An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Gallen Community School

Ferbane, County Offaly

Roll number: 91515W

 

Date of inspection: 31 March 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006

 

 

 

Introduction

1. The quality of School Management

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

1.2 School ownership and management

1.3 In-school management

1.4 Management of resources

2. Quality of School Planning

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

4.1 Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

4.3 Assessment and Achievement

5. Quality of Support for Students

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

Guidance

Pastoral care

6. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

Guidance Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Metalwork and Engineering

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

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

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gallen Community School, Ferbane, Co. Offaly. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Gallen Community School, Ferbane, is the result of a successful amalgamation in 2004 of St. Joseph’s and St. Saran’s Secondary School and Ferbane Community College. It is a co-educational, non-selective school which aims to provide a holistic education programme to meet the needs of its student population that come from the town of Ferbane and its hinterland. The school operates between two adjacent buildings, Saran’s and College, which are adjacent to each other. These were the former school buildings prior to the amalgamation. A new school building will be provided under the Public Private Partnership Building Programme (PPP) 2006. 

 

Gallen Community School has a current enrolment of 332 students drawn from eleven feeder schools. Enrolment figures have remained steady but are dependent on the student cohort in the feeder schools. It was noted during the course of the evaluation that student numbers are increasing in the junior end of the feeder primary schools. This fact, together with proposals for new housing developments, should ensure steady enrolment figures and perhaps result in an increased enrolment in the medium term.

 

The Department of Education and Science staffing allocation for the current year including concessions is 31.61 wholetime teacher equivalents (WTE). At present the school receives additional resources under the Disadvantaged Initiative 1994/1995. This includes provisions for the post of home-school-community-liasion co-ordinator and additional teaching and learning support allocations. The school has not been selected as part of the DEIS programme and the impending resource implications of this are a cause of concern to school management. The concessionary hours currently granted to the school are allocated for curricular programmes and special needs provision. Ancillary staff comprises two secretaries, one caretaker and five cleaning staff. 

 

 

1. The quality of School Management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The characteristic spirit of the school is very much informed by its mission statement which aims to provide a broad and balanced high quality educational programme. The school has a very Christian and caring ethos where every member of the school community is valued and respected. This is supported by a strong and caring pastoral care system that promotes self-esteem and social responsibility.

 

There is a great desire among the school community to acknowledge and integrate the traditions of each individual school into the characteristic spirit of the new school. The school motto “Creideamh agus Cultúr” supports the Christian educational philosophy evident and is indicative of a consciousness to acknowledge the origins of the newly amalgamated school. 

 

There is a very good sense of community in the school. A culture of inclusiveness and openness is evident. School events such as the annual musical generate a sense of goodwill and camaraderie among staff and students. School management actively fosters a spirit of partnership and collaboration with the local community. 

 

The values and ideals expressed in the mission statement permeate the life of the school and are lived out through the daily interactions between staff and students and in the implementation of school policies. A climate of mutual respect, warmth and care was evident throughout all interactions witnessed during the course of the inspection.

 

1.2 School ownership and management

 

The board of management has been established in accordance with the Deed of Trust for Community Schools. Its nominees include members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, a representative of the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Co. Offaly Vocational Education Committee (VEC), parents and teachers. The board is very committed to the school and takes a proactive and informed approach to carrying out its duties. 

 

The operation of the board is characterised by openness, accountability and a sharing of responsibility. They generally meet once a month and are fully aware of their legislative function. Formal agendas and minutes are provided. Decisions are consensus-based and there is a very good level of co-operation between all trustees and the board in the governance of the school. Most members of the board, with the exception of recently appointed members, have received training provided by the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS). It is recommended that arrangements be put in place for the new members of the board to receive training for their role.

 

The board uphold and support the characteristic spirit of the school effectively and are actively involved in school planning. The informed approach taken to the initiation, development and review of school policies is particularly commendable. The board draw on the collective expertise and wisdom of its members and teaching staff for guidance and advice in relation to the development of school policies while outside expertise is sought if necessary. The board of management has been involved in staff recruitment and the appointment of staff to posts of responsibility, and in conjunction with the school principal, ensures compliance with statutory regulations and general education legislation pertaining to the school. Priorities for the future development of the school have been clearly identified and include the development of the new school building and playing pitches, continued development of the school plan, increased communication with parents and community, and future enrolment trends.

 

It is very commendable that the board of management, with the support of the school’s senior management team, actively facilitate and encourage staff to participate in appropriate continuous professional development (CPD) courses. Members of staff are released to attend relevant CPD and the cost of courses and membership of professional bodies is subsidised. 

Systems of communication are being refined by the board. Members of the board effectively report to those they represent and the school newsletter Newsdesk includes information on the composition of the board. In order to improve the effectiveness of communication with the general parent body the board should establish procedures for informing parents of students of matters relating to the operation and performance of the school.

 

There is a very good working relationship between the board and the senior management team. An excellent working atmosphere and spirit of co-operation was evident at the meeting between the board and inspectors. 

 

A parents’ association was established in September 2005. The association is very supportive of the work of the school. The board and senior management of the school are proactively fostering and encouraging the development of a good quality partnership with the parents’ association. It is praiseworthy that the initial affiliation cost to Parents’ Associations of Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS) was subsidised by the board and that the principal maintains very good contact with the parents’ association. The association has received initial training from PACCS and is eager to carve out a constructive and supportive function in the school. To enable the parents’ association to grow into their role within the wider school community and contribute constructively to school policy formation and review, it is recommended that they continue to be supported by guidance from the school management team. 

 

1.3 In-school management

 

The principal and deputy principal operate as an efficient and effective team. The collegial style of leadership that is evident supports the inclusive spirit of the school in a very effective way. The principal and deputy combine a teaching commitment with an onerous workload and are actively involved in extra-curricular activities. Their roles in relation to the board of management, staff, students, parents and the wider school community are clearly defined. During the course of the evaluation it was clear that they share a common vision for the school which is in keeping with the values espoused in the mission statement. Their commitment to working in co-operation and consultation with the board of management, staff, students, parents and local community is evidence of the collegial style of management adopted.

 

Senior management actively fosters a spirit of partnership and collaboration with the whole staff in the management of in-school activities. Responsibility is delegated where appropriate, as is evidenced by the setting up of staff sub-committees to progress school policies. Very good communication, both formal and informal, exists between senior management and the rest of the teaching staff. There are regular staff meetings where members of staff are invited to submit items for the agenda. In addition, staff mail boxes, a variety of dedicated staff-room notice boards and announcements at break time ensure that the staff is kept informed of relevant issues. The provision of a Teacher’s Handbook makes a significant contribution to increasing the awareness among staff of the mission statement, school routines and school planning issues. New teachers are warmly welcomed to the school. Each new teacher is assigned a mentor on the staff and is well supported by senior management.

 

Middle-management responsibilities utilise the talents and expertise of the middle-management team which comprises seven assistant principals and eight special-duties teachers. Post-holders are involved in a range of duties that support school administration, curricular programmes and pastoral care. A number of posts are clearly student-focused which is indicative of the characteristic spirit of the school. As further evidence of the collaborative style of management adopted in the school, the schedule of posts was agreed following a period of consultation that began prior to the amalgamation. With the help of an external facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), a list of post duties was agreed with the staff, senior management and the board of management. This level of reflective deliberation has ensured that the schedule of posts meets the current needs of the school effectively. It is admirable that each post-holder has a written job description and that procedures are in place to monitor and review the work attached to each post. As a means of increasing the awareness among staff of the management structure in the school, the duties assigned to each post-holder should be included in the Teachers’ Handbook.

 

The school is committed to ensuring that students work in a safe, ordered, and supportive environment. The implementation of policies such as the code of behaviour, custom and practice, pastoral care, anti-bullying, substance use and misuse as well as student protection, support the management and care of students in the school. The student-centred approach adopted in the implementation of these policies makes an important contribution in maintaining positive staff-student relationships. This fact is evidenced by comments made at a meeting with the students’ council where the school was described as a very happy place where students felt supported. It is commendable that students are reminded of the code of behaviour in the student journal and that there is a clear ladder of referral in the operation of the code of behaviour. Six assistant principals act as year heads. This recently introduced system is proving effective in supporting students. The year heads’ primary responsibility is to oversee the welfare of students in their year group. They liaise with class tutors regarding the students in their care and monitor students’ progress by checking journals and all reports. Year heads also monitor students’ notes explaining their absence from school and liaise with the pastoral care team regularly. 

 

Priority is given to ensuring regular attendance at school by all students. An attendance policy has been drafted and a number of the procedures included in the draft policy are already implemented. In accordance with the requirements of the Education Welfare Act, 2000, student attendance is tracked in a number of ways. A special-duties post has been allocated to the position of attendance officer who monitors attendance records and liaises with parents when attendance is becoming an issue. The post-holder also makes the quarterly reports to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). The year head monitors absences and liaises with the attendance officer and the home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator in relation to non-attendance. At present, absence notes are left in the student’s journal. Consideration could be given to including duplicate pages for absence notes in the student journal. On receipt of an absence note, the top copy could be then filed in the individual student’s file. In line with the school’s ethos, a flexible and caring approach is taken when dealing with individual cases of non-attendance. The home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator, school chaplain and year heads play a vital role in this regard and their efforts and success to date are praiseworthy. It is recommended that the draft attendance policy be completed and submitted to management, staff, parents and students for consultation. As there is a small core group of non-attenders, the effectiveness of the implementation of the attendance strategies should be closely monitored and reviewed annually. 

 

There is clear and effective communication between school and parents. In discussions between the inspectors and the parents’ association, parents were very complimentary about the excellent lines of communication that exist between school and home. The school operates an open-door policy to encourage parents to become involved in their child’s education. This policy is effectively supported by the excellent work of the home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator, guidance counsellors, year heads and school chaplain. General information is communicated through letters, the school newsletter Newsdesk and the Transition Year monthly newsletter The TY Times. The student journal is another important means of communication with parents. Reports on students’ progress are given at parent-teacher meetings and through examination and assessment reports that are posted home on a regular basis. The professional, informed and caring approach taken by the staff in monitoring students’ progress was highly commended by members of the parents’ association. 

 

The development of close links with the local community has always been a guiding principle of educational provision in Ferbane. Partnerships with local employers, organisations and third-level institutions have been established and contribute positively to the quality of educational provision in the school. The school is very appreciative of contributions made by past-pupils to support the school, provide work experience for students and participate in school events. This good will and support should be further developed.

 

1.4 Management of resources

 

Teachers are generally deployed in line with their subject specialism and in line with posts held. The school is one teacher over quota. The uncertainty surrounding the future allocation of Department concessionary hours is a cause of concern for management as it impacts on the deployment of teachers and on the maintenance of curriculum breadth and balance. However, in the interest of making maximum use of allocated teaching time and of ensuring that staff is efficiently deployed in accordance with their subject specialism, the class contact time of all teaching staff should be examined and adjusted if necessary according to posts held and other relevant criteria.

 

Management actively encourages and facilitates staff participation in relevant professional development courses and the obvious commitment of the staff to CDP is highly commended. It is particularly commendable that senior management recognise and utilise the talents and expertise of their own staff for internal CPD. Such practices have proved very beneficial in establishing a sense of community and team spirit in the new school. 

 

Ancillary staff are very positive about their position in the school. They feel valued and appreciated by the school community. Their work makes a valuable contribution to the smooth running of the school. 

 

There is a high level of awareness of the school’s accommodation and resource needs. The board of management is actively maintaining the present school buildings to an acceptable standard as they await the new PPP building to come on stream in 2008. Recent projects included re-surfacing the basket ball court, repairs to the heating system and upgrading the information and communications equipment. An example of the inclusive culture permeating the school is the fact that a trustee grant funded the development of a new staffroom situated between the two existing buildings to allow staff to meet as one group. All teachers have base classrooms. During the course of the evaluation teachers and students expressed their satisfaction with this arrangement as it provided opportunities for teachers to develop a sense of professional identity in the new school. Furthermore, it has presented ideal opportunities for teachers and their students to create a stimulating learning environment relevant to their subject area. Practical rooms are generally well maintained and resourced. In 2005 the DES provided a grant to update equipment in the Materials Technology (Wood) room. However, reference should be made to circulars M45/01 and PBU5/2005 with a view to updating the dust extraction system in the woodwork room. There are no indoor PE facilities but this will be addressed within the context of the new school building project. There are also plans to develop recreational pitches on a site across the road from the school. 

 

School management is committed to maintaining and updating resources, as budgets permit, in order to create an environment that facilitates high quality teaching and learning. There is a small library in Saran’s building and a book room in College building. The school also has access to the local county library which is adjacent to the school. During the course of the evaluation the further development of the school library was identified by staff as a priority. In the context of the new school building, it is recommended that the school consider, where resources permit, developing a modern library facility that would include information and communications technology (ICT) and become a modern centre of self-directed learning for staff and students and enable class groups to engage in project work. The feasibility of a partnership approach with the county library in developing this facility should be explored. The Junior Certificate Schools Programme Demonstration Library Project could be tapped into for ideas (www.jcsp.ie). The Library Association of Ireland (www.libraryassociation.ie) and the UK-based School Libraries Association (www.sla.org.uk) which has an Irish branch may also prove useful.

 

There is one computer room with networked PCs and other associated equipment. ICT facilities are also available in some classrooms and specialist rooms. There is a portable laptop and data projector available for staff use. In addition, staff have internet access in the staff room. The ICT infrastructure has been upgraded and there are plans in place for further enhancing ICT and its use in teaching and learning. An ICT co-ordinator is included in the schedule of posts and an ICT policy has been drafted that includes an acceptable usage policy for students. It is recommended that the acceptable usage policy be extended to include all users of the internet in the school. 

 

High priority is given to health and safety. A detailed health and safety policy was devised by an external consultant in consultation with school management and staff. Each subject department has a copy of the relevant section of the health and safety policy. The school’s commitment to health and safety is further shown by the appointment of a special-duties teacher to the post of health and safety co-ordinator. It is particularly commendable that the procedures for the fire drill are recorded and their success evaluated. As a means of further improving the health and safety practices evident in the school, it is recommended that mechanisms to review the implementation of the health and safety policy be established. Consideration could be given to circulating hazard analysis sheets to subject departments on an annual basis as a means of reviewing health and safety procedures and of highlighting maintenance priorities. 

 

Good resources are provided for Guidance. Each guidance counsellor has an office which is suitably equipped and accessible for students and parents. Notice boards are provided in corridors to display information for students. However, a way to make third-level course booklets and career materials more directly accessible to senior students should be explored. 

 

 

2. Quality of School Planning

 

School Development Planning is at a very advanced stage. All members of the school community acknowledge the importance of school development planning as an on-going process to ensure that the school works well and plans for its future. Given that the school was only established in 2004, the level of progress is admirable. In 2003, with the help of an external facilitator from SDPI, the staff of both schools began planning for the amalgamation. Both staffs worked on the development of a mission statement and six sub-groups from the teaching staff developed policies and provoked debate in a number of key areas identified. These areas included the code of behaviour, anti-bullying, substance use and misuse, internal assessments, IT and dignity in the workplace. The school has continued to work with the SDPI and second level support service (SLSS) facilitators to progress school planning. The deputy principal has participated in the SDPI summer school while the principal, deputy principal and one assistant principal have attended regional cluster meetings. This level of commitment to CPD is highly commended. It is obvious that the expertise gained has contributed to the informed and proactive approach that underpins the planning process in the school. In December 2004 work began on subject department planning.

 

The willingness, generosity and commitment of staff, evident from the professional manner in which they have engaged with the school planning process, are highly commended. This process is facilitated effectively by the deputy principal who acts as school development planning co-ordinator. In order to maintain the momentum in school development planning and in light of the deputy principal’s already onerous workload; consideration should be given to the appointment of an assistant school development planning co-ordinator or a core planning team.

 

The board of management and senior management are very aware of the need to encourage parents and students to become further involved in the school development planning process. Precedents have been set for involving students, for example, in their involvement in the design of the new school logo and in the development of the guidance plan. The deputy principal has presented the school plan to the newly formed parents’ association and they have been made aware of part of the draft attendance strategy. As a means of promoting the inclusive approach to policy formulation favoured by the school management, it is recommended that a mechanism be agreed by the board of management and the senior management team for consulting the parents’ association and the students’ council in the drafting and review of all school policies.

 

To date, school development planning has focused on two key areas, policy development and subject department planning. As a further indication of the school’s characteristic spirit, policies that were student-focused were prioritised for ratification and are included in the permanent section of the school plan. Policies such as the code of behaviour, custom and practice, pastoral care, anti-bullying, health and safety, critical incidents, child protection, admissions and substance use and misuse have all been ratified by the board of management. The procedures outlined in each policy are plainly rooted in the aspirations espoused in the school’s mission statement and clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of relevant staff members.

 

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

 

The developmental section of the school plan includes draft policies in the areas of guidance, special education needs, attendance, internal assessments, ICT and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Further advice on some of these draft policies is given in this report. It is recommended that all policies that are in draft format be completed and circulated for consultation with the school community and ratified by the board as soon as is practicable. Consideration should be given to communicating information on ratified school policies to all parents, perhaps through a school development planning corner in Newsdesk.

 

Immediate planning priorities have been identified and include the development of a dignity in the workplace policy, the continued development and embedding of collaborative subject department planning as a means of promoting effective teaching and learning and, informing the development of further whole-school policy. 

 

The successful collaborative development of such a large number of school policies has ensured that the school community has a clear focus and shared vision. It was reported during the course of the evaluation that all the ratified policies are working well. All policies have an in-built timeframe for review. Regular discussions at staff meetings also ensure that policies are constantly reviewed and refined where necessary. This is praiseworthy practice. 

 

Although subject department planning is at an embryonic stage of development, it was reported by management and staff that it is making a huge contribution to the school in terms of focused resource provision, collaborative planning and the setting of common assessments where feasible. It has also increased awareness for CPD in the area of mixed-ability teaching and ICT. During the course of the evaluation the excellent work of SDPI and SLSS in supporting the work of the school was highly commended by the management and staff.

 

 

3. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school strives to provide a curriculum programme that meets the needs of the community it serves. Four curricular programmes: Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TYP), Established Leaving Certificate (LCE) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are available in the school. One Post-Leaving Certificate course is offered as a direct response to a local community need. The necessity for the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme is under continuous review. The school is commended for the breadth of subjects on offer in the junior and senior cycle programmes where there is a good balance between technological, scientific, and arts subjects. Music, a recent addition to the school’s curriculum programme, is an increasingly popular subject choice among students.

 

Whole-school support for the provision of all subjects is very good. The timetabled allocation for the majority of subjects is in line with syllabus requirements and recommendations. However, the timetabling of some subjects needs to be examined in order to ensure that all subjects are properly accommodated. In the context of a review of the taster programme, consideration could be given to the length of time allocated to sampling subjects. First-year students are placed in mixed-ability classes. In second and third year, classes are set for English, Irish, Maths, French and Business Studies. Second-year students are arranged into classes for these subjects on the basis of their performance throughout first year and in the summer examinations. In the current second and third year, this process has created a third class group of a relatively small size. Management and staff feel that this strategy has benefited these students through a greater degree of individual attention and a more appropriate pace of work. The careful monitoring of student progress is essential in order to validate the system of setting and the benefits of the concurrent timetabling arrangements should be maximised to facilitate student movement between class groups. As this timetabling arrangement is due for review by management, the feasibility of allowing mixed-ability groups continue into second year should be explored.

 

A Physical Education (PE) and Games programme is offered to junior and senior cycle classes. All year groups, with the exception of third years who have a single period, have one double period per week. The school is commended for its efforts to provide a programme of physical activity, given the limitation of existing facilities. However, the overall delivery of PE needs to be addressed. All classes in each year group are block-timetabled concurrently for PE and Games. There is one qualified PE teacher on the staff and this teacher is assisted in the delivery of the programme by a number of other teachers. There is a draft proposal for the development of PE in the school. In this context, it is recommended that a structured PE programme based on the principles and ideals of PE syllabuses be designed. Games and coaching should become part of the extra-curricular programme. The revised PE programme can be extended as the new facilities and resources come on stream. Furthermore, the concurrent timetabling arrangement should be discontinued to allow the PE programme to be delivered to all classes by the qualified teacher who is in a position to deliver all of the key areas of the programme.

 

There is recognition that the potential of ICT to enhance the quality of teaching and learning should be exploited. Yet, students have limited exposure to ICT classes to build up core competencies and skills. First-year students develop basic key board skills as part of Business while transition-year students complete modules for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and in computer aided design (CAD). Within the context of enhanced ICT facilities in the new building, it is recommended that the draft ICT policy be amended to include a strategic plan for the delivery of ICT to junior and senior cycle classes in order to exploit the benefits to be gained from ICT in teaching and learning. Further advice and support is available from National Centre for Technology in Education at www.ncte.ie

 

A very good Transition Year Programme (TYP) is in place. It is specifically adapted to meet student needs and contributes positively to the holistic education programme offered by the school. There is a wide choice of modules and activities in the programme and the subject sampling layer serves to inform subject choice at senior cycle. The commitment, enthusiasm and dedication of the programme co-ordinator and staff in ensuring the success of this programme are laudable. There is a need to review the TY plan. It is recommended that the plan be reviewed to include all the modules on offer. More detailed and specific subject planning documents are also needed for individual subject areas within TY to include details on timing, content and cross-curricular linkages.

 

The majority of Leaving Certificate students take the LCVP. French to ab-initio level is provided for students who are not taking French for their Leaving Certificate and the link modules are team-taught by three teachers. As LCVP is a dedicated curricular programme in the school, the specific co-ordination of LCVP should be considered by management.  

 

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

A number of measures are in place to support and advise parents and students in relation to subject choice. The principal and the home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator visit the feeder schools to promote the school. An open night provides opportunities for prospective students and their parents to speak to subject teachers and discuss course content. Further information is provided in relation to subject choice. Incoming first-year students and their parents also meet with the guidance team and this contact is maintained by the holding of parent nights in the school. 

 

It is commendable that there is a taster programme for optional subjects. This good practice allows students to make a more informed subject choice. At the end of the taster programme subjects are selected from option bands. It is laudable that the first-year parent-teacher meeting is scheduled to coincide with the end of the taster programme. Members of the parents’ association highly commended this practice as it allowed parents to discuss final subject choices with the teachers. The detailed student profiles that teaching staff had compiled for this meeting were also highly praised. Third-year students and their parents receive assistance in making subject or programme choices for senior cycle. The school has produced an excellent guide on subject choice and this is issued annually to third-year students. Senior cycle programme options are explained at an information evening for third-year parents. Option pools are generated from student choices and it is praiseworthy that every effort is made to facilitate all students in their subject selection. It is commendable that students are fully advised throughout their junior and senior cycles of the career implications of choosing or dropping particular subjects and of the implications of attempting higher or lower levels. 

 

Management recognises that there is a need to review senior cycle options. In a conscious effort to meet student needs, Physics and Leaving Certificate Music is offered outside normal timetabled allocations. While this practice is supportive of students, it may also militate against students opting for the subject. It is recommended that the breadth and balance of senior cycle options be examined with a view to moving all subjects offered at senior cycle into the school day. This should include a strategic plan for the future provision of science-related subjects with a view to strengthening uptake and ensuring continued provision.

 

All junior cycle classes have one class period per week of SPHE which is in line with the provision outlined in circular M11/03. Teachers of SPHE work in collaboration with Religious Education teachers and guidance counsellors. A comprehensive draft SPHE policy outlines SPHE provision and the resources used on the programme. There is regular attendance at in-service for SPHE and the deputy principal acts as the SPHE co-ordinator. The SPHE policy should be developed to include desired learning outcomes for each year group and the cross-curricular links with the guidance and pastoral care programme. The draft policy should be presented to staff, the parents’ association, the students’ council and the board of management for consultation. The co-ordination of SPHE could be rotated among the SPHE team in order to share the workload.

 

The school has made a conscious effort to redress stereotypical gender issues in relation to subject choice. The taster programme in first year and the subject sampling in transition year are praiseworthy initiatives to allow students make informed choices and redress gender imbalances. However, the school needs to continue to explore this issue. Subject option blocks in junior cycle could be re-examined. Currently Metalwork is timetabled opposite Home Economics in both second and third year, so that what is perceived as a traditional boys’ subject (Metalwork) is timetabled opposite what is perceived as a traditional girls’ subject (Home Economics). 

 

Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The very extensive range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is considered a vital part of the holistic education programme offered in the school. Photographs and mementoes illustrating various extra-curricular activities decorate the school corridors as a further indication of their importance to school life. 

 

There is a strong tradition of sport in the school. Students participate in a number of sports such as basketball, gaelic football, soccer, rugby and athletics and have enjoyed participating in local and provincial competitions. The involvement of the members of staff in leading and coaching teams reflects the inclusive school spirit and their commitment to the students is acknowledged and commended. The school is praised for its efforts to provide activities for students who might not be interested in sport through the provision of dance, music, board games and a very successful card-making venture. The introduction of a lunch-time computer club might also be considered. A highlight of the extra-curricular programme is the hugely successful school musical. This project involves a large number of students and staff and it provides an ideal opportunity to showcase their many talents. The school choir perform at masses, advent and Easter ceremonies, assemblies and open nights. In addition, their contribution to the community is evident by participation at parish events and performances in the local community.

 

Co-curricular activities are offered in a wide range of areas such as: public speaking, debating, history and geography tours and trips to the cinema, theatre and concert hall. Students are also involved in producing high quality school magazines such as the sixth-year Year Book and TY News. Particularly impressive was the TY local directory project. Students have also participated successfully in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and the County Offaly Enterprise Awards. The provision of experiences and activities promoting Gaeilge in the school are laudable. Drama workshops, trustee-funded scholarships for gaeltacht courses, and an action-packed Seachtain na Gaeilge provide excellent opportunities for students. Such activities are highly commended as they broaden students’ knowledge, experience and ultimate enjoyment of learning.

 

There is a general recognition that the co-curricular and extra-curricular programme generates an inclusive community spirit and reinforces positive relationships among students and staff. The fact that there was co-operation between the two schools prior to the amalgamation in the fielding of sports teams has been instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition period for the new school. Links with outside agencies such as sports clubs and local businesses, are fostered through the co-curricular and extra-curricular programme. The efforts, commitment and innovation displayed by staff in providing such a wide range of activities are highly commended. This work is highly valued by the students, parents and the school management.

 

 

4. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

4.1 Planning and Preparation

 

There is excellent co-operation and collegiality among teachers, in all of the subject areas evaluated. Teachers in each of the subject areas are organised into formal subject departments. Each department has a recognised co-ordinator who acts in a voluntary capacity. Co-ordinator duties include chairing department meetings, keeping records of these meetings and advising management on issues related to the subject area. Typically, subject departments meet formally once per term, when time is allowed at the end of a staff meeting. There are also frequent informal and casual meetings of departments. Items such as curricular planning, choice of texts, resources, timetabling, class organisation and taster courses are among the issues considered at subject department meetings.

 

Long-term subject planning in the subjects inspected is at different stages of development. Long-term curricular plans varied from broad, general documents to more detailed year-plans, based on the SDPI templates. Considerable thought has been given to both long-term and short-term planning in some areas while other areas are in need of more detailed planning.

 

It is recommended that more detailed curricular plans be drawn up for the teaching of some subjects. Syllabus requirements should be borne in mind when preparing these plans, as should the type of class group to be taught, for example a mixed-ability class. Items such as topics to be taught on a term by term basis, desired learning outcomes, and teaching and learning strategies to be implemented to achieve these desired outcomes should be considered along with a mechanism for review, in order to evaluate progress. In instances where two or more mixed-ability classes are in place in the same subject and year, collaborative planning is of great importance and it is recommended that the possibility of having common end-of-year tests be explored so that the re-arrangement of students into classes is facilitated. Advice and support on planning, preparation and teaching strategies suitable for mixed-ability classes may be obtained from the Second Level Support Service www.slss.ie. In addition, the acquisition of new and updated resources should be an integral part of each plan.  

 

There was good evidence of short-term planning in all the subjects inspected. Good individual lesson planning was evident and individual schemes of work for both theory and practical classes were observed. Consideration was given to effective teaching and learning strategies and to preparation of resources. All lessons observed during the inspection were well structured, taking cognisance of previous student learning and of new material to be taught. Good advance preparation of the required resources and classroom equipment ensured that lessons were presented in a confident and competent manner. Teachers were familiar with and knowledgeable regarding the content of the lessons presented. This is excellent practice and teachers are to be congratulated for their work.

 

Teaching and Learning

 

There was a positive teaching and learning atmosphere in all the classes visited. Each lesson had a definite focus and was underpinned by the prior planning and preparations that the teachers had made. Classroom management was uniformly good and the classroom skills of the teachers ensured the active engagement of the students. The presentation of the lessons was well paced and structured. The choice of methodologies was appropriate to the learners and to the material being taught. The students were attentive to their teachers and displayed a willingness to participate in the class lessons.

 

In keeping with good teaching practice, most teachers informed their students of the objectives of the lesson at the outset. This practice is encouraged as it gives students a sense of purpose and helps them to engage quickly with the subject of their study. Most of the lessons observed incorporated a variety of teaching methodologies and resources to facilitate student learning. These included practical work, use of a laptop and data projector, handouts, written assignments, overhead transparencies and teacher-student interaction. The classroom strategies in any given instance were effective and impacted on student learning. The sequencing of class activities was purposeful and drew the students into the learning process in ways that steadily consolidated their learning. The contribution that the teachers made to their individual lessons was noteworthy but it is suggested that the teachers be mindful of striking a good balance between teacher and student inputs.

 

The rapport between teachers and students was good and the teachers were very affirming of their students’ efforts. Appropriate attention was given to health and safety considerations when practical work was being carried out. The students worked in their small groups on such occasions and undertook the work responsibly. Teacher movement within the classrooms was used to monitor and assist the progress of the students. The questioning of students was frequently used to create greater understanding of the lesson topic and to gauge students’ knowledge of the material being studied. The questioning techniques of the teachers was most successful where there was a mixture of questions testing both factual recall and some of a more open-ended nature that challenged students to think more deeply. 

 

In general, effective use was made of the blackboard to support student learning by highlighting information. Good use was made of the classroom board to highlight important points, key words and phrases and, to aid the explanation of difficult concepts with freehand sketches. It is recommended that teachers make greater use of this resource at appropriate times in the course of a lesson as opportunities to impact on student learning in this way were sometimes overlooked. It is suggested also that the teachers be mindful of avoiding situations where they are the only ones in the class doing written work. Students should be encouraged to take notes regularly in their copybooks of key points of information. Such notes can assist students in retaining and revising the lesson material.

 

The setting and correction of homework were important aspects of the teaching and learning methodologies observed. Homework tasks were given to consolidate students’ learning of the lesson material and to promote autonomous learning among the students. It was noted also that students often placed their work and class handouts in folders to support their study of their coursework. The practice of providing print rich environments by displaying posters, students’ work and other useful material that was evident in several classrooms is encouraged.

 

4.3 Assessment and Achievement

 

Ongoing assessment of students takes place through teacher observation and monitoring of their participation and work in class. The teachers’ knowledge of the students was clear in the classroom interactions observed. Good use was made of focused questioning of named students to judge understanding and recall. In general, questioning of a kind that allows chorus answering was avoided, and teachers were also mindful of giving students enough time to formulate a response to more complex questions.

 

Good practice was observed in the setting of homework where assignments were written on the board and students were given ample time to note them in their journals and to seek clarification where necessary. It was commendable that in many cases homework was not only graded and dated, but was also given a comment that affirmed student effort and made helpful suggestions towards improvement. It is recommended that this practice be followed as often as possible. It is further recommended that, in order to reinforce the importance of developing pride in and awareness of the standard of their own work, students be asked to state that they have re-read and corrected their own work before handing it up.

 

The monitoring of student achievement is built into the school year with house exams at Christmas and summer, mid-term tests in the first and second terms and mock examinations for third-year and sixth-year students. This strong culture of formal assessment can best be seen as a means of assisting students to become better learners and as a strategy to encourage students to raise their expectations for themselves to the highest realistic levels. It is recommended that the teaching staff ensure that the school’s assessment procedures work as a means to affirm and guide student effort. High though fair standards should be applied to student work and students should be aware of these criteria, thus ensuring that the system of regular assessment forms a positive element of student learning and progress. Strategies and suggestions in relation to assessment for learning (AfL) are available from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (www.afl.ncca.ie). In terms of formal external assessment, the school’s aim should be to ensure that all students take the certificate examinations at the highest level possible.

 

The school uses both written and computerised reports to keep parents and guardians informed of student progress. In addition, teachers keep their own records of grades for homework and for the various tests. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group in accordance with the normal arrangements, and a good level of attendance was reported. Good record keeping means that teachers are well placed to give accurate feedback on student performance at these meetings.

 

 

 

5. Quality of Support for Students

 

Students with special educational needs  

 

The school is committed to ensuring that all students reach their full potential and the learning support programme is considered a very important support in this regard. The learning support programme at junior and senior cycle is delivered by a very committed teaching team which comprises one qualified learning support teacher, who is the co-ordinator, one guidance counsellor, a special-needs assistant and a number of other teachers who support the programme. Staff members acknowledge the invaluable assistance and support given by the learning support team. Information is exchanged between the team on an informal basis and there is very good communication between the learning support co-ordinator and subject teachers. Consideration should be given to allocating some formal meeting time in order to review education plans and facilitate collaborative planning, particularly in cases where classes are team- taught.

 

All first-year students are assessed in mid-September for potential learning difficulties using diagnostic test instruments. In order to allow advance planning for resources to meet the needs of students in receipt of learning support, it is recommended that these tests be carried out prior to entry. It is suggested that the learning support team, in consultation with the guidance team, explore the option of introducing new test instruments that could be used for initial testing and the subsequent monitoring of students’ progress. The DES C/L M23/05 on testing provides a list of appropriate tests and outlines the grants available towards the purchase of test materials. The Irish Learning Support Association www.ilsa  and the Special Education Support Service www.sess.ie can offer further advice.

 

The learning support department is generously resourced to support students with special education needs. The learning resource centre is an attractive and bright room that is well resourced with a range of ICT equipment and appropriate software programmes, as well as a catalogued range of learning support resources. The learning environment is greatly enhanced by the displays of students’ project work, and a range of appropriate educational posters. This highly praiseworthy practice helps to stimulate and engage student interest as well as promote a sense of student ownership of and identity with their learning environment.

 

The learning support programme is tailored to meet the needs of each year group in junior and senior cycle. Education programmes for students with special educational needs are based on information from primary schools, psychological testing, consultation with parents or because a literacy or numeracy deficit has been identified by the in-school testing programme. It is important to periodically review procedures to ensure that the student records are comprehensive, systematic and easily accessible. Attention is drawn to the relevant section of circular C/L M23/05 in relation to the records of test results. 

 

Learning support focuses on the development of literacy and numeracy skills as well as subject specific support and extra assistance with homework. This is provided through smaller mainstream classes in Maths and English, as well as one-to-one and group withdrawal. A culture of team-teaching is emerging. While this is commendable practice, the importance of effective collaborative planning cannot be overemphasised in order to make maximum use of this arrangement. The progress of individual students is tracked through monitoring in-house assessments results. The learning support co-ordinator also tracks reading progress. This on-going assessment and monitoring is commendable, as good practice dictates that students in receipt of extra support should be re-assessed on an on-going basis. This information should be used to refine student support needs as appropriate and maximise their inclusion with regular class groups where practicable.

 

There is a need to adopt a whole-school approach to supporting students with special educational needs. Therefore, it is recommended that CPD in the general area of special education, learning and literacy support be made available to all staff. CDP workshops on differentiated learning would support all staff in tailoring teaching and learning strategies to support the diverse student learning needs typical of mixed-ability settings. This level of professional development will also contribute to the school’s endeavours to promote effective teaching strategies. Further information and advice is available from the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) and the Second Level Support Services (www.slss.ie). 

 

There is a draft policy for special education. It is recommended that those aspects of the policy that link with the admissions policy be reviewed and realigned with the ratified admissions policy to avoid any ambiguous interpretation of the special education policy. In addition, the policy should outline how the needs of students in receipt of resource hours as well as those in receipt of learning support are addressed. Once completed, it should be presented to staff, the parents’ association and students’ council for consultation and finally to the board of management for ratification as a school planning document. This plan should be reviewed and updated annually. As individual education plans (IEPs) are due to become mandatory as part of the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act 2004, the continued development of formal IEPs for students with special education needs is important. Further advice and information on the IEP process is available in Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process. This publication is available from the National Council for Special Education Needs, 1-2 Mill Street, Trim, Co. Meath.

 

Very good contact is maintained with the learning support co-ordinator and the parents of students in receipt of learning support as well as the relevant external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the local Special Needs Organiser (SENO) and the relevant sections of the DES.

 

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

 

The school has a full time home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator who was appointed as part of resources accruing to the school under the Disadvantaged Initiative 1994/1995 scheme. The home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator maintains good links with families through home visitation and is of great assistance to all areas of activity within the school. It was reported during the course of the evaluation that the home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator has played a vital role in reducing absenteeism. A breakfast club has been established and is regarded as a very important daily point of contact with students. The home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator visits the feeder primary schools to identify any particular resource needs of incoming students. This helps to ensure that an informed approach is taken to the care of all students in the school.

 

All students have access to the book rental scheme which is an effective support to students and parents in the provision of text books. An annual contribution is requested but personal circumstances are taken into consideration. A post-holder administers the existing scheme efficiently and effectively. However, it appears that the existing structures may be limiting the choice and availability of reading material in certain subjects. In this context, it may be advisable to review the operation of the scheme. Supervised evening study is organised for four evenings a week. 

Good links with community agencies have been established through the school’s participation in the Home-School-Community-Liaison (HSCL) scheme family and district clusters and through membership of the Local Committee. This is good practice and the potential benefits of such links should be maximised. It is particularly praiseworthy that the school is currently exploring the possibility of developing a parenting support programme that would train parents to deliver programmes to other parents and strengthen the links between parents and the school. In order to encourage parental involvement further, consideration should be given to the compilation of a transfer pack that would be delivered to parents of incoming first-year students. The pack could include information on school activities, school policies and practices, study and homework routines. As a further means of facilitating a partnership approach to student learning, literacy and numeracy initiatives involving parents and family members could also be explored. The benefits of initiatives such as Mathematics for Fun and Reading for Fun could be explored. Further information on these initiatives is available from the HSCL support services.

 

Guidance

 

The school adopts a whole-school approach to Guidance. The guidance allocation of .59 is shared between two guidance counsellors. Work has begun on drafting the school guidance plan. It is recommended, that once completed, this plan should include details of all the work undertaken by the guidance team throughout the school. It should then be presented to staff, the parents’ association and students’ council for consultation and finally to the board of management for ratification as a school planning document. The school guidance plan should be updated annually and adjusted to meet emerging needs. The document; Developing a School Guidance Programme (National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2004) may provide some ideas on how to manage the consultation and review processes.

 

Guidance is well integrated into all school programmes. The guidance team manages the provision of a wide range of educational, vocational and personal guidance interventions for students with the support of other staff. It is reported that close collaboration operates between the guidance team, the chaplain, the pastoral care team and the SPHE and LCVP link module teachers. One-to-one personal and career counselling support is provided for students in all year groups. Where appropriate, referrals to the local health board and other outside agencies for extra assistance are arranged and managed well by the school. The school is commended for the degree of one-to-one support time given for students to meet with the guidance counsellors. In order to maximise the use of available guidance time and address students’ vocational as well as personal needs, it is recommended that some additional group sessions be organised for second-year and third-year students to encourage them to begin exploring career options. As time for Guidance is limited on an already crowded junior cycle curriculum, these inputs should ideally be planned in conjunction with the SPHE programme, so that students can begin the process of developing tentative career paths and goals while still in junior cycle. 

 

The degree of participation by the guidance team in school curricular programmes is highly commended. The guidance team supports a very good induction programme for first-year students. TY and LCVP students are assisted to make good choices of work-placements and if necessary, to find an employer for placement. Students are briefed in advance to optimise the opportunities provided in the chosen work-place, and de-briefed when they return to school to articulate exactly what they have learned about the world of work.

 

Parents have access to the guidance team. Parents are assisted to understand the range of supports provided by the school and the guidance team meets by appointment with any parents who may wish to discuss any aspects of careers or the personal concerns of their children. Good contact has been established and is maintained with National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) by the school. The guidance team has supported the development of a critical incidents policy for the school with advice from NEPS. Good contacts have also been established with local and national third-level and further education colleges, outside agencies, FÁS, local businesses and with past-pupils. 

 

Pastoral care

 

The pastoral care of students is given a high priority by the school community. This is evident from the informed, dedicated and committed approach taken to ensuring that students are effectively supported in the school. Key policies that relate to the care of students have been developed and are being implemented. These include pastoral care, critical incidents, anti-bullying, substance use and misuse, code of behaviour and student protection policies. The core pastoral care team comprises the deputy principal, home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator, school chaplain, learning support co-ordinator and guidance personnel. The team seeks to examine ways that pastoral care can be realised in the school and have been responsible for the development of the pastoral care and critical incidents policies. Clear procedures are in place for reporting and monitoring the work of the pastoral care team and there is good communication with parents. It is particularly praiseworthy that they engage in the process of self-evaluation and review of pastoral care policies as evidenced by the recent amendment of the critical incidents policy. The collective expertise and experience of this team ensure that a focused, caring and co-ordinated approach is taken to supporting students. The team meets formally once a term and informally on a very frequent basis. It is commendable that an agenda and minutes are provided for formal meetings. 

 

Year heads and form tutors are an effective tier of the pastoral care system. Frequent and meaningful contact is maintained with all elements of the structure. A weekly timetabled meeting of year heads, senior management and members of the pastoral care core team ensures that there is a co-ordinated and informed approach taken to the management of students in each year group. The invaluable contribution and commitment of class tutors in supporting students and year heads was acknowledged by senior management and year heads and is highly commended. Occasional assemblies are held with each year group. As a means of developing the role of year head further and creating a sense of group identity within each year group, it is recommended that consideration be given to the merit of holding a short timetabled “pastoral care assembly” each day. This time could also be used to carry out administrative tasks in relation to absences.

 

The pastoral care team provides opportunities for the teaching staff in the area of CPD. The school chaplain provided CPD to train facilitators for the Rainbows programme and further staff training is planned in the area of child protection. In addition, the home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator provided CPD on pastoral care. Such initiatives are highly commended and serve to strengthen the whole-staff commitment to pastoral care already evident.

 

A caring, supportive and positive approach is evident in the implementation of school’s code of behaviour and associated policies. Class teachers are encouraged to reward good behaviour through positive comments in the student journal and an integrated approach is adopted in dealing with cases of unacceptable behaviour. While there is a definite ladder of referral, strategies are often adopted that include the support of the pastoral care team. As a further reflection of the characteristic spirit of the school, students’ contribution to the school is acknowledged and affirmed at school events such as assemblies, awards night and through the recently introduced endeavour awards scheme which aims to promote positive participation by students in the life of the school. Due to the initial success of the endeavour award system, consideration could be given to developing it as a progressive awards structure throughout the school.

 

The school chaplain works closely with senior management and is a member of the pastoral care team. The chaplain acts as a great support to students and staff. The spiritual development of students is enhanced by school Masses, prayer services, retreats as well as through religious education lessons. The meditation room in the school is a great asset and acts as focal point for students. The role of the chaplain in the preparation of students for year group assemblies is highly commended. Outside links with local parishes are firmly established as evidenced by student participation in local church services. In order to promote a caring community, students are involved in local and international charity work. Information on chaplaincy services is communicated to parents at open nights and the first-year information night. During the course of the meeting with the parents’ association the quality of the chaplaincy services was highly commended.  

 

School policies and procedures encourage students to become actively involved in the activities of the school. There is a student prefect system where two prefects, one male and one female, are elected to each class. School management is exploring possible leadership programmes for prefects with a view to increasing their profile in the school. This is encouraged in order to develop leadership skills and to etch out a clearly defined role for the prefects that is separate but complementary to the role of the students’ council. Students also have key roles to play in school events such as introducing the musical and speaking at open nights. These are excellent means of developing students’ confidence and leadership skills as well as ensuring that they take an active part in the day-to-day events of the school.

 

A students’ council was established in 2005 and is advised and supported by a designated liaison teacher. An election of officers was held but the list of nominees was confined to the class prefects. It is recommended that the constitution of the students’ council should aim to make membership as inclusive as possible for future elections. The council has agreed structures and good lines of communication with its constituents and with management. The main activities this year included drafting the constitution and environmental issues. It also had an active role in school events such as open night and the school musical. At the meeting with the students’ council the members were particularly appreciative of the support offered by management and staff. It is commendable that the representatives of the students’ council were invited to a PPP consultation meeting that was held with the PPP unit of DES. School management is very conscious that the students’ council need to have a visibly proactive and structured role in the school. It is recommended that training be provided for the students’ council to enable them to grow into their role in the school community. A calendar of events could be planned at the beginning of each academic year and members should be provided with badges. School management has expressed an interest in the Green Flag award scheme operated by An Taisce and students have recently attended a workshop on environmental issues. An environmental sub-committee of the students’ council could be established to facilitate any future efforts to gain the Green Flag award. The council is advised to consult the following publication: Second Level Student Councils in Ireland: a study of Enablers, Barriers and Supports (2005). It is available through the National Children’s Office, 1st Floor, St Martin’s House Waterloo Road, Dublin 4, telephone 01 2420000 or consult the website at www.nco.ie

 

 

 

 

 

6. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

7. Appended Subject Inspection Reports

 

Subject inspection reports in English, Guidance, Metalwork and Engineering, Science and Biology are appended to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gallen Community School, Ferbane. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Good provision has been made for English in the timetable of Gallen Community School. Junior cycle classes have an English lesson every day, and this represents the optimal number and distribution for the subject. The same arrangement holds for fifth-year and sixth-year classes while the transition year timetable provides three lessons per week, the standard allocation. Although it is recognised that this level of provision in the junior cycle reduces the time available to other subjects, management and staff are strongly urged to maintain the current level, given the crucial role played by the development of literacy skills in enhancing student performance across the whole curriculum.

 

Six teachers, one of whom is the learning support teacher, are involved in the delivery of English. Three teachers have a substantial timetable allocation to English, and this should be an advantage in the development of collaborative subject planning. In general, teachers take classes across all programmes and levels; this is good practice as it extends the pool of expertise and experience within the teaching team. It is also commendable that teachers of English made useful reference to their other subject areas in the course of the wide-ranging discussions taking place in the English classroom as such cross-curricular references can be very enlightening for students.

 

In the current year, there are two class groups in first year, transition year and fifth year and three in second, third and sixth. English is timetabled concurrently for all years, a commendable arrangement when exploited fully to facilitate student movement between levels and to allow for inter-class events such as debates, drama and other co-curricular activities. Since concurrency makes particular demands on timetabling, the English teaching team should ensure that they are making full use of it in their planning for the subject.

 

First-year students are placed in mixed-ability classes. On the basis of their performance throughout the year and in the common summer examination, students are set for all core subjects in second and third year. In the case of English, the issue of level comes into play in second year, with one group designated higher level, another ordinary level and the middle group a mixture of higher and ordinary. It is recommended that decisions in relation to level be held off until the end of second year when all students except a number receiving literacy support could sit a common paper. Were this policy to be adopted, the setting of students would not need to happen until third year. This would give more time to students to give evidence of their potential and would take into account the fact that they are going through an important phase of development. It should also assist students to have the highest realistic expectations possible and avoid a situation where students may perform less well because they see themselves as less able. Further reference will be made to this recommendation in the sections of this report dealing with planning and assessment.

 

Good audio-visual resources are available to support the teaching of English. Since the televisions and DVD/VCR equipment are shared, it is important that a booking system for these be set up and observed. Other resources include overhead projectors in some classrooms and a number of computers in the staffroom. The local library which is next door to the school is used regularly by teachers who arrange to bring classes to it from time to time. This is a commendable initiative and it is to be hoped that ways of developing the library as a shared school and community resource will continue to be explored.

 

In the area of continuing professional development, teachers have attended a number of relevant seminars held in the Education Centre in Athlone, including those organised by the Athlone branch of the Association of Teachers of English. This indicates a commendable level of interest and commitment.

 

The school engages in a range of co-curricular activities related to English. These include debating and public speaking competitions, visits to the theatre and cinema, the organisation of visits from the mobile cinema and the staging of school musicals. A noteworthy transition year activity is the production of a good quality magazine which comes out five or six times a year. This provides very good training in writing, editing and IT skills and also involves students in writing contributions for the local newspapers also. All concerned are to be commended on this enterprise.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Subject planning for English as part of the process of school development planning was initiated in 2004. Year plans for English for 2004-2005 and the current academic year were seen during the inspection. These follow templates supplied by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Planning time is a designated thirty minutes at the end of the full staff meetings which are held every term. A co-ordinator for English has been appointed on a voluntary basis and it has been agreed that this position will rotate among the members of the team. Management and staff are to be commended for their facilitation of and engagement with the process of subject planning as set out above. Given that subject planning is best seen as a continuous process involving forward planning, review, change and development, it is recommended that the English teaching team continue to engage fully in this process.

 

The existing subject plan was drawn up on the basis of discussions both at formal and informal meetings leading to decisions about aims, objectives and content for the various years and programmes. There is a commendable emphasis on the development of key skills in the statements of aims and objectives, with particular reference to the programme for first year. It is recommended that, in reviewing the plan for next year, the teaching team place skills in the foreground for all years and programmes. Text choices and the order in which aspects of the syllabus are covered should support the development of the skills identified in the plan. The integration of reading and writing activities is of particular importance here; for example, developing diary-and letter-writing skills in the context of characters in a novel or play.

 

Two other areas that the team might focus on to develop the plan as a practical and useful resource are methodologies and assessment. Descriptions of strategies that have worked in the past, templates, writing frames and ideas that the team might like to try out could all be included in the plan and could then be reviewed and added to at planning meetings. The plan could also contain outlines of end-of-term assessments focusing on skills rather than content, which would give a sense of a common goal to the term’s work. This would be most useful in the context of continuing the mixed-ability groups into second year. In this regard, methodologies that stress differentiation should also be incorporated into the plan, enhancing the learning opportunities for all students in a mixed-ability group. Such a plan is also of great assistance to those delivering learning support and resource teaching, formalising communications between those involved and improving the opportunities for reinforcing key skills and concepts.

 

The school operates a book rental scheme which has placed constraints on the choice of texts for the different programmes. Teachers source additional material and this is always a desirable practice as it prevents an over-dependence on textbooks. However, since the subject plan states the desirability of developing reading as a life-long activity, management and the teaching team should plan to increase and update the stock of novels available to junior cycle classes. As a general recommendation, a review of the book scheme involving parent representatives and the board of management would be timely.

 

The transition year programme offered in English is designed to broaden the students’ experience of the subject, emphasising both film and media. It is recommended that the plan for transition year be fully incorporated into the subject plan, including the areas of methodology and assessment already mentioned. Care should be taken to ensure that, while skills relevant to the Leaving Certificate are appropriately developed during this year, the direct use of Leaving Certificate texts be kept to a minimum.

 

A very good level of individual planning was observed during the course of the inspection. This included planning and preparing imaginative and effective resources and strategies. The sharing and recording of these through the subject plan would greatly enhance the usefulness of the plan and would reinforce its importance as an expression of fruitful collaborative work practices.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

Seven lessons were observed during the course of the inspection. All were well planned and prepared and covered a satisfactory amount of material. Pacing and structure were in general very good, and there were some fine examples of the sequencing of class activities to take students through the learning process in an engaging and meaningful way. In relation to establishing a sense of purpose and focus in each lesson, best practice was seen where a brief statement was made at the beginning of the lesson, outlining the objectives and the material to be covered.

 

A variety of resources was used in the lessons observed, including the board, images downloaded from the internet, images projected on overhead, photocopies, film and actual objects.

 

The board was used to good effect to organise and record class discussion and to give questions for classwork and homework. It is important to remember the usefulness of the board, particularly where students may need assistance in making their own records of the points made in class. Teachers should also ensure that, as a general principle, teacher writing leads to student writing, and avoid situations where teachers are the only ones in the class doing written work.

 

Some particularly imaginative visual resources were used in the exploration of poems. A series of images from the internet formed a very good pre-reading exercise in a senior cycle lesson, and students were asked to keep these images in their folders as a visual stimulus to their ongoing work on the poem and poet in question. This reminder of the continuing value of a “handout” is an example of very effective use of a resource. In another case, a snippet of film showing some details of the early years of a poet’s life and giving the views of friends and critics provoked a good response from the students and piqued their curiosity about the poet, which is precisely the attitude to be desired. In Bishop’s poem “Filling Station”, reference to a doily was illuminated through the simple but effective expedient of bringing one in to class for the students to examine. In a junior cycle lesson, historical images on overhead helped to give students a clearer picture of the Sassoon poem they were studying. To complement this visual approach, students were asked to create their own visual response to a poem, a strategy worth developing further.

 

Commendable emphasis was placed on building both general and technical vocabulary. In their own contributions to class discussion teachers used a judicious amount of sophisticated vocabulary, while assisting students to understand what was being said through context or explanation. In general, the word was introduced after the concept had been identified and discussed and this is good practice. Where technical vocabulary was required, for example in identifying figures of speech, a discussion of their purpose and context came before the question of naming them, which is a sensible and productive approach.

 

The concept of genre is central to English at both junior and senior cycle. It was therefore appropriate that students were asked to consider how a film tells a story as a form of pre-reading exercise. In responding with ideas about gesture, costume, music camera angles and so on, students were alerting themselves to aspects to watch out for when they began their viewing. This is an excellent strategy and one well worth developing and refining. It is important that work on drama be similarly attuned to that genre. It is suggested that students be encouraged to get into character by activities such as “hot-seating”, where teacher or student becomes a character in the drama and responds to questions about feelings, motives and so on. In the same way, the reading of a play should emphasise the non-verbal elements of gesture and position. Where students may be hesitant about giving a full dramatic reading, teachers should consider the use of recent audio recordings of the plays, particularly in the case of Shakespeare. These provide a stimulating yet straightforward encounter with the complete text which students generally find more helpful than filmed plays.

 

In general, students were willing to participate, to express opinions, to respond to the open questions put to them and to ask interesting questions themselves. Student effort was affirmed and best practice was seen where there was a genuine sense that the students’ considered response was valued, rather than some pre-determined “correct” answer. In order to encourage students towards more fully developed written responses, it is suggested that writing frameworks would help to give students a structure for their own responses and that students be asked to write in class as much as possible, where teachers can give assistance and encouragement as necessary.

 

Classroom management was uniformly good in the lessons observed. There was a friendly and co-operative atmosphere, and communication between teachers and students was often direct and lively, yet always courteous. Many classrooms provided stimulating environments, with posters, displays of student work, word charts and other useful material. This is a practice to be encouraged and extended.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Ongoing assessment of students takes place through observation and interaction in the classroom. During the course of the inspection, it was clear that teachers have a good knowledge of their students and could put questions to named students to check on recall or understanding. Observation of student writing in the classroom also takes place and, if students’ opportunities to write in class are extended, this will also provide a useful form of ongoing formative assessment. 

 

Good practice was observed in relation to the setting of homework where assignments were written on the board and students were given time to note them in their journals. Students should have a clear sense of the form and purpose of written assignments, and time should be allowed for questions that may arise when homework is set. Where lengthy pieces of written work are given to students, it is important that they receive a comment affirming the strengths of the work and making constructive suggestions towards improvement. It is equally important that students be encouraged to take a pride in their work and that they should know that careless and poorly presented work will not be accepted. It is therefore useful to ask them to sign each piece of work and to state that they have read over and corrected it before submitting it.

 

House exams take place at Christmas and summer. The advisability of ensuring as great a commonality as possible in these has already been mentioned. It should be emphasised that this does not preclude the reading of different texts within the junior cycle, as the exam questions are open. Written reports are sent home and results are also recorded in the students’ journals. Copies of reports are kept in the school. Mid-term tests are also held and computerised reports are sent home after these. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year.

 

Since there is a strong culture of formal assessment in the school, it would be productive to ensure that it serves to heighten student expectation and to assist students to become better learners. Through affirmation of student effort and the setting of high though fair standards for student work, teachers should use the school’s assessment procedures as a positive element of student learning and progress. Strategies and suggestions in relation to assessment for learning may be found on the NCCA website (www.afl.ncca.ie).

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Provision in Guidance

 

 

This Guidance Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gallen Community School, Ferbane. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of provision in Guidance and makes recommendations for the further development of Guidance in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms, viewed guidance facilities, interacted with students, held discussions with teachers and parents and reviewed school planning documentation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellors.

 

 

Guidance Provision and Whole School Support

 

Guidance and counselling support is provided as an integrated model in Gallen Community School. A whole-school approach to Guidance is being adopted and school management views Guidance as a necessary support for learning. Since the creation of Gallen Community School in 2004, two guidance counsellors constitute the school guidance team. These teachers share the guidance allocation and manage the provision of a wide range of educational, vocational and personal guidance interventions for students with the support of other staff. Close collaboration operates between the guidance team, the chaplain, the school care team, and the Social Personal and Heath Education (SPHE) and Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) programme teachers. Regular meetings of representatives of these groups are held on a formal basis each week, and more often when required. At these meetings, information on students’ progress and possible issues of concern are shared and strategies to meet individual students’ needs are planned. Students in need of particular support are identified; especially those who are likely to drop out of school or who do not participate fully in all the school can offer students. Working closely with the learning support staff, these students are helped to set personal achievable goals.

 

One-to-one personal and career counselling support are provided for students in all year groups, who can then avail freely of these services. The small size of the school population allows guidance staff to become well acquainted with all students. Where appropriate, referrals to the local health board or to other agencies for extra assistance are arranged and managed well by the school. Good facilities are provided for Guidance, and each guidance counsellor has an office which is suitably equipped and accessible for students and parents. Notice boards are provided in corridors to display information for students about college open-days and careers events. However, a way to make third-level course booklets and career materials more directly accessible to senior students should be explored. Full use is being made of the allocated time for Guidance in the school. The programme is delivered in both formal and informal group sessions and in one-to-one interviews. It is suggested that there is currently some imbalance in the way that Guidance is shared between junior and senior cycles, and that some more time should be provided to address the vocational needs of students in junior cycle.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The school is engaged in school planning and is currently developing a wide range of plans and policies. The guidance team has supported the development of a critical incidents policy for the school with advice from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). Good contact has been established and is maintained with NEPS by the school. Work has begun on drafting the school guidance plan during this academic year. It is recommended that the completed plan should include details of all the work undertaken by the guidance team throughout the school. It should then be presented to staff, the parents’ and students’ councils for consultation and finally to the board of management as a school planning document. The school guidance plan should be updated annually and adjusted to meet emerging needs. The document; Developing a School Guidance Programme (National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2004) may provide some ideas on how to manage the consultation and review processes.

 

The guidance plan that has been drafted outlines provision for students in each year group in the school. Starting at the transition point from primary to post-primary, students enrolling in first year (and their parents) meet with the guidance team, and this contact is maintained by the holding of regular parents’ nights in the school. Parents and students are assisted to understand the range of supports provided by the school, and the guidance team meets by appointment with any parents who may wish to discuss any aspects of careers or the personal concerns of their children. A transition taster programme for new entrants to first year is being provided. This has a strong emphasis on providing personal support for students in settling into school, meeting new friends and helping them to make more informed subject-option choices for junior cycle. The guidance team support this induction programme and input regularly into its delivery.

 

The hours provided for Guidance are being fully used to provide a wide range of educational, vocational and personal supports for students. However, Guidance for groups is being mainly provided for senior cycle classes. The school places a big emphasis on providing one-to-one support time for students to meet with the guidance counsellors. This degree of support provision is to be commended. The third-year students (and their parents) already receive assistance to make subject and programme choices for senior cycle. However, in order to further maximise the use of available guidance time and address students’ vocational as well as personal needs, it is recommended that some additional group sessions be organised for second-year and third-year students to encourage them to begin exploring career options. As time for Guidance is limited on an already crowded junior cycle curriculum, these inputs should be planned ideally in conjunction with the SPHE programme, so that students can begin the process of developing tentative career paths and goals while still in junior cycle. 

 

The majority of students now transfer directly from junior to senior cycle, with an increasing number choosing the Transition Year (TY) option. In TY and in all other senior programmes students have regular contact with the guidance team to explore subject choices, to increase personal and vocational skills and discuss career topics. Liaison with subject teachers and programme co-ordinators takes place frequently to assist students negotiate their transfer between higher or lower subject levels or different subject options. Students are fully advised throughout the junior and senior cycles of the career implications of choosing (or dropping) certain subjects and of the consequences of attempting subjects at higher or lower levels. Career-interviews are provided for all individual students, and especially for those who need extra assistance to explore choices and discuss options. Career events are provided for students and their parents where all aspects of third-level, further education and training options are presented. The school has produced an excellent guide on subject choices. This provides information for students and parents on how to choose subjects, and outlines some general requirements for third-level and other career paths.

 

The guidance programme integrates very effectively to provide support for learning and for career-exploration. A good example of the full integration of Guidance in programme planning is evident in the ways that it supports the work-experience modules in LCVP and TY. Students are assisted to make good choices of work-placements (and indeed assisted if necessary, to find an employer for placement). Students are briefed in advance to optimise the opportunities provided in the chosen work-place, and de-briefed when they return to school to articulate exactly what they have learned about the world of work. This degree of participation by the guidance team in school programmes is to be highly commended.

 

Access to information technology for students is being facilitated and encouraged. The guidance team is encouraging students to take a very proactive role in exploring college websites and in completing central applications office (CAO) applications and united colleges application system (UCAS) on-line. Good contacts have been established with local and national third-level and further education colleges, outside agencies, FÁS, local businesses and with past-pupils. The school is very appreciative of the contributions made by past-pupils to support the school, provide work-experience opportunities and participate in career events. It is recommended that this good will and support be even further developed in the future to support the development of Guidance in the school. A range of outside speakers provide insights into a wide range of occupational areas and advanced study or training options, and visits to a number of third-level colleges are facilitated. guidance staff are supported and encouraged to attend in-service training where available.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

During the inspection visit, one guidance class was visited. In this session, appropriate methodologies had been chosen to suit the stage of development of the students, the range of abilities in the group and different learning styles. The good classroom atmosphere was conducive to learning and a good choice of materials for the topic was made. Students were involved actively in the lesson, and fully engaged throughout the session. Their answering of questions showed that they understood the topic presented and could ably discuss aspects of the issues raised. An appropriate homework assignment was given to consolidate learning and good use was made of folders to store students’ work to further consolidate learning. 

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

To facilitate the assessment processes in the school and assist students to identify individual interests, a small number of aptitude tests and other instruments are available in the school. These are administered appropriately to assist in the identification of learning needs and of particular aptitudes. In fifth year, students are administered the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) to help them choose subjects for senior cycle. Each student is individually provided with feed-back on the outcomes of the DATS and possible subject options are discussed. As testing is an area that is constantly changing and new tests are now becoming available that have norms more applicable to Irish students, it is suggested that the guidance team should explore the option of introducing some new test instruments. The Department of Education and Science C/L M05 on testing provides a list of appropriate tests and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) www.igc.ie and the National Centre for Guidance in Education www.ncge.ie can offer also provide advice about this topic.

Good record keeping is evident in the school’s guidance department. Dates of students’ one-to-one meetings with the guidance team are recorded. Students’ project work on careers and assignments as part of TY and LCVP are appropriately stored and corrected. Feedback on work completed is provided in a way that is designed to benefit individual progress and insights. The initial progression destinations of students are now being recorded. The information gathered is proving useful in designing the career programme for senior cycle.

 

 

Summary of Findings and Recommendations

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance team and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Metalwork and Engineering

 

This Subject Inspection Report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gallen Community School, Ferbane. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Metalwork and Engineering and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one school day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

Gallen Community School, a recent amalgamation of two local schools, is the only post-primary school serving the town and immediate catchment areas of Ferbane, Co. Offaly. The school is particularly proud of its tradition as being the provider of education services, and in particular vocational education, in the community since 1938. It was clear from discussions with various school personnel that the technological subjects in the curriculum, including Metalwork and Engineering, garner significant support from school management. To this end management indicated that they will give considerable attention to the contents of this subject inspection report, and to the recommendations in particular, in the context of their constant strive to improve the status and provision of Metalwork and Engineering in the school.

 

There are two qualified metalwork/engineering teachers on the teaching staff. Both teachers share the teaching of the subjects at junior and senior cycle levels. 

 

The school has one metalwork/engineering workshop. The workshop is part of the old Ferbane Vocational School building and was built in 1961. Although the workshop is old, it has benefited from some substantial redesigning and redevelopment work on the part of the metalwork/engineering staff over the past number of years. As a result it is a neat, tidy and bright workshop making it a pleasant environment in which to work. It is also very well resourced, particularly in terms of metalworking equipment, machinery and consumables. Along with all the usual items of machinery the workshop is fitted, for example, with a vertical bandsaw and a CNC milling machine. It was reported, however, that this milling machine has been non-operational for some time. It was further reported that actions had previously been taken to have the machine fixed but that complications and delays were encountered. It is recommended that the fixing of this machine now be made a priority. ICT facilities are available for teacher use in the workshop. These comprise one computer with internet access, along with printing and scanning facilities. To complement this there is also one computer room in the school to which students have access on occasions. Sometimes, for example, teachers take students to the computer room to do some computer aided design (CAD) or electronics work. It is recommended that when the school is next relocating (or purchasing) ICT equipment throughout the school that consideration be given to providing the workshop with some ICT equipment for student use. This could be used by students for research work. The window ledges in the workshop are adorned with examples of students’ project work and during observation of practical lessons students were keen to show and discuss this work with the inspector. These projects act as an incentive for students to complete their work to the highest standards possible. In many ways it is regrettable that this good work is confined to display in the workshop only. Consideration should be given to erecting a display cabinet in a more prominent, or public, place in the school to be used for the display of students’ project work, or photographs of such work.

 

It is normal that one class group in each year of the junior cycle studies Metalwork. In first year, students are provided with taster courses in each of the six optional subjects up to shortly before the Christmas break. At the end of this taster course period students must choose two subjects to take to Junior Certificate level. While all the technological teachers see the benefits in the taster course system it was reported that the majority are of the view that the period in which it operates is too long, and that this makes it difficult to cover the junior cycle courses in the period of time remaining to the end of third year. In general, teachers would prefer to see the taster courses operating up to the Halloween mid-term break only. Teachers have made management aware of their concerns regarding this matter. While the difficulties encountered by teachers are acknowledged the benefits of the taster course facility need to be carefully considered. The taster course in Metalwork, for example, provides all first-year students with the opportunity to experience the subject and so can act as a stimulus for more students to study the subject. It is recommended that the issue be addressed as a whole-school issue.

 

Currently, class sizes in the junior cycle average at the medium to high teens. It was reported that classes of this size have been the norm for the last number of years at this level, but that the take-up of the subject did experience a slight decrease since the amalgamation process because of the increased number of optional subjects on offer to students. Currently, first-year and second-year classes are provided with four 35 or 40 minute lesson periods per week in the subject, while third-year students are provided with five lesson periods each week. Such provision at this level is appropriate. In general, junior cycle class groups are guaranteed one double lesson period in the subject each week, but the remaining lesson periods usually take the form of single periods on their timetable. In a subject that involves a high degree of practical activity single lesson periods are not entirely conducive to effective learning. The amount of time that can be spent at practical work, for example, in a single lesson becomes small when the time to be spent on preparation, tidy-up and equipment checking procedures are taken into account. It is recommended therefore, that the subject be timetabled with double lesson periods wherever practicable.

 

Each year every effort is made to accommodate students’ subject choices and in this respect the subject option blocks generally change from year to year to reflect the demand for the various subjects. Currently, Metalwork is timetabled opposite Art and Materials Technology (Wood) in first year and opposite Home Economics, Art, Technical Graphics and Materials Technology (Wood) in second year. In third year the subject is timetabled opposite Materials Technology (Wood) and Home Economics.

 

The school provides Transition Year (TY) students with lessons in Engineering. There are two class groups of TY students in the school and each studies Engineering for half of the school year. During this time each group is provided with two 35 or 40 minute lesson periods per week. Currently, these appear as two single lesson periods on the timetable. As referred to previously, it would be much preferable to have one double lesson period instead. The school has a written programme in place for Transition Year Engineering. While the programme provides information on key areas (e.g., aims, content, teaching and learning strategies, resources, assessment, evaluation and links with other subjects) this information is lacking in detail. For example, when mentioning ‘project work’ some details of the kinds of project work to be undertaken by students could be provided. Also more details on ‘student assessment’ techniques and the nature of ‘links with other subjects’ could be provided.

 

There is one class studying Engineering in fifth and sixth year respectively. Currently, class sizes in the Leaving Certificate average around the low teens. It was reported that classes of this size, or slightly bigger, are the norm each year. Currently, the fifth-year class group is provided with six 35 or 40 minute lesson periods per week. The level of provision here is considered generous. The sixth-year class group is currently provided with five 35 or 40 minute lesson periods per week in the subject. This level of provision is considered appropriate. While in sixth year there is an appropriate allocation of single and double lesson periods for the subject this is not the case for fifth-year students. Currently, Engineering is timetabled opposite French, Art and Home Economics in fifth year and opposite Accounting, Art, Home Economics and Technical Drawing in sixth year.

 

There is a distinct gender difference in favour of boys studying Metalwork and Engineering in the junior cycle and Leaving Certificate classes. It is recommended that management and relevant staff concentrate efforts to achieve a situation where Metalwork is seen as a realistic option for girls. The school will be starting from a strong position in this regard given that it does not have to overcome one of the most common obstacles associated with any strive to achieve gender equality in this subject area, i.e., the school already provides all students with taster courses in first year, including Metalwork. One of the initiatives that the school could consider includes re-examining the subject option blocks. Currently Metalwork is timetabled opposite Home Economics in both second and third year, i.e., what is perceived as a traditional boys’ subject (Metalwork) timetabled opposite what is perceived as a traditional girls subject (Home Economics). 

 

School management facilitates the metalwork/engineering teaching staff to attend in-career development courses wherever possible. Staff have attended numerous in-career development courses over the last number of years and are active in a relevant professional association.

 

Planning and Preparation

 

The level of planning and preparation observed for the subjects was excellent. The school development planning process has assisted in strengthening the quality of planning that already existed for the subjects. There was obvious evidence that considerable thought had been given to both long and short term planning. The planning was in all cases appropriate to the needs of students with varying levels of ability, as well as being in line with curricular requirements.

 

All teachers of the technological subjects in the school, including Metalwork and Engineering, meet on a formal basis on average twice annually. These meetings are facilitated by management as part of the development planning process in the school. The kinds of topics discussed at these meetings include timetabling issues, class organisation, taster courses, textbooks and workshops/resources issues. While this is commendable, consideration should also be given to discussing issues regarding teaching and learning strategies at future meetings. Records of these formal meetings are generally kept and will be circulated to management for consideration as appropriate. With regard to Metalwork and Engineering in particular there is a co-ordinator for the subject area in place, and regular informal meetings take place between the teachers concerned.

 

Education, or subject, plans for both junior cycle Metalwork and Leaving Certificate Engineering were made available for inspection. These plans provide information on such issues as time allocation, class organisation, textbooks, resources, homework and record keeping and reporting structures as they pertain to the different subject areas. The plans also contain an overview of the curriculum content for each subject. It is clear that teachers co-operated in putting these plans together and the level of planning in this respect is commended. Teachers also keep individual schemes of work pertaining to their own class groups which indicates the theory and practical work to be covered with their students. These schemes were described as being under continual review as they are changed regularly to meet students’ different abilities and needs. The discovery or use of new teaching resources and strategies can also lead to changes being made in schemes of work. Given the numerous benefits to be had from collaborative planning it is recommended that this approach, which already exists at subject planning level, be explored as a possible approach to the future planning of schemes of work for classes.

 

Students are at all times encouraged to take their subjects at higher level by their teachers. Also, there is appropriate liaison between the metalwork/engineering staff and the learning support staff in the school as regards those students with special education needs. The State Examinations Commission poster detailing the regulations governing the submission of project work is prominently displayed in the workshop. However, from discussions with students it was clear that many were not familiar with those regulations. It is important that students are regularly reminded of these regulations, particularly in the run up to project work deadlines.

 

The school operates a book rental scheme and all metalwork/engineering classes, except TY classes, have a textbook. Examination classes also use books of past examination papers. While the school does have a library it was reported that this was lacking on books relating to the subject area. The workshop however does have some books for student use and the local authority library, it was reported, is in close proximity to the school and teachers mentioned that students sometimes use this library for research purposes. While internet access already exists in the workshop it is recommended that consideration be given to further developing the capacity for research in the subject area, particularly for Leaving Certificate students. Teachers should endeavour, for example, to create a library of resources on metalwork/engineering topics (e.g., books, journals, magazine extracts, etc.) over time and store these in a location that is readily accessible to students.

 

Common health and safety issues are addressed in the workshop (e.g., a first aid cabinet and numerous health and safety posters are in place). Other issues are currently being addressed under the terms of DES circular letter PBU5/ 2005 and, as required, a health and safety audit of all machinery in the workshop has already been carried out. The health and safety grant received has been targeted and equipment and machinery are to be upgraded shortly. It is important that the regulations stipulated in the circular are adhered to during this upgrading process. It is also important that teachers would revisit the schools’ health and safety statement and take appropriate actions, where applicable, to ensure that the statement is reflective of the up-to-date practices and procedures pertaining to Metalwork/Engineering. It is important, for example, that the CNC milling machine and chop-saw are given specific mention in the statement. These machines do not appear on the Department of Education and Science specifications for metalwork/engineering workshops and their location in the workshop needs to be given specific attention.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

A range of lessons were visited across both the junior and senior cycle during the inspection. Students were at all times engaged in purposeful work, the content of lessons was usually linked to previous knowledge learned and was always appropriate to the ability levels of students. All of the lessons observed were well prepared. This generally comprised of the preparation of handouts or overhead transparencies or demonstration equipment and pieces. The setting-up of equipment was also demonstrated. Further, all lessons were presented in a competent and confident manner and the purpose of each was clearly established from the outset.

 

Theory and practical lessons are planned in such a way so as to complement one another. So, for example, if the Metalwork topic to be covered with students is thread cutting then students will learn both the theory of thread cutting and how to perform it in both theory and practical lessons organised in close proximity to one another. Teacher explanations and demonstrations are a common feature of theory lessons. In the case of demonstrations care was always taken to ensure that all students were able to view the demonstration area fully. The approach adopted during demonstrations encouraged students to draw on their previous knowledge and skills and therefore consolidate their learning. The blackboard was regularly used during theory lessons to highlight key words and phrases and to aid the explanation of difficult concepts, usually with the aid of freehand sketches. It is recommended, however, that students be encouraged to make notes regularly in their copybooks of key words, phrases and concepts described in lessons, whether in theory or in practical lessons. Such notes can assist students in their revision work. The textbook is not used regularly in theory lessons, but instead is used more as a means of allocating homework to students.

 

Each of the practical lessons visited were industrious environments and students participated enthusiastically in their project work. The projects being worked on by students during the inspection comprised mainly of State examination project work, but in those lessons observed of non-examination classes, the students were working on a varied and challenging range of projects. Project work, for example, tends to be multi-materials based and many incorporate elements of electronics. In one lesson students were working on three different projects – model aeroplane, model racing car and tack hammer – and this called for the exercising of excellent classroom management skills. There was good teacher movement around the workshop during practical lessons and adequate attention was given to the varying needs of students.

 

Questions put to students during lessons, both theory and practical, varied in their demands, from information retrieval to analysis, from evaluation to interpretation. There was always acceptance and clarification of students’ questions and answers. It is important, however, that teachers would aim to strike a good balance between teacher and student inputs during lessons, and in particular not to let teacher inputs dominate.

 

From observation of a sample of students’ class work, homework copybooks and homework journals it was noted that students generally keep their class notes and homework in a dedicated copybook for the subject. Homework in the subject was regularly recorded by students in their homework journals and there was evidence that students’ homework is monitored. It is recommended that the good practice of regular monitoring students’ homework be replicated in the case of students’ class work copybooks. This degree of monitoring would encourage students to keep their notes and copybooks in order, and could act as a means of communication between school and home. Further, the monitoring of students’ homework should be developed to include providing students with more informative feedback on this aspect of their work.

 

There was effective classroom management in all lessons with the effect that discipline was sensitively maintained throughout. Teacher-student and student-student rapport was relaxed and respectful. From discussions with students it was clear that they enjoyed studying Metalwork/Engineering.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

All non-examination junior cycle and Leaving Certificate classes in the school sit formal tests at Christmas and at the summer. They also have autumn and spring assessments. Examination classes sit Christmas and mock examinations, as well as autumn assessments. In all cases reports are sent home. In Metalwork and Engineering, the results of these examinations are usually based on students’ performance in both their theory and practical work. In the case of TY, students’ assessment is predominantly project based. All project work undertaken during lessons is graded on an on-going basis and teachers keep detailed records of grades achieved. Teachers also keep records with regard to students’ examination results, their homework and their behaviour. Attendance and punctuality was generally not monitored by individual teachers in the lessons observed. Notwithstanding, teachers are well positioned to give accurate feedback on student performance at parent teacher meetings. There is usually one such meeting devoted to each year group in the school annually.

 

At the end of each academic year the school presents an award for the ‘Best Student’ in Metalwork in first and second year. Further, the school also presents an annual award for the ‘Best Engineering Project’ at Leaving Certificate level. These awards are highly regarded by students and they encourage them to do their best in the subjects. By way of developing this awards system it is recommended that consideration be given to recognising the achievements of third-year students on an annual basis also.

 

Overall, excellent learning outcomes are achieved in Metalwork and Engineering. While there is no formal analysis of the results achieved in the State examinations each year, it was reported that results are discussed with the principal and at staff meetings. The learning support team in the school provide homework support to students of Metalwork and in cases where under performance is not ability-related, parents are notified and appropriate actions taken.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Metalwork and Engineering and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

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

 

This Subject Inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gallen Community School, Ferbane, Co. Offaly. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.

 

 

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

 

The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology at Gallen Community School, Ferbane, Co. Offaly was carried out over the course of two days. It began with a visit to a double fifth-year biology class followed by a single first-year science class. A meeting with the science and biology teachers followed these visits. At this meeting, the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained. Subsequently, a single first-year, a double second-year and a single and a double third-year class were observed.

 

Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for all three years. All classes are currently of mixed ability, although banding is under consideration for next year. Science classes are allocated four class periods each week. This is in the form of one double period and two single periods. The number of class periods is within syllabus guidelines. In general, the school tries to maintain a maximum class size of 24 students. However, on occasion, class size may be larger.

 

The school currently is offering Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. Following consultation with the guidance counsellor, with subject teachers and with their parents, third-year students are surveyed regarding their subject preferences for Leaving Certificate. The results of the survey are used to create a “best-fit” model of options from which students make their final choice of subjects. It is commendable that a school the size of Gallen Community School is managing to offer such a wide range of science-related subjects. Biology is the most popular choice. Biology classes are allocated five class periods per week, in the form of one single and two double periods. In alternate years, an extra single period is allocated each week. This is within syllabus guidelines. There is a maximum class size of 24 students. Class sizes in Agricultural Science, Chemistry and Physics are quite small at present.

 

An optional Transition Year (TY) programme is also offered. TY students are allocated two double and two single classes for Science each week. All students complete modules in Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The topics covered in these modules include sports science, data logging and the relationship of film techniques to light and sound. Methodologies are activity based involving experiments, field trips and guest speakers. This is good practice.

 

There are four teachers of Science in the school. Opportunities have been availed of for continuing professional development during recent and current national in-service training programmes in the physical sciences, Biology and Junior Certificate Science. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate attendance at in-service training. The school encourages active participation by students in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and in Science Week.

 

There are two laboratories in the school. They are in good condition, well equipped and are adequate for their purpose. As the laboratories are quite a distance apart, in separate sections of the school, as defined by the school buildings prior to the recent amalgamation, each has its own storage and preparation area. The majority of science classes are held in a laboratory and the laboratories are used entirely for science subjects. Access to a laboratory for specific classes is by agreement among science teachers when two laboratories are insufficient. While there is a good range of charts and posters displayed on the walls of the laboratories, it is recommended that more student-developed material, be displayed as this serves to stimulate and motivate students and enhance the learning environment.

 

A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, safety glasses and fume cupboards. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up in 2005. The science teachers were involved in the preparation of this statement.

 

 

Planning and Preparation

 

Gallen Community School was formed following the recent amalgamation of Ferbane Community College with St. Joseph’s and St. Saran’s Secondary School. There is a school plan in place, including the school’s Mission Statement, and a range of school policies. There is a science department in place with a recognised co-ordinator. The duties of the co-ordinator include chairing subject department meetings, maintaining records and advising management with regard to subject needs. All science teachers share the management of issues such as laboratory maintenance, stock control and ordering of equipment. Although the science teachers acknowledged a tendency to still use the laboratory they were familiar with prior to the amalgamation, pending the construction of the new school buildings in the near future, the level of co-operation and collegiality among them was very good. There is one formal meeting of the science department each term, usually for the purpose of planning. There are also frequent informal or casual meetings where issues and arrangements of more immediate concern are dealt with.

 

Long-term curriculum plans, where presented, tended to be of a broad nature. More detailed term-based planning is needed in both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology. Long-term plans should include a detailed list of coursework topics, a list of practical activities associated with each topic, the intended allocation of time for the coverage of each topic and a list of resources to be used in teaching each topic. There is much helpful information in this regard available in the relevant syllabuses and on the websites of the Biology Support Service, www.bsstralee.ie, and the Junior Certificate Science Support Service, www.juniorscience.ie. Teaching and learning methodologies should also be included in term plans and lesson plans in order to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching and to ensure that material is taught in a manner appropriate to the material itself and to the students being taught. Detailed curriculum planning and co-ordination is a necessary precursor to the introduction of common tests for all classes in a year group. Further helpful advice is available on the School Development Planning Initiative website, www.sdpi.ie. These plans should also help to influence and direct the development of a more long-term planning document for the sciences, including a strategy to support Agricultural Science, Chemistry and Physics and to increase the number of students choosing them as Leaving Certificate subjects.

 

In the classes observed, there was evidence of short-term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials necessary for class had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.

 

 

Teaching and Learning

 

In all classes visited, there was a disciplined atmosphere. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students and a good learning environment was evident in all the classrooms visited. Teachers’ approach to their work was professional and business-like. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task in hand. Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. The topics covered in the classes observed included the brain and spinal cord, paper chromatography, electricity, food indicators and the use of keys in ecology.

 

Teachers were very knowledgeable regarding their subject matter and there was excellent use of scientific terminology throughout all the lessons observed. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Good progress was made in all classes. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. There was good direction and follow through in the lessons observed. Lessons were well planned, well structured, and had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.

 

A wide range of methodologies was used in the classes visited. These included some very good examples of active learning, not only during student practical work, but also through the use of handouts, samples of daffodils to illustrate the parts of the flower, student written work and questioning. In one lesson visited, excellent use was made of a laptop computer and a data projector to provide pictures, for all the class to see, of the plants that were to be identified by the students, through the use of appropriate keys. The use of ICT in this way is a commendable activity and demonstrates how easily even apparently simple lesson plans can be enhanced and made more interesting. It is an example of best practice and it is suggested that all teachers examine similar ways to enhance their classroom presentations.

 

Questioning of students was frequently used to assess their level of knowledge and understanding. This is to be commended. Teachers made some use of directed questions but more use of this type of questioning is needed. Additionally, students need to be given time to formulate their answers and should be encouraged to put up their hands before a respondent is chosen, encouraging all of them to engage in the teaching and learning process. Occasional use of general questions, eliciting chorus answers, should be guarded against. Questions ranged from the factual, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level. This is good practice. The level of student engagement was good and students were enthusiastic. The use of directed questions will also help to maintain this very positive aspect of the observed classroom interaction even during more theoretical classes.

Appropriate use of the black-board or white-board is also a very effective tool in the teaching and learning process. The board can be used to highlight and reinforce new words, concepts and key points in the course of a lesson as well as summarising lesson content at the end of class. It is recommended that teachers make greater use of the board, as appropriate, during lessons.

 

During the observed student practical work, the students worked in groups of two to five. It was obvious from their behaviour that the students were accustomed to carrying out practical work and the science teachers are to be praised for their commitment to seeing that their students get the opportunity to do this practical work themselves. Students were well prepared for carrying out their practical work by the use of plenary sessions to review the theory and practice of each activity, before bench work started. It is important that all students are attentive and are engaged at this stage of the lesson, in order that they are very clear regarding the work they are about to do and to ensure that they do this work safely. Similar plenary sessions were held when the practical activities were completed, in order to review the work done and to emphasise what had been learned. This is excellent practice. Appropriate attention was given to health and safety considerations when practical work was being carried out, as evidenced by the use of safety glasses in some instances.

 

Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident in most classes visited. Teachers were very affirming of student effort and were always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is laudable. Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during all lessons. Textbooks were used for background reading by students and to assist in homework. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic. This is excellent practice.

 

In order for students to make better progress and gain a better understanding of their course of study, it is suggested that students are made aware of the objectives of the lesson at the outset of each class period. Students may work better if they are more informed as to where a lesson is leading and where it fits into the larger picture. This can be motivating and informative as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. These lesson objectives should be clear, concise and achievable. They can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress.

 

 

Assessment and Achievement

 

Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science and Biology as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons visited. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through teacher movement, through work with individual students and through correction of homework. While excellent use of assessment for learning was observed in some lessons, there was a lack of it in others. It is recommended that all lesson plans include a means of carrying out formative assessment of students. 

 

Students kept laboratory notebooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in the science area. The quality of some of the notebooks was excellent while overall there was some variation in quality. It is recommended that all teachers check and annotate homework copybooks and laboratory notebooks on a regular basis. This is an excellent means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.

 

The use of formal assessment in Gallen Community School is very thorough and well considered. All students are assessed the week before the Halloween mid-term break. This assessment is formative in nature and is based on students’ performance in class, homework, project work, behaviour and general attitude. Reports, including a teacher comment, are sent home. Christmas tests are given to all students early in December, following which a second report is sent home. For third-year and sixth-year students, mock examinations are held during the second term. Junior Certificate mock examination scripts are marked within the school while most Leaving Certificate scripts are marked externally. Once again, a report is sent home to parents. A spring assessment is held for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students, before Easter and, as with the autumn assessment, it is formative in nature and a report is issued. A final summative assessment is held in May for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students and a final report is sent home. This combination of formative and summative assessments, spread throughout the year, is an excellent method of monitoring the performance of all students and of encouraging all students to do their best.

 

Results of assessment tests and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of reports issued following all assessments, as stated above, each home receiving a total of four formal reports. In addition, parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each class, in accordance with agreed procedures with regard to the timing of meetings. The student journal is also used as a means of communication with parents or guardians.

 

There was evidence of record keeping by teachers, covering such areas as student attendance and results of assessments. This is good practice. The recorded information can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on choice of subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.

 

 

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management accepts the findings of the Whole School Evaluation Report.  This report captures the spirit of the school and provides evidence of the excellent work being carried out by the management and staff of the school in providing for the educational needs of the students of the Ferbane Area and its hinterland.  The Board are particularly pleased that the report provides independent evidence of the school’s commitment to :

 

 

The Board of Management wish to acknowledge the professionalism, courtesy and dedication of the inspection team which visited our 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 school has undertaken the following actions to implement positive recommendations as a means of continuing to building on the schools strengths.