An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

   

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 St Catherine’s Vocational School

Killybegs, County Donegal

Roll number: 71241W

 

 Date of inspection:        04 April 2006

Date of issue of report:    26 October 2006

 

 

 

 

Introduction

1. The Quality of School Management

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

1.2 School ownership and management

1.3 In-school management

1.4 Management of resources

2.    Quality of School Planning

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

4.1 Planning and preparation

4.2 Teaching and learning

4.3 Assessment and achievement

5. Quality of Support for Students

5.1 Students with special educational needs

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

5.3 Guidance

5.4  Pastoral care

6.    Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in science and Biology

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report


This Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Catherine’s Vocational School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the 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 met with subject teacher groups and other staff teams. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

St. Catherine’s Vocational School, operating under the aegis of the Co. Donegal Vocational Education Committee (VEC), is situated overlooking the bay on the outskirts of the town of Killybegs in South Donegal. Established in 1974 as a private school at the behest and with the financial support of local parents who wished to have a school in the town, the school was housed in a network of pre-fabricated buildings until 1987 when the present structure was built. The school gym, a joint effort between school authorities and the local development committee, is also used as a community centre after 7.00 p.m. daily, at weekends and during school holiday time. This is commended as a model of local community collaboration.

 

The school catchment area stretches approximately ten miles from the town of Killybegs to border the catchment areas of the neighbouring schools in Carrick, Glenties and Donegal Town providing a mixture of, predominantly rural, student backgrounds. The school is non-denominational and co-educational and as the only school in the town seeks to cater for all students in the catchment area. St Catherine’s offers Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational and the Leaving Certificate (Established) programmes, and PLC courses. Enrolment for the current school year is 330, including one traveller and two non-national students. Currently there are also 12 adult students in the final year of a two year Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC), Level 5 courses.

 

 

1. The Quality of School Management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

 

St Catherine’s Vocational School, through its vision statement, seeks to be “a learning community where excellence is achieved through partnership”.  The school’s mission statement, developed at the beginning of School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in the school and stemming from the identification of core values, states that “St. Catherine’s Vocational School seeks to achieve a safe, respectful learning and working environment so that participants can achieve their full potential in partnership with relevant agencies”. The school endeavours “to provide a safe, healthy and pollution-free environment for students and staff and to provide equality for all students regardless of race, gender, disability, aptitude and social background”. These sentiments are reflected and developed in documents such as School Code of Behaviour, Pastoral Care and Anti-Bullying policies. In terms of the success of transferring these aspirations into the daily life of the school it was noted that a caring and friendly atmosphere predominated and reflected the efforts of staff and management in promoting a Christian ethos and a mutually respectful learning and working environment.

 

 

1.2 School ownership and management

 

The school board of management, a sub-committee of the VEC, is appropriately constituted and the school principal acts as secretary. The present board was established in 2005 and continuity is maintained by having some members continue from the previous board. Meetings are held usually once per term and members state that an agreed report is issued to all the constituencies.  This practice is encouraged. Minutes of board meetings were made available during the evaluation process. While board members have been given a draft copy of the Handbook for Vocational Education Committees and Boards of Management of Schools and Community Colleges, there is scope for development of the board’s awareness of their role and responsibility and in that context members have identified a need for training and have requested support from the VEC.  There is evidence that training will be initiated by the VEC before the end of the current school year.  This training should also stimulate discussion by the board on a vision and goals for the next phase of the school.

 

The board is supportive of the school and staff and demonstrate their confidence in senior management by leaving curricular decisions and deployment of resources to their judgement.  Board members reported that the school is very conscious of its role in the local community which it tries to serve well by offering the school facilities to various groups and associations.

 

Draft school policies are brought to the board for consultation, amendment and acceptance. Board members consider their involvement in the development of school policies to be an important one and see the identification of needs and their delivery to the relevant parties in the school as part of their role. While there is no formal contact with staff, the size and nature of the locality allows a certain amount of informal contact.  Board members also attend prize giving events.  It is suggested that the board discuss the possibility of more formal contact with staff members.

 

The priorities established by the board for the school include the appointment of a full time guidance counsellor, provision of accommodation for special education needs students within the main building, development of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, provision of Music and Drawing rooms and an Astroturf pitch, a revamp of dressing rooms in the gymnasium and on-going professional development for teachers. At present the gymnasium committee is liaising with the parish committee to build a new pitch that will accommodate both school and local teams. The board has also discussed the possibility of converting one of the present tennis courts into car parking space to relieve traffic pressures in front of the school building and thus increase student safety.

 

St Catherine’s Parents Association was established when the new school was built in 1987. Affiliation fees are paid by the VEC to the Parents Associations of Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (PAVSCC). Local parents were the driving force behind the establishment of the school, actually paying teacher salaries at the beginning.  However, at present parents have not identified any major issues and are not as proactive as formerly with work being left, largely, to a relatively small committee.  This committee has been active in providing talks for parents, fund raising, supporting guidance in the school and organising trips. This is commended. As an active parents’ council is a rich resource and support for schools it is recommended that the committee, with the support of the board and school management work together to reinvigorate the association by the involvement of a larger number of parents and provide a new impetus for involvement in school activities at all levels.

 

The parent representatives met with in the course of the evaluation praised the school and staff and state that students enjoy coming to school and that teachers are very supportive and approachable. Areas they would like to see continue and develop are the after-school activities and the extra-curricular activities for girls. They consider that, in general, teaching is good but expressed concern over the expense of additional private tuition which some students believe they need. Parents would also support the introduction of more languages, more music, the further availability of career guidance to students and parents. The issue of  heads of faculty or subject departments, also raised by the parents, was clarified during the evaluation as having already been put in place.

 

In the absence of a Parents’ Association newsletter, parents’ representatives praised the offices of the school principal and secretary for facilitating the issuing on their behalf of any flyers or communications to the general parent body.  The development of a section for parents on the school website as a convenient and useful means of communication was suggested by parents.  There is great potential for development of the school website as a very worthwhile medium of communication as school policies, procedures and news items could be accessed on the web by the whole school community.

 

One issue which has been of concern to the whole school community is the safety of students in front of the school.  Students entering and alighting from buses and cars do so on the side of the main road. Requests have been made to the County Council and to the Gardaí resulting in some changes being made to the flow of traffic. Parents believe that useful signs are stored in the Council yard and have yet to be erected.  In the interest of increased safety procedures for students it is incumbent on the school authorities to ensure that any such signs be erected as soon as may be arranged with the County Council.

 

 

1.3 In-school management

 

Senior management is a visible presence on the corridors where they interact with students. These encounters are characterised by familiarity with individual students, by mutual respect and frequently by good-humoured banter. The roles of the long-standing principal and deputy principal have evolved as the school has developed and structures have grown and they are the key figures in the in-school management structure.  The principal, who takes responsibility for front of house duties as well as the day-to-day running of the school, takes a lead role in school decision-making, regularly bringing suggestions to staff meetings for discussion and input by staff members.  The DP takes responsibility for discipline and attendance, induction of new staff as well as teaching 8 hours weekly.  The principal is not timetabled and with the DP, in the absence of sufficient substitution/supervision personnel, will cover classes of absent staff members.

 

As the Co. Donegal VEC provides an induction process for teachers new to the scheme, St Catherine’s has no formal induction for new staff.  However, the DP explains practices and procedures and supports to new colleagues. The school is encouraged to consider the compilation of a handbook for teachers in ring-binder form, which would provide school history and relevant information for new staff members and which can be regularly updated.

 

All meetings between principal and DP are informal and issues are discussed as they arise.  It is recommended that notes of important decisions taken be recorded.  To date three staff meetings have taken place this year. Typically there are two meetings per term. This practice is commended. As well as general items, particular issues e.g curriculum, pastoral care, planning, group meetings are also included in the agenda.

 

Co. Donegal VEC is proactive in providing training for principals and monthly meetings of principals with the CEO are also held. It is commendable that the Committee encourages participation in the Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) programme. VEC deputy principals also meet as a group. Both principal and DP are members of the National Association of Principals and Deputies (NAPD) and the VEC Principals and Deputies Association (PDA) and attend meetings. Meetings are also held with colleagues in the neighbouring counties of Sligo and Leitrim. This level of professional networking is commended. As well as being a forum for discussion, both practical support and information are available. 

 

St Catherine’s has received its full quota of posts of responsibility with the recent appointment of two special duties teacher (SDT) posts. There are now 6 assistant principal (AP) and 8 SDT posts in the school. Post duties are allocated in keeping with Circular 20/98 and the needs of the school. In accordance with the guidelines, each post holder has one major area of responsibility as well as one or more minor area contained in the school’s schedule of posts. Post holders state that they have written job descriptions and keep their own records of work. In the course of the evaluation job descriptions were provided by some individual post holders.

 

Assistant principals, who have a reduction of 4 hours in class contact time to facilitate the carrying out of duties, state that they assist senior management as required and are available to take over responsibility for the running of the school at any time should both principal and deputy principal be absent.  They report that essentially work is done by individuals and brought to the staff. However, while individual duties and responsibilities for aspects of management are carried out, there is no strong awareness of themselves as a middle management team within the school.

 

The AP group states that training for their roles would be beneficial and believe this to be on the agenda of the VEC. Such a support is recommended. Middle management meetings take place as part of regular staff meetings. Outside of this, meetings are informal and communication in general is personal and informal. This year attempts have been made to hold meetings between senior management and the APs. However, without timetabled slots such organisation has proven difficult. It is recommended therefore that a schedule of regular, formal, minuted  meetings between the APs and senior management be drawn up so that this group can participate in and contribute to the management of the school in a more structured manner thus ensuring a more even distribution of duties and greater support and assistance for the principal and DP. 

 

Among the priorities identified by the APs as areas for development in school policy and procedures are: communication at all levels; a new room for drawing; the need to continue the Junior Certificate typing course into senior cycle; student attendance, behaviour and motivation; pastoral care.

 

Senior management monitors and reviews posts of responsibility in an ongoing, informal manner and are aware that gaps exist in the current structures. It is recommended that with a full schedule of posts now available it would be opportune at this time to review the needs of the school vis-à-vis management structures and roles to identify any gaps that may exist so that responsibilities of the posts may be more clearly matched to the central tasks and priorities of the school and as a means of providing opportunities for staff development. It is further recommended that job descriptions/specifications be agreed and written for all posts. In the interest of openness and accountability the responsibilities of all post holders should be known among staff and management generally.

 

Communications among staff and between staff and management was observed to operate at an interpersonal level, for the most part. This more informal approach is made possible by virtue of the quality of relationships and social interaction evident among staff.  Announcements are made at break times and good use is made of notice boards.  A number of staff, including senior management, have identified that the present informal structure of communications within the school, while adequate, would benefit from a review. This is recommended.  On a broader front the recent addition of a digital screen notice board in the foyer of the school provides an excellent opportunity of bringing information and visuals on school activities to the attention of the school community and visitors.

 

Communication with the wider local community is achieved through parish newsletters and local/regional press. It is suggested that during the review of posts of responsibility the school could consider whether it would be helpful to have a post of responsibility for public relations within the school so that information about, and recognition of, student achievements and school events would be made available to the broader community and to parents in particular. As well as enhancing the profile of the school within the community this could also encourage more community involvement and development of links with the school community.

 

St Catherine’s has a positive approach to the management of students in that conflict resolution and restorative justice practices are being introduced and students are specifically encouraged to treat each other and staff with respect.  Rules, procedures and sanctions are clearly set out in the code of discipline. The DP visits classes to explain the code of behaviour to 1st year students and reinforces it again in 2nd year. This practice has been reported to be very successful in promoting good behaviour. In the course of SDP the school has identified attendance and punctuality as areas for development and strategies have been worked out to encourage and reward good attendance.

 

Students met with in the course of the evaluation were polite and courteous. They described the school as a friendly place with a good atmosphere, where teachers are supportive, generous with their time and prepared to give extra classes after school. Students would like more help with subject choice, the introduction of a driving programme, a greater variety of sport and a school canteen.

 

Primarily communication with parents is through the school journal, phone calls, parent/teacher general and individual meetings, school reports which are issued twice a year and parish news letters. Notes on school events are published in the local papers. The school reports good attendance at parent/teacher meetings and parents are welcome to visit the school and are encouraged to make appointments to meet with teachers as required.

 

 

1.4 Management of resources

 

St. Catherine’s has an allocation of 22.10 WTE posts from the Department of Education and Science (DES). Currently there are 31 staff members in the school – 24 of whom are permanently employed by the Co. Donegal VEC.  Two of these teachers job-share and two are shared with the neighbouring Vocational School 10 miles away.  Seven members of staff are in pro-rata temporary positions.  This year the school has been allocated the services of a French Assistante. The school also employs a full-time secretary, a fulltime caretaker and two part-time cleaners.

 

The maintenance of the building and the cleanliness of the environment are testament to the commitment and diligence of the caretaker and cleaning staff and reflect the collaboration and cooperation of students and staff. There is good signage on doors and corridors and the school foyer provides ready access to the main office and to the principal’s office. Management makes every effort to ensure the availability of specialist rooms for practical subjects. All classrooms are well maintained and in some cases there are excellent displays of subject-related materials and student work. The public spaces in the school are used effectively to display school photographs and awards.  This acknowledgement and celebration of student participation and success is commended.

 

A room for special education needs (SEN) students is provided outside the main building in one of the prefabs. Concern was raised by both board and staff during the evaluation that, consequently, these students can be readily observed as they exit and enter to attend their classes. In light of this concern it is suggested that the school review this arrangement in the course of school planning. Appropriate resources are provided for SEN students and six new computers have been sanctioned for the SEN department.

 

A guidance office, with computer, internet access and phone, also houses a careers library.  A career notice board is regularly updated.  The school gym is run as a community centre and the principal and another member of staff represent the school on the committee. It is recommended that the school explore ways to further enrich these links with the local community and develop strategies to promote school activities.

 

Resources from the general school budget are provided to subject departments on request.  Both board and staff met with in the course of the evaluation praised the VEC and CEO for their willingness to support the continuous professional development of staff and projects within the school.

 

The school has developed a health and safety statement and teachers are encouraged to report any concerns to the Safety Officer. Fire drills and safety audits are conducted regularly. It is recommended that details of these audits be recorded and updated regularly.

 

The school library also functions as a class room and a music room. Teachers met with in the course of the evaluation stated that it is not always convenient therefore to bring classes to use the library.  It is recommended that the school review the rota system so that all relevant subject areas have equity of access. The installation of a few networked computers in the library should also be explored.

 

Most classrooms have TV/video and some have computers. Up to date equipment including laptops, digital camera, digital projector, DVD and CD players etc is available to staff by informal arrangements.  In the course of school planning it is recommended that staff consider the introduction of a booking system for equipment. Responsibility for co-ordinating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is given to a post of responsibility holder and the school is endeavouring to maximise access for students and teachers to the available facilities. The imminent advent of broadband will improve internet access considerably throughout the school.  In light of this it is suggested that, in the course of subject department planning, all subject areas should begin the process of identifying strategies for the inclusion of ICT in the teaching and learning of their subjects, with priority being given to technical subjects.

 

2.    Quality of School Planning

 

St Catherine’s is to be commended for having engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) since 2003.  The school employed the services of a facilitator from the SDPI to begin the planning process. Arising from workshops and questionnaires completed by staff the school vision and mission statements were agreed.  This was followed by work on policy formulation within five sub-groups with convenors from middle management.  Committees consisting of teachers, parents and students were set up.  Subject departments have been established, subject co-ordinators appointed and progress has been made on subject department planning. Folders for each subject area are maintained and stored in the staff room. Staff report that subject departments are now working on specific policies relevant to the subject. The level of commitment of staff to school planning is commended.

 

The school is developing a two-part plan. Part 1 contains the relatively permanent features of the plan – the school’s mission statement, vision and aims as well as general school structures, curriculum, timetable and a number of completed and draft policies. Elements of the plan receive special attention such as the time given to promote awareness of anti-bullying measures and Part 2 includes a record of school development activities, agreed priorities and action plans as well as subject department plans and records of meetings, student support strategies and programmes.

 

Currently work is ongoing on policies, including a draft homework policy and eight policies - Admissions, Code of Behaviour, Anti-Bullying, Special Education Needs, Guidance, Internet Access, Pastoral Care and Substance Misuse - were adopted and ratified by the VEC during the evaluation period. In the course of policy review, it is recommended that terminology and phrasing be reconsidered so that all policies reflect the open-door approach the school wishes to foster and no prospective student feels excluded. Particular attention should be paid to these aspects in the admissions and the special education needs policies. The RSE policy within overall SPHE policy is currently under review by the school. At present ancillary staff have no input into policy formulation. It is suggested that such an input could be beneficial for the development of a number of school policies, especially those relating to school environment and energy usage.

 

While good progress has been made in school development planning, it was clear during the evaluation that not all members of the school community are equally aware of the work being done in this area. The wider distribution of policies and progress reports via the website could help to address this imbalance of information.

 

The principal reports that the school is working on developing policies for the Co. Donegal VEC through the principals’ group 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). Discussions on the issues have taken place at board level. A designated liaison person (DLP) has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. It is recommended that a briefing session be provided so that all staff members, both teaching and non-teaching, are very clear on the procedures to be followed and on the role of the DLP.

 

 

 3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

 

In St Catherine’s all students follow a five-year cycle. At present the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate (Established) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programmes (LCVP) are offered as well as a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course. The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is also on offer but uptake has been too low in recent years to make its availability feasible. Provision of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) has been explored and discussed but again uptake did not warrant its introduction.  It is recommended that the school reconsider how this programme could be successfully introduced into the curriculum.

 

St Catherine’s is commended on the wide range of subjects offered at Junior Certificate (16) and Leaving Certificate (17) levels.  Religious Instruction (RI) is taken as an examination subject at junior cycle. Science is a core subject in junior cycle and computer and religion studies as well as physical education and a Social Personal Health Education (SPHE)/life-skills programme are also offered in both cycles. School authorities have identified issues such as lack of full-time guidance counsellor and the lack of facilities for technical graphics, music and SEN. The school considers the lack of specialist rooms and facilities for music and technical graphics as obstacles in subject choice, in that not all interested students can avail of them. The school is considering the introduction of new subjects e.g. a second modern language and agricultural science. Given the wide range of subjects already available uptake follows traditional patterns. It is recommended, therefore, that the gender indicators which are supported by the VEC be used proactively to increase student awareness and encourage students to consider as wide a range of subjects as possible. 

 

Currently the school operates a nine-period day of thirty-five minute classes. However, the overall time in school does not comply with the requirement of Circular M29/95 and is short by 1hr. 45 mins. weekly. It is recommended that the school ensure that the maximum contact time required be made available.

 

In general teachers continue with the same classes if possible from first year to Junior Certificate and frequently up to Leaving Certificate.  In the case of Irish and Maths two teachers take higher and two take ordinary level classes and in English one teacher takes a higher level class every year. Senior management states that teachers rotate between higher and ordinary level classes on a regular basis with individual preferences being considered.

 

Access to the computer rooms is timetabled in senior cycle and available by arrangement in junior cycle. The ECDL was introduced three years ago. Two members of staff are accredited testers and it is commendable that a significant percentage of students complete the course before leaving school.   

 

Liaison with the special class in one of the local feeder primary schools results in a small number of students and their teacher coming to St Catherine’s and participating in second-year practical classes for Art, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork and Home Economics.

 

The school is conscious of its role in the community and wishes to cater for those who have left school without formal qualifications and are now unemployed. In this regard the school is to be commended on securing funding under the Back To Education Initiative (BTEI) and setting up a FETAC course in 2002 in response to needs identified by the HSCL department. Two courses are now running and a further 34 adults are waiting to begin courses in September 2006.  In response to perceived needs the current PLC course in Childcare contains a module on SEN work. It is recommended that the school explore other areas of study that could be offered as part of the PLC day programme. In this regard liaison with the local Tourism College could be beneficial. A wide range of evening classes is also offered under the school’s VEC Adult Education programme.

 

 

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Classes are of mixed ability in first year, with continuous assessment. St Catherine’s is to be commended for providing a range of taster classes as students are enabled to make informed choices for the Junior Certificate Examination.  In first year students take fourteen subjects with practical subjects and a second modern language being banded. Students choose one subject from each band with choices being flexible until mid-term.  However, the use of Irish and French classes for the delivery of learning support (LS) and/or resource teaching means that not all students have access to these subjects. It is recommended that the school review the current model of LS provision with a view to limiting the impact on access to Irish and French classes.

 

In the last term of first year students choose subjects for Junior Certificate. The guidance counsellor borrows classes to discuss subject and level choice with students.  Based on feedback from students, two bands are formed and students choose one subject from each band.  While parents are invited to contact the principal and/or the GC with any query they may have in relation to subject choice, the school could be more proactive in involving parents in this important process.  It is recommended that an information session be offered to parents at this time, in keeping with the requirements of section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998.

 

Students study 7 subjects for senior cycle.  Apart from the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics, students initially choose 5 subjects, in order of preference, from a list of 13.  Based on students choices 4 bands are subsequently formed using the Options programme in Facility. Students then choose one subject from each band. Parents are invited to contact the principal or guidance counsellor with any query they may have. A booklet on subject choice has been prepared for students and the guidance counsellor borrows classes to provide a module on subject and programme choice. An input by the guidance counsellor is included in the information evening for parents of 3rd year students on programme and subject choice.  Information evenings for PLC courses are also provided.

 

St Catherine’s has a long history of life-skills provision. Much of this area is now included in the SPHE programme which is provided still under the title of life-skills. In the course of school planning it is recommended that the school examine the content and adapt the programme titles accordingly.  Currently all SPHE teachers have attended training and a programme of guest speakers is integrated with the curriculum.

 

 

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

In St. Catherine’s a wide range of extra- and co-curricular activities is offered to students and the commitment of staff and their voluntary contribution in this regard is commended. Successful participation in public speaking and debating in Irish and English have been part of the school activities. Students also participate in the Young Scientist Exhibition, Gaisce Awards, interschool quizzes and the regional Mathematics competitions. An annual school tour and trips to events related to subject areas are arranged.

 

Sport is important and encouraged in the school and both boys and girls compete. Links are maintained with the VEC games section, local clubs and the GAA county board. Teams participate in basketball, soccer, rugby and athletics. Teams as well as individual students have enjoyed success up to and including national and international level. A successful basketball team visited the US last year with support from and significant funding raised by the community.  However, staff members met with in the course of the evaluation relate that it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain the services of outside coaches and to maintain the voluntary nature of team coaching and training and, as the current supervision arrangements do not cover games, staff members are reluctant to attend matches during the school day.

 

Training, which takes place after school mainly, necessitates travel to facilities provided by local clubs. While this collaboration is commendable it requires annual fund raising activity on the part of staff, students and parents and to this end the school is planning a golf classic next year.  Students also participate in activities to raise money for charities e.g. Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Readathon for the Multiple Sclerosis Association, Concern fast.

 

The school offers opportunity to students to participate in music and drama productions.  The local variety club has assisted with school musicals. This collaboration is commended. All year groups were involved in this year’s Christmas concert and the choir performs at liturgy events and visits the local hospice. A recent addition has been the production of the school magazine.  Students form the editorial staff, submit articles and photographs and obtain sponsorship from local businesses.

 

The Student Support Project, an initiative supported by local partnership (Donegal Local Development Company) and part-funded by the National Development Plan, provides resources for after-school activities. A total of 165 students last year participated in workshops on drumming, digital photography, beauty therapy and hairdressing, disk-jockey (DJ) skills, guitar and violin lessons. This level of support for students is commended.

 

 

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

4.1 Planning and preparation

 

Formal subject departments have been established in St. Catherine’s Vocational School and the school facilitates formal meetings for departments on average at least twice per year. Records are kept of these meetings and, depending on the issues that arise, these are fed back to management.  Coordination of planning and review continues through informal contacts on an on-going basis throughout the school year.  This is commended as good practice and has resulted in some progress towards subject department planning in all areas.  Where most progress has been made, subject teachers have developed long term plans which detail the aims, objectives, curriculum content and teaching methodologies in their subjects.   They also include references to resources, cross-curricular planning, homework and to the procedures associated with assessment and health and safety.  However, not all subject areas have developed a collaborative plan and there is scope to extend this type of planning across all departments.

 

Teachers have written schemes of work in place for their different classes and these were made available for inspection.  These represented coherently planned programmes of learning experiences and were appropriate to the needs of students with varying levels of ability as well as being in line with curricular requirements.   Good practice was seen in the development of teaching and learning aids and teachers designed and circulated materials to support students in class.  It is suggested that subject teachers collaborate to collate these resources to support each other in the future.

 

 

4.2 Teaching and learning

During the evaluation a range of lessons was visited across Junior Cycle, Senior Cycle and PLC class. Lessons were delivered using a variety of methodologies including whole class discussions, group work, paired work, questioning, board work, use of OHP projector, worksheets, teacher demonstrations and experimental work.  Where methodologies were varied, students were most enthused with the lesson content and engaged in their own learning.  In some lessons effective use was made of the blackboard. However, it is suggested that better use could be made of the board at the closing stage of some lessons, to record students’ contributions and ensure their familiarity with the spellings of common terms used.

 

Discipline is maintained in a satisfactory manner and teachers frequently provided affirmation to their students and encouraged them to be actively involved in the lesson.  This good practice created a mutually respectful atmosphere and nurtured a positive environment for learning to take place.

 

Lessons were very well structured and sequenced to suit the varying abilities of the students.  Individual tuition was given discretely where needed and the movement of teachers around the classrooms at regular intervals during lessons ensured that the majority of students kept pace with the work being undertaken.  The work observed in classrooms reflects the mixed ability nature of the groups and showed that students are reaching their potential.  Where practical work was observed it was carried out in accordance with relevant health and safety recommendations.

 

Effective questioning techniques and recapitulation were used in some of the lessons observed, primarily to check students’ understanding of particular concepts, as well as to promote higher- order thinking skills and reinforce student learning. The quality of student responses indicated that learning was taking place.  Students were given adequate time to reflect before answering and were regularly affirmed for correct answers, while incorrect ones were always clarified.  Students were also given adequate time to ask questions. However, care should be taken to direct questions to individual students as well as to the entire class group.

 

Teachers are advised that it is important to instil in all students, especially examination students, the importance of time management when answering questions. It is important that students learn to develop these skills in class as part of their preparation for examinations.  In addition, it may be helpful to use the examination marking scheme when correcting certificate examination students’ homework from Christmas onwards.  This may help to focus students’ efforts and identify areas of specific difficulty.

 

 

4.3 Assessment and achievement

 

As a rule, all non-examination junior and senior cycle classes sit formal tests at Christmas and summer, while State examination classes (i.e., third and fifth-year students) sit pre-Christmas and “mock” examinations. In all cases results of these tests are communicated to parents via formal reports. Some teachers, on the completion of examinations, will send students’ written test papers home and ask parents to sign them. This is another effective method of communicating student progress with the home. Parents are also kept informed of students’ progress through the use of the students’ homework journal. Formal use of the homework journal for this purpose was, however, being phased in across first and second year class groups in particular during the time of the whole school evaluation.

 

In general, teachers keep detailed records pertaining to their students which comprise information on homework, examination results, behaviour and attendance, and so are well positioned to give accurate feedback on student performance at parent/teacher meetings. It is recommended, however, that this good practice be replicated across all subject areas. Not only does appropriate record keeping provide teachers with accurate information for feedback purposes to parents, but it also assists students in making subject and level choices. Parents are facilitated in making appointments to meet with teachers, separate from more formal parent-teacher meetings, to discuss their sons’/daughters’ progress in a particular subject.

 

A wide range of assessment techniques, both formative and summative in nature, were found to be implemented across the different subject areas inspected. These included written end of topic tests, homework, quizzes, project work, observation and monitoring of student participation in class discussions and in-class questioning. Regular monitoring of students’ work, to include work of a theoretical and practical nature, also took place during lessons. Numerous examples of students’ work were observed during the course of subject inspections and such work was generally of a high standard, and was in keeping with students’ ability levels.

 

It is suggested that some of the varied assessment techniques employed across subjects in the school be allowed to feed into final grades awarded for formal examinations, especially for non-examination classes, rather than grades achieved in written tests alone. This system would reward students for their work all year round and would further encourage them to keep their portfolios in good order.

 

Continuous assessment is used widely at PLC level. Indeed, this form of assessment is regarded as an integral part of the learning process in FETAC courses. Continuous assessment also featured in the case of first-year students in the school. Here, the focus of its use was in the first term of first year and, in the main, an aggregated average mark was recorded on students’ Christmas reports.

 

While a school homework policy was being drafted at the time of the evaluation it was found that homework was regularly assigned to students in each of the subject areas inspected. Homework was, in the main, used to check students’ achievement of understanding, and to provide them with opportunities to practice new skills. In general this work was monitored, corrected and recorded. It is recommended that, where necessary, in addition to the assignment of an overall grade or brief evaluative comment students be provided with informative, detailed feedback on their homework and offered clear suggestions for improvement. This would help to develop further students’ understanding and skills, and motivate them to develop good learning habits for the future. Where informative feedback on homework was already being provided its motivational effect was clear in the classroom, and in the work produced by students. The same principle can be applied to the monitoring and feedback of work done by students during their lessons. Overall, the school should explore the potential for assessment-for-learning techniques. Further information on this form of assessment can be found at www.ncca.ie.

 

In all interactions students were found to be confident, energetic and genuinely interested in their subjects. Senior students in particular were very vocal about their subjects. Students were also well able to use the terminologies associated with their subjects and were able to critically analyse their own work in a very mature manner.

 

 

5. Quality of Support for Students

 

5.1 Students with special educational needs

 

St. Catherine’s receives an allocation of over 40 hours in total for extra learning support (LS) including the allocation for the two non-national and traveller students.  The local Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) has made a presentation to the staff and a Special Education Needs Policy document has been developed by the school which states that “all staff are responsible for pupils with special educational needs but additional support is provided by the resource and learning support teachers.” The document aims to set out guidelines for the identification of students with SEN, procedures to be followed to identify required resources and to ensure access by all students to a broad and balanced curriculum.

 

Students in need of learning support (LS) are identified by pre-entry information from schools, parents, assessments and by teachers in the course of the first term. The LS and resource teachers are members of the pastoral care team and work closely with core subject teachers to provide both individual and small group work. This collaboration is commended. In first year resource and LS teaching are provided during timetabled Irish and/or French classes. Parental agreement is sought for this arrangement. However, the school needs to review the current model of delivery to ensure that the needs of all students are met and that all students have access to all subjects, in keeping with their SEN policy document.

 

The school prefers to work with small groups as opposed to withdrawing students from class and in senior cycle efforts are made to block an extra teacher with English and Maths. This is commended. Currently, extra mathematics tuition is offered to a small group in pre-Leaving Certificate.  In second and third years extra classes are provided in English and Mathematics and as classes are banded students can and do move out of LS as appropriate. However, resource teaching is offered to students during Irish classes.

 

A programme of paired reading is also provided for first-year students with corresponding training provided for parents. This is commended. Currently Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have not been developed. The school has bought an IEP writer software package and plans to have an input on IEP preparation and implementation during a staff development day. It is recommended that this be initiated so that IEPs can be developed and kept updated.

 

The LS co-ordinator is also the liaison person with the primary schools. The school is commended for having engaged with a local organisation Tir Boghaine Teo. to promote and deliver a 6-week transfer programme for incoming first-year students prior to entry. In-coming students and their parents attend an open day in the school and an induction day at the beginning of term. Good feedback on students from the primary schools is reported and meetings with individual parents of students receiving resource teaching in primary are also held. This collaboration is commended as it assists the effective transfer of students between the sectors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

St Catherine’s seeks to treat all students equally. The size of the school and knowledge of student backgrounds are seen by staff as strengths in the support of students. The book rental scheme is optional for students and the school reports that all students participate. Any student experiencing financial difficulty for uniform or school activities is supported in a sensitive and confidential manner by the school. 

 

St. Catherine’s is to be commended on the wide range of outside agencies and groups with whom the school networks and collaborates in order to provide support for students e.g. Donegal Local Development Company (DCDL), CASA, AWARE, Gardaí, HSE etc.  The LET and KEY projects are cross-border, cross-community initiatives that promote cross-cultural links, develop self-esteem and encourage co-operation and leadership.  Students attend residential weekends with other schools from Northern Ireland and from participation have been awarded trips to Canada and London.

 

The school has a fulltime Home-School-Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator who liaises with parents, outside agencies and the local community.  The co-ordinator visits homes of students who are experiencing difficulty in school, either in settling in or with attendance. Courses are organised for parents in the school. Meetings of the HSCL cluster group are held in the school. Representatives of parents, students, voluntary and statutory bodies as well as local primary school principals attend.  Care issues and supports are discussed and reviewed.  Arising from these meetings the local Youth Drop-In Centre was established and now operates in close collaboration with the school. 

 

Last year the Student Support Project (SSP) funded a home work club for students. The project also provides personal development modules for groups of second and third years as well as a programme of summer camps for students which culminates in participation in the Killybegs Festival. Assessments not provided by the NEPS psychologist are completed by private psychologists and paid for by the SSP. Supervised study is also provided in the school five days per week and the guidance counsellor provides a study skills programme.

 

 

5.3 Guidance

 

St Catherine’s receives an allocation of 0.59 WTE post for guidance from the Department of Education and Science. The guidance counsellor is shared with the neighbouring VEC school situated 10 miles away and attends St Catherine’s two days per week – Monday and Thursday - for a total of 8.75 hours.  It is recommended that the board of management liaise with the VEC as a matter of priority to explore how this arrangement can be changed in order to facilitate the provision of the full guidance allocation of 13 hours in the school. 

 

A good deal of work has been done on guidance planning in the school within the pastoral care committee and the guidance counsellor has completed questionnaires with students and met and consulted with the parents’ committee. The guidance plan, which includes a scheme of work for Leaving Certificate students and students with disability and special needs, will be reviewed next year.  This is commended. To this end it is recommended that a review committee be established with representatives from staff, parents, students and possibly the local business community.  A student needs analysis vis-à-vis current provision and delivery throughout the school should be carried out to inform the review process.

 

The guidance counsellor is timetabled for a total of seven periods per week including one class period per week for all senior cycle and LCVP classes, as well as teaching a Life Skills course to one fourth and one third year class group. As much of the guidance programme is delivered during the timetabled life-skills classes, it is recommended that in the course of guidance planning, distinction be drawn between guidance and life-skills and classes subsequently titled as appropriate.

 

In third year the guidance counsellor also borrows classes to provide a module on programme and subject choice. Individual appointments and personal counselling are also offered to students throughout the school. The guidance counsellor also delivers the career investigation section of the LCVP link modules.

 

It is commendable that the guidance counsellor visits first year classes to introduce the guidance service and assist with the settling in process. Information on subject and level choice is provided.  Written contact with parents of first year introduces the guidance service and invites appointments. Written contact is made again by the principal and guidance counsellor re subject choice. However, as previously stated, it is recommended that an information session for parents be arranged at this time.

 

Senior students attend college open days and an annual information day organised by the local branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) for all the schools in the county. A programme of guest speakers is arranged. Access to the computer rooms for guidance classes is facilitated by arrangements with teachers as required. Career Directions and QualifaX are available on computers and the software package PROBE is used for interest inventory with third year students.

 

Talks for parents on CAO applications and grants are arranged. The guidance counsellor attends all parent-teacher meetings. PLC students are welcome to avail of the guidance service and past students return for help and guidance support. Referrals to outside supports are effected through the principal’s office.

 

In order to augment support for students a few members of staff have completed initial training in listening skills and are available to talk to students on a rota basis during their non-class contact periods. While this is commendable it is suggested that the full use of the guidance allocation next year will enhance both the counselling and guidance provision to support students. The guidance counsellor attends national and local in-service and the supervision sessions organised to support counselling.

 

 

5.4  Pastoral care

 

Care of students is important in St Catherine’s and support for students is a strength of the school. A post of responsibility as co-ordinator of pastoral care was introduced two years ago and a pastoral care team has been established. It is commendable that regular, minuted meetings are held. It is recommended that these meetings be timetabled so as to facilitate the attendance of the guidance counsellor. A pastoral care notice board in the staff room provides information to staff on activities and events. The group has worked on a pastoral care policy and preliminary work has been completed on a Critical Incident Response document. Networking with other local schools could be beneficial in the drafting of this document and it is recommended that the school would engage with the NEPS psychologist in preparing the final draft of the document.

 

The role of tutor was reintroduced into the school last year and now all first and second year students have a class tutor who assists with the transition from primary school and the (re)settling in process.  Tutors are part of the pastoral care system and work closely with subject teachers, discuss issues as they arise with their class group and with parents as required, monitor the use of the School Journal and discuss any issues arising from it with parents at the parent-teacher meetings. In order to firmly establish the tutor system monitoring and review are ongoing and it is planned to build on the present system as students progress through the school.  This is commended as the system will support students and provide an important link with parents.

 

Tutors hold monthly, minuted meetings.  This is commended as a means of transferring information on students and identifying students in need of extra support. The school has appointed a co-ordinator of tutors who also acts, in collaboration with another staff member, as student welfare officer.  This level of commitment to student support is commended. The student welfare officer meets with first year students individually to monitor the settling in process and begin student profiling.  Collaboration with the guidance counsellor in this regard is recommended.  It is commendable that tutors have devised a reward system for good behaviour and attendance with ongoing visits out and treats. A very successful awards evening was held in the school at the end of last year to recognise and celebrate student achievements. This is commended.

 

A peer mentoring system operates in St Catherine’s between first and fifth year students. Mentors have been trained by an outside school support group, the Daybreak Project, and at the beginning of the school year meet weekly at lunch time with first years to organise activities, provide information and support. Ongoing monitoring and review of the system is being carried out and the school is considering introducing the mentors to the incoming students while still in the primary schools. St Catherine’s is also exploring the introduction of a peer mediation scheme based on the principles of conflict resolution and restorative justice and, in preparation, some members of staff have already attended training courses.

 

Currently there is no school chaplain. Local clergy provide spiritual support to the school and liturgical events are marked either with interdenominational services in the school or by services in the local church. Retreats are organised for senior students and a graduation service is arranged jointly between the Churches.

 

Formerly a Student Council operated in St. Catherine’s. At present a group of teachers are working on the reestablishment of a council and hope to have elections before the end of the present school year. This is recommended. Two students are members of the Donegal Youth Council – a project set up by, and modelled on, Donegal County Council in cooperation with the Health Services Executive, to provide an effective platform for addressing important issues for young people.  It is suggested that a means of feedback from these representatives to the student body be devised so that all students receive information on the functions and activities of the Youth Council. Staff report that in the absence of a student council one of the Youth Council representatives brings student concerns to management and also attends the HSCL cluster group meetings in the school.

 

A number of supports, both curricular and extra-curricular, are in place for students and this is commended.  Examples of these include the Student Support Project after-school activities and the homework club. In order to ensure that all groups are catered for within this approach it is recommended that the process of supporting all students within the school would be reviewed in the course of school development planning.

 

 

6.    Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.


7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

 

Subject inspection reports in

 

Art

English

Science and

Technical Graphics & Technical Drawing

 

are appended to this report.

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The one-teacher Art department in St. Catherine’s Vocational school is a well-established entity within the school. It was reported during the visit that management and the general school community are supportive of the unique contribution of the department to the life of the school.  There are numerous examples of the endeavours of the Art department decorating the school environment, helping to provide a positive context for students’ work. A particular expertise in ceramics is practiced and the ceramic relief mural near the entrance of the school is especially commended.       

 

A large, bright, dedicated room is made available for the delivery of Art. Adequate storage space in the form of a lockable storage room and storage units are provided in addition to a kiln, slab roller, pugmill, wall mounted television and video as well as a projector screen.  The room is well organised and visually stimulating. Displays of students’ recent 2D and 3D work are on show as well as exemplars and examples of key works from Art history. A library of relevant books is made available which enhances the delivery of the subject. 

 

The kiln is housed at the back of the classroom with an extractor fan attached to an outside wall.  In light of the fact that ceramics is an important area of interest in the school and that the kiln will be fired while students are using the Art room, it is recommended that a hood be attached to the extractor and the other end placed over the vent in the kiln.  On the day of the visit it was suggested that there is expertise available to the school to address this issue.

 

To date there are no dedicated ICT facilities in the Art room and the department is waiting for broadband to be installed. There are six industry standard personal computers in storage in the Art room. It is recommended that management should consider installing dedicated ICT facilities with related Art software as funding presents. As there is a ‘pull down’ screen available in the room, it is further suggested to obtain the use of a digital projector, which would be a very useful resource for the delivery of critical studies and Art History.   

 

There is no fixed budget for Art and materials are obtained as needed. Examination students pay a fee for materials.

 

Presently, Art is enjoying popularity as a subject for study at both junior and senior cycles. The arrangements for subject choice are satisfactory and emphasis is placed on students having experience of the subject and the necessary information. Timetabling in general is satisfactory with double periods being provided when possible, although the present fourth years have less than the usual five periods.  At first year, students are given the opportunity to study a range of subjects for the duration of the year before they choose which subjects they will study for the Junior Certificate.  Whilst this gives students a much-needed opportunity to experience subjects at first hand to aid subject choice, it means that the course must be delivered in a shorter time period. It is suggested that management consider allowing students to make their subject choice earlier in the year so that more time could be devoted to course content earlier in the junior cycle.

 

All class groups are of mixed ability. A group of special needs students attend the school for lessons in Art in which they join a group of second year students.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

An Art Department Plan was made available on the day of the visit. This plan detailed aims and objectives for the subject, culminating in a primary aim, which is to engender in students ‘skills for life’.  This commendable approach was very clearly observed to be the overarching philosophy of the Art department at St. Catherine’s and encourages a love for the subject at all levels of development and ability.  This philosophy is delivered in two ways; by facilitating students in making the best work that they can and also by using enjoyment as a motivating tool.

 

Commendably, this document also details the practices and procedures associated with homework, record keeping, planning, course materials, effective methodologies, and health and safety. 

 

Continuous homework is allotted to second years in the form of a ‘book’ in which students choose images from a variety of sources and draw them.  Inspection of these books showed a variety of drawing, some good choice of images and good use of materials.  This is a very good device as it encourages students to get into the habit of drawing and also encourages students to improve their drawing skills. It is recommended however, to expand this good practice by encouraging students to draw from primary sources on a regular basis, this practice should then be developed into finished work. On the day of the visit, some senior cycle 2D work was observed, which was based on secondary images. It is recommended that students work also from primary sources at senior cycle and be lead through the process of development from primary source material into the various disciplines.    

 

Individual lesson plans were also observed for the various class groups. These plans displayed good planning in that the topics covered showed a high regard for the components necessary for a balanced Art Education.  Commendably, the plans were chronologically drawn out showing the duration of the various topics. In some cases these schemes of work had documented evaluations added which is very good practice. It is suggested that this practice be extended.

 

It is noted that Art History is delivered as a particular topic at junior cycle. This practice is commended as it leads to a fuller appreciation of Art Education and also feeds into the syllabuses at both junior and senior cycle as well as fostering an understanding of the subject for life.

 

Both the planning documents and the practices observed on the day of the visit show that reflection and review play a large role in developing the Art Department.  The assessment of schemes of work and documented and practical evidence of the factors influencing student success were also very astute. 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

One senior cycle, one junior cycle and one PLC lesson were observed on the day of the visit. In all lessons a sense of purpose, direction and enjoyment was evident. The pace of the lessons was such that it allowed work to proceed reasonably without wasting time. Students were focussed on the tasks in hand during the lessons and were interested in producing competent and interesting work.  It was also evident during lessons that students were well used to the procedures involved in working in an Art room environment as they were able to prepare, engage with and tidy their own work.

 

The main teaching methodology used in St. Catherine’s is demonstration, which is a very good approach to a visual subject. Commendably, demonstrations are given and then students are expected to work on their own initiative. Teacher movement is used to ensure that all students stay on task and that progress is appropriate.  A good balance is achieved between teacher and student input so that the student is responsible for the quality of their own work.

 

The style of classroom management used is very constructive. Information and instructions are given in a positive manner and the classroom atmosphere is upbeat. Humour and interesting links are used to keep students attention focussed.  The clear aim of lessons in the Art Department is to get the best work out of the students and as a result it is expected that students would give of their best.  Discipline is maintained in a natural manner and affirmation is given at every opportunity. Students are supported when they are embarking on a new task and there is a sense that innovation and skills attainment is prized among the students. Work is evaluated as it proceeds and formative comments are made.

 

The work in the department is varied between a number of components and, commendably, a range of skills is being addressed. In particular the level of skill shown in ceramics is very high at all stages of development. 2D work in the form of life drawing and painting were also seen which showed very good compositional skills.  

 

The junior cycle work observed showed a range of abilities and levels, both 2D paintings and drawings were seen as well as 3D ceramic work.  Commendably, the work is very honest in that each piece is unique and shows the decision making of the student. The work reflects the mixed ability nature of the groups and showed that students are reaching their potential.  A lesson on life drawing displayed a junior cycle group’s ability and showed that they were confident to take on the task and produce confident drawings.

 

In a senior class observed some students were working on their ceramics whilst other students worked on their 2D pieces. The ceramic work was varied in theme and very competent. Form, texture, design and building skills were very accomplished. The posters being made were image based with text incorporated.  To maximise the potential for success, it is recommended that a more ‘Graphic’ approach be developed which encourages the development of student generated lettering.  Some imaginative compositions were also observed, which were based on conventional landscapes in a particular painting style. It is further recommended that a reviewed approach be introduced which allow the student to compose a painting in a freer manner using a range of painting skills. It is suggested that this skill be introduced from junior cycle and that exemplars be displayed in the room to show the various techniques.   

 

Although no History of Art lesson was observed, interaction with the students and examination of their notebooks showed that good work is taking place. 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A variety of formative and summative assessment methods are used in the Art Department at St. Catherine’s.  During lessons and on completion of projects, useful and positive formative comments are made, which help students to reflect on and improve their work.  Some very helpful formative comments are also made on written work giving students accurate feedback and direction. Summative results are also recorded of students’ work giving an indication of student progress throughout the year. It is suggested that this good practice be maintained.

 

Homework is given in the form of a ‘book’ at second year, this observation book is corrected every four weeks and encourages students to regularly draw and record. At fourth and fifth year Art History essays are given and corrected every week

 

Some records are kept of student attendance at each lesson. It is recommended that this good practice be expanded to include regular constant monitoring and recording of attendance.  

 

Interaction with students found them to be confident energetic and genuinely interested in Art.  Senior students in particular were very vocal about the subject and were well versed in the value of it as a topic of study. Students were also well able to use the terminologies associated with their particular tasks as well as other topics. Notably, students were able to critically analyse their own work in a very mature manner. Students also have a clear sense of what type of skills are needed to make a piece of good Art and have a very good idea of how Art is used in the community and in the marketplace.  

 

The finished work observed displayed competence, flair and individuality, especially in ceramics.    The ceramic work is especially commended for its technical qualities and for the levels of understanding necessary to design and execute the finished pieces. The 2D work observed displayed a good understanding of composition and also of tonal contrast. Life drawing is reported by many students to be a very positive activity and the quality of this work was observed to be proceeding well.

 

Students of Art are brought on trips to museums, exhibitions and to Newgrange.  Each year, the third-year Art students visit Letterkenny Library to see an exhibition of the best third-year work in Donegal schools from the previous year. This practice, as an inspirational and motivational tool, is commended.

 

There is a tradition of students attending Art College from the school and there is a great interest in the visual arts in a general sense, which is a tribute to the teaching and learning of the subject in the school.

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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 recommendations are made:

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teacher of Art at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Timetabled provision for the teaching and learning of English in St. Catherine’s Vocational School, Killybegs is good and is generous in senior cycle, when students have English for six periods a week.  It is noted that four class groups have been allocated two teachers of English, who divide the course between them.  In order to ensure that students benefit from this arrangement, the teachers meet on a monthly basis to review progress.  Discussions are documented and this provides a record of the good practice adopted in the school.  It is suggested that, at these meetings, particular care should be taken to ensure that the integration of language and literature described in the Guidelines is maintained.  

 

Students are placed in mixed ability English classes in first year and are set from second year, based on progress made in the subject, consultation with parents and teacher recommendations.  In the senior cycle, students are set for English at the beginning of fourth year.  Despite the school’s encouragement of all students, participation in the higher-level courses by boys is low. English is banded across the timetable for all year groups, other than first, in order to facilitate students’ choice of level. 

 

General resource provision for the teaching and learning of English is good.   Televisions, data projectors and video equipment are available for teachers’ use.  The ICT resources in the school are also accessible to teachers and the English teaching team is actively exploring how best to use this technology to support the delivery of their subject.  It is suggested that the local NCTE co-ordinator, who can be reached through Donegal Education Centre, might be able to provide advice and support in this area. 

 

There is a school library available and student access to good reading material is facilitated three times a week.  Teachers set time aside in their teaching plans for reading and take classes to the school library.  This is commended as an effective way to generate and sustain interest in reading for pleasure.  Teachers have implemented a number of strategies to encourage reading.  These include a paired reading programme and participation in the MS Readathon. These strategies contribute to an improvement in students’ language skills and build on the work presently being done to encourage reading, particularly the generation of book reviews in first, second and fourth years.  

 

The school is commended for the variety of co-curricular activities available to students.   Drama workshops and expeditions to the theatre, together with participation in public speaking competitions, provide students of English with valuable learning experiences and the commitment   of the staff to providing these is commended.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Planning for the teaching and learning of English is excellent.   Formal meetings of the teachers of English take place twice per term and these are minuted.  The teachers have made very good use of the templates available from the School Development Planning Initiative to develop a comprehensive plan for the subject.  This included an outline of the aims of the programme, references to the appropriate syllabus documents and teachers’ guidelines and an outline of curriculum content for each of the five year groups.  The plan acknowledges the key role the department plays in supporting students with special education needs and this is commended.  A particular strength of the plan is the focus on concepts and skills to be acquired by students in junior cycle.  Inspector observation confirmed the effectiveness of this practice in the classrooms visited and the teachers of English are commended for their work in this regard.   It is suggested that such a focus would be equally helpful in senior cycle. 

 

While FETAC’s Communications module descriptor G20001 outlines the standards to be achieved by learners, expressed principally in terms of specific learning outcomes, course providers are responsible for the design of the Communications module.   The scheme of work developed in St. Catherine’s Vocational School is clear and the links between it and the course descriptors published by FETAC are clear.    Given the number of assignments required of students to complete a course, it is suggested that the course tutor review the assignment briefs to identify opportunities where a single assignment can be presented for assessment in two modules. 

 

The learning support and resource teachers in the school undertake planning for the support of students with literacy needs.  All in-coming first years complete standardised, norm-referenced assessments which screen for literacy and numeracy competence.  Together with information from the feeder primary schools, this information is used to identify students who may need support.

 

The model of support delivery operating in the school relies on students following a more restricted curriculum than their peers.  The school operates a withdrawal system in first year to allow students with special educational needs (SEN) and those with literacy and numeracy support needs to access support.  These students generally do not study French and Gaeilge.    From second year on, those students with support needs are placed in small class groups for English and Mathematics.  These subjects are taught by the learning support and resource teachers.  It recommended that careful consideration should be given to how the needs of students who may present in the future with learning support needs, and who may not wish to follow a reduced curriculum, can be met.   As the arrangement now stands, there is a very limited amount of time available for supporting these students and it is important that no student should be disadvantaged. 

 

There is scope to develop the quality of programme planning for learning support.  At present, the syllabuses for Junior and Leaving Certificates are the focus, with particular emphasis on developing the literacy and numeracy skills of the students.  The co-ordinator is aware of the need for more targeted planning, particularly for SEN students and the school has recently invested in software to support planning to meet their educational needs. 

 

There are two foreign-national students in the school and these are offered tuition in English language while their peers are at Gaeilge.   The school may find the teaching and other support materials, available from Integrate Ireland Language and Training (www.iilt.ie) helpful when planning a language teaching programme.

 

 

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

Lessons observed were very well structured and sequenced to suit the varying abilities of the students.  There was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons and appropriate linkages with course areas. In some classes, for example, brief discussions about completed homework exercises were used as starting points for lessons.  In another, work done earlier in the term was re-visited to prepare students to meet new material.  The pace and content of each class was generally appropriate to the class group with time being efficiently used.    

 

Although classes are banded so that higher and ordinary level courses may be taught separately, it was evident from observation of students’ work and participation in classroom activities that a range of ability levels is represented in all classes.  Teachers employed a variety of strategies to ensure that all ability levels were catered for.  In a junior cycle class, for example, the reading of a text was punctuated with regular questions designed to focus students’ attention on particular details.  This was particularly helpful for less able students and ensured that they were well prepared for the writing task which was set for homework.  In a senior cycle class, students worked through a question independently, while the teacher moved through the room to answer questions and offer help as needed.

 

Particular attention was given to the teaching of language in all the classes visited.  Students’ copies provided evidence of a range of vocabulary and grammar exercises which have been set to help develop students’ literacy skills.  It is suggested that teachers build on this practice by integrating the teaching of language and literature to establish links between texts studied and personal writing.  For example, in one class visited, students read quickly through a number of texts to focus on how adjectives were used in order to prepare them for a writing assignment.  Other examples of this work include looking at how a writer uses verbs in a piece of text and evaluating opening sentences/paragraphs in terms of their impact on a reader.   The effectiveness of this strategy does depend on the pacing of a lesson, so that adequate time is set aside for recapitulation and closure of lessons.  

 

Teachers used questioning to both check students’ understanding and to facilitate new learning.  They were particularly skilful in encouraging students to move beyond simple recall to develop their answers and observation of students’ work in their copies indicated that they are regularly referred to texts to support their opinions and arguments.  It is suggested that better use could be made of the board at the closing stage of lessons, to record students’ contributions and ensure their familiarity with the spellings of common terms used, and so on.  Key vocabulary and quotations can also be reinforced by wall displays and those teachers who have been assigned their own rooms have made best use of the facility to create a stimulating learning environment.

 

Students’ interaction with the inspector indicated that they had achieved the level of competence expected and were confident when discussing the course.   Their written work was good and at its best it was clear that students had carefully planned before writing.  Some students were ‘reluctant’ writers and it is suggested that the use of ‘models’ or writing frames that students can use to build their own skills may be a helpful support.    Similarly, it may be helpful to use the Leaving Certificate marking scheme when correcting fifth year homework from Christmas.  This may help to focus students’ efforts and identify areas of specific difficulty.

 

 

 

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

In general, there is a range of assessment modes used to assess student competence and progress.  These include in-class questioning and the setting of regular homework exercises in order to check achievement of understanding and provide students with opportunities to practice newly acquired skills.    Work is corrected promptly and feedback to students is generally limited to a ‘tick’ or a brief comment.  It is suggested that moving beyond a grade or brief evaluative comment, to affirm students’ efforts or offer clear suggestions for improvement, as is done in some instances, will help to develop students’ understanding and skills and motivate them to develop good learning habits for the future.   It is recommended that teachers build on the good practice evident in St. Catherine’s Vocational School by employing a greater range of feedback options when correcting homework - for example, positive feedback as described above or focussed feedback which identifies a specific aspect of student work which is to be developed and commented on.   Where this was done, its motivational effect was clear in the classroom and in the work produced.   It is suggested that, as a means of furthering student learning, when assigning homework tasks teachers should strive to create a balance between volume of work completed and the need to comment carefully on student effort and achievement.   

 

Continuous assessment is used to measure students’ progress in the first term of first year and an aggregated average mark is recorded on the Christmas reports home.  Formal examinations are held for second and fourth years at Christmas and all non-examination year groups also have summer examinations.  Teachers are commended for arranging a common assessment for the mixed ability first year group as this allows for comparison within the year group and, as a result, careful planning to meet the needs of the students.    

 

Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the student journal and through written reports, which are sent home twice a year for all year groups and at the annual parent-teacher meetings.   

 

Assessment is regarded as an integral part of the learning process in all FETAC courses.  Learners are expected to produce a number of documents, including letters and short reports, which are presented in a portfolio.  This is assessed locally at the end of the year and is accorded up to 50% of the marks available.  Participants are also required to demonstrate mastery of a range of specified practical, organisational and inter-personal skills, for which the balance of the marks is awarded.

 

Assignment briefs are well prepared and give detailed information to learners about the required task and the evaluation criteria to be applied.   The work submitted in students’ folders indicated that they had made good progress through this module. 

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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 the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in science and Biology

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The Science subjects are well supported by management in St Catherine’s Vocational School, Killybegs, Co Donegal.  Science is allocated four class periods per week at Junior Certificate and five periods per week at Leaving Certificate.  This time allocation is adequate and within curriculum guidelines. There is also satisfactory distribution of lessons throughout the week.

 

There are two Science laboratories in St Catherine’s.  The majority of science classes are held in the laboratory where access is co-ordinated on an informal basis between the Science teachers and preference is given to double class periods. It is recommended that management explore ways of maximising laboratory access across the timetable as currently Junior Certificate Science classes have access to the laboratory only every second week.  Appropriate health and safety precautions were adhered to during the course of the evaluation and a range of health and safety features are available such as fire extinguisher, fire blanket and safety glasses. The school also has a health and safety statement which is currently under review. 

 

All students take Science to Junior Certificate level in the school.  At senior cycle, a survey of student preferences is used to compile option blocks.  Currently Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered to students on the Leaving Certificate programme.  During the evaluation it was reported that management is currently exploring the possibility of introducing Agricultural Science to the senior cycle programme, which is praiseworthy, as a broad range of Science subjects give students greater options when choosing career paths. 

 

Science teachers are allocated to classes on a rollover basis where management strive to ensure the same teacher retains a class group to certificate exam level if possible, which is laudable practice.  The Science team have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised Biology and Junior Science syllabuses.  Resources and further support is available on the following websites: www.nbsstralee.ie and www.juniorscience.ie Management is to be commended for its commitment to facilitating this in-service and for its on-going consideration in supporting staff training needs.

 

Datalogging equipment, a data projector and lap-top are currently used in some Science lessons which is commendable practice.  Internet access in the laboratory is currently limited to a Vodafone Mobile Connect Datacard used with the laptop; however internet access is available in the ICT room where access is negotiated with other subject teachers.  Broadband internet access is planned for the future and it is recommended that the Science team plan to develop this as a further resource which can be used to enhance the teaching and learning in Science and Biology lessons.  It is also suggested that management explore the provision for further training in the area of ICT where needs are identified. 

 

The Science department actively promotes the sciences within the school and encourages participation in a range of co-curricular activities such as ISTA Junior and Senior Science quizzes, Young Scientist exhibition and Salters Chemistry camp in the University of Ulster, Coleraine which foster interest and initiative. The school recently exhibited one project in the Young Scientist exhibition and are already working on the January 2007 entry.  Teachers have also organised trips to Science Week in Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Sligo Institute of Technology as well as to Derrygonnelly Ecology Centre, Co Fermanagh and W5 in Belfast.  These activities are to be highly commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences. 

 

The school also has a Library which contains a Science section including both books and CD-ROMS.  It is recommended that the science team put plans in place to update and maintain the Science section of the library on a regular basis.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Collaborative long-term plans were in evidence during the evaluation and they included aims, objectives, time allocations, timetabling, cross-curricular planning, teaching methodologies, a list of resources, curriculum content, homework and assessment procedures.  It is recommended that the Science team review these long-term planning documents to include a list of syllabus based topics to be covered in each term, a time frame for each topic and the corresponding practical activities to be carried out in that topic.  It is further suggested that these lists of topics be distributed to students at the beginning of the school year in order to give them an outline of the course to be followed and to enable them to plan for their revision.

 

Short-term planning was effective and included pre-prepared materials and resources, Overhead Projector (OHP) transparencies, worksheets and diagrams on the data projector and CD-ROMS.    This attention to planning served to enhance teaching and learning in each lesson and these visual aids were most effective when they were tailored to suit the abilities of the individuals in the class groups. It is suggested that the Science teachers consider the development of a common bank of resources to include worksheets and OHP transparencies, which can be added to as they are developed.  These resources can then be adapted if necessary to suit the differing needs of the students.

 

Co-ordination within the Science department is effective and formal departmental meetings are held at least one per term.  Minutes of these meetings were available during the course of the evaluation which is commendable.  Informal meetings also take place on a regular basis.  In order to even out the workload throughout the Science department it is recommended that the position of science co-ordinator be rotated every two years between the members of the department.  This devolved approach will distribute responsibility for areas such as stock control, ordering chemicals, laboratory maintenance and will help to promote management at a departmental level.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

During the course of the evaluation both senior cycle Biology and junior cycle Science classes were visited.  Lessons observed included the structure of the heart, heat transfer and identification of acids and bases.  A sample of student laboratory notebooks, class work notebooks and homework exercise books from senior cycle Biology and junior cycle Science were also observed.

Lessons observed had clear aims and were well structured. They were delivered using a variety of methodologies which included whole class discussions, groupwork, paired work, use of OHP projector, board work, use of worksheets, teacher demonstrations and experimental work.  Where methodologies were varied, students were most enthused with the lesson content and engaged in their own learning.   One lesson observed made particularly good use of this approach by interspacing teacher spot demonstrations of methods of heat transfer with student activities.  Students were encouraged to discuss observations and results with a partner which encouraged peer learning.  This activity based approach is commendable. 

 

In all lessons observed teachers frequently provided affirmation to their students and encouraged them to be actively involved in the lesson.  This created a mutually respectful atmosphere between the students and their teachers.  This is good practice and nurtures a positive environment in which learning can take place.

 

Observation of students’ work indicates that the skills developed are appropriate and of a good standard.  Students are confident and competent in the organisation and presentation of materials.  When questioned the majority of students in mixed ability settings could describe experiments carried out and provide logical and informed conclusions.  Teacher movement around the classroom, checking, affirming and encouraging, was evident and is a laudable method of ensuring students are challenged and are on task.

 

Science was made relevant and linked to students’ everyday experiences during most of the lessons observed.  In one lesson a lively dialogue was encouraged by a discussion on heat transfer and the lesson was linked in to previously completed work which provided good continuity in the progression of lessons.  This practice is commendable and the emphasis on making Science relevant to students’ lives is praiseworthy.

 

Practical work was observed in all of the classrooms visited and carried out in accordance with relevant health and safety recommendations.  It is suggested that health and safety rules be displayed in student notebooks in order to reinforce this good practice.  An initial plenary session was used to introduce the practical activity and best practice was observed when instructions were clear, concise and pitched at a level appropriate to students’ ability.  Good use was made of questioning and recapitulation at intervals in some of the lessons observed and the quality of student responses indicated that learning was taking place.

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A range of assessment techniques is in evidence in St Catherine’s Vocational School and take the form of written assessments, questioning, homework, quizzes, observation of laboratory practical work, project work and observation of student participation in class discussions.  Questioning was used in all lessons observed to check student understanding and to promote higher order thinking skills.  Correct answers were affirmed while incorrect ones were clarified.

 

First year students are assessed on a monthly basis in the first term followed by an end of year exam.  Second and fourth year students are assessed at Christmas and Summer, while third and fifth year students are assessed at Christmas and during the Mock exams.   Reports are issued to parents twice yearly following these assessments.  First and second-year students have a homework journal which is currently being phased in across the school and is used to monitor academic progress as well as a means of communication between school and home.  All parents are invited to attend the Parent Teacher meetings, which are held at least once per year for all students, as well as other informal meetings as needs arise.

 

Class tests are held regularly for all students, usually when topics on the syllabus have been completed.  Records of student attainment in class tests are recorded in the teacher diary and this is a good means of student performance assessment and also provides information for feedback to parents and may assist students in deciding subject and level choices at senior cycle. The Science team also encourages parents to sign class tests on completion which is another effective method of communicating student progress.

 

The majority of Science notebooks observed were of a good standard and contained an appropriate range of practical activities.  Some were checked and annotated with is praiseworthy as it is an excellent method of monitoring pupil progress and giving direction.  In addition, the Science team are recommended to explore the potential for Assessment for Learning techniques.  Information is to be found on the website www.ncca.ie

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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 recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Science and Biology at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

From discussions with school personnel it is clear that management at St. Catherine’s Vocational School is supportive of the area of technological education in the school, including Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing. In the past, management, in collaboration with relevant teaching staff, devoted considerable attention to upgrading facilities in the technologies area to bring them into line with current health and safety standards. This work is on-going.

 

There are two qualified Technical Graphics/Drawing teachers on the staff. While both teachers teach Technical Graphics at junior cycle level, they tend not to share the teaching of the subject at senior cycle level. This arrangement has operated for many years in the school and while there would be benefits to teachers in varying the class groups and levels that they teach each year, teachers expressed their satisfaction with the current arrangement in place.

 

The school does not have a dedicated Technical Graphics/Drawing classroom and this is of some concern to staff. Instead, the subjects are taught in the two Materials Technology (Wood)/Construction Studies workshops. Although there is no dedicated budget for the subject area it was reported that management treats all reasonable requests favourably. The workshops are generally kept neat and tidy and are reasonably well-resourced in terms of graphics/drawing equipment. There is an appropriate amount of blackboard drawing equipment, for example, there are adequate numbers of drawing boards and T-squares for students to use and some items of drawing equipment are provided for student use also. While there are a number of models available to aid the teaching of Technical Graphics/Drawing the number and range available could be extended. In one of the workshops these are stored, along with a range of resource texts, in a cabinet at the top of the workshop. There is a distinct lack of students’ graphics/drawing work on display in the workshops. Consideration should be given to providing dedicated wall space in the workshops, or indeed elsewhere in the school, for displaying examples of students’ work. Such displays can act as a stimulus and source of motivation for students.

 

It was reported that the uptake of Technical Graphics by students in recent years has remained stable. One class group in each of first and second year currently studies Technical Graphics, while in third year two class groups study the subject. In total some ninety-four students study Technical Graphics at junior cycle level out of a possible cohort of c.180 students. These classes are provided with four 35 minute lesson periods each week in the subject. These lessons appear on the timetable as one double lesson period and two single lesson periods. While the extent of the provision at this level is appropriate, it is the case that, in a subject that involves a high degree of practical activity, single lesson periods are not entirely conducive to effective learning. The amount of time that can be spent on actual technical graphics work, for example, in a single lesson becomes small when the time to be spent on preparation, tidy-up and equipment checking procedures are taken into account. It is recommended that students be provided with double lesson periods in the subject where practicable. Currently, Technical Graphics is timetabled opposite German and Typing for both first and second-year classes, while in third year the subject is timetabled opposite Typing, German and Metalwork for one class group and opposite Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood) and Business Studies for a second class group.

 

There is one class group in each of year one and year two of the Leaving Certificate studying Technical Drawing. In total some twenty-seven students out of a cohort of 131 study the subject at this level. Leaving Certificate classes are provided with five 35 minute lesson periods per week in the subject. The provision here is considered appropriate for this level. The timetabling arrangements for these lesson periods however differs between year one and year two of the Leaving Certificate. In year one students are provided with one double lesson period and three single lessons each week, while in year two students have two double lesson periods and one single lesson period each week. As for the junior cycle, students should, wherever practicable, be provided with double lesson periods in the subject. In year one of the Leaving Certificate Technical Drawing is timetabled opposite Geography, Home Economics and Chemistry, while in year two the subject is timetabled opposite Geography, Biology and Art.

 

The number of girls studying the subject across both junior and senior cycle levels is quite small with only fourteen girls out of a total cohort of 159 studying the subject in the school. In light of this small figure it is recommended that management, in collaboration with relevant staff, explore ways of encouraging girls to consider the subjects. As an aid to raising awareness levels about the subjects, consideration should, for example, be given to producing a simple, but attractive, brochure describing Technical Graphics/Drawing. This could be distributed to parents on school open nights, and would help project a more positive image of the subjects, both inside and outside the school.

 

Teachers do engage with their professional teacher association and have attended in-career development courses in computer aided design (CAD) in recent times. This is commended as CAD forms a significant element of the forthcoming revised Technical Drawing syllabus. Teachers look forward to the in-service that will be associated with the implementation of this revised syllabus.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The school facilitates formal meetings for teachers of all the technological subjects on average 3 or 4 times per year. The range of issues discussed at these meetings includes facilities, examinations, schemes of work and students’ progress. Records are kept of these meetings and some would feed back to management, depending on the issues that arise. The Technical Graphics/Drawing teachers in the school work well together as a team. There is an informal head for the subject in place and, along with the formal meetings, teachers tend to have regular informal meetings also. Teachers have written schemes of work in place for their different classes and these were made available for inspection. These schemes refer to the aims of the subject, the content to be covered with students, exercises to be used in lessons and information on assessment. Teachers tend, however, to work on an individual basis regarding their planning work and so there is an opportunity to engage in more collaborative or departmental planning. Consideration should be given to developing a plan for the subject area. This plan could include schemes of work for the various class groups, but could also include information on aspects such as the aims and objectives of the subjects, subject provision in the school, teaching methodologies, students with special education needs, resources, curriculum and textbooks. As is currently the case with the schemes of work already in place, such a subject plan should be reviewed on a regular basis.

 

In general, subject planning for the junior cycle is designed in such a manner that the ordinary-level syllabus only is taught to students in the first two years of the junior cycle. Early in third year students are divided into higher and ordinary-level groups and follow along this track up to the mock examinations. At this point students, in collaboration with their teacher, will decide on opting for either higher or ordinary-level in the Junior Certificate examination. The latter part of third year is primarily concerned with revision work. The same general principles apply at Leaving Certificate level. Again, students will opt to follow either the ordinary or higher-level syllabus up to the mock examinations and thereafter decide on whether to opt for higher or ordinary level in the examination. Revision work dominates thereafter. All students at this level are taught the Building Applications section of the syllabus.

 

From the sample of students’ graphics/drawing portfolios examined it was clear that students are being exposed to the entire syllabuses of both subjects. Also, in some cases it was obvious that portfolios are being monitored on a regular basis; for example, drawing sheets were corrected and signed by the teacher. It is recommended that this good practice be replicated across all classes. Regular monitoring of students’ work will encourage them to complete all of the drawings that they start, and to keep their work in a neat and tidy manner. Consideration should also be given to providing students with more detailed commentary on their work in this way. Students are allowed to store their drawing portfolios in school, but generally take them home prior to examinations for study and revision purposes.

 

A book loan scheme operates in the school; however, students are not issued with textbooks for the subjects. Instead, teachers tend to keep a supply of textbooks for use in their classrooms. Teachers use handouts and workbooks in lessons with the students and, in the case of examination classes, students use books of past examination papers. It was reported that there is a very limited supply of Technical Graphics/Drawing textbooks in the school library. Teachers should consider developing a Technical Graphics/Drawing library of resources to which students would have access.

 

There are no ICT facilities available in either of the workshops in which the subjects are taught. While there are two computer rooms in the school it was reported that access to these rooms is limited and further, there is no CAD software available on any of the computers in the school. Currently, the teaching of CAD within the subject area is primarily a paper-based exercise. The current level of ICT access for students of these two subjects is completely inadequate. While it is acknowledged that there are tentative plans in place to convert a store room adjacent to one of the workshops into a computer room, it is recommended that students, particularly those in examination classes, be facilitated in the interim with an improved level of ICT access in the subject. For example, consideration should be given to providing students with access to the school’s computer room to engage with computer-based graphics.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

A range of lessons was visited across both the junior and senior cycles during the inspection. All lessons visited were presented in a competent and confident manner and the purpose of each was clearly established from the outset. Students were at all times engaged in purposeful work, the content of lessons was usually linked to previous knowledge learned and was always appropriate to the ability levels of students. Lessons were well planned and the pace of each was appropriate.

 

Teacher demonstration and explanation at the blackboard and individual tuition were the major teaching strategies employed in the lessons observed. Effective use was made of the blackboard, which is so central to the teaching of Technical Graphics/Drawing. Drawings were constructed on the blackboard while being simultaneously explained verbally. At all times when the teacher was using the blackboard students’ attention was drawn to the techniques being employed; this greatly reduced the possibility of confusion arising among students later. Coloured chalk was used effectively with different coloured lines representing various stages in a drawing (e.g. construction lines, hidden lines, finished drawing lines) and this contributed to providing clarity for students. Freehand sketching was regularly used to aid students’ understanding of particular concepts. Individual tuition was given discretely where needed and the movement of teachers around the workshops at regular intervals during lessons ensured that the majority of students kept pace with the work being undertaken. Teachers could avail of the opportunity to monitor students’ portfolios and provide them with feedback on their work when circulating among students during lessons.

 

Various questioning techniques were used to reinforce student learning, including higher order, leading and probing questions. All students were given adequate time to reflect before they answered questions and were effectively affirmed for good answers given. Students were also given adequate time to ask questions. Care should be taken, however, to sometimes direct questions at individual students as opposed to the entire class group.

 

Students generally take care to produce neat technical drawings in their lessons, but it would help to regularly remind students of the importance of having the correct drawing instruments (e.g. type of pencil and compass). When assigned drawing tasks students were well able to work on their own initiative. However, it is important to instil in students, especially examination students, the importance of time management when answering questions. It is important that students would learn to develop these skills in their lessons as part of their preparation for examinations.

 

Students were assigned homework in each of the lessons observed. This usually took the form of completing a question that was started during the course of a lesson. Teachers reported that all examination classes receive homework at least once each week, while other class groups receive homework occasionally. While homework is monitored, corrected and recorded it is important that appropriate feedback on this work is given to students. A school homework policy was being drafted at the time of the inspection.

 

Extra lesson time is provided for third, fourth and fifth-year students each Monday after school for two hours. Many students avail of this extra tuition, but it assists in particular those students who are under-performing in the subject.

 

There was effective classroom management in all lessons with the result that classroom discipline was sensitively maintained, and there was an ordered and positive atmosphere. From discussions with students, they clearly enjoy studying Technical Graphics/Drawing.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

One parent-teacher meeting is devoted to each year group in the school annually. The Technical Graphics/Drawing teaching staff keep detailed records on students that comprise information on homework, examination results, behaviour and attendance and so are well positioned to give accurate feedback on student performance at these meetings. Sometimes parents make appointments to meet with teachers separate form parent-teacher meetings to discuss their sons’/daughters’ progress in the subject.

 

All non-examination junior cycle and Leaving Certificate classes in the school sit formal tests at Christmas and summer, while examination classes sit Christmas and mock examinations. In all cases reports are sent home. All Junior/Leaving Certificate examination students tend to sit the same examination papers for their mock examinations, but, while there is scope for concurrent testing to take place in the years running up to these examinations, teachers generally do not liaise with each other with regard to the compilation of in-house exams. It is recommended that, where appropriate, students sit common tests, so that all higher-level students in one year, for example, sit the same paper. This is an appropriate way of ensuring that similar standards are applied.

 

In Technical Graphics/Drawing a range of other assessment modes is implemented regularly by way of continually assessing student performance - for example, oral questioning, class tests upon completion of a particular topic and homework. Students’ drawing sheets are monitored in the case of some class groups but this information is not recorded. While acknowledging that students’ class work is monitored it is recommended that consideration be given to allocating a certain percentage (20-30%, for example) to students’ drawing portfolios when arriving at a final grade for the subject at Christmas and summer tests. This system would reward students for their work all year round and would further encourage them to keep their portfolios in good order.

 

Student learning outcomes, as evidenced for example in examination results, are appropriate to the students’ ability levels. In general, about 30-40% of Junior and Leaving Certificate students will take their subjects at higher-level each year. It was reported that management analyse the state examination results achieved in the subject areas each year and that these are made available to management at all levels and staff members,

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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 recommendations are made:

 

 

A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 


Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area1: Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

It is our opinion that this Inspection Report reflects accurately the current situation in St.Catherine’s Vocational School.

 

Observations/comments:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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