An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

  

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Elphin Community College

Elphin, County Roscommon

Roll number: 72280O

 

  

Date of inspection: 3 March 2006

Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006

 

 

Introduction

1. 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

4.1   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 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 Business Subjects

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in  materials technology (wood) & construction studies

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings

Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science

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 Elphin Community College, Co Roscommon. It presents the strengths and areas for development identified in the school and makes recommendations to build upon these strengths and areas for development. 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’ council. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Post-primary education in Elphin was first provided for through the establishment of the Bishop Hodson Grammar School in 1869. The Co. Roscommon Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) established Elphin Vocational School in 1942. During the early 1970s it was agreed to establish a system of common enrolment for both schools and to share facilities and resources. In 1998 the Board of Governors of the Bishop Hodson Grammar School withdrew from second-level education in Elphin and the Co. Roscommon VEC assumed responsibility for second-level education in the town. At this time Elphin Vocational School changed its name to Elphin Community College.

 

The school has since operated from a split campus consisting of the vocational school buildings and the Bishop Hodson Grammar School building, which is rented by the Co. Roscommon VEC. The distance between these buildings is 0.4km. The Department of Education and Science has recently granted an application for additional accommodation on the former vocational school site, which will allow the school to operate from a single campus. Elphin Community College caters not only for the town of Elphin but also for a wide catchment area. The school is the sole second-level school in its catchment area, which includes Croghan, Tulsk, Hillstreet and Ballinagare with Elphin at the centre. Adjoining catchment areas are Strokestown, Carrick-on-Shannon and Boyle. Almost all students within the school’s rural and small town catchment area attend the school. However, it was outlined during the course of the evaluation that some students travel to other schools outside of the catchment area.

 

Students of the school come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. The population of Elphin has increased marginally over recent years and is consistent with other smaller towns in the region. There are a number of new housing developments in the area and it is hoped by the Board of Management (BOM), parents council and school staff that these developments in conjunction with a single school campus will help to increase student enrolment numbers.

 

 

1. Quality of School Management

 

1.1   Characteristic spirit of the school

The over-riding characteristic spirit of the school is one of caring. It was outlined by parents, staff, students and the board of management, on a number of occasions throughout the evaluation that this is largely due to the fact that every teacher knows every student and parent. A strong sense of community has developed in Elphin Community College. This has been greatly facilitated by the small number of teaching staff and students enrolled in the school. It was expressed on a number of occasions that “we are very much like a large family”. The characteristic spirit manifests itself continually through the written statements, policies and in the interactions among the entire school community in all of its activities.

 

The findings of the evaluation show the extent to which the day-to day life of the school is influenced by its mission statement and underlying characteristic spirit. The school has a positive code of behaviour and students are encouraged to respect one another and are affirmed and rewarded for good behaviour through a merit card system.

 

1.2   School ownership and management

Elphin Community College is owned by the Co. Roscommon VEC. The school board of management is a sub-committee of the Co. Roscommon VEC. The board of the school is representative of teachers, parents of students enrolled in Elphin Community College and Co. Roscommon VEC. The board usually meets two to three times per term.

 

While members of the board have received no formal training for their role as board members, the board was given a presentation by the chief executive officer (CEO) of the VEC outlining their role, function and responsibilities/statutory obligations. Through its regular meetings, its excellent relationship with the school principal and through the delegation of duties and tasks to the in-school management team and staff, the board is ensuring that their functions and responsibilities are being fulfilled. The board sees its main role as ensuring that an appropriate education and the best standard of education is provided for each individual student in Elphin Community College.

 

While the board is not involved in the day-to-day running of the school, its members receive a principals’ report at each board meeting, which keeps them well informed about daily life in the school. A strategic plan for 2006-2010 has been developed on behalf of the board by the school staff. This plan clearly outlines the strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats facing the school over the coming years and these were clearly expressed by the board during the evaluation. One of the main challenges facing the school was operating from a split campus and the move to a single campus is seen as an opportunity that will greatly benefit the school.

 

Communication between the board of management and the school community is mainly through the principal and the local press. The principal acts as a link between the board and the parents’ council. While the board of management has a disclosure policy for parents and staff, no agreed report is issued. It is suggested that the issuing of an agreed report following meetings of the board would enhance communication between the board and the school community further. As a sub-committee of Co Roscommon VEC, the board is not the final arbiter in matters concerning the school. That role belongs to the VEC to whom the board makes recommendations. Decision-making by the board is through consensus. It is evident from the foregoing that the school’s board of management has a comprehensive understanding of the operation and strengths and the challenges facing the school.

 

Parental involvement in the school is strong and effective and the board is greatly appreciative and has commended the work of the parents’ council. The parents’ council holds meetings on a regular basis and the school principal attends each meeting. Parents have been involved in many projects over the years to support the school and its students. Recently much of the work of the parents’ council has focused on highlighting the support within the local community for a single school campus. This involved canvassing and collecting names from households within the schools catchment area. The parents’ council feels that the move to a single school campus will have a very positive impact on school life. The parents’ council sees its main role as, supporting the school to achieve the best education for the children of the locality. The parents’ council communicates with the general parent body through school circulars and through the school principal. It is the parents’ council view that communication between the school and parents is very good. In particular they mentioned the quality of parent teacher meetings and the openness and willingness of the school principal and school staff to meet during the course of the year. Parents, both on their council and as representatives on the board, declared themselves very happy with the way in which the school was managed, the level of school planning and consultation, the wide curriculum offered to students in such a small school, the quality of teaching and learning and the supports for students. They described the school as a happy, caring environment in which each individual student is known and supported.

 

1.3 In-school management

The senior in-school management team comprises the principal and deputy principal. They work closely and co-operatively together in a complementary manner. While they have specific roles and responsibilities, they consult with each other on a daily basis on matters that concern the management and operation of the school. The principal is open and willing to seek the advice and support of the deputy and indeed other staff members. It is clear that the management style favoured by them is one of consensus tempered where necessary with clear direction by the principal. The openness and willingness of the principal to listen to and engage with others transcends all interactions throughout the school. This has helped to achieve a positive, working environment for all staff members. The principal also acts to empower other staff members by delegating tasks and responsibilities to other staff members.

 

It is evident that the schedule of posts is currently meeting the needs of the school and good use is made of the experience and expertise of the personnel involved. It was outlined that the duties assigned to each post-holder is reviewed on a regular basis, through consultation and discussion, to ensure they continue to meet the changing needs of the school. The special duties teachers feel very much part of a middle-management team and are involved in the decision making process in the school and their opinions are sought by the principal and deputy principal.

 

While there is as yet no provision for formal review and evaluation of the work of post-holders, there is a sense of self-evaluation among post-holders who are responsible to senior management for their tasks. It was also noted that post-holders give a report on their work at each staff meeting. At a senior management level informal review and evaluation takes place on a regular basis as decisions are made, implemented, and their effects evaluated. In addition the school principal is engaged in a performance management and development system (PMDS) with the VEC. It is suggested that post-holders and senior management should schedule regular meetings throughout the year, on the fringes of staff meetings for example, to review and evaluate their work.

 

As well as the non-teaching duties being carried out by post-holders there are many non-teaching roles and duties carried out in the school by non-post-holders, such as the involvement in extra-curricular activities, year heads, pastoral care and the co-ordination and planning of Transition Year. The school is fortunate in having such committed members on its staff and this level of commitment is much appreciated by management, parents and students. It was outlined by a number of staff members that the openness and support they receive from the school principal encourages them to become more involved in the organisation and management of the school.

 

As there is only one class group in each year, year-heads know their students very well. Although year-heads play a key role in student discipline and monitoring of behaviour they see their role as being primarily pastoral in nature. This is facilitated by a positive code of behaviour, where students are rewarded for good behaviour through the merit card system. This is extremely helpful in the management of students both inside and outside of the classroom and has helped to build positive relationships among staff and students. Student movement and behaviour is monitored during breaks through the supervision scheme, however students who arrive very early in the morning and those who travel between the two school sites are not always supervised.

 

Effective communication and the development of good relationships in the school community are strengths of the school. The openness and willingness to communicate and consult with staff, parents, students, the local community and outside agencies provide examples of this emphasis. In the case of staff there is communication of day-to-day issues at breaks each day and through the notice board and there is formal consultation and discussion of key issues during staff meetings. Effective communication with parents is achieved through parent-teacher-meetings, the parents’ council, information evenings throughout the year, homework diary, memos and an open door policy for parents should the needs arise. The school principal meets with the student council on a regular basis to discuss issues brought forward by the student council. Through the schools involvement and links with local organisations and support groups, the community is very much aware of what is happening in Elphin Community College and the management of the school is very much aware of what is happening in the local community.

 

1.4  Management of resources

Senior in-school management decides the assignment of teachers to programmes, subjects, class levels and to learning support, special education needs and guidance based on qualification and continuity, where possible. This policy is made more difficult in a school of this size due to the small number of teaching staff and the wide curriculum offered. In the area of learning support and special educational needs the school is currently not using the full allocation of hours for this cohort of students. While it is recognised that certain factors such as the desire to offer a wide curriculum and teacher allocation impact on how these hours are used it is recommended that the school management in conjunction with the VEC should review the use which it is currently making of these specifically designated teaching resources with a view to using them fully in the areas of learning support and special educational needs as a matter of urgency. Although the post of principal is ex-quota the school principal and deputy principal are teaching some classes, in both instances the number of teaching hours is slightly above that outlined in circular 58/98. The school also has a concessionary allocation of 2 hours for the programme co-ordinator post in the school, yet the programme co-ordinator has only a reduction of 1hr 25mins on the timetable. The school is currently not using its full guidance allocation. It is recommended that the school management should ensure that the full allocation for guidance is used.

 

Teachers are encouraged and facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) courses where possible and in-school CPD courses are organised during staff days. School management also supports the membership of professional associations. The senior in-school management team also offers support and advice to all teachers and particularly to newly employed teachers, as the need arises.

 

The administrative and caretaking staff make an important and valuable contribution to the day-to-day operation of the school and this team of people is efficiently managed. The administrative and caretaking staff are also engaged in a PMDS with the VEC.

 

While some issues where identified with the building and facilities on the Bishop Hodson Grammar School site, these will be resolved by the new permanent accommodation on the vocational school site. The maintenance of the school buildings and grounds on the vocational school site is of a very good standard and creates a positive teaching and learning environment for staff and students. The caretaking staff of the school is to be highly commended in this regard.

 

At present the school uses specialist classrooms as general classrooms. While this is not an ideal situation it is necessary due to the size of the school and number of classrooms available. It is suggested that the specialist subject teachers should develop and display a policy for the management of students and appropriate rules for the use of these rooms as general classrooms. A staff room and three general classrooms, one of which is currently used as a computer room, were built to the rear of the vocational school site over a period of time from 1990-1994. While it is recognised that there are separate toilet facilities in the Bishop Hudson School site it is of particular concern to both management and staff that students and teachers must share the same toilet facilities on the vocational school site. It was outlined during the course of the evaluation that the school management is in the process of addressing this issue under the summer-works building scheme. Teachers are not classroom based except in specialist subject areas, and the learning support and resource teachers’ use any available space. This makes it more difficult to use the wall space in classrooms for students’ work and teaching and learning aids. There is no general assembly area where students can gather for whole school assemblies or at lunchtime and the corridors in the vocational school site are narrow and are not suitable for student congregation. This is of particular concern to parents, students and staff, particularly during inclement weather. At present general classrooms and the home economics room are used on these occasions.

 

General and specialist rooms are well maintained and resourced, and all subject areas receive funding as the need arises. Notwithstanding this some specialist rooms are in need of some refurbishment, in this regard the metalwork and engineering room is being upgraded and refurbished to conform to current health and safety standards.

 

There is an easy flow of students in corridors throughout the school. These are well utilised, bright, clean and contain displays of school photographs, student work, relevant posters and school notices. The vocational school site allows for a large recreational area to the rear of the school, which is currently undeveloped but which the board of management hopes to develop in the coming years. There are hard surface courts on the Bishop Hodson Grammar school site. At present the school uses the local community centre and a hall in a neighbouring townland for indoor games activities.

 

The school has invested in information and communication technology (ICT) facilities including hardware, software and networking. There is one computer room and all classrooms on the vocational school site are broadband enabled. There is one data projector and laptop in the school, which teachers can book and use as the need arises. Teachers can also bring classes to the computer room when it is available. Some teachers also use their own laptops and data projectors.

 

The board commissioned a health and safety audit of the Elphin Community College in March 2004. This report identified a number of areas where action was required and the board is in the process of addressing these issues. At present there is a health and safety officer but no safety committee has been formally established. Health and safety is seen as a priority by school management and responsibility in this area has been assigned to a special duties teacher, who is actively developing the role and brief. It is suggested that the recent joint publication by the Department of Education and Science and the State Claims Agency Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools would be a useful reference in this regard.

 

The school management is to be commended for seeking all available resources from the Department of Education and Science and from other agencies for students with special educational needs, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from minority groups. Examples of resources sought include: additional teacher concessionary allocations for special needs, special needs assistants, funding for the book rental scheme and grants under the Co. Roscommon Partnership Company school completion initiative. Some of the projects funded under the school completion initiative include: additional learning support tuition, study skills seminars, subsidy of supervised study and a number of other projects that are used to help students in the school. The school applied for and received seed capital to set up the book rental scheme and it has been operating very successfully since then. The book grant scheme for school books for needy students funds the rental costs of those students who apply for a grant under the scheme. The management and operation of this scheme are to be commended.

 

 

2. Quality of School Planning

 

The board of management is carrying out its statutory duty under the Education Act through ensuring that a school plan is developed. The school plan forms part of the standing agenda for all board meetings.

 

It is evident that Elphin Community College is actively engaged in the process of school development planning. The school planning process in Elphin Community College has evolved over the years through experience and through the advice and support of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). In the past groups of teachers worked on different school planning and policies issues, which when developed were presented to parents, staff and the board of management for consultation and comment. This led to a small number of key policies being developed and was quite time consuming. The school management and staff have built upon this experience and are now proposing to use a different model where two parents, two teachers and two student representatives will meet and develop policy documents. They intend to use policy templates and adapt them to local circumstances and contexts. This is to be commended as excellent practice. It is hoped that this will allow for a greater level of consultation at an earlier stage and hopefully reduce the timeframe involved in developing the school plan. It is also hoped that this will allow for a number of policies to be developed simultaneously. It is suggested that this will require a greater level of co-ordination on behalf of the board of management to ensure that the school ethos and characteristic spirit is maintained and protected in all policy formulation. The areas for development have been identified and prioritised to reflect those areas that the school community is most concerned about. The two areas currently being developed are subject department planning and a substance use policy. Based on the findings of this evaluation, it is recommended that the areas of learning support, curriculum review and homework should be prioritised.

 

While there is no formal school plan document, much of the work to date in relation to school planning has been included in the school’s information pack for parents, the school draft strategic plan 2006-2010 and in various other school policy documents that have been ratified by the board of management. From a review of the draft strategic plan it is clear that there is a clear vision for the school and the aims and priorities for the school have been identified through a SCOT analysis. It is suggested that all of this documentation should be gathered together to form the school plan, which can be used as a source of reference for the whole school community.

 

The implementation, monitoring and evaluation of school planning occurs on an informal basis through constant monitoring of policies and procedures by management and staff and will occur on a more formal basis when the review dates for policies have been reached. It was noted during the course of the evaluation that school planning is having an impact on school life and is enhancing the provision of education in Elphin Community College; in particular the revised code of behaviour was outlined as benefiting the school, through creating awareness and clarity around procedures.

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted the guidelines. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

 

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

3.1    Curriculum planning and organisation

The curriculum of Elphin Community College is very broad with a range of subject options in junior and senior cycle. There is also a broad range of programmes available in senior cycle. Students can opt to follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC). All students in Elphin Community College follow a three-year senior cycle, as Transition Year (TY) is compulsory.

 

The school management has responded to the needs and interests of the school community by introducing Art and Music into the junior cycle curriculum. Art is part of the timetabled curriculum for junior cycle and music is offered after school. In the strategic plan the school management has outlined a number of additions they would like to make to the curriculum in junior and senior cycle such as; the provision of Art in senior cycle, the timetabled provision of Music in junior and senior cycle and the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.

 

While most subjects and programmes are open to all students, students in receipt of learning support are unable to study French. In addition a number of students in receipt of resource hours are unable to study Technical Graphics and History in second year. While it is recognised that parents and students have given consent for such arrangements, it is recommended that all students should be facilitated in studying these subjects should they so wish and still receive learning support and resource provision. It is suggested that a more flexible approach to the timetabling of learning support and resource should be explored. It is further recommended that the school management should review what impact the wide range of subjects at junior and senior cycle and the generous allocation of teaching periods to English in third, pre-Leaving and Leaving Certificate years, Geography in pre-Leaving, Maths and Irish in pre-Leaving and Leaving Certificate years and CSPE in third year, is having on the ability of the school to use their full allocation for learning support, resource and guidance. It is recommended that a formal review of the curriculum at junior and senior cycle should be undertaken. It is suggested that the joint National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and SDPI publication, School Development Planning-Curriculum Review at Junior Cycle, would be a useful source of reference in this regard.

 

The school timetable is the means by which the school’s curriculum is organised for delivery. The timetable is influenced by the choice of subjects by students, the groups into which the optional subjects are organised, and the teaching resources allocated by the Department of Education and Science. Appropriate time allocations, as set out in the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, appropriate circulars and syllabus guidelines, are generally provided for all subjects. In this regard it is suggested that the school management review the timetabling and language requirement for LCVP students in relation to circular M06/05. The current timetabled allocation to Metalwork, Home Economics, and Materials Technology (Wood) in junior cycle should be reviewed and given the same allocation as Art and Technical Graphics. It is recommended that the school management review circular M29/95 Time in school, as the school currently has 27hrs 5mins class contact time, which is 55mins below the minimum requirement. This deficit in time must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

 

The school has co-ordinators for LCVP and TY, and the LCVP co-ordinator also fulfils the post of overall programme co-ordinator. A TY programme plan and long term planning documents for TY modules have been developed. This represents best practice for which the co-ordinators and teachers involved must take credit. The time allocation for subjects varies considerably in TY, it is recommended that the time allocation for each module or subject should be more evenly distributed. The TY programme is reviewed on an ongoing basis through student-teacher interactions and at the end of each year through student evaluation forms. It is recommended that more cross-curricular links should be developed in TY for each subject area including the core subjects of Irish, English and Maths. It is suggested that the TY teachers should be provided with opportunities to meet throughout the year, for example on the fringes of a staff meeting. The overall co-ordination of work experience and formal interviews for LCVP and TY is carried by the LCVP co-ordinator who is also the overall programme co-ordinator. The co-ordinator has recently carried out a review of the work placement modules in TY and LCVP and has identified a number of issues and is currently in the process of resolving them. This is to be commended as very good practice. It is suggested that a scheme of work for the LCVP link modules should be developed.

 

The school is responding to the needs of the local community by offering an evening adult education programme each year. The adult education programme is run twice annually and courses offered largely depend on demand. The most consistent demand has been for computer studies classes.

 

3.2    Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

Prior to entering the school prospective students are invited to the school for an open day. During the open day pupils are given an opportunity to experience some of the subjects on offer in first year. This is to be commended as it gives prospective students the opportunity to see what a second-level school is like and helps in the transition from primary to post-primary education. Upon enrolment students follow a taster programme of the optional subject until the mid-term break in first year. This allows students to make a more informed choice about the subjects they intend to study in junior cycle. It is suggested that in the context of the wide curriculum in first year and a curriculum review that the exposure to the taster subjects be fully reviewed to ensure that students are given an opportunity to make a fully informed choice. Students are not provided with an open choice of subjects but rather they must select subjects from pre-determined bands. Student mobility between optional subjects is accommodated, where possible.

 

TY is compulsory in the school and helps in the transition from junior to senior cycle. One way in which this is achieved is through the provision of taster courses in some of the optional subjects. In addition students are provided with support on subject and programme choice during their careers class. Parents of third year students are also invited to a TY information evening in May of each year.

 

TY students choose their optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate in a manner that allows for the majority of students to get their desired choices. A ‘free choice’ of subjects is offered, then collated and developed into bands so as to maximise student choice. This student centred approach is to be commended as good practice.

 

3.3    Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

In keeping with the school’s mission statement, which refers to the school enhancing self-confidence and promoting life skills, all students are encouraged to participate in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. All students are seen as an essential component in every team and activity. Some of the sporting activities available to students in the school include volleyball, gaelic football, soccer, basketball, athletics, hurling and camogie. All students have a timetabled games period in junior and senior cycle. The schools sporting teams have been very successful in local, regional and national competitions, some of the sporting successes recently include a number of national titles and regular finalists for the school’s volleyball teams and a number of successes for the schools football teams. The school uses local community sports facilities for all competitive sporting activities. It is hoped to develop the grounds of the main school site to accommodate playing pitches and hard court areas.

 

Apart from the sports area, students are involved in debating, public speaking, music and drama. The TY class group perform a play every year.

 

Co-curricular activities include educational trips in Ireland and abroad, the Gaisce awards, the green schools initiative, student enterprise awards, school magazine, participation in the St Patrick’s day parade and the Big Brother/Big Sister programme in conjunction with Foróige. TY is used to introduce many of the co-curricular activities into the curriculum of the school. The students’ council outlined during the course of the evaluation that they felt that these activities had helped to build a strong sense of unity and team spirit during TY.

 

The range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is to be highly commended as they support and enhance student learning and help students to develop personally and socially. In addition Elphin Community College is fortunate to have committed teachers who support the involvement of so many of the students in sporting and other out-of-class activities in the school.

 

The school promotes and celebrates achievement by students in many aspects of school life in the local newspapers, yearbooks and on notice boards around the school. In addition an annual prize-giving ceremony is held, where students receive awards for attendance, participation in games/sport, special merit awards and academic achievement awards. There is also a student of the year award for each year group.

 

 

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

The observations that follow on teaching and learning in the subjects evaluated (Business Studies, English, Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, and Science) are made within a whole school context. All subject departments, including those not evaluated, are strongly encouraged to make use of this section of the report in reviewing and developing their teaching and learning practices.

 

4.1 Planning and preparation

The school has identified priorities in relation to school planning and these include developing subject department planning. In September 2005, Elphin Community College began the process of planning at a subject department level to complement and enhance existing practices of individual subject planning and informal consultation. This process has been supported by the scheduling of formal meeting time for subject departments at the beginning of the school year and during staff meetings. School management is commended for this initiative.

 

There was evidence of extensive subject planning on an individual basis in all subject departments evaluated and in some subject departments teachers had pooled and combined their resources, activities and planning materials. It is recommended that this collaborative approach to subject planning should be developed in each subject area. It is suggested that each teacher should have an input into the scheme of work for each year group and into the content of the subject plan. In some instances there was evidence of monitoring and review of short term plans; this is to be commended as excellent practice as it allows teachers to reflect on how lessons could be improved or extended with future class groups. It is suggested that this practice should be extended across all subject planning documents.

 

It is suggested that where appropriate a subject co-ordinator should be appointed to co-ordinate the development of subject plans within each department. This will help to provide a greater level of structure to the subject planning process. The content of subject planning documents varied across each department. While it is recognised that subject department planning has just begun in Elphin Community College, it is suggested that all subject plans should include learning outcomes and schemes of work for all year groups, sections on methodology, teaching students with learning difficulties and special educational needs, teaching with ICT. It is also suggested that subject plans should include agenda and minutes of departmental meetings, homework and assessment policies, circulars, syllabuses, SEC Chief Examiners’ reports and marking schemes. Such subject planning will not only support the teaching and learning, but it will also support the process of school planning.

 

Teachers have developed and gathered a good variety of teaching resources, which they readily share and this is commendable practice. These include reference books, relevant publications, commercially prepared resource packs, live samples, posters, electronic presentations and educational DVDs and videos. As teachers in non-specialist subject areas are not classroom based there was an absence of a print-rich environment in some lessons observed. It is suggested that teachers should still develop posters and display more students’ work to reinforce learning and to celebrate students’ achievements. It is suggested that teachers could post such materials on a central notice board or in particular rooms.

 

4.2. Teaching and learning

All lessons evaluated had clear aims and objectives and in some lessons observed these were outlined on the whiteboard at the beginning of the lesson and in other instances a summary guide was provided to students. This is to be commended as good practice as it ensures clarity of purpose and permits students to identify the aims and scope of the lesson. Global and directed questions, including higher order questions, teacher demonstrations, student performance of practical work, use of overhead projection slides and the use of models are some examples of the methodologies used in the lessons observed. Other methodologies used included the  use of textbook as a resource, discussion, use of whiteboard, use of multimedia presentations, sue of the Internet, repetition and reinforcement of learning, independent and collaborative learning and mixed ability teaching. Examples of best practice were observed and the variety of teaching methodologies used in most lessons observed was effective and appropriate to students’ abilities, needs and interests.

 

Classroom management was very good in all lessons observed. The school’s code of behaviour was consistently maintained and implemented and an appropriately ordered learning environment was created. In some classes observed teachers moved around the classrooms and engaged with individual students, assessing their progress and assisting in the completion of classroom tasks. The classroom routines evident during all demonstration and practical lessons observed ensured that learning environments were well organised and safe.

 

Excellent rapport among teachers and students was evident and affirmation was a feature of teacher interaction with students in all lessons observed. There was a strong sense of care for the students and this was reciprocated with a high level of respect for teachers.

 

Students were purposeful, positively motivated, attentive, and engaged in their learning in most of the classes observed. Students were generally familiar with and competent in using the concepts, skills, and terms in the topics under study. Most lessons were suitable for the differentiated needs of individual students and in some instances differentiated teaching and learning resources were used for students. This is to be commended as good practice. Students’ understanding was reflected by their ability to ask and answer questions and by the competencies they exhibited while performing in-class assignments.

 

4.3 Assessment and achievement

The level, correction, annotation, and feedback of homework varied across departments. There was excellent practice in some subject areas; however, a more structured approach is needed in others. In this regard it is recommended that the work, which was halted on the school’s homework policy a number of years ago, should be restarted. It is suggested that this should form part of the agenda for subject department planning. In addition, it is suggested that within the subject planning process, consideration should be given to extending the range of strategies used to monitor student achievement.

 

Evidence of developmental feedback of an affirming and supportive nature being written on students’ assignments was noted during the evaluation. This served to highlight strength in students’ work and also to identify areas for development and it is encouraged that the practice of formative feedback to students be extended to all subject areas.

 

Other assessment modes related to subject-specific objectives, including continuous assessment, are employed in some subject areas and these are used to monitor student competence, progress, and as for diagnostic purposes. However, consideration should be given to ensuring that a range of assessment strategies is uses in all subject areas.

 

Non-examination classes sit formal house examinations at Christmas and again prior to the summer holiday. Junior and Leaving Certificate students also sit an examination at Christmas and a mock examination during the second term.

 

Class records of students’ results are kept using a teacher diary system. The quality of record keeping is of a high standard and the results of student assessments are recorded systematically. Students' attainment records are also used to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners.

 

There is regular communication between the school and students’ homes. The results of students’ achievements are communicated to parents by means of school reports following assessments and house examinations. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organised each year. Further contact with parents may be organised within school systems, for example the students' journal.

 

Effective use was being made of State examination marking schemes. Students are encouraged to take subjects at their highest level in the State examinations and decisions in this regard are taken at the latest time in the year of such examinations. It is reported that there is a school practice of analysing the results of students’ performance in State examinations. It is advised that as subject planning develops in the school that this practice be used to inform the planning process.

 

Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects and enthusiastically and willingly engaged with the inspectors during the evaluation.

 

 

5. Quality of Support for Students

 

5.1    Students with special educational needs

The school has a learning-support team with a core group of teachers and a special needs assistant. This is to be commended as it helps in building student-teacher relationships and provides a good deal of consistency for this cohort of students, and is important in order to build an effective learning support team in the school.

 

All incoming first year students take standardised tests and these, together with information gathered from primary schools, subject teachers, parents and psychological assessments are used to identify students in need of educational support. Students in receipt of learning support in Elphin Community College are timetabled for four class periods each week in first, second and third years opposite French. Students in receipt of special educational needs hours are on a reduced curriculum and are timetabled opposite Technical Graphics and History in second year. Parents are notified that in order to receive learning support students cannot study French and that they must give permission for this to happen. As a result of this a small number of students who would normally receive learning support do not receive this help. It is recommended that the learning support team in conjunction with the school management review the model of provision for learning support and special educational needs to allow for greater flexibility in timetabling and to ensure that these students have access to the same subjects as their peers. This will also assist in providing additional supports to students who have exemptions from Irish and who currently stay with the class group for Irish. It is suggested that the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) should be consulted in this regard.

 

There is no dedicated learning support and special educational needs room. Teachers and students use any available classroom. It is suggested that the facilities and resources for learning support and special educational needs should be considered in the building of the additional accommodation.

 

The learning support co-ordinator has begun the process of formalising the planning of provision for such students through the development of individual education plans (IEPs). It is suggested that these IEPs should be made available to each relevant subject teacher so that they are aware of the specific learning difficulties and targets set for each student. This will allow all teachers to adapt their teaching methods to suit these students in their specialised subject areas.

 

At present the school has no learning support policy. However the learning support co-ordinator has developed a draft policy, it is recommended that this policy should be reviewed and developed further in consultation with the school community. It is suggested that the advice and support available through the SESS website would be useful in this regard.

 

The learning support team has built good relationships with the Health Services Executive and with local organisations such as the Brothers of Charity. The learning support team has shown how the development of such links can benefit and play a positive role in the integration and inclusion of students. It was noted that parents both on the BOM and on the parents’ council commented on the positive impact learning support and special educational needs provision is having on the educational attainment of students in Elphin Community College.

 

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

Elphin Community College has an open and inclusive admissions policy which subscribes “to the principles of partnership, accountability, transparency, inclusion and respect for diversity, parental choice and equality”.

 

The school principal liaises closely with parents, feeder primary schools, outside agencies and the local community in order to enhance the educational progress of those students who are at risk of not achieving their potential. This is achieved through close liaison with relevant groups and committees in the community and outside agencies. The role the school has played in the local initiative, “Research on Needs and Wants of Young People in Elphin and Proposals for Targeted Interventions for Youth in Elphin”, which was organised through the Roscommon Partnership Company is to be highly commended as it has given the local community an opportunity to look at some of the issues impacting on the lives of students.

 

The school management and staff are to be commended for the discrete systems and structures in place in the school that support the effective participation of students who are disadvantaged.

 

5.3    Guidance

At present guidance is only timetabled in senior cycle. Students have one class period per week in each of TY and pre-Leaving Certificate years and two class periods per week in the final year of Leaving Certificate. It is suggested that the school management should explore the possibility of offering guidance support to students in junior cycle.

 

The guidance counsellor in the school is in the process of pursuing further studies in this area. Therefore counselling services are not available directly in the school. They are however available by direct contact and voluntary referral through the school to outside professionals or agencies. The guidance support in the school focuses on career guidance.

 

A comprehensive guidance scheme of work has been developed for senior cycle students, and students are provided with support and advice in researching different; career paths, aptitudes, further education opportunities, job seeking skills and interview skills and subject choices for the Leaving Certificate. Some of the work in careers classes is closely linked to the syllabus of the leaving certificate vocational programme.

 

Careers classes are timetabled in the computer room and students have access to career-related information on guidance related software and on the Internet. They also have access to college prospectuses and to careers information and there is also a careers notice board in the school. The careers teacher has also developed good links with local industries, third level institutions, professional bodies and the careers teacher invites speakers to the school on a regular basis. All students have a careers folder that is reviewed by the careers teacher on a regular basis.

 

The careers teacher has applied to attend in-service on “reviewing whole school guidance” in conjunction with the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). It is suggested that upon completion of this module of in-service it would be an opportune time to begin the process of developing a whole school policy on guidance provision.

 

5.4    Pastoral care

There is one class group in each year and each year group has a year-head. While year-heads have administrative and disciplinary duties the role of year-head is largely pastoral in nature. Year-heads meet their class groups on a daily basis as subject teachers and often for a number of class periods each day. This pastoral care structure is working effectively and students are aware that they can approach their year-heads, principal or any class teacher should the need arise. There is also a “bullying box” in the school, which is used by students to inform teachers of any issues that they have concerns about. First year students are supported in the transition from primary to post-primary through the Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring programme. TY students receive training in mentoring during the course of the year in conjunction with Foróige and each TY student is matched with a first year student whom they meet with on a regular basis.

 

The school does not have a chaplain among its teaching staff, however the Religious Education (RE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) teaching staff have attended a number of in-service courses for school chaplains. Through RE, SPHE and the wider curriculum the school promotes the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students. Students have Religious Education classes each week, and are provided with an experiential side to the religious education programme through, prayer services, annual retreats, sacramental celebrations and social justice projects. Some of the charitable activities in which students in the school have been involved include raising funds for Aware, Daisy Day, Alzheimers Day and helping out in the local day care centre. These activities have helped to provide a dimension of social concern among students in the school and it is to be highly commended.

 

Parent-teacher meetings and information evenings for parents provide opportunities for contact with parents, and it is evident that there is a high quality of home-school communication. Parents can contact the school in confidence with any concerns they may have.

 

The student council was re-established in the school at the start of the current academic year. It meets regularly and discusses issues of importance to students. It is elected annually and is representative of all year groups in the school. The student council is monitored and supported by a designated member of staff and it links to senior management through a regular meeting with the principal. Members of the student council feel they can approach the school management on any issue and that their concerns are listened to. The manner in which the student council is organised and the way in which it carries out its role is evidence of the commitment of the students to the school and of the value which management and staff place on the role of the students.

 

 

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 recommendations are made:

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

 

Subject inspection reports in English, Business Subjects, Material Technology (Wood) & Construction Studies and Science are appended to this report.

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Elphin Community College’s timetable provision for English is in line with syllabus guidelines and is particularly generous in third, Pre-Leaving, and Leaving Certificate years. Students have five classes of English a week in first and second year, they have six classes of English a week in third, Pre-Leaving, and Leaving Certificate years; and they have four classes of English a week in Transition Year (TY). The distribution on the timetable is generally good. In the case of third year students, it is suggested that the English allocation be spread over five days, rather than the current situation where students have single classes on two days and staggered double classes on two days.

       

Students of Elphin Community College have traditionally studied English in mixed ability classes, owing to small year-group and staff numbers. This situation has been particularly difficult for teachers assigned to Pre-Leaving and Leaving Certificate classes, given that some different prescribed texts are examined in the higher and ordinary level examinations. In the past year, concurrently timetabled higher and ordinary level Pre-Leaving Certificate English classes were created to help meet the needs of the two examination cohorts. This initiative is working well and school management hopes to continue providing this facility in the future.

 

Three teachers are currently involved in the delivery of English in Elphin Community College. This concentration in the delivery of the subject constitutes a favourable basis for subject provision and planning. Also, the fact that teachers generally teach junior and senior cycle English classes on a rotating basis increases the flexibility and skill-set of the school’s English department. In terms of the allocation of classes to teachers, it is recommended that school management review the workloads of the three English teachers with the aim of freeing up the English teacher who also serves as the school’s learning-support co-ordinator to utilise the full learning-support allocation to the school.

 

General resource provision for the teaching of English in Elphin Community College is good. The school makes funds available for the purchase of resources on request. In the vocational school part of the campus, there is a computer room and a TV/DVD player. An internet-enabled laptop is located in the staffroom, providing teachers with the opportunity to download resource materials to complement their teaching. Teachers can also reserve the laptop and the school’s data projector for multi-media presentations to their classes. In the grammar school part of the campus, there is TV and overhead projector. Teachers wishing to teach film in the grammar school part of the campus have to manually transport the DVD player from the vocational school campus. The study of film is an integral part of English in all syllabuses and programmes, in particular the Leaving Certificate syllabus. It is desirable that all teaching blocks of the school would have TV and VCR/DVD equipment on site and that, in time, all base rooms for English would have these facilities. As part of the subject planning process, it is suggested that the department compile a list of the equipment and/or resources that need to be purchased to meet its pedagogical needs, for the attention of school management.

 

At present, no teachers in Elphin Community College have base rooms. Although the school has been sanctioned for additional classrooms by the DES, it is not clear whether the allocation of base rooms will be possible after that accommodation is constructed.

 

Elphin Community College’s library is located in the grammar school part of the campus. It consists of two presses for storage of teacher resources (print and audio-visual) and shelves of books for student borrowing. The library stock comprises books that were donated to the school, books provided by publishers in return for bulk school purchases to service the school’s book rental scheme, and books bought from a specific library budget. The English department is conscious of the importance of promoting personal reading and individual members encourage junior cycle students to borrow books from the library. This promotion of personal reading is commended. To help extend this practice across the department, the preparation of book boxes is suggested. Texts suitable for students’ reading ages, interest and ability levels could be selected from among those currently located in the library and be brought to mainstream English classes for personal reading. (The 2001 Children’s Books Ireland/ Department of Education and Science joint publication Book Choice for Post-Primary Schools could help the selection of such material). To encourage reluctant readers, texts suitable for students with low reading ages could also be included in the bookboxes. Such a move would enable students in receipt of learning support to borrow books alongside their peers, hopefully increasing their interest in reading for pleasure. Finally, it is suggested that wherever the school library is relocated to after the consolidation of the school on a single campus, consideration be given to how that space could be turned into a motivating, print-rich environment. Commercial posters advertising books, displays of student book reviews, of student-designed book covers, of samples of students’ creative writing would reinforce teachers’ promotion of personal reading in an appealing way.

 

Teachers in Elphin Community College are encouraged and facilitated to attend professional development courses by school management. Most recently, one member of the English department attended a “Teacher as Writer” course. Other members attended “Approaches to the Teaching of Film in the English Classroom” courses. In the past, the English department availed of the services of the Teaching English Support Service (TESS) to prepare for the introduction of the new Leaving Certificate syllabus. The department is encouraged to continue using the TESS website, http://english.slss.ie/Main/. Lastly, another form of professional development that supports the teaching and learning of English in the school is the department’s informal sharing of practice. It is hoped that the establishment of the English subject department on a more formal basis will consolidate this excellent tradition of peer professional support.

 

Organising speakers to talk to students about English-related careers (for example journalism), encouraging students to submit articles to the local newspaper, preparing students to perform in school shows, organising Cinemobile screenings, taking students on trips to the theatre, and  guiding students to produce a TY magazine are among the co-curricular activities organised in Elphin Community College that support the study of English. The willingness of teachers to give of their personal time to organise and promote these activities is highly commended.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

In September 2005, Elphin Community College began the process of planning at a subject department level to complement and enhance existing practices of individual subject planning and informal consultation. This process has been supported by the scheduling of meeting time for subject departments at the beginning of the school year and during staff meetings. School management is commended for this initiative.

 

For 2005/06, the subject planning goal of the English department has been to pool and combine individual members’ resources, activities, and planning materials for junior certificate English. By the time of the evaluation, a number of topic folders had been created by the department. On examination, excellent examples of work-schemes, of writing frames, and of methodological strategies were found in those folders. The department is commended for its progress in this regard.

 

To help progress the department’s planning even further, it is recommended that a departmental co-ordinator be elected on a rotating basis. It is hoped that the arrangement the department agrees to will successfully draw on the group’s supportive team-spirit and professional expertise. Finally, it is recommended that a collective subject plan be produced by the English department over the coming years. Two important early steps in that process would be for the department to agree appropriate learning outcomes for each year group and to review the suitability of texts taught to all students in the light of their abilities, aptitudes, interests, and life experiences. The preparation of the subject plan should then be guided by the principles of thematic planning, of the integration of language and literature, and of teaching elements of all aspects of the syllabus to each year group (including TY). The completed plan should include learning outcomes and schemes of work for all year groups, sections on methodology, teaching students with learning difficulties and special educational needs, teaching with ICT, agenda and minutes of departmental meetings, homework and assessment policies, circulars, syllabuses, and SEC chief examiners’ reports and marking schemes. The formalisation, documentation, and compilation in a single file of discussions that are already ongoing is what is envisaged. Such subject planning will not only support the teaching and learning of English, but it will also support the process of school planning.

 

In relation to Elphin Community College’s existing TY plans for English and for the related courses of journalism and public speaking, it is suggested that, as part of the TY co-ordination process, the teachers involved meet to discuss curricular links that could be forged between their courses. Through such consultation and collaboration, the English-related courses of TY would increasingly function as a coherent programme supporting students’ learning of the knowledge, skills, and competencies of English. Also, when building Leaving Certificate texts into plans for English instruction in TY, teachers are reminded that such texts need to be explored “in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way it would have been treated in the two years to Leaving Certificate” (TYP: Guidelines for schools, page 6). Finally, where students are scheduled to participate in activities/trips that will necessitate them missing their regular class periods of TY English, teachers are advised to set appropriate research/reflection assignments for their students.

 

In all classes observed, the range of work planned was appropriate. Teachers provided long-term and/or short-term plans for inspection. The structured delivery and prior preparation of material (poems and accompanying questions on handouts and film clips, for example) indicated that teachers were engaging in short term planning. The best of them included evidence of review (i.e. brief reflective notes on how lessons could be improved/extended with future class groups). Given that almost all English classes in Elphin Community College are of mixed ability, it is suggested that teachers also specifically plan how they will differentiate methodologies, resources, and tasks to best meet the needs of the learners in their classes.

 

The fact that learning-support co-ordinator is one of the three posts of responsibility allocated to Elphin Community College indicates the value that the school attaches to the provision of the service. To begin the process of identifying students in need of such support, learning-support co-ordinators in feeder primary schools are consulted. [1] A reading comprehension cloze test and standardised, norm-referenced tests are then used to screen incoming first years. Students who qualify for learning support are offered this facility and their parents’/guardians’ consent is then sought. At present, learning support is offered to junior cycle students only. Withdrawal is the main method used to support these students. In terms of planning and preparation, a draft policy has been prepared. It is recommended that the policy be finalised, in consultation with the school community, at the earliest opportunity.

 

Subject teachers are made aware of individual students’ learning difficulties and support strategies are discussed at staff meetings and on an informal level. Good relationships with outside agencies such as National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Brothers of Charity, and the Health Service Executive (HSE) have been built up by the learning-support co-ordinator. One of the school’s special initiatives to support students with literacy and other learning difficulties was to run a homework club with funding from the Co. Roscommon Partnership. 

 

While whole school support for learning support is good in Elphin Community College, a number of organisational aspects of the delivery of the service could now be reviewed with beneficial effect. First, because learning support has traditionally been offered opposite French in the school’s timetable, students who choose to attend learning-support classes cannot study French. As a result, not all students who qualify for learning support avail of the facility. Hence, it is recommended that school management review the model of provision for learning support, to ensure that all students who qualify can avail of the service and still retain access to the same subjects as their peers. Second, it is recommended that school management review the workloads of the three English teachers with the aim of freeing up the learning-support co-ordinator to utilise the full learning-support allocation to the school. Third, the school has no dedicated room for learning and/or resource support. Teachers and students are forced to seek out available classrooms for their work. This is not a satisfactory situation. It is recommended that, when the additional teaching block on the vocational school campus is being designed and constructed, that such a base room be created. In such a space, a stimulating environment could be created by hanging educational posters and materials and by displaying samples of students’ work. If resources allowed, a computer(s) and printer could be housed in the room, allowing individual students to work on appropriate activities while teachers worked with other students.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

The content being taught was in line with syllabus requirements in all classes observed. There was evidence of short-term planning and lessons were structured and had clear objectives in most classes visited. Teachers’ instructions and explanations were clear and precise in almost all classes observed.

 

The resources used by the English teachers included handouts, textbooks, novels, student-generated materials, and TV/DVD players. It is encouraged that even more multi-media stimuli and concrete artefacts be utilised in the teaching of English, where feasible, to help vivify texts for the different learning styles and ability levels of students. A variety of uses of the white/blackboard was observed including setting questions or key words to help guide students’ listening to/viewing of a text, listing criteria for assessment to help groups rate self-composed slogans, recording students’ responses to questions (i.e. through mind maps and grids for juror locations), and recording homework assignments. All of these were sound educational activities and are commended. For the additional purposes of vocabulary reinforcement and of modelling how students might organise their ideas for writing tasks (through writing frames, for example), it is recommended that the white/blackboard be used in a more consistent, structured way. Such practices will equip students with an ever-expanding reserve of vocabulary, syntactical structures, and writing models. Also, the requirement that students transcribe board work into their copies will provide them with an invaluable revision aid.

 

A variety of teaching methods was observed over the course of the evaluation including questioning, pair work, group work, cross-curricular linking, and building on students’ prior knowledge and experience. All teachers used questioning to good effect to stimulate students and to structure the learning activity in their classes. In addition to checking students’ literal comprehension and knowledge, students’ critical and personal responses to texts were also elicited. Where best questioning practice was observed, teachers checked students’ understanding of the material being taught and/or the tasks being set by questioning individual students across the range of abilities. Pair and group work assignments prompted students to generate ideas (slogans for students’ self-titled water brands, for example) and to identify literary elements in texts. It was also reported that cross-curricular links are built between units of study in English and some students’ art activities. This is best practice and is highly commended. Finally, teachers helped students link texts to their own experience. For example, in one class the teacher informed students of the emotional background to the composition of a poem and then invited students’ observations on such situations before introducing the text. Similarly, the requirement that students keep response journals when reading chapters of novels for homework naturally motivated students to connect chapters with their own experiences and backgrounds.

 

Through the subject planning process, it is recommended that the English department of Elphin Community College consolidate and deepen its planning for the teaching of writing. Distributing anonymous samples of student work to encourage students to identify the strengths and areas for development in those samples, and introducing criteria for assessment to help structure such peer assessment discussions are some of the strategies the department may find useful in this regard. [2] Also, it is recommended that the English department build on the inservice all departments in the school received on mixed ability teaching in November 2005 by consulting with the Special Education Support Service (http://www.sess.ie/sess/Main/Home.htm), with the aim of consolidating and deepening its planning for and utilisation of differentiation. Lastly, consideration needs to given to integrating ICT into the teaching and learning of English on a departmental basis. For example, teachers could build cross-curricular links with Computer Studies classes by setting internet research tasks for homework and by encouraging students to type and redraft substantial pieces of writing. Elphin Community College’s English department is in the fortunate position of having in-house ICT expertise among its members to support such pedagogical experiments.

 

Very good rapport between teachers and students was evident in all the classrooms visited. Discipline was maintained by all teachers and most students were attentive. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses, integrating them orally into lessons. Most students engaged with classroom activities and were purposeful in their work. In all classes observed, there was strong evidence that students were able to orally communicate their ideas and content knowledge effectively. In a small number of classes, there was evidence that students had been assigned very few substantial writing tasks (as distinct from comprehension and recall and recognition questions) over the course of the school year. Hence, it is recommended that the teaching of writing be discussed by the entire English department as part of the subject planning process, so that in-house expertise and expectations can be shared and that a consistent campaign to improve all students’ learning in this area can be planned and implemented.

 

A display of poems prepared by first years was the only English-related poster/display  observed over the course of the evaluation. The absence of print-rich environments in English classes in Elphin Community College is understandable, given that no English teacher has his/her own base room. However, it is still recommended that teachers prepare English-related posters (key words associated with genres, key quotations from plays, and revision aids for the comparative modes for higher and ordinary Leaving Certificate levels, for example) and more displays of students’ work to reinforce learning and to celebrate students’ achievements. Teachers may wish to post such materials on a central notice board or in particular rooms (where the school library is located, for example). It is hoped that the provision of additional classrooms on the school campus will allow the allocation of base rooms to at least some of the English teachers, thus allowing them to create nurturing, motivational environments for their students over time.

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student competence and progress in Elphin Community College including oral questioning, peer assessment, written assignments, and formal examinations. Appropriate class records of students’ results are kept using a teacher diary system. In addition to recording results, it is recommended that such assessments be used as diagnostic instruments, whereby the most common grammatical, spelling, and/or organisational errors of each student are identified and lessons are prepared to help remediate those problems. Also, the department may also find the Assessment for Learning materials developed by the NCCA useful for expanding their current assessment practices.

 

Homework was being regularly set and corrected in the majority of classes visited. Teachers called out homework assignments orally at the end of the class in the majority of classes visited. For the benefit of students who are less academically inclined, and who tend not to remember homework tasks set orally, it is recommended that teachers write such assignments on their white/blackboard and allow time for students to copy down the assignment. Teachers may even wish to write homework assignments on the white/blackboard at the beginning of class, as a reminder to themselves of the task they want to set to reinforce classwork. To help ensure that homework is regularly set and incrementally increases in difficulty for different year groups, it is recommended that the English department agree its homework expectations (types of homework assignments, number of essays per year, standards of presentation in copies and so forth.) as part of the subject department planning process. Lastly, it is suggested that the department also discuss copy and/or folder systems of organisation for junior and senior cycle students, so that students will be able to easily access their notes for revision purposes at the end of both cycles.

 

Evidence was noted in a number of classes of developmental feedback being written on students’ assignments, highlighting strengths of their writing and also areas for development. This is best practice and is commended.

 

Christmas and summer examinations are held and third and sixth years also have pre-certificate examinations. Each year, the English department undertakes an analysis of the school’s Junior and Leaving Certificate English examination results and studies SEC marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports. This is best practice and is commended. The fact that one member of the department has considerable experience as an SEC Junior Certificate English examiner is of vast benefit to the department in this regard.

 

The school reports that liaison with parents is good and that parents are generally supportive. The standard formal structures for parent-teacher meetings and for reporting to parents through homework journals are in place.

 

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 English 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 Business Subjects

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

In Elphin Community College, Business Studies is an optional subject for the whole of the junior cycle. Junior cycle students have an open choice of three subjects from six optional subjects, including Art Craft & Design, Business Studies, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork, and Technical Graphics. Incoming first year students are well-supported in these subject choices by the provision of a taster module in each optional subject during the first term and discussions with teachers and parents. There is a gender imbalance in the take-up of Business Studies, as a result of the fact that this subject is pre-set opposite a practical subject that is traditionally favoured by boys. Once students decide their chosen options for the remainder of the junior cycle, there is flexibility in movement from any optional subject to another up to the end of the first term, subject to class size.

 

At senior cycle, all students take the Transition Year (TY) and following this may choose the Leaving Certificate (LC). In the context of the LC, students may also qualify for participation in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) by virtue of their optional subject choices. Business is the only senior cycle business subject that is offered to students for the senior cycle. “Ab initio” study of Business is provided for those students, who may not have taken Business Studies for the full junior cycle. This is in line with the principles of the Business syllabus. A similar level of support for subject choices is offered to students entering senior cycle as is offered to students entering junior cycle.

 

Class period provision for business subjects in all cycles is satisfactory. For junior cycle Business Studies, class period provision is three class periods per week for the first year, made up of one single period and one double period, and four class periods for each of the following years, made up of two double periods. For senior cycle Business, class period provision is five class periods per week, made up of two double class periods and one single class period. In the context of double period timetabling, it is recommended that class periods are spread evenly across the school week and that the number of individual exposure points for students is increased. The recommended increase in the number of exposure points per week could be achieved by spanning one double period in each cycle across two days.

 

Information & Communications Technology (ICT) facilities are good. The school has a well-equipped ICT room with twenty PCs. The school is broadband enabled, and the ICT facilities are networked to each classroom. In junior cycle first year students receive one class period per week in ICT. At senior cycle, TY students study for the ECDL, and remaining students have access to ICT through participation in LCVP.

 

Classrooms are student based. Current space restrictions prevent allocation of teacher-based classrooms, and plans are well advanced to develop new school accommodation. Base classrooms for business teachers create a good opportunity to develop a resource base for business subjects, as well as displaying such resources for the benefit of students. The use and integration of ICT for the teaching of business subjects could also be assisted through such teacher base rooms by availing of the existing networked broadband connections in classrooms. As teachers are not classroom based, effective displays of business resources could be developed through a news board for business news stories and or the display of student projects in business subjects. The web site of the Business Studies Teachers Association of Ireland at www.bstai.ie may prove useful in this regard. While no annual budget exists for business subjects in the school, requests for resources are generally met with a positive response, and the school is pro-active in continuing professional development particularly in relation to mixed ability teaching, as well as special education. Apart from the fact that the Business Studies syllabus has certain objectives relating to ICT, business subjects are particularly suited to the use of ICT as an aid to teaching and learning. In this context the school has developed good cross-curricular links between Business Studies and ICT.

 

Students are taught in mixed ability classes. There are good support structures in place to meet the needs of students. This was evidenced not only by sensitivity towards all students in all classes observed, but also by virtue of the fact that the school promotes and supports continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers in the area of mixed ability teaching and special education. In the context of ongoing subject planning, it is recommended that commonly used business terms and calculations are identified, and shared with learning support and resource teachers, with a view to including these terms in the extra tuition that is available to specific students in English and Mathematics. The Special Education Support Service at www.sess.ie may prove useful in this regard.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The school is engaged in school development planning (SDP). In this context there is an emerging culture for subject planning. There was a well-structured subject plan for the range of business subjects in place. Particular features of the plan were its links to whole school issues such as mission statement, and its breadth in examining teaching methodologies as well as content delivery. Monitoring the implementation of the subject plan was a feature that could be further improved on by restructuring the planning template. As subject planning continues, there is scope to ensure that the process is all-inclusive, and builds on an extended range of topics over time, especially a review of the TY business module. These topics are summarised in the recommendations section at the end of this report. Inclusive planning has the potential to facilitate the sharing of experience and expertise of colleagues in the context of SDP. Such planning would be especially beneficial not only for planning the TY business module, but also as a professional support to those who teach the Enterprise Education element of the LCVP Link Modules. The school will be well placed to explore the possibility of extending course provision to include Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, once existing space restrictions are addressed. In preparation for this the business teachers could examine what, if any, PLC courses may be appropriate to the needs of the local adult community, as many PLCs have a business related element to them.

 

There is a good approach to co-curricular activity for business subjects through TY, and LCVP work experience aspects of each programme, and the Enterprise Education elements of TY and LCVP, as well as industrial visits and the use of guest speakers on selected business topics that support and enhance learning. All students are encouraged to enter annual enterprise competitions promoted by Co. Roscommon Enterprise Board. These mini-company competitions create a natural opportunity for cross-curricular links to other subjects. Further development of co- and cross-curricular activity in both TY and LCVP could be assisted by the fact that one of the business teachers is timetabled for both business and ICT in TY, and one is timetabled for part of the LCVP Link modules. This creates unique opportunities for the team of teachers to share and explore best practice through ongoing subject planning.

 

In all lessons observed, there was evidence of lesson planning on a yearly basis, and individual lessons were linked directly to the year plans. Individual teachers have built up valuable resources, and approaches to the teaching of their subjects. It was evident that attention was being given to the need to supplement textbook material with other aids to teaching and learning such as prepared worksheets, and worked solutions. The sharing of such good practice and experience in ongoing subject planning is a natural benefit that will accrue to the team of teachers over time, thus further enhancing the culture for such planning.

Teaching and Learning

 

In all lessons observed there was an appropriate range of methodologies used to teach selected topics. The range was well suited to the needs of students. The use of a summary guide to each lesson was a particularly useful feature of all lessons, as it permitted students to identify the aims and scope of the lesson. Whole class input was used for the teaching of new content and small group or individual support was appropriately used to supplement student understanding and application of new material. Visual aids were used to complement class input, as were summary aids. Effective use was made of both the whiteboard and the overhead projector, as was use of the internet to promote self-assessment among students. There was continuity built in from lesson to lesson mainly through homework but also through ongoing assignments. The pace of lessons was suited to the needs of students, and every effort was made to support students on completion of key segments of each lesson observed.

 

Classroom management was good. Classroom layout and seating arrangements were effective in promoting student engagement in the flow of lessons observed. Lesson planning, a high level of mutual respect among teachers and students, and positive motivation among students for learning also assisted this engagement. Classroom atmospheres were positive and affirming. Students were encouraged to participate in class and were probed effectively to build on each other’s effort without undermining individual effort. Class sizes were generally small and thus enhanced student participation. An effective conversational approach to teaching was adopted. This allowed effective management of planned activities, and created an overall positive learning environment. Progress in completing planned lessons was achieved through affirmation of student effort and engagement of students in the flow of the lessons observed. Overall classes were well managed and atmospheres were conducive to good learning environments.

 

It was a feature of all classes observed that students were the focal point of teachers. Affirmation was a feature of teacher interaction with students, while the teachers acted as leader learners in a safe learning environment. Students were encouraged to explore their own knowledge in the context of structured lessons. There was a strong sense of care for the student and this was reciprocated with a high level of respect for teachers.

 

Students were generally willing to participate in the flow of lessons observed, and displayed a good ability to apply course material not only to the real world but also to the requirements of the State examinations. Teachers adopted a balanced approach to their subject by using age and interest appropriate examples, while giving practical advice in preparation for the State examinations.

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

The school was developing a whole school policy for homework, in line with existing practice. An examination of a sample of student copies highlighted good practice in this regard. The students’ journal was central to the recording and was used as a means of monitoring of homework with parents expected to sign the journal at least once per week. Class teachers may also use the journal as a means of communicating with parents. Linked to a high level of homework, with associated annotation and comment of an affirming and supportive nature, was a significant level of continuous assessment. Homework and assessments, examined, highlighted a good blend of activity relevant to the structure of the State examination papers. Effective use was made of State examination marking schemes, and there was a high level of record keeping of student progress in teacher journals. As the school completes work on the whole school policy on homework and assessment, the business teachers could formalise existing practice in homework and assessment and link it to future whole school policy. The Assessment for Learning Project (AfL) on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website www.ncca.ie may prove useful in this regard.

 

Students are encouraged to take business subjects at their highest level in the State examinations and decisions in this regard are taken at the latest time in the year of such examinations. This is good practice and is in line with business syllabuses.

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

 

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 business subjects 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  materials technology (wood) & construction studies

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) are offered as junior and senior cycle optional subjects respectively in this co-educational community college. In the current school year there are MTW class groups in each year group in junior cycle and CS class groups in each of fifth and sixth years. Senior cycle students study CS as part of a combination of optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Transition Year (TY) students also study a MTW/CS module as part of their programme and a description of this module may be found in the school's TY programme document.

 

MTW is offered as part of a taster programme of optional subjects to first year students during the first half term and students make their final optional subject choices at the end of the taster period. Some movement of students between optional subjects continues to be accommodated prior to Christmas. A system of optional subject banding based on students' choices is operated when students enter senior cycle. The principal, deputy principal and subject teachers are centrally involved in ensuring that students and parents make informed decisions related to subject choices and the first and fifth year systems operated in the school are designed to facilitate students' needs and interests, within resourcing constraints, and are commended.

 

While it is recognised that the school provides opportunities for girls to study MTW and CS by providing taster courses and an open choice in first year and senior cycle respectively, it is noteworthy that the level of take-up of MTW and CS by girls in relatively low. Only one girl in junior cycle is currently studying MTW while two senior girls study CS, but TY girls study the MTW/CS module as part of their programme.

 

Second and third year MTW classes are allocated two double class periods per week and this is appropriate for the subject. The inclusion of double class periods is an essential part of the allocation for MTW as these allow practical and project work to be more easily accommodated. Three class periods per week, consisting of a double and single class period, are allocated during and following the taster programme in first year. This allocation is not appropriate and should be increased to four periods per week in order to ensure that adequate time is available for teacher and students to complete the Junior Certificate syllabus.

 

CS is allocated five periods in fifth and sixth years. This allocation includes two double and one single class periods and allows adequate time for both practical work and theory to be accommodated and is appropriate for the subject. TY students are allocated a triple class period per week during their MTW/CS module.

 

The school has one MTW/CS room that is used for all MTW and CS lessons. The room is well appointed, equipped, maintained and decorated and is suitable for the delivery of the MTW and CS programmes. General issues related to health and safety are adequately addressed in the room and this is commended. Dust extraction is currently provided by a mobile extraction unit that may be connected to the major machines in the room. A smaller extraction unit is positioned underneath a work surface positioned at the rear of the room and caters for the smaller machines located there. While these mobile extraction units appear to be working relatively well it is recommended that an application be made to the Department of Education & Science, under the terms of circular letter M45/01, Wood Dust Extraction in Second Level Schools, for the provision of an appropriate dust extraction system that will serve all machinery in the room.

 

A store room adjoins the MTW/Cs room. This room, originally a bicycle shed, provides a limited amount of storage space and is used as a timber and tool store. However, no heating is provided and the room is poorly insulated, making it unsuitable for the storage of timber products, students' projects and woodworking tools. It is recommended that measures to address these deficiencies be undertaken as soon as practicable in order to ensure that the space provided may adequately serve the purpose for which it is intended.

 

Access to a laptop computer and multi-media projector for use in the MTW/CS room and also to the school's computer room, where all computers are equipped with Autocad drawing software, is provided when required. This is a commendable arrangement.

 

There is an obvious emphasis on safety awareness and practice in the MTW/CS room. Adequate Health and safety issues are addressed at appropriate times during lessons, personal protection equipment is provided, wall charts related to a variety of safety issues are prominently displayed and procedures for dealing with accidents in the MTW/CS room are in place. The MTW/CS room is cited in the school's health and safety statement and there is a nominated health and safety co-ordinator in the school. The emphasis on safety procedures and practices is commended.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The school is engaged in ongoing development planning and a formal subject department structure is in place and operating effectively with the express purpose of enhancing teaching and learning in the school. This is commended.

 

A comprehensive subject plan for MTW and CS has been developed in the school and this is commended. This plan includes programmes of work for each subject and for each year group and all are in line with curricular requirements and being implemented. The plan also refers to learning outcomes, the use of IT in the subjects, resources, provision for differentiation, development of the subjects in the school, among other issues. Comprehensive subject planning documentation that included references to topics to be covered, timing of lessons within the scheme, time allocated to practical and project work, textbook use, assessment strategies and times of assessments was presented. This level of planning is commended.

 

MTW and CS students sit examinations at the level appropriate to their abilities. The MTW and CS, learning-support and resource staff collaborate when planning for students with special educational needs and arrangements to cater for the differentiated needs of students in the subjects are commended. A Special Needs Assistant (SNA) is assigned to a student in the school and accompanies the student to all lessons. This arrangement appears to be working effectively.

 

An annual budget for the school is provided by the Vocational Education Committee. The budget provision for the subjects falls within this overall allocation and is designed to cover the cost of materials and items of equipment identified. Requests for additional resources can be also be made to the principal. This arrangement appears to work well in the school.

 

There have not been any opportunities for in-career development in the subjects in recent years but self-directed continuing professional development, especially in the area of IT, has been availed of. This level of commitment is commended.

 

Extra-curricular and cross-curricular planning also feature in the school. Strong links between teachers of MTW/CS and Metalwork/Engineering, Mathematics, Science, Geography and Home Economics have been identified and developed as have links between teachers of TY and LCVP. The MTW/CS teacher is also involved in other aspects of school life outside his subject teaching involvement and this is commended.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

The school’s behaviour code was maintained and implemented in all lessons evaluated and an appropriately ordered learning environment was created and maintained in all lessons evaluated. All learning activities were very well managed and students were motivated and challenged by them. All lessons were coherent, had clear aims and objectives and the structure for each lesson was outlined on the whiteboard in the classroom prior to the commencement of the lesson. Lessons were appropriately paced to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses. Homework featured in all lessons and this helped to ensure continuity with previous and future lessons. Lessons were suitable for the time of year and took account of the differentiated needs of individual students. This is commended as good practice.

 

The teacher employed appropriate methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. During practical lessons in MTW and CS for example, teacher demonstrations of a high standard were observed. Such demonstrations form an extremely important part of both practical and theory MTW and CS lessons as they allow students to observe the teacher modelling the proper execution of woodworking and construction procedures, processes and skills. Formal demonstrations to whole class groups and individual students together with impromptu demonstrations to highlight salient points were used. This is commended as excellent practice.

 

Students in Junior Certificate MTW classes were engaged in the realisation stages of project work for State examination purposes. The process of analysing the design brief, researching possible solutions, deciding on a final design solution and completing a scale model of the final design solution had already been completed by each student. Project work was being excellently managed and all the practices associated with the design-and-make process undertaken in the school are commended.

 

Leaving Certificate project work was also under way with a variety of wood craft projects being undertaken for examination purposes. Students engage in project work in an area of their choice and, together with woodcraft projects, building craft, architectural heritage and environmental science projects have also been undertaken in previous years. When possible, a variety of project work from these different areas should be undertaken in order to ensure that all students are exposed to the processes involved in completing project work from a variety of different project areas.

 

Classroom routines were evidenced during all lessons observed. These are particularly important in specialist rooms and when practical lessons are being undertaken as they serve to ensure that the learning environment is well organised, managed and safe during activities. These practices are highly commended.

 

Although textbooks are used for MTW and CS theory these were not heavily relied upon during lessons observed. A wide variety of resources has been identified and/or developed and is used effectively to complement texts, for reference purposes, to supplement lesson content, and for homework assignments. This approach is highly commended.

 

The technological terminology associated with MTW and CS was used continually by the teacher during lessons and students communicated effectively using this terminology. Familiarity with and appropriate use of this terminology is an important part of the technological process and the approach adopted in the school is commended.

 

Global and directed questions, including higher order questions, were used effectively to revise material covered in previous lessons, to introduce new topics, to direct student attention and to summarise at the end of lessons.

 

Multi-media presentations of a very high standard were used very effectively during lessons to focus student attention and to support their learning. This practice is highly commended.

 

The wood and construction technology principles demonstrated during practical and theory lessons were presented incrementally, with the teacher scaffolding student development in the topics covered during lessons. This occurred during both theory and practical lessons and constitutes excellent practice.

 

Stimulus materials related to wood and construction technology topics were prominently displayed in the MTW/CS room for use at appropriate times during lessons. Use of these materials promotes development of students’ thinking from concrete materials, to three-dimensional models, to pictorial representations, and through to the abstract representation of the material or concept. This is an essential part of the teaching and learning process in MTW and CS and is therefore, highly commended.

 

The teacher moved easily around the classrooms and engaged with individual students, assessing their progress in the completion of classroom tasks. This is an essential aspect of MTW and CS practical and theory lessons. This teacher-student interaction also helped to ensure that individual students remained engaged with lesson activities and afforded teachers the opportunity to offer assistance to individuals when required. This is commended as very good practice.

 

The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions during lessons. This understanding was also evident in the competencies exhibited in students’ individual and group work during practical lessons. Efforts should continually be made however, to further enhance standards of students' practical skills.

 

Facilitating students' engagement in a large number of different individually designed projects every year presents a challenge for teachers and the excellent organisation, safe conduct and management of all practical activities and project work in MTW and CS in Elphin Community College is highly commended

 

The quality of students’ written and drawn classwork was of a standard consistent with the range of abilities in the classes observed and was commendable. The content of junior and senior cycle student notebooks and portfolios in MTW and CS was appropriate to the year group and the syllabus. Freehand and ruled drawings were of a standard that displayed a mastery of the knowledge and competencies associated with a wide variety of syllabus topics and were commendable. Efforts should continually be made however, to enhance standards of freehand and ruled drawings made by students in their notebooks or at the drawing board in order to emphasise the importance of these forms of technological communication.

 

Ample opportunities for students to engage in independent and collaborative learning were built into the lessons evaluated and this is commendable.

 

An excellent rapport based on mutual respect between students and the teacher was evident. This promoted an atmosphere where students appeared secure in the knowledge that their contributions to and participation in lessons were being encouraged and welcomed. Students readily engaged with all classroom activities and their purposeful work and contributions were appropriately affirmed. This ensured that students derived maximum benefit from all proceedings. As a result, students in all classes evaluated were enthusiastic, motivated, displayed their understanding of the concepts associated with lessons and worked to the best of their abilities in an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Non-examination classes sit formal house examinations at Christmas and again prior to the summer holiday. Junior and Leaving Certificate students also sit an examination at Christmas and a mock examination during the second term. These examinations are employed to monitor student attainment in MTW and CS and to inform teacher planning.

 

A range of other assessment modes related to subject-specific objectives is also employed routinely. Practical, project, written and drawn classwork is routinely assessed, commented on, graded and recorded. Homework is also assigned. However, a more structured approach to the setting, correcting, grading and recording of homework in MTW and CS should be undertaken.

 

The quality of record keeping of student attendance and the results of student assessments are recorded systematically. Students' attainment records are also used to identify trends in students' achievement and to address the needs of individual learners. This practice is commended.

 

The results of students’ achievements are communicated to parents by means of school reports. Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organised each year and this allows parents to meet subject teachers and discuss students' progress. Further contact with parents may be organised within school systems, for example the students' journal, or through direct contact with parents, should the need arise.

 

Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm and curiosity for the subjects during the inspection and their skills and knowledge levels, relative to age, ability, and class level were appropriate and all students enthusiastically and willingly engaged with the inspector during the evaluation.

 

An analysis of the schools Junior and Leaving Certificate examination results is undertaken each year and this analysis informs school planning in the subject area.

 

Summary of Main Findings

 

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

 

 

Recommendations

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The science subjects in the school are Junior Certificate Science, Leaving Certificate Biology, and Leaving Certificate Physics and Chemistry. There is good support for the study of Science at junior cycle as it is a core subject. The uptake of Biology is generally good but there is generally little demand for Physics and Chemistry. It is noted that the school is considering the introduction of Agricultural Science at senior cycle. In progressing curricular review the school should include consideration of the effects that subject choices may have on students’ future educational and career aspirations.

 

All classes are of mixed ability. The school endeavours to ensure that classes retain the same science teacher throughout junior cycle. This supports continuity of students’ learning and is commended.

 

The school offers the Transition Year programme. All students follow this programme. Science is a component of the programme and students’ exposure to Science means that they are enabled to make more informed choices when choosing their senior cycle subjects. This is commended.

 

The school offers valuable support to students in pursuing their senior cycle programmes and subjects. Career-guidance counselling is made available both to support students in their senior cycle subject choices and throughout senior cycle. Information sessions are held for parents on the Transition Year programme and information is sent home on both the Transition Year programme and the Leaving Certificate (Established).

 

Analysis of the total time allocation for Science shows that it consists of four class periods weekly and this is appropriate. The allocation includes one double class period per week and this is wholly appropriate as it facilitates student performance of practical activities. The school operates on a dual campus split site. This means that some in-class time for teaching and learning is lost in moving from one site to another. Careful timetabling should reduce the amount of movement of teachers and students between the two sites. It is noted that the school aspires to a single campus location.

 

There is one laboratory with an adjoining preparation room in the school. These facilities were viewed during the inspection. The laboratory and preparation room were generally well organised and good work had been done in organising an alphabetical system for the storage of chemicals. It is encouraged that this good work be built on by developing the storage system for chemicals according to chemical group, oxidising, flammable, toxic, corrosive etc. Further information on chemical storage and laboratory safety may be accessed at http://chemistry.slss.ie/ch_safetydocs.html. Appropriate safety equipment such as first aid kit, fire extinguisher, fire blanket, and safety glasses is available in the laboratory. Regular review of laboratory safety to assure best safety practices and fulfilment of Department of Education and Science recommendations is advised. Some issues with plumbing in the laboratory were raised by the school. It is noted that the school is working to progress these issues.

 

The school has a “merit card” system that acknowledges and rewards positive student behaviour. This is good practice. It is noted that the science teachers use this “merit card” system and this is commended.

 

While a formal budget is not allocated to the science department there is good satisfaction with the level of provision when resources are requested. Good practice in the management of resources is evidenced by the fact that there is a stocktaking system in place.

 

There is a good level of awareness among the science department of the special educational needs of individual students. The science department differentiates class work according to students’ needs. This is done, in the main, through use of worksheets/handouts and choice of texts. It is encouraged that this good work be developed by increased liaison between the school’s learning support team and the science department to share strategies and methodologies for meeting students’ specific learning needs. It is noted that the school intends to develop individual education plans (IEPs) within subject areas and this work is encouraged. Further support and advice may be accessed through the Special Education Support Service (SESS), http://www.sess.ie.

 

The school has a computer room and teachers may bring students there for whole-class teaching. Students may access the computer room for project work. Staff has access to computer facilities in the staff room. The science faculty has a positive attitude to the integration and use of ICT in supporting teaching and learning. There are plans to acquire a laptop and data projector that will facilitate in-class work with science students. Broadband internet access is enabled in the school and it is encouraged that the potential that this offers to enhance students’ learning experiences be exploited. Advice on the use and integration of ICT may be accessed through the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), http://www.ncte.ie, and through the network of local education centres and the assigned ICT advisers.

 

There is good support for teachers’ continuing professional development. This is evidenced by the fact that all science teachers have been facilitated in attending the relevant Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) in-service education courses. Additionally, all relevant information on subject-specific continuing professional development that arrives to the school is given to the appropriate teachers. Whole-staff professional development takes place at least once each year.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The school is engaged in school development planning (SDP) and has availed of support through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Policies have been developed in some key areas and this is acknowledged. Work has begun to focus on subject planning. This is at an early stage of development. Thus, teachers have, to date, undertaken planning for the teaching of Science on an individual basis. Extensive individual teacher planning documentation was viewed. This documentation was well considered and dealt with syllabus aims, student skills to be developed, planning for experiments, homework, assessment, planning for students with special educational needs, and resources. This beneficial work is commended. It is encouraged that in building on teachers’ good work in individual planning that collaborative subject planning continues to develop. Ongoing development and consideration of teaching methodologies and consequent assessment modes and frequency should be included within the process. Where there are a small number of teachers in a subject faculty the school should consider how planning could be aided by sharing the experience, knowledge and skills of teachers in similar subject areas. The school has considered the possibility of including aspects of subject planning as part of staff meetings and such practice is encouraged.

 

It is noted that some students following the Transition Year programme did not study Science at junior cycle. This means that careful planning for students’ learning is necessary to ensure that the needs of all students are met. Advice for activities and learning in Science during the Transition Year programme may be accessed through the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), http://www.slss.ie, or at the education portal http://www.scoilnet.ie.

 

A high level of teacher planning in the lessons evaluated was noted. It is commendable that students were engaged in practical activities during both single and double class periods and this evidences the extensive planning and preparation undertaken by the science staff. All lessons were appropriate to the syllabus and all materials were appropriate and had been prepared in advance. A high level of teacher preparation was also evidenced in the subject matter expertise shown during lessons.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

The topics under study in the lessons observed included the heart and chemical indicators.

 

Very high standards of teaching and learning were observed in all lessons.

 

The methodologies in use included global and directed questioning, teacher demonstration, student performance of practical work, use of overhead projection slides, use of models, use of textbook as a resource, discussion, use of whiteboard, and repetition and reinforcement of learning. All methodologies were used effectively.

 

Student performance of practical work was observed in all lessons observed and this is reflective of the hands-on investigative nature of the syllabus. It was performed safely and there was an appropriate emphasis placed on safety by the science staff. Appropriate directions were given and students were efficiently organised in their groups. Students worked well in their groups. Teacher circulation among students as they worked was a notable feature of the lessons observed. Advice and guidance was given to students where it was required and students’ work was encouraged and affirmed. Good scientific practice was noted where students were encouraged to observe as they worked. Encouraging students to note briefly their observations could further develop this good practice.

 

Repetition and reinforcement of learning was a notable feature of the lessons observed. Students were made aware of the key learning points and these remained the focus of the lesson with their reinforcement a priority for all students. It was noted that repetition at times included use of a multi-sensory approach such as visually following the path of blood through the body on a diagram, verbally describing the path of blood, and manually tracing the path of blood with a finger. A multi-sensory approach is good practice as it facilitates a variety of student learning styles.

 

There was very good student-teacher rapport in the lessons observed. This was evidenced by the manner in which students and the science staff interacted throughout the lessons. All students were encouraged in their work and afforded opportunities to participate in the class activities observed. In all lessons students were attentive and engaged in their learning.

 

There was excellent use of affirmation in all lessons observed. Students’ answers and efforts were acknowledged and affirmed. This resulted in a positive, secure learning environment.

 

Some scientific posters and equipment were on display in the laboratory. This is good practice as it creates an atmosphere of a scientific learning space. It was noted that there is some scope for display of students’ work. This is to be encouraged as it can aid student motivation, provide valuable learning resources, and enhance the scientific atmosphere in the laboratory.

 

Observation of students’ responses to questions posed during the lessons observed and interaction between the inspector and students showed that students had generally good levels of knowledge and understanding in the topics under study.

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Formally, there is regular assessment of students with reports sent home periodically. This is appropriate. Additionally, parents are advised of students’ progress during parent-teacher meetings. Communication between the school and home is further facilitated through memos and letters to parents and the issuing of the school calendar annually. A student journal system is in operation and this beneficially supports communication between the school and home. There are appropriate checking systems in place to support the use of the journals. Regular communication between the school and home is good practice and is commended.

 

The main modes of assessment used in science classes are oral questioning, homework, formal tests once a term, and worksheets on topics studied. Feedback to students by teachers while they perform practical work and monitoring of the write-up of the practical work are the primary methods used in assessing student practical work. Within the subject planning process, consideration should be given to extending the range of strategies used that give credit for student performance of practical work.

 

Students are advised by their teachers in deciding the level at which to take subjects for the State examinations. This advice is based on teachers’ monitoring of students’ progress in class and the results of mock and end-of-term examinations. This is appropriate.

 

It was noted in Science that homework is regularly corrected. Examination of a sample of student work showed evidence of comments affirming students’ work. It is encouraged that the practice of formative feedback to students be extended. Advice on formative feedback in Science may be accessed through the JSSS, http://www.juniorscience.ie, and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, (NCCA), http://www.ncca.ie.

 

It is reported that there is a school practice of analysing the results of students’ performance in State examinations. It is advised that as subject planning develops in the school that this practice be used to inform the planning process. Cognisance should also be taken of relevant marking schema, chief examiners’ reports, and examination papers during the subject planning process.

 

There is good support by teachers for students’ participation in extra-curricular and co-curricular science-related activities. Among the activities, students have been active in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Green School Project, visits to chemical companies, Tidy Towns competition, and creation of a school garden. Teachers’ commitment and support for students in these activities is acknowledged and commended.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management welcomes the inspection report and members wish to express their satisfaction at the manner in which the whole school evaluation was carried out. We have found the whole experience to be very beneficial. It provided an opportunity for the entire school community to be involved - students, teachers, staff, parents and the Board of Management. We are pleased to see the report reflects positively on the school and provides affirmation of good practice in the school. Among its findings the following areas are highlighted:

We would like to thank the inspectors very much for their time and effort both for preparing the report and for their helpfulness and consideration in dealing with all involved in the process.

 

 

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

 

We are delighted to report that since the whole school evaluation was carried out, Elphin Community College has finally secured sufficient funding from the Department of Education to provide a single campus. This will allow us to implement recommendations. It will be of enormous benefit for the overall running and management of the school. We have also sought additional resources from the VEC in order to enable us to implement the remaining recommendations. The board of management, in co-operation with the principal and staff of the school, will work to continually develop and enhance the standards of the school. The WSE report will be invaluable in this regard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Learning support consists of both literacy and numeracy support. This report will only treat of literacy support in Elphin Community College. The WSE report treats of the school’s comprehensive learning and resource support service.

[2] Possible sources for such samples of student work include the Leaving Certificate exemplars of standard, the 2005 Chief Examiners’ Report on Leaving Certificate English, and saved samples of previous classes’ work.