An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Rathdown School

Glenageary, County Dublin

Roll number: 60090Q

 

 

Date of inspection: 28 November 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Rathdown School was undertaken in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (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

 

Rathdown School is a voluntary, secondary, fee-paying school for girls.  It was founded in 1973 following the merger of three smaller schools, The Hall, Hillcourt, and Park House.  A fourth school, Glengara Park amalgamated with Rathdown in 1987.  While maintaining much of the traditions of the four other schools, Rathdown School has, since its inception, been developing its own unique identity as a single-sex, second-level school under Protestant management.  Rathdown welcomes students of all faiths and caters for both day pupils and boarders.  The school currently has 401 students, twenty-five per cent of whom are boarders.  Some of the students come from Rathdown Junior School, which is on the adjoining campus, while others come from local primary schools or, in the case of boarders, from outside Dublin or from abroad.  The school is a charitable trust under the trusteeship of a board of governors.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

According to its mission statement, Rathdown School aims to offer a high quality, modern, challenging and liberal education, which fosters a love of learning and enables each student to develop her own unique potential. As a day and a boarding school welcoming international students and those of different faiths, Rathdown also aims to promote greater awareness of cultural diversity, respect for difference and the positive citizenship which will enable all students to take an active role in today’s society.

 

The evidence accrued during the course of the evaluation indicates that Rathdown is true to its mission statement.  The board of governors spoke about the collegial atmosphere in the school and of the work being done to develop independent and articulate young women.  Members of the board described the school as inclusive, where each student is valued for herself. Students spoke of their sense of belonging and their pride in the school.  Parents spoke of the school’s supportive environment and the access to and open communication with teachers and senior management.

 

The school promotes the formation of character based on the Christian principles of respect for the individual and her personal beliefs and values, and inclusiveness. The board of management highlighted the good work carried out by senior management and teachers in upholding this characteristic spirit and they spoke about senior management as leaders of a professional team.  Teachers felt supported and empowered in all that they, as members of staff, do in the school. 

 

The characteristic spirit of the school is also embodied in the daily assemblies attended by students and members of staff.  These assemblies provide a forum for students’ spiritual development through the daily prayers or reflections led by the school chaplain, members of staff or students.  They also contribute to building up school spirit and a feeling of belonging in addition to encouraging a sense of concern for others in the community through the promotion of the school’s charitable events.  The school spirit and sense of belonging is further promoted by the House system whereby students are divided across year groups into four different Houses named after the four founding schools.  Students, whose mothers attended one of these founding schools, are always assigned to the House of that name, thereby handing down the school’s rich history and tradition from generation to generation.  Students sit in their House groups at assembly. Inter-House competitions evoke a great sense of school spirit and belonging and facilitate good peer relations within all year groups.

 

Students’ holistic development is also promoted through the provision of a broad academic curriculum, delivery of high quality teaching and learning and a range of pastoral, co-curricular and extra-curricular initiatives involving the entire school and parent community.  All members of the school community are highly commended for the manner in which they work together to ensure that Rathdown’s characteristic spirit is lived out in every aspect of school life and is passed on from generation to generation.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of governors, as trustees of the school, has overall responsibility for the governance of Rathdown School.  Its function is to run the school autonomously and to ensure that the ethos and standards it aspires to are maintained and improved.  The board of governors, while responsible for the overall financial management of the school and its campus and for final decision-making in relation to the school, has delegated responsibility for the management of the secondary school to a board of management.  

 

The board of management is properly constituted and comprises eight voting members: four nominees of the board of governors, two parent nominees and two nominees from the permanent teaching staff.  Three of the board of governors’ nominees are also members of the board of governors.  The principal, who is a non-voting member, acts as secretary to the board.  Most of its members have received the relevant training afforded to boards of management.  The board meets formally five times annually. The inclusion of an agreed report for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and staff in the minutes of meetings is commendable practice.

 

Members of the board, all of whom have a personal connection with the school, are fully cognisant of their roles and responsibilities as managers of the secondary school.  They have a clear vision for the future of the school and carry out their duties with enthusiasm and commitment as a united and progressive managerial team.  The board also has a number of sub-committees including a finance sub-committee which liaises with the board of governors’ finance sub-committee.  The board establishes priorities for the school with a view to continually moving forward and responding to the needs of the student cohort both in school and for their successful transition into adult life. 

 

As part of its statutory obligations, the board is involved in the development and review of school policies and planning.  Some of this work is carried out by a curriculum committee, a sub committee of the board, which includes representatives from the board of governors, teachers and parents in addition to members of the board of management.  The ongoing review of policies has emanated from a recent overarching review of all that was happening in the school and a desire on the part of the board of governors and the board of management to develop the school as a centre for education which will support the successful progression from second-level schooling to third-level studies.

 

The board of management has a clear view of the future for Rathdown School and facilitates ongoing communication with all school partners.  The board maintains good communication with parents through its support of and attendance at all school functions and through the transmission of the board’s agreed report to the PTA.  An initiative of the current board of management has been to arrange for a series of lectures for parents on a range of topics relating to their daughters’ social and personal development.  The board also promotes good communications with the local community by making the grounds and facilities available to the neighbouring primary schools and local sporting clubs.

 

The strengths of the current board of management lie in the personal commitment that each individual has to the school and the degree to which the board and senior management is mutually supportive. Members of the board are also highly commended for the proactive and professional manner in which they review and prioritise the work in hand, delegate tasks and work on sub-committees to ensure the ongoing development of the school as a high quality educational establishment.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Senior management presents as a united and dynamic team whose complementary skills and talents contribute to strong leadership and management within the school.  The principal and acting deputy principal share a clear vision for the school, which is underpinned by the guiding principle of providing a holistic education for all students in accordance with the ethos of Rathdown School.  They meet formally each morning and liaise with each other throughout the day.  As instructional leader, the principal keeps in touch with all developments in education and is constantly engaged in dialogue with the relevant school partners to ensure that the school continues to move forward. The role also involves building up a trusting relationship with the staff, the students and the parents and leading by example.  The principal is supported in her work by the acting deputy principal whose duties have a strong administrative focus.  In addition to duties such as the organisation of supervision and substitution and the implementation of school discipline, the deputy principal sits on the curriculum committee which is involved in the ongoing review of and planning for curriculum provision in the school.  Both principal and deputy principal believe in the importance of a strong senior management presence in school and at all school events.  They also attribute great importance to knowing all the students individually and being available for them.  This contributes to the very effective management of both staff and students in a mutually supportive environment.

 

Assistant principals (APs) support senior management in carrying out a range of duties which are essential to the effective running of the school.  There are six assistant principals, five of whom are year heads, while the sixth AP post involves induction of new teachers and  the management of lost property.  In the spirit of distributed leadership, assistant principals have been empowered to develop their roles to best respond to the varied needs of the school.  Year heads meet individually each week with senior management.  This keeps the principal and deputy principal informed of all that is happening, while at the same time enabling the year heads to discuss and contribute their own ideas and recommendations for ongoing school development and improvement to senior management.  In keeping with their middle management status, some APs undertake additional roles which contribute to the effective running of the school.  One of these roles involves preparing the school timetable; another involves the organisation of all in-house examinations, while another involves the coordination of sport in the school.  The work of the APs and their additional commitments, which are highly commended, reflect the sense of belonging, ownership and empowerment which is promoted in the school.

 

There are seven special duties (SD) posts, most of which involve co-ordination duties, including examinations secretary, co-ordination of school planning and prize-giving.  Duties of a pastoral nature include co-ordination of: the school’s anti-bullying policy and procedures; school’s charity events; the House system and student-liaison teacher with responsibility for detention.  SD post-holders described themselves as carrying out a range of essential duties and practical tasks which take the pressure off senior management, thereby affording the latter more time to deal with senior management duties. They also reported that individual post-holders each brought something new to the post and that they had the opportunity to develop it beyond its initial job description. The meaningful development of the posts is commendable practice.

 

All post holders indicated a keen awareness of being members of a middle management team, who were consulted, listened to, affirmed and empowered to make a significant contribution to the effective running of the school.  Members of both senior and middle management are highly commended for their willingness to embrace the practice of distributed leadership which underpins the successful management of the school.

 

Non post-holders are actively encouraged to involve themselves in the organisation and operation of the school through membership of different committees, working as form teachers and participating in all school events.  This enables the more recently appointed teachers to develop the sense of belonging and community that is central to the school’s ethos, in addition to giving all members of staff opportunities for in-house, self and career development.  This is very good practice.

 

In the spirit of leadership of learning, senior management encourages and supports ongoing professional development in a variety of ways including support for further studies and attendance at all relevant in-service training programmes.  The board of management provides funding for any further study which will enhance education provision and the development of the learning community in the school.  A range of in-service days, in addition to the provision of some valuable one-to-one supports for teachers, has also been organised over the years to assist ongoing development in teaching and learning.  This is highly commended.

 

Staff meetings of a half-day’s duration take place five times annually in addition to some short staff meetings held first lesson period in the morning.  The holding of regular staff meetings is good practice.  However, in the current school year, some of these meetings have not been timetabled to take place half and half out of school time in accordance with the Department of Education and Science circular M58/04.  This needs to be addressed.  A review of the minutes of the most recent meetings indicates that they include information concerning future developments and planning, and discussion of items of a day-to-day nature.  

 

Very good and systematic practices and protocols are in place to support the effective implementation of the comprehensive  Code of Behaviour, which is underpinned by the mission statement and ethos of the school and is linked with a range of other related policies including: the Child Protection Policy; the Anti-Bullying Policy; the Substance Use Policy; the Acceptable Users Policy (AUP); the Internet and Email Policy and the Safety Statement.  All students are made aware of the Code of Behaviour, which is contained in the student diary and is also issued to parents. A recent review, carried out by the disciplinary committee, has resulted in the introduction of a differentiated approach to disciplinary procedures for junior and senior cycle students.  This is commended.  The Code of Behaviour also sets out the protocols leading to suspension or expulsion including the student’s right of appeal.  This is good practice.  Positive behaviour is encouraged through the use of merit cards or ‘commends’ systems whereby good behaviour, co-operation or willingness to help is rewarded with House points.  A large colour-coded chart indicating the points accrued for each House is displayed in a prominent position on the corridor, enabling students to assess their House status.  At the end of the year, the House with the greatest number of merits or points wins the prize of a House party, an event which is coveted by all students.  The school is highly commended for its approach to positive discipline and the manner in which it contributes to the development of individual responsibility, school spirit and sense of belonging.

 

There is an active student council which has representation from each class and which meets every fortnight.  The head girl and deputy head girl also attend all meetings in addition to the student-liaison teacher.  Meetings are chaired by the fifth-year members of the council.  This is commended as it gives fifth-year students the experience of responsibility while at the same time they can defer to their more experienced peers when necessary.  Elections for the student council currently take place during form time, although it is planned to incorporate it into the Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) programme for junior cycle students.  This proposal is welcomed as the concept of democracy is studied as part of the CSPE syllabus.  A review of the student council and its constitution has also been planned.  This is commended as it affirms the importance attributed to the role and work of the council.  Students bring issues of concern to the student council which, in turn, decides whether or not these issues should be brought to senior management.  Members of the student council spoke of senior management’s willingness to listen to them and of changes which had been introduced to the school following representation from the council.  One such change was the introduction of shorter classes on Friday to facilitate boarders returning home for the weekend; a change which was effected without any compromise to the minimum twenty-eight hours tuition time.  Students also reported being consulted on policies relevant to them, thereby ensuring that planning is a whole school process.  According to the students, the benefits of the student council include their active and meaningful contribution to school affairs, the very positive communications which have been built up with senior management, their increased knowledge of all that is happening in the school and the development of good peer relations.  Members of the student council are praised for the work they carry out on behalf of the student body and the meaningful contribution they make to the life of the school.

 

An attendance policy for Rathdown is in place outlining the responsibilities of parents and students in relation to absences and lateness.  The policy also sets out the practices for monitoring student attendance and punctuality and the roles of the form teacher, the year head, the school office and the deputy principal whose responsibilities include monitoring attendance and reporting relevant absences to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB).  Attendance is recorded each morning and afternoon and teachers also keep records of attendance in class.  Rathdown is commended for the comprehensiveness of its attendance policy.

 

There is very good communication between senior management, staff and parents.  Parents praised senior management and staff for their willingness to engage with them, and, where necessary, to work in tandem to support individual students’ needs.  Ongoing communication with parents is promoted through the use of the school journal, progress reports for senior cycle students every six weeks, end-of-term reports, individual meetings with parents, formalised parent-teacher meetings and parent information meetings. Highly sophisticated information and communication technology (ICT) systems have also been put in place to ensure up-to-date and immediate communication with parents.  This means that parents are kept informed of all upcoming curricular and extra-curricular events by means of text messages and emails.  Systems are also being put in place to enable parents to access information in relation to students’ academic progress.  This is commendable.  The work of Rathdown’s PTA ensures that the role and support of parents enhances the development of an all embracing school community.  The involvement of parents in some of the Transition Year activities has generated enthusiasm and commitment from parents.  Parental support for the school’s charity events has also resulted in a highly impressive whole school concern for the more disadvantaged members of society.  The school’s interest in the local community has also been manifest in the provision of a number of annual scholarships for which students can apply.  The board of management is also considering the introduction of a bursary for less advantaged students which will be awarded on the basis of criteria other than academic achievement.  This is commended.  The school’s links with the local community are reflected in its use of the local church for their annual Christmas carol service and the staging of the annual music recital and school musical in the nearby theatre. The school is also involved in reaching out to the elderly of the local community through some of the students’ social projects.

  

1.4          Management of resources

 

Rathdown School has a teacher allocation of 24.28 whole time equivalent (WTE) teachers, including an ex quota position for the principal.  Concessions include a 1.05 WTE allocation for resource teaching and a 0.14 WTE allocation for programme coordination.  The number of permanent teaching staff is supplemented by privately paid teachers, which facilitates the provision of a broad range of subjects and small class groups.  When planning the timetable school management should always make optimal use of the teaching resources made available by the Department of Education and Science.  Administrative staff includes a financial controller, four full-time secretaries, an alumnae and communications executive and a fundraising executive. 

 

Teachers who have committed to the substitution and supervision contracts engage in the supervision of students at break time and lunchtime.  Early morning and after-school supervision is carried out by members of the boarding school staff. 

 

New teachers spoke very positively of the induction they had received at the beginning of the year and of the ongoing support made available to them by colleagues in their subject departments.  Each teacher was given an induction pack and the AP in charge of the induction of new teachers explained all relevant practices and procedures in the school.  This has helped them in the development of good classroom management skills.  The new teachers also reported being well integrated into the life of the school and spoke of the positive staff-student relationships and the whole school involvement in all school activities.  This is highly commended.

 

The school operates a forty-five period week, in addition to a morning assembly which is obligatory for all students.  Lessons are of forty minute duration from Monday to Thursday and of thirty-five minutes duration on Friday.  Assembly provides the forum for the transmission of all relevant information to students.  This highly commendable practice minimises disruption for announcements during the school day.

 

The school campus dates from 1973.  The main school building is modern, bright and well maintained.  Photographs and trophies celebrating past and present achievements contribute to upholding the sense of tradition which permeates all aspects of school life.  The corridors were brightly decorated with posters, charts and displays of students’ projects, a commendable means of affirming student effort.  Classrooms are currently student based.  Other commendable facilities include a range of subject specialist rooms, and an impressively stocked school library.  Outdoor facilities include a range of all-weather pitches and tennis and netball courts.  Sixth-year students have been afforded the privilege of a common room, which they use at break and lunch time and, on occasions, for study purposes.  It was noted during the week of the evaluation that, in recognition of their seniority and to encourage self-discipline and individual responsibility, students were trusted to behave appropriately without the need for supervision when in the common room.  Following discussion between the inspectors and senior management about the need for parental permission to support such practices, permission has been requested of and received from all sixth-year parents to allow their daughters to use the common room unsupervised.

 

Significant work has been completed in recent years in developing high quality access to and use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support teaching and learning and office administration.  There are three computer rooms in the school, all of which are equipped with state of the art equipment.  All classrooms have digital projectors and additional mobile projectors are available for use in the gym and other areas as required.  Some of the specialist rooms are also equipped with interactive whiteboards.  A very comprehensive range of software is available to support all members of staff in their work.  Work in progress includes the development of a school management database which will enable teachers to fill in reports from home and allow parents to access relevant information concerning their daughter’s progress through a password protected account.  The school is also working to develop an intranet whereby students will be able to access school work and revision notes from home.  In addition, teachers will also be able to share lesson plans and ideas with their subject colleagues, which will allow for differentiated teaching and learning and the sharing of good practice.  Training for teachers in the use of ICT, including one-to-one tuition has also been provided on an ongoing basis to ensure that this valuable resource is exploited to its full.  There was good evidence in the subject evaluations of the effective integration of ICT into the work of many of the lessons.  Senior management is highly commended for the provision of ICT and in particular for the training afforded to teachers to ensure optimum use of relevant technology in their daily work.  The Rathdown School website with its very attractive layout and useful information about all aspects of the school is a further tribute to the work carried out in recent years in the area of ICT. 

 

Management allocates an annual budget to each subject department for the purchase of materials to support teaching and learning in the classroom.  This is commended as it promotes a systematic and collaborative approach to identifying, prioritising and requisitioning subject department needs.

 

Rathdown School has a Safety Statement which was initially drawn up in 2006 and reviewed in 2007.  A further safety audit, carried out by an external agency at the beginning of the current school year, reported substantial progress in relation to recommendations contained in previous reports.  The school has also developed a policy on Dignity in the Workplace to ensure that procedures are in place to underpin good working conditions and relations.  Ongoing attention to the safety and welfare of all members of the school community is commended. 

 

Considerable work is in progress to establish a green school and earn a green flag.  There is an environmental prefect who coordinates the work of the green school’s committee.  The committee is currently working on a variety of initiatives to promote a litter-free environment, recycling and conserving energy.  The work of the green school committee is commended.  To support them in their work it is recommended that a more proactive whole school approach, with involvement from all staff and students, be launched to provide the necessary impetus to achieve the green flag within a manageable and foreseeable time-frame. This should increase awareness of the importance of environmental responsibility and encourage the students to further develop their green agenda.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

School development planning, which is central to the work of all the stakeholders in Rathdown School, has been ongoing for several years.  It began when a group of volunteers from the staff and senior management worked together to draw up an initial school plan.  Following this initial work, a steering committee was formed comprising senior management and the school planning co-ordinator.  Meetings are held at regular intervals throughout the school year for the purpose of subject planning and whole school planning.  This is very good practice.

 

The school has a significant range of policies in place including all those required by legislation, and provision is made for ongoing review of these policies.  Following an examination of the Admissions Policy it is recommended that the board of management review its allocation of places to incoming first years to ensure that it is in accordance with the articles of management, which state that Rathdown school was “founded by the Protestant community and historically, owned and managed by members of that community for their children, with others who do not subscribe to a Protestant Church, being offered remaining places”.  Furthermore while it is recognised that students from the junior school automatically transfer to the secondary school, Rathdown Junior School should be named as the main feeder school in the Admissions Policy. 

 

Confirmation was also provided that, in compliance with Post-Primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004).  Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed.  A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

The school has a high quality planning file containing discrete permanent and developmental sections.  The permanent section sets out the established features of the school and outlines Rathdown’s historical context, its mission statement, its ethos and its organisational and operating context.  It is a very comprehensive document which succeeds in conveying the school’s ethos and all that happens in the school. 

 

The developmental section identifies the future needs of the school as agreed by the relevant stakeholders.  A very structured approach to planning has been adopted with the impetus coming from the board and senior management.  Needs are prioritised by the board of management into short and long-term objectives and a number of committees are in place working towards meeting these objectives within an established time frame.  School planning is broken down into four subsections, school curriculum, extra-curricular programmes, policy evaluation and general review. 

 

As part of policy review and evaluation, the anti-bullying committee is reviewing the school’s Anti-Bullying policy.  This is welcomed as the current code, while commendable for the development of an anti-bullying charter, needs to be expanded to include a clear definition of what constitutes bullying and the steps taken in the management of reported incidents.  It also needs to outline the supports offered to both the individual who is being bullied and the individual who is bullying to ensure that both are fully integrated into the school community and that such incidents do not reoccur.  As part of the current review, consideration could also be given to the introduction of a ‘no blame’ policy to deal with low level incidents of bullying. 

 

Other policies to be reviewed in the current academic year include the Relationships and Sexuality (RSE) policy.  This is welcomed as there is currently no provision for the teaching of RSE at senior cycle.  The school also plans to initiate a School Trips policy and to review the operations of the student council.  The review of any extra-curricular programmes, which have required significant investment of time, finance and personnel, is carried out by the board of governors. 

 

A general review, initiated by board of management and senior management, involves evaluating all that is happening in the school with a view to further developing the already existing good practices and remediating any perceived difficulties.  The last general review which took place in 2004 analysed the views of the board of management, senior management, the staff, students and parents in relation to the school.  Areas for development have formed part of the ongoing school planning process.  This is highly commended. 

 

As patrons of the school, the board of governors has embarked on the development of a master plan to move the school forward in line with its overarching ethos and vision.  This work has involved the establishment of a steering committee comprising members of the board of governors and the board of management, the principal and deputy principal of the second-level school and the headmistress of the junior school, the head of the boarding school, the school bursar and the architectural planning consultants.  This master plan, which proposes significant changes to the physical environs of the school with its proposed building projects, envisages the development of Rathdown School as an educational establishment which creates a “sense of identity and community in an environment engendering quality living, learning and leisure”.  As part of this process, consultations have also taken place with the members of staff in the senior school who have identified key issues in relation to what is working very well in the school and areas for further development.  This development which has enabled teachers to engage in a process of self-evaluation in addition to moving the school forward is highly commended.  It is also proposed to consult with parents and students in the near future.

 

Senior management, the board of management, the board of governors and the staff are highly commended for their commitment and proactive approach to whole school planning and for the systematic and integrated manner in which the work has been carried out to date.  Of particular note is the culture of self-evaluation which has emanated from the planning process and which continues to move the school forward in a manner whereby infrastructural and educational planning are carried out in tandem for the benefit of the entire school community.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Rathdown School provides a broad range of academic subjects in accordance with the needs and demands of the current student cohort.  It offers three programmes, the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), and the established Leaving Certificate.

 

Transition Year is compulsory for all students.  The TY co-ordinator liaises with both senior management and staff to ensure that the programme best responds to the needs of the student cohort.  The current programme aims to facilitate students’ successful transition from junior to senior cycle and, through the opportunities afforded to them in Transition Year, to become self-confident young adults, aware of their responsibilities to themselves and society.

 

All students study Irish, English, Mathematics and Physical Education for the entire Transition Year.  They also complete a range of modules including many of the subjects offered for Leaving Certificate, and a Guidance module to ensure that they are fully informed when making their subject choices at the end of the year.  Two weeks’ work experience and a week’s community service are also central to the programme.  Where necessary, the TY coordinator will secure placements for those students who are not in a position to source them themselves.  This is commended.  However, in the interests of ensuring that students get optimal benefit from a variety of different opportunities, the content of the placements for community service week and for work experience week should reflect the specific purposes of the experiences undertaken.

 

A range of extra-curricular activities is also organised in TY for the purpose of supporting students’ social and aesthetic development.  These include among others, personal development, self-defence, first aid, yoga, film and dance workshops.  Students also have modules of driver education and an introduction to the law.  Some of these activities are currently organised as part of a skills week, which students have twice yearly.  Outings to different places of interest, an outdoors pursuit trip to Carlingford and an optional trip abroad are also offered.  While the provision of such activities is highly commendable, the current practice of skills week erodes significant time from curricular subjects, in particular those offered on a modular basis.  To overcome this difficulty, it is recommended that the skills weeks be replaced by an activities afternoon to be timetabled as part of the TY programme.  The use of such an afternoon for both the above-mentioned non-curricular activities and local outings will result in fewer absences from curricular subjects and will avoid significant new learning occurring in a very compressed time span.  To further support the effective planning and coordination of the TY programme, it is recommended that the TY co-ordinator be co-opted onto the curriculum committee. 

 

One of the highlights of the TY programme is the annual school musical.  This event involves significant cross-curricular involvement. The school has also engaged in the innovative practice of encouraging the parents to take an active role in helping with general preparation for the event.  

 

There is currently no provision for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.  This is due to a lack of demand for such programmes by students and parents.  Furthermore, according to senior management, the success to date of all students in the established Leaving Certificate does not indicate the need for such programmes.

 

Teachers are deployed in accordance with their subject specialisms. Every effort is made to ensure continuity in the allocation of teachers to classes and to afford teachers the opportunity to teach to all levels.  This is good practice.  A review of the timetable indicates good allocation of time for all subjects.  However, there is a need to review the timetabling of some subjects, particularly at junior cycle.  Ways should be explored whereby languages, particularly at junior cycle, should be timetabled for single periods in line with best practice to ensure regular contact with the subject.  The rotation of CSPE with swimming in second year also needs to be changed to ensure that students have the required time allocation for the completion of the programme in line with syllabus requirements.  Formal examinations take place at Christmas and in the summer for non-certificate examination students.  The current practice of timetabling two examinations each morning and none in the afternoon means that students have a half day free for each day of the examination period.  Furthermore, subject options for fifth-year students can mean that they have some days with no examinations.  Given the cumulative loss of time over the school year, this practice should be amended to reduce the number of days allocated to formal examinations by timetabling examinations in the afternoon for all students.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Students in Rathdown are well supported when making their subject choices on entry into the school and for senior cycle.  An information afternoon is held each year for incoming first-year students and their parents to discuss subject options.  TY students and their parents are also invited to an information evening to discuss senior cycle subject options. 

 

Incoming first-year students study Irish, English and Mathematics, History and Geography, Science, Religious Education, Physical Education, CSPE, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Choir and Computer Studies.  Science is a core subject at junior cycle and students are strongly encouraged to take at least one science subject to Leaving Certificate in order to keep all career options open.  The study of a modern European language is mandatory to Leaving Certificate and students are offered a choice of three languages, French, German and Spanish, with the possibility of studying two languages to Leaving Certificate.  Art, Music, Home Economics and Business are the other subjects included in the option blocks for Junior Certificate.  Latin is also offered in response to demand.  Members of the curriculum committee are presently considering the possibility of offering a taster programme in first year so that all students will be enabled to make more informed subject choices.  When considering a possible taster programme, members of the committee are reminded that the time allocation of one period per week for subjects such as CSPE and SPHE must not be compromised.  

 

A wide range of subject options is offered at senior cycle including Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Applied Maths, Classical Studies and Accounting in addition to the subjects offered at junior cycle.  Provision is also made at senior cycle for students to study eight subjects to Leaving Certificate.  Those who prefer to take seven subjects have supervised study periods in the school’s study hall or the school library.  

 

Students are divided into three mixed-ability groupings on entry into first year and remain in those groupings for all subjects at junior cycle apart from Irish and Mathematics, which are set during, or at the end, of first year.  Irish and Mathematics are set at senior cycle. Senior management commendably deploys additional teachers in English and Mathematics at both junior and senior cycle to support the formation of discrete ordinary-level classes.  Optional subjects are taught in mixed-ability groupings.  This is due to the inclusion of certain subjects in more than one option band thereby facilitating breadth of choice. 

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The holistic development of the students is reflected in the whole school approach to active participation in a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.  

 

The pursuit of sporting excellence is evident in the wide range of games promoted in the school.  Rathdown offers a significant number of team and individual sports including hockey, netball tennis, fencing, badminton, athletics and cricket.  There is also a gym club.  The breadth of provision ensures that all students can choose a sport best suited to their interests and abilities.  The school participates in a number of sporting competitions and has achieved significant success in some sports in recent years.  Many of the team games take place on Saturday morning and efforts have been made to actively encourage parental support. Senior management is commended for the proactive measures taken to support and encourage sporting prowess.

 

The development of students’ creative, aesthetic, artistic and communication skills is fostered through the wide range of musical, drama, and public speaking activities, which are provided in the school.  The school has a state of the art music centre for students taking music as a curricular subject in addition to providing individual tuition in a range of musical instruments.  Students also have the opportunity to join the school choirs and orchestra, which perform at assemblies, parents’ social evenings, the Christmas carol service, the school’s annual music recital and at fundraising events for the school’s nominated charities.  The annual school musical is one of the major events co-ordinated by the music department.  A sixth-year student is nominated as a music prefect to work with the members of the music department to help maintain the high profile of music in the school.

 

Opportunities to develop awareness, interest and concern for global issues and to encourage discussion and debate are afforded to students through the school’s participation in the model United Nations.  The group, which is comprised of mainly senior cycle students, meets regularly at lunchtime for the purpose of discussion and debate in accordance with the format of the United Nations meetings.  Students’ physical, social and community skills are promoted through participation in the Gaisce awards, an initiative that is also actively promoted in the school. The organisation of activities which offer such opportunities to students is highly commended. 

 

Concern for the more disadvantaged in society is central to the ethos promoted in Rathdown.  The nomination of a social awareness prefect each year reflects the importance attributed to this aspect of students’ social development.  Furthermore, a highly praiseworthy initiative known as Schools Unite for Children’s Health (SUCH) has been set up in the school to co-ordinate all charitable events with the added focus of encouraging the donation of time and commitment as well as financial contributions.  A particular charity is chosen each year and an event appropriate to the focus of the charity is organised as a whole school activity.  ‘SUCH’, which began as an individual Rathdown initiative, has now been extended to include a wider community involvement with two other schools in the local area becoming involved in this highly applauded social enterprise.  The attribution of a special duties post to co-ordinate the activities of the charity group reflects the magnitude of the work carried out in the school to reach out to those in need.  Whole school involvement in such a worthy cause also enhances the sense of community and belonging that is core to the school’s ethos.  Students in Rathdown also raise significant funds through a range of smaller events in aid of ‘Operation Smile’, a non-profit making organisation working in developing countries. 

 

The commitment of senior management and the co-ordinators of co-curricular and extra- curricular activities to providing students with enjoyable, meaningful and memorable experiences is highly praised. 

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Planning and the co-ordination of subjects are very well executed in the school.  School management facilitates five formal meetings at regular intervals during the year.  Teachers also have many informal meetings throughout the year. Minutes are maintained of subject planning meetings and these indicate that there is a clear focus on the completion of tasks to progress planning and organisation for the subject. Regular and ongoing review of subject planning is undertaken by the department with adjustments made to the plan where necessary, which is commendable.

 

Co-ordination responsibilities, which include convening subject meetings, leading the subject team and disseminating relevant information relating to the subject, are undertaken in an efficient and effective manner.  Consideration is being given in some subject areas to rotating the position of co-ordinator and this is to be encouraged. Rotation of the position would ensure that the responsibility is shared among members of the department and that the opportunity to develop in the coordination role is afforded to each teacher.

 

Planning documentation examined in the course of the evaluation had many of the elements of good planning.  Long-term plans included the organisational details for the provision of the subjects in the school, the curriculum content for each year grouping, an outline of the homework procedures, teacher in-career development and assessment of students. To build on the very good planning already achieved, it is recommended that subject plans be further developed to document the key skills or learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. This would contribute over time to the school’s stated objective of the development of learner autonomy.

 

Dedicated folders of materials are kept for each year group. Comprehensive lists of relevant resources, up-to-date authentic materials and websites are also included in the subject plans. Some departments have developed a wealth of resources located on the school’s intranet and these should be referenced within the subject plan.  TY plans for some subjects also need to be reviewed to ensure that they fully reflect the curriculum content currently being taught.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Teaching observed was of a very high standard and there was an awareness of the importance of students experiencing a range of methodologies during their learning.  Teachers used a good range of appropriate strategies including brainstorming, questioning, self-reflection worksheets, pair work and circle time.  The use of the target language or subject related terminology was exemplary in the lessons observed.  Effective integration of skills in line with syllabus guidelines was demonstrated in many lessons. 

 

Most lessons opened effectively with the learning intention shared with the students from the outset, thereby ensuring clarity of direction and purpose. Lessons were well structured, clear instructions were given and there was a very good work ethic in evidence.

 

Teachers were well prepared for all lessons and available resources were used effectively and provided necessary support at key stages during lessons. Additionally, good use of ICT equipment aided the teaching of key topics. Other resources used in lessons included samples of statistical material retrieved from newspapers, whiteboard, audio and visual clips, authentic up-to-date texts and prepared worksheets. The use of differentiated worksheets facilitated student learning and participation. Teachers are commended for the prior preparation and use of such materials in advance of lessons.

 

Another positive feature of all lessons was the very active learning that took place. Students participated fully in lessons where the teachers acted as facilitators of learning. This was achieved through effective group and pair work, role play, very good whole class discussion and very good question and answer sessions. Effective use was made, in some instances, of traditional whole-class teaching where the teacher demonstrated a technique to the class and students then worked alone on tasks, while the teacher circulated to provide individual attention.  Questioning was probing and challenging, and open-ended questions provoked very useful discussion. In some of the subjects observed, students had opportunities to make oral presentations in class and to participate in discussion. It was obvious that students were well used to such participation and they proved to be articulate, well informed, confident and engaged.

 

A laudable feature of all lessons was the very good teacher-student and student-student relationships. Teachers displayed very good subject knowledge in the lessons observed and the enthusiasm that they displayed for their subject ensured that students reciprocated in their enthusiasm for learning.  It was evident that high standards are being set by teachers, and students are striving to achieve them.

 

Classrooms, which are generally student-based, were bright and many included displays of students’ work and material from a range of subjects.  The corridors of the school were also adorned with posters and projects. This is good practice in affirming students’ efforts and reinforcing learning of relevant concepts.  The room arrangements were well organised which ensured an orderly and participative learning environment.

 

Classroom management was effective and available time was well used. Students were cooperative and attentive which allowed for appropriate and focused learning.  There was a concerted focus in evidence on self-directed learning and students taking responsibility for their own work, which is highly commended. Through observation of students’ work there was evidence that appropriate progress was being made by students. Students demonstrated clear understanding of the work in which they were involved and were capable of making connections between various sections of the syllabus, all of which is very good practice. They also demonstrated a good ability to communicate clearly about the topics and themes explored during their lessons.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

First, second and fifth years sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. There was evidence of frequent informal assessment including class tests and regular assignments. Students receive grades for effort and progress in formal examinations as well as an overall test grade. This is motivational and good practice. Examination class groups sit frequent class-based tests as well as the ‘mock’ examinations. Fifth and sixth-year classes receive progress reports on a six-weekly basis. A range of assessment strategies is used by teachers to determine students’ engagement and progress. In addition to regular oral questioning, students are often required to complete work sheets, written assignments and engage in project work.  Assessment for learning strategies have also been introduced in some subjects where students complete self-evaluation forms at the end of each module of work. The student written work examined showed frequent practice in writing on a number of relevant themes. TY portfolio requirements are highly commended as they demand a body of work from each student to reflect the development of key skills.

Affirmation of students’ academic and personal successes in addition to their contribution

to the school is provided in Rathdown’s annual prize-giving ceremony. 

 

A review of students’ achievements in State Examinations shows that students’ participation in higher level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate is high with very good outcomes. Foundation level is rarely taken. Results in State Examinations are analysed both at management level and subject department level, which is very good practice.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1 Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Rathdown School has an allocation of 0.5 WTEs for learning support and of 1.05 WTEs for special educational needs (SEN). A whole school plan for the provision of SEN and learning support is in place, outlining the aims of such provision within the context of the school’s ethos. The plan also includes an outline of the organisation of additional supports for students, the resources available, the homework and assessment procedures of the department as well as its record-keeping procedures.  The SEN department is highly commended for the work it has achieved in the development of an SEN policy. 

 

The current members of the SEN department have availed of in-service training for special educational needs and there is ongoing communication with mainstream subject teachers concerning appropriate teaching strategies and useful resources.  Opportunities to make presentations at staff meetings have also been afforded to the SEN department.  Senior management and the members of the SEN department are highly commended for their efforts to ensure whole school concern and help for students requiring additional supports.  A resource room has been made available to the SEN department and is used for individual and small group tuition.  The room is ICT enabled and a wide range of up-to-date resources has been made available to support teaching and learning.  The provision of such supports is highly commended.

 

Students are screened on entry into the school and again at the beginning of second year to identify those who are experiencing difficulties in spelling and arithmetic.  Teachers can also refer students experiencing difficulties to the SEN department.  Where significant problems are identified, further assessments, including a full educational assessment, may be carried out in consultation with parents.  The outcome of these assessments is then discussed with the parents and all relevant teachers with a view to establishing an individual education plan (IEP) for the student.  To date a number of IEPs have been developed for students in conjunction with their parents.  This is very good practice.

 

There is concurrent timetabling for Mathematics to enable students who require additional supports to access the subject in accordance with their needs.  These students are taught by a member of the SEN department. This practice is commended.  Provision of both learning support and resource teaching also involves small group or one-to-one tuition for students who are exempt from Irish.  It is the policy of the SEN department not to withdraw students from any of their mainstream subjects.  This means that students who have been identified as requiring additional supports, but who are not exempt from Irish do not benefit from the learning support allocation.  While the difficulty in withdrawing students from mainstream subjects is acknowledged, the members of the SEN department should explore ways in which all students needing additional support can access it.  To this end it is recommended that extra individual or small group tuition be afforded to senior cycle students with additional educational needs who have free periods because they are taking seven subjects rather than eight.  Consideration could also be given to team teaching in some subject areas.  Such initiatives would ensure some provision for all students with additional needs without compromising current policy and practices.  It would also optimise the use of allocated teaching hours.

 

The students from abroad who do not have English as their first language are provided with additional tuition in English as an Additional Language (EAL) outside of school hours.

 

 

5.2 Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Rathdown School has an ex-quota allocation of 0.59 WTEs for the delivery of the guidance programme.  The school has recently appointed a second guidance counsellor to support the current allocation.  This will enable the delivery of guidance to be expanded at senior cycle and greater provision will be afforded to junior cycle students. 

 

While there is already a very commendable guidance programme in place, work by a whole school committee is still in progress to ensure the development and ongoing review of a whole school guidance policy.  An integrated, whole school approach to the delivery of guidance, SPHE, the chaplaincy service, SEN and other pastoral supports ensures that students are supported academically, vocationally and pastorally throughout their life in the school. This approach is in keeping with the school’s ethos and is highly commended. 

 

The guidance service endeavours to maintain an appropriate balance between careers and personal counselling.  Students are made aware from first year of the guidance service and how they may access it. A whole school approach to guidance facilitates ongoing provision at junior cycle through the SPHE programme and interventions from the guidance service as appropriate.  Transition Year and senior cycle students have regular class contact with the guidance service for preparation for work experience and subject choice options in TY, while the focus for fifth and sixth-year students is on careers advice and information concerning all third-level studies.  Students are also seen individually for careers or personal counselling.  Visits to third-level institutions and open days are also undertaken.  The guidance room is conveniently located near the school library which houses an extensive range of careers information in addition to access to ICT for careers inventories and documentation.  The guidance service also organises information evenings for parents, and the guidance service is available to parents when required.  The guidance service maintains good links with the relevant psychological support services and referral agencies.  This is commended.

 

In accordance with its ethos, the wellbeing of its students is paramount in Rathdown and the concept of being in loco parentis is lived out in the day-to day-life of the school.  This is manifest in the range of supports provided in the school by the year heads, form teachers, and the peer support from the prefects.  Additional supports are also available to boarders.  Form teachers work with individual class groups, meeting them on a daily basis through subject work and for the twenty-minute form time which replaces assembly every Wednesday morning.  Their work also includes organising the election of class captains, monitoring uniform and classroom tidiness, encouraging students in their work and monitoring progress.  They also deal with any problems arising within a class group or with individual students and refer on where appropriate. 

 

Form teachers are ably assisted in their work by sixth-year prefects, some of whom are assigned to work with a class group.  Prefects are selected in the last term of fifth year when they are afforded the opportunity to be inducted and to begin their duties.  This is very good practice as it prepares them for a smooth transition into their roles of responsibility on entry into sixth year.  It also enables the prefects assigned to first-year class groups to be involved with the induction programme for new entrants to the school.  Prefect duties include watching out for any problems, listening to students who approach them with difficulties and liaising with the form teachers.  As a means of enhancing relations with the students, the prefects take form time on a number of occasions during the school year in the place of the form teacher. While the practice of giving prefects this experience of responsibility is commendable, the form teacher should also be present with them in the room. The prefect system is highly commended as it enhances the quality of care provided in the school in addition to giving prefects the experience of responsibility.  Prefects also spoke of the opportunity afforded to them in carrying out their duties to give something back to the school in acknowledgement of all that they themselves had received in terms of care and support.  The school’s head girl and deputy head girl work with senior management and students to ensure that the prefect system is working well and also to provide effective student leadership in the school. The nomination of an administrative prefect, a games captain, a music prefect, a social awareness prefect and an environmental awareness prefect is also indicative of the importance attributed to distributed leadership in all aspects of school life.  This is highly commended.

 

 

 

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 inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

 

Published October 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

We felt that the content of the report was thorough and exhaustive and that the areas covered gave the School a good chance to show its strengths. The comments made by the reporting inspector showed that a good understanding of the School’s ethos and mission had been gained during the course of the inspection.

The Evaluation was a thorough and professional review of our school and its activities and therefore the many positive comments are all the more appreciated. Its findings will encourage everyone associated with the school in their endeavors.

From a Board of Management point of view it was helpful to have such an expert and external assessment of our performance. The opportunity to be measured against best practice was of enormous benefit and has been extremely useful and indeed reassuring. It was particularly encouraging that the commitment and skill of Board members and Governors was recognized considering the time and expertise given by each member voluntarily.  

The Principal and her staff were also singled out for praise.

It was reassuring to have confirmation that all policies required by legislation are in place.  Useful suggestions have been made and are noted, for example the sensible recommendation to obtain parental permission in relation to sixth formers use of the common room.

 Anticipating a process of this kind was bound to be a cause some of anxiety to those in leadership roles. However, the approach taken by the Inspectors put everyone at ease. There was no sense of inquisition; only a desire to acknowledge what was good and make suggestions when considered appropriate. The Board of Management and the whole school community is delighted with the tone and content of this Report and feels greatly affirmed by it. 

The process was affirming to the whole school community and it was heartening to see that the Inspectors observed that ‘Rathdown’s unique heritage and characteristic spirit permeate every aspect of school life’ and that it was recognised that ‘there is a strong ethos of care for the students”.  We are particularly pleased that the Inspectors commented on the fact that there are ‘high standards of teaching and learning, supported by good planning and assessment practices”.

 

 

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

 

·         With regard to the recommendations made, it should be noted that the Admissions Policy, the Anti Bullying and RSE policies are under review this current academic year.

 

·         RSE has been introduced at Senior Cycle since September 2009. 

 

·         The timing of examinations has been reviewed, and it has been decided to continue with previous practice. This decision has been made because we believe

that it is in the pupils’ best interest to have the examinations paced correctly so that they do not become over pressurized or stressed, and it is felt that this outweighs

the small gains that might be made in class contact time.

 

·         The Skills Weeks in TY have been incorporated into a timetabled afternoon of activities, since September 2009.

·         Regarding the organization of Subject Department meetings, the practice of encouraging the rotation of the position of subject coordinator will continue, but each

department is free to choose whether it wants to engage in that practice or not. Advice about how the subject plans can be developed has been taken on board by all departments.

 

·         It is difficult to find ways in which learning support can be provided, without impinging on the class time of pupils with additional needs, but the coordinator of the Special

Needs Department and the Principal are exploring creative ways to do so.

 

·         Form Teachers are with their Form groups when the prefects take Form Time on Wednesdays.

 

·         Parental permission is now required for Sixth Year pupils to be unsupervised in the Common Room.

 

 

The Board of Management and Principal of Rathdown School, September 2009