An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
St Benildus College
Stillorgan, County Dublin
Roll number: 60261R
Date of inspection: 30 November 2007
A whole-school evaluation of St Benildus College, Stillorgan, County Dublin was undertaken in November 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects, English, Mathematics, Spanish and Physical Education, were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Benildus College is part of a network of Lasallian schools. The stain glass window at the entrance to the school, which depicts the life and mission of St John Baptist de la Salle, is a visual reminder to the school community of St Benildus of the Lasallian philosophy and the school’s founding principle. School documentation records the objective of a Lasallian school as “the delivery of a quality education and the building of vibrant Lasallian communities”. The trusteeship of the college has had a defining impact on the school and the trustees continue to fund developments, both physical and educational, in the college. The trustee representatives from the De La Salle order bring a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience, accrued over the years as teachers and school managers, to the work and responsibilities of the board of management. The trusteeship of the college is currently in the process of transferring to the Le Chéile trust.
The local feeder primary schools provide most of the student intake into St Benildus College from year to year, but the school, located in a very competitive environment, also targets key potential feeder schools on the LUAS line. The school has a broad intake of student abilities. It is non fee-paying and has an enrolment of seven hundred and twenty boys.
St Benildus College is an effective school in all aspects of its work. The philosophy and mission statement of the college is “to foster the intellectual, physical, social and moral development of each student.” The above objective was observed at the time of the evaluation to be pursued and achieved in all aspects of school life. Parents interviewed in the course of the evaluation were unanimous in their support for the school. The school community is unified as partners in providing education for its students, and the values of parental partnership are central to the philosophy of the school. The school’s Code of Behaviour is a result of a cooperative effort by the school community of St Benildus, the students, parents and teachers, and in its introduction, the aim of the code reiterates and affirms the principles that are the cornerstone of the characteristic spirit of St Benildus.
Annual events throughout the school calendar serve to reinforce the objectives of the Lasallian educational philosophy. Students are afforded regular opportunities to celebrate liturgies linking with their founders and patron saint through, for example, the celebration of St Benildus day and the annual opening-of-year liturgy. The Lasallian philosophy is rearticulated in policy documents prepared by the school and ratified by the board of management. The board of management also sponsors the annual Lasallian awards which acknowledge students’ contributions to school life and school activities. The Benildus Lasallian Award acknowledges exceptional qualities of leadership, initiative, dependability and generosity of spirit. Such qualities were observed to be promoted and encouraged in the day-to-day and week-to-week running of the school. During the course of the evaluation, many opportunities were afforded to inspectors to meet with students in relation to school activities, to observe students in their learning and to interact with students. Students were enthusiastic about attending school and their positive attitude, diligence and sense of community contribute enormously to the school’s characteristic spirit.
The board of management of St Benildus had just been newly reconstituted at the time of the evaluation and there was a useful overlap in membership from the previous board. There was evidence of a high level of commitment on the part of the constituent members to the work of the board and of a positive energy and synergy to the way they work as a team. A sense of corporate responsibility was a feature of their way of working together, with the welfare and needs of the student at the centre of their deliberations. Members of the board bring a complementary range of skills and experiences to their role and they ably represent the different stakeholders.
Trustee representatives, who are former principals, teachers, students or former parents, bring an in-depth knowledge of the role and position of the school in the lives of students, and expressed the wish to give something back to the school by helping to consolidate its future and development. Parent representatives have already served on the Parents’ Association and, in this way, are familiar with the work and responsibilities of the board. Staff representatives on the board are directly involved in an advisory capacity on matters which come before the board for review.
The partnership approach espoused by the Lasallian philosophy is what characterises communication and the relationship of the board with the school community. It became evident in the course of the evaluation the value that the school community places on the contribution the board can make to the effective operation of the school. Excellent leadership and management have led to continuing advances in the quality of teaching, the curriculum and the care, guidance and support of students. A shared vision is achieved through communication, participation in decision-making and leadership from the trustees, the board and senior management. Developmental priorities recorded by the board have included: mixed-ability class formation; improved curricular provision; ensuring the recruitment of the best possible teachers to fill positions; improved methodologies, encouraging staff Continuous Professional Development (CPD), and the improvement of facilities and resources, including Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The board works through the principal in an open way and, in discussion with inspectors, acknowledged the principal’s capacity to keep the board accurately informed of issues and developments.
The board takes a proactive approach to policy formation and review. It was evident from examination of board minutes that policies are regularly reviewed and updated, and all policies required by legislation were in place. Enrolment and exclusion issues receive due process, matters are clearly documented and structures are in place, which try to ensure that equity and fairness pertain. St Benildus is inclusive in its enrolment and provides for the integration of all students. The board of management is encouraged to ensure that the wording of the school’s enrolment policy adequately reflects the actual openness and inclusiveness of its practice.
Budgeting and planning for the ongoing upkeep of the school is effectively dealt with by the board of management. In recent years, there has been continued targeted investment in the maintenance and improvement of the existing school building and infrastructure. Commendable infrastructural improvements to the students’ learning environment and the teachers’ working environment, identified as priorities by the board of management, have been undertaken. The board is now prioritising the provision of a new staff room and meeting rooms in the new building project, funded by the trustees and the parents. The development of the sporting facilities and resources is very much attributable to the innovative foresight and entrepreneurial skills of senior management, staff and the trustees.
Excellent attention is paid to staff development and the board is also forward thinking in granting permission and funding to members of staff to engage in further training or re-training. This demonstrates the foresight with which the board addresses issues in a timely way to ensure continuity and development. Among the factors which have contributed significantly to change and improvement in the school has been the recruitment of new staff as this has provided opportunities to bring new methodologies and perspectives to subjects.
The senior management team, comprising the principal and deputy-principal, provide the strategic thinking and visionary leadership for the development priorities of the school. Senior management has completed an ambitious schedule of improvements and developments over the last number of years, fully backed by the trustees and the staff. Senior management also ensures that the school organisation runs smoothly and effectively, therefore allowing staff to concentrate fully on students’ learning and well-being. The exceptionally well-led and coordinated work of the professionals working in the school is central to its success.
Professionalism is also the cornerstone of the senior management team’s way of working. Both principal and deputy-principal work well together, are available to staff and staff communicates with senior management regularly, both formally and informally. The senior management team brings a complementary set of skills to their work, characterised by clarity of direction, constant liaison and ultimately, shared decision-making. Nevertheless, there is a clear delineation of duties, when necessary. Observation of daily meetings of the senior management team provided evidence of the range of matters requiring their immediate attention and evidence of considered response consistent with school policy. This is commendable practice. There is clear day-to-day management presence of the principal and the deputy-principal, for example, in supervision on the corridors at break time, as well as attendance at meetings, activities and events throughout the school day and week.
Shared management is the approach adopted by the senior management team, developing common aims to improve the school’s educational service, backed up with exemplary work practices. Senior management emphasises with its staff the importance of adherence to the timetable, to punctuality, to consistency and clarity in administering the school’s adopted Code of Behaviour. Meticulous attention is given to the adherence to daily routine, and students are presented with very definite behavioural and study parametres. Development of work practices, such as team teaching, collaboration, sharing of resources and expertise are also promoted and encouraged among teachers. In the effective management of the school, the responsibility of each individual teacher to the delivery of a quality education is clearly acknowledged and accepted, thereby helping to meet school management’s commitment and responsibility in relation to each individual student and parent.
Senior management ensures an atmosphere of collegiality and teamwork by focusing on those factors which the school can control: teaching resources; working atmosphere; a sense of being valued and appreciated and a sense of well-being; feeling part of a team; and job satisfaction. Through the promotion of team work, leadership roles are being distributed across the school to post-holders and other members of staff. A wide range of responsibilities has been delegated to assistant principals (APs) and special duties post-holders (SDTs). These include: the role of year head; the organisation of internal examinations; administrative duties in relation to the State Examinations; pastoral care; subject coordination; programme coordination; monitoring of student attendance; health and safety; ICT; Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and school planning. The duties associated with these posts are carried out effectively and in this way, capacity within the school for its efficient operation from year to year is being consolidated. Responsibilities for posts have been clearly defined, are reviewed and improvements have been implemented. For example, in a recent review, expanded strategies for the monitoring of student attendance were introduced. In the current year, a change in strategy was also introduced in relation to enrolment, where visits to feeder primary schools will be conducted by the deputy principal and principal in conjunction with the post-holders. This illustrates how the different strands of management within the school work together not independently. Communication between staff and senior management is characterised by clarity, frequency, decisiveness and transparency.
The benefit to the school from the delegation of whole areas of responsibility can now be seen in a structure which is working efficiently and effectively. The year heads, in their role in monitoring student behaviour, attendance and participation, have made a valuable contribution to the management of students. The provision of a weekly meeting time for year heads provides the opportunity to address immediate issues as well as more long-term or system issues. Through these developments, a sense of a true middle management team is emerging; the collective wisdom of teachers is respected, and post-holders execute real decision-making roles within their respective areas of delegated responsibility. The execution of the position of coordinator of a subject, a group of subjects or a programme is one which is taken seriously and the crucial role that coordination plays in driving subject department planning is acknowledged by all, including the board of management, which has identified the expansion and development of subject coordination as a priority.
Supports are in place for the induction of new teachers. There is very good informal induction by subject colleagues, parallel to the broader induction process provided by the school. New teachers are encouraged to attend the regular year group assemblies, in particular at the beginning of the school year. At assemblies, the rules and the systems of the school are presented, clarified or elaborated by senior management together with the year head, so that all are fully aware of the school structures, prior to parents signing an agreement to uphold the systems in the school. The subject department meetings at the beginning of the year also provide good information and insights for new teachers into students, textbooks, resources and methodologies and approaches.
Students, in their interaction with the inspectors, presented themselves as self-assured and articulate. Examination of student council minutes shows that the council, first established in 2003, conducts its business well. The present council has undertaken a review of its strengths and weaknesses as it operates at present. The objective is to restructure the council to create a more efficient and effective organisation for the college. This is commendable. The student council notice board is a useful means of communicating with the student body. Student council representatives have an opportunity to address their year group at assemblies and also have addressed the board of management, in relation to, for example, the healthy eating initiative. The student council is commended for the level of maturity and engagement it brings to its role, as well as the quality of members’ contributions.
Senior management promotes and facilitates the involvement of parents in the school in many ways, ensuring a flow of information, regular contact and appropriate arrangements, to facilitate awareness among parents of the school’s procedures and systems. Contact and links with parents on student progress, behaviour and attainment are regular, systematic and open. Members of the parents’ association spoke warmly of their positive experiences of the school and acknowledged the co-operation and the support of teachers and school management. A measure of the confidence of senior management in their teaching staff and students is the way in which the school’s open day is organised. The school, with its open door policy, invites parents of incoming first years to view the school in operation; while lessons are being conducted and all school activities are taking place. This is the hallmark of a competent and confident school, and the school is commended for this approach.
Well established links have also been forged between the school and the community. Teachers, parents, past-pupils and school management have been instrumental in developing many of these links. These links have been particularly developed within the TY programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) offered in the school at senior cycle. Outside agencies support many school activities. There are good links with the parish in which the school is situated. The local parish chaplain is also the chaplain for St Benildus.
All interactions and activities within the school are characterised by review and development. Each year senior management looks back at achievements and looks forward to ways to improve the school’s educational service. In the communication with the home, requesting the voluntary contribution of parents to the work of the school, parents are given a review and evaluation of the previous year’s achievements and specifically what improvements their contribution has funded. An analysis of the school’s performance in the State Examinations is conducted by senior management on an annual basis on a subject by subject basis and a student by student basis. This informs the discussion at the staff planning meeting regarding the quality of the school’s educational service and provides quality assurance of the standards of teaching and learning. There are high expectations of achievements and attainments, and consequently, there is overall satisfaction of the part of stakeholders. One of the first statements made to inspectors by parents was that “the school celebrates the achievement of the special educational needs (SEN) student as much as the achievement of the student with 600 points.” There was much evidence to support this statement. This concentration on outcomes ensures productivity on the part of teachers and students and endorsement by parents of the school’s core mission.
St Benildus College has an allocation of forty-four whole-time teacher equivalents (WTEs). This includes the ex-quota positions of principal and deputy-principal, 1.36 ex-quota positions for guidance and one ex-quota position for remedial (learning support). The school also receives allocations for curricular concessions, for newcomer students, for special needs and for traveller students amounting to 2.43 WTEs.
Senior management defines the school’s curricular priorities and ensures that educational and curricular priorities underpin the decisions of the timetable. In the organisation of the school timetable and the allocation of teachers to classes, senior management makes every effort to achieve the best deployment of staff to suit the students, the curriculum and the resources available. It is praiseworthy that senior management surveys staff each year with a view to optimising teachers’ contribution to the school. This has enriched the TY, for example, and also has helped to ensure a good quality SPHE provision. This approach has enabled senior management to highlight the strengths, personal preferences and interests of staff members in relation to curriculum provision. Evidence from the subject inspection reports confirms that there is generally very good provision and support for subjects and programmes.
Planning for the timetable and the mechanics of drawing up the timetable are carried out efficiently and effectively. The good administrative team available to senior management is an essential support in this regard and the administrative team is commended for its commitment, the quality of its work and the loyalty to the school demonstrated and articulated. Available time is, in the main, used optimally. The length of the school day, week and year have been reviewed by senior management in the context of optimising their use. In deciding on the allocation of time to any given subject, the school has opted for class periods of forty-five or forty minutes’ duration, to ensure concentrated time for the completion of curriculum content. The allocation of classrooms to year groups on a cluster basis also helps to minimise time lost between class periods. Concurrency within timetabling for core subjects is a further example of effective time management. In English, for example, concurrency was used for whole year group activities during a time when English teachers were receiving in-service. This is a very good utilisation of time. It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours and that the school is fully compliant with the twenty-eight hours instruction time as directed in circular M29/95 Time in School.
School management is commended for the manner of its deployment of its teachers. Where possible and desirable, class groups retain the same teacher from year to year. It is normal practice within the school for teachers to remain with the same class groups from second to third year and from fifth year to sixth year, where possible, thus retaining high levels of continuity. Teachers are assigned to classes by school management following consultation. In most subject areas, there is rotation of teachers across levels. In relation to the provision of Mathematics, it is recommended that all teachers have an opportunity to teach all levels on a rotational basis in a transparent manner, with ultimate responsibility lying with senior management. This will ensure that no teacher is associated with teaching a particular level and that all qualified teachers have the opportunity to develop their expertise in the subject.
School management has worked unstintingly to improve the teachers’ working environment and the students’ learning environment. As mentioned above, classrooms are predominantly class group-based and are organised on the basis of clustering class groups with their year head in a particular block or corridor. This works well for the implementation of the care and discipline system. Teacher work stations, dedicated faculty resource areas, year head offices, a special needs room, guidance offices and specialist rooms in some subject areas have been provided or updated. The school has a languages room which affords language teachers the opportunity of displaying subject-related posters and student work. Nevertheless, during the course of the conduct of the Spanish inspection, the desirability of an up-to-date specialist room for languages was acknowledged.
One of the stated priorities identified by the board of management is the development of ICT, and a position of coordinator for ICT is currently being funded by the board. The school has benefited from joining the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) School Broadband programme and the network has been extended into all classrooms and specialist rooms. The revised plan for ICT is commended, as it addresses both infrastructural and training needs of staff to facilitate integrating ICT into the delivery of the curriculum. A noticeable increase in the number of staff using ICT in their specific subject area in recent years was reported at the time of the evaluation and was observed in practice. Such developments in ICT should continue to be actively pursued by school management and staff, thereby meeting the needs of students in the age of technology and enhancing the learning experience of all students.
The attention to the maintenance of an attractive, clean environment is meticulous in St Benildus, and ancillary staff is to be commended for the quality of its work, both within the school and throughout the school grounds. A school campus which is clean and well maintained, both within and outside the school building, contributes in no small way to the orderly and respectful environment which obtains. Sport plays a significant role in the life of the school and the walls are adorned with photographs of past and present teams and individuals who have represented the school in a wide variety of sports. The achievements of the school across all the activities are to a very high standard, with past students having gone on to represent their county, and in one case, their country to World Championship and Olympic level. A private-public-partnership was sought to fund the astro-turf pitch, a facility now enjoyed by both school and local community.
Over the years, the college has been building on its art collection which forms a stimulating, culturally-rich display throughout the school building. For the future, the college hopes to expand its collection with particular emphasis on the works of past students working in the visual arts. Notice boards for languages have been created and are in a prominent place along one corridor. This is a very useful and positive resource.
The school’s participation in the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) has been instrumental in bringing about the collaborative planning process in St Benildus today. The board of management has also been forward looking and pro-active in the facilitation of CPD in the area of planning. The board of management recently allocated a dedicated assistant principal’s post to SDP which has given renewed impetus to the planning process. Initially in 2003, staff in-service days were facilitated and sub-committees were set up to examine priorities identified and to put forward proposals to the whole staff for discussion and review. There was evidence of an initial five-year plan and a second five-year plan, with planning priorities being initially infrastructural and then moving towards educational and pedagogical initiatives.
Targets and timeframes for improvements have been in-built into the annual cycle of the school year. The focus of future medium-term development planning has now been recorded in school planning documentation. This is appropriately articulated in terms of goals, structures and specific action plans for implementation. This is commendable. The priorities have the students at their core, beginning with the drafting of a Student Charter for St Benildus students, the design and production of a staff handbook and the completion of the current building project. In striving for improvement, the needs of the student and the demands of the curriculum are clearly at the centre. Excellent leadership and management have provided the overall framework for the strategic planning and development of the school.
Infrastructural improvements to the school building and environment included the provision and updating of specialist rooms, new windows, designating areas for storage and sharing of resources and the expanded provision of teacher work stations. Educational priorities identified and addressed included mixed-ability class formation, concurrent timetabling for core subjects, the introduction of subject sampling through taster modules for incoming first years and the school’s focus on catering for the less able student. An area of focus and investment which spans both infrastructural and pedagogical improvement is ICT.
The development of collaborative subject planning and the coordination of subject areas is one of the hallmarks of success of the planning process in St Benildus. The development of the subject planning process was supported and facilitated in the first place by SDPI. Subject coordinators are now in place in many subject departments. Examples of subject plans examined during the evaluation contained all the required elements of good planning and some subject plans are exemplars of best practice.
The influence of the school vision and mission statement is very clear in the school planning documentation. A Lasallian day to develop staff awareness of the ethos and school mission was organised by the trustees as part of the training provided to inform and guide the planning process. This is commendable. Many of the matters identified through the developmental planning process have already been addressed by senior management.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
St Benildus College has over the years introduced change and innovation into its curriculum and has enhanced its curriculum provision with the introduction of new programmes, such as Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and subjects, such as Classical Studies and Spanish. St Benildus endeavours to optimally meet the needs of all students enrolling in the college and in this context, offers an exceptionally broad range of subjects, which in addition to the core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics, includes the humanities, the sciences, modern languages and business and practical subjects. All students choose a modern language, and it is both encouraging and praiseworthy that all students, including students with special educational needs (SEN), study a modern language in junior cycle and most students continue to study the language through to Leaving Certificate level. Students can choose Computer Studies as an option in first year and those students who pursue Computer Studies undertake the European Computer Driving License (ECDL) over two years.
Teachers reported many times on the good support they receive from the principal and deputy-principal. The allocation of time to subjects is very satisfactory. The sample of subjects inspected as part of the whole-school evaluation serves to illustrate some aspects of the subject provision in St Benildus. The concurrent timetabling of Mathematics classes facilitates access to appropriate levels and movement between levels for all students. This is commendable. The concurrent timetabling of English class periods for fifth and sixth year class groups also allows students the opportunity to study English at the most appropriate level. While Mathematics classes are distributed evenly throughout the school day and the week, the provision for English would benefit from a more even distribution of lesson periods across the week and balanced between morning and afternoon. The allocation of single class periods evenly distributed across the week for languages is optimal, as it facilitates students having regular and frequent contact with the target language.
All class groups in junior cycle and in the established Leaving Certificate now receive one double period of Physical Education (PE) per week, of eighty or ninety minutes duration. School management is encouraged to find a means of augmenting the time to provide the recommended one hundred and twenty minutes. At junior cycle subjects are generally allocated four periods, with one period allocated to SPHE and Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) respectively, as required. Religious Education (RE) has two periods per week. At senior cycle, in fifth and sixth year most subjects have an allocation of five periods. Four periods are allocated to LCVP in sixth year. However, it is regrettable that due to constraints of timetabling, LCVP students do not receive any Physical Education (PE) on their timetables. Management is encouraged to work towards providing PE for all students in line with the recommendations of the appended Physical Education Inspection Report. The provision of a period of Social Education for senior cycle students is a commendable extension of the junior cycle SPHE programme. It is recommended that the curricular content of Social Education should be detailed in planning documentation, in the same way as the content of other subjects is recorded.
Curriculum review is a regular feature of planning in St Benildus, as is the question of the quality of curriculum delivery. This underlines the emphasis the school places on the centrality of good teaching and the importance of encouraging and developing students’ awareness of and responsibility for their own learning. Attendance at in-service courses, when available, is facilitated to broaden skills and expertise, to revitalise interest and improve efficiency. The teachers of the college have put in place a number of educational initiatives designed to improve the quality of the educational process for students and teachers. An example of excellent use of ICT in English was seen in the development of a very useful website. This is highly commended work and is an example of the great potential for using ICT to enhance teaching and learning. Indeed, the integration of ICT into teaching and learning is a current area of focus and development arising from review in St Benildus.
In the last number of years, the school has moved from a policy of streaming students to one of mixed ability, with some exceptions for the core subjects. For example, English class groups are placed in mixed-ability class groups up to the end of junior cycle and again in TY. In Mathematics, the banding structure facilitates both access to and movement between levels.
The LCVP was introduced into St Benildus in 1994, with the aim of catering for the diversity of participants’ needs at senior cycle. There is a clear policy document in place describing the programme. Currently, between twenty and twenty-five students opt for LCVP. The timetabling of the links modules against PE is a factor which definitely impacts negatively on the uptake of LCVP. School management is strongly encouraged to review the timetabling arrangements for the Link Modules, to support the continued uptake and demand for the programme. In the delivery of the programme in St Benildus, students are well supported in developing their ICT skills, which is commendable. Students are also trained in the use of audio-visual equipment and computer presentation packages for recording and presentation purposes. The quality of the portfolio work examined was very good and all the required elements of the portfolio items were included.
The TY programme is varied, comprising core subjects, sampling of subjects, modules and activities. The mix of programme content ensures a balance between developing students academically, practically and personally. The curriculum content offers students opportunities for self-directed learning and analytical skills development. This helps to ensure adherence to the principles and recommended approach to TY. New modules which have been recently introduced to the programme include: Archaeology; Humanities; Psychology; Nutrition; Tourism; Classical Studies. The plan for TY is very well presented, with clarity regarding the content of subjects and modules. In order to make the plan a clearer reflection of the actual programme, the four components, which are clearly covered, should be included in the TY plan: core subjects, sampling of subjects, alternative modules and calendar of events and activities. The coordination of TY is commended for ensuring an organisational cohesion and efficiency in the fulfilling of the myriad responsibilities involved.
The work of the coordination team in the systematic delivery and review of the programme is commended. There is a monthly scheduled meeting of the TY core team. Evaluation and review are integral to the programme and a review and redesign of aspects of the programme is conducted each year. The TY graduation night provides an opportunity to review the programme with parents. Assessment in TY is based on attitude, participation, motivation, satisfactory completion modules and portfolio items. Each student is given a TY certificate of completion. There is a tutor period assigned which provides the TY assistant coordinator an opportunity to have class contact with each TY student. This is a commendable objective and helps to ensure continued application to programme objectives and principles. The title of the module should perhaps be renamed to more accurately reflect the modular content.
Students of St Benildus College are ably supported in their decision-making in relation to subjects and choices available to them at key stages in their education; on transfer from primary school in first year; at the transition to fifth year after third or TY, as applicable. The guidance service, together with senior management, has a crucial role in the successful transfer of students into the school and in informing and preparing students to make informed choices at key stages. Up to Christmas of first year, students study a selection of subject options on a modular basis. On completion of the “taster modules”, which are sufficiently long to enable students and parents to make informed decisions regarding subjects, students make their choices, in consultation with senior management and with teachers. Subject teachers are encouraged to inform and discuss with parents students’ aptitudes, abilities and preferences in relation to the optional subjects. The approach adopted is in line with the school’s policy of inclusion, where every effort is made to ensure equity and fairness.
At senior cycle, subject choices are made at the end of third year or TY. Students are asked to indicate their preferences for subjects and on the basis of students’ responses, subject groupings are formed. Students attend a seminar on subject choice provided by the Guidance service, where they receive relevant information on all the subjects available. Every effort is made to provide the students with their chosen range of subjects.
Learning extends well beyond the classroom, and lunchtime is very effectively used for students to participate in a broad palette of extra-curricula provision. An invigorating range of additional activities enriches the curriculum for students. The school’s commitment to the holistic development of the student is typified by the provision of an extensive programme of physical activities, particularly facilitated through significant investment in a very high quality sports provision. The management of St Benildus recognises the importance of PE and extra-curricular activities in the school environment.
The Sports Council was established in 1996 to coordinate sporting activities. This has laid the foundations for the continued development of sport in the college. This council, as well as developing policy, has consistently instigated initiatives to improve participation levels and to structure lunchtime activities for all. The council is composed of representatives of all the sports provided in the school. Meetings take place on a monthly basis and matters such as upcoming fixtures, kit requirements and fundraising activities are discussed. The chair is rotated across the sports represented and minutes of meetings are kept. The Sports Council works on the basis of a five year plan and is in the process of setting up planning for the next five years. The St Benildus Run for Life is the college’s own fundraising initiative for charity. Students develop responsibility, persistence and independence from teacher support in their contribution to the running of this event. The role played by all teachers involved in the provision of extra-curricular activities in developing a sense of school identity and achievement cannot be underestimated. The reported number of students participating in the provided activities is a credit to their organisation and delivery.
The annual Integration through Sport Day is another commendable event, now in its fourth year, organised by the students of St Benildus. This has formed part of the Comenius project that St Benildus has participated in during the period 2001-2006. In November 2007, the same project partners were in the process of submitting a new project proposal to run from 2008 to 2011. This is commendable. The new Comenius project will once again focus on the inclusion of young people with special needs through music, sport and art.
A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to different subjects on the curriculum are also provided. These include theatre outings, involvement in writing competitions, school trips to target language counties and debating. TY students also partake in a college musical. The organisation of these activities for students by teachers is highly commended. Time is also found at lunchtime for involvement of students in such activities as the chess club and the organisation of the college newsletter and website.
Agendas are set and minutes recorded of formal subject department meetings. These minutes reflect good discussion on a range of topics to promote and develop the particular subject. The documenting of subject department meetings is good practice, as the retention of these records helps to identify the evolution of the subject provision, the planned programme and the rationale underpinning its development. To ensure that the proceedings of each meeting are systematically referenced, it is recommended that a standard template document be used to record the decisions taken and actions assigned. This will also help to ensure consistency of practice across subject areas.
There is good engagement with on-going work on subject plans. All subject areas evaluated have developed or are in the process of developing a subject plan. Some subject plans examined in the course of the evaluation included broad aims and objectives, current provision for the subject, staff and timetabling arrangements and arrangements for students with special educational needs (SEN). To develop this good practice further, subject departments are encouraged to focus on more use of active teaching and learning strategies. The inclusion of students’ learning outcomes in subject plans should also be pursued. Opportunities for extending the use of ICT in teaching and learning is also recommended. In the language subjects inspected, it was suggested that the TY plans for these subjects be reviewed to reflect fuller detail of the course content and range of methodologies employed.
Individual lesson planning was evident for all classes observed. Almost all teachers made individual planning notes and materials available for inspection during the visit. All lessons had a clear structure, were syllabus appropriate and part of a coherent plan.
Some subject departments have developed a common resource area. Such planning for resources is very good practice, and should be extended to all subject areas.
There was a good standard of teaching and learning in the majority of lessons observed in the school. Lessons were well prepared and the lesson plans presented provided clear structure and progression for students’ learning. When teachers were well prepared, the pace of the lesson was appropriate. In the most effective lessons, there was a very clear purpose, with the teacher sharing the aim of the lesson with the students. This had the effect of students being engaged in the lesson from the outset, remaining focused, as they were able to see the learning intention. It is recommended that the sharing of the intended learning outcomes with students be extended to all lessons, and it is suggested that, at the end of the lesson, the students could also be questioned on what they had learned, in order to evaluate if the purpose has been realised.
Many examples of good teaching practice were observed during lesson visits. These included engaging students through the use of effective questioning, affirming students’ contributions, use of appropriate terminology, worksheets and monitoring of students’ work. Best practice was seen when students had opportunities to be directly involved in their learning. To complement the teacher directed, whole class teaching style observed in some lessons, it is recommended that a wider range of teaching methodologies be explored and developed to engage students more fully in their own learning.
Very good questioning was used in lessons to determine students’ prior learning and to challenge them to think more clearly about what they were doing. Best practice in questioning was seen when teachers not only asked questions to check students’ prior learning and to check understanding but asked questions to challenge students to develop their thinking. Good practice was seen when teachers ensured that questions were targeted to named students and that there was a good mix of recall and higher-order questions.
In St Benildus College, students are encouraged to follow the highest level possible for as long as possible. Teachers are commended for setting appropriate high standards of expectation for their students. In the lessons observed, students responded to these expectations. Most teachers were also attentive to the needs of individual students and devoted time to working with individually students who were experiencing difficulty. Students’ outcomes in terms of knowledge and understanding were generally very good. An analysis of state examination results reveals that there is a very high uptake of higher level in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate. In addition, students achieve very well in their chosen level.
Best practice was seen when the core textbook was used as a resource, as opposed to the only source of teaching material. A range of teaching resources, including the use of ICT, was observed in some lessons and were used to engage student interest to good effect. The board was used well to record key points in some lessons. There were good efforts made in some classrooms to display students’ work. In student based classrooms, it is recommended that teachers make a greater effort to surround students with a stimulating learning environment.
Classroom management was very good in all lessons. Classroom atmosphere was at all times pleasant and conducive to the learning process and lessons were conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Students were very well behaved, were in the main engaged throughout the lessons and demonstrated good understanding of lesson content. Some affirmation of students’ efforts was seen in all lessons and this is to be encouraged, as students responded well to this. Some teachers demonstrated a genuine reflective aspect to their own teaching strategies. This had the effect of improving the overall learning experience for students. This level of reflective practice is commended.
The assessment modes in place in the school include bi-annual, formal in-house examinations for non-examination classes at Christmas and summer. ‘Mock’ examinations for examination year classes are held in the spring and examination classes receive a report based on continuous assessment in October. In each of the subjects evaluated, wide-ranging and comprehensive methods of assessment were used in addition to these formal assessments. Currently, a common assessment policy exists within the Spanish department comprising of written and aural tests. This common assessment policy could be used as a model for the assessment procedures in other subject departments.
Homework was assigned and corrected promptly in the subjects evaluated. Good practice was noted where, in some cases, formative comments were used to inform student learning and understanding. It is advised, where not already the norm, that teachers’ review of homework should include constructive comment in relation to how students might improve their work. The correction of homework during mathematics lessons was in some cases time-consuming and it is recommended that the current range of strategies employed to correct homework be reviewed, to ensure an optimal balance between the benefits to students in having their work corrected and the best use of teaching time.
Contact with parents and communication of student assessments is supported formally at parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group, and by means of school reports issued following formal examinations.
There has been considerable achievement in the organisation and coordination of the SEN provision in St Benildus in recent years. The SEN team has not only been facilitated by school management in acquiring specialist training in the area, but also in ongoing attendance at specialised in-service. Quite a large team of teachers is involved in delivering resource teaching. It is recommended that more learning support or resource teaching be delivered by the specialists in this area. One of the development priorities identified by the SEN team is to disseminate the outcomes of such in-service to teachers by providing whole-school in-service to the staff. This is commendable. For the last two years, the SEN team has been firmly established and the creation of a special needs resource room has consolidated this development. The finalisation of the draft Special Needs policy document is also a priority identified by the SEN team. These are commendable priorities and should be targeted for completion by senior management for ratification by the board of management.
A fine balance is maintained between awareness of students’ educational needs and sensitivity in relation to assessment and information on students. The planning documentation and records in relation to meeting the students’ individual learning needs was thorough, clearly presented and transparent. The provision and development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) carried out by the SEN team, together with the monitoring and recording of their implementation in practice by both the team and subject teachers are praiseworthy. There is regular effective communication with parents of SEN students, and parents are consulted about the student’s progress.
The system of withdrawal and the timetable for withdrawal of individual students is put in place as early as possible in the school year. While the withdrawal system works well, team teaching is also deployed, which is good practice as an alternative method of providing learning support. In addition, students can benefit from learning support until the end of sixth year, if necessary. This is commendable.
There is a partnership approach to the care of students in St Benildus College and the central role of guidance in the school is recognised. At crucial stages, key personnel, such as the relevant year head, programme coordinator or subject teacher, are involved at some level with the delivery of some aspect of the guidance programme. Through such mechanisms, guidance is viewed as a whole school matter. Senior management has been imaginative in effectively transforming two adjacent rooms into a guidance suite with a careers reading area and with the possibility of further expansion.
The Guidance Plan is at an advanced stage of development and it contains all the required elements of good planning. Both guidance counsellors are recently qualified, and therefore the guidance service is very aware of the importance of planning, which is well thought out and up-to-date. The whole school dimension to the guidance service, as outlined in the plan is commendable, and all policies relating to student care are carefully recorded, adopted by the board and in place. School management and the guidance service are commended for this. The guidance programme in St Benildus has been reviewed and evaluated and new testing procedures have been introduced. Review and change are hallmarks of how the guidance services works.
There is a balance to the provision of ongoing career guidance and counselling. All aspects of career guidance are catered for: the specific requirements in relation to programmes, such as the LCVP and the TY are accommodated; the counselling and welfare dimensions to the work of the guidance service are also accommodated in the guidance work schedule. The attendance of the guidance service at the year heads meeting helps in this regard. Referral forms have been devised and are systematically deployed in follow up. This is commendable. Systems of communication and a flow of information also contribute to an efficient and effective organisation of the guidance provision in relation to subject choices.
There is involvement in student care at all levels within the school community. Pastoral care, as defined by the members of the care team, is shaped in the Lasallian tradition of the De La Salle school and covers the social, spiritual, mental, emotional and physical development and care for students. In this way, the pastoral role is not one which is an adjunct to the main purpose of the school. The awareness on the part of the school of being responsible for the care of students and their development in every sense is commendable. Parents have confidence in entrusting the education, the faith development and care of their sons to the school.
A large number of teachers are involved in the delivery of the SPHE programme in the school. A coordination post has just been created for SPHE which is a commendable development and a core team of SPHE teachers has been identified. SPHE teachers are released for attendance at in-service and dissemination of seminar content is ensured across the team of teachers. This is a commendable approach. The development of a teacher handbook for SPHE is also an objective. The relationship and sexuality education (RSE) component is delivered in the main by the religion and Science teachers. Social Education, which is on the curriculum for fifth and sixth year, is a continuation of the content of SPHE at junior cycle. The work of the SPHE department ensures the development of social awareness and social consciousness with visiting speakers organised from groups, such as the Samaritans, the local Special Olympics club and Mental Health Ireland.
The role of the year head is primarily pastoral and its definition comes from the school’s mission statement and code of behaviour. The class tutor system is an important element in the pastoral care programme. There is constant liaison between year heads and class tutors who are in contact with the students on a daily basis, as well as with subject teachers and the guidance service in relation to students. As part of the school’s commitment to improving the quality of the educational experience for all its students, the school has introduced a mentoring programme for second and third-year students. This is directed at students who may benefit from more individual care and attention. The integrated approach to student care is highly 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:
· The board of management is encouraged to ensure that the wording of the school’s enrolment policy adequately reflects the actual openness and inclusiveness of its practice.
· It is recommended that developments in ICT should continue to be actively pursued by school management and staff, to ensure the enhancement of the learning experience of all students.
· School management is strongly encouraged to review the time-tabling arrangements for the Link Modules, to support the continued uptake and demand for the programme. In addition, every effort should be made to timetable PE for all senior cycle students.
· It is recommended that a wider range of teaching methodologies be explored and developed to engage students more fully in their own learning.
· The development priorities identified by the SEN team should be targeted for completion by senior management for ratification by the board of management.
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:
· Subject Inspection of English – 2 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of Spanish – 27 November 2007
· Subject Inspection of PE– 29 November 2007
· Subject Inspection of Mathematics– 29 November 2007
Published October 2008