Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Castlecomer Community School
Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny
Roll number: 91360T
Date of inspection: 3 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Whole School Evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Castlecomer Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and 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.
Castlecomer Community School is an amalgamation of two schools: the Vocational School, established in 1930 and the Presentation School established in 1937. The community school was established in 1987 and was located on the present site in 1990. The two bodies, County Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and the Presentation Order now constitute the trustees of the school and are represented on the board of management. The school serves the catchment area of north Kilkenny. Over the past few years the student population has increased slightly from 633 in 2002 to 663 in 2005.
The mission statement of Castlecomer Community School states the following: Our school is a community of learning in an environment of respect and commitment. All who live in our area are welcome to participate in our learning experience in an atmosphere of concern and openness. The school is true to its mission statement which is realised through the inclusiveness and equality of access to all students and the operation of the school’s pastoral care system. Board of management members, parents and student council members expressed the opinion that Castlecomer Community School is caring and inclusive and that any problems that arose in the school were dealt with rapidly and effectively.
The board of management comprises three trustee nominees of the VEC, three trustee nominees of the Presentation sisters, two parents’ representatives and two teachers’ representatives. The principal acts as secretary to the board and the deputy principal attends meetings as the recording secretary. The current board is in the second year of its three-year term of office.
The board meets approximately every five or six weeks. An agenda is sent to members in advance of each meeting and minutes are recorded and circulated at the start of the subsequent meeting. The board of management does not currently agree reports of its meetings for circulation to staff and the parents’ council. It is recommended that the board of management present agreed reports from each board meeting as a means of communicating with parents and staff. Such good practice will ensure that these groups are fully informed of relevant issues.
The board discusses and ratifies all polices before their implementation in the school. Items concerning school maintenance and health and safety issues are also discussed at board level. The board supports teachers in their continuing professional development by sanctioning funding. For example, it recently sanctioned funding for teachers to participate in the Teaching and Learning in the twenty-first century (TL21) project, which is run by the National University of Ireland Maynooth. Such support by the board is to be commended.
Although the school principal provides a report on the work of the school at each board of management meeting there was evidence that not all members of the board are fully aware of some of the current practices within their school. Nor are they fully aware of the full extent of their legislative duties. Furthermore, the board of management tends to delegate considerable responsibilities to the principal. It is therefore recommended that the board should take a more proactive role in the management of the school particularly in the following areas: the long-term development of Castlecomer Community School; the development and distribution of the school plan; and curriculum issues. The ongoing staffing issues such as the over-supply of teachers in some subject areas and the need for more language teachers should be of particular concern to the board.
Castlecomer Community School parents’ council was established in the mid 1980s. The principal and deputy principal attend the parents’ council meetings. The council has collaborated on a number of policies over recent years and was particularly involved in the drafting of the substance use policy. This collaboration is to be commended. The parents’ council has fundraised for a number of projects, including the provision of canteen facilities. More recently the council has taken responsibility for the selling of the school uniform and has invited guest speakers to address parents on issues such as suicide and drugs. The parents’ council indicated a number of issues pertaining to the curriculum that were of concern to them: the lack of Physical Education for fifth and sixth-year students; the desirability of having another modern European language available on the curriculum.
Senior management in the school consists of the principal and deputy principal. There was evidence of a good relationship between both members of senior management. Their duties are assigned according to their particular skills and talents.
The principal was appointed in May 2005. His role includes development of collaboration among staff, co-ordination of day-to-day discipline in conjunction with the assistant principals, co-ordination of middle management, working with the learning-support team and auditing resources. The principal has a definite on-the-ground presence. However, some of his duties are also assigned to year heads and other assistant principals; for example, daily issues relating to the management of students. It is recommended that the principal becomes less involved in such day-to-day issues and focuses on providing management and leadership in bringing forward the strategic development of the school.
The role of the deputy principal includes policy development and organisation of supervision. He also deals with other issues including applications for the summer work scheme and emergency work.
A review of management duties and structures undertaken in 1999 outlined the list of duties associated with each of the senior management team members. These duties no longer fully reflect current personnel and practices. It is therefore recommended that senior management review and re-define their respective roles particularly in the context of the strategic development of the school.
Middle management consists of nine assistant principals and one programme co-ordinator. Assistant principals’ responsibilities include: year head duties, home-school-community-liaison and monitoring of absenteeism, state examinations duties, liaison for school development planning and school accounts. The assistant principals’ roles and responsibilities as documented and as presented in the course of the evaluation were considered to be equitable in terms of associated workload. A weekly management meeting is timetabled for assistant principals and senior management which is good practice. Middle management post-holders reported that they felt part of the management structure of the school and had a real input into management issues. This is to be commended.
The school has thirteen special-duties teachers whose roles are varied and include three assistant year heads, staff mentor and press liaison person, special-needs co-ordinator, head of Information Technology (IT) and teacher in charge of lateness and detention.
The review of duties and structures in 1999 also proposed a list of duties associated with different posts of responsibility. Since then the needs of the school have changed and some of the posts need to be updated to reflect the changing needs of the school. Senior management is aware of this and plans to review the posts in the near future, which is to be encouraged.
The relationship between management and staff is characterised by mutual respect and collegiality. Staff meetings are held regularly. A unique feature of the meetings is that the positions of chairperson and secretary are rotated among the teaching staff on a voluntary basis. There are good lines of communication between staff and management in the school.
Likewise there is good communication between school and home. The school and parents use a journal known as the green book as a regular means of communication. Teachers record students’ behaviour and assessment while parents use the book to inform the school about absences and sign it to acknowledge teachers’ comments. The school keeps parents well-informed about a range of relevant school issues through regular letters home. Further communication could be facilitated with parents and the wider community through the development of a school website.
The school’s code of behaviour, ratified in 2003, places emphasis on positive behaviour and acknowledges that all students have responsibilities. Each student and parent is requested to complete an annual student contract of good behaviour. A reward scheme has been introduced for good entries in the students’ green book. Students are rewarded with certificates and small prizes such as key rings, cinema passes, shop passes and mobile phone credit vouchers. The appropriateness of some of these rewards is questionable. In addition, the format of the code of behaviour is not reader friendly and the procedures for detention, suspension and expulsion are not clearly defined. It is recommended that a review of the code of behaviour should take place which addresses the reward system, the format of the code and the procedures for detention, suspension and expulsion.
The year head is responsible for monitoring the overall progress of the students including their academic progress and general behaviour. Individual teachers volunteer for the role of class tutor for each of the junior cycle classes. Both the year head and class tutor monitor entries in student journals and liaise closely with each other on both pastoral care and discipline issues. There is a clear ladder of referral for discipline involving the class tutors, year head and principal and, where necessary, the core pastoral care team.
Students in Castlecomer Community School presented as being positive towards their school. Attendance is monitored daily by the year heads and the home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) teacher. A list of absentees and a daily percentage absenteeism rate are posted daily in the staffroom. Student attendance has improved in recent years and is satisfactory. Consideration could be given to a system of informing parents when a student is approaching the twenty-day limit for absences.
Punctuality is monitored on a daily basis in the school. Students who arrive late to the school or to class receive an entry in their green book. It was reported that students who receive nine late entries are suspended which is a serious sanction to impose. Alternative sanctions which might address this issue on a more responsive and effective basis should be considered.
A mentoring system is in place for newly appointed teachers. This system provides support for new teachers and offers them guidance on the operation of the school. To further enhance the mentoring system it is recommended that a resource pack be prepared for new teachers that should include school policies and general information regarding school discipline and other relevant procedures. A good system is in place where teachers complete a form detailing work to be covered during class and for homework in the event of a planned absence from class.
The school has an allocation of 47.66 whole-time equivalent teachers. Teaching staff are generally deployed appropriately in line with their subject speciality. However, some subject areas such as Business Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) have an oversupply of teachers. This has resulted in the formation of small class groups in some disciplines. For example, even though there are eighteen year two LCA students taking Graphics and Construction Studies as a specialism, these students are divided into two class groupings. Such an oversupply within some teaching disciplines has resulted in difficulties in providing for greater balance across subject areas in the curriculum and for more equitable distribution of staffing across the range of subjects. It is recommended that this issue be reviewed constantly to ensure that the needs of students in terms of subject provision are best provided for.
Management is to be commended for facilitating staff to attend inservice in relevant subject areas. Funding is made available by the school for the payment of membership of subject associations which is good practice. The school has also supported teachers who participate in further studies in their subject areas.
The school is well resourced in terms of specialist rooms and equipment and it is well maintained. However, the absence of a school library is an issue that should be addressed. Through fundraising the school has opened a well-run and efficient canteen which is used by the majority of students. The school is also well resourced in terms of audio-visual equipment. There are two computer rooms and broadband is now available in all classrooms. The school also has a number of laptops and data projectors that are retained centrally for use in classrooms. It was reported that it can be difficult to access the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities. Consideration should be given to the preparation of a programme for the ongoing maintenance and upgrading of ICT facilities in the school.
Each subject department has an annual budget. In general, requests for ongoing funding in subject areas are granted and larger requests are tabled at board of management meetings.
There is a comprehensive range of sporting facilities in the school including a gymnasium, two football pitches, a floodlit running track, two basketball courts and two tennis courts. The school’s facilities are used for after-school sports and are made available to local clubs. This is to be commended.
In general, teachers are classroom-based and many teachers display materials relevant to their subjects on their classroom walls. The school corridors are decorated with various photographs of student achievement in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities and with some displays of students’ artwork.
The health and safety statement, prepared in October 2002, is now due for review. The school has been recently approved for capital grant aid under the Summer Works Scheme to upgrade bus parking facilities at the school entrance and for the Emergency Works grant for replacement of all light fittings. Consideration should be given to introducing signage on all entry points to the school and signage stating that all visitors should report to reception.
A formal process of school development planning commenced in Castlecomer Community School in 1998. During this phase of planning committees were set up and worked on a range of policies. There was limited evidence presented of whole school planning in the subsequent period 2000 to 2005.
The deputy principal has been instrumental in the drafting of the school policies that have been developed. These draft policies are then examined by sub-committees before being presented for ratification. Policies referred to the board for ratification to date include: the admissions policy, the code of behaviour, the homework policy and the anti-bullying policy. The development of a draft substance use policy where all school partners collaborated is an example of good practice. Other recently developed policies, including the special needs policy and the guidance plan, should now be finalised for ratification by the board of management.
The principal has been instrumental in the recent regeneration of subject planning in the school and has introduced a major change of approach to such planning. This is because of the involvement of some teachers in the TL21 project. This project aims to help teachers to develop innovative and active teaching methods that promote higher-quality and more engaged learning among school students. As a direct consequence of its involvement, the school has introduced its own project called Self-Service In-Service where teachers share best practice in teaching and learning methodologies and develop strategies for implementation among all members of the subject department. Staff members have collaborated and developed subject strategies for first-year classes which were reported to be very successful and it is expected that they will collaborate to develop subject strategies for subsequent year groupings. Such good practice is highly commended and in some subject areas has encouraged staff to begin the development of common subject plans.
Recently, the school has invited a member of the school development planning initiative (SDPI) to address staff. Section 21 of the Education Act (1998) requires boards of management to make arrangements for the preparation of a school plan in consultation with relevant partners which should be regularly reviewed and updated. It is recommended that the school community engages in the preparation of a school plan as a matter of priority to support the strategic development of Castlecomer Community School.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the principal has initiated steps to inform staff about the legal requirements regarding child protection guidelines. It is recommended that the board of management and staff develop, adopt and implement 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). A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Castlecomer Community School currently offers the Junior Certificate programme, the Transition Year programme (TY), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA), the established Leaving Certificate programme and Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. The school operates a forty-five period week which meets the requirements of circular M29/95 Time in School.
The school operates mixed-ability classes at junior cycle for most subjects, except for some banding in Mathematics and Irish. Students are streamed in fifth year for core subjects. The school creates small class groups in certain circumstances to support students. For example, in first year, four mixed-ability class groups are formed. However, students are divided into six classes for Mathematics. In LCA year one, two vocational specialisms are run concurrently to facilitate additional choice. On occasion, small classes have been provided to allow for students to receive their chosen subjects at senior cycle.
Transition Year is seen an integral part of the school curriculum. It is an optional year and students must apply for entry to the programme. Consideration should be given to expanding the intake into the programme to ensure that every student who applies is given an opportunity to benefit from the year. The programme comprises a combination of year-long and half-year or term modules. The TY programme follows the suggested format of the Department of Education and Science guidelines. Additional opportunities provided for TY students include participation in the President’s award, work experience, and educational trips both in Ireland and abroad. Although the TY co-ordinator encourages teachers to review their programmes annually some aspects of the overall programme (specifically English where it was found that there is overlap between modules) should be reviewed as a matter of priority. Students also evaluate the programme yearly which is commendable practice. The co-ordination of TY is commended.
The LCA programme was introduced in 1996 and was offered for three years. It was re-introduced in 2004 to meet the needs of the students. It was reported that it has been difficult to attract students to the programme and currently there are more boys than girls taking LCA. It is recommended that a review of the LCA programme provided by the school be undertaken annually in order to ensure that it is meeting the needs of its particular cohort of students.
LCVP is a popular option among students with the ratio between those taking Leaving Certificate established and those taking LCVP being 30:70. However, the programme provided by the school is not fully compliant with circular M6/05 as not all students doing LCVP are taking the mandatory modern European language component. It is strongly recommended, therefore, that this issue be addressed as a matter of urgency for the current and subsequent cohorts of students. The LCVP plan includes aims, objectives and class organisation. Consideration should be given to developing some elements of the programme, specifically planning for students with special educational needs and cross-curricular planning.
The school offers two PLC courses, a secretarial and a childcare course. The new childcare course has proved popular and was originally introduced as it was recognised that there was a demand for the course in the local community. It was reported that on completion of these courses most adults continue on to further studies or employment. There is no dedicated classroom specifically allocated to students attending these courses. Consideration should be given to providing such facilities and an office. The school is considering the introduction of night classes as a means of reflecting its community status in further providing for the needs of the local community. This is to be commended.
A comprehensive enrolment procedure ensures that incoming first-year students are well supported in making the transition from primary schools in the catchment area to Castlecomer Community School. For example, parents are invited to an information evening about subjects. All junior cycle students study core subjects as required as well as Science, French, Physical Education, Religious Education, and a half-year programme in each of choir and computers. Additionally, first-year students choose two optional subjects from Business Studies, Home Economics, Music, Technical Graphics, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork and Art.
At the end of junior cycle students must choose between entering Transition Year, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. An information evening is convened for parents about programme choice. Students are given advice and information by subject teachers, the guidance counsellor and the relevant programme co-ordinators before making their choice which is appropriate practice. Students are initially given a free choice of the subjects they wish to study for their Leaving Certificate. This information is used to arrange the subjects into option blocks so that first choices can be met in as many cases as possible.
The school offers Physical Education to junior cycle students and as a half-year module in Transition Year. However, fifth and sixth-year students do not have Physical Education despite a statement in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/05 that it should form part of the curriculum. There is a generous time allocation of six class periods per week assigned to the core subjects of Irish English and Mathematics and to some optional subjects. It is recommended that consideration be given to a re-evaluation of the number of classes allocated to subjects in senior cycle so that subjects such as PE can be given a formal allocation. In addition management should consider the introduction onto the curriculum of a second European language to broaden students’ choice in the school.
The school is to be commended for offering students a diverse range of co-curricular and extra- curricular activities. The commitment of staff in providing this range of activities is commended. There is a high level of participation among students in such activities. Student participation in such activities is affirmed and encouraged through the awarding of certificates and a special sporting awards night is arranged for presentation of awards.
A wide range of sporting activities such as hurling, camogie, volleyball, football, badminton, basketball, athletics and golf is offered by the school. The school produces a musical every second year. In addition there is a variety of co-curricular activities on offer, for example: debating; quizzes; solo singing competitions; fundraising; choral festivals; céilí; and involvement in the Young Scientist Exhibition. The school has arranged educational trips abroad.
The Self-Service In-Service project has provided several opportunities for subject department meetings. Some subject groups also meet informally throughout the year. It is envisaged by management that the collaborative work fostered among subject teachers should continue, but on a more self-motivated basis, within each department.
A voluntary subject co-ordinator has been appointed for each subject area. It is recommended that the good practice of regularly rotating this role be extended to all subject departments. In general, subject teams have made good progress to date in subject planning and such collaboration is commendable. Some of the outcomes of subject planning include the production of common schemes of work, agreed core textbooks, common teaching strategies for first years and co-ordinated organisation of examinations. However, this was not the case in all subjects inspected. Some subject departments have developed the collaborative planning process, as exemplified by the comprehensive planning of the Science department.
It is recommended that each subject department continue to build on the work achieved in the past year in order to refine and streamline its plans. This will facilitate further dialogue around the subject area and sharing of good practice. The subject plans should be developed to include aims and objectives, the development of common learning outcomes for each year group, cross-curricular links, resources for mixed-ability teaching, measures for meeting special education needs and homework and assessment policies. Annual self-review and evaluation of the plans are also important to ensure that they are fully implemented.
It is further recommended that all subject departments agree a long-term strategic plan for their subject; for example concentrating on: the place of that subject within the curriculum of the school, the uptake of the subject at junior and senior cycle, the integration of the subject into all programmes and the co-operative development and the building up of a central bank of resources over time.
In many cases, the planning process for individual lessons involved the production of supplementary resource material such as handouts, work sheets, overheads, and ICT programmes. This is good practice as it provides a variety of learning methodologies for students.
Lessons were generally well structured and their content and pace were appropriate to the needs and abilities of the students. However, in some small number of lessons, the pace observed was too slow and did not progress in a clear direction. Best practice was observed when the teachers shared the purpose of the lesson with each class.
Lessons were managed in a supportive manner. Students’ contributions and questions were welcomed and addressed as part of the lesson. There was good affirmation of students’ efforts. Questioning was used to engage students, to gauge comprehension and to consolidate new learning. However, there were some instances where higher-order questioning strategies could have been used and students could have been encouraged to develop each other’s answers.
The teaching methodologies used were, in general, appropriate to the subject being taught and these were varied during most lessons. In language lessons, the target language was used, although this good practice should be extended to student as well as teacher contributions.
There was clear evidence of differentiated teaching in some subject areas inspected and this is to be commended. There is potential for this approach to be extended to all subject areas. This would advance the involvement and achievement of all students, including those with special educational needs, while also accommodating different learning styles.
In some of the lessons observed, use of a range of resources such as the textbook, handouts, DVD, ICT and overheads proved effective in enhancing the stimulus for learning and maintaining students’ focus on the lesson content. However, there was potential for the expansion of this approach. In some classrooms visited there was good use of display material, including some samples of students’ work, on the walls. However, the physical environment in other rooms could be greatly improved so as to surround students by a more print-rich environment. Visual resources can be particularly effective in enhancing the students’ interest in the subject and can also be used intermittently during lessons as learning aids.
Learning strategies varied between lessons and subjects inspected. Best practice was observed in those lessons where students were actively engaged in their lessons. Examples of good practice included practical activities undertaken during Science lessons which supported the development of students’ understanding and skills and pair and group work which were used in some English, French and History lessons to involve the students in their own learning. Where active learning methodologies were applied a good atmosphere prevailed and the students were enthusiastic about their learning. In some lessons, however, students were not asked to apply what they were being taught and it was not always clear if the purpose of the lesson was achieved. In general, students demonstrated an interest in their lessons and were mostly confident and articulate. However, in some circumstances students were apprehensive in communicating their knowledge and in answering questions put to them. In practical subjects, students were seen to be at ease in completing tasks assigned to them. Students were generally attentive, well behaved, co-operated with their teachers and had a positive attitude.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways including questioning, the allocation and correction of homework, class tests and formal school examinations. In addition, other appropriate assessments pertaining to particular subjects are in use. For example, in the Science subjects student laboratory notebooks are monitored and assessed for completion of their records of practical investigations; in French there is an aural component in some student tests. These are examples of good practice and are to be encouraged.
Inspection of students’ work showed that homework is regularly assigned. In History there was evidence of differentiation in the setting and correcting of homework to reflect the mixed-ability nature of the classes and this is particularly commended. In some classes there was evidence that work was regularly corrected with the addition of annotated comments in areas where students need to improve. The use of such formative assessment methods in monitoring student work is best practice and it is recommended that this be continued and extended to all class groups and to all subject areas.
Formal school examinations are held at Christmas and summer for the non-examination classes while third and sixth-years sit “mock” examinations early in the second term. The “mock” examinations are generally sourced externally but corrected internally. Some subject departments administer common assessments in the formal school examinations. Where applied, this practice is commended as it ensures accountability and consistency while also facilitating a collaborative approach to the teaching of the subject. It is recommended that this be introduced in all subject areas whenever appropriate.
Teachers record the outcomes of all tests in their diaries which is good practice. Parents are kept well informed of students’ on-going progress through annual parent-teacher meetings, entries of ‘class-test’ results into the students’ journal (green book) and formal school reports twice a year. Evening study is provided for examination classes and there is an after-school homework club.
Attention is given to advising students about levels to be taken in the state examinations and this is good practice. While in some subjects inspected the proportion of students taking higher and ordinary-level is appropriate, in other subject areas there is potential for review of the number of students taking higher level. It is recommended that all subject departments evaluate annually the uptake of levels and results to inform planning for the subject.
Students with special educational needs (SEN) are well supported in Castlecomer Community School. The school is in receipt of 92.69 resource teaching hours and is allocated two and a half Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). The learning-support department is fortunate in having experienced and resourceful teachers. During some staff meetings the co-ordinator of learning support makes a presentation to staff regarding teaching and learning strategies for students with special educational needs. This is good practice. The school has provided good facilities for assisting students with SEN or who are in need of learning support. There is a dedicated resource room which has two computers with broadband access, a printer and scanner.
Students are identified for extra support in a number of ways including referral from primary schools, parental information and through the incoming first-year assessment tests. There is good liaison between the school and parents of students who are in receipt of support. A special needs policy has been drafted. It is recommended that this policy be finalised in consultation with all partners and ratified for the next school year. Consideration should be given to appending a copy of the consent form that is given to parents.
Learning support and support for students with SEN is provided in a variety of ways, such as withdrawal of students for extra support, the creation of small class groupings and team teaching. Thirty-seven students are registered as having exemptions from Irish. In general, these students receive extra support during Irish classes. Education Plans (EPs), for students receiving support, set clear learning targets which are regularly reviewed and updated. Currently, the EPs are not made available to all teachers who teach these students. Consideration should be given to finding a means of sharing appropriate information from the EPs with relevant teachers. This will ensure that each class teacher is fully aware of the needs and methods that are appropriate for specific students who are in receipt of extra support. Furthermore, it will ensure that an integrated approach is used in the education of all students.
The school provides for a small number of students from the travelling and international communities. It was reported that these students have integrated well into the life of the school.
A homework club is facilitated at lunchtime twice weekly for first-year students. There is also after-school study provided for third and sixth-year students which takes places four evenings per week. Furthermore, the school, through its involvement with Castlecomer District Community Development (CDCD), runs an after-school homework club for students from first and second-year who are at risk of early school leaving.
Castlecomer Community School has an allocation of twenty-eight hours for guidance and counselling. The school has one full-time guidance counsellor who meets the needs of senior cycle students, and one part-time teacher who provides six hours of guidance to junior cycle. On occasion the guidance and counselling service has been extended to adults who are following the PLC courses in the school. The school also engages the services of an outside counsellor. The plans to subdivide the guidance office into two areas, one to provide access for students to research career materials and another as a meeting room and office, should be actively pursued.
The draft plan for the provision of guidance and counselling outlines the educational, vocational and personal support for each year group. It is intended that this will be distributed to all relevant parties for further development. Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9(c) should support work in this area.
The LCA class receives one timetabled guidance period per week. Formal provision for guidance is made for fifth-year students on a modular basis of three class periods over an eight-week span. There is no formal provision of guidance on the timetable for TY and sixth-year students. Instead the guidance counsellor borrows classes from other subjects for guidance lessons on a needs basis.
The school is not in receipt of a home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) coordinator allocation. However, the school has allocated an assistant principal to this area as part of the duties assigned in order to support certain students. The school receives funding from CDCD to provide the equivalent of 0.5 of a teacher allocation. This facilitates home visits and the development of links between the school and CDCD. In addition there is liaison with parents of students who participate in the CDCD homework club. Detailed records of home visits are kept and minutes of meetings are provided. As circumstances pertaining to home visits are often sensitive, management should always be made aware of out-of-school HSL activities. A weekly journal or plan is recommended in this regard.
There is a clear and well-organised pastoral care structure in operation in Castlecomer Community School. All teachers are involved in the provision of pastoral care, especially class tutors, year heads, assistant year heads and the pastoral care team. This team consists of a guidance counsellor, the home-school-liaison teacher, the learning-support co-ordinator, another learning-support teacher and the chaplain. The core team meets weekly to discuss the pastoral care and learning-support needs of students and is currently working on the formulation of a policy.
Class tutors liaise with the year head and other members of the pastoral care team as necessary. The tutors teach their particular class group Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for one class period per week and also teach the class a core subject. This is good practice. The role of year head is clearly defined. Year heads have both a discipline and pastoral role and make contact with parents as appropriate. The commitment of year heads to their year groups is commended.
The principal sometimes assigns individual teachers to mentor students on a one-to-one basis if necessary. A further mentoring programme involves fifth-year students providing support to first years. Students must apply to become mentors and successful applicants are trained in leadership skills. The mentors help first-year students to make the transition from primary to secondary school and can help to identify students with specific problems. These initiatives are commended.
The school has an allocation of one chaplain who fulfils a number of important roles throughout the year and works on areas such as the organisation of all major liturgical services, retreats, senior mentoring, Rainbows Programme (which will begin in September 2006) and counselling. In addition to providing chaplaincy services the chaplain teaches some religion classes. A graduation mass is held annually for sixth-year students. A policy on chaplaincy and Religious Education has been drafted and is being prepared for ratification.
Established in 2000, the student council is elected annually, meets regularly and discusses issues of importance to the student body which it represents. A liaison teacher attends all meetings and the principal also meets the council regularly. The student council has collaborated on the development of certain school policies such as the anti-smoking policy, the code of discipline and the substance use policy. The council reported that it has a real voice in the college and that many of its requests have been granted by management. For example, the request for the provision of extra dustbins to be placed in corridors to reduce litter was granted. Currently, the student council is developing a memorial garden and it has identified the introduction of a prefect system at senior cycle as a future priority. The council has developed links with a number of outside agencies such as Ossory Youth Forum and Comhairle na nÓg. The work of the student council is commended.
The school hosts a number of awards nights to recognise student achievement. The student of the year is nominated by students in the school. A sports night is arranged to acknowledge sporting success and a Transition Year graduation night is also arranged.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Seven teachers are currently teaching English in Castlecomer Community School. In general, English teachers retain the same classes from year to year within appropriate cycles. All English classes are mixed ability in junior cycle and in Transition Year (TY). Students are streamed in fifth year for core subjects on the basis of a meeting between English, Irish and Mathematics teachers. Generally there are three higher-level and one ordinary-level class groups in fifth year. Students sometimes move classes in order to change levels at the beginning of sixth year and so all English teachers agree to follow a similar programme in fifth year which is good practice. All English class periods are concurrently timetabled in sixth year to facilitate any changing of level which may occur. The teaching of English levels is generally rotated among English teachers with ultimate discretion lying with the principal which is good practice.
Students are involved in a range of co and extra-curricular activities pertaining to English including local library and theatre visits, and involvement in the Writer in Residence programme. Transition Year students have one class period a week of debating as part of European Studies which is a good cross-curricular link with English. Third-year students go on an annual trip to Stratford-on-Avon. The college produces a musical every second year. Many English teachers are involved in the TL21 project run by NUI Maynooth which originated in the belief that traditional teaching methods may not best serve the needs of students in today’s society and which aims to help teachers in a co-operative way to develop new approaches to teaching. Teachers’ facilitation of and involvement in these activities is commended.
Generally teachers have their own base classroom. These rooms are very well equipped with televisions and DVD players and all teachers have a resource area in their classrooms. In addition, there is an annual budget of €300 for English.
There is no school library in the school which is to be regretted. In an effort to promote reading in the school some teachers have small class-based libraries, some teachers bring their students to the local town library to borrow books and the library liaises with the school to inform it of competitions and activities organised by the library. There is a Reading Week in the school organised to coincide with the M.S. Readathon when first, second and Transition Year students are permitted to read for the first class period each day. Many teachers require students to write book reviews. Some teachers provide reading classes for their students. It is recommended that these classes be restructured so that all students are reading the same novel and so that students learn simultaneously about plot and character development rather than reading silently in class. It was reported that there is a range of books in storage in the school and it is therefore recommended that book boxes be organised in the school and distributed to classrooms as a form of mobile library system so that students can borrow books from these boxes on a regular basis. A reading list could also be distributed to each year group to promote reading.
Computer rooms are available in the school. ICT is used by some teachers, particularly in TY but its use should be extended in all year groups to enhance teaching and learning. The fact that many teachers are now availing of ICT training in the school should help in this regard.
Teachers are facilitated to attend inservice and this year the school has introduced a commendable project: Self-Service In-Service; where the teachers share teaching and learning methodologies. The learning-support teacher also gives presentations to staff on students with learning needs and strategies for dealing with these needs in the classrooms. This emphasis on continuous professional development provided in-house and externally is applauded. There is good whole- school provision and support for English in the school.
There is a co-ordinator of English in the school. This is a voluntary post and the present co-ordinator has been in the position for a number of years. It is recommended that the co-ordination of English be rotated among all English teachers after a certain timeframe. There is a tradition of subject department meetings being facilitated at the beginning and end of the school year. These meetings are generally for the purpose of discussing textbooks and arrangements for student placement into class groupings. There was evidence of good co-operative work among the English department. Good practice is seen in that a record of what occurred at these meetings is kept. However, the fact that limited progress has been made on a recommendation made in a previous English inspection report about developing a long-term plan for English is to be regretted. Lack of time, fear that creativity and individuality might be lost through subject planning and uncertainty about what the plan should contain were cited as reasons for not progressing this recommendation.
In the current school year management has facilitated a number of planning days. These days have primarily been based around the sharing of teaching methodologies on a whole-school basis which is a good innovation. The school has also received inservice on school development planning. As a result English teachers are working towards agreed teaching strategies for first- year students. Teachers have also compiled a list of resources for English and now agree on what texts to teach in fifth year. In addition, common core textbooks have been agreed. Teachers are commended for introducing these strategies, some of which were recommended in the last inspection report in English. While this work is commended it is still recommended that English teachers also agree a common long-term plan for English to include: common learning outcomes for each year group to achieve, possible suitable texts for each year group and common assessment methods. The plan should allow flexibility for each teacher to choose certain texts as appropriate to their class. The development of the plan will facilitate further dialogue and debate about English and the sharing of good practice and, in addition, there will be a common record available of what to teach in each year if there were to be a change of personnel in the English department. It is recommended that the standardised practice of all first-year teachers teaching at least one novel and covering a range of poems and short stories be introduced with immediate effect.
The TY programme for English is planned on a modular basis and is commended for bridging the gap between junior and senior cycle English. There is some overlap between the two English modules. For example, there is an element of film studies and creative writing in both modules. It is recommended that the TY English programme be revisited so that there is no overlap between the two modules and so that opportunities for students to learn other genres, for example formal study of a novel, are not lost. This recommendation was also made in the last English report.
Good practice was evidenced when students were required to have a dictionary or thesaurus with them in class. Presently, students study a novel and play across second and third year. All Junior Certificate students study a Shakespearean play and teachers have discretion as to which novel they will choose with their students. Sometimes, third year becomes a revision year as the bulk of material is covered in second year. It is therefore recommended, as was the case in the last report, that a second novel or play be introduced in third year in order to give students a broader experience of English and to promote enjoyment of the subject. There is too great a difference in standard between the content of the core textbooks used in first and second year. Given the mixed-ability classes and the different needs of students, all teachers are encouraged to supplement the content of these textbooks as appropriate with other material to cater for their classes needs and to introduce variety of material. Some teachers are already doing this and have prepared very good resources for this purpose. Film is used to consolidate teaching of texts among many class groups which is good practice, but teachers should avoid the temptation to promote film as text over the written word. The texts chosen for Leaving Certificate are appropriate.
Resources used in lessons observed included textbooks, props, handouts, DVD, blackboard/whiteboard and examination papers. Some teachers access excellent resources from websites.
In all cases the teachers shared the purpose of the lesson with their class group. In most cases classes were well structured. When classes were well structured the pace of the lessons was appropriate and teachers introduced variety into their lessons. In this way there was not too much teacher talk. There was clear progression and direction in these lessons and it was clear that the purpose of the lesson was achieved and there were definite learning outcomes.
Best practice was seen when students were actively engaged in their lessons rather than being passive observers. In these lessons students engaged well with their teachers and were involved in their own learning. As a result a good atmosphere was evident in these lessons and students were enthusiastic about their learning. It was reported that music and song are sometimes used to teach poetry and to introduce students to certain themes which is good practice.
Pair and group work were very well used in some lessons so that the teachers became facilitators of learning. In these cases, the teachers set appropriate specific tasks which focused students. The teachers moved swiftly between tasks so that learning progressed in an appropriate manner. Instructions were very clear in these lessons. It was clear that a number of class groups were used to working in this co-operative manner. Learning was particularly evident in these lessons. Where teachers were openly enthusiastic about their subject matter the students responded with equal enthusiasm.
There was very good integration of the teaching of language and literature in some lessons. For example, students had been invited to write a letter from the point of view of a character in a play and to write a newspaper article based on events in a play. This is very good practice as it provides for teaching a number of aspects of the course simultaneously as well as allowing students to write from a certain point of view and to capture the emotions of characters studied. In addition, these teachers also created links between the texts being studied and the present day in order for students to be more aware of the setting and context of the texts and to be able to empathise more clearly with characters. Creative modelling was also used in some lessons so that students were shown how to model writing in a sensational manner, for example. There was evidence that most recommendations made in the previous inspection report around learning and teaching had been implemented.
However, in some lessons the pace was too slow. Where this was the case, lessons became repetitious and did not progress in a clear direction. When students were not asked to apply what they were being taught by being given a definite task or being invited to discuss what they were doing it was not always clear what the final outcome of the lesson was or if the purpose of the lesson had been achieved. In addition, when students were not involved in the lessons the atmosphere tended to be unstimulating.
In all lessons the teachers’ language was appropriate. In addition, good efforts were always made to include all students in the lesson. This was seen when teachers asked individuals questions as well as asking questions of the entire class group. However, there were many instances when students were not pushed to develop answers made to questions or to justify certain responses in order to develop higher-order thinking skills.
There was clear evidence of differentiated teaching when teachers moved around the classrooms and helped individual students in a discreet way as appropriate. When planning for ordinary-level groups it is recommended that students are not confused by being asked to study too many different genres during the course of one week.
There was a lack of a print-rich environment in many of the classrooms which is regrettable. In a small number of classrooms there were key word posters and other displays on the walls. Students benefit from a print-rich environment and from seeing their work on display on the walls and therefore, as in the last report, it is recommended that students be surrounded by such an environment in their classrooms.
There were no classroom management issues in any lessons. Most students showed a good understanding of their course work when questioned by the inspector which suggests good evidence of learning.
It was reported that the school evaluates results against national norms which is good practice and one which should inform all teachers. Given the student context, there is an appropriate proportion of students presently taking higher and ordinary-level English in the school and it was reported that students are encouraged to take higher level where at all possible. However, the balance between the number of students taking higher and ordinary-level in state examinations should be constantly kept under review as there is some evidence that the number of students taking ordinary level is rising. Attainment levels in state examinations varied widely over the last number of years. Good practice is seen in that rarely does a student take foundation-level English in the school.
All classes, except examination classes, sit examinations at Christmas and again in the summer. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations early in the second term which are externally sourced but internally marked. In addition, frequent class-based tests are given. Teachers record the outcomes of these tests in their diaries which is good practice. Common assessment tests are not set for English examinations despite a recommendation to this effect in the last English report. This is regrettable as it helps to ensure accountability, consistency and should ease the workload of teachers. It is therefore recommended that common end-of-term assessments be introduced where appropriate.
In most class groups there was evidence of appropriate work being covered and good practice was seen in that most teachers demanded that a different copy be used for different aspects of the course. Good practice was also seen where students used hardback copies for their English work. In these cases student work was particularly well maintained. In addition, the use of plastic folders for students to store their resources is commendable as all students took particular pride in these folders. Many copies also contained good notes on topics covered. This is good practice, especially for students of lower ability, in order to reinforce learning. These good practices could all be adopted as part of an overall assessment policy in the English plan.
There was evidence that students’ work was frequently corrected. The practice of students correcting each other’s work in relation to small tasks was good as students learn from each other and are quicker to spot each other’s mistakes. However, it is important that regular larger pieces of work, for example essays, are also given. A common homework policy for English could be agreed so that teachers agree on appropriate amounts of homework for each class group. It is recommended, as was the case in the previous report, that teachers annotate students’ work with comments on areas where they need to improve. There was evidence of this in some but not in all lessons. The fact that teachers have received inservice on Assessment for Learning should have helped in this regard. The use of discrete criteria when marking Leaving Certificate work is good practice.
Evening study is provided for examination classes. A parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group in the school. In addition, the Green Book is a good communication mechanism between school and home.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the 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.
French is a core subject until the end of junior cycle in Castlecomer Community School and is the only modern European language taught in the school with the exception of a Spanish module in the Transition Year programme.
There is good provision for French on the school timetable, with the allocation of time at both junior and senior cycle in line with syllabus guidelines. However, classes at senior cycle are timetabled for two double periods and one or two single periods per week. It is recommended, given the benefits for students of regular contact with the target language, that consideration be given to finding ways in which French might be timetabled for single periods at regular intervals throughout the week.
Students are taught French in mixed-ability groups throughout the school. Some concern was expressed by teachers at the practice of having mixed-ability groupings at senior cycle. It is suggested that teachers of French might work together as a subject department to explore ways in which teaching can be differentiated in order to best meet the needs of all the students in the group. This could include creating a bank of differentiated exercises for individual or group work during a lesson. Guidance and support in the general area of mixed-ability teaching should be sought from the second-level support services.
There are four teachers of French in the school. Teachers reported having availed of all inservice training provided by the Department of Education and Science (DES). Some teachers are members of the French Teachers’ Association (FTA) and have attended inservice and seminars provided by the association. This is to be commended. It was also reported that the school has a group membership of the FTA.
The teachers of French in Castlecomer Community School have their own classrooms. These were decorated with maps, posters and postcards of France. Samples of students’ work were displayed on the walls. In some classrooms furniture and equipment were labelled in French and charts containing verbs and key expressions for simple classroom discourse were displayed on the walls. This is highly commendable as the provision of a print-rich environment is a means of consolidating learning and imbibing the students with aspects of French life and culture. While most classrooms maintained traditional seating arrangements, there was one example of a classroom where the rearranged seating provided students with the opportunity to easily attend to whole class teaching or group work as appropriate. Dictionaries were made available in this classroom on each grouping of tables. This is to be commended as it fosters in students an awareness of resources for learning that are easily accessible. It is suggested that, where appropriate, consideration be given to reviewing the seating arrangements in other rooms so as to best facilitate student engagement in different activities during the lesson.
A good range of resources is available to support the teaching of French in the school. Classrooms are wired for broadband and teachers reported using ICT with several class groups. Access to the computer room is on a booking basis. However, it was stated that access to the computer room is constrained by the use of the room for other classes including PLC classes taking place in the school.
Castlecomer Community School reported strong involvement in co-curricular activities. Castlecomer is twinned with Penvénan in northern Brittany. The school has been involved in exchanges with Penvénan since 2001. School trips to Paris have also been arranged for the students. Performances by French theatre groups for schools have been organised for both junior and senior cycle students, all of whom were reported to have both enjoyed and benefited from the experience. The school has also participated in a quiz organised in the past by the Alliance Française. Teachers reported that they are currently planning a French breakfast for junior cycle students. The teachers’ commitment to and involvement in co-curricular activities is to be commended as strong co-curricular support enhances both the learning and enjoyment of the language and ensures that French maintains a high profile within the school.
A significant number of students do not continue the study of French to Leaving Certificate. This is of concern given that a modern European language is an entry requirement for many of the third level institutions. It is recommended that, in the interests of opening up as broad a range of career options as possible to students, consideration be given to actively encouraging students to continue the study of French to Leaving Certificate level.
There is a significant disparity between the numbers of students reported to be taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the number of students studying French. Given that French is currently the only language taught in senior cycle and that the study of a modern European language is an essential requirement of the LCVP, management should make provision for the introduction of a language module of at least one period per week in order that the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme as offered by the school is compliant with the DES programme requirements.
Castlecomer Community School is currently focusing on the subject planning process, the use of ICT as a teaching tool and assessment for learning. The school is currently participating in the TL21 project being run by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Because of their other subject specialisms some of the teachers of French are currently involved in this project. These teachers are aware of the benefits of sharing best practice with other subject areas.
The French department has been facilitated to meet formally since the beginning of the school year and also meets informally throughout the year. Subject department plans, individual long and short-term plans and schemes of work were made available for inspection. These included plans for junior and senior cycle, for Transition Year and for the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. Teachers are to be commended for the work and collaboration carried out to date in the area of subject planning. The collaboration evidenced in the common schemes of work made available is to be commended. Teachers also agree textbooks for junior cycle and fifth year. It is suggested that such collaboration could be further developed to include the sharing of successful teaching strategies and the building up of a bank of common resources. This is not to inhibit individual initiatives or teaching styles within the classroom but to reduce the burden of work on individual teachers by providing a choice of resources and extending the range of methodologies.
Good practice was observed when the desired learning outcomes of the lesson were shared with the students by being written on the board. It is recommended that the practice of identifying desired learning outcomes for each year group should be incorporated into the overall school plan. A further stage in the planning process could include reviewing teaching methodologies in light of these desired learning outcomes, thus moving towards one of the ultimate aims of subject planning, self-review. Members of the French department could also, in time, reflect on the current and future challenges for modern languages in the school and include in the plan proposals as to how they might address them.
There was careful planning and preparation for the individual lessons observed. Texts particularly suited to the needs, interests and abilities of the students had been sourced from the internet and photocopied. Worksheets and overheads had been prepared and the relevant audio and ICT equipment made ready.
Lessons were well structured and their content was appropriate to the needs and abilities of the students. There was good classroom management and evidence of a good teacher-student rapport. For example, in some lessons it was clear that the teachers knew the students well in terms of their interests and activities and were able to use that knowledge to good effect to engage and encourage them. Teachers were affirming of their students’ efforts and the students were well behaved.
There was good use of the target language by teachers in all lessons observed. This is to be commended. While there were some instances where the students were encouraged to respond to questions in French it is suggested that all students be provided with the linguistic strategies to ask their own questions, express their difficulties or make requests in the target language. Interaction with students suggested that they were somewhat apprehensive about communicating in French. Greater use of the target language by students in the classroom should help overcome this apprehension. As was evidenced in some classrooms, charts or posters with key instructions and expressions could be displayed on the walls so that French becomes grounded in authentic situations and students’ listening and oral comprehension and production are improved.
A variety of methodologies was observed in all lessons including adopting a thematic approach and integrating the different language skills. This is to be commended as it enables students to use the knowledge they have acquired in one skills area to support their learning in another. It also helps students become more aware of how they can link and transfer learning from one situation to another.
Question and answer sessions were used effectively to engage the students, to assess student comprehension, to extend their range of vocabulary and to consolidate new learning. It is suggested that, where appropriate, students be encouraged to answer with complete sentences, thus extending their communication skills.
Pronunciation errors were noted and corrected in some of the lessons observed. This is to be commended as correct pronunciation is an essential component of successful language acquisition. However, it is important that the student repeats the corrected version in order to consolidate it. It is recommended that attention to pronunciation be integrated into all lessons either on an individual basis or as a general pronunciation drill as correct pronunciation will be best assimilated if practised on an ongoing basis.
There was an example of effective use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to support and develop a listening exercise. The embracing of ICT as a tool for the teaching and learning of French is to be commended.
There were some good examples of use of role-play to consolidate what had been learned. This is commendable as it gives students opportunities to ask as well as to answer questions. The use of pair or group-work activities, as observed in all lessons, is to also to be commended as a means of actively engaging the students, promoting collaboration and giving them increased responsibility for their own learning. However, it is important that the proposed tasks are valid pair or group activities. While told to work in pairs or groups students in many of the lessons observed continued to work individually on the given task and, in instances where they were supposed to be communicating orally with each other, there was relative silence. There were also some occasions when the time allocated to the activity was a little too long and some students were becoming restless. It is recommended that all pair or group tasks be structured in such a way as to ensure a collaborative process and product and that it be achieved within a short specific time frame. There was a good example of a group task being extended into a whole class learning context. Having communicated orally in groups students were then asked to recount what another member of the group had said. This is to be commended as it not only compelled the students to actively engage in the task but it also facilitated the appropriate integration of relevant grammatical instruction.
There was one instance where, as part of the lesson, a very simple but effective way of recapping on verbs and tenses previously learned was used. It was explained that the strategy used had been proposed by the students. The adoption of this strategy is to be commended as a means of affirming student effort and a good example of how students can in very simple ways contribute to their own learning. There was evidence in all lessons observed of student learning and potential.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways. These include questioning in class, correction of homework, class tests and formal school examinations. There was evidence that homework was assigned and corrected in student copies. A review of senior cycle students’ folders revealed them to be well organised and there was evidence of many handouts, notes and worksheets being prepared and distributed to help students in their learning. Teachers are to be commended for this work.
Students are assessed during the year on specific learning such as vocabulary and verbs. They sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer. Examination students sit “mock” examinations. Junior cycle students have common tests for French. Some year groups have an aural component included in their tests. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all year groups. Students do not have an oral component as part of their overall assessment. It is recommended that consideration be given to including an oral component into all formal assessments, particularly at senior cycle. The oral component itself need not be formal and could be carried out within the lesson structure.
Reports are sent home twice yearly and there are annual parent-teacher meetings for all year groups. It was reported that the student journal is also used as a means of communicating with parents.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of French at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
History is supported by management and is generally well provided for in the school. There is good provision of timetabled classes in junior cycle and fifth and sixth year. Provision in Transition Year is somewhat curtailed by comparison. The school has in recent times moved to mixed-ability teaching for all years in History. This is currently running well.
There has, for some time, effectively been no school library but the History teachers have put together a useful resource box for use in planning lessons and in research for projects. The teachers look forward to the time when a school library can be restored, as it is such a valuable and vital resource for research, teaching and learning in History.
Most teachers have their own teacher-based rooms. Rooms have recently been equipped with modern audio-visual equipment, for example television monitors and DVD players. Broadband has been provided for the school and connections are available in most rooms. As yet the provision of laptops and data projectors has not reached the History department but it is expected in the near future.
Some History teachers have been attending inservice courses for the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus. The school has released them for this work and this, and their continued attendance at these sessions, is to be commended. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is of vital importance in the continued development of modern methodologies for the teaching and learning of History. There has been some contact in the past with the subject association. Renewed contact is recommended especially as there is much to be gained here in terms of gathering knowledge of the new Leaving Certificate syllabus and in meeting and sharing experiences with other History teachers.
The subject choice system for students entering fifth year works on the basis of open choice leading to selection blocks and provision of preferred subjects for the majority of students. However, the uptake of History for Leaving Certificate continues to be small and this should be a matter of concern and review for management and relevant teachers. It is suggested that History teachers should introduce students in third and fourth year to the syllabus and programme for Leaving Certificate History to foster their interest in continuing with the subject in senior cycle.
The History teaching team comprises seven teachers. One of these teachers acts as a voluntary co-ordinator of History. Some of these teachers are History specialists while others have dual specialisms. There is therefore an opportunity to develop cross-curricular links in the teaching of History. Many teachers have their own classroom bases and therefore can utilise wall space to display work from their various subjects and classes. Some are availing of that opportunity, and some good displays of History material were in evidence during the inspection. It is recommended that all History teachers who have this facility should maximise its use.
In the last two years there have been many developments in the areas of planning and sharing of methodology in the school. Management provides time for subject departments to meet, plan, and participate in projects; for example, the TL21 project based in NUI Maynooth. The provision of department meeting time has benefited History and has led to a re-organisation and updating of work in that department. Teachers collaborate in their choice of textbooks, the organisation of school examinations, the development of class plans and the sharing of methodologies. While this is commendable practice it is now recommended that History teachers turn their attention to medium and long-term strategic planning for the subject. Teachers should concentrate on the place of History in the curriculum of the school, the uptake of History in senior cycle, the integration of History into the Transition Year programme and the future for the subject in the school.
It is an opportune time for the History teaching team to prepare and plan to use ICT and audio-visual materials in their classes. There is a great deal of software available, much of it recently provided free of charge to all schools. This opens the door to using a range of ICT methodologies which assist teachers in interesting and enthusing students in their involvement in History.
There was a wide variety of teaching and learning methodologies in evidence in the classes inspected. In all classes question and answer techniques were in use to a greater or lesser extent. These techniques helped students in their understanding of the lesson topic. General and rhetorical questions, as used in some classes inspected, have less impact than targeted questioning of individual students. Closed questions, in evidence in some classes visited, serve their purpose in recap or in introductory material, but the employment of open questions is important as the lesson progresses. Therefore it is recommended that teachers make more use of higher-order or open-ended questions and that questioning be targeted at individual students to ensure that all students are following the lesson.
It is vital that clarity and immediacy be brought into play in lessons by the clear introduction of the topic, by writing it on the board or on the overhead projector (OHP) transparency and by ensuring that all students understand what the lesson is about. This can be reinforced by having the students write the topic into their notebooks or copies. This happened in some classes inspected but not in others. It is also essential that students be required to write down any key words or other important material from the board before the end of the lesson in order to help student understanding and prepare them for homework assignments. Where this had been done, it was clear that students had a record of vital pieces of information, and this was reflected in their copy-books and note-books.
There was good affirmation of students and reinforcement of learning in use in all classes which is to be commended. Where students were required to defend a position stated in answer to a question, or to substantiate a point of view, they were greatly encouraged and affirmed. Where group or pair work were used, the time frame was short which is effective, and students were required to feed back and explain what their group had learned or identified. This is very good practice and is to be applauded.
A judicious choice and use of textbooks was in evidence in all classes. Where visual aids were used they were used effectively. Much greater use, however, could be made of the graphics and illustrations in the textbooks. These illustrations can very easily be magnified, made into overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, printed as handouts, or even expanded into poster-sized sheets for use in class. Such ready-made visual material should be exploited in the preparation and planning of classes. In some cases students’ work was displayed in the classrooms but in the majority of rooms there is greater potential for the display not only of student work but also of relevant visually stimulating material. Where rooms are not the base of the teacher, a co-operative venture with other users of the rooms might be possible. Visual stimulation plays a great part in the teaching of History and in modern syllabus requirements. Progress in this area within classrooms is to be recommended. In all lessons there was good attention to differentiation observed in the choice of material and its delivery. This was particularly evident in the selection and use of textbooks in junior cycle.
There was some evidence of cross-curricular work in a few classes and this is to be encouraged. Students have been brought on interesting History outings which is commendable practice as such outings stimulate and engage students. Expansion of such activities, and linking them to other subjects, are to be encouraged in planning for the subject.
The most common teaching method in use in most classes can be characterised as ‘talk and chalk’. This, though a tried and tested traditional methodology, needs to be varied and expanded. It was clear that when local, topical or contemporary material was introduced into classes or when invited to make contemporary parallels with issues being taught the students became more interested and invigorated. This method is to be commended.
In the delivery of material in class, consideration should be given to greater student-centred or student-driven work as opposed to always teacher-centred delivery. Where these were in evidence, the classes were livelier and the students more actively involved in the topic and in the learning outcomes.
The application of contemporary methods in the teaching and learning of History needs to be included in the History team’s plans. There is much to be gained by the use of audio-visual aids already available in the classrooms, for example, overhead projectors, TV monitors with DVD or video players, and a whole world to be explored and exploited in the preparation and presentation of course material to students at all levels in each syllabus and programme. While it is clear that several teachers of the subject already have ICT skills or are acquiring them, the last major step of introducing ICT driven methods and materials into the classroom is essential. It is acknowledged that several teachers are using ICT to prepare for classes and to produce information sheets, test papers and research documents, and that some students are using the Internet in their History work. Now that broadband is available in the school, it is now timely to update methodology and to expand the amount of material available to students in studying this subject. This should also have an impact on student uptake, interest and performance in the subject and is therefore to be strongly recommended.
There was generally good attendance in class, but, in one instance, the absence of the majority of students made the lesson more difficult to teach, especially as the material would have to be repeated at a later juncture.
In all classes inspected, students were co-operative, well-behaved, and had a positive attitude to their work: a good learning environment and mutual respect were in evidence.
Written and learning homework assignments are set for students on a regular basis. In some instances, teachers have adopted formative assessment methods in monitoring work and it is recommended that this process be continued and expanded as it works particularly well in History assignments. The students’ copies, where available, were uneven in standard, but in most cases the work was complete and was monitored by the teacher. Mixed-ability classes are bound to yield a wide range of standards in written work, and there was evidence of differentiation in setting and correcting work. This is good practice and should be continued, and, where possible, developed. In some rooms, student projects were observed which demonstrated good preparation and presentation on the part of the students. The use of project work is also good practice and should be encouraged where possible and appropriate.
Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group in the school, and there are also information meetings for parents. Class tests are carried out in most classes, either at the completion of topics on the syllabus, or at particular intervals between school in-house examinations. The latter take place twice a year, after which written reports are sent to parents. Students preparing to take state examinations sit a ‘mock’ examination in the spring of their examination year. Parents of third and sixth-year students receive reports following these ‘mock’ examinations. Attainment levels in History vary widely across years, examinations and levels in History. Students’ achievements, attainment, and their uptake of the subject, should be made a focus for analysis, discussion and action in the immediate future.
There is clearly an issue about choice and uptake in History, and it is important that students are advised and enthused about the subject and its potential. The revised Leaving Certificate syllabus is among the most modern in approach and methodology, with a wide spectrum of interesting resources available to teachers free of charge. This syllabus presents an obvious starting point for the revival of interest and achievement in the subject. Students themselves can access over a thousand items on the HIST website and thus can direct their own learning and develop their own interests in the course. These elements and advantages need to be strongly advertised to students as they approach senior cycle. In this way the subject’s profile in the school can be substantially strengthened, and this should form an important agenda item for teachers’ strategy meetings in History.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Whole school support for the provision of Science in Castlecomer Community School is very good. A wide range of Science subjects is available on the curriculum including Junior Certificate Science, Transition Year (TY) Science, and Leaving Certificate Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Junior Science is a core subject taken by all junior cycle students. The Science classes are mixed ability and are of an appropriate size for Science. The timetabling arrangements for Science and time allocated to the subject are good. For instance, all class groups are scheduled for laboratory access for double periods and many single periods are also held in a laboratory. Good practice is also evident in the retention of the same teacher to class groups as they progress through junior cycle.
There is a strong focus on Science in the TY programme. All Transition Year students complete modules in each of the Leaving Certificate Science subjects. These modules are designed to present the subjects in an applied context. For instance, the Chemistry module is based on forensic Science and related experimental techniques.
Students are supported in choosing Leaving Certificate Science subjects by their teachers who provide information and advice to junior and Transition Year students. Biology is the most popular of the Science subjects. The numbers opting for Chemistry are relatively low and it was reported that a gender imbalance exists in the uptake of some of the subjects. Hence, it is recommended that the school facilitate the Science department in carrying out a general review of participation rates and gender balance across each of the senior Science subjects.
The school’s three laboratories and demonstration room are in good condition and are well stocked with equipment and materials. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities, including internet connection, computers, data projectors and data logging equipment are available in the Science department. Proposals for enhancing the level of ICT so as to make it more readily accessible for teaching and learning are currently being considered. Finance for the maintenance of facilities and for re-stocking equipment and materials is provided on a needs basis. The laboratories are well-equipped with appropriate safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
The school is very supportive of the continuing professional development needs of staff. Teachers are facilitated to avail of external inservice courses such as those organised by the Junior Science Support Service. School-based opportunities for professional development have been organised as part of the school’s on-going involvement in the TL21 project.
A range of extra and co-curricular activities enhance the provision of Science in Castlecomer Community School. Students have been involved in Science quizzes, ecology field trips, visits to the Young Scientist Exhibition, and various Science Week activities. A gold medal for Biology was awarded to a student from the school in the recent Irish European Union Science Olympiad.
The collaborative and collegial manner in which the Science department operates is to be commended. Good practice is evident in the setting aside of time for weekly meetings and the rotation of co-ordination or liaison duties among the team. In addition to the more formal meetings, planning and co-ordination continues through a high level of informal contacts on an ongoing basis.
It is clear that the Science department has engaged with planning for the provision of Science in a comprehensive manner. For example, a scheme of work for junior Science details the topics for each year group. The use of this scheme has allowed the introduction of common assessment. A similarly detailed scheme is also used in Leaving Certificate Chemistry. The development of a Science department plan which draws together many aspects of the provision for Science is to be commended. This plan includes the subject’s aims and objectives, timetabling, class organisation, resources and effective teaching methodologies, and is viewed as being at an ongoing stage of development. In order to build on the good work already completed, it is recommended that the Science department continue to engage with this type of collaborative planning by further developing areas in the plan such as special educational needs and homework policies in Science.
The Science department has been actively involved in the TL21 project over recent years. The aim of this project is to enhance teaching innovation and creativity in second-level schools. During the current year the Science teachers developed and trialled a strategy, based on enhancing students’ skills in observing, predicting and explaining, for teaching one of the topics on the revised Junior Science syllabus. Availing of the opportunity for professional sharing and dialogue created by this initiative is to be commended and it is hoped that further work in this regard can be facilitated. The valuable resources and experiences arising from the Science department’s involvement with the TL21 project could also be integrated with the future development of the overall plan for Science.
A good level of planning for the resources required for teaching Science was evident in the well-organised laboratory equipment and materials. For example, a colour-coded system for the safe storage of chemicals has been introduced and other materials are stored in an orderly manner. The creation of resource kits for specific topics is to be commended as it facilitates the organisation of practical activities.
Planning for the lessons observed was good as evidenced by their structured nature, clear aims and objectives and the prior preparation of materials such as handouts and items required for practical work. Teachers maintain good records of attendance, homework and class tests for their classes.
A variety of topics such as electricity, food, microbiology, chemical bonding and electrochemistry were dealt with in the lessons observed. In general, the lessons were clearly communicated and contained a good mix of theory and practical activities.
Question and answer sessions were generally used at the start of lessons to quickly review previous material and to link new content with prior or general knowledge. In the majority of cases the aims and objectives of the lesson were briefly outlined and shared with the class at the outset of the lesson.
Good use was made of the blackboard, the overhead projector and visual stimuli such as models to maintain students’ focus on the lesson content and to facilitate the clear delivery of material. In general the lessons were presented in a very competent manner. However, the strategies adopted usually required all students to progress at more or less the same pace and to complete the same range of activities. Hence it is recommended that in future planning the Science department should explore the area of differentiation in Science teaching. The introduction of differentiated approaches would facilitate the involvement and achievement of all students including those with special educational needs and also help in accommodating different learning styles.
A variety of questioning strategies was used to assess students’ level of knowledge and understanding during the lessons. For instance, closed questions were frequently used to probe students’ level of knowledge. The strategy of allowing the entire class to consider a question before requesting a named individual to provide an answer was very effectively used in some cases. Students’ depth of understanding was assessed by the use of open-ended questions in many cases. However, this is a strategy that could be explored further and supplemented with other activities designed to challenge students and encourage them to become more independent learners. For instance, students could be required to work at the board and present a topic or explanation to the rest of the class group.
Practical lessons with hands-on student activities and teacher demonstrations were effectively organised and supported the development of students’ understanding and skills. Good attention was given to appropriate safety precautions. The successful development of practical and group work skills, evident in the manner in which students completed relevant tasks, is to be commended. The students worked well together in small groups and assisted the teachers in setting up and tidying away the materials and equipment.
The lessons were well managed in a supportive and positive atmosphere. Students’ contributions and questions were welcomed and addressed as part of the lesson and students were generally attentive and co-operated with their teachers. A good teacher-student rapport was shown in the classroom interactions. The display of scientific posters and student work in the laboratories helped to create an attractive and appropriate learning environment.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly throughout the school year through a range of assessment methods including formal school examinations, class tests, questioning in class, homework and teacher observation. The use of common assessment with each year group in junior cycle is to be commended as it facilitates a collaborative approach to the teaching of Science. Parents are kept well informed of their child’s ongoing progress through parent-teacher meetings, students’ journals and examination reports.
Students’ laboratory notebooks are well monitored and showed that a good range of practical activities have been completed. The introduction of a system of assessing practical work, in line with the introduction of coursework in the revised junior Science programme, is to be commended as it rewards and encourages students for their efforts in this regard.
Students’ outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills are good. Many students were confident and capable at answering questions put to them during the course of the visit. They were particularly at ease in completing practical tasks assigned to them during the lessons observed. However, the percentage of students taking junior Science at ordinary level has increased over recent years. It is recommended that the school facilitate the Science teachers in reviewing the level of participation at higher and ordinary levels. Such a review could include some surveying of students’ views and could also be linked in with a general review of participation rates and gender balance in the Science subjects chosen in senior cycle mentioned previously.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Castlecomer Community School is very pleased to acknowledge receipt of the report of the Whole School Inspection team, providing as it does, from an expert, objective source, resounding confirmation of the excellent quality of the comprehensive education provided by the school.
The school authorities are particularly pleased at a number of aspects of the report. The school from its inception, as a Community School, has taken pride in its inclusive ethos and the level of pastoral care provided for all its students which it has assiduously fostered over the years. The praise bestowed on the level and standard of special-needs provision is as gratifying as it is deserved.
The staff is most pleased at the positive recognition given in several sections in the report to the school’s involvement in the Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century initiative, developed by NUI, Maynooth, (TL21) and the school’s own in-school generated in-service programme.
A further source of satisfaction is the strong acknowledgement of the positive contribution made by staff-members, on a purely voluntary basis, to the extensive co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes in the school.
The reports on the teaching of four particular subjects we regard as a re-affirmation of our belief that the quality of teaching in Castlecomer is on a par with best practice in any school in Ireland. It is clear that the benefits of investment by teachers in their own professional development through involvement in TL 21 and other initiatives is having a most beneficial effect in the classroom.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The management of Castlecomer Community School is fully committed to taking inspiration from the main recommendations in the report both to further develop and enhance the holistic education provided by the school. In fact, much of the work has already begun. All of the policies referred to in the recommendations will be the subject of further consultation and discussion between the various educational partners in the next school year and will be ratified, as required, by the Board. It is our intention also, when reviewing the code of behaviour, to keep very much in mind the comments made in the report.
Whilst mindful of the importance of preparing a Whole-School Plan, the focus, in the immediate future, will remain on the progression of our on-going initiatives in the area of teaching and learning which we regard as the core area in any school plan.
As regards the comment and recommendations made in regard to modern languages, the school has put in place the requisite module for the existing student cohort and time-tabled the module for all students involved next year. The issue of introducing a further continental language will be addressed in the light of the expressed preference of our students and evolving national/ethnic composition of the student body in the years ahead. PE will be timetabled for both fifth and sixth-year students in ’06 – ’07. It should be noted that the school, like all Community schools, already provides a vast range of options for students at all levels, especially in the practical and arts areas.
Finally, the report makes reference to the importance of providing a school library. In 2003 a decision was taken to allocate a specific class-room to each teacher. The existing stock of books was dispersed from the existing library to the control of individual subject teachers. This initiative has worked well and will be further developed in the future. Furthermore, the imminent availability of a vast virtual library on-line is a resource which will be exploited to the full by teachers and will obviate the need to provide scarce storage facilities and library staff.
All in all the school has found the experience of whole school evaluation to have been a most positive one. We have benefited significantly from having external expert observers objectively evaluate both what we are and what we do. We have been reassured by their affirmation of all that is good in our school and we have been left with many thought-provoking ideas which we intend to evaluate in depth in the months ahead.