An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Coláiste Chilliain

Bóthar Nangor, Cluain Dolcáin,

Baile Átha Cliath 22

Roll Number: 70100W

 

Date of inspection: 27 March 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

The quality of learning and teaching in subjects and programmes

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject and programme inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole school evaluation of Coláiste Chilliain was undertaken in March 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in English, German, Mathematics, and in the Transition Year Programme (TY) were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects and the programme. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Following sustained action by Muintir Chrónáin, and the Irish speaking community in general in Clondalkin, Coláiste Chilliain was established in 1981. Coláiste Chilliain, the first all-Irish second level college established under the patronage of a vocational education committee (VEC) outside the Gaeltacht, functions under the auspices of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee. The school shares a site owned by the VEC on the outskirts of Clondalkin with Gaelscoil Chluain Dolcáin. Plans are underway to develop an all-Irish campus on the site which would result in Coláiste Chilliain sharing this site with two local all-Irish primary schools.

 

Coláiste Chilliain caters for boys and girls and 393 students are enrolled in the current school year. Most of the students come from the two local all-Irish primary schools: Gaelscoil Chluain Dolcáin and Gaelscoil na Camóige. Students also transfer to the school from Gaelscoil Inse Cóir and from Scoil Chrónáin in Rathcoole along with a small number of pupils from local schools working through the medium of English.

 

At the time of the evaluation the school principal was on sick leave and an acting principal who was appointed in December 2008 was fulfilling the role.

 

 

1.         Quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

The characteristic spirit of the school is closely connected with the underlying aim that the Irish community in Clondalkin had, and continue to espouse, to provide a high quality holistic, second level all-Irish education for young people and to foster their respect for the person and the truth. Representatives of stakeholders who were met during the evaluation displayed a clear understanding and strong support for the school’s vision statement. It was evident that the vision acted as an underlying principle for all school activities, for the policies and the close relationships that exist between the school and the local community including Áras Chrónáin which functions as a focal point for interaction in the community. 

 

All school business is conducted through the medium of Irish as was evident at all meetings organised during the evaluation and also in the subject evaluations conducted as part of the evaluation, and this is very much in keeping with the characteristic spirit of the school. The school community’s openness and welcome and the respect evident in all interactions during the course of the evaluation provided further evidence of the school’s characteristic spirit.   

 

1.2          School ownership and management

The board of management (the board) is a sub-committee of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee The representatives of the committee on the board, the education officer named to work with the school and the education services of the committee, enable the committee and the school to have a very effective communication network and facilitate regular contact between the committee and the school. At meetings with senior management and other staff members the high level of support provided by the committee to the school was often mentioned. At the meeting that was held as part of the evaluation with the education officer, on behalf of the committee, a clear understanding of the functioning of the school and the challenges it faces was evident.

 

The board of management is correctly constituted. The board meets regularly and decisions are democratically agreed. A chairperson is appointed to the board at the beginning of each school year as should happen, and the principal acts as secretary. Such practices are commendable and they are in keeping with the articles of management for schools functioning within the patronage of the vocational education committee. The board members were clear about Coláiste Chilliain’s vision statement and its role in promoting the language and providing students with a broad education. Minutes of meetings are presented bilingually. Such practice is highly commendable as it facilitates clarity of communication between the partners and it provides evidence of the laudable efforts made to provide all members with an opportunity to fulfil their role effectively. It was indicated that the chairperson has begun to visit classes. This practice is commendable as it strengthens the link between what happens in the classroom and the work of the board. Apart from the agreed aim of the whole-school community to develop an all-Irish campus, the board has not agreed development priorities in the areas of planning, curriculum development and staff development. It is recommended that the board undertakes these aspects of school management in the coming school year as part of their work on a school plan.

 

A small number of board members had attended a training course for their role. It was evident at the pre-evaluation meeting that not all members of the board had a clear understanding of the functions of the board in the context of the Education Act 1998 or in the context of the articles of management for schools under the patronage of the vocational education committee. It was indicated that the board functions on a year by year basis rather than for a period running concurrently with the term of the vocational education committee, a three year term. Furthermore, it was clear from discussions that the current board had not at any point approved a school plan or reviewed a plan that was already in place. It is recommended that the board, as a group, would participate in training for their role as board members as soon as possible so that they would have a greater level of understanding and knowledge of the board’s function and its statutory obligations in managing the school. The vocational education committee provides specific training in this regard. Furthermore, it is recommended that members ensure that they have access to a copy of Lámhleabhar do Choistí Gairmoideachais agus do Bhoird Bhainistíochta Scoileanna agus Coláistí Pobail/A Handbook for Vocational Education Committees and Boards of Management of Schools and Community Colleges (2006), which has been published by the Irish Vocational Education Committee (www.ivea.ie /published_booklets.htm).

 

Reports on board meetings are informally communicated to the teaching staff. Although there are parents on the board they are not representatives of Cairde Chilliain (The Parents’ Association) and there is no evidence therefore of any formal communication between the board and the parents. In order to ensure good practice and transparency in comunication, and in line with Section 20 of the Education Act 1998, it is recommended that the board provides an agreed written statement on the business of the meetings for the staff and for Cairde Chilliain.

 

1.3          In-school management

It was evident that there was a very good level of cooperation and support between the acting principal and the deputy principal who form the senior management team. As the academic year was well underway when the acting principal assumed the role he had little input into the delegation of responsibilities being fulfilled during the evaluation. Nevertheless the senior management team were functioning effectively and they were aware of the very high level of support available to them at all times from the vocational education committee and from the board. Communication between them and the staff of the school was open and effective and the goodwill of staff towards them in the fulfilment of their duties was evident. It was obvious that senior management was in agreement and committed and determined regarding their vision for the school and they consider the staff and students as the most important and valuable resources in the day to day implementation of that vision. 

 

The very good standard of leadership developed amongst the staff in Coláiste Chilliain coupled with the management of the school and the curriculum is highly laudable. This was  evident in the effectiveness with which the acting principal who had been assistant principal was able, within a very short space of time from the time of his appointment to the time of this whole-school evaluation, to fulfil the duties of the principal. It was evident that senior management were interested in professional development and that they recognised its importance as a support for them and for the staff in fulfilling their responsibilities. 

 

A team of assistant principals and special duties’ teachers assist the senior management in the management of the school and the students. They operate as a strong and effective middle management team in the school and it was clear that they were committed to ensuring the welfare of students and to preserving the characteristic spirit of the school. A schedule of posts and of the duties pertaining to the posts has been developed and each postholder is provided with a contract clearly outlining those duties. There is a very good level of open communication between middle management and senior management. In keeping with good practice the school has established a practice, which has been accepted, that duties attached to posts of responsibilities must cater for the needs of the school. That said postholders are satisfied that their strengths and areas of interest are taken into account when duties are being assigned and that they are given opportunities to explore new areas and to openly recommend improvements. This approach to the development of leadership amongst the staff is highly commended.

 

The assistant principals have an importanat role as year heads in the management of students and every effort is made to provide continuity for them with particular groups of students in both cycles. The assistant principals have additional duties to fulfil in other areas. The class teachers provide support for the assistant principals. Teachers accept this role voluntarily. The class teachers attend in particular to the pastoral care of students and the year heads deal with the behaviour of students along with their pastoral care needs. The year heads regularly meet with senior management and minutes are kept of these meetings. The code of behaviour is a valuable tool for them in their work. Such practice is praiseworthy indeed.   

 

The duties associated with posts of responsibilities are regularly reviewed and review meetings are held between the postholders and the principal, usually at the end of the school year. This practice is very commendable. There are certain duties which would benefit from being assigned to a particular post and postholder for a period greater than one year. Senior management should take account of this when they are reviewing and delegating the various duties. Furthermore, and although it is understood that it was changed recently, it is recommended that the coordination of the induction of new teachers be revisited. This role could be further developed and it would be good to share the responsibilities, for example, between a member of senior management and a postholder. It is clear that very useful links have been developed between the current coordinator and the vocational education committee regarding the committee’s induction programme for new teachers but the strength of good practice and teaching experience within the school should also be considered as part of the induction. To this end, it is recommended that the school renews the practice of teacher peer obsevation which once obtained. This, for example, could be organised through subject department coordinators. Such practice is very effective in maintaining high standards and sharing good practice and it does not have to pertain to new teachers only.

 

Although there is no post entirely focused on the development of Irish in the school the duties of an officer for Irish are associated with one of the posts of responsibility. The coordination of various events through the medium of Irish, such as Seachtain na Gaeilge, as well as providing guidance for different student committees in the events they organise, is currently included in the duties of the officer for Irish. There is potential for the significant development of this post and the duties pertaining to it. This particular post could be used to look at the whole school usage of Irish rather than being attached to student matters only. Such a post should focus primarily on ensuring that the school community acquires a high standard of spoken and written Irish. It is recommended, for example, that the development of an Irish policy for Coláiste Chilliain be included in the duties associated with this post. This subject is also dealt with in section 2.1 of this report.  

 

The school enrolment policy is open to, and supportive of, inclusion. This is commendable. Although it is acknowledged that parents are informed before their children are enrolled that the school provides a six year programme for all students, it is recommended that it be clearly stated in the policy that each student has to complete TY. It was mentioned that applications are occasionally received for a place after the school year has begun or for a place in a year level other than first year. The school’s procedures regarding the processing of these applications are not specified in the policy. It is recommended that appropriate amendments be made to the policy in this regard to ensure transparency and clarity in communication.

 

It is commendable that the school’s code of behaviour includes the rule regarding Irish (Riail na Gaeilge). The document is also commendable as it details the procedures regarding appeals in the event of suspension or expulsion, and it also requires students and parents to sign the document. Different versions of the document were provided and the most complete version, including steps regarding the implementation of sanctions, was included in the staff handbook. It is not entirely clear from the document if sanctions apply to all aspects or in some cases what particular order pertains to their implementation. It is recommended that appropriate arrangements be made for the review of the school’s code of behaviour, as is required of every school. In 2008 the National Education Welfare Board, in line with section 23(3) of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 issued guidelines regarding Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools. The document and further information are available at www.newb.ie.

 

Reports are regularly sent to the National Education Welfare Board. Management acknowledges, and it is confirmed on the roll, that there were particular difficulties with a particular group of students in the current school year with regard to punctuality. It is recommended that an attendance strategy be developed to address any inappropriate pattern that might emerge from this.  

 

Cairde Chilliain are very active, pioneering and effective in their work. They have a clear vision for the school and for the importance attached to the provision of a high quality education at all levels through the medium of Irish for members of the community. They provide strong support for the school’s vision for Irish and for inculcating in students a positive attitude towards education. The deputy principal and another teacher work closely with Cairde Chilliain on the various projects they engage in. This link cultivates a strong partnership between the teaching staff and parents. It was also mentioned that they liaise with the students’ council from time to time, and this is commendable. It was evident from various meetings that parents are accepted as partners in the education of their children and that they have a key role in the life of the school and in supporting teachers in implementing the curriculum. The all-weather pitch which has been developed and is available to the primary school, the second level school, and to the local community after school hours, features amongst their main achievements in recent times. Regarding their participation in policy development, it was reported and confirmed by management that draft policies are in some instances presented to them for their input. It is acknowledged good practice that draft policies are made available to all school partners to seek their views prior to their approval of the board. It is therefore recommended that clear procedures be developed and agreed regarding the circulation of draft polices as part of school development planning.

 

Although the parents are not at the same time members of Cairde Chilliain and of the board of management, the parent representatives on the board are selected at the annual general meeting of Cairde Chilliain. This results in a situation whereby the parent representation on the board is open to change each year. It is recommended, in terms of developing experience and continuity, that parents elected be accepted as representatives on the board for its term. Furthermore, it is recommended that the representatives would firstly be members of Cairde Chilliain so that they can act as a direct link facilitating communication between the board and Cairde Chilliain. The board should explore the possibilities of meeting with Cairde Chilliain, as a part of a meeting, at an appropriate time during the year.

 

The strong culture of review and self-evaluation that has been developed amongst the senior management team and the teaching staff is a significant strength in the school. The development of this culture was initiated amongst the school community when the school first engaged in school development planning. The board, teachers, students and parents were involved in the review that was conducted at the time and this informed the formulation of the aims set for the development of the school. The review and self-evaluation recently conducted by teachers on student achievements in certificate examinations in which teachers examined their own practices with regard to teaching and learning is a further example of this very good work. This work is highly commendable. In addition, the school initiated the development of an ‘Annual Report’. The first such report was presented to the vocational education committee on the work of the school in 2007/08. As a consequence the vocational education committee plans to develop the template that was used and to ask other schools in the scheme to also provide a similar report. The school now needs to have the courage to engage with the outcomes of the reviews and to use them to inform planning. It is, however, always important that the board, management, teachers, students and parents are mindful of the positive aspects identified in any review or self-evaluation conducted as well as any areas for development. 

 

School management and staff recognise the importance of developing leadership in students. The student council has been long established in the school and they have a constitution and officers appropriately nominated. Every year group is represented on the council. More information on the work of the council is available in section 5.2 of this report.

 

1.4          Management of resources

The school, in keeping with its mission statement, has as its primary aim to provide a broad education for the students. In the vast majority of cases teachers’ qualifications and experience have been applied to very good effect in the distribution of classes. The school fulfils its obligations with regard to Circular M28/95.

 

It is acknowledged that changes have taken place in the school’s teaching staff in recent years and even during the current school year. There is a lack of fully qualified teachers in some areas of the curriculum and it is recommended that the board be more vigilant in ensuring that suitably qualified teachers are available to effectively implement the curriculum. Furthermore, it is recommended that priority be given to the learning needs of students when arrangements, for instance, regarding job sharing, study leave or career breaks are being made. In keeping with the requirements of the curriculum, Physical Education (PE) classes are timetabled for each class, but the current teaching staff does not include a fully qualified teacher of the subject. While it is acknowledged that the diligence of those teachers currently teaching PE has greatly enhanced the school sports’ programme, and that some of them have considerable experience in the area of sport, the education programme for PE cannot be implemented without an appropriately qualified teacher who  is in a position to develop students’ ability who can engage with the challenges of critically analysing physical activity in a reflective and knowledgeable way. Furthermore it is important to remember that the current provision could have serious implications regarding insurance and health and safety.

 

A similar difficulty exists regarding Guidance. There are two fully qualified Guidance teachers on staff. At the time of the evaluation one of these teachers was completely engaged in the teaching of other subjects and the other teacher was on career break and had been for a number of years. It is acknowledged that the teacher fulfilling the role of Guidance teacher has completed various courses of relevance to the area, that the duties of the post are completed diligently and that many recognised organisations are consulted when necessary. However, this teacher does not have a recognised Guidance qualification. In order to assist the school in the avoidance of such difficulties in future it is recommended that management, in conjunction with the vocational education committee, develop a strategic plan for staff professional development. As part of this work it is recommended that formal planning takes place to assist teachers who come to the school with little Irish. It is mentioned in Scéim Choiste Gairmoideachais Chontae Átha Cliath 2008-2011 Faoi Alt 11 d’Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiula 2003 that it is intended to extend the voluntary training in Irish to staffs of the Colleges within three years. This could form part of the duties of the officer for Irish.

 

The caretaking team and the school secretary provide great support for management in the running of the school. The school accommodation is very good and the school environment is pleasant and supportive of learning. The school takes advantage of the Department’s various Summer Works schemes updating space and equipment to provide for curriculum changes.

 

The library is one of the most recent areas developed. It contains a very good collection of reading books and reference books which have been catalogued. The library is available to class groups and to individual students who wish to study particular areas. It is evident that school management is committed to the promotion of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a teaching and learning medium. In support of this the coordinator has a post of responsibility, and an ICT strategy, as well as a policy for the use of the computer room, have been developed. Students and parents, in keeping with good practice, are asked to sign this policy. Recently also the school’s computer infrastructure was significantly developed. This included a reorganisation of equipment and the provision of up-to-date software, additional broadband access points in classrooms and special subject classrooms. Furthermore the school has obtained recognition as an IC3 examinations’ centre. These developments are highly commendable and the subject and programme inspection reports accompanying this report indicate the use being made by students and staff of these facilities. The next time the policy on the use of ICT is being reviewed the application of the internet and of computers in other areas in the school, other than the computer room, should be included and it should be ensured that each person including staff members, using the school’s computer equipment and facilities should have to sign the policy.

 

The process of reviewing the school’s health and safety policy is highly commendable. Health and safety notices are visible around the school and specific notices are displayed clearly in the specialist rooms. This is laudable. In addition evacuations are practised and records are kept of these practices. The work being undertaken on aspects of danger and hazard and on ranking them and the means by which they will be specified in the policy is commendable. The work that has also begun on linking other relevant school policies to this policy is also commended.

 

The school places particular emphasis on the promotion of students’ respect for the environment and their health. The school is looking forward to obtaining a green flag and worthwhile steps have been taken in this direction. Much emphasis is placed on recycling, and bins have been coded and placed at various locations throughout the school for different types of materials. The work being undertaken in this area is highly commendable and it is evident that this work is promoting partnership within the school community. Furthermore the work that has been undertaken in the school canteen to promote a healthy eating policy is commendable.

 

 

2. Quality of School Planning

 

2.1 The school plan

School development planning at in-school level is a key element of the school culture. A wide range of whole school policies and curriculum plans have been developed and reviewed over the years. It is acknowledged that the intended development of an all-Irish campus is very important for the school and that the board and the entire school community are committed to the development of the language and the culture. However, they also need to establish their vision for the curriculum and the various policies. In light of this it is recommended that the board makes the necessary arrangements to outline comprehensive aims for the school, for the curriculum, and for the development and review of policies. When this plan is agreed it should be approved by the board, the partners should be informed of it and it should be used to guide the board regarding its work objectives. This should entail the development of an action plan with achievable timelines. It would be helpful to compile a list of policies and establish the stages at which they are in their development: developed and approved, under review, to be developed. The distribution of the draft policies to Cairde Chilliain and to the student council or input depends on the content of the policies. As already stated, it is good practice to have all parties involved in the process. It is recommended that the board ensures that all policies are referred to it for approval when the consultation process on a draft has been completed, that this would be noted in the minutes and that the signature of the chairperson as well as the date be included on the document.

 

The school development team guides the planning work. There are two teachers on this team, one of whom is chairperson and the other vice-chairperson. The principal is also a member of this team. The coordination forms part of an assistant principal’s post of responsibility but the post holder and other members of the team usually change from year to year. Although it is praiseworthy that responsibility is shared amongst the staff, it is recommended that this be reviewed in this particular case and that the coordinator of planning would assume responsibility for the role for a period of at least two years. At the time of this evaluation members of the planning team present had not attended any formal training in the area of planning. It is recommended that every effort be made to attend such a course and the resource material available on the School Development Planning Initiative website at www.sdpi.ie should also be consulted.

 

The in-school planning process that has been developed is highly commendable. At the beginning of each school year a decision is made regarding the policies to be prioritised in terms of their development or review. Different committees are then formed to begin work on the various aspects and it is commendable that all teachers are involved in the work. Chairpersons are nominated for these committees and they report to the planning team and to the teaching staff. As evidenced by minutes of staff meetings, feedback on the work of the committees is regularly provided at staff meetings during the year. For the current school year, 2008/09, the staff agreed on the following areas of planning: child protection, health and safety, special educational needs and record keeping.

 

The layout of policies and the titles under which the content was presented varied greatly. It is acknowledged that this is largely due to their development at different points over a period of years. At this stage, it would be worthwhile using a common template as policies are being reviewed. That used for SPHE should be considered as an exemplar. Samples of good practice were evident in various policies and the following good practices are mentioned for inclusion in the policy documents: to begin with the school’s vision statement to set the context for policy aims; name staff nominated for involvement in policy development, in the monitoring and implementation of the policy; make reference to other policies that will support its implementation; include the date on which it was approved by the board and the date on which it will be reviewed in the document.

 

There was no confirmation available, as required by Post Primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, that the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). It was reported that the attention of all members of staff in the school had been drawn to the practices regarding child protection that are mentioned in these guidelines. The school has a child protection policy that is dated prior to 2005 and, at the time of the evaluation, a review committee had been appointed and was in the process of reviewing this policy with the aim of bringing it up to date and in line with the provisions of the above circulars. It is strongly recommended that the board arrange to have this policy approved as soon as possible once it has been agreed by all partners and ensure that a copy is disseminated to all members of staff and all parents. It would be in keeping with good practice to ensure that visitors to the school, such as guest speakers who work with students, are made aware of the policy and the procedures that pertain to it. 

 

In line with other recommendations mentioned in this report it is recommended that a policy be developed for Irish. The Irish Rule (Riail na Gaeilge) works very effectively in the school but it must be remembered that this refers only to students. A whole-school policy for Irish would affirm the good practices that have been developed in school regarding Irish, from the functioning of the board through the medium of Irish to the use of Irish throughout the school, and would identify goals that would help the school to ensure high standards in coming years. As part of the policy, and in addition to having as its main priority the establishment of high standards in spoken and written Irish, attention should be drawn to the means by which Irish as a curriculum subject can support students in accessing and negotiating the rest of the curriculum, particularly regarding developing their competence in the use of Irish as an academic language. This policy should directly influence the subject plan for Irish and it would be worth looking at how a content-based approach such as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) would support this work in the case of first years. This would suggest that the functions and notions mentioned in the Irish syllabus could be realised through the use of aspects of other subjects such as History, Science or Geography as conduits for this work. The main aim would be to give students the opportunity to develop a mastery of the structures of Irish, of the language as a system and the use of subject specific terminology.    

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

The school provides for the Junior Certificate, TY and the established Leaving Certificate. It was indicated that discussions had taken place some years ago at staff and board level regarding the provision of the Leaving Certificate Applied and that a decision not to offer it was reached. It was indicated that the question was raised again recently and that it is recognised that the programme would cater very well for some students. This is an indication of the staff’s ongoing review of curriculum provision and its suitability for the learning needs of the school’s students. This is good practice.

 

A significant strength in Coláiste Chilliain is the very wide range of subjects provided in the junior cycle and senior cycle for the established programmes. Staff and management are to be highly commended for this and they are particularly commended for the very good balance between academic and practical subjects on the school curriculum. It was clear from the various meetings that a great emphasis is placed on subject choice that best provides for students’ wishes and this was evident in the timetables belonging to the various year groups in junior and senior cycles. Science is one of the core subjects at junior cycle and Biology, Physics and Chemistry are amongst the subject choices at senior cycle. The significant status given to Science in the curriculum is highly commendable

 

The time allocated to the various subjects is satisfactory. It is recommended however that it would be ensured that the English and German classes, as well as first year Irish classes, would be more evenly distributed throughout the week. Furthermore it is recommended that the distribution of classes throughout the week would ensure that students would have more regular contact with subjects such as Home Economics. In this instance, for example, students receive all input in the first three days of the week in senior cycle, and in junior cycle third year students have a double class on Wednesday and again on Thursday. Furthermore it is not good practice to split double classes over break time, and there are many examples of this on timetables for subjects such as Art, Business, Music, Home Economics, Metalwork, Physical Education, Science and Construction Studies. Further information regarding recognised good practice in timetabling for these subjects is available in Inspectorate publications such as Looking at Music, Looking at Home Economics and Looking at Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies. These can be accessed at www.education.ie.

 

The school has a firm policy with regard to encouraging and enabling students to study subjects at the highest level, allocating students to mixed ability classes and delaying decisions regarding certificate examination levels for as long as possible. This policy is laudable. Concurrent timetabling of classes as they approach the certificate examinations assists students to access as necessary the level most suitable to them. Part of the philosophy of TY is to have students in mixed-ability classes and to provide them with new learning experiences in each subject. In the case of Mathematics it is recommended, as a means of committing to this and as recommended in the inspection reports on Mathematics and TY, that the practice of allocating students to classes in accordance with Leaving Certificate examination levels be reviewed.

 

Management recognises that providing for the needs of students as regards Irish language support is a necessary component of curriculum planning. A small number of students begin in first year each year who have not received their primary education through Irish and management therefore provides additional support for them by providing language classes for as long as is necessary to ensure that they can fully access the curriculum through the medium of Irish. They are commended for this and it is an indication of the manner in which curriculum planning supports the school’s admissions policy which is an open policy in terms of the language competence of the applicants. At the time of this evaluation there was no student in the school with needs as regards English as an additional language.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

The school is very effective in providing information for students and their parents, and in providing flexibility in the arrangements made with students regarding subject choices. As mentioned earlier in this report programme choice does not arise in this school. Information pertaining to the school, to subjects and to programmes and supports is provided through visits by management to the feeder primary schools, by the attractive information brochure available and by information evenings organised in the school. The first of these is organised for incoming first-year students.

 

The Guidance teacher has a key role in providing information and support to students and their parents when selecting subjects for  first year and again before the beginning of fifth year. This work is thorough. Students beginning in first year have an opportunity to sample the optional subjects available in the first term. Students are therefore better placed to base decisions on subject choices on their experience of the subjects as well as the advice and guidance given to them. Management is highly commended for the arrangements put in place to organise this programme. With regard to modern languages at junior cycle, students can chose between German and French but they have to make this choice before they begin to attend the school. As this aspect of the curriculum also involves a choice it is recommended that management would look at the possibilities of including modern languages on the sampler programme in first year.

 

Students select subjects for Leaving Certificate while in TY. This is therefore an important year in the process. It would be helpful as has been recommended in the TY report, to have the results of the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) available earlier in the year in order that students can use this information when they are organising at least one of their periods on work experience. As part of the programme students have an opportunity to try many of the optional subjects, which is helpful to them in making their decisions. In order to provide for excellence in the programme modules and also the possibilities of including additional choices based on the Leaving Certificate subjects, it is recommended that the time provided would be reviewed. This would assist in giving students an experience of sampling additional subjects they might not otherwise consider studying. It was clear in the meetings with Cairde Chilliain and with the student council that they were happy with the programmes and with the range of subjects available and that they are happy that management makes every effort to respond to the wishes of students regarding the subjects they select. The management and staff are highly commended for all their work in this regard.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

Coláiste Chilliain provides a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to extend and enrich students’ learning experiences. Every effort is made to ensure that all students are involved in some event and to that end a great variety of activities is provided. Great use is made of the resources available in the school, which includes the all-weather pitch, and of the talents and experience of the teachers and pupils themselves in organising these activities. The additional work contributed by teachers in these areas in order to realise the objectives of the holistic development of the students is acknowledged.  

 

The co-curricular activities provided are of a very good standard. These include debating competitions in various languages, Mathematics and science competitions including the Young Scientist.

 

The school places a great emphasis on sport and there is a good balance in the sports available between those that provide opportunities for students to participate in team and individual sports and sports that provide for gender balance. These include soccer, Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and athletics. The range of activities also indicates that students are given many opportunities to display their talents in music and song. The music night organised by the vocational education committee in the National Concert Hall is a key part of these events and music groups from the school participate in this event each year.  

 

The musical presented on stage each year by TY students is indicative of the effective way in which activities support the holistic development of students. The students themselves, under the guidance of the teachers, undertake all of the work pertaining to the musical resulting in the integration of the co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities available. This also is a wonderful example of the manner in which opportunities are availed of to promote cross-curricular work ranging from students preparing drama props to stage management and to the marketing of the event. In addition to the musical a talent show is organised each year. The student council undertakes this event and all students in the school are provided with plenty of opportunities to display their talents and to be acknowledged.

 

Students have a significant role in decision making regarding the activities provided. Rugby was introduced in the current school year and this was provided following a request made to management by the students through the student council. The range of different co-curricular and extra-curricular activities provided in Coláiste Chilliain is an indication of the very heavy emphasis on keeping the use of Irish current by drawing on the skills, talents and interests of the students themselves. Students are commended for their achievements at assemblies and prizes they win are displayed in a prominent area inside the main door of the school.  

 

4.         The quality of learning and teaching in subjects and programmes

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

Teachers willingly cooperate in the planning process. Most subject departments had a formal coordinator and in many cases two members of the department were sharing the role. It is good practice to formally agree the role of the coordinator. Such practice is particularly praiseworthy where the role is rotated amongst members of the department. This provides each member of the team with the opportunity to assume a leadership role for the implementation of the curriculum thereby developing a wider range of skills. Minutes available for some department meetings indicated that planning meetings are held regularly throughout the year. An account of the topics discussed and the decisions agreed were included in the minutes. It is good practice to keep a record of planning meetings and it is recommended that this would be adopted in each department. It is recommended, as already occurs in some departments, that teachers share their good practice and their teaching strategies with each other when planning and the inclusion of such practice on meeting agendas would be worth considering. .

 

The quality of the plans was very high in most instances. They described the aims and objectives of teaching and learning, the learning outcomes, the content of the syllabus, the resources to be used, the teaching methods, and the assessment criteria. In some instances, however, the plans were lacking in so far as they contained no description of learning targets or methodology. In order to provide for excellence in subject planning the following is recommended: that a common template be used for planning; that the learning objectives and the criteria for assessment would be stated in each subject plan; that each subject plan would specify the methodologies or teaching strategies to be applied; and that plans would include a description of the means by which the subject would provide for differentiation, given that most classes in the college are of mixed ability.

 

At whole school level it is recommended that cross-curricular planning take place in order to progress areas such as Assessment for Learning and the use of ICT as a learning tool. In the case of TY, it is recommended that planning be conducted in line with the guidelines in the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme and in the case of modern languages that there would be a common approach to planning and assessment based on the learning objectives in the European Language Portfolio (www.coe.int/portfolio).

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

The quality of teaching and learning is one of the main strengths of Coláiste Chilliain. A high standard of teaching was observed in most of those classes that were visited. The content of the lessons was in keeping with the Department’s syllabuses and the range of interests and abilities of students. Teachers had good preparation in place, and a clear structure and substance pertained in the majority of those lessons observed. In some classes, students were informed of the learning objectives at the beginning of the lesson, a commendable practice. It is recommended that the same would apply at the beginning of all lessons and whether the intended learning had been achieved could be checked at the end of lessons.

 

In the majority of cases, the teaching methodologies were suitable for the content of the lessons, and a good range of teaching aids were used. Explanations given by teachers to students were clear and a range of questioning strategies was used to ensure that students understood the content, and to encourage them to think. Discussion, pair work and group work were used effectively where appropriate. A lively teaching style was evident in the vast majority of classes and students were actively engaged in their own learning. It was clear that there was a mutual respect between teachers and students, and that they enjoyed a positive and cooperative relationship.

 

The standard of learning and achievement of the majority of students was very satisfactory in most cases. Students performed well when questioned. It was clear that they had a good understanding and knowledge of the content of the lessons, and that the skills pertaining to the various subjects were being developed.

 

4.3          Assessment

Coláiste Chilliain has very good policy and practice regarding assessment. Homework is regularly assigned, it is corrected and constructive feedback is provided for students. Formal assessments are regularly conducted throughout the school: there is an assessment of each subject every six weeks and examinations are held at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Comprehensive records are kept of the outcomes of assessment, and students and their parents are regularly informed of the results. In some subjects common examinations are provided for the different classes in the year group; this is good practice which would be worth extending. An analysis is regularly conducted of the results in state examinations.

 

In the case of TY, all aspects of the programme are included in the assessment, modules, projects, various activities, as well as students’ attendance, punctuality and diligence. It is recommended that a specific report template clearly outlining the assessment criteria being applied be used for TY and that they would be shared with the students. It is further recommended that TY students would always record the homework and the deadlines for tasks in their school journals.

 

In order to provide for excellence in the school’s assessment practices it is recommended that the learning objectives cited in the subject plans be used as the criteria for assessment, and that the principles and procedures applying to Assessment for Learning be included in the school’s assessment practices.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

Although the school is catering for students with special educational needs (SEN) for years, it was at the beginning of this year that work began on establishing a special department. In keeping with good practice, a small group from the staff has been assigned to deal specifically with the work required in this area and a member of the senior management team chairs this group. The same team is also involved in teaching and policy development for SEN. Very good progress has been made in planning for an office space and for equipment and computer software as well as the development of a library with specific materials and resources to cater for the needs of these students. They have divided various aspects of policy development between them and they report on their progress at staff meetings. The consultation undertaken with other schools, including all-Irish schools, to establish good practice and for the preparation in establishing a department and developing a comprehensive whole-school policy is highly commendable.

 

Although no member of the SEN team is fully qualified in the area of special education, they are guided by a member of the teaching staff who is fully qualified. This is commendable and management should ensure that such help is always available on the staff. Furthermore a member of the committee is engaged in training on various aspects of SEN for which the school caters and on assessment tests, and the psychological sevices of the vocational education committee is consulted. The staff is highly commended for the links they have established and developed to access expertise when required. A range of courses which are recognised by the Department of Education and Science are available on line through the Institute of Child Education and Psychology at www.icep.eu.

 

Recognised tests are used to assess students’ needs. A very low percentage of the enrolment has attested learning needs. It is clear from the staff’s approach that students’ needs are catered for through a partnership between staff, students, mainstream teachers and parents. Such an approach is highly commendable. The progress that has been made in the area of planning for the individual learning of students with identified needs is particularly praiseworthy. In the further development required of these plans it is recommended that the team consults the guidelines developed by the National Council for Special Education Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process 2006 (www.ncse.ie). For example it would be desirable, as described in some plans, that the manner in which these students’ needs would be addressed in specific subject areas would be detailed. There was one special needs’ assistant (SNA) in the school at the time of the evaluation. The role of the SNA should be detailed in the SEN policy.

 

Exceptionally able students are also identified by means of the assessment tests administered, and teachers are informed about these students. As part of the work on the SEN policy it is recommended that details be included on the approach to exceptionally able students. The guidelines issued in 2007 by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in association with the Council for Curriculum, Examination and Assessment, Northern Ireland Exceptionally Able Students: Draft Guidelines for Teachers (www.ncca.ie) provides guidelines on how lesson content can be differentiated to cater for the needs of these students. The school currently avails of various Science, Mathematics and Music events and competitions to create challenging learning opportunities for these students outside normal classes. It would also be worth consulting the Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland in Dublin City University (www.dcu.ie/ctyi).

 

The SEN allocation provided is used to make support available to students in Irish, English and Mathematics. As part of the work undertaken in this area over the years to help students who have little Irish, a vocabulary bank pertaining to specific subjects has been developed. Work such as this that provides opportunities for the SEN team to plan with the class teacher is praiseworthy indeed.  

 

A very good record is maintained of the progress of these students and a very high level of communication has been developed with their parents as partners in this work. Currently students requiring learning or resource support are withdrawn from mainstream classes either individually, or as small groups, for these sessions. It is recognised good practice to have more of the teaching occurring in the classroom and it is recommended that such practice would be introduced gradually.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole school context

The school’s total Guidance allocation is used to provide personal, educational and career counselling for students. Career guidance and counselling is listed as a duty within the post of responsibility of an assistant principal in addition to responsibilities as a year head for the school year 2008/09. Management is reminded that this is not correct as the school has an ex-quota allowance for Guidance.

 

It is acknowledged, and it was clear from various meetings and from evidence provided, that valuable links have been developed by the Guidance teacher and by management with the guidance counselling services provided by the vocational education committee and by other local and national agencies. A specific area has been made available in the school for guidance counselling, as recommended. This includes a well-equipped office where students and teachers have access to reference books and to ICT facilities and resources. Stands displaying up-to-date information leaflets are available to students in this area. It is intended to increase the number of timetabled Guidance classes held in the school’s computer room when its development is complete. Such a plan is very commendable.

 

The work on a Guidance plan was at an initial stage at the time of the evaluation. This work needs to be expedited in accordance with Section 9c of the Education Act 1998. It is recommended that the team working on the plan includes a fully qualified Guidance teacher as well as a member of the SEN team and of the school’s senior management team. In addition, and in order to guide the work, it is recommended that the following publications be consulted: Discussion Paper: Curriculum Framework for Guidance in Post-Primary Education which was published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2006, and  Planning the School Guidance programme from the National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2004.

 

The Guidance provision in senior cycle is satisfactory and, as well as providing support for students individually or in small groups, Guidance is also timetabled. However, with a view to improving provision for TY the current model of provision needs to be reviewed and the means by which it might be more closely aligned to work experience in terms of debriefing, and the provision of a second class period should be explored. It is recommended that the possibilities of providing a more formal provision for students in the early years of the junior cycle be examined. At present the Guidance teacher is currently the year head for first years and this provides the teacher with a great opportunity to get to know the students. It should be ensured however that every student coming to the school in first year, or who is new to the school, is given an appointment with the Guidance teacher. 

 

Students in Coláiste Chilliain are very well cared for and it is clear that attention is given to their holistic development which is in keeping with the school’s vision statement. The school has a very effective pastoral care system. The pastoral care of students is part of every staff member’s responsibility. Teachers understand the importance of getting to know the students well and helping them to settle in as members of the school community. To this end management makes every effort to ensure that the class teacher has daily contact through the timetable with the class for which he/she has responsibility.

 

The Social Personal and Health Education Programme (SPHE) is used to support pastoral care. Every class in the junior cycle has one SPHE lesson. An assembly is held three mornings a week before the day formally begins and teachers and students discuss various events that are taking place. Although Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided at junior and senior cycle the school has no policy in this regard. It is recommended that an RSE policy be developed without delay. Circular 0027/2008 is a reminder of the responsibilities of school management in this regard and guidelines and a template for the development of such a policy are available on www.education.ie.

 

It is clear that a great emphasis is placed on developing leadership among students and on acknowledging their role in the running of the school. A fundamental aim of the various roles and activities is to encourage and support students to speak Irish and to participate in the school community. The student council is the biggest organisation the students have in the school. Elections are democratic and the officers are elected at the first meeting of newly elected members at the beginning of each school year. Two teachers work with the council, meetings are held regularly and minutes of these meetings are recorded. The council members acknowledge that they are listened to, and that they are greatly supported by staff and management in the school. The council manages its work effectively and diligently in the promotion of the school vision. Members of the council keep their fellow students informed of their activities by communicating on a regular basis with their own classes, at assembly time and by means of the notice board and the suggestion box used. Furthermore they indicated that they intend to issue a newsletter to strengthen communication and this is commendable. It is worth mentioning that two of the members are also members of Comhairle na nÓg. The council organises céilís and the talent show that is held once a year in the school.

 

The council plays an important role in the work of the school and members are given opportunities to develop and implement projects. They form subcommittees to work on particular areas; this is very commendable. Their recent significant achievements included their participation in the development of a school policy on healthy eating, a comprehensive survey on recycling, the purchase of recycling bins, the provision of a microphone for the talent show and the inclusion of rugby and camogie on the school’s extra-curricular activities programme. As a means of increasing their social development and supporting the work of the school as a part of the local community, the council also organises various events to fundraise for different local charities. 

 

It was indicated that it was customary at one time for students from the council to attend board meetings. It would be worth considering the possibilities of reviving this important link by, for example, inviting the officers to attend part of the meeting in which relevant items are being discussed or, the council could invite the chairperson or other members of the board to attend their meeting.

 

The student council is not the only source of leadership opportunities for students. For example students from the senior classes function as Irish leaders under the guidance of the officer for Irish, as area leaders where students in different year groups have lockers, and as leaders for sport. Until this year the school operated a Buddy System whereby senior pupils took care of first year students. At the time of the evaluation the school’s anti-bullying policy was under review and in this context the Cool Schools Programme was being developed instead of the Buddy System. Teachers and management are highly commended for the opportunities they provide for the students and for the attention given to them.

 

 

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 when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

7.         Related subject and Programme inspection reports

 

The following related Subject and Programme Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Published, March 2010

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Note: This is a translation of the school response which was submitted in Irish.

 

Area 1:      Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

We welcome the school report.  The favourable report that was written on the school, particularly in relation to teaching and learning, is noted.  It is good that the hard, diligent work which is being done is given recognition.

 

 

Area 2:     Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.