An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Carrick Vocational School
Carrick, County Donegal
Roll number: 71150T
Date of inspection: 31 March 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 Carrick Vocational School, Co Donegal. 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 teaching staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Carrick Vocational School is a co-educational school under the patronage of County Donegal Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The school was established in 1950 with an initial enrolment of twelve boys and one Woodwork teacher, who also served as principal. In 1958, with the provision of a new two-roomed building and the arrival of a Home Economics teacher, the school became co-educational, with an enrolment of fifty-nine students. Over the years, the teaching staff increased, additional classrooms were built and prefabricated buildings added, to accommodate the increasing student population, which reached a peak of 333 students in the late 1980s. A Science laboratory and an Engineering room, both of which are still in use, were added in 1982. In 1990, a new school was constructed adjacent to the original building; this is the present school building.
In addition to mainstream education, the concept of lifelong learning is promoted by providing educational opportunities for those living in the local area through the Back to Education Initiative and a programme of Adult Education, both of which are operated in conjunction with Co Donegal VEC.
The school, which serves the educational needs of the local community, is located in a geographically remote rural area in South-West Donegal. The village of Carrick, where the school is situated, is forty-five kilometres from Donegal Town and sixteen from the fishing port of Killybegs. The school draws its pupils from the four feeder primary schools within the school’s catchment area. Total enrolment in the school, which now stands at 206 students in mainstream education, has declined in the last few years, reflecting demographic trends in the rural hinterland.
During the evaluation, all members of the school community who met with inspectors expressed very high levels of dissatisfaction and frustration that the school has been excluded from the Department of Education and Science’s School Support Programme under Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS). All parties are of the opinion that the school has been unfairly omitted from this initiative and they are in the process of lodging an appeal.
The characteristic spirit of the school is formally outlined in the school’s challenging and comprehensive statement of aims and in its mission statement. The school ‘welcomes all members of the community and strives for excellence in delivering holistic educational services and supports based on the principles of respect, co-operation and partnership’. There is a strong sense that the school is a strong and spirited microcosm of the local community, with a sense of pride and open communication systems between all members of the school community. Students and parents referred to the school as a happy and friendly place where management and staff are approachable and caring and where each member of staff knows all of the students in the school. Students in particular remarked on the very good relationship between teachers and students.
The values expressed in the school’s aims and mission statement are echoed and further developed in a number of school polices, particularly those concerned with the care and support of students, such as the code of behaviour, anti-bullying charter, pastoral care, special education support and the child protection policies. The warm and welcoming atmosphere in the school, the sense of care and mutual respect that characterise the interactions between students and staff, both within and outside the classrooms, as well as the sense of co-operation and collaboration between management, teaching and non-teaching staff, parents and members of the board of management provide further evidence of the daily expression of the aspirations expressed in the mission statement.
The board of management is properly constituted under the Instrument and Articles of Management for Vocational Schools and is conscious of its status as a sub-committee of the VEC. The current board is in its second year of office and the present chairperson has been in situ for twenty-one years. The board meets four to five times per year; however, senior management and board members maintain regular contact between meetings. Agendas and minutes are circulated to members one week in advance, and agreed reports of meetings are fed back to the teaching staff, whilst the minutes are also forwarded to the VEC. Copies of the minutes of recent board meetings were made available during the evaluation process. Board members consider that issues are openly discussed and decisions are arrived at by consensus. Carrick Vocational School is well represented on Co Donegal VEC, as three members of the board, including one of the teacher representatives, are members of the VEC.
It is clear that the board is very committed and keenly interested in the operation and development of the school and there is a very supportive and collaborative relationship between the board and senior management. The board is guided by senior management, who bring ideas and proposals for discussion to the meetings. In recent times the board has played a very active and successful role in lobbying for improvements to the school building, and has been actively involved in discussions on curricular provision regarding the introduction of the Transition Year Programme (TYP) and in the current review of the schedule of posts of responsibilities in conjunction with the teaching staff. Amongst the key development priorities identified by the board is an appeal of the decision regarding the school’s exclusion from the School Support Programme; action plans have already been put in place in this regard. They are also determined to maintain the existing range of programmes, subjects and student supports despite difficulties with teacher allocation and the potential effects of falling enrolment on curriculum provision.
To date the board has not had any role in policy development or in the development of the school plan, apart from the ratification of all policies before they are forwarded to the VEC. Discussion with the board during the evaluation process indicated that there is an underdeveloped awareness of some of its roles and responsibilities and this is attributed to the fact that board members have never had any training. Members are very open to and anxious for training, especially regarding relevant legislation and in relation to their statutory obligations as a board. It is acknowledged that, at the time of this evaluation, Co Donegal VEC has plans in place to provide training for boards of management and it is therefore recommended that all board members should avail of this training, and that the training also be made available in a timely manner in the future for newly elected members.
The very good relationship between senior management, the board and the parents' association provides evidence of co-operation and partnership. The fact that the chairperson of the parents' association is also a parent representative on the board provides a direct link between both partners. Meetings are held about six times per year and they are affiliated to the Parents’ Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (PAVSCC), although they report that communication from this body is sparse. The parents' association is very active and supportive, and the board, senior management and the teaching staff acknowledged their immense contribution to many aspects of school life. While fund-raising is a significant and vital part of their work, they are also actively involved, for example, in campaigning for improved facilities, catering for school functions such as the awards night and the carol service and working front-of-house during the school musical. They are also involved in developments in relation to the promotion and facilitation of healthy eating in the school. Amongst their current priorities, both of which were brought to the attention of the evaluation team, are (i) ensuring that the DES reconsiders the decision to exclude the school from DEIS and (ii) campaigning for the provision of a laboratory technician for Science.
The principal and deputy principal, as senior management, have central roles within the in-school management structure. They form an effective leadership partnership and duties are divided between them, drawing on their complementary strengths and talents. Even though they have clearly defined responsibilities, where each gives the other space to expand and develop their role, there is also a sense of teamwork and collaboration and they share a common vision of a school that is committed to helping students achieve their full potential. The board and the parents' association, in their meetings with the inspectors, expressed confidence in the senior management team and acknowledged the open collaborative approach. Given the size of the school and the commitment to supporting as broad a curriculum as possible, both the principal and the deputy principal have some teaching duties. There is a sense that over the years an environment has been created that brings out the very best in staff, where positive relationships are fostered and where everybody, including the principal, is a team player. In recent years the school has experienced a vibrancy and vigour that has resulted in a considerable amount of positive change and development. The capacity of the school to deal with the changes now being effected is due to the atmosphere and team spirit built up over the years, and the willingness and commitment of staff to provide the very best for the students.
On the first day of the in-school phase of this whole school evaluation, the current deputy principal had just taken over the role of acting principal, whilst one of the special duties teachers had been appointed as acting deputy principal, for an indefinite period. In addition to carrying out the wide range of managerial, administrative and pastoral duties attached to their new roles, they also continued teaching the timetabled classes from their former positions, due to difficulties encountered in obtaining a substitute teacher. They are commended for their commitment, collaboration and efficiency in handling the transfer of responsibility, thus ensuring that the school runs smoothly.
Three assistant principals and five special duties teachers also contribute to the management of the school in the performance of their duties that are of a pastoral, curricular and administrative nature. A programme coordinator and a director of adult education are also in place. In many cases, assistant principals and special duties teachers have a range of duties attached to their post. Assistant principals, for example, have been allocated year head duties as well as a number of other areas of responsibility. It is testimony to the spirit of teamwork and collegiality that exists in the school that the assistant principals are also considered a part of the senior management team. A weekly meeting is scheduled between the principal, deputy principal and the assistant principals. The meetings are minuted and in addition to dealing with routine business relating to their duties, issues of a whole school nature are discussed. This practice of collaboration is commended as it provides opportunities for empowering post holders with aspects of the management of the school and also fosters a sense of shared leadership. It is laudable that the senior members of the student council have the opportunity to attend meetings of senior management, by prior arrangement, several times a year, to put forward and discuss ideas and concerns.
The teaching staff, in conjunction with senior management and the board, is in the process of reviewing the schedule of posts as a result of recent staff changes. In carrying out the review, reference should be made to Circular 20/98, to ensure that the duties attached to posts meet the current needs and policy priorities of the school.
Staff meetings are held once a term and it is reported that staff actively contribute to the meetings. Minutes of recent staff meetings were made available to the evaluation team. The visible presence of senior management in the staff room, the open door policy of management and the provision and effective use of a notice board for daily events in the staff room are indications of the open communication between management and staff. The supportive relationships and good rapport between staff members is also noted.
The year heads play a key role in the management of students and they share a common vision of their duties. The principal, deputy principal and the three assistant principals each have responsibility for a year group. The school adopts a positive and pastoral approach to the management of students based on the principle of early intervention, as opposed to sanctions, as much as possible. The operation of a credit system, based on a whole class approach, that rewards good behaviour, as well as a range of restorative practices that are used to deal with breaches of the code of behaviour provide evidence of the positive and constructive approach used. The students themselves referred to the importance of the school’s anti-bullying charter. Expectations of good behaviour and respect for all are emphasised. The code of behaviour, a copy of which is made available to parents and students on admission, emphasises the importance of ‘a safe school for students and the creation and maintenance of an atmosphere where effective teaching and learning can take place’. The code is unambiguous and outlines a clear ladder of intervention for incidents of indiscipline.
Parental involvement in the school is facilitated and encouraged and the members of the parents' association who met with the evaluation team were appreciative of the two-way link with the school by the attendance of a member of the teaching staff at the meetings of the parents' association. In addition to parent-teacher meetings and information evenings it is evident that management makes every effort to maintain contact with parents through regular correspondence. Daily communication between parents and teachers can be maintained through the student journal. In order to disseminate information to parents and the wider school community about the many events, achievements and developments taking place in Carrick Vocational School, the possibility of reintroducing the school newsletter, to which all members of the school community could be invited to contribute, might be explored.
It is commendable that senior management, in collaboration with the board, the parents' association and Co Donegal VEC, is proactive in its efforts to develop, optimise and improve the accommodation and facilities. A recently developed bus bay has resulted in improved safety for students, while the school reports that the installation of closed circuit television cameras has contributed positively to student behaviour. Under the DES Summer Works Scheme (SWS) 2005 an additional Science laboratory and a congregational area, with improved access for all at the entrance to the school building, are nearing completion. The relocation of the computer room to the ground floor provides further evidence of the school’s commitment to facilitating access for all. There are plans to convert two former cloakrooms to provide secure storage space for musical instruments and space for a healthy eating shop. Seating space in the recently developed school canteen is limited and the parents' association is anxious that it be extended to accommodate students who bring lunch to school.
During the evaluation, members of the school community expressed a number of concerns regarding the current state of the Woodwork room and the school gym. Senior management and Co Donegal VEC are actively pursuing a resolution to these problems with the DES. Regarding the Woodwork room, the school reports that there is inadequate ventilation, poor dust extraction and the absence of guards on machinery. With regard to the gym, a problem with dampness and high moisture content since construction, resulting in damage to the floor in particular and creating a potential hazard, has been the subject of a successful application under the SWS 2006 for repairs. Until the health and safety matters in the Woodwork room and the gym are resolved, it is recommended that the school should ensure that effective measures are put in place, in the interim, so that there is no risk to health and safety.
The school has one computer room that is available to students on the BTEI and the adult education courses, as well as those in mainstream; therefore access is limited at present. A number of the specialist classrooms also have a computer and there are four computers available for students with special educational needs. Currently there is no Internet access in the computer room; the school’s involvement in a pilot project that provided Internet connection by satellite ended in December 2005. The school is awaiting broadband connection and there are plans in place to have all classrooms networked in the very near future, to improve access to ICT. The school reports that some of the hardware is in need of upgrading and discussions to this effect have taken place with the VEC. As an example, the most recent software for students with special educational needs is not compatible with the scanner in the learning support classroom and therefore, the software cannot be used on the present system. As resources become available, it is recommended that the board explore how best to provide ICT support specifically in relation to students with special educational needs.
Coordination of information and communications technology (ICT) is the responsibility of one of the special duties teachers who has expertise in this area and it is noted that an ICT policy has been developed. There is a good level of interest amongst the teaching staff in using ICT facilities to support teaching and learning and this is already happening in a small number of areas. It is noted that many staff members have qualifications and have developed a high degree of skill in ICT. As progress is made with the development of the school’s ICT facilities, it is recommended that, in the context of school development planning, subject departments should begin the process of identifying strategies for the inclusion of ICT in the teaching and learning of their subjects. In relation to the computer studies element on the timetable, consideration might be given to the design or access of an ICT syllabus where target skills are outlined for each year group, with a view to incorporating assessment and certification. This would consolidate the very good work currently being done on the development of keyboarding skills in first year where all students are prepared for the Pitman Certificate in Typing.
The school library, which currently doubles as a classroom, would benefit from some investment as resources become available, thus increasing its potential as a learning resource for the whole school. The daily operation of a school supplies shop is a commendable and convenient initiative in ensuring that students can obtain all class materials on the school premises.
Teachers are generally allocated base classrooms and this facilitates the storage of resources to support teaching and learning as well as the display of subject specific material and students’ project work. However, during the current period of construction, it was wisely decided to reduce the amount of movement for students thus avoiding congestion on the corridors. A comprehensive health and safety statement, that includes a risk assessment for each classroom, has been produced and one of the special duties teachers is the designated safety officer.
The school building is maintained to an impressive standard, resulting in a pleasant and stimulating environment. The absence of graffiti, the general cleanliness of classrooms and corridors, the absence of litter throughout the school and the school grounds and the magnificent murals on the corridor, the Music room and in the former Mathematics classroom are striking features and reflect the sense of pride in the school. Notice boards and photographic displays celebrating student achievement enhance the public areas of the school. All those involved, and in particular the care taking and cleaning staff, are to be commended for maintaining the school building to such a high standard. The school has recently become involved in recycling and it is recommended that the establishment of an Environmental Group could provide further opportunities to increase environmental awareness among students, as well as the possibility that the school might consider working towards gaining the An Taisce Green Flag.
The school embarked on the process of school development planning in 1999/2000, with support and guidance from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). In the initial phase, key areas were prioritised, staff members divided into working groups, with an assistant principal in charge of each group and the admissions policy, code of behaviour and pastoral care policy were drafted and presented to the whole staff for discussion and approval, before ratification by the board. Since then, a wide array of policies, focusing on the organisational and curricular aspects of the school, has been developed. Senior management initiates policy formation and review. To date, parents and students have not had any input into policy development. In keeping with the school’s strong commitment to partnership and inclusion, it is recommended that parents and students, through their representative bodies, should be given the opportunity to contribute to future policy development and review.
It is recommended that those aspects of the Admissions Policy referring to applicants with special educational needs, and students transferring from other schools, should be reviewed, so as to ensure that all existing legislation has been taken fully into account and to avoid any ambiguous interpretation of the policy.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop a policy and procedures 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 the policy. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. Whilst it is evident that the board and the staff have been briefed on the Child Protection Guidelines, discussions during the evaluation indicated that a small number of staff members missed the briefing session due to involvement in other school business. It is therefore recommended that the briefing session on the Child Protection Guidelines be repeated for staff members, teaching and non-teaching, who have not yet received it. The school’s policy and procedures in this area should also be brought to the attention of parents.
In recent times, the focus of planning has moved, as is appropriate, to curriculum planning. It is commendable that a number of staff development days have focused on various aspects of planning, with professional input included as necessary. In-service from the Special Education Support Service, on a whole school approach to provision for students with special educational needs and the use of individual education plans (IEPs) in the mainstream classroom, has been rescheduled for September 2006. This whole school approach to continuing professional development (CPD) is commended and it is suggested that the CPD needs of staff should be identified and prioritised on an ongoing basis as part of school development planning.
It is evident that significant progress has been made in school planning with the generation of documents such as the history, mission statement and aims of the school, as well as the wide range of policies that now form the relatively permanent features of the school plan. While the developmental section of the school plan is not formally documented, there is no doubt that a lot of development is occurring and discussions with members of the school community during the evaluation indicated that there is a shared long-term vision for the school and a number of key development priorities have been identified. The inclusion of the developmental section of the school plan, which charts and prioritises the key development targets and outlines action plans and timeframes, will provide a clear roadmap for the school in ensuring that progress is made, while at the same time maintaining a balance between the pace of change and the enthusiasm to reach targets. It will also raise awareness of what has been achieved and provide an effective means for the school to engage in self-evaluation. In order to monitor, progress, collate and document, where necessary, the elements of the school plan, as part of the ongoing planning process, the school should consider some form of coordinating strategy, such as the appointment of a planning coordinator, perhaps supported by a core team of staff members. Useful guidance and information on the development of the school plan is available at www.sdpi.ie
The school currently offers the Junior Certificate Programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The introduction of the Transition Year Programme (TYP) from September 2006 is an exciting and praiseworthy development in Carrick Vocational School. It is laudable that the school has engaged with the Transition Year Support Service and has adopted a whole school approach, in planning for the introduction of the programme. At the time of this evaluation, curriculum planning for the impending TYP was at an early stage of development; a number of draft subject plans have been developed using templates based on the national guidelines. It is important that the momentum in planning for the TYP and in preparing the TYP plan be maintained to ensure a successful start to the programme in September 2006. The potential to expose students to a new and broad range of subjects, areas of study and learning experiences, as well as providing them with opportunities to become independent learners through the development of active and creative methodologies and methods of assessment should be given high priority when planning the programme.
Management has made optimal use of available qualifications, skills and talents in the deployment of teaching staff, and each teacher is timetabled for the requisite number of hours. However, deployment of staff is an ongoing challenge and the school is dependent on concessionary hours to maintain current curriculum provision. Despite the potential of falling enrolment to affect curriculum provision, the school is to be commended for providing as wide a range of subjects as possible, within the available teacher allocation. In addition to the core subjects, nine optional subjects are offered to students in junior cycle, while in senior cycle a possible fourteen optional subjects are on offer. The maintenance of breadth and balance in the curriculum is an ongoing challenge for the school. Whilst management would wish to extend the range of subjects to include, for example, Art, this is currently not possible. During the evaluation, parents and students expressed much disappointment about the unavailability of Art on the school curriculum. A number of senior students study Art, for Leaving Certificate, outside of school, but the cost of such an initiative is prohibitive for many students. It is praiseworthy, following a request from the school, that Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta Teoranta (MFG) have agreed to provide a grant for the provision of an Art module as part of the TYP.
Provision for modern languages is somewhat restricted as French is the only modern language that can be provided within the limits of the current teacher allocation. Currently sixteen hours per week is allocated to the teaching of this subject. While French is taken as a core subject in first year, students have the option of dropping it from second year onwards. It is noted that the Guidance Counsellor alerts students and their parents to the potentially serious career implications of such a decision. Senior management, in conjunction with the board and Co. Donegal VEC, should review the situation regarding the provision of modern languages.
In order to meet the LCVP requirement of having a modern language, an ab initio course in French, designed to NCVA level one, is provided for senior cycle students who have not chosen French for Leaving Certificate.
The lack of a qualified Physical Education (PE) teacher inhibits the development of a PE programme. Through the generosity of a number of teachers, the school compensates for the absence of PE by the provision of one timetabled period of games per week for first years and thereafter on a modular basis. However, in the current year, due to concurrent timetabling, first years who have chosen Music do not have access to any games class. In second and third year, games are timetabled against Religious Education (RE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), which means that each of these three subjects has an allocation of only one period per week for a total of ten to twelve weeks during the school year.
While it is acknowledged that the school offers a wide range of sports as part of the extra-curricular programme, a distinction has to be made between school sport, in which there is a relatively narrow, performance-related emphasis and Physical Education, which has at its core the holistic development of each individual student. It is recommended that consideration be given to the employment of a qualified PE teacher, even on a part-time basis, to oversee the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in PE. It is also recommended that SPHE should be timetabled for the equivalent of one period per week, for all junior cycle students, as per Circular M11/03. The school is commended for the provision of a module of SPHE to fourth year students. It should also be noted that the Articles of Management for Vocational Schools indicates a commitment to the provision of religious instruction in accordance with Circular Letter 73/74 (paragraph 10b).
The time allocated to subjects taken by students for examination is appropriate and in line with syllabus recommendations. However, the eight-period day timetable structure restricts curriculum provision and in particular limits the time available for subjects such as PE, SPHE and RE. Currently the timetable is divided into eight lessons per day made up of forty-minute periods, with seven forty-minute periods on a Friday. As a means of addressing current curriculum restrictions, it is recommended that management and staff explore the introduction of a nine-lesson day, perhaps using the combination of thirty-five and forty minute class periods.
An examination of the weekly timetable indicates that there is a shortfall of two hours per week, as required by CL M29/95. While it is acknowledged that there are difficulties around bus arrangements that impact on the timetable, and it is important to note that all teachers are currently teaching for the maximum number of hours, it is strongly recommended that the shortfall in teaching time be addressed in line with the requirements of CL M29/95.
Students and their parents are provided with appropriate and timely information and support when making curriculum choices at all stages. The school is to be commended for all the efforts made to facilitate parents in relation to the provision of information and to involve them in programme and subject choice.
In conjunction with the assessment tests prior to entry, an induction day for students and their parents includes the provision of information on the subjects on offer in the school, while a further information session is organised for parents in August before students begin first year. A two-week taster programme of optional subjects for first year students facilitates the process of subject choice in junior cycle. They then choose four subjects from a range of option pools, which can vary from year to year depending on student demand. Science is a core subject in the school for all junior cycle students.
It is commendable that the National Coordinator of the Transition Year Support Service was invited to address parents and students at a specially organised information evening for the introduction of the TYP, to ensure that parents and prospective students were fully au fait with the programme.
In preparation for senior cycle, the school hosts an information evening for students and their parents to provide information on subjects, and on the significance of subject choice for career options. Students also have opportunities in school to discuss subject choice with their teachers and with the Guidance Counsellor (GC), who administers an interest inventory to students followed by discussion on subject options; the GC is also available to meet parents. In choosing subjects for senior cycle, students list their preference of option subjects, results are processed using a software package and option pools, which vary from year to year, are formed based on student choice. This rigorous method of subject selection is commended as it ensures that the majority of students obtain their desired subjects.
It is commendable that the school is committed to facilitating students in accessing the most appropriate level in core subjects through the concurrent timetabling of lessons in Mathematics, English and Irish in third year.
In keeping with the sentiments expressed in the aims of the school and in the pastoral care policy, which seek to promote personal and social confidence and to encourage the development of individual talents, there is a wide variety of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on offer, that include those of a sporting, artistic, cultural and social nature. It is noted that this provision is heavily reliant on the ongoing generosity and dedication of many staff members.
Students are fortunate to have opportunities to participate in an extensive array of co-curricular activities, many of which are outlined in the attached subject inspection reports. These activities, which are spread across the curriculum, include quizzes, poetry and short-story writing, debates, public speaking, drama, participation in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Irish Mathematics Olympiad and Oireachtas na Gaeilge as well as field trips, educational visits, lectures and project work. As well as nurturing talent and developing confidence these activities provide enjoyable and challenging opportunities for students to extend their learning beyond the classroom. Many of the co-curricular activities have a competitive element and students have enjoyed much success at local and national level.
The school has a fine musical reputation and through the school choir and the school band students have opportunities to display their musical talents at a range of events in the school calendar. However, the production of the school musical, on a biennial basis, has been cited as one of the highlights of the extra-curricular programme.
Sport is a significant feature of the extra-curricular activities and in particular, athletics, Gaelic football, soccer and basketball are provided for students. Training and preparation for sports takes place during lunchtime and outside of school time, often in the evenings and this reflects a high level of commitment by teachers to their students. Despite the absence of outdoor sports facilities and pitches, the school has enjoyed much success in a variety of sports at local, provincial and national level. It is commendable that valuable links have been established with local sporting organisations and the school is indebted to the sports clubs in the neighbouring parishes for the free use of their facilities for training and matches.
Due to the relative isolation of the school, travel costs for participation in many of the co-curricular and extra-activities are very high. The school acknowledges the role of the parents' association and the student council in the ongoing organisation of fundraising activities, which help to defray some of the expense involved in travel.
Gaisce, the President’s Award has been operating in the school since 1990 and provides students with opportunities to complete a variety of personal challenges. The opportunity to experience outdoor pursuits and adventure activities is also provided and an annual trip to the Delphi Adventure Centre is organised for first, second and fourth years. Activities to help students develop a social conscience include the Terry Fox Run for Cancer Research, Samaritan’s Purse Shoe Box Appeal, Children of the Andes charity, Traidcraft and visits to the local Day Care Centre.
A subject department structure has been established for most of the subjects evaluated and a number of subject coordinators have been appointed, resulting in effective collaboration. Where subject departments are not currently coordinated it is recommended that a subject coordinator be introduced, perhaps on a rotating basis, thus allowing each member of the subject teaching team to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in the workings of their subject department.
As part of school development planning, management facilitates subject department planning through the provision of formal time for meetings. Given that a number of staff members teach at least two subjects, the time allocated should be divided appropriately so that all teachers can attend the relevant subject department meetings. It is commendable that teachers have developed a collaborative approach to subject planning and long-term subject plans were available for most of the subjects evaluated. Where they were observed, these plans were syllabus based and some contained appropriate sequencing of topics. Good practice was evident where plans reflected the schools’ mission statement and made reference to aims and objectives of the syllabus, grouping of students, class organisation, support for students with special educational needs, planning for co- and cross-curricular activities, teaching methodologies, textbooks to be used, materials, resources and ICT. It is recommended that the good practice of collaborative subject planning be extended to all subjects departments and the planning documents should focus more firmly on student learning, as well as teacher activity. The plans would be enhanced by the inclusion of more specific timeframes and as planning develops, the department plans should identify the knowledge, skills and understanding that the students are expected to acquire each year. Methods of assessment should also be explored as part of subject planning.
Evidence was presented during the evaluation of good practice in planning for the LCVP and particularly in the cross-curricular approach to planning for the Link Modules.
Teachers are to be commended on their preparation of lessons, organisation and setting up of materials to be used in experiments and practical activities, development of resources such as worksheets and overhead transparencies.
In all of the lessons observed clear aims and learning objectives were evident and where these were shared with the students a clear focus for their attention was provided. This good practice helps to increase student motivation and to provide a sense of accomplishment when the lesson is concluded and its wider use is recommended. Lessons were well prepared, structured and delivered at a pace suited to the abilities of the students.
A wide variety of teaching methodologies was employed in the lessons observed. These ranged from a traditional expository style to the engagement of students in small group/pair work or where they were engaged in individual learning. Care should be taken to ensure that teacher-lead discussion does not become the dominant methodology. A whole-staff focus on the further development of effective teaching and learning strategies, and particularly active learning methodologies is recommended. The use of a variety of teaching methods caters more effectively for the preferred learning styles of individual students and more actively involves them in their own learning. The use of first hand and references to the personal experiences is commended as this facilitates greater understanding and encourages a reflective attitude amongst students.
In most of the classrooms visited there was a very determined effort to develop the students’ linguistic skills as the language pertaining to individual subjects was taught and developed. New terms were introduced, often written on the board, carefully explained and used throughout the lessons. This good practice is in line with syllabus requirements. In some subject areas teachers have adopted a visual approach to the teaching of the particular subject and this good practice is commended. Students willingly engaged in question and answer sessions and were knowledgeable about their courses. Teachers used a range of questioning styles, some of which encouraged students to offer personal reflections or to provide explanations. This is good practice as it facilitates the development of higher order thinking skills. Questioning worked less well where student’s responses were limited or where questions did not move beyond simple recall. It is recommended that teachers review their use of questioning to maximise its effectiveness as a teaching strategy. During the evaluation, reference was made to a thinking skills module used with first years as part of the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). This idea is worthy of consideration, as a whole staff approach, for its potential in helping all students develop thinking skills.
Effective classroom management was evident in almost all of the lessons observed. Students remained on task and were most effectively supported where teachers moved around the classroom. An atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed and students were affirmed for their efforts and in some lessons student enjoyment of the subject was evident.
A range of assessment techniques, including questioning, homework and topic tests, was in evidence in Carrick Vocational School. In addition, students sit formal examinations at the end of the first term, as do non-examination classes at the end of the summer term. Mock examinations are held for examination students during the second term. Teachers keep records of students’ progress and report to parents or guardians following the term examinations and at parent-teacher meetings.
The importance of homework as a learning and teaching tool is emphasised and is supported by a whole-school policy. Clear guidelines are provided to both parents and students regarding the effective execution of homework, and a system is in place that facilitates communication between school and home if problems arise. The school is commended in this regard.
While student work was generally of a good standard, with some examples of excellent presentation and diagrams, there were instances of students struggling with written work. Specific guidance in this regard has been given to subject teachers, as appropriate.
Documentation made available indicates that, in some subject departments, teachers have developed a policy on assessment. It is recommended that all subject teams explore this option, addressing the rationale, frequency and modes of assessment and agreeing common policy in marking students’ work.
The school reported that its efforts to provide a high-quality service for students with special educational needs are severely hampered by a long waiting time experienced before psychological assessments are carried out and by the fact that the assigned psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has been withdrawn from the school.
The school uses its allocation of hours for resource teaching and learning support very effectively. Close liaison with feeder primary schools and with parents provides the school with information about individual students’ needs and these are confirmed either through psychological testing or by a combination of the in-school testing programme and teacher assessments in the first month of first year.
The resource teacher (RT) is timetabled for the maximum number of hours and has primary responsibility for the provision of support to students with SEN, either on a one-to-one basis or in small, ability-appropriate groupings. These students include those with mild and moderate general learning disabilities, specific learning difficulties and specific behavioural problems. The RT is also involved in the delivery of learning support to a small number of students. A number of other teachers are timetabled for resource hours as well as for the provision of supplementary teaching in English and Mathematics to students who may have a deficit in literacy and or numeracy. In relation to the provision of supplementary teaching in Mathematics, students who do not necessarily have a numeracy deficit, but who may require some extra support with certain aspects of the subject, have the option of attending the tutorial, albeit for a short time. Students attend on the recommendation of the class teacher or at the request of themselves or their parents. It is good practice that students are encouraged to withdraw from the tutorial before they become over-dependent on it, and decisions on continuation, or otherwise, are based on the results of assessments and in consultation with class teachers.
The inclusive approach of the education support team to the planning, provision and delivery of support to students with SEN in Carrick Vocational School provides examples of best practice. A close working relationship has been established between the learning support and resource teachers and the very good practice of maintaining two-way communication with the teachers of mainstream subjects is commended. It is clear that close contact is also maintained with senior management, the special needs assistant, the guidance counsellor, the GEI coordinator and the year heads as necessary. A special education support policy has been developed that outlines procedures and the roles of key personnel.
Excellent practice is evident in the preparation of daily lesson plans and in the preparation of individual education plans (IEPs) for each student in receipt of both resource teaching and learning support. Each IEP is reviewed and updated three times per year and contact is maintained with the class teachers. The quality of the IEPs observed during the evaluation deserves the highest praise for the attention to detail and the focus on each particular student’s needs. The quality of record keeping is also commended.
Students with SEN take part in a variety of organised fun tasks, first class each morning in the gym; the school reports on the success of this initiative in terms of its positive effect on students in helping them prepare for the day ahead.
The catchment area of the school has a dispersed population, with limited employment opportunities. The local community has a high regard for the value of education and it is evident that the school is committed to ensuring that all of their students can participate in and benefit from education in order to reach their full potential. There is much disappointment among the school community that the school has been excluded from the School Support Programme and therefore, extra supports to help alleviate the effects of educational disadvantage are not available to Carrick Vocational School. There are currently no students from the travelling community or international students in the school.
In addition to the close links with the feeder primary schools and the good relationships between home and school, management and staff have first-hand knowledge of the local area, thus, there is an awareness and an understanding of students’ individual needs from an early stage. The school has put in place a range of successful supports to respond to the needs of their student population. A book rental scheme is available to junior cycle students and financial assistance is provided in a sensitive and confidential manner to students experiencing difficulties. The school acknowledged the immense support received from the local conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society. In addition, an induction programme for first years and a study skills programme are organised. Further support is also available through the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI).
The school’s commitment to the promotion of healthy eating is evidenced by the operation of a daily breakfast club, a healthy eating canteen, the provision of fresh drinking water, the gradual removal of vending machines and the plans to introduce a healthy eating shop; these initiatives are very praiseworthy. The breakfast club, which is operated by one of the assistant principals with the assistance of other teachers on a rota basis, is subsidised by a grant from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The inspectors visited the breakfast club during the evaluation and were impressed in particular by the calm and social atmosphere in evidence, as well as the very good rapport between students and teachers.
Carrick Vocational School receives an ex-quota allocation of 8.8 hours (0.4 WTE) for Guidance and Counselling from Co Donegal VEC. The school is currently participating in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI), which involves a further allocation of 5.5 hours (0.25 WTE), resulting in a total of 14.3 hours per week, all of which is used, as allocated, for Guidance and Counselling. While the Guidance Counsellor (GC), who is shared with another school in the VEC scheme, has primary responsibility for the delivery of Guidance and Counselling, it is commendable that a number of other staff members are involved though the GEI and in activities such as the induction programme for first years. The GC is also timetabled to teach Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and a French language module for two class periods each.
A guidance plan has been developed which establishes priorities for the delivery of guidance and outlines the guidance service available for students, including those with SEN, beginning with the transition from primary school, through junior cycle, senior cycle and the support available for school leavers. Whilst the GC in the main took responsibility for the development of the guidance plan, the deputy principal and the GEI coordinator were involved. In addition, two class groups were surveyed as part of the process and the guidance plan was presented to the parents' association. Discussions during the evaluation indicated that at the next review stage, the principal, staff, parents and students will evaluate the plan and this is commended as it ensures a whole school approach to the planning and provision of Guidance and Counselling. This process could be facilitated through the establishment of a core committee comprising the GC and representatives of management, staff, students and parents and perhaps the local business community. As with the development of the guidance plan, an analysis of student needs should also form part of the review and evaluation.
Currently all senior cycle students follow the LCVP. The GC is timetabled to deliver one of the Link Modules that includes the career investigation and job seeking skills, to fourth year students. Fifth years are timetabled for one class period of Guidance per week. This provides a structure for students to focus on college applications, such as CAO and UCAS, and deal with issues including progression to higher education and the world of work, grants, study skills and stress management. Students, and indeed their parents, also have the opportunity to make individual appointments with the GC to discuss career choice, study, subject choice or any other matter with which they need support. Information nights on subject choice and careers’ information, attendance at some college open days, careers’ days, and mock interviews also form part of the Guidance programme for students and their parents. Evidence presented during the evaluation indicates that the school also keeps parents informed by letter of issues related to careers and subject choice.
The activities of the GEI are shared between the GEI coordinator, who is also the SPHE coordinator, the GC and the deputy principal (currently the acting principal). Participation in this initiative has enabled the school to focus more actively on guidance provision in junior cycle and this is commended. In particular, the GEI is used to help ease the transition for students from primary to post-primary and to provide guidance to third year students, as well as providing support for students experiencing difficulties. In the first term, a member of the GEI team meets all first year students, in pairs, in order to get to know them and to check how students are settling into their new school. In term two, following the Christmas examinations, students are met again to monitor progress and to identify any needs or problems that they might have, as well as focusing on areas for improvement. A commendable initiative, organised as part of the GEI, was a thinking skills workshop for students with the focus on independent learning. The GEI is also used to provide guidance for third year students and this includes an exploration of career options and the relationship between subject choice and careers.
Individual counselling is available to students and where necessary, senior management is responsible for referral to outside agencies. The school has developed good relationships with a number of outside agencies and support services for students.
The facilities for the delivery of Guidance and Counselling comprise an office that incorporates a careers’ library and one computer, which students also use to access Qualifax and careers’ related websites, due to restricted access to the ICT room. This arrangement means that students can only access prospectuses and other careers’ related material by request. As resources become available, the THE BOARD should consider developing the guidance and counselling area to include some space for ICT facilities and a careers’ library, so that they are more easily accessible and more readily available to students.
Pastoral care is supported by a high level of staff dedication and commitment, is very well structured and is a key component of the support structures available to students. In the provision of pastoral care the school aims to ‘promote overall welfare and high self-esteem, encourage parents to have an active role in the education of their children, help students achieve their best at all levels, encourage development of individual talents, and provide a warm and caring environment for all’. The ideals expressed in the pastoral care policy, which is evidently anchored in the mission statement, permeate and are visibly expressed in the daily interactions and activities of the school. All members of the school community from senior management through to the student council play a role in pastoral care. The representatives of the student council who met with the evaluation team reported on the very positive and supportive relationships that exist between staff and students and they commented favourably on the approachability of staff. Many examples of the good rapport between students and staff were in evidence, particularly on the school corridors, during the evaluation.
A structured approach to the care of all students is evidenced by the operation of a system of class tutors and year heads; the year head system is a fairly recent development in the school. It is noted that the class tutor is timetabled to teach the full class group to which they are assigned, thus ensuring that the tutor gets to know the students in their care. The year heads have responsibility for monitoring students’ progress and while the management of student behaviour is a part of their brief, they emphasise the importance of the positive and pastoral approach. It is laudable that, as far as possible, a year head continues with a particular group of students through the complete cycle from first year to fifth year. This ensures that the year head gets to know students and their parents and the school reports that there is good two-way communication between parents and year heads. Further evidence of the structured approach to pastoral care is the fact that all class tutors are timetabled simultaneously with their class group once a week during the period allocated for meetings of senior management. This provides opportunities from time to time to deal with issues of a pastoral nature.
It is noted that a student care team has been established and there is good communication between the members of the care team, senior management and all those involved in the pastoral care of students. Procedures are also in place to deal with critical incidents and a crisis response policy is in place. Strong links have been established with outside agencies such as the Health Service Executive North West and members of An Garda Síochána who provide input to students on topics such as mental health, substance abuse, safe driving and crime prevention. While the school has an assigned chaplain, it is reported that the local parish priest provides much spiritual support for the school community in terms of visiting classes and through involvement in liturgical events.
The efforts made by many members of the school community to help ease the transition of students from primary to post-primary are commended. These include visits to the feeder schools by an assistant principal and two second year students who provide the students’ perspective; the opportunity for incoming students and their parents to have a guided tour of the school; the provision of an impressive handbook that contains essential information on the organisational and pastoral aspects of school life as well as a copy of the code of behaviour and the anti-bullying policy; input on study skills and homework at the beginning of first year, and the supports already outlined in section 5.3 under the GEI.
Parents are encouraged to become involved in their children’s education and in particular the schools reports on the success of ten-week course Living with Teenagers and a six-week course entitled Helping Hand with Junior Certificate Mathematics funded by Co Donegal VEC. Similar courses were provided for English and Irish. Student achievement is celebrated at the annual awards night and this is cited as one of the highlights of the school year. As well as recognising achievement inside and outside of school, it is also used as an opportunity to exhibit students’ work and talents. It is commendable that the parents' association is actively involved with the school in the organisation of this event and the board members also attend.
A student council has been in existence in the school for over eight years. The current student council is very effective, is properly constituted and is representative of the whole student body. They are effectively supported by one of the assistant principals and it is clear that good communication structures have been established between the council and senior management. As well as representing the student body, council members assist in the organisation of school events and act as mentors for students. Senior members of the council have represented the school at events such as a national seminar for youth council members in Dublin Castle and at a consultation meeting with Co Donegal VEC. One of the senior members was also elected to represent the south of the county on Donegal Youth Council. A link has recently been established between the student council and the parents' association, providing further evidence of the collaborative approach that characterises the school. The student council is commended for the manner in which they conduct their business in terms of planning a programme for the year and in keeping minutes of meetings; evidence of student council activities was provided to the evaluation team. As a means of further increasing the profile of the student council, consideration might be given to the provision of a notice board for the council; this could also facilitate the display of agendas and reports of meetings. The representatives of the student council who met with the evaluation team were impressive in terms of their commitment to their role and the admirable manner in which they represented their fellow students and their school. The fifth year representatives of the council, in particular, are to be applauded for their leadership and initiative.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Subject inspection reports in English, Mathematics, Geography and Science/Biology are appended to this report.
Students in Carrick Vocational School are prepared for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate (Vocational) examinations. A small group is taking FETAC accredited courses under the Back To Education Initiative.
There are two class groups in each year. In first year, these are mixed ability across all subjects and, from the beginning of second year, students are placed in higher or ordinary level classes, based on progress made in the subject, consultation with parents and teacher recommendations. Delaying the choice regarding the level at which English should be studied in this way is commended as good practice, as is the blocking of English classes in third year. Such arrangements facilitate the making of informed choices once students have settled in to the course and movement across levels where appropriate.
The school reported that parental expectations of achievement in English are high and a higher -level class is formed in each year group. Participation at this level in examinations and the students’ achievements are good.
General resource provision for the teaching and learning of English is good. Televisions and video equipment are available for teachers’ use. The IT facilities in the school are reported to be in constant use and access by teachers and classes of English is limited. There are plans in place in the school for the development of these facilities in the future and the teachers of English are encouraged, in the meantime, to explore how they can make best use of this technology to support the delivery of their subject.
The physical environment of the school is bright and very well maintained, even as construction work in the school is on-going. The school generally assigns rooms to teachers but, at present, this is not possible. It was reported that this had constrained opportunities to display students’ work and other learning materials. Despite this, in one of the classes visited, the teacher had created a motivational, print-rich, environment with displays of subject-specific terminology, posters of characters from a novel and other visual learning aids. This is commended as very good practice as it not only reinforces learning and promotes visual literacy but it also celebrates students’ work. The teachers are encouraged to act on their expressed willingness to extend this good practice to all English classrooms once work on the building is completed.
The school has a library which functions as a classroom at present and, while students have access during some lunchtimes and teachers may also make arrangements to exchange rooms if they wish to bring a class group to the library, it is not being used to its potential. This may in part be due to the fact that some of the book stock is outdated and unattractive looking. Plans to build up and re-stock the library when funds become available are being developed in the school. This ambition and the commitment of the school to such a valuable resource is highly commended. This will build on the work presently being done to encourage reading, particularly the inclusion of time for reading in teachers’ plans for junior cycle class groups.
The teachers of English are commended for the co-curricular activities that they facilitate. These range from trips to the theatre, to debating and public speaking, to encouragement to write creatively. Students have competed, with some success, in a number of competitions. The learning experiences that these activities provide are valuable supports to the development of practical communication skills and social literacy.
Commendable progress has been made on a department plan by the team of four English teachers. This document draws on the relevant syllabuses and the mission statement of the school to provide a coherent description of the teaching of English in Carrick Vocational School. It provides a long-term overview of the English curriculum and guides the work of individual teachers. It is suggested that a revision of this plan should focus more firmly on student learning, rather than on teacher activity. As planning develops, the department plan should identify the knowledge, skills and understanding which the students are expected to acquire in each year.
The acknowledgement in the plan of the role to be played by teachers in supporting students with special educational needs is indicative of a commitment to ensure that all students are supported in reaching their potential in the subject.
At present, the teachers of English are working on developing a plan for English in the Transition Year Programme which is to be introduced in September 2006. They meet frequently, though informally, to share ideas and resources. It is recommended that the school build on the collaborative team spirit of the four teachers of English by providing time for formal meetings of the department.
Planning and organisation for teaching was very good in the classrooms visited. Teachers had prepared schemes of work, derived from the department plan, which took account of the students different abilities and aptitude for the subject. Lessons were well structured and purposeful and teachers had prepared materials to stimulate discussion, often using completed homework as the starting point for lessons. Teachers generally shared the learning objective with the class, thus firmly establishing the purpose of the lesson from the outset. This is very good practice as it focuses students’ attention and encourages them to assume responsibility for their own learning.
Teachers generally employed an expository teaching style that worked best when it led to class discussions which engaged students’ interest and encouraged them to think through a topic for themselves. An example of this was seen in a lesson that prepared students to write an essay on a poet being studied. The teacher used a range of questions, from simple re-call to higher order analysis, to help students to develop their discussion of the poet and her work. Time was allowed for thinking and reflection and the teacher supplied ideas only to prompt students. This is very good practice as it allows students an opportunity to infer meaning for themselves and to communicate their ideas to each other. Questioning worked less well where students’ responses were short and limited, questions did not move beyond recall and comprehension and the teacher supplied the answer. It is recommended that all teachers of English review their use of questioning to maximise its effect as a teaching strategy.
The teaching of language was addressed in all classes visited. In some, care was taken to ensure that new words were pre-taught by writing them on the blackboard. In others, new words were explained as they were encountered. Homework copies indicated that teachers integrate the teaching of language and literature to establish links between texts studied and personal writing. It is suggested that this work would be supported by greater use of key word charts, particularly with less able students, so that the spellings and usage of key vocabulary can be reinforced.
The pacing of lessons and the use of clear directions on how to approach specific tasks ensured good classroom management. Teachers moved around their classrooms to check understanding and to ensure that all students were on task. Students were attentive and respectful of the teachers and each other and clearly felt secure in the learning environment. On the whole, student enjoyment of the subject was evident. Their contribution to lessons and the work done in copies indicate that they are making appropriate progress through their courses.
Students’ progress through English is assessed in a variety of ways, including questioning, class work, homework, class tests and formal examinations. The school has a homework policy and work is set and corrected regularly. It builds on the work done in class and gives students opportunities to master the skills in each of the modes of writing. Teachers have set exercises which link themes across genre so that, for example, students are required to adopt the persona of a character in a studied text in order to write a diary entry or to write a newspaper article about an event in a text. This thematic approach to English is one that works well with students and is commended as a way of deepening students’ understanding and enjoyment of their texts.
While the quality of the work produced in homework copies is generally good, some students are struggling with written work. Generally, at junior cycle, this manifested in a tendency to summarise rather than address questions or difficulties with spelling and syntax. While most senior cycle students have an understanding of the features of different text types, some have an under-developed awareness of the importance of the context and the audience for their writing in determining the content and text type. Using the Leaving Certificate marking scheme when correcting fifth year homework may help to focus students’ efforts and identify areas of specific difficulty.
Homework makes a significant contribution to learning and teachers in Carrick Vocational School often provide clear guidance for students, in the form of written comments, on the quality of their work and effort. It was evident in some copies that this is not always done, however. It is important, particularly with less able students, that a good balance is maintained between the volume of homework set and the facility with which the teacher can provide such necessary feedback. It is recommended that the teachers explore how best to achieve this. Criteria-based marking and enabling students to engage in peer and self-assessment may be worth considering.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the acting principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
In Carrick Vocational School first year students are offered an opportunity to sample subjects over a two week period before they choose which subjects to continue to study in the junior cycle. Students choose between Geography and History, with an equal division resulting between both subjects. Students are taught in mixed ability class settings and each year in the junior cycle is allocated three class periods per week.
It was reported during the evaluation process that the school plans to introduce the Transition Year Programme (TYP) from September 2006 and this will include a module in Geography with a possible allocation of three class periods per week. The school is highly commended for this planned enhancement of curriculum provision and it offers an opportunity for collaborative and creative planning by the members of the Geography Department. It is recommended that this opportunity should be used to develop students as independent learners by the use of project work, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for research and presentation and by the undertaking of a Geographical Investigation perhaps in the local area. Teachers will be supported in developing this plan for Geography within the TYP by reference to the document ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’. For the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme Geography is an optional subject and students and parents are supported and advised before subject choices are made. It was reported that the school makes every effort to cater for the requests of its students by providing an open choice of subject before subject option bands are arrived at from which final choices have to be made. At this level Geography has an allocation of five class periods per week and this is in line with syllabus requirements. Teachers are encouraged to seek ways to increase the participation rate by students in senior cycle Geography.
Currently three teachers are involved in delivering the Geography programme and they form an identifiable subject department, with one teacher acting as subject co-ordinator. Due to a current building programme a dedicated Geography Room is not available. However, with the completion of this programme the school plans to reinstate a room for Geography and in order to prepare for this it is recommended that teachers should catalogue all the available resources within the school for teaching and learning in Geography, this will assist in identifying and prioritising future resource needs. Current resources available include: maps and aerial photographs, a collection of videos, rock samples and weather instruments. It was reported that the school plans to upgrade its provision for ICT with the availability of Internet Broadband access and computers in classrooms. These planned initiatives by the school are commended and it is recommended that the Geography teaching team plan for these by developing policy/procedures for the integration of ICT into all aspects of the curriculum for both students and teachers.
There was clear evidence of collaborative long term planning by the Geography teaching team. The Geography Department has agreed a long-term plan for the organisation, teaching and learning in the subject and a copy of this plan was provided during the evaluation process. This plan contains agreed programmes for each year group to be delivered within agreed time frames and references to assessment, record keeping, teaching methods and resources. Particularly noteworthy were references to co-operation with the Learning Support department and the extensive provision for co-curricular and cross-curricular links. These included visits to outdoor pursuits centres, fundraising for national and international charities and foreign school trips. The good practice of encouraging students to see the connection between their study of Geography and the world outside the classroom by watching appropriate programmes on television and accessing the print media is highly commended. It was noted during a review of the planning documentation that there is a particular emphasis on the teaching of topics from Geomorphology in first year; this places challenging demands on students in terms of the extensive range of terminology, understanding geomorphic processes and landform development. It is recommended that the teaching team review this focus on Physical Geography in first year and consider the development of map and photograph skills at an early stage in junior cycle by using the 1:1000 OS maps and photographs of the local area. This could be achieved by the identification of key skills, such as scale, distance, direction, symbol identification etc and the provision of appropriate worksheets and map extracts to students. School management facilitates subject department planning on a number of occasions throughout the year by the provision of some dedicated time and this is commended. It was reported that planning on an ongoing and informal basis also takes place.
There was very good short term planning for all of the lessons observed and in some instances a handout containing a brief summary of the lesson was provided. All lessons had a clear purpose and were developed from previously taught subject matter and were obviously part of a larger unit of study. The planned logical development of topics is good practice as it facilitates student understanding and learning. Homework, in line with school policy, is regularly assigned, recorded by students in their journals, monitored, and corrected in class. Where a handout was provided to facilitate student homework it was effectively used and students were engaged by reading aloud their answers as homework was corrected. The provision of handouts containing supplementary learning material or exercises for students provides a varied perspective on a topic and its wider use is encouraged.
All of the lessons observed had clear aims and objectives and these were generally shared with the students at the outset. This good practice is commended as it provides students with a focus for their attention. Generally lessons began with a roll call and then homework was corrected thus establishing a foundation on which to introduce new subject matter. There was also an appropriate focus on revision at this stage of the year. In classes visited the topics being taught included: Global Warming, a study of street maps and town plans, the complexity of regions and a revision class on Urban Geography.
There was a clear emphasis on the development of geographic skills in all of the lessons observed. This is in line with best practice and is commended. Statistical diagrams provided in textbooks and workbooks were used to identify trends and issues. This was carried out generally through a question and answer session between teacher and students. As a means of introducing variety into lessons and to encourage students to develop as independent learners it is suggested that the analysis of such diagrams could be undertaken by students working individually or in pairs and then in a feedback session the results could be recorded on the board or overhead projector. Students could then be provided with some ‘quiet time’ to record this in their notebooks. This would provide students with an opportunity to reflect on and to assimilate the subject matter and would provide a useful summary of the topic. In all of the lessons observed students were challenged by their teachers to offer explanations for geographic phenomena and not just provide descriptions, they were also challenged to offer solutions to problems identified. This good practice is commended at it helps to develop higher order thinking skills. Map skills were also being developed as students were engaged in a study of large-scale street plans. Having discussed the uses of small and large scale maps students then focused on the correct method for locating features and the meaning of symbols used on such maps. The introduction of an activity based on the lesson content helped to provide variety in the teaching methodology and students were encouraged to work in pairs if so desired. This provided an opportunity for the teacher to move around the classroom to support individual students as the need arose. These good practices are highly commended. Skills appropriate to a geographical investigation were developed by students who undertook a study in Fluvial Geomorphology as part of the requirements of the Revised Leaving Certificate Geography syllabus. It is suggested that such skills could be developed throughout all years with particular reference to using large-scale maps of the local area. The introduction of the TYP should also be used to further develop and reinforce such skills using the rich and unique local environment. Students were encouraged to develop their oral skills particularly during the correction of homework and during question and answer sessions and this is commended.
A variety of teaching methods was observed in the classrooms visited. Brainstorming and question and answer sessions between teacher and students were common. In a number of lessons the whiteboard was effectively used to record student responses to focused questions or to outline and explain the subject matter. A visual approach to the teaching of Geography is good practice and its wider use is advocated. In some instances both the textbook and workbook were used to support student learning. However, care should be taken to provide opportunities to vary the method used so that teacher lead discussion does not become the dominant methodology. The Geography teaching team should develop teaching methodologies that will more actively involve students in their own learning. The use of activity based methodologies, where students work independently or in pairs/groups could provide for greater variety and support learning. Some of the resource materials provided during the evaluation visit will help teachers develop such teaching strategies. Where large sections of the syllabus have been covered it would be useful to provide students with a means of summarising such material and of helping them to establish connections between different parts of the topic. The use of ‘Mind Maps’ could be particularly useful in this regard and teachers are encouraged to develop such strategies as a means of supporting student learning. Care was taken to ensure student understanding of geographic terms, which were introduced, clarified and then frequently used during the lessons. This good practice is commended as it provides effectively for the mixed ability class settings.
In all of the classrooms visited there was a positive and mutually respectful atmosphere between teachers and students in evidence. Students were addressed by their first name and were affirmed for their efforts. During question and answer sessions students willingly engaged in discussion, were knowledgeable about their courses and could provide examples from the local area or from their own experiences. The use of students’ personal experiences is commended as it provides for a clearer understanding of geographic concepts and is a further means of actively engaging students in the learning process. As a means of further developing a connection between the study of Geography and the world outside the classroom it is suggested that a notice board devoted to GeoNews be provided in classes. Students and teachers could provide photographs and print media articles on current news items for display.
Homework is given a high priority in Carrick Vocational School and this is evidenced by the development of a whole school policy on homework. From documentation provided clear guidelines are provided to students and parents as to the effective execution of homework and a system is in place whereby problems in this area are communicated to parents. The school is commended for this and it reflects its concern for the development of the full potential of all its students. In the classes observed this policy was being implemented as homework was assigned, clearly explained and then time was provided for students to record it in their journals. Oral assessment was integrated into all lessons and teachers frequently assessed student understanding and students frequently asked questions to clarify issues. Student work in copybooks was generally of a high quality with some high quality maps and diagrams. This reflects teachers’ high expectations of their students and is commended. Class tests, in line with department policy, are held when sections of the syllabus have been completed and teachers record results. Opportunities provided by the introduction of the TYP should be used to develop a variety of assessment methods and consideration should be given to the development of small-scale project work that could be used by students to develop a portfolio of their work during the year.
All students sit formal examinations at the end of the first term and non-examination classes sit house examinations in summer. Pre-examinations are held for examination years in the second term. Parents or guardians receive reports on student progress following these examinations. Student progress is also reported on at formal parent teacher meetings. The school is asked to review the number of students taking ordinary level in the Junior Certificate Examination and to encourage as many students as possible to attempt the higher level, keeping in mind student abilities and aspirations.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the acting principal and with the teachers of Geography at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
There is a good allocation of time to Mathematics in Carrick Vocational School, with five periods at junior cycle and five to six at senior cycle, each of forty minutes duration. However, the organisation of class time, leading to two junior cycle class groups having contact with Mathematics on only four days of the week, is less than ideal; Mathematics is hierarchical in nature, with new concepts building upon previous knowledge, and students require time to assimilate new ideas. In addition, the lesson periods for one year group are imbalanced in terms of their position in the day, with all of them occurring late (three of them in the last period). This can be the time when students’ attention span is at its shortest, with consequent effects on progress and behaviour. Therefore, it is recommended that priority be given to scheduling Mathematics lessons for each class group on each of the five days of the school week and attention be given to achieving a balance in their position within the school day.
First year Mathematics classes are arranged as mixed-ability, based on incoming assessment test results, and are taught as distinct class units. Students identified as needing additional educational supports are, however, placed in the same class grouping in order to facilitate the provision of such supports. Second year classes may or may not be divided into higher and ordinary levels, but they remain as distinct groups for this year also. When they are divided, it is following teachers’ advice and test results to date; students can, however, change levels with written parental permission following discussion. As a support in choosing the correct level at which to study the subject, and in line with good practice, first year Christmas and summer term Mathematics examinations have common papers. It is notable that second year classes this year were divided into higher and ordinary levels and a common Christmas test was administered to confirm the correct placement of students within those levels.
Mathematics classes from third year onwards are concurrently timetabled within each year group. This arrangement is to facilitate students in studying Mathematics at the most appropriate level and to facilitate their movement between classes of different levels. The inevitable imbalance in student numbers taking different levels at Leaving Certificate can be problematic in the final year where, this year, numbers in excess of thirty following ordinary level and numbers below ten following higher level must currently be catered for in two class groupings. Practical accommodations are being made by teachers and students, but not without concerns regarding the possible effects on participation rates at higher level. While acknowledging the efforts made by the school to meet the needs of all students, the Mathematics team and school management should pay particular attention to this situation and explore all possibilities for its improvement.
Additional supports for students identified as having particular difficulty with Mathematics are available through withdrawal from class for individual or small-group tuition with a resource teacher or a Mathematics teacher. In line with good practice, the resource teacher links with the class teacher regarding content coverage. Supplementary Mathematics classes are also scheduled for groups of students who no longer study a modern language in school.
Resources for the Mathematics department, as for other subject departments, are allocated on request to school management. The range of resources currently available within the school to support the teaching and learning of Mathematics include three-dimensional models, demonstration calculators, overhead projectors and games. Such resources are stored in different areas around the school, but are accessible to all teachers of Mathematics.
The allocation of teachers to Mathematics classes is the responsibility of senior management. In the concurrently timetabled year groups teachers rotate the levels somewhat, although tradition has been influential in deciding which teacher takes which level. Currently one member of the Mathematics team takes Leaving Certificate higher level. It is practice within the school for teachers to remain with the same classes through junior cycle and senior cycle, thus maintaining high levels of continuity.
Teachers are facilitated in accessing in-service courses; seminars provided by the Junior Certificate Mathematics Support Service were attended by all relevant teachers three to four years ago. Teachers are encouraged to maintain contact with developments in Mathematics education through the Support Service and to access relevant available training whenever possible.
Co-curricular mathematics activities are available to students within the school; some of those with a particular talent for Mathematics have participated in the Irish Mathematics Olympiad. The school is encouraged to continue such activities, possibly extending them to include quizzes run by the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association and/or the entering of Mathematics-based projects in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.
The work of the Mathematics department is not currently co-ordinated, and planning and preparation take place largely on an individual basis. In order to take full advantage of the strengths of the Mathematics team, and to minimise any weaknesses, it is recommended that a co-ordinator of Mathematics be introduced. Consideration should be given to the establishment of the role on a rotating basis, thus allowing each member of the Mathematics team to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in the workings of their subject department.
It has not been practice for the Mathematics teachers to meet as a group; members of the team do, however, discuss issues informally, as the need arises. It is recommended that the Mathematics teachers identify opportunities for meeting; time currently set aside by school management for subject meetings should, for the Mathematics teachers, be appropriately divided between Mathematics and their other teaching subject/s. It may also be possible to formalise time currently spent on informal discussions and the teachers are encouraged to explore this option.
A small group of the Mathematics teachers was involved in drawing up documentation in preparation for the inspection visit. The work involved in this task is acknowledged and the product is a good starting point for future departmental collaboration. An element of departmental planning will include agreeing programmes of work for all year groups and levels. These should be more than simply lists of topics, and should include the identification of key skills within topics and methodologies and resources that can appropriately assist students in acquiring these key skills.
Some teachers made individual planning notes and resources available for inspection during the visit; these included programmes of work with timeframes for content coverage, student handouts and revision notes. The linking of programme content with the relevant syllabus is to be commended.
The content of lessons observed was appropriate to syllabus and level and teachers were well prepared for their teaching. Teachers’ presentation of work was clear and lessons were purposeful. In order to ensure the goal of the lesson is, at all times, clear to students, it is suggested that teachers consider explicitly stating the lesson objective. Such a statement can increase student motivation and provide a sense of accomplishment on achieving the day’s goal.
Teaching was mainly traditional in style, although there was one case of students being actively involved in working at the board. Teachers presented work at the board and, typically, followed this with the setting of work for individual student practice. To expand on this traditional teaching style, it is recommended that a wider range of teaching methodologies be explored and developed, keeping in mind students’ different preferred learning styles and the benefits to be gained from actively involving students in their learning.
Examples of good practice in Mathematics teaching included the use of numeric examples to derive general formulae, clear method and explanation, encouragement of student input to solving problems, and facilitating students in working ahead on completion of assigned work. A very positive working relationship between students and teachers was evident in almost all classes visited and classroom management was generally appropriate and effective. The vast majority of students showed an interest in achieving in Mathematics and were attentive to their work.
Teachers took advantage of relatively small numbers in class to monitor the work of individual students and keep students on task. In line with good practice, student effort was, in all cases, affirmed by teachers.
Student progress is formally and regularly assessed in class or topic tests and term examinations and teachers maintain records of results obtained by students. Common papers are prepared for first year Christmas and summer term examinations and for some class tests. Parents/guardians are kept informed of their child’s progress in a range of appropriate ways, including twice yearly written reports.
Student copybooks provide ongoing insights into daily achievements in work covered in class and in private study; an examination of Mathematics copybooks at Carrick Vocational School revealed work that was appropriate, relevant and in line with syllabus requirements. There were some examples of excellent presentation of work and students are commended in this regard. In addition, there was clear and commendable evidence of teacher monitoring.
An analysis of uptake rates in the State examinations for the last three years indicates good participation at higher and ordinary levels. Discussion and review of uptake rates, as well as results, should form a regular and natural part of the planning activities of the Mathematics department.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the acting principal and with the teachers of Mathematics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
There is good provision and whole school support for the Sciences in Carrick Vocational School. Science is a core subject to Junior Certificate level and it is praiseworthy that management strive to ensure continuity of teachers from first year through to third year. The school offers Leaving Certificate Biology, Chemistry and Physics at senior cycle. Provision is also available for Agricultural Science at senior cycle should students wish to avail of it. This broad range of science subjects is commendable as it gives students greater options when choosing their career paths. The Transition Year Programme (TYP) will also be offered in September 2006 and it is planned to include a Science module which incorporates elements of Biology, Chemistry and Physics which can be used as an effective method of promoting the Sciences throughout the school. The senior cycle programme followed is the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
The time allocated to the science subjects is appropriate and is in line with syllabus requirements. Commendably second and third year Science class allocations include one double period per week which facilitates investigative practical work, now an integral part of the Junior Certificate Science syllabus. Management is advised to explore the possibility of extending this good practice to first year Science classes. Extension work is currently ongoing in the school which includes a new Science laboratory. Management hope that this will greatly increase the potential for the majority of Science classes to be held in a laboratory in the future.
In the laboratory the Science teachers benefit from data logging equipment, a PC and printer. Internet access is currently unavailable in the laboratory. Broadband Internet access is planned for the new laboratory and the Science team are encouraged to explore its potential for development of new teaching aids and enhancement of teaching and learning in Science and Biology in the school. The provision of a data projector in the new laboratory will enhance the potential use of the Internet as an aid to teaching and learning.
The science teachers have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised Biology and Science syllabuses. Management are to be commended for their commitment to facilitating this in-service and for their on-going consideration in both identifying and supporting staff training needs. Members of the Science team have also been involved in training and the development of resources and supports for teachers through the support services which is commendable practice.
The Science team actively promote the Sciences in the school and are involved in a number of ISTA events, such as competitions and quizzes, at both local and national level. Teachers also encourage students to take part in events such as the Young Science Writers competition, the Young Scientist Exhibition, paper clip physics and Science Week in Letterkenny and Sligo Institutes of Technology. In 2005 a group of students had been involved in a Young Scientist project titled “Does Atmospheric Pressure affect Blood Pressure?” while another group achieved first place in the county Science Quiz organised as part of the nationwide Science week in November, 2005. Teachers have also organised trips to Slieve League, W5 in Belfast and the Tyndall lectures in University College Galway. The school is currently taking part in the Sharing Science across Ireland cross-border project where they meet students from schools in Northern Ireland and have attended a number of science based activities both in and out of school. The Science department has also made provision for an annual Science prize which is sponsored by Teagasc and Donegal Creameries and awarded on prize giving night. These activities are to be commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences.
Coordination and communication among the Science team is effective and takes the form of formal meetings on a termly basis and regular informal meetings. During the evaluation, planning was discussed which focused on the preparation for and organisation of the new laboratory. It is recommended that the Science team use future departmental meetings this year to plan for this transition. Topics to be looked at could include organisation of chemicals and resources, boxes/cupboards for mandatory practicals, possible procedures to be followed in the laboratory by both teachers and students such as seating plans, designated areas for schoolbags etc and the possible need to review the current Health and Safety rules of the laboratory displayed on laboratory walls and homework journals.
Long-term plans were available for both Junior Certificate Science and for Leaving Certificate Biology. These collaborative plans were syllabus based and sequencing of topics was appropriate. They made reference to aims and objectives of the courses, grouping of students, class organisation, students with special needs, cross-curricular activities, teaching methodologies, textbooks, materials and ICT. It is recommended that the Science department extend this good practice to include a list of topics to be covered during each term and modes of assessment to be employed. It is suggested that the list of topics developed from this plan be distributed to students at the start of the school year to give students and parents a good overview of the course and to encourage students to plan for their own revision.
Short term planning was good. Lessons were clear and well structured. Teachers are to be commended on their preparation of lessons, organisation and setting up of materials to be used in experiments and practical activities, development of resources such as worksheets and overhead projector transparencies. This attention to short term planning served to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the lessons observed.
Classes visited included junior cycle Science and senior cycle Biology where a range of topics was observed including Energy, the Eye, the Skeleton and Movement. Student laboratory notebooks, classwork notebooks and homework exercise books were also inspected. In the lessons visited, good use was made of a range of teaching methodologies which included group work, paired work, teacher demonstrations, use of the white board, whole class discussions, questioning and investigative practical work and teachers made good use of a range of resources such as charts, models, overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, laboratory apparatus, everyday energy changers and samples of animal bone and tissue. The good practice of sharing resources was observed in two lessons where students could benefit from the good visual stimulation and first hand experience of observing the bones and functioning of joints in the body using live tissue samples. In both lessons observed, the bone samples were incorporated into the lesson content in a way that was adapted to the varying abilities of the students and this good practice served to augment the lesson, encourage a lively dialogue and helped to make Science relevant to students’ everyday lives. This is commended.
Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident and is encouraged as a method of sustaining student interest and application to work as well as a means of monitoring student performance and achievement. Lessons proceeded at a pace that was appropriate to the mixed ability levels in classes. This differentiated teaching was evidenced in the level of attention paid to using the ‘language of Science’ during lessons, spelling of key words and noting them on the white board as well as extra attention to new words introduced during the course of the lesson. When questioned, most students responded confidently and displayed a good level of understanding of the concepts being taught.
Discipline was good and an atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed in each classroom visited. Correct answers were affirmed while incorrect ones were dealt with sensitively. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace, students were kept busy and engaged at all times, and much patient and positive support was provided by teachers. One lesson observed made good use of a series of visual stimuli such as models, diagrams, charts, and a series of OHP transparencies to explain the functioning of the eye. This approach made a significant contribution to enhancing student understanding of scientific processes and also helped to keep students on task during the lesson. Some lessons observed made good use of structured worksheets to reinforce the lesson content while one lesson used a crossword to recapitulate on the completed topic. This use of pre-prepared resources to enhance the lesson is praiseworthy. As a result there is scope for further collaboration among the Science department. The Science team are recommended to examine the potential for maintaining a common bank of teaching aids, such as OHP transparencies, and worksheets, which Science teachers could draw from according to need and contribute to as materials are developed.
Where practical activities were observed, they were investigative and students worked with due regard for health and safety regulations. Students were allocated to groups of two or three, they worked competently and were engaged in their own learning. Each group was allocated two tasks, which through discussion with the rest of the group they would come to a consensus as to the type of energy change taking place. This good practice encourages peer learning. Teacher initiated discussions and higher order questioning encouraged dialogue within the groups. Students were encouraged to predict the correct energy change taking place and note the result on a worksheet. When completed, the group then proceeded to a further set of tasks until all tasks had been completed. This rotation of activities provided an engaging and stimulating learning experience that is laudable.
A range of assessment techniques was in evidence. End of topic tests are held on a regular basis and records of pupil attainment are recorded in the teacher diary. This provides a good source of information for feedback to parents, in assisting students in making subject choices at senior level and on the level of examination paper to choose in Certificate Examinations.
Whole school examinations are held for all students at Christmas and summer. Mock Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate exams are held in the second term. It is commendable that the Science department uses common testing across year groups, where practicable. The use of common mark schemes and the inclusion of a coursework allocation is praiseworthy practice. Student progress is also reported to parents or guardians at formal parent teacher meetings while parents are kept up to date with information on upcoming events through letters and the school newsletter.
An appropriate record of practical write-ups was evidenced in the student laboratory notebooks, activities are investigative and students are encouraged to write in their own words. This is good practice. Most notebooks observed were of a good standard and the majority showed evidence of checking and annotation, which is a good way of encouraging pupils and giving direction, and it is advised that this practice be adopted in all Science classes. It is recommended that the Science team explore the possibility of developing a departmental assessment policy to promote common marking practices among the team.
Some good use of questioning as a form of assessment was observed. Questions ranged from the factual, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraging students to think at a deeper level. Questions were frequently directed to individual students, which is a good method of challenging and motivating students. Such questioning can be used to help reinforce learning and can also assist the teacher with formative evaluation of student progress and achievement. The level of student engagement was generally good and students were for the most part enthusiastic. The use of directed questions will also help to maintain this very positive aspect of the observed classroom interaction even during more theoretical lessons. Written and learning homework is assigned where appropriate and students are encouraged to note this in their diaries at the end of class.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Biology and with the acting principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.