An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Laurel Hill Coláiste F.C.J.
Cnoc na Labhras
Roll number: 64270P
Date of inspection: 24-28 September 2007
A whole-school evaluation of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ was undertaken in September 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. 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 section 7 for details). 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 of this report.
In 1844 Marie Madeline Victoire de Bonnault d'Houet, the foundress of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ), arrived in Limerick from Oughterard, Co. Galway and in the following year, 1845, she set up a day and boarding school for girls in Laurel Hill.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ was set up as a boarding 'A scoil' for girls on the site of the original school in 1935, at a time when the government of the day was trying to promote the development of our native language and all subjects have been taught through the medium of Irish in the school since that time.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ entered the free education scheme in 1967 and has expanded significantly since then.
In 1981 this all-Irish Catholic voluntary secondary school stopped taking boarders and has been operating as a day school since then. The school currently caters for girls from a large number of feeder primary schools spread throughout the city of Limerick and the surrounding areas.
The school has a clearly articulated vision expressed in its mission statement and this has been communicated to the whole-school community. 'Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is a Catholic Voluntary Secondary School for girls, where Irish is the medium of instruction' and the school focuses on providing a 'broad and balanced education, which fosters the academic, spiritual, personal and creative development of each individual in a respectful and caring environment'.
The aim of the school is to cooperate with parents in fostering the full and balanced development of the girls entrusted to its care so that each girl may realise and bring to fulfilment her own special talents and unique personality.
Companionship is central to the FCJ philosophy of education and this is expressed through faithfulness, gentleness and respect. The school seeks to create a caring atmosphere where all members of its community can feel at home in an environment where all persons are respected and invited to use all their gifts.
The trustees, the FCJ order, support the promotion and fostering of the school's characteristic spirit. There is a strong sense that this vision is shared and supported by the whole school community and school policies, and their implementation, are consistent with the shared vision.
The school's vision is reflected and reinforced in its day-to-day activities and an atmosphere of companionship, faithfulness and respect in keeping with the FCJ philosophy of education was evident during the course of the evaluation. Irish is the everyday language of the school and every effort is made to ensure that instruction in all subject areas is provided through this medium.
The current board of management is in the second year of its term, is properly constituted, functions in accordance with the provisions of the Education Act, 1998 and has a comprehensive understanding of the operation of the school. The board is supported in carrying out its role by the trustees and all board members have received training for their role. The board carries out its responsibilities in a spirit of generosity and service to the whole-school community and this is highly commended.
The majority of board members are fluent in Irish but, to facilitate those members who currently are not, the board currently conducts its business through the medium of English. It is recommended, in an effort to promote the all-Irish aspect of the school's characteristic spirit, that the board strive to conduct its business through the medium of Irish, or bi-lingually, in the future and that training should be provided for those who are not currently fluent in Irish in order to facilitate this.
There is a strong sense of partnership and consultation at board level and a consensus approach to decision-making in the best interests of the school is promoted and adopted. This is commended.
There is an excellent working relationship between the board of management and the school's senior management team. This ensures that the board is immediately aware of issues that arise and is very beneficial for the school. Board members are known to the whole-school community and communication with the staff is generally through the teacher representatives and the principal.
The board promotes a comprehensive consultation process when developing new policies related to particular areas of the school's activities and this ensures ownership by the partners of all policies developed in the school. This is commended.
A number of developmental priorities have been outlined by the board of management and these include a review of existing policies including the entrance policy, code of discipline, Irish policy and internet use policy. Other priorities identified include a review of the school's current curricular provision, an examination of the fifth-year optional subjects, an evaluation of the success of Spanish which was introduced as an optional subject in the first-year 'transition year' programme this year, a review of the in-school management posts of responsibility and an evaluation of the success of a recently introduced new students' diary.
Partnership with parents is central to the school's characteristic spirit and Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and its sister school Laurel Hill Secondary School have a long-established, joint parents' association composed of parents and officers from both schools. The association is actively engaged in supporting, in whatever way it can, both schools and this work is highly commended.
Many current parents are also past students of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and they reported during the evaluation that their children were proud to attend a school where there is a strong sense of community and excellent cooperation among staff, parents and students.
Communication between the parents' association and the school is facilitated through the principal and this works very effectively. Although Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and Laurel Hill Secondary school are situated on the same campus, share a common religious characteristic spirit and various facilities the schools are separate, have separate senior management teams and staffs and separate boards of management since these were first introduced. Additionally, Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is an Irish-medium school. It is recommended therefore, that a separate parents' association be established for the school in order to support its distinct all-Irish characteristic spirit. It is further recommended that such an association should aspire to conduct its business through the medium of Irish, or bi-lingually, in keeping with the characteristic spirit of the school and that it should be supported in doing so by the school.
The principal, appointed two years ago, was on leave during the course of the evaluation. The senior management team operating during the evaluation consisted of the deputy principal, appointed in 2006, acting as principal in the principal's absence, and a recently-appointed assistant principal who acted as deputy principal. Both are long-serving members of the staff of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and share a vision of the school with the staff that they wish to perpetuate. They employ a partnership approach and work as a team to provide very effective and efficient educational and organisational leadership and support for their teaching colleagues and the whole-school community. Their work is highly commended.
The acting principal and acting deputy principal share the work load associated with their posts and delegate many of the day-to-day middle-management responsibilities to the in-school management (ISM) team of six assistant principals (AP) and eight special duties teachers (SDT). This also serves to develop the leadership skills of members of the school's staff members.
The duties delegated to AP and SDT post of responsibility holders have been assigned in accordance with agreed procedures and senior management ensures that all responsibilities are carried out effectively and efficiently and are reviewed in a systematic and open way.
All six AP and eight SDT teachers assume responsibility for a range of activities as they fulfil their roles within the school's ISM structure. Their work contributes significantly, both individually and collectively, to the day-to-day management of the school and their interactions with other members of the school's community when carrying out their duties reflects the school's characteristic caring spirit. The commitment of these teachers to the school is highly commended.
The in-school management structure has been reviewed more than once since its introduction in the late 1990s. Duties associated with various posts were assigned following an analysis of the needs of the school at the time of each review. However, a close examination of the posts suggests that there is a need for a further review that differentiates the roles and responsibilities associated with AP and SDT posts, avoids duplication and addresses the changing needs of the school. Such a review is therefore recommended.
In addition to the duties carried out by post of responsibility holders there are also many voluntary non-teaching roles carried out by teachers who do not currently hold posts of responsibility. This work also contributes very significantly to the effective day-to-day management of the school. Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is very fortunate to have such committed teachers on its staff and their voluntary work is highly commended.
In recognition of the importance of the Irish language to the characteristic spirit of the school, the duties assigned to one of the school's AP posts of responsibility relate to the promotion and development of the Irish language in the school. The post-holder is newly-appointed and has not yet commenced work in this area of responsibility. It is recommended, that as part of the school's regular review process, that the effectiveness of this post in promoting and developing the Irish language in the school be regularly monitored.
Senior management promotes the development of a professional learning community through an ongoing programme of continuous staff development and actively supports professional development of teachers in their own subject areas. This includes, in accordance with the school's Irish Policy, promotion and support of professional development in Irish for its teachers, when this is required. This is commended.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ strives to maximise students' achievement, related to personal ability, and promotes positive behaviour through its behaviour and discipline code, multi-faceted student support system, career guidance counselling and SPHE programmes.
In order to facilitate the effective participation of students in the life of the school the school has had a students' council for many years. In recognition of the importance of this body a special duties teacher has been appointed to liaise with the students' council, staff and senior management.
All teachers are responsible for the implementation of the school's attendance strategy and, in recognition of the importance of promoting positive attitudes to attendance, a special duties teacher oversees the school's attendance strategy and is responsible for formally liaising with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB).
There are clear and effective avenues for communication between the school and parents. All school correspondence with parents is presented in Irish and English and a bi-lingual newsletter is regularly issued in order to keep parents informed of all activities taking place in the school. A bi-lingual yearly magazine, An Labhras Glas, is also published and this production is highly valued by all members of the school's community. All interactions with parents give priority to the use of the Irish language while recognising the need to provide an English translation of Irish text to facilitate parents whose normal medium of communication is English. The school is currently developing a website and this, when completed, should improve communication between the school and the wider community even further. The work of the school in the area of communication with parents is commended.
An open day is organised for prospective students during the first term each year and students enrol during a registration evening held during the second term. An information evening on subject choice is also organised in the final term for parents of students entering fifth year. School reports, with hand-written teacher comments, are issued following house examinations and assessments and a new school diary facilitates easy communication between subject teachers and parents. Formal parent-teacher meetings are organised in accordance with agreed procedures and the school also facilitates parents who wish to discuss their children with members of the school's staff at mutually convenient times. Progress reports on individual students to parents/guardians are also provided when this is required.
The most important resource available to Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is its 24 permanent and 1.61 part-time teachers and the school is fortunate to have such a dedicated and committed teaching staff.
Communication between the senior management team and teachers is very good and interactions are both formal and informal. The principal and deputy principal are frequent visitors to the staff room where they engage with their teaching colleagues informally during these visits. Information for the whole staff is also provided formally on a daily basis when the principal addresses teachers at the morning break. Notice boards in the staff room are also used as a means of communicating with teachers who are not present at these formal morning briefings.
An additional teacher allocation of 0.27 teachers as a curricular concession was also made to the school in the current year. This was made to provide short-term additional teaching support for essential curriculum needs available following an application by the school to the Department of Education and Science to address rising enrolments, curricular needs arising because of teachers on career breaks and involved in job-sharing arrangements. This extra resource is being used to generally address provision across the school's curriculum.
During the evaluation it was noted that teachers in all subject areas are not currently timetabled for classes in junior and senior cycle in their subject areas. In line with best practice and in order to ensure that all teachers retain and develop their teaching skills in their own subjects it is recommended that they should be provided with the opportunity to teach both junior and senior cycle syllabuses in their subject areas where this is possible.
The work of teachers in Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is complemented by the work of a dedicated and committed support staff. Support staff are encouraged and enabled to make an effective contribution to the life of the school above and beyond the completion of their assigned duties. All members of the support staff team perform their duties admirably and efficiently and this is highly commended. Their work is effectively managed by the senior management team.
School accommodation is maintained to a high standard and the caretaker; 'green schools' committee, cleaners and the whole-school community are to be commended for their care of the school environment. The science laboratories and gymnasium and playing fields are shared with Laurel Hill Secondary School. Although there is a high level of cooperation among the teachers in both schools, access to these shared facilities is somewhat restricted for both schools because of the sharing arrangement. There are particular difficulties with the gymnasium during the month of November each year when preparations for the school show are under way. Sharing of facilities also results in students from both schools, one English speaking and the other Irish speaking, being present in shared areas on a regular basis. This causes some difficulties in respect of the use of Irish among students of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ during interactions with students from their sister school and the senior management is conscious of the need to promote the use of Irish among its students in these circumstances.
Notice boards and wall space in corridors of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ are decorated with some displays and posters in Irish but it is recommended that current displays be supplemented to emphasise the Irish characteristic spirit of the school in the visual environment.
The mission statement, outlining the school's dual religious and Irish characteristic spirit, is prominent in the school's promotional and planning documentation. Copies of the statement should also be prominently displayed in the foyer and other areas of the school.
Management and staff have access to information and communication technologies (ICT) for lesson planning, preparation and research purposes and ICT is also used in administration, monitoring attendance and in the provision of guidance and support. There is one computer room in the school and a number of laptop computers and mobile multi-media projectors are also available. Provision of some of this equipment was facilitated by fundraising efforts within the school community. All classrooms do not yet have network access however, and widespread access to and use of ICT in teaching and learning was not evident during the evaluation. It is recommended therefore, that the ICT infrastructure in the school be further developed to ensure that all classrooms have network access and that the use of ICT in teaching and learning is further promoted.
An appropriate health and safety statement, based on a risk assessment, has been prepared by the school, communicated to all staff and students and is being adhered to.
The school has been engaged in formal school development planning for a number of years and considerable time and effort have been invested in improving the quality of the school's planning process and documentation. The aim of this planning process is to improve the provision for teaching and learning and the school continues to invest in it. This emphasis on planning is commended.
Inputs from outside facilitators on identifying school needs, the role of year heads and bullying have been organised for the teaching staff. The development of subject planning documentation has also been engaged with and a member of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) attended the school to facilitate the beginning of this process. The school has completed an evaluation of the first year 'transition year' programme recently.
Long-term whole-school development planning is currently the responsibility of the senior management team. This work is complemented by the work of the AP teachers who meet on a weekly basis to address short-term planning needs and their contribution to the planning process is considerable. In an effort to enhance overall planning and to involve a larger number of staff more centrally in the process it is recommended that a planning committee and/or a planning coordinator should be appointed to further this work, in collaboration and cooperation with the whole-school community.
School planning documentation provides a framework through which all members of the school's community may understand the complexity of the work of the school and all that takes place within it.
A school plan has been developed and adopted by the board of management and is being implemented. Documentation is presented in English and Irish and, in line with best practice, has permanent and developmental sections. The permanent section contains sections on the history of the school, the FCJ philosophy of education and the school's mission statement. It also contains policies required by legislation on admission, attendance and participation, behaviour, child protection, guidance, and health and safety. The developmental section contains additional policies related to a variety of aspects of the current reality of school life. These include policies on Irish (central to the overall School Plan), faith formation, extra-curricular activities, pastoral care, countering bullying, homework, relationships and sexuality education, substance use, mobile phone use, use of electronic multi-media equipment, student health and safety, acceptable use of the internet, job-sharing, career breaks, and sexual harassment. This section of the documentation constitutes a work in progress, is subject to continuous review and all policies contained in it are in keeping with the school's mission statement. Also included in this developmental section are a range of existing practices and procedures governing day-to-day activities in the school.
The board of management has adopted and ratified the policies required by legislation.
The current code of behaviour and discipline, the result of a number of reviews, emphasises the promotion of positive behaviour among students and outlines sanctions in the event of breaches of the code. It is recommended that this policy be reviewed again, renamed and that a system for rewarding positive behaviour should be included in the revised code.
The school has procedures in place to review all existing polices and an ongoing cyclical review of school policies is undertaken. This process is used to inform future planning.
There is a collaborative approach to school planning in Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and this involves all the school partners. This level of collaboration has resulted in a shared ownership of all aspects of the school plan.
A formal subject-department structure is in place in the school. Subject departments meet formally on a regular basis as part of staff meetings and informal subject-related discussions take place much more frequently among subject teachers. Subject coordinators have been recently appointed in all subject areas and all teachers are enthusiastic about the development of planning for their subject areas.
Subject plans for all subjects provided on the school's curriculum have been developed and these are in line with the syllabus requirements in each subject area. These documents are of a high standard and reflect the input the school has already had from the SDPI on subject planning. The majority of subject plans are presented in Irish. Work on subject planning to date is commended. In order to reflect the characteristic spirit of the school however, it is recommended, with the exception of the subject English, that all other subject plans should be presented in Irish, that subject departments should continue to develop their planning documentation and that teaching and learning should become a focus for future planning in all subject departments.
Subject department planning in the school is supplemented by individual teacher planning and examples of individual planning of a very high standard were encountered during the evaluation process.
Many of the first-year students entering Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ each year now come from English-medium primary schools and the fact that English is the normal home language and means of communication of the vast majority of its students is also acknowledged in the school's Irish Policy. In these circumstances, Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is very concerned about preserving its Irish characteristic spirit. In order to estimate the impact of increasing numbers of students whose primary education has been through English and whose main medium of communication outside of school is English, it is recommended that the school examine the current status of Irish among all its students. An action plan should then be developed to address the promotion, development or improvement of the use of Irish throughout the school. This should be undertaken in conjunction with the work of the post-holder with responsibility in this area and the teacher allocation received by the school because of its all-Irish designation.
All classrooms in the school do not yet have ICT network access and planning to further develop the ICT infrastructure in the school should therefore be undertaken as a priority with a view to promoting more widespread use of ICT in teaching and learning across all subject areas.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ teachers participate regularly in continuous professional development programmes in their subject areas. This is facilitated and encouraged by the senior management team and is commended.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, 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.
Work to date on the school development planning process and documentation in Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is commended.
The range of subjects for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate offered by Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is the widest it deems possible given current levels of resourcing and staffing.
The school's timetable is drawn up each year by the principal after consultation with staff and is the means by which the schools curriculum is organised for delivery. This requires considerable skill and is the complex product of matching the desirable with the feasible. The timetable is then computerised by one of the AP teachers.
Currently, each school day has eight class periods. Ten of the forty weekly periods are of 45 minutes duration while the remaining 30 are forty minutes long. This gives a weekly tuition time of 27 hours and 30 minutes. This level of class-contact time falls short of the minimum 28 hours requirement for the operation of post-primary schools set out in Circular M29/95 'Time in School' and this deficit should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
In addition to the Junior Certificate and established Leaving Certificate programmes offered by Laurel Hill Coláiste the school also offers a 'transition year' programme in first year. This 'transition year' programme has two objectives: it aims to immerse first-year students entering the school in the Irish language and it allows the Junior Certificate subject programmes to be taught over a four year period.
This type of ‘transition year’ provision is unique to this school and is viewed by the board of management, staff and parents as being essential to the successful promotion of the school's characteristic spirit, especially to the development of the Irish language in the school, including the success of students in State examinations taken through the medium of Irish.
It should be noted that the provision of a four year junior cycle programme and first year 'transition year' by Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ does not comply with current regulations governing the operation of secondary schools set out in Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (p.8 and p.70). These regulations have been in place since Circular Letter M85/85 and its accompanying document 'Ages for Learning, Decisions of Government' were issued. These documents require that all schools provide a junior cycle programme of 3 years duration, followed by a Transition Year (TY) programme in fourth year, if desired, and a two year Leaving Certificate programme.
Since the ‘transition year’ being operated by the school does not conform to this type of provision it is recommended that it should no longer be offered, with the current first year group being the last group to participate in the current arrangement. From September 2008 a three-year junior cycle programme, as required by Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, should be provided for students entering Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ for the first time. An application to introduce a senior cycle TY programme for these students may then be made in the school year prior to its introduction.
Compliance with the type of provision described above will continue to allow Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ to operate a six year programme, similar to that operated in many other post-primary schools in the country.
All classes in the school are timetabled for Physical Education each week and this is commended. First-year students are timetabled for a double period of PE while students from all other year groups are timetabled for a single PE period. This timetabled PE is supplemented by comprehensive provision for games which is organised during lunchtime and after school. Provision for games, however comprehensive and commendable, does not equate to the implementation of the PE syllabus during timetabled hours for all students. Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (p.141) states that 'a minimum of two hours per week is required to implement the Physical Education Programme’ and it is recommended therefore, that the school strive to increase the level of provision for its students in order to improve their overall health and well-being and to help them to become physically educated adults in line with the objectives of the PE syllabus.
As part of the school development planning process it is recommended that the curriculum should be kept under constant review in order to ensure that it meets the needs of students in the school.
Students entering the school are placed in mixed-ability class groupings for the majority of subjects, Mathematics being the notable exception, and this type of organisation generally ensures equality of access to subjects and levels within subjects.
A comprehensive range of subjects and other activities is arranged for first-year 'transition year' students. Subjects studied include Irish, English, Mathematics, French, History, Geography, Civic and Social and Political Education (CSPE), Religious Education (RE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Physical Education (PE), Computer Studies and singing and two optional subjects. Optional subjects are selected in December from two bands: German, Business Studies and Music and Art, Home Economics or Spanish and studied for the remainder of the four-year junior cycle programme.
A wide range of other activities is also organised by the school for its first year 'transition year' students. This range includes activities related to the promotion of the school's religious and Irish characteristic spirit, its curriculum and extra-curricular activities: school masses, spirituality programme, Gaeltacht and other educational tours, drama, art, a variety of musical activities, history projects, 'write a book' and 'readathon', games, hockey blitzes, outdoor pursuits, swimming, table quizzes, and bridge, the playing and coaching of which is a long-standing tradition in the school, among other activities.
Currently there are two option bands in second, third and fourth year: Band 1is comprised of German or Business and Band 2 offers Art, Home Economics or Music. It should be noted that Science, which forms part of the core curriculum from second year onwards, is notably absent from the current first-year 'transition year' curriculum.
In fifth year all students take Irish, English, Mathematics, French, RE, PE, Guidance and Computer Studies. Three other optional subjects are also taken. In fifth and sixth year these optional subjects are organised in three bands for each year group and these are based on students’ choices. This is commended. Optional subjects in fifth year Band 1 are Home Economics, Biology, Geography and Economics. Band 2 consists of Geography, History, Physics and Music and Band 3 contains Biology, Chemistry, German and Art. Sixth year optional subjects are also organised into bands based on students' selection of subjects. Band 1 consists of Chemistry, Home Economics, Music and Physics. Band 2 contains Biology, History, German and Chemistry and Band 3 is made up of Biology, Geography, Economics and Art.
In reviewing its curricular provision in the past, Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ has explored the possibility of introducing additional programmes to supplement its existing Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes and it has been decided that current programme provision meets the needs of the students. Following an examination of the optional subjects currently available in senior cycle in the school during the evaluation it is recommended that the possibility of introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) be re-explored. The introduction of the LCVP would provide students with a unique opportunity to develop their interpersonal, vocational and technological skills. These are equally relevant to the needs of students preparing for further education, those seeking employment or those planning to start their own business and are achieved through the completion of Link Modules in the areas of preparation for the world of work and enterprise education.
The introduction of the LCVP in fifth and sixth year and the TY programme in fourth year would also result in the provision of additional resources for the school and a possible post of responsibility under the terms of Circular Letter PPT 17/02 Programme Coordinator Posts in Voluntary Secondary Schools if an appropriate number of students were to participate in all the programmes.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ has a long and proud tradition of involvement in sporting and other extra-curricular activities. A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and opportunities to support and enhance learning is provided by the school for its students. A range of opportunities to enhance students' personal and social development is also provided by the school. Management and staff encourage all students to participate in these activities and there are high levels of participation by students and staff in all activities.
Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ has a great hockey tradition and girls from the school are regularly selected to represent Munster and Ireland. Hockey is the main competitive sport and teams cater for students from all age-groups and levels of ability. Other sporting activities catered for include, badminton, soccer, rounders, basketball, gymnastics, aquatics, Gaelic football and camogie. Students from the school also engage in outdoor pursuits programmes.
Many of these sporting activities take place in the well-equipped gymnasium and on the hockey and camogie pitches, including an all-weather pitch, and on the tennis courts. All these amenities are on the same campus as the school buildings and are shared with Laurel Hill Secondary School.
The school is renowned for its prize-winning choirs and orchestra and offers students the opportunity to participate in a variety of musical activities. The choir, composed of students from first to sixth year, are regular concert performers and compete both locally and nationally in choral festivals and Slogadh, with great success. The senior orchestra, which represents the school at the Dublin Feis Ceoil each year, has been a Dorothy Mayer Trophy recipient on a number of occasions. The school also has a long tradition of producing musicals, providing girls with the opportunity to take part in every aspect of the production. In keeping with its Irish characteristic spirit, the school also has a traditional music group, composed of musicians from first to sixth year, which meets regularly to practice and perform. Inspectors had an opportunity to hear the choir and orchestra perform during the beginning-of-year Mass which took place during the in-school evaluation week.
Laural Hill Coláiste FCJ has a Cumann Gaelach which meets on a weekly basis and all activities are organised by the students involved. Seachtain na Gaeilge activities are also organised each year to promote the Irish language and cultural activities in the school. Public-speaking and debating, in Irish and English, is actively encouraged and junior and senior teams regularly compete in local, provincial and national competitions, for example those organised by Gael Linn, the ESB, the Philosophical Society of UCC and Concern. Students are also actively involved in the school's film club and this allows them to develop their acting, directing and production skills.
A range of opportunities to enhance students' personal and social development is also facilitated. Students actively support and regularly participate in fundraising activities to support charitable organisations in Ireland and abroad. For example students are involved in organising Lá na Misiún, a Children's Christmas Party, Father Christmas and a variety of activities which raise awareness of people in need. These activities raise students' social awareness and participation in them is highly commendable.
Educational tours also form part of the schools extra-curricular and co-curricular programme. Students from Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ frequently travel to other countries, to theatres, museums, and art galleries in order to broaden their educational experiences.
The school also has a very strong tradition of bridge playing and all first-year students are taught how to play. The school has a bridge club and coaching takes place on Saturday mornings. Students from the school take part in locally organised inter-schools and all major national competitions.
A large number of committed teachers are directly and indirectly involved in supporting students' involvement in out-of-class activities. The contribution of these teachers to the holistic development of students and the life of the school is recognised by students, parents, the senior management team and the board of management and is highly commendable.
All subject departments inspected are actively engaging in collaborative subject department planning. This process has been supported by school management’s scheduling of formal planning time for subject departments at the beginning of the school year and of an in-school input by SDPI for the entire staff in September 2007. Additional informal meetings of departments take place. Subject departments have begun keeping formal minutes of meetings since September 2007. Coordination of subject planning is on a rotational basis in some departments. This good practice assists teachers in gaining a deeper understanding of issues impacting on their subjects and empowers them to lead developments in teaching and learning.
Formal plans in the subjects evaluated are at varying stages of development. All of them include aims, objectives, and course outlines for each year group.
Effective teaching was observed over the course of the evaluation. Lessons were well-structured, were characterised by an appropriate pace and the content being taught was in line with syllabus requirements. Comprehensive short-term planning and preparation of supporting materials for all classes was observed and the quality of this preparation for teaching and learning was of a high standard as were teachers’ planning folders. Where best practice was observed, lessons were planned to achieve specific learning outcomes and those learning outcomes were shared at the beginning of lessons with learners. This helped them to connect new learning with previous work and to share responsibility for the learning.
Except for English lessons, Irish was the language of classroom exchanges and students displayed a very good level of Irish. Teachers paid careful attention to enriching students' vocabulary and offered simple explanations of vocabulary encountered without having to translate into English.
Where a variety of pedagogical practices was utilised this afforded students the opportunity to internalise the content of the lesson during the class period. Whole-class instruction was utilised and this was consolidated by group activities where students were afforded the opportunity to engage with the material of the lesson in an active and meaningful way. Other teaching methodologies observed included teacher demonstration and the use of active learning. Skilful and effective questioning and explanation strategies were used in order to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, link new information with prior knowledge and provide students with feedback on their progress. In this way teachers achieved a balance between student and teacher input. To promote higher-order thinking and learning in all classes, it is advised that independent learning be more explicitly promoted by all teachers. In the context of mixed-ability class groups, some further consideration should be given to the use of differentiation in order to cater for diverse student learning needs.
Teachers used the white board to good effect in structuring the lessons and in recording and explaining key vocabulary and it is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes to visually reinforce new vocabulary and strengthen spelling ability. The creative use of textbooks, resources produced by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & Gaelscolaíochta (COGG) and ICT are areas for development in teachers’ use of resources to support teaching and learning. Teachers employed an impressive array of audio-visual and concrete materials to support students’ learning and all teachers made efforts to create motivational, visually-rich and print-rich environments in their classrooms. However, some classrooms had a limited number of displays in Irish and it is recommended that this situation be addressed as a priority.
All teachers managed the learning and teaching encounters in their classrooms effectively and student-teacher rapport was very good. Students were attentive and their level of participation in each of the lessons was high, and they were fully engaged at almost all times. Consistent affirmation encouraged student participation and contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere.
High expectations for learning and for behaviour were implicit and it was clear that students were learning.
Teachers use a range of assessment modes to monitor student competence and progress. These include such formative methods as review of homework, oral questioning, group work, regular class assessments and continuous monitoring of students’ written and practical work. The school has developed an agreed homework policy which includes the use of the standard school diary. Diaries reviewed revealed variety and regularity in homework assigned. However the recording of homework for different subjects was infrequently in Irish. It is recommended therefore, that the school should facilitate, encourage and monitor the recording of homework in students' diaries in Irish, in line with its characteristic spirit. Homework was being monitored in all classrooms evaluated. In some cases, students’ work was acknowledged by a tick and short comment. In other cases, the teacher comment offered developmental feedback that affirmed the strengths in the piece of work and gave concrete ideas for improvement. This is commended as best practice.
First ('transition year') and second year students’ progress is evaluated through continuous assessment, with reports being sent to parents at Christmas and summer. Third and fifth years are assessed using formal Christmas and summer examinations. Fourth and sixth years are assessed using formal Christmas examinations and a pre-certificate examination in the spring. Appropriate class records of students’ results are kept using a teacher diary system. It is recommended that the mark awarded in end-of-term examinations acknowledge the various subject-specific skills pertinent to the subjects evaluated. Parents/guardians are informed of students’ progress through comments on students’ homework journals, twice-yearly school reports, and annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group.
The school prides itself on the quality of support it provides and has developed systems and procedures to ensure that the highest level of care is provided for all its students. There is a very strong culture of care in the school and this was evident during the course of the evaluation and is highly commended.
The school has developed a policy on admission and enrolment as required by legislation and this policy reflects the characteristic spirit of the school and is consistent with a common enrolment policy operated by all schools in Limerick city.
The school's first year 'transition year' programme is intended to help students make the transition from primary schools that are English medium in most cases to life in an all-Irish post-primary school and it is reported that the programme operated in the school facilitates this transition.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes upon entering the school and this arrangement is maintained throughout the school in the vast majority of subject areas. Those students requiring additional educational support are identified following consultation with the feeder primary schools and using a system of class-based assessments and consultations with subject teachers during the first term. A diagnostic test is not administered. In addition to existing arrangements it is recommended that the school should consider introducing a more formal system for identifying students in need of additional learning support when they enter the school. Early identification and support of these students will become even more important when the current four-year junior cycle programme is phased out and students sit the Junior Certificate examination at the end of a three-year junior cycle programme.
The school is currently in receipt of 0.5 part-time WTEs in respect of learning support and the hours associated with this allocation are used to reduce class sizes in a number of subject areas as required.
The school is currently in receipt of resource hours and additional resources for special educational needs. Support is currently provided outside normal timetabled class time by a subject teacher who has had no formal training in the area of supporting students with special educational needs. Individual education plans (IEP) have been prepared and are being implemented. While the quality of the support being provided is of a high standard the school should plan for the acquisition of staff with learning support qualifications or investigate the possibility of having the teacher currently providing support trained and qualified in this area.
Although the school does not currently have a formal learning-support team in place there is nevertheless, close liaison between the teacher delivering the allocated resource hours, the guidance counsellor and the senior management team. It is recommended that this cooperative approach be developed into a more formal learning support team structure and that this team, once established, meet regularly to arrange appropriate provision for students in this area.
The school has developed procedures for engaging with outside agencies, for example the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), Health Service Executive (HSE) and parents are appropriately advised, informed and included in the process of engagement when it occurs.
Procedures are in place to identify and support students who may be at risk. Supports are also provided discreetly for students who may be experiencing difficulties in order that they may fully participate in every aspect of school life. These arrangements are commended.
The school has a particular focus on attendance and morning and afternoon roll calls are carried out each day. All students entering and leaving the school, outside normal times, are also recorded in a ledger at the reception office. This focus is intended to ensure that students maximise their potential by attending lessons regularly.
The school is in receipt of an ex-quota allocation of 0.77 WTEs for Career Guidance and the counsellor has been recently appointed. This teacher was instrumental in the development of the school's guidance plan since her appointment and a whole-school approach to guidance provision is currently being implemented. This is commended.
The school has a guidance suite comprising an office and student work area, both with ICT access, and a small meeting room. The counsellor's office is also equipped with a telephone. The school's computer room is adjacent to the guidance suite and is used for CG lessons.
It is outlined in the school's guidance policy that the guidance counsellor will participate in all information-giving sessions planned to support parents as they assist their children in making appropriate subject choices and this approach is commended. It is also intended that an input on a whole-school approach to the provision of guidance will be given by the guidance counsellor at a staff meeting later in the year.
The guidance counsellor has taken a pro-active role in the induction of the current first year 'transition year' students during their first day in the school. This involved explaining the operation of the timetable to them and making arrangements for each student to have a secure locker where they could safely leave their belongings. On subsequent days the guidance counsellor explained the operation of the optional subject bands to them and this ensured that anxiety about these issues was minimised. This work is commended.
In order to provide a comprehensive guidance programme for its students Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ has developed strong links with local businesses, universities, institutes of technology and other education and training bodies.
The school has an effective student support structure that is outlined in its pastoral care policy. In this policy document pastoral care is defined as caring for the well-being of each member of the school's community. Care for students is provided in an informal way by the visiting chaplain and faith development coordinator, the guidance counsellor, the senior management team, class teachers whose roles are clearly defined, a teacher with responsibility for fifth year students, two year heads, the students' council and the Leaving Certificate 'buddy' system.
Commendably, class teachers undertake their roles voluntarily while teachers with special responsibility for a year group and the two year heads undertake their work as part of their SDT or AP posts of responsibility. In order to streamline the current pastoral care structure in the school it is recommended that this combination of voluntary roles and posts of responsibility be further developed and formalised into a pastoral care team structure composed of the senior management team, guidance counsellor, members of the RE, SPHE and learning support teams, representatives of subject teachers and the year heads. It is further recommended that all year groups should have a year head with pastoral responsibilities and that these posts should fall within the school's ISM structure.
The school has an effective discipline committee, comprising the senior management team and AP teachers. AP teachers generally do not sit on the disciplinary committee for students with whom they are directly involved and this system is intended to ensure that the school's behaviour code is fairly and consistently implemented. It is recommended that the proposed year head structure referred to earlier, once established, assume the responsibilities of the discipline committee and that formal links between the year heads and the pastoral care team, then be established.
The school has a head girl and a deputy head girl elected from each Leaving Certificate class and two sports captains. All classes have prefects who are elected annually by their peers. Prefects liaise with the students' council, its liaison teacher and the senior management team when representing their class groups. The willingness of these students to become involved in formal structures operating in the school, together with their invaluable contribution to improving life in the school for their peers is highly commended.
The school's 'buddy' system has been operating for many years and continues to work very effectively. In this system, a Leaving Certificate student selected by the RE teachers, assumes responsibility for an incoming first year student and acts as a mentor in inducting this new student into the life of the school. The Leaving Certificate students involved in the operation of this system are making a considerable contribution to the perpetuation of the characteristic spirit of the school and their work and commitment to the school is highly commended.
Communication with and involvement of students in the life of the school is a priority in Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ. The school's intercom system is regularly used to keep students informed of planned and completed school activities and every effort is made to ensure that communication with individual students is of the highest quality.
The school has had a students' council since 1998, before there was a requirement to have one. Leaving Certificate students from the students' council encountered during the evaluation were confident, capable and highly articulate and a credit to the school. The current students' council is comprised of one student from each third and fourth year class group (6 in total), two students from each fifth year group (4 in total) and five students from each Leaving Certificate class group (15 in total). The students' council meets regularly and a liaison teacher, a SDT post-holder, attends all meetings. Contact with the staff and senior management team is usually mediated through the liaison teacher but meetings with staff and the senior management team may also be organised when the need arises. It is recommended that future students' councils be constituted of equal numbers of students from each year group, including first and second year students. This will ensure that all year groups are equally represented and that younger students gain experience of the operation of the council that will benefit them as they progress through the school.
The school has a comprehensive Religious Education (RE) programme which is facilitated by the provision of three timetabled RE periods per week for each year group and delivered by the school's RE department. The school also has a visiting chaplain who facilitates liturgies during the school year. Faith development is fostered through the promotion of Christian values, participation in celebratory masses during the school year, the sacrament of reconciliation, annual retreats for each year group, devotion to Our Lady, assemblies that begin with a prayer and the marking of St. Brigid's day with a special celebration. This extensive RE programme is complemented by a programme of faith development supported by the FCJ, Mercy and Redemptorist religious orders which has been running for the past five years and is being implemented by an energetic and committed facilitator. This supplementary programme was developed to address the difficulties encountered because of a shortage of chaplains working in schools associated with these religious orders in Limerick city, to assist students on their individual faith journey, support RE teachers and provide students with opportunities to explore their Christian faith. The RE department, faith development facilitator and chaplain cooperate and collaborate closely in implementing this programme in the school.
SPHE is appropriately provided for on the school timetable and, together with the school's guidance programme, forms a central element of the support provided for all students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board welcomes this WSE Report which strikes a very positive tone throughout. We are pleased to note that the inspectors have acknowledged and endorsed the high standards of care, teaching, learning and planning, coupled with the school’s great tradition of extra-curricular activities.
The report highlights many of the school’s strengths and captures the essence of the core values which are central to daily life in Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ.
Specifically, the report speaks of the following:
In conclusion, The Board is proud of all involved in this process and wishes to thank the management and staff for their continued commitment to Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ and to commend the inspectors for their courtesy and professionalism.
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 Board will carefully consider the recommendations made, with a view to their implementation, in the light of the needs of the whole school and in consultation with all partners within the school community. We will continue to liaise with our colleagues in the Department of Education and Science in this regard.
The WSE Report, along with the school’s ongoing self-evaluation, will form the platform for the continued development of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ as a centre of excellence into the future.
Published June 2008