An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

 REPORT

 

 

Ramsgrange Community School

Ramsgrange, New Ross, County Wexford

Roll number: 91431Q

 

 

 

Date of inspection: 27 October 2006

Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

1. Introduction

2. The quality of school management

2.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

2.2 School ownership and management

2.3 In-school management

2.4 Management of resources

3. Quality of school planning

4. Quality of curriculum provision

4.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

4.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

4.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

5. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

5.1 Planning and preparation

5.2 Teaching and learning

5.3 Assessment

6. Quality of support for students

6.1 Students with special educational needs

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

6.3 Guidance

6.4 Pastoral care

7. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

8. Related subject inspection reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ramsgrange 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.

 

 

 

1.         Introduction

 

Ramsgrange Community School resulted from the amalgamation in 1977 of Shielbaggan Vocational School and St Louis Secondary School, Ramsgrange. This co-educational school is located on the Hook Peninsula in a predominantly rural part of County Wexford. The vast majority of students avail of school bus transport.  The school draws students from a very wide catchment area including Ramsgrange, Duncannon, Ballyhack and Poulfour. A significant proportion of students come from County Waterford and travel to school on the ferry from Passage East.  Enrolment in the school has been in excess of four hundred students for the past four years, the enrolment currently standing at 421.  Students come from socially and economically diverse backgrounds. The school is in the process of acquiring the building which houses the Shielbaggan Outdoor Pursuits Centre and, in light of increased enrolment, has already expanded into this building. 

 

 

2.         The quality of school management

 

2.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The school ethos centres on respect and development of the whole person. It aims to instil in students a sense of personal worth and responsibility. The school follows the principles of the educational ethos of Community Schools. 

 

A warm friendly atmosphere exists in the school.  Management and teaching staff are caring and are interested in developing the whole student.  Students benefit from such a secure and caring environment.  A strong sense of community exists in the school and there is good co-operation between staff.  Many ongoing projects give students a sense of ownership of the school.  These include art and gardening projects and others within the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Transition Year (TY) programmes.  These projects reflect the efforts of individual teachers to foster school pride and are highly commended. However, there was evidence to suggest that there is still a need to develop student pride in all students in the school and thereby, to raise expectations in terms of student attainment in the school community. It is therefore recommended that there be a whole school approach to developing such pride and raising expectations. The planned re-evaluation of the school’s mission statement is welcomed as a starting point in this process.

 

 

2.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management has been properly constituted and consists of six patron nominees, three from St Louis Sisters and three from Co. Wexford Vocational Education Committee, two parent nominees and two nominees of teaching staff. The role of chairperson rotates annually between the various groups of nominees. The principal acts as secretary to the board.  Training is provided for board members. The board draws together a range of complementary experiences and skills, which serve the school well. 

 

The board meets every month in order to carry out its duties.  This is commendable. There is a good finance committee, which meets every two to three weeks. Appropriate systems are in place to ensure the proper maintenance and auditing of financial accounts.  The minutes of board meetings show that the board is involved in all aspects of school life and provide evidence that the school is managed in a structured and accountable way.  Policies presented to the board are adjusted and updated as the need arises.

 

The board is aware of its role, responsibilities and statutory obligations. It fulfils all functional requirements and actively supports the school. For example, board members attend school functions, support staff development and contribute to professional development of teachers.  As it is clear that there is a strong need for strategic planning in the school the board needs to adopt a stronger managerial role.  This role should be both visionary and directional.

 

The principal gives a report to the board. An agreed verbal report from the board is given at staff and parents’ association meetings.  In addition there is a comprehensive newsletter sent to parents from the board. The principal is the link between the student council and the board. 

 

2.3          In-school management

 

Senior management, which comprises the principal and deputy principal, is very approachable and available to the whole school community and is very supportive of staff. The principal and deputy principal have a good working relationship and have complementary roles in the running of the school. For example, the principal takes responsibility for the school timetable while the deputy principal deals with correspondence to parents and is responsible for supervision.

 

The management style of senior management is democratic, for example, staff can add items to the agenda of staff meetings and ideas can come from the staff, which the principal may adopt. In this way, the impetus for initiative or change comes through a “down-up” approach. Senior management has a strong on the ground presence in the school. But the principal is often involved in tasks that might be better delegated. The principal and deputy principal are managing the school on a day-to-day basis. However, they need to provide more leadership in order to lead the school into the future. Currently there is a reactive approach, which sometimes leads to crisis management where a considered response in line with school policy is required. There is a need for a cohesive vision for the school. In defining this vision the principal needs to take a decisive leadership role. Participation by senior management in the Leadership Development for Schools programme is well worth consideration at this point in time.

 

The assistant principals (AP) and special duties teachers (SDT) carry out a range of diverse duties in the school. These include responsibility for examinations, programme co-ordination, prize-giving and information and communications technology (ICT). Three AP posts and two SDT posts involve year head duties. The duties and responsibilities assigned to post holders are generally carried out in an effective manner. However, there is a definite need for a more structured system of meetings between the assistant principals and the school principal. Assistant principals in discussion with inspectors recognised the need for them to meet more frequently. Such meetings would facilitate a more effective delegation of duties and the development of an efficient middle management structure in the school.

 

There is a clear imbalance in the tasks and responsibilities assigned as posts of responsibility. There is a need for the duties and responsibilities around each post to be defined and there should be greater balance in relation to the allocation of responsibilities. In addition post holders should have the opportunity to change posts after a certain time frame. Therefore regular and ongoing review of posts is recommended. It is commendable that this is being addressed by the school, as evidenced by the recent in-service staff day co-ordinated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). As a result a committee has been formed to consider the future needs of the school including priorities for posts of responsibility.

 

New teachers feel very supported by colleagues and by senior management. The school handbook is given to new teachers prior to entering the school and they are given a tour of the school. A new mentoring system is now in place and this is welcomed. Some teachers would like to see formal induction in place. Links have been forged with the University College Dublin mentoring programme in this regard.

 

The school operates a class tutor and year head system. The role of class tutor is voluntary. It is welcomed that not all year heads are assistant principals. However, it is not desirable that some year heads, especially those with a special duties post, have extra onerous duties. These activities may impede proper administration of year head duties. It is commendable that the role of year head is defined and that there are regular year head meetings with the principal. Year heads have good liaison with tutors and the guidance counsellor.

 

It is welcomed that the school has modified its code of discipline, which is reported to be working well.  However, the current code of discipline policy does not reflect these recent changes in practice. It is reported that there are inconsistencies in the administration of the code of discipline, for example some students get slips for homework not done while others do not. It is important that this code is administered fairly and equitably to all students. There is an immediate need to update the code of discipline policy to reflect current practice and to ensure consistent implementation.  There should be a list of breaches of discipline and commensurate sanctions.  The anti-bullying policy and the anti-drugs policy are in need of updating. The expulsion clause needs to be stressed in the code of discipline as the ultimate sanction.

 

There is an active parents’ association with representatives from each school year.  The parents’ association sees itself primarily as an agent to bring parents together and represent their views.  There is good communication with the large body of parents.  The association expressed confidence in the principal and were happy with the broad education their children received.  Communication with home is constant.  There are regular parent-teacher meetings and a progress report is available on request. It is welcomed that first-year students are encouraged to attend these meetings with their parents.  School newsletters are sent home regularly.  Parents are often invited to the school, as was the case during the recent third-year awards night.  It is in line with best practice that if a student is absent an immediate phone call is made to parents.

 

Strong links have been built up with the multitude of primary schools in the large catchment area of the school. This ensures that all relevant information is collected and an application for extra resources can be made if required. 

 

The school has facilitated staff development and self-review of the curriculum. This is commended. Staff days, co-ordinated by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) on classroom management and mixed-ability teaching have been organised. The work of the review committee mentioned above will further facilitate school self-evaluation. This is very commendable.

 

2.4          Management of resources

 

The school is in receipt of 34.83 whole time equivalents in terms of teaching posts. There are issues around the deployment of some teaching staff. A qualified professional is essential for the delivery of quality education. For example, there may be a health and safety risk associated with the timetabling of non-Physical Education professionals to take timetabled lessons in Physical Education. It is recommended that a qualified Physical Education teacher be timetabled to teach all lessons in Physical Education. All teachers, who have not already done so, should seek recognition for their qualifications.

 

Good practice was evident in that class groups generally retained the same teacher from second to third year and from fifth to sixth year.

 

The school employs one full-time and two part-time secretaries, a caretaker and cleaning staff. Ancillary staff are dedicated and committed to their work. It was clear that the ancillary staff were central to the efficient administration of the school.

 

The canteen is well used by students at break times. A healthy eating policy has been introduced as a result of student council intervention and the vending machines dispense healthier food and drinks than in the past.  This initiative is highly commended. The school buildings are well maintained. However, regardless of continuous efforts, projects and initiatives to improve the visual appearance of the school, a litter problem remains. This must be addressed. It is commended that students have been given the task of cleaning up after themselves in an attempt to improve the situation.  It is also commendable that there has been good progress with recycling waste materials.

 

The school is in the process of expanding into the recently acquired Shielbaggan Outdoor Pursuits Centre building. The spacious special education needs (SEN) room is now located in this building and the school plans to have year head offices there. Some practical rooms have been upgraded, the sports hall has been refurbished and an additional Science laboratory is planned. The principal was instrumental in developing these and relocating and upgrading the staff room. The library is well stocked and well used and provides a good resource to the school.

 

There is a health and safety committee who are doing some good work in this area. However, it is important that there is a formal mechanism in place to report health and safety issues to the principal. In the course of the evaluation, students were observed left unsupervised on one occasion for almost a class period. The health and safety concerns around unsupervised classes must be addressed.  The trip hazard constituted by school bags being carelessly left in corridors and other locations around the school is another matter of concern, which needs to be addressed.

 

There is a budget available for all subjects in the school, which is allocated on a biannual basis. Some subject areas fully utilise their budgets while others do not. Subject departments are encouraged to make use of the allocation of budgets, and purchase relevant materials to enhance learning and teaching. Some subject departments have built up some resources which are easily accessed in a central area. All subject departments should develop this good practice. The school operates an effective, annually updated and well co-ordinated stock control and ordering system. There are plans to transfer all current lists of materials to spreadsheets.

 

Continual Professional Development is supported by management. The school is commended for paying membership fees of professional associations for teachers and for funding teachers who wish to upgrade their skills as evidenced by teachers pursuing courses to support the provision of a broad curriculum in the school. Staff development days included subject department planning, curriculum reform, introducing a tutor and year head system and creating a positive learning environment.  The school is commended for its commitment to staff professional development.

 

The school has two computer rooms, which are used extensively by students, especially those participating in Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) and adult education programmes. It is reported that many staff are computer literate. It is commendable that an audit of information technology facilities has been carried out. Broadband is available in all classrooms.  There are some computers in specialist classrooms, and the school plans to extend the provision and encourage the use of computers in classroom activities.  Computer equipment is effectively maintained and monitored and future needs are planned.  The school is a recognised European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) examination centre with a number of staff trained as ECDL examiners. The school plans to initiate a school website and to update its current prospectus. It is encouraged to proceed with these important initiatives. It is noteworthy that Office 2003 and Windows XP have been purchased for the whole school to support the various programmes on offer.  The ECDL is offered successfully as part of each programme.

 

 

3.         Quality of school planning

 

Ramsgrange Community School has developed a school plan containing much useful material pertaining to the school, including its ethos, and mission together with its policies and procedures. The school has developed a number of key policies as required by legislation: admission, discipline, anti-bullying, health and safety and pastoral care and guidance. In relation to the admission policy, there is a need for further clarity regarding enrolment procedures and the provision for students with special needs. The traditional feeder primary schools should be named in this policy. In light of increased enrolment in the school, there should be ranked criteria for enrolment. The school plan refers to a number of “custom and practice policies” including homework, use of journals, role of year heads and tutors, litter and supervision. It is commendable that the teacher’s information booklet contains all school policies together with a wealth of other useful information. The school is planning to update this booklet and this is commended. Good practice is evident in the consultative manner in which policies have been developed. For example, parents, students, teachers and the board of management are consulted around all relevant policies. However, many policies examined in the course of the evaluation clearly need updating.  Some policies are overly restrictive while others need to reflect current practice in the school.  It is recommended that all school policies, once adopted by the school, are dated, disseminated and endorsed for implementation.

 

A school advisory committee is in place in accordance with the deeds of trust of Community Schools. It was the school advisory committee who explored the possibility regarding the school expansion into the Shielbaggan Outdoor Pursuits Centre building and reported back to the principal. In relation to increasing the number of timetabled class periods, members of the advisory committee looked at the situation in other schools and advised the principal on which option best suited the school. The school timetable was adjusted from forty-five to forty-seven periods as a result of this study. The move to a healthy eating policy was discussed by the committee and recommendations were made. Their work is commended in this regard. However, this committee met on only one occasion last year.  The advisory committee should meet more regularly in order to carry out its advisory function more effectively. It should be facilitated with a more formal reporting mechanism to the board and to teaching staff. The principal and members of the school staff have visited a number of schools in an effort to bring good practice and new ideas back to Ramsgrange Community School.  This strategy has had some good success as evidenced by upgrade of the metalwork room benches and the creation of the running track around the school grounds.

 

There is a special duties teacher post of responsibility around the co-ordination of school development planning.  Co-ordination activities include attendance at SPDI meetings and liaison with the deputy principal. Certain tasks have been identified for the coming year including updating the mission statement, the promotion of a collaborative leadership role among the assistant principals and reviewing and updating the posts of responsibility. It is commended that the latter process has already begun with a staff day on posts of responsibility recently. It is reported that a planning committee will be elected in the near future.  Its task will be to assist senior management and the planning co-ordinator in the work of developing the school plan. It is recommended that in addition sub-committees be formed to plan the actions required to target key priorities identified by the school. This work will be essential in bringing the school forward. The staff as a collective body needs to discuss and make decisions regarding where they are going and what their priorities are. Although the school has made good progress in some areas of planning it is recommended that school management should now initiate an incremental process of cohesive and strategic planning to ensure the school’s direction into the future. The principal needs to be proactive in facilitating this change.  This strategic planning should be put in place to meet the needs of an increasing cohort of students, to consolidate the quality of the curriculum provision and to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of structures within the school.

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

 

4.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

4.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The curriculum at Ramgrange Community School provides good breadth and balance and has evolved over time. The school is commended for offering a range of programmes to meet the needs of students. The school provides the Junior Certificate, the TY programme, the Leaving Certificate, the LCVP, the LCA and a range of PLC courses.  The curriculum on offer is very broad and there is a wide range of subjects on offer.  In order to offer minority subjects to small groups of students, the school has succeeded in gaining curricular concessions. For example Chemistry, Physics or higher-level Mathematics, are offered to students if feasible. The curriculum is constantly kept under review. Music has been introduced at junior cycle and the possibility of offering German is being considered. SPHE is offered at junior cycle and in Transition Year. However, the school needs to continue to take measures to further promote minority subjects in the school.

 

The school has built up strong links with the wider community and in this way exhibits the Community School ethos. The school sees the provision of PLC and adult education courses as fulfilling this ethos. The multitude of extra-curricular activities has played a large part in forging these links.  Work-experience, which is part of the various programmes on offer in the school, has been instrumental in this regard.  School facilities are in constant use by the wider community. There are summer camps and basketball coaching during school break times. The local active retirement group makes use of school facilities twice per week for Art and Cookery. The school is used for adult education classes in the evenings. Many local groups utilise the sports hall for Badminton, soccer and many other activities. There are strong links with Waterford Institute of Technology especially for PLC students. Very good public relations contacts and links with the media have been built up over time.

 

In general, there is good subject provision in terms of the number of class periods available to most subjects on the timetable, with the notable exception of Religion. Religious Education (RE) should be taught for a minimum of two hours or three class periods per week as outlined in the deeds of trust for Community Schools. The school timetable should be revisited in order to accommodate RE. In addition, it is recommended that the school should consider introducing RE as an examination subject.  All students study PE with each class receiving one double period a week. Although the current provision is commendable, it is below the recommended allocation specified in the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (pages 7, 141). Management is encouraged to explore the possibility of increasing the current time allocation for the subject. Science is a core subject for all students in first year and thereafter is a subject of choice for Junior Certificate. Presently, some students who have not completed Junior Certificate Science take up Biology in senior cycle and this presents particular challenges for both the teacher and the students involved. It is recommended, therefore, that both management and the Science department would endeavour to increase the uptake of junior Science. In addition access to languages requires attention, for example, the uptake of French needs improvement and students should be encouraged in this direction.

 

It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. It is recommended, that this matter should be addressed by the school. The distribution of units of lesson time allocated to certain subjects needs review for future years to ensure that, where possible, the timetabling of subjects for three lesson periods per day is avoided and that students have daily contact with their subjects in line with best practice. The school operates a ten-class period day from Monday to Thursday and a seven-class period day on Fridays. When addressing the question of tuition time, school management should address this early afternoon Friday school closure time to accommodate the tuition time required. Classes are thirty-five minutes in length but in reality are often shorter by the time students move from one classroom to another. In addition, seven class periods in the morning is a heavy workload for students and teachers. The number of lessons per school day and the duration of lessons should also be reviewed.

 

Students are placed in mixed-ability classes in first year and are then streamed in second year for English, Irish and Mathematics with the remaining students banded. There is a small class group of TY students in the school. A mixture of banding and setting occurs for core subjects in fifth and sixth year. Concurrency is facilitated on the timetable for fifth-year and sixth-year students. It is recommended that the school examine the way students are placed in class groups for certain subject areas in order to encourage more students to take higher level. The monitoring of student uptake of appropriate levels and analysis of student attainment data are practices which the school should undertake annually.  There was little evidence to suggest that this was a firmly established practice. Such analysis can contribute to informing timetabling and decisions regarding class formation. It can also contribute to creating an awareness among the school community of the importance of striving for higher standards and expectations.

 

4.2           Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Parents and students are well informed about the subjects and programmes available. There is a third year information night in September and another one in April. A good subject choice booklet is made available to parents and students. First year parents and students are also well supported. Staff, students and parents have welcomed the good guidance and counselling service now available. First year students take a wide range of subjects.  On entering second year, all students continue with six subjects and choose four additional subjects from a list provided. Leaving Certificate students choose four additional subjects together with three core subjects.

 

At present, there is no coherent Transition Year programme documented. It is timely that the school will soon receive in-service in writing the TY programme, as at present the written programme is not in accordance with Department guidelines. The written programme should reflect fully the taught programme. However, there was evidence that the content of certain subject areas lacked substance and that students were not being sufficiently challenged. It is therefore strongly recommended that a root and branch review of the TY programme be undertaken. Given the benefits of the TY programme it should continue to be promoted to all students. Transition Year is a good opportunity for students to learn in an interesting and enjoyable way and such a philosophy should be taken into account when planning TY programmes across all subject areas. It is also recommended that the Transition Year plan for each subject be documented, as is a requirement of the Department of Education and Science and written according to the guidelines on writing a Transition Year plan. Time should be built into the timetable for TY activities in order to avoid disruption of timetabled classes. The school needs to urgently address any lack of student morale in TY and build on making it the successful programme it should be. The planned inservice on TY is a welcome start in this regard.

 

The LCA programme is very well co-ordinated and planned and is considered to be a very successful programme in the school by the school community. Every effort is made to retain students in school. In addition to their certificate of completion there is a school based reward system where students are given points for areas such as punctuality, behaviour, manners, equipment and work. This is commended. There is very good communication regarding the LCA to parents and students.

 

There is currently a ninety percent uptake of the LCVP. There is good allocation of time to the link modules. Students make good use of the points from the LCVP to enter college places. The programme is very well co-ordinated. Students have been involved in an exciting range of enterprises, one example being the production of a colourful well-produced cookbook entitled “A Taste of Wexford”. Good links have been forged with outside agencies including the Waterford Crystal enterprise programme. The programme language requirement is also being fulfilled. In addition to co-ordinating the LCVP, the programme co-ordinator has an over-arching role and oversees and organises work experience for all three programmes. Work experience is very well organised and there is very good communication with the employers. It is commendable that teachers visit employers and students during the work experience part of each programme.

 

PLC courses are very well organised and monitored. Public relations regarding the courses on offer are good and an informative brochure is available. The courses attract former students from Ramsgrange Community School and beyond. It is reported that there is good retention of students for PLC courses. The programme is well integrated into school life. For example PLC students together with other students participate in school activities such as “Stars in Your Eyes”. The school provides PLC students with their own graduation night. Strong links have been built up with Waterford Institute of Technology. There is good communication with students and attendance is taken regularly. Students are given an induction day and this is commended. The role of PLC co-ordinator is well defined and the team meets regularly.  The programme is organised around Business Secretarial and Business Computer courses. There have been attempts to expand the programme and introduce other courses. With quality assurance from the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) improvements are planned.  For example each group will have a tutor and each course will be regularly evaluated. This is highly commended.

 

The school offers adult education courses. In the current year there has been uptake for just seven courses. The school and co-ordinator recognise that there is scope for development in this area. It is recommended that a strategy for adult education should be planned in order to develop adult education as a thriving entity in the school.

 

4.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Good provision is made in the school for a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The vast majority of students participate in sporting or other activities.  These activities have an important social function, leading to better relationships and enhanced ownership of the school. Teachers are very dedicated and often give up their own time in these activities. This is commended.

 

The staff are conscious of the impact some school-time activities may have on the academic curriculum. It was reported that efforts are made to minimise disruption.  For example the days on which matches are organised rotate and it is reported that teachers arrange matches at times of minimum disruption to learning. However, it was found during some inspection visits that teachers had not seen some students for a few days due to their involvement in extra-curricular activities. The school has a policy regarding student involvement in extra-curricular activities and missing class time. As in the case of other school policies already mentioned, there is a great need to re-evaluate and formalise it. A planner is placed on a staff notice board where teachers can enter activities up to six weeks in advance. This is commended.

 

There is a good range of extra-curricular activities available in the school including hurling, camogie, Gaelic football for both boys and girls, athletics and equestrian sports. The school supports a post of responsibility for the coordination of extra-curricular activities and several staff members are involved in the organisation, coaching and preparation of students for these activities. Such involvement is highly praised as it makes a large contribution to students’ educational experiences. This year a student-led initiative led to the establishment of a sport’s society, which is highly innovative and a credit to the students and their teachers.

 

It is commendable that the school is involved in many worthwhile fund-raising activities for many causes including lifeboats and day care centres.

 

The school is very involved with European projects.  The very good practice of having an experienced teacher and a teacher who is new to the project accompany the students is promoted among staff. Students are required to apply in writing and are interviewed in order to achieve a place on a project. Good links have been forged with many European schools as a result. Students and teachers have opportunities to visit schools, communicate new ideas and promote cultural exchange.

 

Teachers are commended for organising a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to their subject including: field trips, theatre and cinema outings, visiting speakers, public speaking and debating competitions, entries to the BT Young Science and Technology competition, Science and Irish weeks and Readathon activities. TY students also participate in Drama workshops. Links have been made with the Centre for the Advancement of Learning of Maths, Science and Technology (CALMAST) at Waterford Institute of Technology. Plans are also in place to bring students to the Gaeltacht.

 

The provision of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities has been enhanced through links created by the school with the wider community. There are strong links with local sports clubs and coaching has resulted. For example Gaelic football has traditionally been strong in the school but the influence of County Waterford students and parents has lead to a surge in hurling interest. Many external agencies provide guest speakers to the school. Students frequently visit open days in local institutions including Waterford Institute of Technology and Kildalton Agricultural College.

 

 

5.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

5.1          Planning and preparation

 

 Formal subject planning is now in its third year in Ramsgrange Community School. Subject department meetings are held twice per term. Informal subject department meetings are also held on a regular basis. An agenda for these meetings is provided by management and minutes are recorded.  One teacher generally acts as subject co-ordinator for the subject and this position is rotated on an annual basis which is good practice. It is recommended that the role of co-ordinator be clearly defined and it is also recommended that minutes of subject meetings be given to management after each meeting so that management becomes aware of any issues that arise. 

 

Teachers have developed subject plans in some subject areas. It would be more efficient to use ICT to prepare the plans electronically, customise them and make adjustments to them from year to year. While good progress has been made in subject planning, certain elements need to be expanded. These include the development of learning outcomes for each year group, an expanded list of effective teaching methodologies, an expanded content plan and appropriate modes of assessment. Once developed, this collaborative plan will ensure continuity of learning experiences for students.

 

There was some good short-term planning observed. Equipment and resources required were set-up for efficient commencement of each lesson. This pre-lesson planning ensured that there was an optimisation of the learning time in each lesson observed. A few teachers also supplemented textbook use with additional resources in their lessons. This is a practice which is to be much encouraged as it broadens the learning experience of students.

 

The TY Science programme planned does not reflect each of the Sciences equally. It is recommended that members of the Science department would collectively examine what it is they wish students to achieve from studying Science in TY and they would then revise the programme accordingly.  In PE and English, alternative activities are planned for Transition Year students.  These include a trip to an Outdoor Education Centre, completion of a coaching certificate and Drama workshops. The inclusion of activities that develop students’ independence and leadership qualities is to be commended. 

 

Modern ICT facilities, including computers, data projectors and overhead projectors (OHPs) are available in the school. The school is broadband enabled and subject departments are encouraged to expand the use of multi-media and ICT in their teaching as it was reported that there is quite a good degree of teacher expertise in this area. Some teachers are in the process of developing electronic resources for use with their classes and frequently use broadband to access educational websites and material available on the internet. This is commended.

 

5.2          Teaching and learning

 

Most lessons observed were clearly presented and appropriately paced. In all cases, the necessary equipment and resources required for students were organised and set up prior to the commencement of lessons. Teaching and learning resources used in some subject areas included OHP transparencies, worksheets and ICT slides and there is clearly a potential to utilise more resources in teaching and learning. The blackboard was used to record important key words. Best practice was seen when the textbook was used as a reference tool only. Lessons observed began with recording attendance and general administration in keeping with good practice in classroom management. The purpose of most lessons was shared with students and teachers often established links between previously learned material and the focus of the present lesson.

 

Different teaching methodologies and approaches were observed and these ranged from the creative learner-oriented approach to a more instructional teacher-led approach. Classes were most successful when a variety of methodologies was used to develop and reinforce learning and when students were fully and actively involved in their lesson. This was achieved through demonstrations, good discussion, pair and group work, active listening, and questioning and answering sessions. When work was set for a portion of the lesson, teachers circulated to give individual help as required which is good practice. Where lessons were teacher-led, there was a limited variety of activities for students, which led to passive students who were not challenged adequately. The quieter students in particular were not catered for in these lessons.  When students had opportunities to become involved in their lessons in an active way they demonstrated good ability to work well together and participated well in their lessons. There was good use of the target language in Irish lessons but there is still a need to develop the oral Irish skills of students.

 

There was evidence of good differentiation to cater for the needs of the range of student abilities in some subject areas. For example, in PE, exercises were modified to suit students experiencing difficulty. In these cases, tasks were sufficiently challenging to maintain the interest of more able students whilst allowing less able students to also experience success. Nevertheless, there is a relatively high non-participation rate in some Physical Education classes, which is of concern. Questioning was used as a useful tool in all lessons. Where questioning was effectively applied, it successfully engaged the students in their lessons. However, in some classes, when asking questions, there was a tendency for some students to answer all the time while other students remained passive for the entire lesson.  There is a need to challenge all students in the class. There were also times when students should have been challenged more. For example, many teachers tended to ask lower-order questions of their students only. Expanding the range of higher-order questioning is one strategy that will contribute to challenging better-able students. It was reported that the Second Level Support Service is soon to give an inservice to the school staff on mixed-ability teaching. This should help all teachers in catering for all ability levels in their class group and it is recommended that all teachers consider how they can differentiate their lessons to cater for all ability levels equally in class.

 

In many classrooms there were posters on walls and samples of students’ work and photographs of student activities were displayed. This is good practice and should be substantially expanded as most teachers have their own classrooms.

 

An effective working atmosphere was created through good classroom leadership. Teachers were encouraging and supportive of their students and there was good student-teacher rapport evidenced in classrooms visited.

 

While there was evidence of improving examination results in all subject areas and an increased uptake of higher level in Junior Certificate in 2006, it is advised that senior management and the school body as a whole would further explore strategies for the enhancement of the learning culture in the school. It is acknowledged that some good efforts have already been made in this regard including relevant inservice, awards nights, pictures of successful past pupils on display and supervised study. The school should develop strategies and practices to continue to improve the uptake of higher level in many academic subjects and to try to raise the expectations of its cohort. It is acknowledged that many individual teachers give extra classes and closely monitor students’ homework in an effort to improve student attainment. In addition, the uptake of higher level in many of the practical subject areas is good. It is suggested that management should adopt a proactive role in the monitoring of higher-level uptake across all subjects. Overall, management and teachers are reminded that all students should be encouraged to reach their highest achievable and realistic potential.

5.3          Assessment

 

Formal examinations take place for all year groups, except third and sixth year, twice a year. Third-year and sixth-year students sit formal examinations in November and have mock examinations in February. These examinations are mainly corrected internally. Students also receive regular class-based tests. There was good use made of the journal for recording homework. Teachers kept good profiles of students’ work. It is recommended that the Physical Education department adopt some modes of assessment that will facilitate the awarding of a grade for the subject. The good practice of Science teachers setting common examinations where appropriate at Christmas and in the summer should commence in other subject areas also.

 

Appropriate amounts of homework were set in all lessons. However, although students’ work is corrected there is a need for more formative assessment or annotated commentary on students’ work. In this way students should become more responsible for their own learning. Consideration should be given to the allocation of marks for maintenance of work and to each subject department developing a common approach or policy on assessment. The school has an overall homework policy and a policy for assessments and examinations.

 

 

6.         Quality of support for students

 

6.1          Students with special educational needs

 

SEN students and learning support students are well catered for at Ramsgrange Community School. The school is very proud of its achievements in this area. A number of students have individual education plans. Case conferences are held for some students. There is very good liaison with the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) and the Special Education Needs Organiser. SEN provision begins before students enter the school through very good liaison with the feeder primary schools and contacts with parents. In this way, students with learning support and special educational needs are identified early and are well supported. There is a small core planning team of teachers who meet regularly and document key decisions in relation to SEN.

 

The school has a learning support allocation of one teacher and four whole time teacher equivalents for special education needs. This allocation is used very well to create smaller classes, for individual withdrawal and for in-class support such as team teaching. Students who have exemptions from Irish are withdrawn from Irish lessons. In addition some students are withdrawn from French lessons. There is the very good practice in second year of forming an additional small class group in order to provide adequate support. Students are given help and support in literacy, numeracy, homework and life skills as the need arises. The school enhances its support by teaching the accelerated reading and accelerated writing programmes. This is highly commended.

 

It is recommended that those aspects of the admissions policy referring to applicants with special needs should be reviewed in the interests of inclusion, so as to ensure that all existing legislation has been taken fully into account and to avoid any ambiguous interpretation of the policy.

 

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

 

The school has three international students who receive regular English language support. The language support allocation is used appropriately. The school may wish to make use of the Integrate Ireland Language and Training web site (www.iilt.ie) as an additional support in this regard. A breakfast club, lunchtime club and snacks for students at study time scheme funded by the Department of Family and Social Affairs is in operation in the school which is commendable. The school has been accepted into Delivering Educational Opportunity in Schools (DEIS).

 

6.3          Guidance

 

It is reported that there is good level of  satisfaction with the current guidance and counselling service provided in the school. The guidance programme is designed to support students in making informed choices and decisions about their lives. Support is provided in a collaborative manner.  Time allocation is divided between careers and counselling. A good guidance planning team is in operation, with minuted regular meetings. The well-structured guidance plan is commended. An appropriate protocol for student appointments exists. There is awareness of the various guidance initiatives. 

 

There is good liaison with year heads and it is suggested that the guidance counsellor attends year head meetings in the future. Good practice and a caring attitude is evident in the way referrals are made from year heads to the counselling service and in the way referrals are made from the school to outside agencies such as the NEPS. It is commendable that good links have been forged with outside agencies. The guidance service utilises various access programmes.

 

Guidance is provided to all students from first year to PLC level.  There is timetabled provision for senior cycle students. Very useful information evenings have been organised for parents and students around PLC and Central Applications Office, (CAO) applications where guidance is given regarding courses and on filling out application forms. There is a planned update of the subject choice booklet.

 

As part of the DEIS programme the school has been allocated an extra 0.23 whole time teacher equivalent for guidance.  This effectively creates a full-time guidance post in the school. The school makes good and effective use of this allocation.

 

6.4          Pastoral care

 

The personal and social needs of students are well supported in the school. Some very good individual strategies are in place to support students’ needs.  For example, extra classes are provided and less able students are continuously monitored and supported. Extra support is provided for new students as evidenced by first years forming a separate queue in the canteen and having a separate area for lunch. This is commended. The class tutor, guidance counsellor, Meitheal leaders and chaplain are all part of the pastoral care team.  There is a very good whole school approach to the pastoral needs of students.

 

The school benefits from a full time chaplaincy service, which is central to the life of the school. The chaplain sees his role as bringing calmness and friendship to the life of the school. The many services provided to students include organisation of liturgies, retreats, fund-raising, co-ordinating Meitheal and liaising with parents. The chaplaincy service is held in very high esteem by parents and students.  Good practice is evident in the manner in which appropriate counselling to students is provided by the chaplaincy and guidance services.

 

The student council is well organised.  There is a male and a female representative from each class group who meet regularly and feedback issues to the classes.  The detailed minutes reflect that many issues are around health and safety and maintenance. Hairnets and gloves are now worn by canteen staff and fizzy drinks have been replaced by healthier options in the school vending machines as a result of student council submissions. The minutes of the student council meetings record legitimate concerns identified by students.

 

SPHE provision in the school is very good and works very well in supporting students and creating a caring environment. It is well coordinated with a small core planning team.  There are very good links with guidance for senior cycle students.

 

It is commendable that every tutor has good class contact-time. There is an agenda for the tutor meetings, which are well planned. Formal tutor-year head meetings are held in advance of parent teacher meetings. Journals are well used by students and serve as a good means of communication with home. There is a need to have structured meetings of the year heads and guidance counsellor in order to share information regarding students in need of support. The principal meets the chaplain and guidance counsellor regularly. The good communications in the school around pastoral care are highly commended.

 

 

7.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

8.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Appendix

 

                                                            School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

 

 

Characteristic Spirit of the School

 

The Board is encouraged and much heartened at the positive assessment of what it regards as the very essence of a successful school in the Whole School Evaluation Report. Quote ‘a warm, friendly atmosphere exists in the school.  Management and teaching staff are caring and are interested in developing the whole student.  Students benefit from such a secure and caring environment.  A strong sense of community exists in the school and there is good co-operation between staff.  Many ongoing projects give students a sense of ownership of the school.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Future

 

The Board is happy that many enlightened developments have taken place in Ramsgrange Community School over the past few years, which have enhanced the school environment, encouraged community development and above all advanced the educational provision available to students of all levels of ability.  The Board recognises that in these challenging times for education, schools need to be innovative, imaginative and constantly evolving to meet the needs of students, parents and the wider community.  In pursuit of these stated and admirable objectives, the Board is confident that the structures put in place in the school in the recent past, in a spirit of collegiality and co-operation, will enable the management and staff of the school to respond effectively and positively in addressing identified areas where improvements might profitably take place