An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Gaelcholáiste Mhuire

An Mhainistir Thuaidh

Corcaigh

Roll number: 62531H

 

Date of inspection: 24 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Gaelcholáiste Mhuire was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See 7 below for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction

 

Gaelcholáiste Mhuire is one of four schools on the North Monastery campus. The North Monastery schools have served the youth of Cork for almost two hundred years. A strong tradition attaches to these schools which were founded by the Christian Brothers, specifically for the education of boys on the north side of the city. Nowadays, while the great majority of students that enrol are pupils of neighbouring primary schools, an occasional pupil of a country school enrols.

 

In Gaelcholáiste Mhuire, the educational programme is conducted entirely through the medium of Irish.  The school community is very proud of its success in promoting Irish language and culture over the years. This same dedication to the advancement of Irish is evident today.

 

The composition of the school has changed significantly over a period of eight years. Not only are girls now attending but, with the opening of a new school building and the availability of additional space, the enrolment has increased threefold. While more boys than girls continue to be enrolled, the number of girls being enrolled in the school is increasing from year to year.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The mission statement of the school states that the school:

 

seeks to create a caring environment in which Christian values permeate all aspects of school life and in which pupils and all staff members find fulfilment.

 

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) is the body which has acted as trustee of the school for the past two years and the above mission statement is closely linked to the vision and mission statement set down in the Trust Charter. This indicates that school management acknowledges that Catholic education is a foundation stone for promoting the holistic development of the student.

 

Another objective which guides the work of the school is the provision of a beneficial, enjoyable educational experience for students of all types, so as to enable them to deal with the demands of the world beyond them. With this in mind, each member of the school community has as an objective the care of students. It was clear from discussions with the school management, the teaching staff, the students and the parents that all the needs of every student are catered for comprehensively. It was apparent from classroom practice, and from the day-to-day happenings in the school observed during the week of the evaluation that the senior management and staff members in general know every student well ─ their backgrounds, main fields of interest and developmental, educational and social needs. The members of the school community are strongly of the view that this is the product of the relatively small number of students in the school and the close-knit community which has developed as a result.       

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The school’s Board of Management is a properly-constituted board. It consists of eight members, comprising two members of the teaching staff, two parents and four appointees of the trustees. The principal acts as secretary to the Board. At the time of the evaluation, the Board’s term of office was coming to an end.

 

It was intimated that the principal duty of the Board is to advise the school’s senior management. The Board appreciates the importance of being kept informed in relation to all the school’s activities and is therefore very reliant on the principal’s report to every meeting. The high level of expertise embodied among the various Board members, particularly in the fields of education and legislation, is valued by senior management. Board members appreciate the importance of taking a consultative approach to the introduction of new school practices. Particularly in the area of policy review and development, it is customary for the Board to submit its own views for consideration by other members of the school community prior to ratifying the finalised versions of various school policies. Occasionally, a sub-committee of the Board is set up in order to focus on a particular issue, be it for the drafting of a policy or for a specific item of school business. It is recommended to the Board that they should carry out a fundamental review of certain policies, in particular the school’s Code of Behaviour, and its policies on Enrolment and on Special Educational Needs. It is felt that there is a need to simplify the Enrolment Policy in order to indicate that all students who wish to pursue their education through Irish are welcome in the school. (References to the other policies will be found in other parts of the report.)

 

The openness of the Board and the willingness of its members to discuss various issues, frankly, were noted. Each and every member was extremely proud of the school, of the tradition of the school, of the educational provision it makes and of the improvements which they have succeeded in bringing about over the past eight years. They were also of the opinion that change and development are both possible and necessary so as to ensure that the school adapts to an ever-changing society. This attitude is commendable. Included among their developmental priorities are making the subject choice as extensive as possible, supporting the professional development of teachers and the further promotion of the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

 

The Board issues a statement of income and expenditure to the parents each year. Feedback on meetings of the Board of Management is given orally by the representatives of teachers and parents.  It is recommended that the Board should issue an agreed statement at the end of each meeting and that this statement should be circulated among staff members and parents.    

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Effective leadership is a key feature of the school. This is clear from the manner in which the school has adapted to the significant changes which have occurred in the composition of the school as previously mentioned. The fact that leadership was delegated among various staff members was notable. Not only are responsibilities assigned to those holding middle-management or special-duties posts, but all members of staff are encouraged to become involved in various aspects of school life. Undoubtedly, many teachers such as the Transition Year (TY) co-ordinator are leaders within their own areas of responsibility. In this particular case, it is obvious that management appreciates that the co-ordinator has an appreciation of the philosophy of TY and of the most effective way of delivering a TY programme.

 

All middle-management posts are primarily concerned with the fostering of good behaviour. A year head has been appointed to each year group and the principal duty of each year head is the supervision of the students under his care. A designated person has been appointed to specifically monitor the attendance and the on-going achievement of students. A strong emphasis is placed on courtesy and good manners and it is understood among the whole school community that misbehaviour of any sort is unacceptable. It is the view of management and teachers that, if they treat one another and the students with courtesy and civility, this will in turn influence the students’ own behaviour. This approach is commended. It was clear from discussions with students and their parents that they are very happy in the school; this is to be attributed largely to the fact that they are listened to and that their opinions are welcomed, as well as to the stimulating learning environment created for them in the school. One indication of this is that the composition and administration of the Student Council were revised this year, in order to afford greater equality to all students. This is a further indication that the effectiveness of the systems being implemented, and ways in which they could be improved, are continually under review.

 

When the Code of Behaviour is transgressed, a formal disciplinary system comes into play. The stages of this system are clearly laid out in the school’s Code of Behaviour. It is recommended that when next the Code of Behaviour is being reviewed by the whole school community, it be ensured that the type of penalty imposed is commensurate with the infringement.

 

The promotion of Irish constitutes a responsibility of one of the special-duties posts. This appointment indicates that the speaking of Irish and the advancement of Gaelic culture are integral elements of school life. Last year, as part of the Education Centres’ Learning School Project, the school formally investigated ways in which students who were learning through Irish might be supported, especially those who have had no experience of Irish-medium education at primary level. Additionally, the school has embarked on drafting a Polasaí Gaeilge (Irish Policy) and it is recommended that the contents of this document should serve as a basis for further development. It was pointed out that it would be desirable for this document to contain reference to the use of English, as well as to the use of Irish, so that the whole school community would be in agreement as to what the practice of the school is.

 

The ability of students to speak Irish was notable and the management and all the teachers are to be complimented on the steps they have taken to ensure that the students attain a satisfactory level of proficiency in the language. One such step is the provision of additional classes in Irish for first-year students. It was intimated that the focus is largely on functional Irish in these classes.  Teachers were invited to consider other ways in which the students’ competence in the speaking of Irish might be enhanced outside of the confines of the Irish class. Many possibilities exist for the organisation of workshops in Art, Music and Drama. 

 

The management acknowledges the importance of effective communication between the various members of the school community. Therefore, communication links, both formal and informal, have been established between various parties. It is the view of the school community that, because of the small size of the school, much of this communication can occur on an informal basis. The school’s methods of communication are satisfactory, in that the Board of Management, senior management, staff members, year heads, parents and students can communicate with one another as required.           

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school management appreciates that the teaching staff is the school’s most valuable resource. Management recognises the teaching capacity inherent in the staff and every effort is therefore made to support them in developing their skills as teachers and educators. To this end, they are assisted in attending in-service workshops and guest speakers are frequently invited to the school in order to focus the staff’s attention on aspects of the school’s educational provision such as differentiated learning. Some days were recently devoted to a consideration of spirituality and of what the school community understands by a Catholic school. Input from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in regard to school planning has been delivered at a whole-school level. The staff is encouraged to reflect continually on their classroom practice. Memos are circulated among them from time to time as a means of stimulating thought as to ways in which their teaching and learning methods might be enhanced. Teachers who wish to share their experiences of effective teaching and learning strategies with their colleagues at staff meetings are given every support. This is a very good practice, not only because it creates opportunities for teachers to discuss classroom practice with one another, but it also acknowledges the expertise which exists among staff members.   

 

The management and staff display a strongly positive attitude towards Irish. In general, the teachers’ abilities in Irish are satisfactory. Not alone are they sufficiently fluent to teach their own subjects through Irish, but they are also capable of communicating through Irish with one another, with the students and with the evaluation team. In a minority of cases, however, it was felt that certain teachers were not entirely proficient in the language. The attention of management and teaching staff was drawn to the fact that the teachers are the main source of language for the students and that it was desirable that all of them would ensure that they are fully competent in Irish.

 

A further sub-group of the school community upon whom the management, teaching staff and students are greatly dependent are the administration and maintenance staff. The attractiveness of the school building was noted, both internally and externally. The building is very well maintained and is both clean and well cared for.

 

The school building is modern and both students and staff have ready access to many up-to-the-minute resources, particularly to ICT equipment. The school has two computer rooms and has the use of a language laboratory in another building on the campus. Always conscious of the school’s heritage, there is an attractive exhibition on display in the main corridor which serves as a reminder to students of past highlights in the life of the school. It is also commendable that photographs of events in the current school year are to be viewed on the corridors. In addition, the manner in which the different schools on campus share facilities with one another is praiseworthy. For example, the sports’ hall of this school is also used by the North Monastery primary school. It would be desirable that Gaelcholáiste Mhuire would be given access to the practical rooms on campus, as this could bring about an increase in the number of subjects on offer.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

At present, it is largely the principal who directs the school development planning process. It was reported that a teacher had acted as co-ordinator for some years but that this person has since been assigned alternative duties.

 

Planning constitutes an integral element of the work of the school. Both planning and review are rooted in the school culture. Indeed, it was due to collaborative planning and co-operation that the school succeeded in having significant changes in its organisational structure implemented.  That the number of students has increased so significantly and, in particular, that girls constitute one third of the total enrolment, represents a major change in the life of the school. It was evident from discussions with teachers and management that the school community is still adapting to these changes. It is accepted that various systems and practices must be modified from time to time, in order to take account of these developments, an attitude which is praiseworthy. When introducing greater formality to the various systems and practices of the school, it is recommended that the planning structures advocated by the SDPI should be adopted. In particular, it is recommended that a Planning Steering Group be established to oversee the work of various sub-committees.   

 

Time is set aside each week for formal planning. It was indicated that a great deal of the planning work and discussion takes places informally at other times. It was recommended, in particular, that time be allocated to the on-going planning which is needed for Guidance and for students with Special Educational Needs. The members of all sub-committees should come together regularly. Again, when these planning processes are being developed, it would be worthwhile availing of the approaches advocated by the SDPI and of the resources which this initiative makes available.

 

Based on advice from the SDPI and on the principal’s specialist understanding of the process, the School Plan is being compiled. The plan largely consists at present of a description of the way in which the school is organised ─ information on the curricular programmes available and on enrolment data and an account of professional development events. In addition, it includes the school’s policies on matters such as the fostering of good behaviour, bullying, dignity in the workplace, learning support, homework, substance abuse and communication. It was apparent from a review of these policies that the entire school community had participated in drafting many of them. This is a commendable practice and it might be expected that its use could be expanded and that all new or revised policies would be put before all relevant parties in due course.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with post-primary circulars M45/05 and 62/06, the Board of Management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

School planning is a developmental process and the school community is gradually directing its attention to various aspects of the education it provides. It was stated that there is a continuing and particular focus on three aspects: (i) the promotion of excellence in teaching and learning; (ii) the best possible care of students, as well as affording them the most appropriate guidance with a view to enabling them to meet the responsibilities of adult life; and (iii) ensuring the health and safety of the whole school community. A priority among all staff is ensuring an enjoyable, positive educational experience for all students under their care. This outlook is commendable. Certain suggestions are brought to the attention of staff regarding some specific aspects of the school-development process which should be addressed. The appointment of a co-ordinator to direct the overall process is advised. It is also recommended that sub-committees would be established to focus specifically on issues such as Pastoral Care and Guidance of students, Special Educational Needs, the promotion of Irish, excellence in teaching and learning, the fostering of good behaviour and suchlike. It is expected that firstly the provision being made by the school within these areas, and whatever deficiencies or needs apply, would be examined. Policies or plans should be drawn up based on these findings and on the objectives which may come to light in the course of discussions. Management and staff were reminded that many benefits flow from formal planning such as this, not only the identification of needs and of areas for development but also the acknowledgement of the work already in hand.    

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The curricular programmes available in the school are the Junior Certificate Programme, Transition Year and the Leaving Certificate Programme.

 

All Junior Certificate students study the same subjects. They are divided into mixed-ability groups and are encouraged to study these subjects at the highest level best suited to their ability. The school management accepts that the school’s Junior Certificate Programme is limited in that there are no choices available. They indicated that they continue to explore ways in which a choice of subjects might be introduced but, that a shortage of space, the limited number of teachers and a lack of resources inhibit the number of subjects it is possible to offer. Some possibilities were suggested to them whereby the range of subjects available might be expanded and it is recommended that they should continue with their efforts to bring this about.

 

The school has succeeded in extending the subject choices available for the Leaving Certificate Programme, to the extent that the options for students are less limited than was the case previously: these students now have the option of studying Biology and Business. In addition, it is anticipated that next year they will have the option of studying Economics. This indicates that there is an acknowledgement of the changes in the needs and interests of students which have been brought about by the change in the composition of the student body. It is recommended that ways in which subject choices might be expanded should continue to be pursued.

 

Students are offered TY on an optional basis. The majority of students choose to participate. The variety, the comprehensiveness and the innovativeness of the programme were noted. Opportunities are created for students to study a wide variety of subjects, some of which were not previously available to them. In addition, they are encouraged to participate in a broad range of activities which enhance their social, teamwork, interpersonal and other skills. It was thought, however, that the philosophy underpinning TY was not very apparent in some of the schemes of work drawn up for the more traditional subjects. It is recommended that the learning outcomes expected from the TY programme should be brought to the attention of all staff and that, in light of this information, all departments should be requested to review the programme which they have laid out for these students.

 

On the whole, the timetable strongly supports the subjects studied in that students have classes in all subjects on a regular basis. In the case of Irish, first-year students are given extra classes as a means of developing their competence in the language. Praise is due to the school management for their efforts to improve the students’ abilities in Irish, so as to enable them to participate in education through the medium of the language. While this may be so, it is thought that this could be brought about by other means in addition to formal lessons in Irish and all staff are invited to consider this question. It is further recommended that additional classes in English should be provided for the Junior Certificate students as four classes a week are not sufficient in a situation where these are the only classes in which English is the medium of communication.

 

At present, the maximum instruction time per week given to students is twenty-seven hours and twenty-five minutes. This is not in keeping with the provisions of circular 29/95 which stipulates that the minimum should be twenty-eight hours. It is recommended that this matter should be regularised as a matter of urgency.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

It is when they complete the application form and register in the school that the students must make major decisions regarding the study programme which they will pursue for the following five or six years. Not alone will they follow what is mainly an academic programme but they will study these subjects entirely through the medium of Irish. The implications are outlined, both to them and to their parents, before they enter school, particularly as very few students will have experience of Irish-medium education at primary level. 

 

The parents referred to the great work done in First Year in order to improve the students’ ability in Irish and to the way in which the confidence to undertake the study programmes through Irish is instilled in the students. However, it was clear that it was the parents’ understanding that study through the medium of Irish may not be appropriate for those students who have not achieved an overall high standard of attainment at primary level. The school management is requested to correct this impression and to ensure that the people of the area understand that Irish-medium education does not, in the least way, constitute an obstacle to the provision which can be made for meeting all the needs of each and every student.

 

Students continue to receive guidance in the course of their school careers and particularly during those specific periods when they are required to make significant decisions. It is the practice of the principal and the Guidance counsellor to speak personally to students and their parents, regarding the various choices which students have to make from time to time during their school lives. Every effort is made to keep parents and students informed as to all the implications for the student of participating in the TY Programme, of the subjects chosen for the Leaving Certificate Programme and of all the choices made when a student graduates from school. Frequently, the subject teachers give additional advice to the students, especially where issues relate to the teacher’s subject or area of expertise. The report on Guidance, appended to this report, sets out a more detailed treatment of this issue.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

All the teachers who encourage their students to participate in the various co-curricular, cross-curricular and extra-curricular activities available are to be complimented. They are also to be commended for devoting time to the promotion of these events. Participation in such activities positively influences the students and greatly enhances their educational experience. Among the activities most frequently referred to by students were hurling, camogie, basketball, ladies’ football, debating, school trips, guest speakers and Seachtain na Gaeilge. It is recommended that the promotion of participation in such events should be continued. It is also recommended that the benefits accruing from encouraging students to participate in competitions, which enhance skills relating specifically to particular subject areas, should be explored. This point is further expanded in the report on Mathematics appended to this report and it is also felt that it would be worthwhile investigating this matter in respect of all subject areas. Certainly, participation by students in the various Irish competitions would create opportunities for developing their speaking abilities in Irish in an enjoyable, informal way.  

 

 

4. Quality of teaching and learning

 

4.1 Planning and preparation

 

A co-ordinator and a secretary have been appointed in every department. The rotation of these roles is commended and is to be encouraged as a means of developing a wide leadership and administrative skills base. In addition to formal meetings it is reported that there are numerous informal contacts between members of the various departments. Records of these meetings were made available to inspectors. Among the items documented at these meetings was departmental analysis of uptake levels and students’ achievement in the subject versus national norms in the certificate examinations. This is good practice. Further use of ICT for the recording and storage of meeting records across all departments is recommended.

 

Planning is supported by subject-department structures although in some cases subject-department planning is at an early stage and further development is urged. In other instances significant work has taken place to support the creation of a common subject plan and this is commended. Detailed suggestions are made in the individual reports with regard to the development of subject plans and all departments are asked to regularly review their own plan and to develop it in light of needs and circumstances that are continuously changing. A further useful endeavour would be the compilation of individual subject folders, to contain both the subject plan and other documents which are relevant to the teaching of the subject. Again, it is suggested that this documentation be stored electronically.

 

The content of the TY plan is commended. Its individual subject plans outline programmes that take into account the needs and abilities of the students who choose to follow the TY programme. It was felt however, that the activities contained in some subject plans did not complement fully the aims and philosophy of the TY programme. Thus, it is recommended that these plans be developed to ensure a focus on specific skills-based learning goals to be attained by students during the year.

 

A key feature of the school development planning process is the continuous focus on enhancing the classroom experience, be it with regard to the effectiveness of the teaching or the quality of the learning. The school’s involvement in the Learning School Project and the references in the staff handbook to good teaching and learning practices are an indication of the school’s desire to promote effective teaching and learning strategies. Those teachers engaged in team-teaching are commended and further expansion of this innovative approach is encouraged. Another worthwhile focus for subject departments would be to look at how best to cater for the needs of students with special educational needs. This would require review of the school’s Learning Support Policy with a view to developing an overall Special Educational Needs Policy.

 

Individual planning in the lessons visited was often of a high standard. Good examples of extensive teacher notes and programmes of work were seen in some cases. The use of different types of assessment, resources and methodologies to aid students with difficulties in literacy development was also noted. This indicated that there was some good planning for resources within the subjects, particularly for those students with special educational needs.  Teachers are encouraged to continue this.

 

4.2 Teaching and learning

 

Approaches to teaching and learning, seen in the lessons visited in the course of the evaluation, took due account of the challenges presented by the provision of Irish-medium education to students, many of whom encounter such education for the first time on entry to first year. The overall quality of teaching and learning, as observed in the course of the evaluation, was good and in some cases very good.

 

In almost all cases lessons were well structured with clarity of purpose and appropriate pace. The use of classroom routines, including roll call and placing the work of lessons in context regarding work done and work yet to be done, enhanced lesson structure.

 

A variety of teaching methodologies was observed being used appropriately in many of the lessons visited. Active methodologies involving cooperative learning strategies, pair and group work were used to great effect in some lessons, with a commendable balance being struck between these and more traditional approaches. It is recommended that, where not already the case, teachers review the teaching methodologies in use in lessons with a view to increasing the variety of approaches, consistent with the demands of the particular subject and the needs of students. Particular methodologies and strategies are dealt with in the appended subject-inspection reports. 

 

Questioning of students was used frequently and skilfully in many of the lessons visited. A mix of questions was employed, including open-ended, closed and some high-level questions, the type often determined by the lesson content and the teachers’ knowledge of the students and their ability. Questioning tended to be most effective when a mix of directed and group questions was employed. When effectively used such questioning engaged students in the work of the lesson. Used to determine and advance learning, such questioning often ensures that students have a positive view of themselves as young people and as learners. Higher-order questions were sometimes used to challenge students to give of their best and students rose to this challenge. It is recommended that, to improve on this very good practice, where not already the case, questioning strategies be varied to include a combination of lower- and higher-order questions.

 

Good use was made of a range of teaching resources including handouts, textbooks and examination papers. The whiteboard was widely and effectively used. Very good use was often made of the overhead projector. A data projector was among the ICT equipment used in the course of the evaluation. It is urged that use of ICT be increased and developed wherever possible.

 

The orderly manner in which students conduct themselves in the school in general was also evident in the classrooms where lessons were well managed and students were kept on task. The organisation of students within the teaching spaces was often varied to suit the teaching strategies being adopted. Teachers moved easily among the students in the course of lessons to ensure and guide learning.  

 

The relationships between teachers and students were positive and supportive and students responded with confidence and enthusiasm, particularly when the teacher’s own enthusiasm for the subject being taught was clear to see. To further enhance the learning atmosphere and environment it is recommended that more materials, relevant to specific subjects, be displayed in the classrooms. Such materials would serve to remind students of the work done in lessons and to reinforce learning. In particular, further display of students’ own work is encouraged.

 

Teachers in general showed good knowledge of students’ abilities and there is evidence of appropriately high standards being set and of students rising to this challenge.

 

Students predominantly showed a good understanding of the work being done. When questioned they displayed their knowledge with confidence and, where called for, they applied procedures taught in class to similar situations set during lessons.

 

4.3 Assessment

 

The school has a well-documented Homework Policy which clearly outlines the importance of homework for learning. The approximate amount of time that homework should take is also listed. Given the range of ability among learners, it is suggested that this policy should also reflect differentiated approaches to assigning and assessing homework. Subject inspectors noted the regular assignment and correction of homework on the part of teachers. In one subject, an emphasis on the assigning of extended writing exercises was noted as good practice and teachers were encouraged to adopt this practice across the department. In another area the utilisation of a comprehensive range of modes of assessment was praised. The practice of administering standardised and diagnostic tests, which took place in the past, is praised. The administration of such tests, along with the interpretation and dissemination of findings from these tests should be re-introduced. Here, the involvement of a qualified co-ordinator in administering these assessments is now required as a priority. The retesting of students’ achievement was also encouraged in order to facilitate the reporting of their progress to subject teachers.

 

Students’ work is assessed in a number of ways, including daily observation, monitoring of students’ work by teachers, questioning, written examinations and peer assessment. Various examples of good practice in the area of feedback to students were noted, including comment-based marking of students’ written work and the provision of feedback in a courteous and caring manner. Planning for, or the implementation of, peer assessment and self-assessment were also noted as examples of good practice and were encouraged. The further development of Assessment for Learning, with support from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie has been suggested. The very good and simple strategy of a place on the board being allocated for teachers to jot down homework given by each teacher each day was also noted.

 

Formal house examinations are organised at Christmas and summer. Mock examinations are also provided for those students who are to participate in the certificate examinations. The use of common assessments across year groups or levels was noted in a number of subject areas and this is very worthwhile. In a number of subject inspection reports the use of continuous assessment was highlighted and the storage of student outcomes to track progress, both during students’ tenure in the school and after it, was highlighted as positive. The utilisation of students’ portfolios to inform their assessment was particularly praised in one subject. The good practice already commenced with regard to the development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) was noted. The extension of this approach will further support other worthwhile efforts which are already underway in the school. The recording of student achievement was pointed out in a number of subjects and was particularly praised in one area as being in accordance with good planning practice.

 

There is good communication with parents regarding students’ progress. Students’ achievement in subject areas is reported regularly with reports sent to parents following the Christmas, summer and mock examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are organised for each year group once a year. Parents are also facilitated, on request, to meet with subject teachers.

 

5. Quality of support for students

 

5.1 Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

A very small number of students identified with special educational needs are enrolled in the school. Classroom practice indicates that most teachers are aware of these needs and some good teaching and learning practices are identified in the inspectors’ reports.

 

Until recently the school’s provision for special educational needs was co-ordinated by a teacher qualified in the area. This is no longer the case. The good work of the former co-ordinator is acknowledged in this report and in the report on Special Educational Needs appended to this report. Indeed the recommendations that follow hinge very much on a staff member being assigned to co-ordinate provision. Ideally, that staff member should have accessed relevant training or be willing to access such training. Such an appointment will ensure accurate interpretation of needs and act as a resource for teaching and learning for both students and colleagues. It will assist in ensuring that resources, both personnel and material, can be maximised to achieve a range of desired learning outcomes for all students in all classes.

 

It is recommended in particular that the school’s Admissions Policy be reviewed. The formulation of a more detailed Special Educational Needs Policy is also recommended. It is suggested that such work may be informed by the findings and recommendations of the evaluation relating to special educational needs. (Such findings and recommendations are contained in a more detailed evaluation of provision which is appended to this report).

 

5.2   Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The school’s student support, student management, and teaching and learning systems are very well integrated. This is highly commended as it ensures that issues that emerge are dealt with quickly and efficiently. As can be expected in a school of this size, communication systems are relatively informal. It is the school’s vision to provide a beneficial and worthwhile education to all students in preparation for their future lives. Senior management works to maintain this vision, a major factor in the success of staff in anticipating and supporting students’ needs, whether those needs are personal, educational or vocational.

 

There is a strong emphasis on career guidance, one of the three main components of Guidance. Practice in this regard is commended. Constant monitoring of students’ career decisions, especially in senior cycle, is continued after the Leaving Certificate examinations. Most of this work is carried out by the deputy principal who is also the Guidance counsellor. The ethos of the school is such that all staff members are involved in the delivery of Guidance to students. Subject teachers provide personal and educational guidance informally to students. Additionally, the middle-management structure and posts of responsibility system are designed to ensure students receive appropriate advice and support.

 

It is noted that the facilities for Guidance are good. In addition to the availability of a well-equipped office, access to information is readily available to students by means of the school’s ICT system. Such access is an essential element of guidance provision.

 

A subject inspection of Guidance was carried out as part of the Whole School Evaluation process. The report on the provision for Guidance is appended to this report and contains some positive remarks. It also makes some suggestions and recommendations regarding the further integration of Guidance into whole-school systems. These suggestions and recommendations are largely centred on planning for the formal development of Guidance. They require the use of planning structures, such as that of the SDPI, and the use of the full ex-quota allocation of thirteen hours for Guidance. It is recommended that such planning should take place with due regard to the school’s increased enrolment, to the need for an integrated approach to student support in general, including support for students with Special Educational Needs, and to the need for a whole-school approach to Guidance planning. Similarly, the report suggests planning for the development of the Guidance department should take account of issues such as continuity of service, the availability of accommodation suited to counselling, and collaboration with the other elements of student support and management in the school. It is also recommended that consideration be given to the use of standardised assessment of incoming students to enhance the monitoring process currently in place, to facilitate the Special Educational Needs department in its diagnosis of needs and to reinforce collaborative practice between the departments.

 

It is anticipated that, given the current strengths of the school – especially its shared vision, its channels of communication and its distributed leadership – the suggestions made will serve to enhance existing good practice in the support, management and Guidance of students.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2009