An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Coláiste an Chraoibhín
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 70990M
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Coláiste an Chraoibhín. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has been in existence since 1987, on a ten-acre site at the southern end of Fermoy town, and continues a tradition of vocational education which is over a century old in Fermoy. It derives its name from the pen name of Dr Douglas Hyde, who lived at nearby Castle Hyde for a time. It is a co-educational, multi-denominational school under the auspices of the County Cork Vocational Education Committee (CCVEC). The school is largely a single storey construction which has, over a nineteen-year period, had a total of five extensions, and now includes six pre-fabricated rooms. This has been due to the rise in enrolment, from a base of 269 students in 1987 to a second-level population at present of 427. In addition, in any given year the school has a further enrolment of at least 155 Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) students, as well as adult and continuing education students. When one includes the school’s involvement with the nearby COPE foundation and the provision of crèche facilities on site for over forty children of, in the main, PLC students, the degree of usage being made of the school facilities is several times greater than had obtained in 1987.
The school counts up to twenty four different primary schools within its overall student catchment area, given that Fermoy is at the centre of a large area of north east Cork. It has a truly open admissions policy, for which it is applauded. The school is also to be commended for its efforts to keep any charges for students to the absolute minimum required for administration. With VEC enrolment projections indicating a likely increase in the school-going population of Fermoy of around 20% within the next decade, it is clear that pressure on accommodation will continue to be a significant issue for the school as it now stands. A further challenge facing Coláiste an Chraoibhín at present is that its long-standing principal is due to retire in 2007.
The mission statement which has been adopted by Coláiste an Chraoibhín is a very clear one:
‘To give our pupils a holistic education through the dedication of the college staff and the co-operation of parents and guardians, in a safe and caring environment.’
In addition to this, a number of school aims are identified, including the provision of all possible opportunities for personal, social and academic development and the promotion of close links between school, home and community. It is suggested that, because of the huge role which the school plays in serving the community, this also should be included among the laudable aims of the mission statement itself.
In every respect, Coláiste an Chraoibhín has been found to live out its mission statement in the daily interactions through all levels of the school. The degree of mutual respect evident between staff and students, the openness to parental and, when appropriate, public access, the vibrancy of school life on the corridors, in the classrooms and in extra-curricular activities have been very evident. The presence on site of significant numbers of adult students, students from the COPE foundation, students from foreign backgrounds and, in adjacent buildings, of the children in the school crèche undoubtedly reinforces the message of the school as a holistic centre of education and of community life. Those making productive use of the school’s facilities over the years have ranged from toddlers to octogenarians, highlighting the fact that this is a wonderfully diverse school community. For this, management and the entire school community deserve great credit.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has a properly-constituted board of management, with an appropriate number of representatives from the teaching staff, parents and VEC. The principal acts as secretary to the board with the school secretary being the recording secretary at meetings. The deputy principal attends if the principal is unavailable or on occasions when his input is required on building and other issues. As this is a County Cork VEC school, the board of management is charged with managing the school ‘on behalf of and in cooperation with CCVEC and for the benefit of the students and their parents and to provide or cause to be provided an appropriate education for each student.’
Prior to the Education Act (1998) the role of a board of management within the VEC system was traditionally somewhat less ‘hands-on’ than that required at present and the school’s board of management is continuing to develop its role in light of it new responsibilities. In this respect, it has been recommended to the board that an increase in the number of meetings it holds annually, from a figure of three in 2005-6 to an average of five in any future academic years, is desirable. It is suggested that, given the considerable amount of legislative and educational change which has come about in recent years and in order to support the board in its work, members should access training from a central source or from their representative bodies where possible.
The board of management is very supportive of both the school’s ethos and of the in-school management team. In recent years, the board has prioritised a number of strategic issues for attention, particularly in relation to the school’s ongoing building needs. This has seen an invitation being extended to the full committee of CCVEC to hold one of its monthly meetings at the school in 2005, during which the principal gave an outline of the accommodation needs facing the school. Minutes of previous board meetings also suggest that it is very much in touch with many issues on the ground, ranging from student behaviour to the work of ancillary staff at the school.
The emphasis of the board of management on building issues in recent times has resulted in some deviation from other work, including involvement with school development planning and broad policy formation. Its links with CCVEC do not in the least preclude the board from engaging in active policy development and review, and this is heartily encouraged. Areas such as the development of policies in relation to matters like complaint handling and dealing with critical incidents are examples of where the board should focus some of its additional meeting time. Good practice, rooted in common sense, has clearly obtained, for instance, in relation to critical incidents in the past and this recommendation is made with a view to formalising and protecting this practice within school policy. Similarly, policy review ought to see the board effect a rolling review of core school policies, such as admissions, attendance and participation, and pastoral care, simply to make sure that they are as up-to-date and acceptable as possible. These recommendations, essentially for the board to be more proactive than previously in policy development and review, are also offered as possible strategies towards ensuring the maintenance of the school ethos in the context of imminent change in the in-school management team.
Satisfactory levels of communication have been maintained between the board of management and its various representative bodies. Teacher and parent representatives give regular oral feedback to their relevant bodies shortly after each meeting, while CCVEC receives written copies of the minutes of all board meetings. Such clear lines of communication are applauded. Up to 2004-5, the board had also published an annual report on the performance of the school to parents, through the overarching report published by CCVEC. Now that the corporate body has moved away from the publication of such a general report, it would be worthwhile for the board at Coláiste an Chraoibhín to formalise procedures for reporting to parents, as recommended by the Education Act (1998), Section 20.
The inclusive approach taken by Coláiste an Chraoibhín to its work with students and the community is reflected to a very considerable extent in its in-school management structure. A clear sense of leadership exists at the school but in tandem with an encouragement of individual staff members who feel they wish to make a contribution to school life. Formal lines of communication are not, perhaps, as well drawn at Coláiste an Chraoibhín as they could be, but there is a very strong sense of informal but regular contact between management and the general staff, as well as between staff members involved in different areas of work. This holds true for the lines of communication between management and the parents body and, although limited in time at present, between management and representatives of the student council.
It is very obvious that the principal and deputy principal play central and vital roles in the operation of Coláiste an Chraoibhín. On numerous occasions, often outside normal school times, both principal and deputy principal have engaged in a wide variety of tasks aimed at ensuring the smooth running of the school. Duties are quite clearly defined. For example, timetabling issues, weekly staffroom briefings, year head meetings and organising for teacher absences are within the remit of the deputy principal. Broader management concerns, including liaison with the VEC and board, and supervision and substitution rotas, are looked after by the principal. While such a clear delineation of duties is a very sensible approach, the real strength of the school’s senior management is that it is very much a team. One or other is invariably the first port of call for visitors to the school, even to the point that their lunch breaks are staggered to ensure that at least one member of senior management is on site at virtually all times. Each maintains a significant and valuable presence on the corridors and around the school generally, in both a supportive and a monitoring role. Each is readily available to provide cover for teachers who need to meet parents or deal with middle-management issues at short notice. The work of this team is inspired throughout by a shared commitment, educational philosophy and vision for the school.
There is a strong middle management structure at Coláiste an Chraoibhín. Posts of responsibility are structured to ensure a good mix between pastoral and administrative duties. As can occur in any school context, there are occasional mismatches of personnel and posts most suited to them which should be rectified by a regular review of theses posts but, as a rule, the balance and make-up of posts has been found to be satisfactory.
Management of uniformed students is particularly well reinforced by the post structure. Year heads operate for each year group, all of the incumbents being assistant principals. It is very good to note the commitment of year heads, and of the guidance counsellor and deputy principal, to holding weekly meetings discussing students’ progress and, sometimes, matters of policy development. In addition, year groups have homework monitors, whose specific role is to focus on improving students’ application to their studies, separate from the year heads’ focus on disciplinary and other concerns. In some instances, the roles of year heads and homework monitors link with those of programme co-ordinators, of which the school has five, adding a third layer of support to the management of students. Thus, although the school does not operate a class tutor system, there is nevertheless ample evidence to suggest that the current provision for the management of students is satisfactory. The likely advent of a part home school community liaison post under the DEIS scheme will be another obvious support to this vital element in school management, as are other posts which will be referred to elsewhere.
In-school management maintains very clear and extensive lines of communication with the body of parents. Newsletters, sometimes produced by different student groups in the school, act as a very good means of communicating updates on school activities to parents. The parents’ council’s monthly meetings and AGM are attended by the deputy principal or principal, making them an additional means of fostering two-way communication. The school maintains a fine website and has designated another post holder to act as public relations officer for the school via the local newspapers. These measures assist communication, naturally, with the outside community as well. As previously intimated, the overall links fostered by the school with the local community are extremely strong across a range of areas, embracing academic, sporting, cultural, religious, and business life as relevant.
The overall deployment of staff at Coláiste an Chraoibhín is satisfactory. The level of staffing is in line with the figures allocated to the school by the VEC and takes full account of the varied student-teacher ratios and other concessions available for the school’s wide range of programmes and support mechanisms. In so far as management has found it practicable, teachers’ qualifications have been of paramount importance in their assignment to different subject areas. The school is also commended on its support for teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD), with numerous examples given of attendance at in-service courses for both subject and programme teachers over the years. The deployment of two school secretaries, one of whom deals substantially with mainstream school issues and the other with PLC students and courses, is very successful. In addition, the location of the administration facilities at a focal point within the school is a very valuable support to school life.
Management of the school’s facilities has been very effective. The school has a total of thirteen general classrooms, a suite of fifteen specialist classrooms for different subjects and other facilities including a library, gymnasium, career-guidance and learning-support rooms. In a number of respects, the most significant challenge facing management in relation to the school’s facilities is that space is very much at a premium. A number of extensions have been approved by the VEC over the past twenty-year period. Some rooms have also been converted to new uses and, as previously mentioned, a total of seven prefabricated rooms are now incorporated on the school site, serving as classrooms and crèche facilities. An arrangement with the local council has also ensured that the school has a full-sized playing field with small running track to cater for the sporting needs of students. It would be impossible to fit more outdoor playing-field space within the confines of the school site. Plans are currently afoot to increase the number of car park spaces at the school by some creative redesigning of the lawn spaces at the front of the main building.
Problems of space management have been compounded by the rather cramped nature of the current changing facilities, a less than full-sized gymnasium, the awkward location of the canteen and occasional difficulties in facilitating access for all regular classes to information and communication technology (ICT) facilities as required, simply due to the very important role played by PLC courses in school life. The library facility has also had to be used as a resource store and learning-support centre to a considerable degree. The finding of space for occasional meetings and the reception of visitors can be a significant challenge at the school, as will the development of a parents’ room and office should a HSCL teacher be allocated. Accommodation is a challenge which management has risen to, and which staff and students have coped with very well, but there is no doubt that it remains a central difficulty facing the school and needs a more permanent solution.
Management has been able to make productive use of the Summer Works Scheme in recent years, with considerable repair work having been effected to ongoing roofing problems, and the laying of new gas piping. The general level of maintenance of rooms and facilities at the school is a credit to management, students and staff including, naturally, the caretaking and cleaning staff. The school’s overall implementation of its safety policy is also very satisfactory, with a safety representative in place and thorough procedures being followed around fire drills, incident reporting and safety auditing in conjunction with the VEC. Some ongoing difficulties have been highlighted in relation to dust extraction in a number of the practical rooms, while concerns have also been voiced by inspectors in relation to unsuitable floor covering and socket access in the home economics room. The non-functioning of a fume cupboard and location of sockets near water supplies in science facilities also require attention. These are matters which the school reports it has prioritised with the VEC, with a view to rectifying the difficulties as soon as practicable. One safety issue which all at the school acknowledge must be addressed immediately is the lack of ventilation in the preparation and storage area shared by the science laboratories. This problem was previously highlighted in a science inspection report. The unsatisfactory nature of this situation has been underlined recently by the leaking of fridge gasses in the same room, causing nausea for teachers using the facility. The fridge was replaced immediately but it is now imperative that a proper ventilation system be installed at the earliest possible opportunity. The school and VEC have already taken steps in this regard.
As referred to above, student accommodation is an ongoing challenge at Coláiste an Chraoibhín. However, it is important to note that many excellent practical measures have been put in place to facilitate and support students at the school. The canteen facility itself is a major bonus, offering as it does a very healthy range of food. Another positive point is the fact that every uniformed student at the school is entitled to a locker. Lunch breaks for PLC classes are also staggered to ensure optimum access for all students to canteen and toilet facilities as required, with this also proving a good measure of creating further access for classes of uniformed students to ICT facilities. The provision of other supports such as supervised study and a homework club are other obvious benefits for students, as are the system of shuttle buses operating to and from the main bus drop-off point and the very significant efforts made by management to minimise disruption to the integrity of the school day. Finally, but by no means least, both the school itself and the two sponsors are deserving of the highest praise for the setting up of both the Fermoy Credit Union and TOMAR scholarships to support student achievement and opportunities on an annual basis.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín’s engagement with school development planning was on a largely informal basis for a number of years and has begun to become more structured. A very open consultative ethos among staff has ensured that any staff member who wished to have an input into school planning, policy development and areas of personal interest in whole-school terms had been given every encouragement. The policies which were put in place were based very much on the lived experience of life in the school, not a mere paper exercise. Scrutiny of the school’s policy documentation and minutes of planning meetings bears this out fully. It is, however, recommended that more staff meetings than the present one to two a year be held to assist in formalising the consultative process a little more, taking the implication of circular M58/04 that one staff meeting per term would be a norm to aim at. An excellent set of minutes of a relatively recent staff meeting could also be seen as the model for minute keeping of such future staff meetings because, again, the relatively informal emphasis of past meetings did not result in such thorough record keeping as is desirable to assist in planning and policy formation, and subsequent review.
The school is applauded for the extensive selection of policy documents which have been produced in the past two years or so, and documented by the current planning co-ordinator. Some very good committee-based planning work was done, with the input of the year heads group into the discipline policy and of a number of teachers into the homework and anti-bullying policies being particularly notable. Significant engagement has also occurred with outside experts in the field, including VEC personnel and others. Input from members of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) team could also be considered, to complement what has been already been availed of. The focus of planning in recent times has been very sensibly on promoting optimal student performance and on developing subject and departmental planning.
The policies already in place fulfil almost all of the legal requirements in terms of formal documentation. These include a very fair and open admissions policy, as well as clear procedures in place to counteract bullying, promote homework, good discipline and ICT usage. In other areas, the school has stated its intention to re-examine some of its existing policies. In relation to attendance, for example, the plan to incorporate ‘ePortal monitoring of attendance via networked computers on a lesson-by-lesson basis is very thorough, although a recommendation has been made that the inclusion of existing measures which promote student participation in a more embracing attendance and participation policy ought to be considered. A similar rethink and formalisation of existing procedures in relation to the handling of critical incidents or of complaints against members of staff would also be worthwhile exercises in helping to ensure that the school is as prepared as it can be for any such eventualities.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). The implementation of these policies had happened prior to this formal adoption, with a designated post-holder assigned to child protection issues, a set of pastoral approaches which complement this work and the principal acting as a de facto designated liaison person. The formal adoption of the guidelines had been delayed by other board issues but the appropriate formal steps have now been taken.
In a fast-moving educational world, the school is commended for its flexibility in relation to policy development. The planning co-ordinator and many others have already identified the need to develop policies in relation to non-English-speaking students as an immediate priority. The rather sudden arrival of a cohort of non-English-speaking students in September 2006 resulted in an interim strategy being put in place which has much merit. A co-ordinator of curriculum for these students was put in place, training was accessed, applications for allocation assistance have been made to both the VEC and Department of Education and Science and members of the English and learning-support departments are working with what is at present a specific class group. Recommendations have been made in relation to the use of support materials from Integrate Ireland Language and Training and it is encouraging to note the positive manner in which this issue has been taken on board by the school. In this context, the development of a whole-school literacy policy, designed to assist all students but which could support students for whom English is a second language and, indeed, students with special educational needs in particular is an obvious next step. Given the vibrancy of so many areas of school life, a whole-school approach to policy development in this area would be very appropriate. This could include the current curriculum co-ordinator for the designated class, representatives from the learning support, English and mathematics departments as well as pastoral care and adult education post-holders in the development of an action plan which will, undoubtedly, be of increasing relevance to school life in years to come.
In turning to the processes employed by the school around school planning, some very constructive use has been made of both informal staff input and of more formal year-head meetings. It is recommended that a broadening and formalising of the approach to planning be considered, using the model of year-head meetings as an example. If groups representing a cross-section of interested staff in any particular policy or planning area can be identified, they ought to be allocated some formal meeting time during planning days in order to develop or review policies as appropriate. Furthermore, legislative requirements would suggest that a more structured role for other stakeholders needs to be identified. For example, in applauding the level of communication generally between the school and the parent and student bodies, it is important that future planning work involve the board, staff, parents and, where practicable, students. There is a very strong culture in the school which fosters parental and student involvement in school life and there is no reason why this recommendation cannot enhance this involvement further. The fact that the board of management felt comfortable in giving active consideration to a request from the students’ council for representation on the board in recent years bears out the ease with which a more holistic approach to the planning process could be developed.
Given the planned retirement of the current principal in 2007, many of the recommendations around a more collaborative and formal approach to planning which have been made above are particularly relevant at this juncture. The school community clearly wishes to maintain the open, inclusive and caring ethos which permeates it, so it is recommended that a co-operative sharing of planning and policy formation and review work, as has certainly occurred in a number of instances, is an ideal vehicle to ensure the continuance of what is valued by the school partners. This anticipated change of principal, along with the building difficulties already referred to, are obvious areas where strategic planning for change will benefit the school through the identification of priorities and future needs, action plans and, where practicable, the setting of timeframes within which such further planning can be effected.
There is an excellent breadth and balance to the curriculum on offer at Coláiste an Chraoibhín. A very full range of arts, science, business and practical subjects, as comprehensive as might be found in any school of its size or indeed larger, is available to students,. While History and Geography are optional in junior cycle, and many vocational schools and community colleges offer these subjects as core junior subjects, this situation is in line with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. The fact that Science has always been a compulsory junior cycle subject is applauded in that it keeps a number of options open to students as they select senior cycle subjects later on. Subjects governed by departmental circulars, such as Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) are also given ample time on the timetable. The school caters for all practical subjects but also offers four science subjects, two business subjects and two modern languages to Leaving Certificate. Gender balance is good across the range of subjects too, with the recent awarding of first female place in Ireland to a Junior Certificate student of higher level Technical Graphics being deserving of great commendation.
One important difficulty which must be overcome by the school is that its current total timetable provision amounts to twenty-seven and a half hours of actual tuition. This is thirty minutes short of the required minimum of twenty-eight hours and, as such, has to be rectified. This will need careful consideration, with the options of either increasing the length of each lesson by just one minute, of increasing the number of periods by one on one day a week or of a more radical revamp of the current fifty-five minutes per lesson structure. It has been explained that the introduction of assembly time or other non-teaching alternatives will not satisfy the recently-agreed directive and the school is applauded for its understanding of the situation.
A most unusual feature of curricular planning at Coláiste an Chraoibhín is the timetable built around lessons of fifty-five minutes. As a result, a number of subjects have noticeably more time than they would have in a more customary forty-minute period allocation. Among these are History, Geography, CSPE and SPHE in junior cycle. On the negative side, the allocation of one fifty-five minute period per week to each of Physical Education and Religious Education, even in the non-examination form of the latter subject, is considerably below the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science. In addressing the overall time shortfall, the school ought to allocate additional time to each of these areas in the new twenty-eight hour timetable. The current structure has also contributed to some reduction of time provision for Social Education and elective modules in Art and ICT within the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, although the school has employed a number of good strategies to minimise the shortfall, particularly in the ICT electives.
The current timetable structure means that subjects with practical elements do not have double periods at the school. The allocation to them, for instance in senior cycle, is of three periods each. In terms of overall time, this is in line with accepted time provision. An advantage of this is that any day’s lesson missed will only ever mean the loss of a third of a week’s lessons, whereas the loss of a double period on the same day in other schools could mean the loss of half of the class- contact time that week. On the other hand it is not easy for teachers and students to cover practical material and reinforce it with theory development satisfactorily in fifty-five minutes. The fifty-five minute system also has advantages in helping to minimise the disruption caused due to students having to move from class to class, and allowing more time for teachers and students to move to other campuses, such as the COPE foundation, as required. However, this is offset by the fact that provision of one-to-one learning support and resource learning opportunities for students could be difficult for both students and teachers to maintain concentration in for fifty-five minutes at a time.
On the whole, it is not reasonable to suggest that the school should radically change its fifty-five minute period structure. Just as an allocation of thirty-three forty-minute periods would mean optimum use of twenty-two hours of teacher time, so too does the school’s norm of twenty-four periods of fifty-five minutes duration per teacher. A majority of teachers spoken with, and certainly the in-school management team, feel that the system best suits the school. The school is urged to keep the situation under review and to remain cognisant of the difficulties identified above in relation to under-provision in some areas.
The school’s policy, and that of County Cork VEC generally, is to appoint teachers in a permanent capacity who are fully qualified in the relevant subject area. This policy has been maintained to a very high degree at the school. On a small number of occasions, teachers have been deployed without having full qualifications in a particular subject area, specifically to ensure that subjects have been provided for where insufficient qualified personnel were available. The school has fully acknowledged the need to ensure that fully qualified personnel are deployed as soon and as often as practicable in all subject areas and is applauded for its position in this regard.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has a very broad range of subjects on offer to students in both junior and senior cycles. First-year students sample a number of subjects in the first term before making choices at Christmas, with subject blocks being tweaked annually to accommodate preferences as practicable. Similarly, students entering fourth year have an open subject choice to pick from, following which the subject bands are finalised. Occasionally, subjects have been offered in two slots on the timetable, but the extensive range of subjects available means that this is the exception rather than the rule, as having too many subjects in the same band would make classes very small and difficult to resource. This said, the school deserves commendation for the effort it goes to in order to facilitate even small numbers of students seeking to take particular subjects at times.
The range of programmes which is offered within the cycles is as comprehensive as it could possibly be. In junior cycle, for example, the school initiated the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in 2004, with the first group of JCSP students due to sit the Junior Certificate in 2007. There is a full complement of students in each JCSP class, with classes having base rooms, well-stocked resource presses and other supports. A designated JCSP co-ordinator takes charge of the programme and a significant number of staff have accessed in-service training since the programme was initiated. The school’s own data shows that the JCSP has contributed significantly to improved discipline, attendance, self-esteem and reading-test results on the part of the students involved. It is recommended that the JCSP programme documentation be typed up as soon as time allows, to facilitate alteration and dissemination in time, and also that more formal meeting time be made available for the core JCSP teaching team to plan and discuss how best to link the programme with senior cycle now that students are near this stage.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme at the school, with its own co-ordinator. The programme generally has a healthy uptake which also reflects the gender balance of the school overall. Both the overall programme document and the individual subject documents espouse TY philosophy to a very high degree, covering mostly non-Leaving Certificate material, catering for a significant degree of social-skills development, work experience, remediation where appropriate and pastoral awareness. TY students assist other students via paired reading and links with the COPE foundation. The recent TY trip to Poland is a very fine example of pro-activity in terms of helping students to learn more about a country from which a number of the school’s students have come. Involvement with the Gaisce awards, Young Social Innovators, European Studies, a number of music and drama-related features, first aid, mini-company and self defence are further TY activities which show the programme at Coláiste an Chraoibhín to be very much in the spirit of what a TY programme should be.
In senior cycle, students can opt for the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme or, if their subjects suit the vocational subject groupings, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The LCA has been a feature of the school from the inception of the programme nationally and, again, has a designated co-ordinator who also works as a learning-support teacher. The LCA has had a very positive effect on retention rates at the school and the statistics on record also show a high success rate in terms of students finding employment directly or progressing to further education. Work experience days are staggered between Mondays and Fridays to ensure optimum possibilities for students in seeking to access suitable placements. This is good practice. Given that a recent LCA teachers’ meeting had a total of twenty-four items on the agenda, it is clear that the organisation of the LCA is very thorough, but also that its core teaching team may need more formal meeting time than currently obtains.
It is good to note that access for students to the LCVP occurs only after they have made their subject choices in fourth year, ensuring that no one should be making subject choices merely to access the LCVP. The school reports a high uptake of LCVP among fourth-year and fifth-year students, with a clear majority of the overall year group being eligible for the programme annually. Interestingly, even students who do not qualify for the LCVP in fourth year are encouraged to do some elements of the programme, such as developing curriculum vitae and form-filling skills. This is very sensible. The school reports that the percentage of students who, in any one Leaving Certificate group, ultimately make use of points gained from the LCVP link modules to access third level education is often up to a third of the total student number in the programme, which is also very positive.
The school’s facilitation of numerous Post Leaving Certificate courses annually, and of a number of night classes in twice yearly slots, are not only excellent examples of the school’s community focus but also complement the second-level curriculum very successfully. The excellent level of ICT provision at the school is partly due to the high PLC allocation which the school has. While all classes at the school have an impressive fifty-five minutes of designated computer time each week, it is sometimes difficult for subject-specific classes to access facilities, due to the sheer volume of use by PLC and other groups. This is understandable and the benefits of having such a degree of PLC and other adult-orientated classes at the school certainly outweigh any challenges. It is also noteworthy that the school is in the process of acquiring a further suite of nearly-new computers to augment the current stock. It is wonderful to see the positive effect which having a considerable number of adult students around the school has on school atmosphere. Current PLC courses are at FETAC level 5, with the possibility of students taking childcare to other levels as well. The school is also an ECDL test centre and a London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) test centre. The school hopes, in time, to offer a level 3/4 course in communications and English for students from overseas, which is applauded as a possible support for parents of newly arrived ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students in particular. It is noted too that the PLC courses on offer are frequently chosen by uniformed students from the school on completion of their Leaving Certificate programmes.
A very substantial range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is in place to complement learning and school life at Coláiste an Chraoibhín. In the area of music and drama, the school has a traditional Irish group and holds a number of shows and concerts throughout the school year. Students have participated in song-writing contests, band competitions and in feiseanna, with a very active and successful school choir also involved in outside competitions. Variety shows and musicals have also featured in the school calendar, including a cultural evening designed to introduce Irish culture to members of the school community originally from outside Ireland, while students who are interested in learning a musical instrument are also facilitated privately after school hours at a reduced rate. The involvement of students from the COPE foundation, the PLC groups and even the crèche, as previously alluded to, in drama productions has also helped to enrich greatly this element of school life, with plans already in place to hold a teachers ‘Jigs and Reels’ contest in coming months. Academic life has also been supported by the work done in co-curricular and extra-curricular areas throughout the school. Students from the school have been involved in science quizzes, including the Science Olympiad, with considerable success over the years. In addition, student exchanges, debates, art competitions and Gaeltacht scholarship schemes have also seen staff members very actively involved in providing additional learning opportunities for students outside of the classrooms. School tours have been a further part of school life for many years, with one general tour every year and a new TY-specific tour to Poland in recent times which has been referred to earlier. A very fine commitment to European Studies has seen the school involved in a number of competitions, including the winning of two class trips to Strasbourg and the recent initiation of involvement, as one of only two Irish participating schools, in the Comenius ELOS project. It should also be pointed out that arrangements for managing such trips abroad have been very thorough and include a clear code of conduct, financing facilities and a considerable emphasis on gleaning educational and cultural value from such trips.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has a very strong sporting tradition, one in which the notion of active participation as well as striving for success are given equal prominence. The school fields a total of ten teams in Gaelic games competitions, of which four cater specifically for girls. Students from the school have competed regularly on Cork vocational teams, some achieving national honours in the process. Good contacts have also been developed with local clubs in terms of mutual assistance with facilities, with local businesses around sponsorship of gear and other essentials, and with the local community, which has shared access to part of the school’s sporting facilities. The cramped nature of dressing-room space is a drawback but is coped with very positively by staff and students alike. Arrangements which take account of child protection procedures and also of minimising disruption and cost are in place, with the fact that the school has its own bus and qualified drivers among management and the caretaking staff being a considerable support to such extra-curricular activity. The school reflects the quite eclectic nature of local sporting traditions in its provision of soccer, which involves over 100 participants on school teams, rugby, and basketball, which sport sees the school enter eight competitive teams each year, with considerable and sometimes national successes being achieved. As the school’s existing indoor facility is too small for an official basketball fixture, good relations have been developed with nearby centres where competitive basketball matches can be played. Showjumping, golf, fishing, pitch and putt and athletics also feature on the school calendar at differing points in the year, making sure that every possible sporting taste among the student population is catered for. It should be pointed out that the school’s focus on the value of sporting and non-sporting activity outside of the classroom is not only supportive of the wellbeing of the general student body but may also prove a valuable support in its work of promoting integration into school life for its students who have arrived recently from outside the country. The support of management and the active involvement of so many staff at the school in co-curricular and extra-curricular activity deserve the highest of praise. The annual awards night which celebrates both academic and sporting achievement is a very valuable further endorsement of the school’s holistic philosophy in this area.
Subject planning has commenced as part of the School Development Planning Initiative. This is often facilitated through regular, informal subject department meetings which is illustrative of teachers’ commitment to this important area of their work. In addition, in subject areas where there are a large number of teachers, for example English and French, monthly meetings are arranged. Formal meeting times are provided at the beginning of the school year and thereafter at intervals as is feasible. Some departments maintain minutes of such meetings. This is noted as best practice and therefore is fully encouraged across departments. Individual subject plans are being prepared. These are thorough and comprehensive and are the product of a significant amount of work on the part of teachers. This effort is commended as the planning documents produced will be of considerable benefit in guiding the future direction of each subject area. The use of ICT in the preparation of the plans is recommended, to alleviate the workload involved in the redrafting of such plans following the recommended regular review of same. Suggestions with regard to the further development of individual subject plans are provided in the appended individual subject inspection reports and may also inform the work of other departments.
Very good quality planning and preparation, which is in line with syllabus requirements, was evident in the lessons inspected. This level of planning guaranteed the provision of a broad and interesting range of experiences for students. A range of resources was employed to support teaching and consolidate student learning. Some of these included; the board, an overhead projector, a television and DVD player, product and food samples, textbooks, photocopiable worksheets and handouts, pre-prepared acetates, flashcards, posters and ICT. The sharing of such resources was also observed and this is highly praised. Planning for lessons also took cognisance of the developmental age and ability levels of students. Teachers presented evidence of written lesson planning and in a number of cases this was exceptionally diligent. Cross-curricular planning and the challenge of providing ICT access for all students at the school have been referred to in the body of the report.
Planning for students with special educational needs (SENs) was also noted. The provision of English teachers with a list of the specific learning needs of students in the school who have been identified as having special educational needs is very positive as it can inform planning. The teachers of one subject area expressed interest in availing of any professional development opportunities that may arise in the area of special educational needs and this could be borne in mind for other subject areas also. Planning for providing for the needs of these students would be greatly assisted by strengthening formal lines of communication between the learning support/special educational needs department and the general teaching staff. The formulation of a whole-school-literacy policy by a whole-school-literacy committee is also recommended.
Lessons demonstrated clear aims and objectives. It is recommended that these aims and objectives, and the anticipated learning outcomes of each lesson, be shared with students. Overall lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. In instances where students appear somewhat challenged by new information being presented, an on-the-spot rearranging of lesson structure and pace is recommended. Furthermore, when structuring lessons, it is recommended that consideration be given to the assignment of new learning to the early stages of the class period. In lessons which span fifty-five minutes this approach would make the best use of students’ energy, enthusiasm and attention levels.
Lessons, in general, incorporated a number of different methodologies and activities. A noteworthy feature in some instances, was the dynamism and exuberance displayed by the teachers when guiding lesson activities. Significant efforts were made to keep students involved. This resulted in lessons that fostered high attention levels throughout and that enhanced students’ learning. Pair and group work were used in a number of classes. Where such strategies were utilised they were most successful and were handled expertly by teachers. Teachers were adept at helping students to get the most out of each of the assigned exercises whilst maintaining their focus on the time constraints under which they were operating. In general, students applied themselves diligently to assigned activities, were competent in their approach to these activities and demonstrated a confidence in their own abilities that was admirable. All departments are encouraged to expand their use of these and other active methodologies. Such methodologies greatly facilitate differentiation in mixed-ability classes and are a powerful tool through which the pace of lessons may be shifted, as required. They also allow for more student interaction in classes where the development of a language is paramount. In general, excellent use was made of visual material to support students’ learning and this is recommended for wider use, as it engages and maintains the interest of students who are less stimulated by purely verbal presentations.
Frequently lessons began with teachers helping students to establish links between work previously covered and the new topic to be explored. Teacher instruction was clear and accurate. In a number of lessons significant efforts were made to contextualise learning for students by drawing on students’ own experiences and interests to help their understanding of particular ideas and concepts. In practical classes, teachers stopped group activity as appropriate in order to reinforce key concepts and gave group and individual attention to students as required.
In the modern language classes visited the target language was used very effectively by teachers during lessons. Ways of encouraging students to ask more questions in the target language should be examined. It is also recommended that more use be made of taped material in teaching pronunciation and as a means of improving global listening skills. In most English classes teachers integrated the language and literature elements of the syllabus. This is further encouraged in order to incorporate as wide a range of genres as possible. Students in physical education classes were challenged both physically and mentally. It is recommended that the key concepts in Physical Education be emphasised regularly during lessons and that students’ knowledge and understanding of these be elicited by careful, individual questioning. In the teaching of Home Economics there was a most impressive non-reliance on the textbook. This approach is further encouraged.
On the whole, questioning was used very effectively to engage students and to check understanding and learning. This is noted as good practice. Teachers’ awareness of the need to distribute questions evenly across class groups was particularly impressive in most classes. Some consideration should be given to the greater use of global questioning. The use of higher-order questioning designed to challenge students to think about and apply learned information was also very effective in some instances. The use of this type of questioning is fully encouraged. Teachers encouraged students to answer, subtly prompting individual students when they found a question difficult to answer. This was very effective in building students’ confidence and promoting their participation. Overall, however, students responded well to questions posed regarding work already studied or new work being explored. It was good to see that students who were unable to participate in practical activities were otherwise involved by the teacher. This is commended as it includes students in the learning experience and makes them aware of the fact that learning can occur even when they are not physically able to participate.
Classes were well managed and, on occasions, an appropriate amount and type of humour was used as a highly effective management tool. In other instances very subtle approaches, such as the use of body language, were used to refocus students who might have become distracted from the task at hand. The atmosphere in the classrooms visited was very positive. While teachers were purposeful in their approach, there was a very good rapport apparent between teachers and students. Overall, students displayed a willingness to contribute to class content in the form of questions, comments or opinions and teachers were most affirming of students’ efforts. In instances where students are somewhat reticent in offering contributions in class, consideration should be given to the use of strategies that diminish the pressure on some students to produce an individual response. In a number of instances classes displayed an infectious enthusiasm for material being presented. Discipline was sensitively maintained and it was obvious that clear rules and expectations for student behaviour had been well-established in previous lessons.
In some classes there were displays of students’ work and evidence of the development of print- and text-rich environments. While recognising the earliness of the school year at the time when the subject inspections were carried out, it is recommended that this approach be further developed in all classrooms. One suggestion which might be taken on board by all departments in the expansion of the print-rich environment is the display of keywords. This approach would benefit all students but in particular students who are studying English as a second language and JCSP students and would support a whole-school approach to literacy.
The regular assessment of students’ progress is well organised in the school. Classroom questioning, homework, formal and informal tests are used to monitor students’ learning. The modes of assessment implemented by the staff vary according to the subject and the level of the students. First-year students have regular tests linked to the subjects being studied in the six-week taster programme offered in the first term. Examination-students sit the “mock” examinations in the second term. Formal house examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer with other examinations at mid-term and Easter. The use of common assessment papers in English, where appropriate, helps to provide a picture of students’ achievement across a year group and is a practice that is highly praised. The testing of aural competency of students studying French is commended. It is recommended that the French department explore the possibility of also providing for the assessment of junior-cycle students oral competency in the language. In Home Economics, it is recommended that all components of students’ coursework be assessed and that at key times during the year, students be provided with an aggregate mark that reflects all aspects of the required coursework.
Teachers record the outcomes of all assessments whether formal or informal. In some instances this was noted as particularly diligent. Parents are made aware of students’ progress and attainment through the student journal and by means of school reports which are issued four times each year. The additional commitment required from all staff to facilitate this regular reporting is highly praised. The physical education department provides two hand-written reports on students’ performance and participation, as well as two electronic reports. Ways of expanding the customised comments currently available on the reporting software, to take account of more specialised subjects such as Physical Education, should be explored by management and staff. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held for all year groups, with an additional meeting arranged for classes preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination. This is commended as illustrating the staff’s commitment to maintaining links between teachers, students and parents. Teachers are also available to meet parents on request.
The school has a homework policy in place which involves a number of teachers who act as homework monitors. Homework is regularly assigned and, overall, tasks set are appropriate and varied and are regularly monitored by individual subject teachers. Some very good use of formative, comment-based assessment in the monitoring of student homework provides students with constructive feedback to inform future exercises. The further development within the school of this assessment-for-learning (AfL) approach is suggested. This approach reinforces student learning and is recommended by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has a very comprehensive set of supports in place in the area of special educational needs. In the current academic year, the school has a total of 114 students in receipt of either learning-support or resource tuition hours, with a total allocation to the school of 129.5 hours. Three qualified learning-support teachers are deployed full time, with a total of sixteen members of the teaching staff also involved in resource teaching, generally in one-to-one or small group situations. The school also has an ex-quota learning-support post. Five special needs assistants (SNAs) are deployed to support individual students where recommended by assessments. While accepting the department’s assurances that anyone involved will be a willing conscript, it is suggested that the total involved is a very large number of people to organise on a team basis. Ways of reducing the number of teachers involved ought to be investigated, increasing the amount of resource hours given to a smaller number of teachers and thus assisting a team approach. From an organisational standpoint, the school is commended on the fact that core learning-support teachers also hold posts as JCSP and LCA co-ordinators and as a year head.
Good contacts are maintained by the department with local primary schools, with a view to ascertaining the possible needs of students likely to attend Coláiste an Chraoibhín the following year. A second assessment of students’ needs is carried out at a later stage, during first year, in order to ensure that provision is appropriate. In the past three years, many of the students who have been identified by this process have started in the JCSP class at the school. This may not always, of course, be the best destination for such students and the school is commended on its consultations with parents and primary school teachers, as well as keeping the possibility of change open to students. Wherever a reduced curriculum has been put in place, in order to facilitate greater supports for students, this has always involved consultation with parents and a representative of the National Educational Welfare Board, which is good practice. In areas where specific learning difficulties have been identified, for example by assessment through the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the school has also recently brought in outside expertise as a training support for all staff members and this is applauded. The learning- support department does, however, feel that considerably more assessments are needed than the present average allocation of three per year from NEPS. The school, including the student body, is also commended for its support of the needs of students with visual impairment and again, appropriate contacts with the visiting teacher service have been forged in this regard.
The learning-support department has developed a considerable amount of support materials, albeit in somewhat cramped facilities in and beside the library. A clear departmental plan has been developed, as well as lists of the specific categories into which students’ needs fall. The typing up of the departmental plan would make its dissemination, amendment and extension as required much more achievable. The department has begun individual education plans (IEPs) for students needing them. The plans are of an outline, developmental nature which, in time, will provide a full profile of the learning targets and achievements of students. The guidelines on the development of IEPs would be a useful assistance in helping the future development of these plans. The department has been very honest in its admission that record keeping in relation to meetings is an area which it needs to work on, although individual student records are well maintained otherwise. With the development of IEPs, a recommended target in time should be the development of team-teaching methods where, instead of students being withdrawn by another teacher for individual or small-group tuition, two teachers might operate in a whole-class situation, with one focusing particularly on the learning needs of designated students.
Good links have been developed within the school between the learning-support department and other members of staff. In seeking to strengthen links further, it is recommended that occasional meetings between the learning-support department and representatives of core subject areas like Mathematics and English should be facilitated. These meetings could assist greatly in the school’s efforts to provide not only learning support and optimum resource teaching but also in the development of strategies to assist the students at the school for whom English is a second language, and of whole-school literacy and numeracy policies. It is also recommended that a future staff day or part thereof could productively be focused on the school’s own learning support experts giving some training to colleagues on the core issues which the school faces in this area on a day to day basis. The school is also commended for its realisation that those who are particularly gifted in specific areas also have special educational needs, with examples of recent whole-staff training, the planning focus on student performance and several examples of timetabling and other resource provision being seen to help facilitate such students as far as possible.
While the school’s links with the COPE foundation have been alluded to elsewhere in this report, it warrants reiteration in this section that the co-operative arrangement is working very satisfactorily. In what is known as the CO-OP Programme, teachers from Coláiste an Chraoibhín teach students both at the COPE centre nearby and also on the school’s own campus where practicable. The emphasis of the programme is on person-centred planning, with a specific focus on activities of daily living, social, personal and recreational development and activation. A significant number of students have successfully completed two or more FETAC foundation level modules within the programme, while the work done in terms of integration and inclusion strategies has included involvement in musicals and drama productions, fundraising events, work experience and ceremonies around the Special Olympics. The work done, both in teaching and learning situations and in terms of the organisational and philosophical support of Coláiste an Chraoibhín for its links with COPE, is deserving of the highest praise.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has a very inclusive philosophy, reflected in its admissions policy but also in daily life at the school. The school caters for a number of students from disadvantaged or potentially disadvantaged backgrounds and does so very effectively. In-house supports such as the buddy system, supervised homework facilities, the school book scheme and the low level of administration charges sought from students are all highly commended. The school has also applied for its full entitlement in terms of teaching hours to support the needs of any members of the travelling community, disadvantaged or minority groups.
The school does not have disadvantaged status and has therefore not been eligible for some of the systemic supports which might assist in tackling disadvantage. However, it has participated in the Stay in School Retention Initiative in past years and has just been included in the list of schools entitled to support from the DEIS action plan. It has also been in receipt of a disadvantaged post despite not having disadvantaged status. It is anticipated that DEIS will entitle the school to additional supports, including a home school community liaison teacher, who is likely to be shared with a nearby primary school. This will require some planning within the school in order to get optimum benefit from the new arrangements, with the difficulties of finding space for administration and a parents’ facility being very obvious challenges in light of the current healthy enrolment.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín has been very proactive in its efforts to develop supports to assist newly arrived students for whom English is a second language. A curriculum co-ordinator has been in place since the unanticipated arrival of seventeen students in late August and training in teaching English to speakers of other languages has also been accessed by the co-ordinator. The further supports of Integrate Ireland Language and Training have been recommended during the inspection and have been readily taken on board. As an interim measure, the newly arrived students of varying ages have been assigned to a separate class, with the initial emphasis being on developing basic English language skills. The school has also applied for additional tuition resources in this area and is, at this time, awaiting clarification from the VEC and Department of Education and Science as to what its precise allocation will be. Management and the class co-ordinator are commended for their understanding of the disadvantage which students from overseas are at in terms of language and also for the strategies which have been developed to assist students in both language learning and integration. It is wonderful to note that there are already some parents from eastern Europe on the parents council at the school, and that a number of the recently arrived students in the designated immersion class have begun to filter into appropriate regular classes. This is vital, as over-long dependency on the designated class structure will not benefit students ultimately. The school’s adult education programme has a total of eighty adults and more attending the BTE1 classes, ‘English for speakers of other languages’, some of whom are parents of new students in the school. The school is also commended for its realisation that sporting and cultural activities like last year’s Irish night provide further avenues for integration and mutual understanding, and for other initiatives already mentioned, such as the buddy system and TY visit to Poland, which complement this important work. The assistance provided by existing students and parents in helping to translate and interpret for newly arrived students has also been highly valued by management and staff at the school.
Colaiste an Chraoibhin has a guidance allocation, based on enrolment numbers and concessions, of 1.09 teacher equivalents and employs one full time and one part time guidance counsellor. The existing guidance structures at the school are very good. Guidance is timetabled for fourth-year and fifth-year classes for one 55-minute period per week, with third-year classes having slots of eight weeks of guidance, rotating within the SPHE schedule. Transition Year students do not have timetabled guidance classes but have significant guidance input in advance of making subject choices for Leaving Certificate. There is no current timetabled guidance provision in first or second year, although this is under review and the guidance counsellor meets all students in first year around Christmas time in advance of them finalising subject options for the Junior Certificate. Counselling services are available on an ongoing basis and very thorough recording procedures are in place. The role of the part-time guidance counsellor is also well defined, with the main areas of emphasis being in LCA 1 and LCA 2 groups and in fourth year. The part-time guidance counsellor also facilitates one-to-one counselling and referral sessions, supervised and supported study and keeps a particular focus on issues relating to students who have come from abroad. The importance of the year-head structure in the school has already been mentioned. It is customary for the guidance counsellor, as well as the deputy principal, to attend the weekly year -head meetings. This is a very valuable support, both to the year heads and to the guidance department, as well as to students themselves. Although pastoral structures are relatively informal in some areas of school life, it is abundantly clear that the roles of both guidance counsellors do involve regular interaction and sometimes intervention with students who are in need of individual support. This is applauded. Students who have been given yellow or blue disciplinary cards may be referred to one of the guidance counsellors and the department has also established appropriate links with the Juvenile Liaison Officer of the Gardaí, private psychologists and social services as required.
A very comprehensive programme of work is in place in relation to the issues to be dealt with in the different guidance classes on a weekly basis. This also includes the outline of the vocational preparation and guidance module completed over all four sessions within the LCA. Students have full access to the normal range of open days, career literature, ICT resources and other guidance-related supports throughout the year. Subject option input from the guidance team involves meeting parents and students, both before and during first year, in third year and/or Transition Year as appropriate, and on an ongoing basis as students move towards Leaving Certificate. The guidance counsellor strives to meet all Leaving Certificate students individually on four occasions during the year, which is very thorough practice. It is also very good practice that the attendance of the guidance counsellor at parent-teacher meetings is taken as automatic at the school.
The school has identified the move towards a whole-school guidance plan as being one of its short-term priorities in planning. This is applauded, as is the planned development of the student performance initiative within this process. It is important to remain mindful that this is intended to be a whole-school process and that, as recommended elsewhere, the involvement of as many of the school partners as practicable in such guidance planning is desirable. Naturally, the school’s full-time and part-time guidance counsellors will have important roles in the development of such a whole school plan but they should not be seen as the guidance planners in isolation. Should the allocation of a part-time HSCL teacher become a reality under the DEIS initiative, the identification of ways in which this role can complement the work already being done by the school’s guidance counsellors should be an issue for discussion within this planning process.
There is a very strong tradition of pastoral care at Coláiste an Chraoibhín, evident throughout staff-student interactions at all levels. There is no distinct ‘care team’ in place at the school, which is something that ought to be considered as a means of streamlining what is already very good practice. A regular meeting time allocated to core members of the existing pastoral network at the school should significantly benefit and ease the workload of all involved from an organisational and strategic point of view. Systemic supports in the form of the year heads and homework monitors, guidance counsellors and the special educational needs team, as well as the regularity and scope of contacts between the school and parents, have already been referred to as fundamental supports to student care at the school. A merit award system also operates successfully, aimed at encouraging positive behaviour rather than merely discouraging negative behaviour. In addition, the provision of SPHE as a core element of all students’ timetables is an invaluable support to pastoral care, as are its links with guidance and Home Economics. The school has a voluntary chaplain who assists in liturgical and broader pastoral care, which is a tremendous support to the school as it does not have an allocation of an ex-quota chaplaincy post. Pastoral work is further supported by the school’s religious education department which, besides operating at a teaching level, also has considerable involvement in general pastoral and liturgical activities during the school year. Many people spoken with have also voiced the view that the school is a real community, one which extends even beyond the academic year with the provision of summer camps, special needs summer camps, music classes and other activities. Indeed, the fact that so many people at the school are involved in pastoral roles from day-to-day highlights even more the importance of forming a team structure with regular meetings in this area. The excellent pastoral strategies in place in relation to homework policies, anti-bullying policies, the buddy system, merit award system and mentoring of girls, who are in a minority at the school, should also be brought together in an over-arching pastoral care policy but, as entities, are already very comprehensive.
The school has a very thorough and fair code of behaviour, clearly structured around a system of cards and sanctions which leave students in little doubt about the need for good behaviour in school. A summary version of more comprehensive rules is issued to students and parents via the student journals, which also contain thorough templates for recording communication between home and school. On the rare occasions when the school has, in the past, had to take decisive action in relation to student behaviour, it is evident that staff, management and the board have put a lot of time and consideration into the optimum course of action required for the good of the students at the school. The school has also been proactive in helping County Cork VEC in fine-tuning its own procedures in areas like appeals taken under Section 29 of the Education Act (1998). The school submits annual reports to the National Educational Welfare Board on student attendance and any instances of suspension or exclusion have been properly recorded and processed at all times. The planned ePortal monitoring of attendance will enhance an already efficient system of monitoring attendance, while the numerous programmes and pastoral support mechanisms in place undoubtedly have a very positive impact on attendance levels overall.
The student council at Coláiste an Chraoibhín has been in operation since 1996. It appropriately represents the full range of second-level year groups at the school. There is a stipulation that the council president must come from a senior year group but not one facing a State examination in the relevant academic year. This is very sensible. Good election procedures are in place, ensuring that two students are selected to represent each year group. In addition, very productive use is made of the intercom, class-specific representatives and the council notice board to keep the student body informed and involved in the council’s activities. The council has a designated staff liaison teacher who has the added benefit of having been an original member of the school’s first student council. Council representatives meet with the school principal at regular intervals, in addition to full council meetings once a month and committee meetings at fortnightly intervals in between. The allocation of the short lunch-break for such meetings is, however, very tight and it is recommended that ways of ensuring more meeting time for the council be investigated. The council has had a meaningful role in highlighting issues around healthier canteen food, the need for more toilet facilities, problems with heating and new uniform design. The council already feels it gets a fair hearing from school management and certainly the school will have nothing to fear as it seeks ways of integrating the student voice into more policy development work in time.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
We accept the report as accurate, impartial, and informative and a true account of what is happening in the school. We regard the experience as very positive and beneficial in the context of delivering the best educational service possible to the school community.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
1. The Science Room ventilation problem is rectified
2. New floor covering has been fitted to the Home Economics room
3. Request made to the VEC for increased accommodation
4. All the other recommendations are being implemented