An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Meánscoil San Nioclás
Rinn Ó gCuanach, County Waterford.
Roll number: 76066J
Date of inspection: 1 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Meánscoil San Nioclás. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Meánscoil San Nioclás is an all-Irish secondary school which was founded in 1959 as an offshoot of Coláiste na Rinne. Coláiste na Rinne is a long-established college working through the medium of Irish. It caters for pupils and students at all levels who wish to improve their grasp of the Irish language through short- and long-term courses. A small secondary school had been set up in the early years of the last century but it came to an end in 1918 shortly after the death of one of its founders, the linguist Fr Risteárd de Hindeberg. It was proposed by the board of management of Coláiste na Rinne in 1958 that a secondary school be set up in Halla de Hindeberg, then owned by the Coláiste, and Meánscoil San Nioclás was opened in September 1959 with an enrolment of thirty-three students. The school was managed by a sub-committee of Coláiste na Rinne for ten years until, in 1970, Meánscoil San Nioclás Teoranta was set up as a limited company with Coláiste na Rinne as the majority shareholder. A formal agreement was reached in 1997 under the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 1970 whereby the school was formalised as a partnership between the Company and the County Waterford Vocational Education Committee (VEC).
The involvement of individuals of stature in the Irish language movement in the foundation, support and operation of the college and the school is a source of pride and inspiration for those currently involved in the running of Meánscoil San Nioclás. While the Gaeltacht of Rinn Ó gCuanach is relatively small a strong community spirit exists and local planning is spearheaded by an active and effective group whose values are largely culturally and community based. There is a strong sense of pride among those spoken to in the course of the inspection and a tenacity which has enabled substantial achievements in education and culture despite the size of the population. Meánscoil San Nioclás is one of those achievements.
New school buildings were erected four years ago to replace old, mainly pre-fabricated buildings which had grown unsuitable for educational purposes. Ownership of the assets, site, buildings and furnishing of Meánscoil San Nioclás Teoranta was transferred to the state, free of charge, to facilitate the building of a new school adjacent to the old site. The new school was officially opened in September 2003. The school is five miles from the town of Dungarvan and is located on a peninsula in an area of scenic beauty overlooking Dungarvan bay. The Knockmealdown and Comeragh mountains form a backdrop to the extensive views of the surrounding countryside. The parishes of Ring (Rinn Ó gCuanach) and Old Parish (An Sean-Phobal) are the main catchment area of the school although some students travel from Dungarvan, Grange, Ardmore and the area east of Youghal. The Remote Area Grant Scheme enables students from more distant homes to board with local families during the school week. Nine students currently avail of the scheme.
The school is located in an official Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking area and caters for students through the medium of Irish. Strong commitment to the use of Irish as the normal language of communication and teaching is characteristic of the leadership of the current senior management of the school. Although some students opt for English as their spoken language outside of the school, the language of communication within the school is Irish and all meetings and contacts with staff and students were conducted through Irish. It was also noted by the inspectors that in a number of instances of casual contact with the local community Irish was the language spoken and heard to be spoken. Some immigration, mainly of local families who had returned from abroad, has been apparent in the area in recent years and the school has catered admirably for the Irish language needs of those children who have opted to attend the school. Much building development is in progress locally and an influx of non-Irish speaking families is anticipated in the coming years. Current good practice on the part of the school is an indicator that the language needs of children of these families will be catered for although it is recognised that such provision will stretch the resources of the school.
Meánscoil San Nioclás is a good example of what may be achieved by a community when cooperative effort is matched by dedication to a cause. The espoused values of the school include a strong commitment to the Irish language and culture, to education through the medium of the Irish language and to a Christian approach to others. The mission statement is;
The aim of this school is to prepare pupils for life and to develop them to the best of their abilities as individuals. Our intention is to facilitate their spiritual, physical and intellectual growth.
We encourage fluency in their native language and familiarity with their own traditions so that they will have a strong sense of identity as they continue their lives in this global village.
Inspectors were particularly impressed by the justifiable pride in what has been achieved in providing an education of quality to students by the collaborative efforts of all those involved in the school and community. The resourcefulness and persistence of the board and of senior management and their accurate evaluation of the school were also noted. Similarly, the welcome received, the genuine commitment to Irish language education, the well-mannered students and the good-natured response to the intrusions of the inspectorate facilitated the work of the whole school evaluation.
It appears to be typical of the continuing management of the school that the whole-school evaluation was carried out with maximum efficiency. This is noteworthy because both the principal and deputy principal had been in an acting capacity only since the beginning of the school year, less than three months prior to the whole school evaluation. Documentation was readily available and it was clear from the documentation that meticulous records had been kept on all aspects of the school which had paved the way for a smooth transition in senior management. Similarly, the process of policy formation and ratification had been formalised and the associated documentation shows consistency of approach to administrative and practical formalities. Relationships appear to be cordial at all levels, not only among staff but also with students, members of the community and of the board.
The board of management of the school is properly constituted with nominees of the parents, teachers, Vocational Education Committee and Meánscoil San Nioclás Teoranta as members. The board is unusual in that the interests of the original company are maintained by its having the power to nominate seven of the thirteen members. Two parents, two teachers and two nominees of the VEC constitute the remainder of the board. In effect, the role of Meánscoil San Nioclás Teoranta is similar to that of the trustees of many voluntary secondary schools although the school operates as a separate legal entity under the VEC system.
There is a high level of awareness among its members of the functions and responsibilities of the board. Wise choices have been made by the partners in education in appointing able, forward looking and educationally-aware members to the board. The appointment of individuals with the cream of spoken Irish is similarly noted. These characteristics, coupled with a spirit of dynamic leadership shared by the board and senior management, have facilitated a consensual approach to decision making and policy formation. The observed communication was courteous, businesslike and tinged with good humour at all stages of the evaluation. It was apparent to the inspectors that the basic empathy underpinning such good communication was learned through the, sometimes difficult, process of transition from one mode of management to that currently in existence. Attention to detail in the processing and ratification of policies and decisions, as seen in the associated documentation, is highly commended and shows the involvement of all the partners.
The effective leadership of the principal, in collaboration with the board and with staff, has transformed the school. A combination of vision, timely intervention and the availability of resources has enabled the transformation and the result is a good example of how maximum benefit may be gained from limited resources.
The principal is currently on leave of absence. It is a testament to the success of her, and her team’s, management and leadership skills that the interim nature of the current senior management was in no way obvious in the course of this evaluation. The acting principal, who had been deputy principal, and the acting deputy principal, who had been a special duties teacher, showed every competence in the performance of their current duties. Their professionalism, good humour and courtesy were acknowledged by the inspectors and by their teaching colleagues as major contributing factors to the spirit of the school.
The school, because of its size, has not been in a position to appoint staff to Assistant Principal posts of responsibility. It is anticipated that, because the school now fulfils the criteria of fourteen teachers for such appointments, the first such post will be filled in September 2007. Four teachers, including the acting deputy principal have special duties teacher posts of responsibility and one teacher holds the post of Programme Co-ordinator. The duties assigned to these posts are subject to continuous informal review and adjustments are made to them in the context of the annual review of posts. All but the most recent appointees to the staff have taken on substantial responsibilities. Collaborative practice is the norm in this respect and staff members are very supportive in meeting the needs of the school and adding to their range of skills and experience in a real learning environment. Five teachers, for example, are class teachers, equivalent to year heads in larger schools, and have been developing the supportive and student management aspects of the role in cooperation with senior management, the chaplain, guidance counsellor and special education co-ordinator.
The first visit of the inspectors to the school began during the mid-morning break while the entire student body was using the main social area, An Chearnóg, for lunch. Most were seated at collapsible canteen seating units. This area is also used for study during the day and is supervised by the principal whose offices open onto the area. The atmosphere was calm and orderly. Students responded politely when spoken to and tidied their areas prior to leaving the centre. This was typical of student behaviour observed during the inspection. Interactions between teachers and students were respectful and in the mode of a large, well-behaved family. Students responded to teacher requests and teachers were seen to be approachable to students. Written correspondence between the student council and the principal also showed due respect and adherence to standard protocols. Disciplinary issues are of a minor nature and are adequately coped with by the application of a balanced code of behaviour in which responsibility and positive behaviour are encouraged.
A policy of easy access to senior management, familiarity of staff with the majority of parents and the effective participation of parents in major school decisions is both a cause and an effect of good communication in the school. Parents confirm that communication with the school is excellent. Not only may concerns about students be expressed by both sides but also successes and achievements. Community involvement is well demonstrated by the preparations for the Feast of Saint Nicholas, patron of the school, which occurred in the week following the evaluation. The event had been filmed on a previous occasion and it was obvious that the wholehearted participation of students, staff and parents made it a major annual community celebration.
The intertwining of the many threads of a community is also seen in the links between the school and local businesses. Although it is a small community, significant commercial and cultural enterprises are part of it. Coláiste na Rinne and Nemeton, a major producer of Irish language television programmes and materials, are two examples. Some past pupils and parents of current students are employees of or are involved with these organisations. The school acknowledges their generosity in the establishment of links which have been made and which include the facilitation of work-experience, visitors to the school and video production. The school maintains good contact with the local health and social services although calls on these services are normally made by parents on a need basis. Similarly, the status of the school as part of the Vocational Education system and the participation of the VEC on the board of management and in providing advice to senior management ensures a level of support for the school on a broader, system basis.
It was a refreshing feature of the presentation to the inspectors by the board of management that not only was pride in the achievements and tradition of the school made clear but also an accurate evaluation was made of the challenges facing the school. The thoughtful presentation showed clarity of vision but it was well grounded in reality. This bodes well for future planning and it can be argued to have been a major factor in planning successes to date. This element of self evaluation was also in evidence in the day-to-day planning and teaching work of the school and was an underlying element of all subject inspection reports. The school’s approach to self-evaluation is highly commended and is very much in keeping with the approach advocated by Looking at Our School: An aid to self-evaluation in second-level schools (Inspectorate, 2003).
The school employs fourteen teaching staff. Seven of these are permanent whole-time teachers, two have contracts of indefinite duration and six are pro-rata teachers. The teachers are deployed appropriately to cater for the needs of the school and are in compliance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science. Only three teachers have been staff members for more than five years. The opportunities presented by the new building and staff and by the continuity provided by senior staff and board of management have been used to excellent effect in the interests of the school.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged by the board and facilitated by senior management. A tacit agreement exists whereby the numbers on CPD on any given day may be limited and whereby staff agree to assist senior management in the resolution of any issues which may arise. An indication of the dedication of staff was the request to the inspectors that the presentations to staff, which are components of the pre- and post-whole-school evaluation protocols, be made at times which would not affect timetabled classes. One was held at lunch time and the other was held after the end of the timetabled school day.
Two secretaries, a caretaker and a cleaner are also employed – all on a part-time basis. The courtesy and assistance experienced by the inspectors was equally apparent in dealings with these staff members and with students. The cooperation of all in its maintenance and administration is clearly evident on entering the school.
Teaching commenced in the new building in 2003. An excellent video produced by Transition Year students and photographs of the building prior to the commencement of construction work show a conglomeration of pre-fabricated and other structures of little architectural merit. All that remains of the old building complex is Halla de Hindeberg, the original school building, and now an important community landmark. It became quickly apparent that, with the new development, there was a rising interest in the school and that the accommodation which had been planned for smaller numbers of students and staff was proving to be inadequate for the increasing enrolment. The school is a victim of its own success. Enrolment has climbed since 2003 from a relatively steady base of around eighty students to one hundred and fourteen. It is projected that student numbers will rise further as families move in to the relatively large number of new homes being built in the locality, the availability of transport and the interest in education through the medium of Irish, especially among residents of Dungarvan. A concomitant increase in staff numbers and a need for extra staff accommodation is also projected. An imaginative scheme was thus conceived to make use of the old school building, Halla de Hindeberg, once again. Using existing resources, the Summer Works Scheme, local support and that of the Co. Waterford VEC, a classroom, Construction Studies room, and a student support office were nearing completion at the time of the evaluation. It is reported by senior management that the work is progressing with little or no disruption to lessons and at a low cost and with admirable input from the school’s caretaker. The advantages of a team approach and of community involvement are highlighted by this development.
Apart from the issues raised above, the new building was designed to take full advantage of the site. This includes spectacular views of Dungarvan Bay and the Comeragh and Knockmealdown Mountains to the North and which are clearly visible from the main social area. The building conforms to the required standards of health and safety and is very well maintained and cared for.
Facilities for the administration of the school are of a very high standard. A wireless network has been installed and is usable throughout the school for administrative purposes and for learning and teaching. The system includes the use of wireless broadband, four data projectors and a suite of twenty-four computers in a dedicated ICT room. The main school office is strategically placed to monitor the entrance to the school and shares the entrance hallway with the offices of the principal. It is very well equipped with modern office furniture and technology and is symbolic of the importance of the efficient and friendly secretarial staff to the smooth running of the school.
In addition to the resources already mentioned the resources available to students are very good. The school operates as a large family. All staff members take responsibility for the wellbeing of students and work closely with management, parents and the community in ensuring that students are cared for and monitored. Some staff members are employed whose specialisms and qualifications are in the area of student support. Schools in the Vocational Education sector generally have a full-time chaplain as member of staff. Meánscoil San Nioclás appointed its first chaplain in 2003 on assuming its new status as a school in the VEC system. Eleven hours have been allocated for the support of students with special educational needs. The guidance counsellor is a recent appointee to the school, having been appointed in September 2006, and uses the guidance allocation of eleven hours, three of which are allocated under the DEIS initiative. With increasing student numbers support structures will become more formalised. Work done at this early stage in formalising procedures and clarifying roles will prove beneficial in the longer term even though such formality may appear stilted in the currently excellent informal system of personal supports.
School development planning at Meánscoil San Nioclás is excellent and this is borne out by the advances made by the school in the past ten years especially in building, staff appointments, policy development and learning and teaching. A good school plan is based on principles against which success may be judged, is clear in its objectives and has mechanisms inbuilt to monitor progress and to measure success at every stage. A good plan also demands good teamwork, collaboration and cooperation and is inclusive, especially of parents and the community. Planning at Meánscoil San Nioclás incorporates all of these factors. The board is clear as to its remit and takes its responsibilities very seriously. Issues of substance are discussed and dealt with at meetings and the basic principles on which the school was founded are a constant background to those deliberations. All meetings are formally constituted, records are kept, decisions made are recorded and acted upon. Real progress in the interests of the school is clear at all stages.
Two major decisions were made by the board in the nineteen nineties which were to have lasting positive effects on the school. The first was to investigate and, ultimately, to implement a management structure which brought the school into the Vocational Education sector. The second, associated decision was to plan the construction of the new school. It is reported that these decisions were not taken lightly and much discussion was to take place before the decisions were ultimately made. The resulting benefits are clear not only in the visible structures but also in the democratic and collaborative processes which have been formed by the board, staff and community.
Much of the planning to date has involved the construction of the new school buildings. The board has not been complacent in the light of its building successes. Planning is continuing and reviews have shown the need for extra classrooms, specialist rooms and recreation areas. Further submissions have been made to the Department of Education and Science building unit in relation to the provision in the short term of two classrooms and a library to ease current difficulties related to the lack of extra space. In the longer term it is proposed that more rooms, offices and PE facilities be provided, in addition to work already underway in Halla de Hindeberg.
Policy development is in line with the requirements of the Education Act (1998) and of the other legislation which has been passed since then. Policies have been processed with inputs from staff, parents and students and have been formally ratified by the board of management. Documentation of policies is excellent and the full range was presented to the inspectors in support of the whole school evaluation. The ratified policies include the code of behaviour, admissions policy, anti-bullying policy and the substance use policy. The admissions policy is currently under review. Reference is made in the policy to the condition that resources be available prior to the admission of students with special educational needs. Senior management have indicated that this condition shall be removed. It is recommended that the current policy be maintained of accepting all applicants within the broad framework of the ethos of the school. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person, the principal, has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Subject planning has also been successfully tackled by staff and is ongoing. Staff have had briefing sessions with the regional co-ordinator of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and two days have been set aside for planning purposes during the current school year. The size of the school and the youth of the staff have facilitated collaborative planning and the sharing of ideas in an integrated way across the curriculum. Staff are consulted at every stage by senior management and, because most subject departments are represented by a small number of teachers it has been an inevitable and desirable outcome of planning that teachers have become familiar with generic planning and with the identification of issues common to a variety of subjects. It is reported by the principal that the availability of planning seminars on a national level through Irish has been a major and welcome development.
The principal has been the planning co-ordinator with the help of the current acting principal. The size of the staff has enabled an approach to planning which is a mixture of the formal and informal. Formal inputs have been received from the regional co-ordinator of the SDPI and much planning work is done at subject level on a continuing basis. Current planning issues include planning for student support through guidance, special education and the chaplaincy, finding structured approaches to learning and teaching and the development of the physical space of the school. Application has been made to the building section of the Department of Education and Science with regard to the proposed new buildings and other work is in progress as outlined above. Clear time lines have been drawn up in keeping with best planning practice.
The school provides a good range and balance of subjects in compliance with the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools. It is school policy that as broad a range of subjects as possible be accessible to all students and mechanisms for subject choice reflect this policy. The available subjects have been added to over time but the recruitment of staff which has taken place in the past four years following the retirement of many of the original staff has made it possible to direct attention to the issue of the range of subjects needed to provide an equitable, flexible and balanced range. All classes are of mixed ability and cater for the diversity of student interests.
Although the emphasis placed on Irish is strong, the timetable is fair to the majority of subjects. Teachers propose changes during the spring each year in response to the request of the principal who constructs the timetable. Every attempt is made to achieve a spread of time during the week for each subject in accordance with the wishes of teachers. It should be pointed out that, while recognising the status of Irish, each subject studied may be of equal importance to an individual student. It was noted in the languages that, because of the commended emphasis on Irish, the opportunities for students to engage with English in particular were somewhat diminished. Suggestions have been made in the attached English report in this regard.
The majority of teachers teach to their maximum hours although it was obvious during the evaluation that the actual work done is well in excess of what is contracted. It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to 28 class contact hours. This is particularly the case at senior level where the alternative to an optional subject for some students is a study period. The school indicated that it would be addressing this matter and making adjustment to the timetable for future years or seeking additional resources to address the matter if this adjustment would compromise essential course provision.
The school provides PE to junior cycle and TY classes. Current proposals for curricular development of Physical Education (PE), sport and leisure are an integral part of the proposals to develop the physical infrastructure of the school in this area. The lack of these facilities and of a qualified PE teacher are cited as reasons why fifth- and sixth-year classes have not been timetabled for PE. The board of management is actively pursuing the matter and has developed a long-term strategy and plans to improve the provision of PE to all students. Much credit is due to staff for their efforts in promoting PE and games and the school has had some success in local and regional sporting events.
Students make decisions about subject and programme choice at two key stages. Optional Junior Certificate subjects are chosen at the end of first year and optional Leaving Certificate subjects are chosen during the Transition Year (TY). The process is very well monitored and much information, including information on equality and inclusion, is given to parents and potential students prior to the decision. First year students choose either Materials Technology (Wood) or Home Economics in addition to the core subjects which include a language other than Irish or English, Art, Business, Music and Science. The choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate is based on student preference which is expressed during TY. A two-stage process is in operation in which, following the indication of initial preferences, student preferences are matched with the school’s curricular resources in a ‘best fit’ scheme. Four optional subjects are chosen from Art, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History, Scientific and Social Home Economics, Music, Physics, Technical Drawing and Spanish. This is commended. Information about subject choice is circulated to students during TY, which is compulsory for all students. This is achieved by teacher inputs during lessons, by targeted inputs by the guidance counsellor, at an open evening for parents and on an individual basis with students and parents as needed. The employment of a guidance counsellor is already proving to be a positive step in that not only is up-to-date and accurate information now available to students both personally and in groups but also in raising awareness among staff of the importance of personal and vocational decision making and of their part in it.
The cultural richness experienced by students at Meánscoil San Nioclás is, and for a school of its size, beyond comparison. The school provides an environment in which the energy is channelled in keeping with the basic commitment of the school to a stimulating all-Irish programme. It is also given free rein in the variety and diversity of activities available and encouraged. While some staff members have professional status in their chosen cultural fields, others by their enthusiasm have facilitated students in activities such as dance, drama, music, seamanship, debating, swimming, educational trips abroad, the science club and in many others. Music and sean-nós singing are the cultural mainstay of the school. Students have successfully entered competitions exemplified by participation in the Oireachtas competitions, the Young Scientist and in the Waterford International Young Glass Designer competition. The school is recognised as a centre for the arts. Performances of traditional and classical works are held there each year. Duan Déiseach, a collaborative work of music, poetry and dance by a number of well-known artists was first performed at the school in May 2006. Teachers are highly commended for the time, well in excess of the normal teaching hours, spent planning, managing and running these activities. Similarly, the involvement of members of the community, especially parents, in providing advice and support has been of huge benefit to a well-rounded and interesting programme. Close contact with local employers, community and sporting organisations has also been of mutual benefit. A number of compact discs of music have been produced by students and ex-students with local help. The close-knit community has also surmounted a transport problem seen in many schools and has increased the level of student participation in extra- and co-curricular activities. Parents arrange transport for children who might not normally be in a position to participate in extra- and co-curricular activities due to their dependence on the school bus service for transport. Similarly, parents accompany students and teachers to events being held at a distance from the school. Such community involvement is highly commended.
The school also provides for the needs of adult learners in the region in its programme of night courses. The courses currently running include the Diploma in Irish (An Dioplóma sa Ghaeilge) accredited by the National University of Ireland, Galway, the Irish Assistants’ Scheme (Scéim na gCúntóiri Teanga) and night classes in Irish for adults (Ranganna oíche sa Ghaeilge do dhaoine fásta). Plans for four other courses are in train and include a course on the building of naomhóga as an extension of the school Club na Naomhóg. The club meets on Fridays and has already constructed two naomhóga.
Planning on the part of individual teachers is of a good standard. Material covered in lessons was in line with the relevant syllabuses and teachers were diligent in their preparation. The structured approach taken to teaching a mixed fifth-year and sixth-year class in History is deserving of commendation, while the incorporation of teaching and learning strategies, targets and assessment methods in the technological subjects is to be praised. In English, it is suggested that a more integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabus might be adopted, thus allowing for the exploration of texts in a more holistic manner. In the area of special education the development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) has begun. It is recommended that a single page regarding the teaching and learning elements of each student’s IEP should be distributed to their teachers in order to facilitate regular and appropriate review, monitoring and assessment.
There is good collaboration and cooperation between teachers in subject departments. This is facilitated by the size of the school and the ease with which informal meetings can be organised and communication can be facilitated. In a number of subject areas it is recommended that more formal planning time should be allocated in the context of official planning time in order to further promote discussion of teaching and learning strategies, the sharing of resources and the completion of administrative tasks. The appointment of a subject coordinator and the creation of a subject plan in English are recommended as further supports in this regard. It is recommended that the system of withdrawal of students with special educational needs from mainstream classes should be reviewed. Given the context of the school, a team-teaching approach would frequently provide better support. The current cooperation between the school, the local psychologist and other local schools in the area of special education is positive. It is recommended that this work should be continued and should be used to expedite the development of a whole-school approach to special education.
Teachers displayed significant commitment to the building up of resources in their subjects. In a number of cases, considerable planning had gone into the use of resources in lessons. Information and communication technologies (ICT) were used as aids to teaching and learning and this was particularly highlighted in History and the technological subjects. The use of PowerPoint slides to compensate for the lack of availability of a suitable textbook in the Irish language is especially praised. Planning for the study of two drama texts during the course of junior-cycle English is commended. Beyond this, greater text choice in English should be supported and it is recommended that an English textbook be adopted for all classes in the junior cycle. The development of a history notice board as a means of promoting the subject is suggested and a number of online visual resources are recommended for the department to explore. There is a good emphasis on health and safety in workrooms and it is recommended that the technology subjects should further expand these practices by marking out safe working areas and further developing the use of health and safety signage.
A wide range of stimulating methodologies were used in the lessons observed during the subject inspections. Some of those mentioned include the use of short pieces of drama and role-playing in History from which the junior students gained much enjoyment and benefit, ‘Freeze-frames’ were used in one English class as a resource to explore a drama which was being read. The teaching staff are commended for the use of creative teaching methods and strategies in their lessons. The teaching methods that were in use during the assessment were well suited to the abilities, the needs and the interests of the students, particularly in classes of mixed ability.
The objective of each lesson observed was made clear from the beginning. The lessons were well structured. Classes began usually with homework, the roll call or with the arranging of activities. One lesson began with the students presenting their news of the day. They were given the opportunity to exchange their own stories and, as with every class observed, a good atmosphere was created from the beginning.
It is evident from the subject inspection reports that questioning of a high standard was observed in every class visited. The questioning was usually careful, skillful and elegant. The way in which questions were adapted appropriately to the ability of the student was particularly commended. It is suggested in History that, in order to ascertain that all students are at ease with the topic of the lesson, some emphasis be given to questioning quiet students rather than those who raise their hands frequently.. Having said that, however, the teachers were commended on the frequency with which lessons were paced to allow time for clarification and to ensure that every student had the opportunity to engage with the subject and to understand it. In one instance, in English, higher order questioning would have been beneficial. Emphasising the importance of ‘why’ a certain event occurred or certain techniques were used would have been worthwhile. Good practice in pair work and group work which was observed in every subject during the subject inspections is commended, as is the wide use of active methodologies.
Good use was made of ICT in many of the lessons observed in the different subjects and the school is applauded for this initiative. In one particular class where a student was redrafting a composition and transferring it from paper to digital form, the choices available in the word processing programme encouraged discussion and proved how student-centred the style of teaching was. This was a strong characteristic of the teaching throughout the school. Wide use was also made of traditional teaching resources during the lessons observed.. Good use was made of the blackboard and the white board, photocopied handouts, texts and displays of the students’ work.
There was a huge emphasis on the Irish language. The work of teachers in dealing with problems associated with the lack of suitable texts in the Irish language is also noted. The amount of attractive materials seen in the rooms observed during the evaluation, between the prepared work of the teachers and the work of the students themselves, is commended. The handouts, with a mixture of text and diagram, which given out in History and in other subjects, are also commendable. They assist not only in enhancing the knowledge and understanding of the students in the subject but also in producing Irish language terminology.
Although discipline in the class was noted it was of an agreeable and natural form. The standard of maintenance in the rooms was very good. Good management in every room was evident and the school and its teaching staff are to be commended for this. The management of the learning activities and the displays of the students’ work are to be commended, including the three dimensional work in History. The good management and the collaboration which facilitated the joint use of one room between the technological subjects and Art is praiseworthy.
In the senior cycle, because of the small number of students, the fifth and sixth year classes are usually together in one room. The good class management, observed during the evaluation, which provides an excellent learning environment for the students in those classes, is commended. It is a challenge to teach students from two years in the one room and to provide them with the relevant distinctive learning. The teachers in Meánscoil San Nioclás are also to be commended for the way in which they manage to overcome this challenge.
The mutual respect between the students and teachers was evident. This contributed greatly to the good feeling and to the welcoming, open atmosphere between the students and the teachers which was experienced in every class visited during the inspection. The teachers’ treatment of the students was always positive and when correction was needed it was done fairly. A safe learning atmosphere was created in every class observed and this was assisted by the rooms which were genuinely attractive. The development of literacy in English was facilitated by the print-rich environment in some rooms which was enhanced, particularly, by the work of the students themselves. It is recommended that the print-rich environment be further developed. It is also recommended that lists of key words be displayed prominently to support teaching and learning in English and that key phrases and new terms in Irish be similarly displayed to enhance teaching and learning in Construction Studies and in other subjects.. It is also recommended in History that students be encouraged to develop a personal history dictionary during their studies. One of the strategies stated in the written plans for the technological subjects was to establish discovery learning by leaving learning resources, such as posters and sample pieces, in the room. It is obvious from the evaluation that this strategy had been implemented and that it was effective.
The objective of the lessons was conveyed clearly to the students at the beginning of the lessons observed. The work suited the ability of the students and they succeeded well in completing it with the assistance and assurance of the teachers when it suited. When it was necessary to tackle difficult memory work in History enough time was provided and this is commended. The generous help the teachers gave to the students to uncover the answers is noted, particularly when tackling the language difficulty in the texts. The encouragement given by teachers to their students was very good and the good effect it had on their learning is praiseworthy. The engagement of students in their work was noted to be very good and added greatly to learning in every subject, particularly where active methodologies were used. The teachers’ understanding of and information about the lives and past-times of the students helped to strengthen this engagement..
The quality of learning and teaching was very good in the lessons observed. The students displayed a willingness to participate in the lessons observed and showed a good understanding, knowledge and ability. They were effective when communicating with the inspectors on the subjects. It is recommended that the excellent atmosphere in the school should continue to be preserved while the school increases.
As well as daily continuous assessment in the classes, the students are assessed through regular examinations during the year. The students are continuously assessed and have formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. In some cases the average mark from the continuous assessment is included in the overall formal mark. Preliminary state examinations are organised also in the springtime. Extra lessons are given to provide experience to students with reasonable accommodations. This inclusive approach is commendable.
The teachers keep an account of the results in their own diaries. An account of the results achieved by the students is sent home to the parents/guardians twice a year. There is an open relationship between the people of the area and the teachers and all are aware of the importance and of the educational benefit associated with contacts made during the year.
Students were also assessed by means of questions asked during lessons. In lessons in support of those with special educational needs students’ self-evaluation skills were strengthened by revisiting the day’s work and by looking at the written drafts once again on the computer. This approach is commended both here and in the attached English report. In History, it was reported that use was made of a wide range of recommended assessment methods such as oral questioning, group work, roleplaying and presentations. It is recommended that this good practice be continued and expanded such that close correspondence be established between differentiated assessment methods with differentiated teaching methods.
The work of the students observed was in line with the class work and with the different syllabii. A variety of homework was observed which was appropriate to the range of students’ interests and abilities. It was evident that the teachers supported and encouraged the students through commending them in writing and verbally. This work is commendable and it has a very good effect on the students. In History and in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construcion Studies the teachers’ written feedback of commendations was especially significant. In an English class an evaluation criterion was presented to the students beforehand and it was recommended that this approach be continued. There was evidence, in the English homework, of the integration of literature and language skills. It is recommended that this integration be continued and that particular emphasis be placed in English on the students’ accuracy of expression in written homework. All students with special educational needs have an IEP and this is commended. The IEP gives teachers the opportunity to identify particular student needs while teaching their own subjects.
It is recommended that comprehensive assessment be continued and that use be made of standardized tests to re-evaluate the progress of particular students. It is also important to ensure that a wide range of assessment methods continue to be used in the school to emphasise assessment for learning.
The quality of support for students with special educational needs is dealt with in a report which forms part of this evaluation and which, as may be seen, is very positive in its comments. In short, students with special educational needs are supported throughout their schooling by being part of a close-knit community which cares for its members. Every effort is made to deal with the needs of each student without distinction and to maintain their status as included members of the community. Provision of extra help, whether it is educational, personal, social or vocational, is managed discreetly and communication with parents and staff is carried on with reference to and in consultation with the student. Systems, such as IEPs, have been established to high professional standards of record keeping, communication and tuition. The aim of keeping students in the mainstream to the maximum appropriate extent is kept firmly to the forefront of planning. It is recommended that the development of IEPs be continued and that any CPD in this area for all subject teachers be mapped out in the context of special educational needs and whole-school planning. Links with external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) are very good and the service is considered to be of great benefit to the school and to students.
Because the enrolment has increased by almost fifty percent since the new building was opened and because of the increasing attention being paid to the special educational needs of students, the issue of student support has taken on an impetus which had not been anticipated in the original plans. The issue has not been ignored by the board and senior management. A small office for the use of teachers involved in catering for the special educational needs of students was constructed and an office cum counselling room has been completed in Halla de Hindeberg. Such developments again attest to the ability of management to evaluate the needs of the school and to provide solutions whereby those needs might be met. It is recommended that further consideration be given to finding more suitable accommodation for those working with students with special educational needs. The current small room is located as an annexe to the girls’ changing rooms and lacks privacy and confidentiality.
The school is commended for its open policy and for its commitment and success in supporting and including all students. Comments regarding a school’s capacity and willingness to support students generally involve mention of marginalised groups or students who have little capacity for spoken or written English. It is unusual, therefore, to preface these remarks with the statement that the school has no newcomers or members of the Travelling Community enrolled although the school has an open admissions policy and will accept all who apply. One of the special educational needs which has been successfully addressed is that of students whose competency in Irish is below that necessary to participate fully in the life of the school. The competence in Irish of all incoming students is assessed prior to entry. A comprehensive set of options, including a week-long course in Irish at the school in late August, is proposed to parents so that new students may gain that competence. A programme has been devised and implemented to cater for those needs and justifies the school’s claim to be inclusive and welcoming and is similar to that used by other schools in dealing with the language needs of newcomers. The admissions policy is currently under review and it will be important that a form of words be used which will maintain this policy of open entry. As in all cases of special educational needs, the resources to cater for them should be negotiated with the VEC and with the Department of Education and Science.
A guidance counsellor was appointed for the first time in September 2006 and operates on a part-time basis in the school. The role was previously fulfilled by the principal with some assistance from Údarás na Gaeltachta. The hours allocated to Guidance are relatively generous at point five of a whole-time teacher equivalent or eleven hours per week. Three of these hours have been allocated under the DEIS initiative. The current emphasis of the programme is on students at senior level and in third year. Some of the hours are devoted to timetabled class contact and the remainder are used for one-to-one and small group work. The service is at an early developmental stage and is effective. The size of classes at senior level provides an excellent opportunity for small group work and concentration on the guidance needs of each student. An advantage of the emerging guidance system is that, with guidance planning as a major current issue in schools, many resources exist which can be used by the school to bring fresh approaches and its own stamp to the programme as it is planned and as it emerges. The use of the allocated hours for Guidance is an issue for guidance planning and is being dealt with in this context. Similarly the relationship between Guidance and the excellent pastoral care system already in existence in the school will need to be reviewed as part of the same process. The Draft Guidance Framework recently published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) should be consulted in this regard and it will be found to be a useful source of ideas about whole staff involvement in Guidance.
The guidance and chaplaincy office in Halla de Hindeberg is well placed and comfortable. The inclusion of a small window in the door is a good means of ensuring openness and protection for all involved in its use. It is suggested that a small screen also be used to protect a student’s confidentiality while allowing a view of the teacher, counsellor or chaplain. The proposed sharing of the room by the guidance counsellor and chaplain will need to be examined in the context of whole school and department planning for student support. It is recommended that a team comprising the guidance counsellor, special educational needs co-ordinator and chaplain be formed and that the team should meet regularly to plan and co-ordinate student support in collaboration with senior management and with staff. It is envisaged that the initial meetings would investigate the means by which the support needs of students might be determined and met and would initiate the process of whole-school guidance planning. Discussion at those meetings would also clarify the respective support roles of those on the team with reference to recent official documents related especially to planning, guidance and special educational needs and which would be familiar to the specialists. These documents include Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998) published by the Inspectorate in 2005, Planning the School Guidance Programme (NCGE, 2004), Looking at our school (DES, 2003), A Curriculum Framework for Guidance in Post-Primary Education (NCCA, 2006) and recent publications in the areas of child protection and student behaviour. Most of these are available on the website of the Department of Education and Science.
Links between the school and external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service are reported to be very good by those involved in the support of students. Most referrals to date have been related to special educational needs but it is anticipated that, as the role of the guidance counsellor is developed, some referrals will come from that source. It is suggested that visits by the designated psychologist would be arranged so that both the special educational needs co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor would be in a position to attend such meetings as appropriate. The Home School Community Liaison co-ordinator who has been assigned to the primary and secondary schools in the area spends one day per week in the school. Student transfer from primary to secondary school constitutes the core work in this area. The service is highly valued by the school.
The school operates as a large family. All students are known to the staff and the majority of parents have, at least, occasional contact with the school. The full-time lay chaplain was appointed in 2000 and his work in supporting students, their families and teachers is excellent. Continual contact with senior management and co-ordination of the student council ensures that student issues are quickly identified and dealt with. Communication with parents is regular and very good. The appointment of a guidance counsellor adds another dimension to the school’s provision of student support. Student management, as exemplified in the code of behaviour, and the care of students are considered to be complementary aspects of pastoral care and moral development by staff at Meánscoil San Nioclás.
A most impressive policy document on pastoral care has been drawn up by staff. All the elements of a good policy including reference to the school mission, roles, review dates and success indicators are noted in the document. The developing role of the class teacher as an essential element of student support is also considered in the document. The school is in a fortunate position to develop structures and procedures while the number of students is still relatively low in anticipation of the projected increase in enrolment. CPD, not only for class teachers but also for all staff and the relationship between Guidance and pastoral care are related issues to be considered in the same context. The principles set down in the school’s guiding values are in keeping with the aims of pastoral care and the practice of student support on a day-to-day basis is excellent. Involvement of parents and the student council in decision making and policy development is real and the opinions of students are taken into account in the planning process.
The student council meets fortnightly and continuity is ensured by keeping twenty-five percent of the past year’s membership as members of the subsequent council. Recent issues have included the heating of the school, attendance at matches and proposals for a sports day.
A system of mentoring of incoming first-year students is also in place. Senior students trained in leadership skills act as supports to young students under the umbrella of the chaplaincy. The attention to detail, both in the care of younger students and in the training of mentors is lauded.
There is open communication between the care team and parents. The complementary nature of the system of care and of student management as exemplified by the code of behaviour is impressive. Parent involvement in both aspects serves to underline the lack of dichotomy and is commended.
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
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The board of management of Meánscoil San Nioclás welcomes the inspectors’ report and is in agreement that the report is accurate, positive and comprehensive.
The board wishes to convey its gratitude to the inspection team for recognising the challenges that are faced in providing an all-Irish education to the Gaeltacht community and to those outside the Gaeltacht.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Recommendations made on completion of the inspection are being addressed as follows:
Building work to address accommodation issues is being initiated.
A room for use in supporting students with special educational needs is included in the building plan.
The wording of the admissions policy has been amended to ensure inclusion and to reflect the characteristic spirit of the school.
An English room will be available once construction work has been completed.
The school’s ongoing planning activities will continue. A timetable has been drawn up to facilitate planning, continuing professional development and the development of individual education plans.
The special education co-ordinator, chaplain and guidance counsellor now meet regularly, and in consultation with senior management and staff, for planning and co-ordination purposes.