject department planning was detailed and well thought out, and this is commended. Teachers keep individual schemes of work pertaining to their own class groups, which is good practice. Examples of subject and teacher planning were observed in classes inspected.
Cross-curricular links have been planned in some subjects, and, in particular, many subjects in the JCSP programme have been well served in this regard. Planning and preparation in the JCSP is good, with organised records, materials, folders and targets all carefully retained and used for and during classes as appropriate. This is good practice.
In practical subjects, work is planned with particular care given to health and safety procedures. Preparation for practical sessions is very good, with emphasis on equipment, student understanding of work to be done, and careful supervision. There is also good display of the regulations of the State Examinations Commission.
In the majority of cases there was careful preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of appropriate resource materials which supported teaching and learning. In most instances where audio-visual facilities were used, the lessons worked well, but in a small number of cases, this was not as well co-ordinated and therefore not as successful. Procurement and preparation are most important in using such resources and careful attention to this area would improve some methodologies observed. It is also important to give due time and attention to learning outcomes in the planning of classes.
Most classes started with a roll call or with the checking of homework, or both, and this is a good start to an organised class. Classroom management and discipline were good in most of the classes observed, with a good rapport in many instances between teacher and students. Mutual respect was in evidence in most instances, between students and between teachers and students. This is to be commended.
The teaching methodologies used were, in general, appropriate to the subject being taught. However, whole-class teaching was in evidence in many classes, where the teacher was the principal source of information and activity. While this can work well, it is better to vary the methods and class dynamic with changes of pace at appropriate points during the lesson.
Two principal practices employed in the majority of classes were the use of the board and the process of questions and answers to open or develop topics in classes. There was excellent boardwork observed in some classes, while in others the expansion of this methodology would be a positive development. In the majority of cases, students wrote down key words and information from the board, and they were in evidence in their copy books and notebooks. It is recommended that this good practice be applied more widely in subjects, as the material can be referred to when completing homework, or revising.
In language classes, while there was some use of the target language, it was clearly not the norm in all classes, and it is recommended that attention be given to greater use of the target language and in assisting students with pronunciation on a regular basis, to reinforce their oral and aural work as well as the general work of the class.
Worksheets and handouts were in use in several lessons and were successful in backing up and expanding material taught in class. There is much scope for the presentation of visual materials on overhead projector slides or through powerpoint, as observed in some cases. This makes the material more visible for students, as it is enlarged and clarified. Ways of achieving this should be explored further. Where other uses of AV were observed, they enhanced the teaching and learning in those lessons. In particular, the introduction of DVDs or videos helped to focus students on the topic. ICT was in evidence in a few cases, but much of the teachers’ work had been prepared and developed using various ICT applications. There was some evidence of students using ICT to complete homework, projects or research assignments. These are positive developments and should be encouraged in the near future in teaching and learning in the school.
Most rooms visited were teacher-based or programme-based, and had been well developed as print-rich environments with much stimulus material, and student work, displayed on the walls. It was good to note that students, whose teachers had organised visits or field-trips, had the benefit of photographic records or work from the trips on display in the classrooms. In a few instances the valuable material on display was brought into the teaching of classes, and there is room for this to be utilised more directly in some lessons.
There was good one-to-one attention given by teachers to students in the classes inspected, and there was great assistance given by SNAs in many classes. In some lessons, the teacher organised pair-work or group work with students and it was successful. This is good practice and is a positive way of changing the pace of the class and giving students more opportunity to contribute. It is commended and should be extended wherever possible.
There was judicious use of the textbook in most lessons observed. Some work from the textbook was extrapolated to develop classroom activity and this is good practice. In quite a few instances, homework assignments were set from the text-books.
There are many and varied modes of assessment used. In most cases, teachers used the system of questioning students very effectively in introducing topics, reinforcing material learned, and in revision sessions as a successful method of recap. At times, general questions were asked of the whole class, while in other cases, questions were directed at individual students, and the mixture worked well. Projects and practical work are carried out as appropriate in various subjects and are well monitored and recorded by the teachers.
In general, homework assignments are regularly set and this is in keeping with the school’s policy on homework. Homework assignments were completed by students, well-monitored in most cases, and often had positive comments written at the end of the work. There was some evidence of the use of formative assessment and this is to be commended, as it helps students to understand, amend and develop their own work. However, it was found in a limited number of classes that students do not receive homework and it is recommended that the school’s homework policy be implemented with all groups.
JCSP assessment procedures are based on statements and learning targets. In JCSP, students’ folders were inspected and they are well up-to-date. Profiling meetings are held three times a year for JCSP students, in which profiling of most subjects is carried out. JCSP postcards are sent home to parents: this is a good practice in reinforcing students’ work and progress. In JCSP, there is also use of make-a-book, paired Mathematics activities, and other initiatives and projects: these support the learning and achievement of the students in this programme and are commended.
Class tests are often held at the end of topics, or on a half-termly basis. The results of these tests are kept in progress records by the teachers. This is good practice. In-school examinations are held twice a year at Christmas and summer for first, second and fifth years. The certificate examination classes have Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. Careful records are kept of in-school examinations. Parents are very well informed of student progress. Written reports are sent home after examinations, so that parents receive two reports per year for each student. These reports contain a grade and remark for each subject as well as an indication of attendance, punctuality, conduct and a general comment from the class teacher. In addition to these, monthly reports, based on progress in all subjects, are sent home in the case of first and second-year students. The parents very much support this practice and it is commended.
There are annual parent-teacher meetings for each year, with two such meetings being held for the parents of third and sixth-year students, in their certificate examinations year. This is to be commended. Parents also have access to the school through the senior management team should they want more time to discuss the progress of their child. The students’ journals, used as a means of recording homework, are also available as a means of communicating with parents.
An awards day is held on the last day of school during which student of the year awards are presented for sports, JCSP and overall student of the year. Other presentations are also made during this ceremony, including the Young Scientist and Technology certificates.
Attainment levels in the school vary between subjects. The school has a broad intake of students ranging from low to high academic ability. However, a significant number of students present with special educational needs and reading ages below their chronological age. The school is commended for efforts in retention and ensuring wherever possible that students are encouraged to stay on and complete a Leaving Certificate. Overall there is a holistic approach to education and not just preparing students for examinations. However, there is a need to reflect on ways of improving achievement for all students and the onward progression to university of some of the more academically able students. Consideration is currently being given to the formation of a ‘high achieving’ class next year, within the system of streaming. Improved access to higher-level through the banding of English, Mathematics and Irish should go some way to improving attainment. There is a need to develop teacher expectations of the students and to further encourage students to reach their full potential in individual subjects. Teachers try to advise students, well in advance, of the most appropriate levels to be attempted in their subjects, and for the most part, the advice is heeded. This should be constantly reviewed, especially where foundation levels are concerned. It is recommended, therefore, that the school should devise a policy on student achievement and that students would be continually encouraged wherever possible to sit their examinations at the highest level in line with their aptitude.
Students with special educational needs (SEN) are very well supported in this school. Over one third of the cohort of junior cycle students is in receipt of some form of learning support. The school is currently allocated 109.4 resource teaching hours and eight SNAs posts. Fourteen students have applied for and will receive reasonable accommodation in the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations this year. The whole area of learning support is very well organised.
The core special needs support team includes one learning-support teacher, who co-ordinates all aspects of the special education programme and its resources, and two resource teachers. One of the resource teachers is also the co-ordinator of the JCSP. The school has built up important expertise in the area of SEN provision as two members of the team have completed a training diploma in learning support and another is currently undertaking this. Teachers involved in providing resource teaching must submit to the principal a weekly report outlining the work covered with the individual student. The core special needs support team meets weekly with the principal to discuss individual student needs, timetabling, the sourcing of resources and general progress with various initiatives. This is commended.
County Wicklow VEC has organised a network for learning-support teachers. Through involvement in this network, the school has initiated a policy on learning support and special educational needs. Work has been ongoing on this policy for some time now and it will shortly be finalised. The team also keeps up to date with developments in learning support by attending conferences and through the Irish Learning Support Association and this is commended.
Each SNA in the school has had training for the role and they meet regularly as a team. They greatly enhance the work of and support the SEN team. The SNAs provide assistance to students during lessons and play an important role in the life of the school.
Identification of students with SEN is based on analysis of information which includes: the incoming first-year assessment tests; information from the student’s primary school; and any assessment reports from educational psychologists. Through liaison and discussions among all relevant staff an individual profile is built up on each student based on how they are progressing in class, particularly during their first month in the school. Applications for resources to support individual students are made through the local Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO). Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are developed for each student selected for support. The school is aware of and open to liaising with external agencies, for example where supplementary assistance is required or where a professional service is involved in provision for a child.
Students with SEN are placed in classes reflecting their overall ability. Mostly these students are placed in a class following the JCSP though not always. Students are then withdrawn either individually or in groups for learning support. This is best practice as it supports the full inclusion of these students. Students with SEN are assessed regularly. In general, students with SEN receive extra support during non-examination classes such as RE, or Irish where the student has an exemption. Resource hours are utilised for team teaching in some circumstances. Provision of learning-support continues into senior cycle and this is commended.
There is one specialist learning-support room and one classroom dedicated to the JCSP, each of which has varied displays of stimulating materials, key words and student work. There is a range of suitable reading material in these rooms. In addition the library is used for learning-support tuition. Due to a shortage of available rooms the canteen sometimes has to be used for tuition purposes and this is far from ideal. Within the learning-support room there is a bank of suitable resources and support materials, particularly for use with literacy and numeracy. ICT is a feature of this room and ICT programmes are in use. Resources are constantly being developed and this is best practice. It is hoped to create an area in the staff room with resources for subject teachers and this will promote awareness among all staff. Teachers involved in teaching the JCSP are provided with additional resources that support learning.
Information on students with SEN is available and particular difficulties are brought to the attention of staff at staff meetings or on specific request. Confidential information on individual students is kept in locked filing cabinets. It is up to individual subject teachers to make arrangements to access this information to assist in their teaching of their own subject area. Where necessary, subject teachers can discuss learning strategies for individual students with the learning-support co-ordinator. Greater consideration should be given by the whole staff to a more effective system of accessing educational information and learning strategies in individual IEPs.
Awareness of SEN and learning support among the whole staff could be improved. Time could be allocated at staff meetings for one of the qualified learning-support teachers to formally present strategies for dealing with specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. This would ensure subject teachers have ongoing information regarding the particular teaching strategies that could be implemented in their classes. This would reinforce the concept that provision for SEN is not viewed in isolation but in the context of the whole school, as stated in the policy.
The availability of the JCSP has contributed greatly to the whole area of learning support and has provided many initiatives that support learning and personal development in key areas. These include; Maths for fun, Make-a-book and a drama performance initiative. It has been possible to extend some of these initiatives, such as paired reading, to students across the whole school. In particular, the literacy initiative is in use in many subject areas. This has involved whole-staff training so that strategies are implemented across the curriculum. There is further scope for this approach in the numeracy initiative. These initiatives are reported as being successful in improving abilities in key areas. Such success is important as it helps improve student self-esteem as well as key skills.
The school deals with disadvantage in a positive and committed way. Both staff and management strive to continually identify issues and to provide prompt support services to individual students wherever necessary. Student attendance has been an issue for some time and the availability of the attendance officer and home-school links have contributed greatly to improvements in this area. The availability of the JCSP and LCA programmes enables the school to provide for students that would otherwise have been at risk of early school leaving. However, there still some student drop-out during each year, particularly in LCA and this deserves ongoing attention.
There is a book rental scheme in operation in the school which most students avail of. The costs of this scheme are reduced in certain circumstances. The school provides a breakfast club. There is also a homework club and after-school study is provided three evenings per week.
There are effective support strategies to aid the full inclusion of the diversity of students. The school provides for a small number of students from the Travelling community. The number of international students has increased over the past five years. These students have integrated well into the life of the school; some take a role on the student council and others have become actively involved in school teams. Great care and provision is made for international students. Language-support tuition is provided and this includes an explanation of the operations and policies of the school and a description of the Irish examination system. Language-support teachers keep up to date with current practices through involvement with Integrate Ireland and use the associated booklets as resources. Cultural and historical information on each country of origin is displayed during the school’s open evening.
A policy for guidance and career education which originated as a VEC framework document is currently being developed in conjunction with the network of career guidance teachers in the VEC. The school is in receipt of an allocation of 0.5 WTE guidance counsellors plus an additional 0.25 WTE under the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). The career guidance counselling service in the school involves the career guidance teacher and another teacher with a part post of responsibility for counselling. Both teachers keep up to date with developments and attend specialist conferences as is best practice. Support from the principal for the career guidance and counselling service in the school is very strong. The utilisation of the extra allocation under the GEI was re-examined recently and this has led to the introduction of additional classes in Personal Development for some groups. This is to be commended.
The guidance counselling team work closely with the principal and the relevant year head to respond immediately and sensitively to the students’ needs. The guidance and counselling services endeavour to uphold the core values of the school and play an integral part in the welfare and development of all students. The work involves dealing with the needs of individual students, career guidance sessions and classes in Personal Development. In addition, a significant amount of time is devoted to one-to-one contact with students, both in counselling and advisory activities. The services of external agencies such as the Lucena clinic, social workers and the juvenile liaison officer are utilised as the need arises. On-going communication with parents is actively pursued and they are encouraged and facilitated in making contact with the counsellors.
Career Guidance is timetabled for all fifth and sixth-year groups. However, there is no timetabled provision for Career Guidance in junior cycle. Some, but not all, groups have timetabled classes with the career guidance teacher either as Personal Development classes or SPHE classes and this allows some time to be allocated to guidance services. Valuable co-curricular activities in this area include participation in East Wicklow’s Youth Service Drugs Prevention Programme, a sixth-year retreat and a study skills seminar.
The career guidance programme provides opportunities for students to explore the choices open to them and endeavours to assess student interests and aptitudes. Leaving Certificate students are encouraged to complete a ‘careers record’ based on their subjects studied, interests and achievements. Career Guidance for senior students involves active research into the choices open to them including, mock interviews, the points system, courses in local Institutes of Technology and apprenticeships. Resources used include computer applications, such as Qualifax. Students are facilitated in attending events such as, the Arklow Community Enterprise careers day and the FÁS opportunities conference. Attention is given to building up and maintaining student profiles for the duration of their time in school and this is commended. Records are kept of key meetings along with the outcomes of assessment tests and the individual careers record.
The school has a full-time HSCL teacher. This has allowed home visits and liaison with parents and has been hugely beneficial to the school.
There is strong commitment to the effective pastoral care provision for all students and this is highly commended. Great care and attention is given to maintaining an ongoing awareness of the emotional, psychological and behavioural needs of each individual. Information on individual students arises from the ongoing discussions between teachers. Pastoral care has been the focus of whole-staff development. The year heads give a prompt response to issues as they arise and endeavour to treat all problems sensitively. Parental involvement and co-operation is sought in approaching all issues. Staff, students and parents alike, feel that bullying is not a problem in this school. This is highly commended. The core members of the pastoral care team are the year heads, the class teachers, the guidance counsellor, the learning-support co-ordinator and a post-holder with responsibility for student welfare. The team does not meet formally but discuss the pastoral care needs of students among themselves on an ongoing basis. Consideration should be given to formalising these meetings from time to time. Formal meetings between year heads and senior management, however, provide opportunities to identify pastoral care needs and to discuss relevant approaches to deal with these.
Each student group is assigned a class teacher, a role which is taken voluntarily. The class teachers meet their class group once a week during a fifteen minute tutorial time. The class teacher endeavours to build a trusting positive relationship with the students. The school’s code of behaviour, admissions policy, attendance and participation policy and anti-bullying policy all emphasise the strong element of care in the management of students. Based on the strategies currently in place for student support, a pastoral care policy should be developed by the school.
As the school is not a designated community college, there is no chaplain in the school, nor is one assigned to the school from the religious community. However, this aspect of pastoral care is being pursued. In order to provide for the moral and spiritual development of students the post structure was adapted in the past year, to provide a pilot chaplaincy programme for the school. As a consequence of this one teacher has, among other duties, a small part post of responsibility for chaplaincy. A chaplaincy course has been undertaken for this role. The chaplaincy service has contributed to the whole school and it is strongly supported by management. There is a small prayer room that is used for reflection time and faith development with small groups of students. Various occasions during the year are linked to faith, for example, a graduation mass is held for sixth-year students.
Students of this school are actively involved in school life. Students play their part in a representative capacity and take pride in their various roles of responsibility in the school. The ‘buddy’ mentoring programme involves sixth-year students providing support to each first-year group. The mentors help first-year students in making the transition to second level school and can help to identify problems such as bullying. This system is highly commended. A sense of belonging and community among students is promoted and this is highly commendable.
The school’s student council was reformed at the beginning of the last school year and is taking an active role in the school. The council is elected annually, meets regularly and discusses issues of importance to the student body which it represents. A liaison teacher supports the council. The council reported that it has a real voice in the school and that many of its requests have been granted by management. For example, enhancing toilet facilities and improving the basketball court steps. The council has a notice board in the canteen.
The prefect system involves approximately twenty sixth-year students and these are nominated by teachers. They participate actively in various duties throughout the school. These include elements of supervision, assisting teachers during the open day and in monitoring the school library. A head girl, head boy and deputies are elected annually from among this group.
All of these positive contributions by students are strongly supported by management and they are rewarded in various ways, including social events. The students’ council, the prefect system and the mentoring programme are all to be highly commended and they contribute greatly to student support and student involvement. They are each worthy of expansion in the future.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The school is inclusive and caters for students from a wide range of social backgrounds and a wide range of abilities. It has a very good reputation for caring for students with special educational needs.
The atmosphere in the school presents as a very settled environment. Students are treated with respect and are happy to be in this school. Parents express a very high level of satisfaction with the school.
The school derives considerable support from its patron, Co Wicklow VEC.
The board of management is not primarily involved in management issues. It sees itself very much in a supportive role and entrusts the responsibilities for management of key areas to senior management in whom they express considerable confidence.
There is effective and smooth day-to-day running of the school.
There has been successful delegation of responsibilities to middle management posts and this has made positive use of the available skills of teachers who conduct their roles with dedication.
There is a collegial and cohesive atmosphere among all members of staff and morale is high. Teachers of the school have a positive input into decision making. Many teachers are actively engaged in the school environs after school hours.
There is effective and on-going dissemination of internal information through the daily staff newsletters, the staff handbook, and regular staff meetings.
There is ongoing and close collaboration of staff in key areas of responsibility. This has greatly enhanced overall provision for students and has led to an immediacy of response.
The year head and class teacher systems are working very well and they provide an integrated approach to both discipline and pastoral care issues.
There is strong commitment to care for the needs and welfare of the individual student and this is one of the greatest strengths of the school. Both staff and management strive continually to identify issues and to ensure a prompt and sensitive response.
Parents are well informed on school policies and systems. The school actively strives to encourage and facilitate the involvement of all parents.
There is a valuable culture of continuing professional development among staff.
Active engagement in SDP has provided an important opportunity for the staff to reflect on current practices in the school, to guide change and to continually improve the quality of the education provided.
There is a broad range of well-resourced and well-run programmes, offering opportunities to all students according to their needs and abilities.
The PLC is well-run and well-resourced and it provides valuable courses that are appropriate to the needs of the community.
The availability of the JCSP in this school has provided many successful initiatives that support learning and contributes greatly towards student retention and to success and enjoyment of school for the students involved.
The curriculum encompasses both academic and vocational subjects. However, the balance in the curriculum needs to be addressed and curriculum review is necessary.
There is extensive provision for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities and these greatly enhance both student attainment and personal development in key areas.
There is good practice in subject department planning.
Teaching and learning have clarity of purpose and provide opportunities for student participation. There is good attention to individual needs.
Attainment levels in the school vary between subjects.
There is extensive, well-organised support for students with special educational needs.
There are effective support strategies to aid the full inclusion of the diversity of students.
Students of this school are actively involved in school life. Students play their part in a representative capacity and take pride in their various roles of responsibility in the school.
The pastoral care, guidance and counselling services endeavour to uphold the core values of the school and play an integral part in the welfare and development of all students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The board of management should examine its overall role in school management and should give greater consideration to issues pertaining to the curriculum, to student attainment and the necessity to have an ongoing review of policies.
The role of programme co-ordinator should be revised according to circular PPT 19/02.
The enhancement of the current facilities and resources for PE should be considered on an interim basis. PE should be provided on the curriculum for all groups.
The deployment of the school library and the computer room should be fully reviewed.
Measures should be immediately taken to improve essential classroom resources and facilities for the use of a variety of teaching aids in classrooms.
In the school timetable there is a shortage of weekly tuition time for students. The timetable should be revised in accordance with circular M29/95. The practice of giving an extra half day to some of the JCSP class groups should be discontinued.
A comprehensive and major review of the curriculum at junior cycle should be conducted in order to offer students a more equitable and balanced timetable. This should involve consultation among all staff and should be immediately prioritised for the coming year.
The current timetable provision for PE, Computer Studies, Career Guidance, Irish, English and Mathematics in junior cycle should be enhanced.
The school should review the arrangements for providing subject choice to students at junior and senior cycle on an annual basis.
A policy of greater usage of audio-visual materials and ICT in the delivery of teaching and learning should be promoted within each subject area.
There is a need to vary teaching methodologies and to focus on more student centred activities.
The school should devise a policy on student achievement and students should be continually encouraged wherever possible to sit their examinations at the highest level in line with their aptitude. Teacher expectations of student achievement should be raised across subjects.
Strategies to improve awareness of SEN and learning support among the whole staff should be employed so that subject teachers can adopt appropriate strategies with all students in their classes. A more effective system of accessing information in student files and Individual Education Plans should be devised.
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.
Subject inspection reports in French; History and Environmental and Social Studies (ESS); Mathematics; and Metalwork and Engineering are appended to this report.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Arklow Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in French and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
French is the modern European language offered on the curriculum in Arklow Community College. Students make their subject choices on entry into first year and French classes are streamed. The study of French is mandatory for students in the top two streams. One period of French per week is also offered to students taking the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in order to introduce them to the concept of learning another language and to prepare them for the study of French as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. A shortage of French teachers in the school has meant that the two middle streams currently do not study a foreign language. However, it was reported that, in the event of students from these classes requesting to study a modern language, provision would be made for them on a Wednesday afternoon on the same basis as students wishing to study other subjects not formally on the curriculum. It is hoped to employ another language teacher in the forthcoming school year. This should facilitate the option of French for all students in the school.
There is good provision for French in relation to the allocation of time and timetabling. Students have four classes per week for French at junior cycle, and five at senior cycle. Classes are single periods spread at regular intervals throughout the week. This is good practice and to be commended. French is the chosen language for LCA students and French is also studied by students following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) either as part of the established Leaving Certificate programme or as a module devised and assessed by the school.
There are three teachers of French all of whom are graduates of French with several years experience of teaching the language. They are allocated to classes on the basis of ensuring continuity where possible. Teachers reported having availed of all inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science. Some teachers also spoke of having attended inservice courses provided by the French Teachers’ Association. This is to be commended. Where possible, support, including financial subsidies, is given to teachers who wish to pursue postgraduate professional development. In the interests of continuing professional development, members of the French department are encouraged to avail of, where possible, any supports available to language teachers. Information on the French language assistantship scheme and scholarships to France can be accessed on the Department of Education and Sciences’ website at www.education.ie. In-service training in specific areas and the sharing of good practice is also supported by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), the activities of the FTA or the local Education Centres.
Many of the teachers of French have their own classrooms. These classrooms were decorated with posters of France and aspects of French life and culture. Samples of students’ work were also displayed. This is to be commended, as the provision of a print rich environment is a means of consolidating learning and acquainting students with aspects of French life and culture, while the display of students’ work is a very effective means of affirmation. It is suggested that the print-rich environment be further developed with the posting up of key expressions for use in the classroom. Expressions or vocabulary for the week could also be charted thus facilitating the consolidation of new learning.
It was reported that there is good access to a range of audio-visual equipment to support the teaching of French in the school. Some classrooms are equipped with overhead projectors. Where this is not the case, projectors can be accessed by teachers for use in their rooms. Teachers of French are supplied by the school with CD players and tape-recorders. Other resources are provided on request. Students in some classes had dictionaries available to them and were seen to be using them effectively. This is to be commended as it fosters in students an awareness of resources for learning, which are easily accessible to them.
There is one computer room in the school. While this is used primarily by the PLC students, it is available to second level students on a booking system. The library is also equipped with computers, but access to the internet has not been possible to date due to the absence of broadband. The installation of broadband is due to take place shortly. Limited access to the computer room was cited as a reason why teachers do not actively use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a teaching tool. Some reported using ICT to download materials for use in class and said that students have also used ICT to resource their French projects. This is to be commended. Given the wealth of resources currently available on the internet it is recommended that, with the installation of broadband, consideration be given to embracing ICT as a tool to enhance the teaching and learning of French. Access to the newly created site for teachers of French in Ireland, www.french.ie could serve as a useful point of departure.
Co-curricular activities are currently promoted through project work which fosters links with other subjects. Some students doing Art have completed projects on French painters while others have linked up with Home Economics with work on French food and cooking. This is to be commended. It is recommended that the promotion of co-curricular activities be extended to include projects such as inter class quizzes, French breakfasts and French films. Involvement in co-curricular activities enhances the enjoyment of language learning and contributes to maintaining a high profile for French in the school.
It was reported that Arklow Community College School has been actively involved in the school development planning process (SDP). The focus for the coming year will be to review the Junior Certificate curriculum and the creation of a high-achieving class. Some members of staff have undertaken and completed the Diploma in Professional Studies (School Planning).
The members of the French Department meet both formally and informally and there is a subject co-ordinator for French, a position which is rotated. Records are kept of meetings and these were made available for the inspection. This is good practice and to be commended.
The current school year has also seen the introduction of formal subject planning and a subject department plan was submitted for the teaching and learning of French. A review of this plan indicated a high level of dedication, work and organisation by the members of the French department. Comprehensive schemes of work laid out in term blocks were also made available by most teachers. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment to the planning process and for the quality of their work to date. As a means of further advancing this good practice it is recommended that they include in their department plan a list of desired learning outcomes for each year group and that, over time, they begin the process of self-evaluation by reviewing their own teaching methodologies in light of these desired student outcomes.
It is also suggested that, as part of collaborative subject planning, teachers consider sharing elements of good practice. They should also consider building up a bank of materials and worksheets which could be used by all members of the French department. These resources would be an invaluable asset not only for the teacher in the classroom but also in the event of a teacher being absent.
There was evidence of careful preparation for some of the lessons observed with the presentation of individual lesson plans and the advance readiness of relevant audiovisual equipment and worksheets for students. However, there were instances where inadequate preparation meant that the resources central to the teaching methodology adopted were not available to support the work being done. It is recommended that greater attention be paid to the organisation of the lesson and the procurement and preparation of the relevant audiovisual and resource equipment and materials.
The choice of lesson content was generally suitable for the various ages and levels of the students concerned. Lessons were generally well structured and paced appropriately. Classroom discipline was good in most lessons observed and in general there was a very positive teacher student rapport.
Examples were seen of lessons where the target language was used to good effect by the teacher. This is to be commended. However, there was very limited use of the target language in other lessons observed. It is recommended that the use of the target language be integrated into all lessons. The use of French in the classroom should be built up initially through the giving of instructions and the asking of questions in French. Students should also be provided with the necessary linguistic strategies to respond, make requests or express difficulties in simple French. These key expressions could be posted up on the walls of the classrooms for ease of referral and consolidation. Greater use of the target language will improve students’ listening and oral comprehension skills and they will become more aware of the target language as a medium for authentic communication.
Pronunciation drill was also evidenced in lessons where the target language was in use. This is good practice as correct pronunciation is an important component of successful language learning. It is recommended that where it does not currently happen, attention be paid to pronunciation through regular pronunciation drills and the sensitive correction of student errors.
A variety of methodologies was observed. The plan for the day was set out by some teachers at the outset of the lesson. This is commended as it helps the students to have a clear focus for the work to be carried out in the lesson. The board and overhead projector were effectively used to support the presentation and consolidation of new learning.
There were some good examples of recapping on previous learning and integrating this work with the input of new material. This is good practice as it can make students aware of all they have learned and show them that language learning is a cumulative process.
There were some examples, in lessons observed, of students working individually or in pairs on assigned tasks. This is to be commended as a means of engaging the students and promoting active and independent learning as was evidenced in their use of dictionaries to source relevant new vocabulary. It is recommended that, in the interests of enhancing the teaching and learning of French, methodologies promoting active student engagement be extended to all lessons. In order to ensure optimum benefit, these tasks need to be carefully prepared, clearly explained and have defined learning targets to be completed within a specific time frame. The use of active methodologies such as brainstorming, and individual pair or group activities, will help engage all of the students in the learning process, build on the strengths that they already have acquired and help create enjoyable and fruitful learning experiences for them.
Elements of cultural awareness were incorporated into some of the lessons through question and answer sessions or the use of a quiz on aspects of life and living in France. This is to be commended as knowledge of French life and culture is an integral part of learning the language. However, it is suggested that the integration of some simple questions in the target language into the quiz would enhance the activity as both a linguistic and culturally enjoyable experience.
Interaction with the students revealed them to be generally willing to communicate and there was evidence of student effort and learning in most lessons observed.
Student progress is monitored through questioning in class, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and formal school examinations.
A review of students’ copies revealed many of them to be carefully monitored. Homework assignments were corrected regularly and helpful or affirming comments included. This is good practice and to be commended. These student copies were generally neat and well ordered. In some instances, however, copies which were very disorganised and were interspersed with material from other subjects. Some students reported not having their copies with them. It is recommended that students be made aware of the value for them of a neat and well organised copy and actively encouraged to have their copies in class with them at all times. In such cases a distinct class and homework copy might be helpful.
Students are assessed during the year on specific learning such as vocabulary, oral work or a particular topic. They have tests every half-term. Certificate examination students sit mock exams. Teachers reported including an aural component in tests for all year groups and the school has just introduced the practice of holding a formal mock oral examination for Leaving Certificate students. This is to be commended. It is suggested that consideration be given over time to incorporating an oral component into all formal assessments at senior cycle. The oral component itself need not be formal and could be carried out within the lesson structure.
Student profiling is an integral part of the JCSP programme. Given that the JCSP students in the school will not be sitting French in the Junior Certificate examination, it is essential to ensure that the profiling process is fully implemented by both the teachers and students. In this way JCSP students will carry with them a record of progress and achievement to affirm their efforts.
Uptake and attainment in higher-level French have, in recent years, been reasonably good. In a mixed grouping of students with wide ability ranges, student uptake at higher level needs to be fully supported.
Reports are sent home twice yearly and there are annual parent teacher meetings for all year groups. It was reported that the student journal is also used as a means of communicating with parents about a student’s progress in school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is good whole school support for French in relation to the allocation of time and timetabling and the provision of resources.
There was documented evidence of long-term planning and schemes of work for the teaching and learning of French.
A range of methodologies was observed.
There was evidence of good classroom management and a positive rapport between teachers and students in most of the lessons observed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that teachers build on the good work they have carried out to date in the area of subject planning, focusing on desired learning outcomes for their students and reviewing their methodologies in relation to these outcomes.
It is recommended that, where relevant, greater attention should be paid to lesson preparation and ensuring the procurement and advance readiness of the necessary equipment and materials to support the teaching and learning of the subject.
It is recommended that the target language be used as much as possible during all lessons and, where relevant, greater use of methodologies actively engaging the students should be adopted as a means of enhancing the quality of the teaching and learning of French.
It is recommended that the profiling process for JCSP students of French should be fully implemented.
It is suggested that, when possible, consideration should be given to exploring ways of integrating ICT into the teaching and learning of French.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of French and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Arklow Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History and ESS and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and the subject teachers.
The school celebrated its centenary last year (2005) and is proud of its history in technical and vocational education over several generations. A specially commissioned monument, made in the school, stands in the grounds to commemorate the stages of development of the school, as do display cabinets in the foyer and corridors inside. A centenary history, written by a former teacher, is nearing completion, and contains valuable source material of the area and its people as well as the school and its work over one hundred years on various sites in Arklow. This tradition is upheld by the present staff and by a strong History department. The school is to be commended on the way in which it has celebrated its own history and achievements.
History as a subject is well supported in the school and is reasonably well provided for. In junior cycle, all students taking the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) study Environmental and Social Studies (ESS). These classes are streamed, are composed of relatively small groups and have two, three or four periods of ESS per week, depending on the year and the timetable. JCSP classes are now taught separately (this was not always the case) and this is good practice. Students taking Junior Certificate (mainstream) have to choose History from a subject choice block on entering the school. There is reasonable uptake in History, but the students opting not to study History at this juncture will be most unlikely to take it up again as there is no Transition Year at present. This is to be regretted and it is recommended that the junior cycle curriculum and subject choice continue to be reviewed each year.
The subject choice system on entering senior cycle somewhat militates against the selection of History by students entering fifth year. Some students will take Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) where they will not follow a History course, and those proceeding to Leaving Certificate (established) have to select History from a narrow band of subjects. Notwithstanding this, a substantial number of students select History each year. They are allocated five class periods per week in fifth year and in sixth year. It is recommended that the subject choice system be kept under review so that students have a reasonable and equitable opportunity to select the subject for their Leaving Certificate. As there is one class group per year in Leaving Certificate History, these classes are naturally mixed ability. Within the class groups, students are encouraged to take the subject at the level most suited to their abilities, and there is a good spread of History students across the higher and ordinary levels. Teachers are to be commended for maximising the opportunities for their students in this way.
Classrooms are, for the most part, teacher-based and this works well in that students are taught in a print-rich environment with History stimulus material on the walls. This is to be commended as good practice and teachers are to be encouraged to continue this practice and to develop and update the displays at regular intervals. There is a school library which is only accessible at certain times to History students. Teachers use their own books and sometimes encourage students to use the local library. While this in itself is good practice, the provision and updating of a school library should be given serious attention in the development of the school.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and audio-visual aids (AV) are provided to a certain extent in the school, and internet broadband access has been recently installed in the ICT room. There is a need, however, to provide connection for the ICT facilities and to make AV more accessible to groups which would greatly benefit from its advantages. While acknowledging that some of the temporary buildings are inherently unsuited to use of projectors, thought should be given to maximising the delivery of these facilities to classrooms in which History is taught.
The History team meets regularly to plan for its subject and there is a co-ordinator who organises the meetings. It is recommended that the co-ordinator role should rotate regularly among the members of the team. It is also clear that there is a great deal of strength in having the History and ESS teachers meet together as there is much they can exchange and develop in their related disciplines.
The team has produced effective planning documents, and paperwork and organisation in the department are good. Both general and particular plans are thorough and are backed up by folders of relevant material for the teaching of the syllabus to classes. There are good, up-to-date, records of teachers’ meetings. It is recommended that all these records should be kept in electronic format both as a permanent record and as a bank of plans that can be changed and updated without having to start anew every year.
While the teachers of History and ESS meet, discuss progress and plans, and keep records, it is recommended that one planning meeting per year should be dedicated to strategic planning for the subject, especially as syllabus change and methodology development require thought and planning for the future. There is much to consider in the way in which History is planned, organised and offered in the school, and these items should be kept under review by the History and ESS teachers. Communication with the senior management team is reported to be very good, and it important that the plans and the requirements of the subject be brought before management on a regular basis.
As most teachers teach in their own rooms, there has been much opportunity for preparing and displaying historical materials, students’ work, and helpful teaching and learning aids such as maps, pictures and photographs. This print-rich environment is to be commended as good practice and is worthy of development as more material becomes available. Teachers are conscientious in their production of support materials for class, and a good selection of work-sheets and information sheets was observed during the visit. The concentration of varied and stimulating visual materials in the JCSP/ESS room was impressive and of great potential for students. There are strong cross-curricular themes in the preparation and arrangement of materials, and these are ideal for assisting the teaching and learning processes. Other resources for the teaching of ESS are stored in an office within the JCSP area, which means that much material is at hand for the preparation and taking of classes. JCSP folders, statements and targets are all prepared and kept efficiently, some in the JCSP office and others in teachers’ storage areas.
History teachers are aware of current inservice training for the new History syllabus for Leaving Certificate, and one teacher has attended all the sessions to date. From the material generated and produced during the inspection it is clear that the inservice has been of assistance in preparing and planning for senior cycle History. Good collections of resources have been gathered and organised for these classes. Other teachers have been involved in courses and in upskilling themselves for their teaching of the subject. There is involvement with the subject association, and all of these activities are positive in the preparation and teaching of History. The teachers are to be commended for their participation in these activities and are encouraged to consider and develop links established at courses and meetings.
A wide variety of teaching and learning was observed during the inspection. In the Leaving Certificate class the students are well prepared for their examination in June and their Research Study Reports (RSRs) have already been submitted in accordance with examination procedures. There has been great interest in research, and there is evidence of systematic study and careful supervision of student work in this area. It is clear that the information, methodologies and resources provided in the inservice courses are being used to advantage in the teaching of History at this level. The use of ICT in preparing material for classes is to be commended, but the use of ICT in the classroom is still only partially in operation for technical and operational reasons. It is important that these difficulties be overcome as soon as possible so that maximum use of the ICT resources can be achieved in teaching and learning.
Throughout the classes inspected there was good use of the board, with the topic clearly defined and key words written on the board at strategic points of the lesson. Clear diagrams and pictures drawn on the board were also used as a means of defining and illustrating topics: this was a successful method and is good practice. Students were encouraged to write this material down in their note books. The main points in the classes were clarified by question and answer sessions and by reinforcement by the teacher, sometimes assisted by other visual aids or information sheets. It was noted that the most successful question and answer sessions occurred where the questions were targeted or ‘named’. More general questions tend to go unanswered or replied to by the teacher, so that the teaching and learning benefit is somewhat diluted in such instances. While there are good examples of historical material being displayed in the classrooms, it would benefit students more if the material could be introduced into lessons at various intervals, possibly by asking questions concerning the displayed items.
Good use of photographic images and maps was in evidence in ESS classes: these were carefully utilised by the teachers in introducing students to topics, expanding their knowledge through visual means. A stronger impact could have been achieved if these images had been enlarged and shown on overhead projector (OHP) slides or through PowerPoint. Enlarged versions could have been pinned to the board as an alternative. There was good use of atlases and textbooks in conjunction with handouts, and students constantly had their understanding checked and reinforced by teachers. This is good practice.
Where video footage was used to amplify points in class it was very effective, but might have been further exploited by more judicious timing and by pinpoint questions while pausing the images. Students, however, engaged well with this methodology, and clearly understood the material. It was noted in classes that Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) were most helpful and supportive in their work with students and this is to be commended. There was also very good one-to-one attention given by teachers in ESS classes, and all students were being encouraged to move forward with their topics. There has been some excellent project work completed in these classes, examples of which were seen during the inspection.
There was evidence of good co-curricular and extra-curricular work in both History and ESS. There have been good and interesting fieldwork trips and outings, and these are recorded in photographic displays, and in students’ work which are exhibited in their classrooms.
Very good interaction between teachers and students was observed in all classes, and students were clear in what they were doing. Statements and targets laid down in the JCSP classes were being used and fulfilled by students in the classes observed. Classroom management was good in all instances and a good working environment was established. In each class visited there was mutual respect between students, and between students and teachers. This is to be commended.
Many of the classes observed included much material and information being presented or shared in the classroom. It would have changed the pace and dynamic of lessons if more student-centred activities and student-directed learning had been introduced at various points. In this way, students could contribute more actively and fully to the work of the class, while varying the tempo and having the benefit of achievement through more personal involvement. This could be achieved by the use of group-work, or working in pairs, or by role-play. The classes inspected were good and these suggestions are made as a means of further involving students in their work and of varying the pace of lessons.
Various assessment techniques are used by teachers of History and ESS. These vary from class questioning to quizzes, class tests, projects, regular written homework and examinations. The written homework is well done by the students and is monitored by teachers, sometimes with useful and constructive remarks appended to the work. Formative assessment methods have been used in some instances and perhaps could be attempted in other classes where appropriate. Encouraging students to build and develop their own work is often a successful method in these subjects.
Teachers keep good progress records for their classes, and folders are well maintained in the case of JCSP. In-house examinations are held twice a year, after which written reports are sent to parents. Students in certificate classes have Christmas and mock examinations and reports are sent in these cases at Christmas and Easter. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group, and twice a year in the case of third and sixth years. This is to be commended.
Attainment levels in the school are generally good, with students achieving outcomes commensurate with their abilities in most cases. Teachers have been careful to encourage students to take examinations at the level appropriate to their ability. This has been quite successful and teachers are aware that this is an area where they need to persist with the good work currently being done. The varying choice methods and consequent sizes and ability levels of classes have had some impact on attainment levels over the years, but this area is currently under review and this is commended as good practice and planning.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
History and ESS are reasonably well provided for in the school and receive support from management.
Timetabling of History and ESS are generally good but with some issues concerning numbers of periods per week in junior cycle.
History is offered as a choice to Junior Certificate students and to senior cycle students, with ESS being taken by all JCSP students. The rate of uptake in History varies, depending on the choice groups being offered, and is a matter for constant review.
Students are generally encouraged to attempt the subject at the level most appropriate to their abilities.
There are good facilities for History and ESS in that teachers mostly have their own base classrooms and these have been filled with stimulus material, projects and reference items such as maps and timelines. There are audio-visual and ICT facilities which currently have limited availability, and this area is being developed.
The school library has limited access for students who also visit the local public library and avail of teachers’ own books for research work and projects.
The teachers meet as a team several times a year, produce planning material, and review progress and syllabus material. They also meet informally. There is a need for further strategic planning for the subjects.
There are very good progress and attendance records, and records of teachers’ meetings. Where this is not done, these records should be recorded electronically for future use and reference.
There is good preparation for classes in History and ESS, with audio-visuals, worksheets and information sheets being carefully put together and organised before classes. This is good practice and is to be commended.
Good methodologies were observed in the classes visited with varied pace and material, and question and answer sessions well utilised in reinforcing material. Board work is of a high order and is used to introduce and to reinforce lessons.
There is evidence of co-curricular and extra-curricular work, including field-work and outings. These are often recorded in photographic and project form and this is to be commended.
Assessment is carried out by means of class questioning sessions, homework, tests, and in-house examinations. Progress records are well kept, and written reports are sent home to parents twice a year. Students’ attainment levels are in line with their ability and work in the subjects.
There are annual parent-teacher meetings for each year, with two such meetings being held for third year and sixth year parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
It is recommended that timetabling and allocation of hours and classes be reviewed as a means of making all years consistent in terms of adequate class provision for their various curricular programmes in History and ESS.
Systems for selection of subjects both at junior and senior cycles should be reviewed in order to offer students an equitable and balanced subject choice across the curriculum and in all programmes.
It is recommended that a History/ESS co-ordinator should be appointed on a rotating basis each year and that this co-ordinator be responsible for holding meetings, keeping records and arranging for a strategic planning meeting once a year for the subject.
The availability and accessibility of library facilities, audio visual aids and ICT facilities should be improved and increased as a priority in the school. This should be attended to in the immediate future and not allowed to await future extension plans being realised.
The practice of giving regular written homework and project work is good and its assessment should be augmented by the use of more formative assessment, enabling students to develop end strengthen their own work.
Teachers have attended inservice courses, and it is recommended that this practice be extended and that greater contacts with the subject association be established.
It is recommended that teachers continue to optimise students’ levels in junior and senior cycle as well as analysing student uptake, outcomes and attainment in the subject, with a view to future planning.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and ESS and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Arklow Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
There are six Mathematics teachers in the school. It was reported that not all teachers of Mathematics are graduates in that subject. This should be taken into consideration when deploying teachers in the department. In general teachers are allocated to particular classes or levels by the principal and by departmental discussion and agreement. Teachers are given the opportunity to rotate levels, and are encouraged to avail of this. In general, teachers take the same class groupings through each cycle. This is good practice as it spreads experience across all of the teachers of the subject.
At junior cycle the school usually forms two class groupings each of students taking Junior Certificate (JC) and of Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). However, due to the increase in numbers of first-year students, the school has formed three class groupings of JC and two of JCSP for the current first year. Students who follow the JC are concurrently streamed for Mathematics. This practice provides students with an opportunity to follow Mathematics at an appropriate level to their needs and is commended. However, Mathematics classes in JCSP are not concurrently timetabled with JC Maths and the JCSP groups usually follow ordinary or foundation level. The Mathematics department expressed some concern about this situation as they feel that it disadvantages those who may be more suited to another level. It is therefore recommended that concurrent timetabling in Mathematics be extended to all groups in any given year to ensure that all students have an opportunity to move to a class grouping that is appropriate to their individual abilities.
In each year of senior cycle, there are three Leaving Certificate class groups and one LCA group. Leaving Certificate Mathematics classes are concurrently timetabled and one higher-level group is formed in each year. Recently some sixth-year higher-level students have decided to take ordinary level and this has resulted in the teaching of both higher and ordinary level in that group.
Time allocated to Mathematics at junior cycle varies. For example, JCSP students are allocated five class periods in first, second and third year which is good. However, non-JCSP students are allocated four class periods weekly which is unsatisfactory. The school is planning to review the number of subjects that Junior Certificate students study and in this context it is recommended that management address the time allocated to Mathematics at junior cycle. At senior cycle, time allocated to Mathematics is satisfactory, with four class periods allocated to LCA classes and five periods each to fifth and sixth-year Leaving Certificate classes.
Even though there is no specific budget allocated to Mathematics, teachers’ requests for resources made to management are generally met. Resources that teachers can access include overhead projectors and mathematical sets. Additionally, resources for the teaching of Mathematics to JCSP have been purchased, including ‘Maths for Fun’ kits. In general, teachers keep resource materials in their own classrooms but share them with other teachers. Further resources are available in the learning-support room.
Management is to be commended for facilitating teachers in attending inservice courses in the areas of JCSP, LCA and the revised Junior Certificate Mathematics syllabus. Additionally, one Mathematics teacher is a member of the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association. County Wicklow Vocational Education Committee arranges a one-day induction for newly-appointed teachers. Such support is to be commended.
Mathematics teachers work together as a cohesive team in a mutually supportive way and collaborate in discussing a range of issues pertaining to Mathematics. The department has a coordinator of the subject, who in general is the most senior member of the Mathematics department.
Weekly staff meetings are convened. From time to time part of the meeting is dedicated to formal subject planning. Three afternoon meetings per year are convened to profile JCSP students. Additionally, subject-planning meetings take place at the beginning of the school year with many informal meetings taking place during the year. Minutes are retained and include details regarding department decisions such as the organisation of class groupings and arrangements for meetings.
With the current focus on subject planning, the Mathematics department has collaborated and developed a long-term plan that includes aims and objectives and planning for students with special educational needs. Mathematics teachers have collaborated and developed a programme of work for each year group and level that details sections of the syllabus at junior and senior cycles. This is commendable. However, to further enhance the agreed plan, it is recommended that both a timescale for each topic and a suggested range of appropriate methodologies should be included.
The long-term plan addresses the cross-curricular links for the JCSP programme. For example links are made with various subjects such as Science, Material Technology (Wood), Metalwork and Technical Graphics. Furthermore, work has begun on the development of a numeracy initiative, which is currently being undertaken as part of the JCSP. However, as numeracy is a whole-school issue, it is important that all teachers are involved in its promotion within their classrooms, and that a policy be developed in this area. Strategies used to address numeracy should be documented in the long-term plan for the subject. This will ensure a consistent approach in this area.
Each member of the Mathematics department presented individual schemes of work. While the content of these schemes is similar, their presentation varies. Best practice was evident where teachers: detailed the programme of work to be undertaken by each year group; a suggested time period for each topic; and an outline of resources and methodologies to be used in lessons. Work by Mathematics teachers in the area of individual planning is to be highly commended. Such planning guides the teachers’ day-to-day work in the classroom while promoting continuity and steady progression in the students’ learning.
Planning for the lessons observed in general was very good. Evidence of this was the prior preparation of materials such as handouts and items required for practical work. Teachers maintain good records of attendance, homework and class tests.
Lessons frequently opened with the recording of attendance. This was followed by the checking of students’ homework, thus affording teachers the opportunity to monitor this work and to provided immediate and individual feedback to students.
In most classes visited, lessons were well structured and purposeful. The pace of the lessons was appropriate and time was used effectively. Topics such as algebra, sets, social arithmetic and coordinate geometry featured in the lessons observed.
The predominant methodology observed in lessons was traditional whole-class teaching. This is a combination of teachers demonstrating to the entire class and the students working alone on tasks while the teacher assists individual students. As this method does not suit all students, it is recommended that a greater variety of methodologies is explored. Examples could include investigation, consolidation activities, practical work, discussion, group work, and quiz activities. Methodologies such as those outlined in the Junior Certificate Guidelines for Teachers should be used in classes. The introduction of different approaches would facilitate further involvement and achievement for all students. In addition, this will help to accommodate different learning styles.
Classroom management was effective and students were appropriately behaved in class. Recall or lower order questions were used in most lessons observed. For example, interaction between teacher and students generally took the form of brief answers by the students to closed questions by the teacher. Less commonly teachers’ questioning built on students’ answers, thus probing and extending the students’ understanding and encouraging them to explain and justify their thinking and methods. The use of higher order questioning is good practice as it ensures that students fully understand the concepts being studied. It is therefore recommended that teachers have a greater balance between, recall, lower and higher order questions in lessons.
Resources used in lessons observed included textbooks, examination papers and worksheets. Additionally teachers distributed calculators to assist students in their work. Worksheets were well prepared and in general were differentiated to allow all students to progress at a level appropriate to their abilities. However the use of an overhead projector would have facilitated teachers in illustrating a variety of examples or assisting them in the correction of homework.
Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of the quantity and relevance to the topic studied in the lesson. Good practices included the preparation and discussion of the homework in advance of students attempting it at home.
Student’s contributions in class were welcomed and addressed. Teachers were conscious of their students’ abilities and provided feedback sensitively and discreetly. In general teachers are classroom based. Classrooms had displays of Mathematics posters and student work and this is commended as good practice.
Students are assessed in a number of ways through class questioning, end of topic assessment and homework. Formal assessments take place at Christmas and summer for non-examination year groupings. The use of common assessment with some year groups is to be commended as it facilitates a collaborative approach to the teaching of Mathematics. Certificate examination class groups sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations. The profiling of JCSP students provides feedback on student progress. Commendable practice was evident in the display of students’ certificates in JSCP and students achievements.
Good communication is maintained between school and parents: for example, prior to entry an ‘open day’ is convened for prospective parents and students. Additionally an information evening is organised for incoming students and their parents. Towards the end of third year an option evening is also organised where the range of programmes available to students at senior cycle is detailed. Also at this meeting, the consequence of students taking subjects at various levels is discussed. Such support for all students is to be commended.
The school issues two formal written reports per year; at Christmas and in summer. These reports indicate student attendance and also contain comments regarding punctuality, conduct and a general comment written by the class teacher. In addition a monthly progress report is sent to parents of first and second-year students. Furthermore, parent-teacher meetings are arranged for each class grouping. Parents of JCSP students receive postcards to reinforce and commend students’ achievements and success.
Students’ outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills are varied. Some students showed ability in answering questions while others presented as being apathetic in their approach to work and learning despite teachers’ continual attempts to motivate their students. The percentage of students taking foundation level at both Junior and Leaving Certificates is high. The Mathematics department has identified this as being an issue for some time now and one that it is attempting to address, which is commendable. However it is recommended that as an immediate priority the Mathematics department should progress this issue and put some strategies in place for the coming academic year. The latter should be documented and included within the long-term department plan.
The school offers a wide and varied range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities to its students. Examples relating to Mathematics include a number of initiatives through the JCSP programme. For instance, the school operates ‘Maths for fun’ which was reported to have been a successful initiative, involving students and parents in learning mathematical skills through the use of games and puzzles. JCSP students have also been involved in the ‘Make a book’ project which involves the presentation of statistical data from a survey conducted in the school. A paired Mathematics scheme was also arranged for students and this involves the pairing of first-year students with peers in second and third-year using Mathematics boards, tangrams, pentameters and numeracy worksheets. All concerned in these initiatives are to be highly commended as it ensures that students have an opportunity to participate in the learning of Mathematics in different situations while also including parents in the learning experience.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Teachers are given an opportunity to rotate class groups and to teach Mathematics to different levels.
Management provides Mathematics teachers with a wide and varied range of resource for the teaching and learning of Mathematics in the classroom.
Teachers are facilitated in attending in-service.
Mathematics teachers have collaborated and developed a long-term plan for Mathematics.
Teachers are to be commended for many initiatives that provide students with an opportunity to experience Mathematics in different learning environments.
Teachers have a good understanding of their students’ needs and abilities.
Management should continually review the appointment of graduates in the area of Mathematics to the subject.
A review of the timetabling of Mathematics should be undertaken to ensure that the time allocated to some classes is increased and that all efforts should be made to extend concurrent timetabling of classes in junior cycle to JCSP classes.
The Mathematics department should further collaborate and make some amendments to the long-term plan.
All staff members should collaborate in developing a whole-school approach to numeracy.
Mathematics teachers should ensure that a range of methodologies and questioning strategies are used in all lessons.
The Mathematics department should prioritise strategies that would attempt to address the high proportion of students taking foundation level.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Mathematics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Arklow Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Metalwork and Engineering and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one school day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
From discussions with the senior management team it is clear that they take a keen interest in, and are supportive of, technological education in the school. Indeed, the school principal is a member of the Metalwork and Engineering teaching team in the school and so is very familiar with the subject area. It was clear that together senior management and staff are keen to improve the status and provision of the subjects in the school and this subject inspection was viewed as contributing to that goal.
There are two Metalwork and Engineering workshops in the school. These are generally well laid out and are kept neat and tidy. While the subjects are relatively well resourced in terms of machinery and equipment, under the terms of circular PBU5/2005 the majority of machines in the workshops are soon to be upgraded or replaced. Some items of old and obsolete machinery are also due to be removed as part of this upgrading process, for example, the shaping machine. Teachers feel that this upgrading of machinery and equipment will be a major boost to the subject area as a whole and could help attract more students to study the subjects.
While there are a small number of examples of students’ project work on display in the workshops these could be added to, and should be changed at regular intervals. It is suggested that the Metalwork and Engineering staff also consider displaying students’ project work, or photographs of same, in the corridors of the school. Project displays can act as a stimulus and source of motivation for Metalwork and Engineering students, and can help to promote the subjects among other students, as well as teachers and parents.
Metalwork is available as an optional subject and there are two groups in each year of junior cycle. All JCSP class groups are timetabled for Metalwork. While efforts are made to keep class sizes small it was reported that this was becoming more and more difficult as both the school enrolment figure and the number of students opting for the subject are increasing. Most junior cycle classes are provided with four lesson periods per week in the subject and there is usually an appropriate allocation of single and double lesson periods. However, one JCSP class group in each year only have three lessons per week in the subject. It is important that all students studying the subject at this level would be afforded similar levels of provision.
There is one class group studying Engineering in each year of the Leaving Certificate. There is also one class group studying the subject in each year of the LCA. Class sizes at Leaving Certificate level are in the low teens and it was reported that classes of this size are generally the norm each year. It was further reported that there was an issue with regard to student drop-out each year, particularly at LCA level, and that this contributed to small class sizes. Timetable provision for Engineering is appropriate and on the whole there is suitable allocation of single and double lesson periods. However, the sixth-year class LCA group are currently timetabled for a three lesson period that is shared with a third-year Metalwork class. This doubling up of lessons is inappropriate, particularly in the case of two class groups that are following two different programmes of study. It is recommended that sixth-year LCA Engineering students be provided with dedicated Engineering lessons each week. Currently Engineering is timetabled opposite Construction Studies and Home Economics in each of fifth and sixth-year of the LC. Essentially, this means that a student cannot study Engineering and Construction Studies together. It is recommended that the school would consult with students and parents on this issue to be sure that the curriculum is fulfilling the needs of students in this respect. It is further recommended that in future, all theory lessons, as well as practical lessons, would be timetabled for the workshop as this is the most appropriate learning environment.
There is a distinct gender difference in favour of boys studying Metalwork and Engineering. Only four girls out of a total cohort of fifty-three, for example, study Metalwork at junior cycle, while no girls study Engineering at Leaving Certificate. It is recommended that management and relevant staff concentrate efforts to achieve a situation whereby Metalwork is seen as a realistic option for girls. A number of initiatives can be considered here, many of which could also have the effect of raising the profile of the subjects both inside and outside the school. The school should consider revising its timetabling arrangement for junior cycle Metalwork; currently, Metalwork is blocked opposite Home Economics. The school should apply the system of subject sampling that currently exists for the other optional subjects. This would expose more students to the subject and so could help increase the uptake by girls. Teachers should also consider the types of project work undertaken by students in practical lessons. It is important, for example, that all students would be provided with the opportunity to make a wide range of multi-materials based projects, with some to incorporate elements of electronics. Other initiatives that the school could consider include providing prospectuses for students and their parents, with a brief explanation of each of the optional subjects, to include Metalwork. This would place students is a more informed position with regard to making decisions about subject choices. Also, a simple, but attractive, brochure could be produced describing Metalwork and outlining its possible career paths. This could be distributed to parents and would help project a more positive image of the subject.
School management facilitates the Metalwork and Engineering teaching staff to attend professional development courses wherever possible. Staff have attended numerous courses over the last number of years and look forward to the programme of professional development associated with the revised technology based subjects at Leaving Certificate level. All teachers are members of a relevant professional association.
The quality of written planning and preparation observed for Metalwork and Engineering was excellent. There was evidence that considerable thought had been given to both long and short term planning for the subjects. The planning was in all cases appropriate to the needs of students with varying levels of ability, as well as being in line with curricular requirements.
The school is involved in school development planning and this has clearly assisted in further improving the quality of planning that already existed for the subjects. Teachers, for example, now hold regular formal planning meetings. The kinds of topics discussed at these meetings include induction of new teachers, student project work, the subject department plan, health and safety, state examinations, resources and the sharing of good practice in terms of teaching and learning strategies. Records of formal meetings are generally kept and are brought to the attention of senior management in the school as appropriate. Regular informal meetings also take place between teachers.
A comprehensive subject department plan has recently been developed. This plan provides information relating to the subjects on issues such as time allocation, class organisation, textbooks, resources, homework, record keeping and reporting structures. The plan also contains copies of the syllabuses for each of the subjects. From discussions with teachers it was clear that they had all co-operated in compiling this plan and the level of planning in this respect is commended. Given that the plan is a relatively new document it has not yet been subject to a review, it is recommended that with the passing of time teachers review the plan on a regular basis to ensure that it reflects practice.
Teachers keep individual schemes of work pertaining to their own class groups and some examples of these were made available for inspection. Schemes were described as being under continual review as they are changed regularly to meet students’ different abilities and needs, particularly with regard to project work. Given the numerous benefits to be had from collaborative planning, as per the subject department plan, it is recommended that this approach be explored as a possible approach to the future planning of schemes of work for class groups. Teachers also tend to keep individual teaching resource folders that contain such items as overhead transparencies, student worksheets, handouts and photocopies from textbooks. There is a culture of sharing of such resources in existence among teachers and this is commendable.
There is appropriate liaison with the learning support staff in the school regarding provision for students with special education needs. The SNAs working in the school accompany students into the workshops as appropriate. From discussions and observation of lessons it is clear that both parties work well together for the benefit of the students. The SNAs, for example, help the teacher to keep all students on task.
The school operates a book rental scheme and all Metalwork and Engineering groups, except first year classes, are issued with a textbook. Teachers also tend to keep sets of textbooks in the workshops. Examination classes use books of past examination papers. The workshops also have some reference books that the students can use. It is recommended that teachers would continue to add to this collection over time thereby creating a good library of resources on topics for student reference purposes.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) poster detailing the regulations governing the submission of project work is prominently displayed, as required, in workshops. It is important that students are regularly reminded of these regulations, particularly in the run up to project deadlines. Examples of students’ state examination project work were observed and these were generally in line with students’ abilities.
The ICT resources available in the workshops to students are limited. It was reported that teachers and students can book the school’s computer rooms for lessons but that this option was rarely utilised. It is recommended that students, particularly those in examination classes, be more effectively facilitated with access to ICT. Internet access in particular can act as a research tool for project work and would be particularly beneficial for LC Engineering students.
Common health and safety issues are addressed in the workshops, for example, first aid cabinet and fire extinguishers are in place, while others are currently being addressed under the terms of circular PBU5/ 2005. As required by this circular a health and safety audit of all machinery in the workshops has been carried out. The results of this audit have been submitted to the VEC and the grant received has been targeted. The school expects that the relevant equipment will be upgraded shortly. It is important that the regulations stipulated in the circular are adhered to during this upgrading process. It is also important that teachers would revisit the school’s health and safety statement and take appropriate actions, where applicable, to ensure that the statement is reflective of the up-to-date practices and procedures pertaining to the subject area.
Both junior cycle and LC lessons were visited during the inspection and these were a mix of theory and practical lessons. It was not possible to visit an LCA lesson during the inspection. Students were at all times engaged in purposeful work and each lesson was well prepared. This generally comprised of the preparation of student handouts or other such teaching resources, as well as demonstration pieces and the setting-up of equipment. The subject matter of lessons was usually linked to previous knowledge learned and this helped to consolidate students’ learning.
The use of a handout or the textbook and data projector and screen are common features in theory lessons. These particular resources, when used, tend to be at the centre of theory lessons and were always complemented by detailed teacher explanations and demonstrations. The use of animation clips in presentations which were researched using the internet was particularly effective in capturing students’ attention. The blackboard was used sparingly during theory lessons. Consideration should be given, as the opportunity arises during lessons, to using the blackboard to highlight key words or phrases or display freehand sketches. Use should be made of keyword posters in the case of JCSP class groups as an aid to developing students’ literacy skills. Students should be encouraged to make notes in their copybooks of key words and concepts displayed on the board and described by the teacher during lessons, whether in theory or in practical lessons. Such notes can assist students in their revision work. The textbook is sometimes used as a means of assigning homework to students.
Students were engaged with their summer practical test in all of the practical lessons visited. Each of these lessons was found to create an industrious environment where students participated enthusiastically in their work. Students were capable of, and comfortable in, using a wide range of tools and equipment in the workshops. All of the practical tests observed were challenging and appropriate to the students’ abilities. From observation of schemes of work and discussion with teachers and students in a number of different classes visited it was clear that students had worked on a varied, taxing and quite unique range of projects during the course of the year. In the case of one class group visited, for example, students had made in the region of fourteen different projects over the course of the year to include a door bolt, tie holder, teapot stand, picture frame and clock. An emphasis is placed on design based project work in the case of some class groups. For example, students are given the opportunity to design and make a project in accordance with to their own design principles. This is good practice as it gives students direct experience of the design process.
Teacher demonstrations feature strongly in practical lessons and care was always taken to ensure that all students were able to view the demonstration area fully. The approach adopted during demonstrations encouraged students to draw on previous knowledge and skills learned and therefore consolidate their learning. Teacher movement around the workshop at regular intervals ensured that students were at all times kept on task. Also, individual tuition was given as appropriate when needed.
Questions were asked at a variety of levels during lessons, both theory and practical, and care was taken to include all students in this process. During questioning, students were referred to by their first names. This gave them a sense of belonging and security within the workshop. Students were afforded appropriate time to reflect before they answered questions and there was always acceptance, clarification and affirmation of students’ contributions.
Homework procedures, including the types of homework generally allocated to students, are outlined in the subject department plan. It is recommended that teachers would implement these procedures consistently across the different class groups. Currently, some class groups receive homework while others do not. The benefits to students of homework are well documented and it is important that all students would be allocated some degree of homework; some classes will obviously be capable of absorbing more than others. In the case of those students that find it difficult to engage with traditional forms of homework, teachers should explore allocating non-traditional types of work. Students should be encouraged to keep their class notes and homework in a dedicated copy for the subjects. The good practice of regularly monitoring students’ class work and homework should be replicated across all class groups. This degree of monitoring can encourage students to keep their copies in order, and could also be used as a means of communication between school and home. The monitoring of students’ homework should also be developed to include providing students with more informative feedback on their efforts.
There was effective classroom management in all lessons with the effect that discipline was sensitively maintained throughout. Teacher-student and student-student rapport was relaxed and respectful. From discussions with students it was clear that they enjoyed studying the subjects.
All non-examination classes sit formal tests at Christmas and at the summer. Certificate examination classes sit Christmas and mock examinations. In all cases reports are sent home. Concurrent testing is sometimes implemented where there is more than one class studying at the same level in the same year group. The results of these examinations in the case of Metalwork and Engineering are usually based on students’ performance in both their theory and practical work. This is good practice as it rewards students for their endeavours in a wider range of skills and it is also reflective of how marks are allocated in the state examinations. In addition to these formal examinations monthly reports are sent home in the case of first and second year students.
All practical projects undertaken during lessons are graded on an on-going basis and teachers keep detailed records of grades achieved in their teachers’ journals. Teachers also keep records of work they have covered with students, as well as records of their examination results, their homework and their attendance. Teachers are therefore well positioned to give accurate feedback on student performance at parent teacher meetings.
Students are generally encouraged by their teachers to take their examinations at higher level, particularly at Leaving Certificate, but there is always collaboration on the matter between teacher and student. Sometimes the career guidance counsellor will assist in this decision-making process. Overall, good standards are achieved, as evidenced, for example, in students’ attainment in state examinations in Metalwork and Engineering. Teachers formally analyse results achieved in the state examinations each year and this analysis is forwarded to school and VEC management personnel. School management discusses results on an informal basis with teachers.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The senior management team in the school take a keen interest in, and are supportive of, technological education in the school.
The quality of written planning and preparation observed for Metalwork and Engineering was excellent. There is a subject department plan in place, for example, and all teachers keep individual schemes of work.
A health and safety audit of all machinery in the workshops has been carried out, as required, in accordance circular PBU5/ 2005. The results of this audit have been submitted to the VEC and the grant received has been targeted. The school expects that equipment and machinery will be upgraded shortly.
A wide range of teaching methodologies were effectively employed during the lessons visited. Opportunities should be taken however to encourage students to take more responsibility for their own learning in lessons. The close working relationship between teachers and SNAs ensures that there is effective classroom management and that discipline is sensitively maintained in lessons.
Students are exposed to a varied, challenging and quite unique range of project work during practical lessons. An emphasis is placed on design based project work in the case of some class groups. There is opportunity to incorporate multi-materials based project work, with some to incorporate elements of electronics.
Detailed records are kept on student performance.
Management and relevant staff should concentrate efforts to achieve a situation whereby Metalwork is seen as a realistic option for girls. A number of initiatives that could be implemented in pursuit of this target are outlined in the body of this report. Many of these initiatives would also have the effect of raising the profile of the subjects both inside and outside the school.
Students, particularly those in examination classes, should be more effectively facilitated with access to ICT.
Students should be encouraged to take more responsibility for their own learning and to engage more actively in Metalwork and Engineering lessons, particularly in theory lessons. Consideration should, for example, be given to using the blackboard more to highlight key words or phrases or display freehand sketches. Students should be encouraged to make notes in their copybooks as appropriate and these should be monitored. Use should be made of keyword posters in the case of JCSP class groups.
It is important that the homework policy contained in the subject department plan is implemented in the case of all class groups. All students should be allocated some degree of homework and in the case of those students who struggle with traditional forms of homework teachers should explore allocating non-traditional types of work. Students should keep their class notes and homework in a dedicated copy for the subject and the good practice of regularly monitoring students’ class work and homework should be replicated across all class groups.
Sixth-year LCA Engineering students should be timetabled for an appropriate number of dedicated Engineering lessons each week.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Metalwork and Engineering and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
A review of duties to Posts of Responsibility has already begun and is ongoing. The college has signed up to the e-portal system of computerised registration.
The draft constitution for the parent’s council will be brought before the A.G.M for ratification in mid October.
The parents’ council have adopted a system of keeping minutes of all meetings.
The isolated example of ‘doubling up’ referred to in the report has been discontinued.
All computers are now networked.
The typing room has been modernised and now serves the dual purpose of ICT and keyboard skills training.
A system has now been set up to allow all subjects to have access to the ICT room.
The advent of the e-portal system to the college will involve a suitable training programme for staff.
There has been a complete review of the Junior Cycle curriculum involving:
The introduction of a ‘high achieving’ class. (banded with second stream for Irish, English and Mathematics).
Provision for P.E., Computer Studies and Careers.
Some subjects have been moved from the core to the optional bands resulting in more periods per week being available for Irish, English and Mathematics.
The practice of the extra half days for the two JCSP class groups has been discontinued.
The matter of compliance with circular M29/95 is noted and already the college has taken measures to bring the instruction hours up to the required number. The college is committed to being in full compliance within one year from the issue of this report.
The choice of subjects for Leaving Certificate is under review and will be an item for discussion at out staff development day on December 7th 2006. At this moment in time the middle management group is of the opinion that the system of forming option blocks based on ‘best fit’ is the way to go. We have consulted widely with many other schools regarding the option blocks which they offer.
The programme co-ordinator’s role has been revised.
There is a solid commitment among staff to encourage students to reach their full potential and opt for the most appropriate levels to be attempted in individual subjects.
More portable audio-visual materials are to be purchased to facilitate greater use of same in more classes.
Co Wicklow V.E.C., Our board of management and the staff of Arklow Community College are actively pursuing the proposed school extension and sports hall.