An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Loreto High School Beaufort

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14

Roll number: 60340N

 

Date of inspection: 29 February 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 Loreto High School Beaufort was undertaken in February 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 was 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

The Irish branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in Ireland and elsewhere as the Loreto Order, was founded in 1821.  In 1925 the order purchased Beaufort, a private residence on extensive grounds in Rathfarnham, which became Beaufort Domestic Science College.  Ancillary buildings were converted for a kindergarten, junior and secondary school.  As the numbers increased, a new school for the senior girls was built in 1952 and a large extension, consisting of classrooms, specialist rooms, a library and an assembly hall, was added in 1975.  Further classroom accommodation has since been built, and the original kindergarten and junior school have closed and their premises are now part of the secondary school complex.  The building programme is continuing, and plans are well advanced for an expansion of the classroom accommodation and of the sports facilities.

 

There are sixteen Loreto post-primary schools in the country and four of these, including Loreto Beaufort, are fee-paying.  Rathfarnham is a long-established residential suburb with a predominantly middle-class population.  Most students are from the local area and the neighbouring Loreto National School is the main feeder school, accounting for more than half of the first-year intake, which is capped by the school management at 104 students.

 

The Loreto Order, through the Loreto Education Trust Board, established a board of management in 1991 to take over the management of the school under their trusteeship and appointed its first lay principal in 1997.  In addition to its trustee role, the order also brings an international dimension to the school, and there is a consciousness throughout the school community in Loreto Beaufort of the social and educational work carried out by the order in the developing world.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

At a formal level, the defining educational values of all Loreto schools are articulated through the Kolkata guidelines, drawn up following an international conference of the Loreto Order in Kolkata (Calcutta) in 2002.  The trustees, school management and teaching staff referred to these guidelines when speaking of the school’s characteristic spirit and mission.  The guidelines identify goals and challenges in relation to the development of the individual student and the school community, the creation of enabling structures and processes within and between schools, and visioning for the future.  The emphasis they place on leadership development and participative management structures is noteworthy, and the current board of management and senior management in the school displayed a keen awareness of these principles and a desire to implement them as fully as possible.  The Kolkata guidelines also commit the order to educating students to be agents of social change, a challenge which the school is endeavouring to meet through consciousness-raising activities.

 

In its mission statement, the school community commits itself to creating a caring and supportive environment, which encourages each student to develop her full spiritual, intellectual, moral, physical and social potential.  This aim is given practical expression in a number of ways: the board’s funding of a full-time chaplain; expectations of high academic attainment; initiatives to foster social responsibility and a sense of community; and the provision of an extensive co-curricular and sports programme.  A ‘Spirit Week’ is held every year to promote a sense of esprit de corps and a ‘spirit cup’ is awarded to the most deserving year groupThe student council has a key role in organising the week’s events, which include ‘Radio Beaufort’ broadcasts and a themed fundraising day.

 

The school’s caring mission is reflected in various initiatives and day-to-day activities.  A staff committee is preparing a more user-friendly version of the student handbook specifically for students in first year.  A ‘peer buddy’ system involving fifth-year and first-year students is now in its second year, and each junior cycle class is assigned a senior prefect as a mentor and role model.  All class groups have a form teacher who meets them every day, and whose role is principally pastoral.  The school has recently embarked on the ‘Cool School’ initiative and had a successful ‘Friendship Week’ as part of this to focus on the positive aspects of friendship rather than on the negative connotations of bullying.  Parents and students spoke warmly of the school as a caring and supportive environment, and there was evidence that past pupils maintain close ties with the school.

 

 

1.2          School ownership and management

In the context of the devolving of managerial functions by the Loreto Order and a planned increase in enrolment, the board of management was established in 1991.  The current chair of the board described this as part of the democratisation of the school’s management structures, in keeping with the principles later expressed in the Kolkata guidelines.  The eight-member board is properly constituted with four trustee nominees, two parent nominees and two teacher nominees, and the principal acts as its secretary.  It was reported that the teaching staff and the parents’ association have no difficulty in finding members willing to serve on the board.  The current board has both long-serving and new members, ensuring continuity and renewal, and is also gender balanced.  This is commended.

 

Regular contact is maintained with the trustees.  The board makes an annual report to the Loreto Education Trust and the trust’s education officer visits the school every year to discuss any findings or implications of the report.  The trust gives valued support to the school management, organising regular meetings of Loreto principals and boards of management, training programmes for boards and for chaplains, and induction courses for new teachers.  The board also maintains an annual fund to assist teachers with continuing professional development, through subvention of further degree and diploma course fees.

 

The board meets very regularly, at least eight times a year, and more often if business requires it.  It fulfils its duties conscientiously and professionally.  Over the years, the board has ensured that statutory and other policies have been drafted and ratified, that school facilities have been maintained and improved, and that the board’s financial and employer obligations have been carried out diligently.  While its members are put forward by the various nominating bodies, they operate collectively and arrive at decisions by consensus, albeit after sometimes robust debate reflecting different perspectives and concerns.  The board feels that the achievement of consensus reflects the commitment of all members to the school and its duty of care to all students.  The board expressed a high regard for the principal’s educational leadership.  The principal in turn feels strongly supported by the board in the management of the school and spoke appreciatively of its collective wisdom and loyalty.

 

Following meetings, the principal and staff nominees agree a report to the staff, and the parent nominees and principal agree on matters to be communicated to the parents association, and to the general parent body.  The parent nominees are not members of the parents association committee and the principal is the liaison between the two bodies.  It is suggested that the board consider formally agreeing a report to the parents association which the association could then communicate to all parents, thereby assisting the association to fulfil one of its stated aims, to inform and consult parents regarding school policy, plans and activities.

 

The board has recently outlined a ten-year plan, following consultation with the Loreto Education Trust Board, the staff and the parents association.  The plan identifies the following needs: to keep up to date with new technologies and new teaching and learning methods; to expand where possible the range of subjects offered in order to meet changing needs and demands; and to continue the commendable programme of development of the school’s information and communications technology (ICT) facilities.  With regard to staffing needs, it envisages the recruitment of a laboratory technician, an ICT assistant and an administrator, insofar as available resources allow.  It is recommended that the board also prioritise the training or recruitment of a qualified special needs teacher, as there is none at present, although the school offers literacy and numeracy support from within present resources.

 

1.3          In-school management

The school principal and deputy principal operate as an effective and competent team, sharing aspects of the senior management role while each having designated areas of responsibility.  The principal and deputy principal bring complementary strengths and qualities to their roles, and work together in a supportive and cordial manner, having been teaching colleagues in the school for many years before taking up their current roles.  The principal reports to the board and to the trust, exercises the responsibilities devolved to her from the board, ensures compliance with Department regulations, and manages human resource issues relating to administrative and ancillary staff.  The deputy principal manages the system of supervision and substitution, co-ordinates the school development planning steering committee, and communicates with the State Examinations Commission on all related matters.

 

The principal and deputy principal meet formally every morning, usually after the first lesson by which time they have ensured that all immediate issues have been dealt with.  The meetings focus on plans for the day and week ahead, and they keep each other informed by regular contact where possible throughout the day, and also a debriefing session in their morning meetings.  The strong sense of shared responsibility or co-responsibility for the smooth day-to-day running of the school articulated by both members of the senior management team was evident in their way of working together.  Between them, they attend all in-school meetings relating to policy development and to the implementation of initiatives such as the Cool School programme, and they record key points and decisions made.  They work together on the planning of the timetable, and the deputy principal manages the uploading of data and the production of the final computerised timetable.

 

The senior management team shares the vision of Loreto education espoused in the Kolkata guidelines and, in a practical expression of this shared vision, is committed to distributed leadership and leadership development within the school.  For this reason, the school’s schedule of posts of responsibility is headed “School management team leaders”.  The senior management team spoke highly of all the teaching staff, expressing appreciation of their skills as practitioners and their competence in the assigned areas of responsibility they undertake.

 

The school has an allocation of eight assistant principals and fourteen special duties teachers, including an additional special duties post arising from the fact that the Transition Year (TY) enrolment is over 70 students. The programme co-ordinator post to which the school is entitled attracts an assistant principal’s allowance.  Commendably, the post holders interviewed in the course of the evaluation viewed their duties as areas of responsibility, which they could manage and develop, rather than simply as tasks to be done.  However, in the current schedule of posts, some posts are more limited in scope than others at the same level, and in some cases no clear distinction can be made between the duties assigned to special duties teachers and those assigned to assistant principals.  In the context of any future review of posts, this imbalance should be addressed by school management in consultation with the post holders.

 

The assigning of the year head role to both assistant principals and special duties teachers is a case in point. In 1998, a number of changes took place in Loreto Beaufort, including the introduction of year heads as part of the schedule of posts.  Both special duties teachers and assistant principals became year heads because of individual preferences and perceived aptitudes that obtained at the time, and this practice has continued.  However, given the correspondence between the level of responsibility for the management of students that attaches to the year-head role in a school of this size and the level of management responsibility appropriate to an assistant principal, it is recommended that serious consideration be given to working towards a situation where all year heads are assistant principals.  The fact that the programme co-ordinator post is assigned at assistant principal level on the basis of the number of students in TY further supports the assigning of the year-head role to assistant principals.

 

Year heads meet at least monthly with senior management, and this is a useful practice.  At present, assistant principals do not meet as a group on a regular basis.  Liaison with senior management, either through their presence at meetings or through clear reporting procedures, enhances the contribution assistant principals can make to the efficiency and the refinement of school systems, such as the year head system.  Regular meetings also provide opportunities to develop and review the management functions of assistant principals within the school.  It is therefore recommended that meetings with assistant principals take place on a regular basis.

 

Other aspects of school organisation reflected in the current schedule of posts include responsibility for policy development, attendance records, in-house examinations, and prize-giving events.  A number of posts have areas of responsibility reflecting co-curricular and extra-curricular engagement, including Gaisce awards, school trips and a range of consciousness-raising activities including Spirit Week.  Post holders reported an informal review system which gave them an opportunity to request a change in their areas of responsibility.  Flexibility within the post structure to take cognisance of the changing needs of the school is very desirable and, to this end, a more formal end-of year review of the areas of responsibility discharged is suggested.

 

Over the years, subject co-ordination has been undertaken as part of both assistant principal and special duties posts.  With the establishment of subject planning through the SDP process, the role of subject co-ordinator has increasingly been devolved to subject department level where a subject co-ordinator is nominated by consensus for a fixed period on a rotational basis.  The rotation of the role outside of the post structure to allow all members of the teaching team some experience of co-ordination has much merit and is to be encouraged. Where an area involves the organisation of large numbers of additional staff and activities or resources, for example the area of sport, a co-ordinator post may well be advisable. 

 

While it is acknowledged that some review of the schedule of posts has occurred in the last two years and that further review is ongoing, a thorough re-examination of this aspect of in-school management is recommended.  This would be in keeping with both the Department’s aims and the educational guidelines of the Loreto Order and would contribute to the realisation of the concept of distributed leadership, particularly in the area of management of students, aspired to by senior management and the board of management.  It should be particularly borne in mind that the assistant principal role should be qualitatively and not merely quantitatively greater than the special duties role.  The roles assigned to assistant principals should contribute over time to an emerging middle management structure.  In this regard, it will be helpful to consult circular letter PPT29/02, which sets out the aims of the revised in-school management structures with respect to capacity building and leadership development.  The suite of circulars 03/98-07/98 should also be consulted.

 

A particular strength of the school is the wealth of opportunity given to students to develop self-discipline and a sense of responsibility for themselves and others.  The school’s ‘peer buddy’ (see Section 5 below) and prefect systems require students to assess their own suitability for the role, and they understand that a positive behaviour record is a prerequisite.  Form teachers spoke warmly of the assistance given to them by the prefects assigned to each of the junior cycle classes.  The structure of the students’ council, known as the School Council, ensures that all students from first to sixth year are represented and have an opportunity to be involved in school-wide initiatives and in policy-making in areas such as the code of behaviour and uniform.  Students were found to be well-behaved, articulate, caring and highly motivated in the course of the evaluation.

 

All parents of present students are de facto members of the parents association.  Its committee, comprising two parent representatives from each year, meets every six weeks during the school year and meetings are attended by the principal and a member of the teaching staff.  Committee members are nominated at the AGM every October and have a three-year term of office.  It is recommended that the committee consider ways in which the nomination procedures might be managed so as to encourage participation from the full range of parents.  A letter is sent to all parents advising them of committee members’ names and respective year groups, and the committee reported that this works successfully in ensuring parents know whom to approach.  The committee was consulted in relation to the parents’ handbook, and to a number of school policies.  They are very involved in fund-raising and social activities, including a social evening for first-year parents, and have given support by their supervisory presence on school trips and at sporting events.  Parents occasionally contribute to the school newsletter and welcomed the suggestion that this become a regular slot.

 

1.4          Management of resources

The length of the school year and timing of school holidays conform to Department regulationsHowever, the school week complies with Department circular 29/95, which stipulates a minimum of twenty-eight hours instruction time, only if the ten-minute daily form time is counted.  This takes place for all years just before morning break and a number of form times were observed during the evaluation.  Two areas require immediate attention if this form time is to considered as instruction time.  Firstly, the occasional practice of having the senior prefect take form time alone must be discontinued and the form teacher must be present at all times, to fulfil the instructional obligation, to ensure health and safety, and because the form time is included in teachers’ class contact hours.  Secondly, students’ journals must be checked on a regular basis at form time, as this makes the required link between form time and instruction time.  While form time was seen to be useful in the junior cycle and especially in first year, its value for all years should be examined.  The option of having a single form-time period every week should be considered.  Pastoral aspects of form time are considered in Section 5 below.

 

Most lessons are forty minutes but there are three thirty-five minute lessons each day.  This creates some variations in the timetables of individual teachers and in the time allocation to subjects and classes, and it is recommended that a restructuring of the timetable on the basis of forty-minute lessons be considered.  The current form time allocation could also be reflected on as part of a timetable review.

 

The deployment of teaching staff is in line with their qualifications and specialisms.  The school has an allocation of 37 whole-time teachers, including an ex quota principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor.  In addition it employs a number of staff funded by the board, five of whom teach more than eighteen hours.  Efforts are made to give year heads a reduction in teaching hours out of available resources, and most have between eighteen and nineteen hours of class contact time.  This is potentially a useful concession and, if it were available to all year heads it could and should be written into the year-head role.  Apart from year heads, the average class contact time of all other permanent whole-time teachers is twenty hours, rather than the possible upper limit of twenty-two.  In addition, one individual timetable was below the minimum of eighteen hours although an amended timetable with additional resource hours was furnished at a later date, and some others exceeded eighteen hours only with the addition of form time.  The most valuable resource for the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum is the teaching allocation which the school receives and, in the case of Loreto Beaufort, this has been augmented by the additional teaching hours the school can provide with funding acquired through school fees.  It is recommended that senior management optimise the deployment of their available resources.  Curricular and educational priorities should be determined and agreed by the board of management in consultation with school staff and parents.

 

The school’s support staff, including reception, administrative, catering and maintenance personnel, make a valued contribution to the life of the school and carry out their duties with dedication.  The ICT expertise of members of the support staff was noted as especially valuable to communications within the school and between school and home.

 

The school’s large campus and building stock are well maintained, with an ongoing programme of expansion.  Most of the thirty-one general classrooms are spacious and well equipped and some have interactive whiteboards.  Following a recent change of practice, classrooms are now base rooms for teachers rather than classes.  They have generally been developed well as resources for particular subjects, and more detailed findings and some recommendations in this regard can be found in the related subject inspection reports.  The provision of laptops to teachers and of data projectors to classrooms indicates the board’s strong commitment to the integration of ICT into teaching and learning activities, and is commended.  In order to optimise these resources, all staff who are ICT-proficient and advocate extending its use in the classroom should be given the opportunity to share good practice with their colleagues.  The school library, which is well stocked, accessible and widely used, is ably managed by two part-time librarians whose remuneration is sanctioned by the board.

 

The school has shown commendable environmental responsibility, involving teaching staff, support staff and students in the Green Schools initiative.  This has had a significant impact on the school environment, and both the Litter and Waste flag and the Energy flag have been secured.  Work towards the Water flag is well advanced, and some useful research in relation to environmentally friendly travelling to school has been undertaken with the Travel flag in mind.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

A well-established culture of planning is evident in Loreto Beaufort.  Self-evaluation, which is one of the desired outcomes of school development planning, is a noteworthy feature of this culture, as exemplified in a recent review of the TY programme.  School management has engaged in forward planning both for the shorter and longer term, and the ten-year plan provides evidence of this.

 

The board initiated the process of school development planning (SDP) in September 1998, and over the years a school plan has been developed as a constant work in progress.  Wide-ranging consultations involving parents, students and staff have been integral to the process.  A number of subcommittees have been set up at different times to review policies on behaviour, assessment, pastoral care, critical incidents, and guidance; to review the mission statement; and to examine and make recommendations on various aspects of school development and organisation.  The current school plan was made available to the inspectors and contains details of policies and procedures, curricular provision, and the review process. 

 

The school’s planning documents and the procedures they describe reflect a keen awareness that the value of SDP lies in the cyclical nature of the process of planning, implementation and review.  A steering committee, which is chaired by the deputy principal and which functions in co-operation with the whole staff and school management, guides this continuous process.  The steering committee’s work in producing and reviewing on a yearly basis three very useful handbooks, for students, parents and staff, is particularly commended.  The exemplary process followed in the course of the review of TY in 2006-7 involved research, consultation, decision-making and implementation; the new programme is to be reviewed this year. 

 

All statutory policies are in place.  The school’s admission policy is admirably clear in setting out the order of priority of applicants and the enrolment procedures.  Commendably, it makes clear that pre-entry assessments have no bearing on acceptance of a student and take place after enrolment.  However, two aspects of the admissions policy require emendation.  Firstly, there is a reference to the possible deferral of a student’s enrolment until resources deemed necessary for that student are in place, and this must be removed to comply with legislation and to reflect the school’s inclusive policy.  Secondly, in describing the programmes available to students, it should be made clear that the school’s TY programme is mandatory.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 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’s safety policy and statement are reviewed every year.  Recent additions to the safety procedures include a signing-in process for visitors to the school, who are issued with visitor badges, and the installation of a CCTV system and security gates.  Current projects include the installation of a defibrillator, along with training in its use.  Subject areas with specialist rooms have their own health and safety procedures, and notices of these are displayed in the relevant areas.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

The school offers a broad and generally balanced curriculum through three programmes: the Junior Certificate, a mandatory Transition Year (TY) and the established Leaving Certificate.  When asked about the possibility of introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), the board reported that there had been no expressions of interest in it from parents or students.  However, the range of subjects offered in the senior cycle is well suited to the LCVP.  It is suggested that the school management refer to the web site for a full description of the programme (www.lcvp.slss.ie) so as to consider its appropriateness to the student cohort and be in a position to inform parents fully in this regard.

 

A very small number of students have sought exemption from the study of Irish, and it was reported that students educated previously outside of Ireland are encouraged to take the subject, a commendable policy.

 

All subjects are offered at higher and ordinary levels, and very occasionally at foundation level where this is deemed appropriate.  Almost all students sit higher-level papers in most subjects in the Junior Certificate, and more students take higher level than ordinary level in all Leaving Certificate subjects except Mathematics.  Levels of attainment are high, with few grades lower than C across the range of subjects. 

 

Most subjects in the junior cycle are taught in mixed-ability classes, and this is commended.  Where separate ability groups are formed, rotation of teachers so that they teach the full range of levels and cycles is the general rule.  This good practice should be followed to the greatest possible extent in the interests of deepening and broadening the expertise and experience available within each subject department.

 

In the junior cycle, students take nine core examination subjects including Science, Religious Education and a modern European language.  Timetabling of these subjects is generally satisfactory, with Mathematics receiving the most generous allocation throughout the cycle.  However, the timetabling of a double lesson for modern languages, which has occurred in first year, should be avoided in the interests of more regular contact with the subject throughout the week.  As the school is mindful of gender stereotyping in relation to subject choice school management should consider the possibility of introducing subjects such as Technology into the junior cycle.  The school’s junior cycle curriculum also offers the required non-examination subjects for which good timetable provision is made, including Physical Education and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).  Drama and choir are timetabled on a modular basis in first and second year, and this provision is commended.

 

The review of TY already mentioned followed the appointment of the present programme co-ordinator and was undertaken to address the over-dependence in the programme as it had developed in the school on Leaving Certificate material and traditional approaches.  The action taken to rebalance the programme towards the aims outlined in the relevant Department documents, including the circular letter M1/00 and Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools is commended.  The present combination of core subjects and of modules covering eighteen options and activities is in keeping with the spirit of the programme and places an appropriate emphasis on experiential learning and the development of life skills.  However, recommendations in some of the related subject inspection reports indicate that further rebalancing within the core subject plans is required, and this should be prioritised in the context of the continuing process of review.

 

In the Leaving Certificate programme, students take four core subjects including a modern European language, and usually choose three other examination subjects from up to fifteen possibilities.  Three science and three business subjects are offered, and efforts are made to ensure that subjects continue to be offered even where the uptake is relatively small, for example in the case of German.  Commendably, a double period of Physical Education is timetabled in fifth and sixth year, providing balance within the academic timetable.  Religious Education and modules of Guidance, drama, choir, and computer studies, add further breadth and balance to the curriculum provided for students in fifth and sixth year.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

Prior to entry into first year, students select two out of five optional subjects and the option blocks are then formed on a ‘best fit’ model.  French was compulsory until this year when, in response to students’ and parents’ requests, first-year students were offered a choice between French and Spanish for their mandatory modern language.  It is commendable that all students study one modern European language, and have the option to study German also.  Home Economics and Business Studies are by far the most popular optional subjects in the junior cycle.  A taster programme was run in first year some years ago but was reported to have had little impact on the choices made by students.  However, a limited taster programme running for the first half-term would give students some experience of all five options currently available and should perhaps be considered in the interests of promoting informed choice.

 

Options in fifth and sixth year also follow a ‘best fit’ model, and three option blocks are created.  At present, Classical Studies is offered outside these blocks and outside normal timetabled hours, and uptake is increasing in the subject as an additional higher-level option.  Although the uptake was reportedly very small when the subject was offered within the option blocks, consideration could be given to raising its profile again within the school, and its inclusion as a module in TY is commended.  Up to last year, students chose their fifth-year options at the end of third year, and this compromised the delivery of the TY programme, leading to its being viewed as the first year of a three-year Leaving Certificate rather than a discrete programme.  Commendably, Leaving Certificate subjects are now chosen towards the end of TY. 

 

The school describes itself, and is perceived, as an academic school in the sense that it provides the traditional curricular programmes to students who generally perform well in the state examinations and proceed to third-level education.  This perception is reflected in school documents such as the computerised report cards which place a strong emphasis on examination success.  The tendency for teachers to use the now obsolete terms “honours” and “pass” also reflected, perhaps unconsciously, a traditional academic mindset.  Given the school’s mission of care for all students, and the efforts made to include and support the diversity of students, it is recommended that school documents and procedures be proofed, and amended where necessary, so that they consistently promote the building of self-esteem in all students, including less academically able students.  In addition to this, all those involved in advising students in relation to the choice of appropriate level should convey clearly and supportively to students and their parents that the ordinary level course is not to be regarded merely as the safe or fall-back option but is in fact the optimal educational choice for some students, providing them with real opportunities to develop as confident and independent learners.

 

Students and parents reported satisfaction with the assistance and information given in making appropriate subject choices.  Some latitude is extended early in fifth year to students who feel that they have chosen the wrong option, although senior management expressed the view that the timely information and wide curricular range offered in TY should give students ample opportunity to make an informed choice.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

A varied programme of activities is offered, including a diverse range of sports, as well as music, debating, public speaking and drama.  In addition to the games strand of the Physical Education syllabus, an after-school sports programme is offered in which all students are encouraged to participate.  While competitive sport is of its nature selective, and a few parents expressed minor concerns about students feeling ‘left out’, the contribution it makes to school pride and esprit de corps was convincingly demonstrated during the period of the whole school evaluation when the school took the Leinster Senior Hockey title.  During this time, rehearsals for the TY musical involving the entire year were also taking place.

 

The school is endeavouring to meet the commitment within the Kolkata guidelines to developing students as agents of social change in a variety of ways, including a Justice and Peace group which raises awareness of social inequality and injustice, and the Green Schools initiative which is highly visible and successful in the school.  A school trip to Kolkata in 2007 has had a considerable impact on students, and the school has a long-standing tradition of supporting Loreto initiatives in the developing world, providing the students with practical goals for their fundraising activities.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

School management facilitates regular meetings for the purpose of subject development planning.  Minutes are kept of all meetings held and this is commended.  Members of all subject departments meet formally and some subject departments reported also holding regular informal meetings.  A spirit of co-operation and collaboration prevails in all the subject departments evaluated.  The co-ordination of Mathematics and SPHE are voluntary positions, while the co-ordination of Science is part of an assistant principal’s post.  The question of subject co-ordination as a responsibility within the post structure is discussed in Section 1.3 above.  The German department is at present a single teacher department and meets with other modern European language departments for language-specific planning.  The co-ordination of Mathematics is rotated and it is suggested that the co-ordination of other subjects also be rotated to ensure that all teachers gain the experience of the co-ordinator role and share the responsibility equitably. 

 

The quality of long-term planning documentation varied across subject departments.  A very cohesive approach was evident in many of the subject departments whereby teachers all follow the same topics at the same time with their respective groups.  However, long-term plans for Mathematics consisted mainly of schemes of work in the form of chapters to be covered within set timeframes and, as such, need to be further developed. There is also scope for further development of the subject plans for Science, while planning for SPHE needs to identify specific learning outcomes for each year group together with the content, teaching and learning methods, resources and possible modes of assessment.  The planning documentation for German was generally very good. It is suggested that the inclusion into the plan of the range of methodologies actually used and of learning outcomes in terms of can-do statements would further enhance subject planning for German.

 

Planning for the Transition Year programme for both Mathematics and Science needs to be reviewed as current planning and practice involves the teaching of specific elements of the Leaving Certificate programme in a traditional way geared towards the state examination. 

 

Some praiseworthy cross-curricular activities have been integrated into the planning for SPHE and German.  The annual review of SPHE to assess its impact on students and the planned students’ review of the programme represent very good practice.  The Mathematics department is commended for its involvement in Team Maths and in Irish Junior Mathematics Competitions.  Teachers are currently planning to participate in World Maths Day.  The encouragement given to science students to participate in BT Young Scientists’ Competition, the Biology Olympiad, science quizzes and Science Week events is also commended.

 

There was evidence of detailed individual preparation and planning for all the lessons observed. 

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

The quality of the teaching and learning observed in the course of the evaluation is commended throughout.  Lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. The sharing of learning intentions with the students of Mathematics and Science is commended, and this good practice should be extended to all subject areas.  There was good use of resources and materials in many of the lessons observed, including the interactive whiteboard, work sheets, quizzes and games.  The appropriate and, in some instances, innovative use of ICT in Mathematics and Science lessons is also commended.  Greater use of ICT is recommended in German and in some Science lessons, as a means of linking the concepts to be learned with everyday life.

 

The use of a variety of methodologies integrating the different language skills and supported by exemplary use of the target language by both teacher and students is highly commended in German.  The use of active and experiential learning activities including question and answer sessions, brainstorming, discussion and small group work is commended in SPHE. A predominantly traditional approach to the teaching of Mathematics was observed and, although effectively enacted, greater use of more active and student-led methodologies is recommended to respond to the high levels of mathematical ability observed.  Optimum benefit from the use of question and answer sessions was observed in Mathematics and SPHE lessons, where the open and probing questions used called for higher-order thinking processes.  Good sequential learning strategies were observed in German and Science, leading to a building up of skills and understanding within the lesson.

 

A very high standard of student behaviour and a positive learning environment engaging the students prevailed in all of the lessons observed. There were high expectations of students in all lessons and they responded accordingly in their engagement with and enthusiasm for the subject.  Interaction with the inspectors revealed students to be confident, motivated and articulate, and their responses indicated high levels of competence and mastery of the skills being taught in the different subjects.

 

4.3          Assessment

Learning in all subject areas is monitored using a variety of practices including oral questioning, worksheets in class, project work, homework and, in most instances, end-of-topic tests and formal examinations.  The German and mathematics departments are commended for setting homework regularly, correcting and recording it promptly and ensuring that students write corrections into their copybooks.  Good practices were also observed in Science, where there is a discrete Science homework policy. 

 

Very good record keeping of student progress was also observed.  A variety of assessment modes is used to promote student reflection in SPHE: these include self-assessment and peer-assessment tools, and some home tasks involving discussion with parents or guardians.  Class-based exercises are completed in their textbooks which provide a record of the themes and topics discussed during lessons.  Records of student progress are also maintained.  This is commended.  There are formal tests for examination subjects.

 

Teachers of SPHE attend parent-teacher meetings to report on students’ progress, and this is good practice.  To complement this, current plans to include SPHE in the school reports should be implemented without delay.  Good systems for recording and communicating students’ progress were noted in all the subjects evaluated.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

The steps taken within the school to provide support for students with special educational needs (SEN) are acknowledged.  A special duties post with a remit to co-ordinate the delivery of special needs support is in place and the current post-holder is qualified in guidance counselling.  However, as already noted in a previous section of this report, the school has no qualified special needs teacher.  Renewed efforts should now be made to recruit or train a teacher for SEN provision, as the appointment of a qualified SEN teacher would best fulfil the school’s educational and caring mission.

 

As a Catholic fee-paying school, Loreto Beaufort does not receive a general learning support allocation from the Department.  However, a number of its students are in receipt of resource hours arising out of identified special educational needs, and the Department has allocated six teaching hours per week for language support for students with English as an additional language (EAL).  The school itself provides a number of other students with additional numeracy and literacy support.  These are usually identified through the assessments administered to incoming first-year students, which include approved standardised tests and a school-devised assessment in Irish.  Good liaison with feeder primary schools and information from parents also assist in determining the supports that may be required.  The school’s special needs policy places great emphasis on communication with and consent from parents in relation to all aspects of SEN provision for their daughters.  Students may also receive additional support arising from teachers’ recommendations and, occasionally, from assessment by the school’s guidance service.  Support for these students is provided by members of the teaching staff and is delivered through timetable gaps where students are exempt from Irish or do not take a modern language; through limited withdrawal from lessons in non-examination subjects; and, in some cases, through a reduced curriculum.  The provision of in-class support, for example through a form of team teaching, is recommended as an effective means of mainstreaming SEN provision, and this possibility should be further explored in the context of subject department planning for SEN.

 

The measures taken to ensure the inclusion of students with additional needs arising out of mobility and visual impairment are warmly commended.  The visiting teacher for the visually impaired reported that the school was exceptionally supportive, and there was ample evidence of the full involvement of these students in all aspects of school life. 

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

There is a whole-school approach to guidance, which is evident in the provision of educational, personal and vocational guidance throughout the school, and the input of the guidance service in many areas involving the management and support of students, including a key role on the school care team.  The school has a full-time ex quota guidance counsellor, and the board funds the provision of an additional eleven hours.  The guidance facilities available are very good: there is a guidance suite with a reference room and office, and the part-time guidance counsellor also has an office.

 

The guidance service is delivered in a well-planned, collaborative and professional manner.  A whole-school guidance plan has been drawn up and is reviewed every year.  It details the services provided to each year, for example through SPHE in the junior cycle and through modules in the senior cycle.  Students and parents are well informed in relation to senior-cycle subject choices through information evenings.  Commendably, the provision of guidance in relation to third-level options emphasises the enabling of students to access information and to make applications themselves, while maintaining an appropriate level of assistance through aptitude tests and meetings with individual students.

 

The voluntary position of form teacher predates the year head system and both roles have pastoral, administrative and monitoring aspects, which are described in the teachers’ handbook.  Form teachers meet their classes at daily form time, when checks on attendance, journals, uniform and books are scheduled to take place.  Form teachers may also use this time for motivational talks and team-building, and for observation of students who may be causing concern.  While all teachers may give “dockets” to students for breaches of the code of behaviour, it was reported that students take more seriously a docket issued through a form teacher.  The form teacher also hands out detention slips to students, although the year head administers and signs them.  In addition to this greater level of responsibility for sanctioning of students, year heads also manage whole-year issues, taking occasional assemblies and organising whole-year activities.  Both form teachers and year heads may contact or be contacted by parents. 

 

The efforts of both form teachers and year heads to promote and affirm positive student attitudes and behaviour are recognised and commended.  However some further demarcation of the roles of form teacher and year head is indicated so that the ladder of referral in disciplinary matters is clear to all, and the role of the year head is further consolidated within the post structure.  Such a review could also address some anomalies existing in the current form teacher and year head structure: for example, four year heads are also form teachers, in one case year head in one year and form teacher in another.  A further anomaly is that year heads move with their year groups within the junior and senior cycles (with the exception of Transition Year) whereas form teachers generally change from year to year, even though they have a greater opportunity to build a relationship with a group through the daily timetabled form time.

 

The school care team, consisting of the principal, the guidance counsellors and the chaplain, meets formally once a month, in addition to regular informal meetings and consultations, and has been in existence for three years.  Their specific focus is not so much on the general care needs of students but on particular students whose needs may require more specialised intervention and support.  Very good systems of communication exist between members of the team and form teachers and year heads, and students frequently approach the counsellors or the chaplain directly.  Referral to outside agencies occurs where deemed necessary, and the care team reported very good levels of support from the psychological services.

 

The Cool School programme which was introduced in the current academic year exemplifies both the good planning practices and care systems within the school.  The guidance counsellors heard good reports of its effectiveness in other schools especially in raising awareness of the more insidious forms of bullying behaviour.  A committee including members of the care team oversaw the programme’s introduction, organised a comprehensive evaluation of its effectiveness by students and staff and are redesigning elements of the programme accordingly.  The ‘peer buddy’ system, whereby a number of fifth-year students each look after four or five first-year students is another recent initiative giving practical expression to the aspiration to create a caring environment for students, and is warmly commended.

 

The position of school chaplain which is funded by the board and the presence of an oratory in the school is a further aspect of the provision of support for students.  The chaplain views herself as a “faith friend” to students and the chaplaincy service was observed to fulfil a need for many students who regularly visit the oratory.  Students were very aware of the open door policy of the chaplain and the guidance counsellors.  The school has also sought to support students of other religious traditions, for example by providing them with a space for private prayer appropriate to their beliefs.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The Loreto Order’s Kolkata guidelines place noteworthy emphasis on leadership development and participative management structures, and the school management displayed a keen awareness of these principles and a desire to implement them.

·         The board of management fulfils its duties conscientiously and professionally.

·         The school principal and deputy principal operate as an effective and competent senior management team, sharing aspects of the senior management role while each having designated areas of responsibility.

·         A particular strength of the school is the wealth of opportunity given to students to develop self-discipline and a sense of responsibility for themselves and others.

·         A well-established culture of planning is evident in Loreto Beaufort.  Self-evaluation, which is one of the desired outcomes of school development planning, is a noteworthy feature of this culture.

·         The school offers a broad and generally balanced curriculum.  Levels of student attainment are high.

·         The Green Schools initiative is highly visible and successful in the school.

·         The quality of the teaching and learning observed in the course of the evaluation is commended throughout.

·         The school’s guidance and care services are very well organised and delivered with great commitment.

·         The measures taken to ensure the inclusion of students with additional needs arising out of mobility and visual impairment are warmly commended.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         A thorough review of the schedule of posts of responsibility should be conducted, with a particular focus on the assistant principal role and the duties appropriate to it, including those of year head.

·         The function and management of the daily form time should be examined to ensure that it can be counted as part of the required twenty-eight hours of instruction time and as part of teachers’ class-contact hours.

·         The school’s admission policy should be amended as detailed in Section 2 above.

·         The TY programme should be further rebalanced to address any continuing over-dependence on Leaving Certificate material and traditional approaches, in line with the relevant Department circulars and guidelines.

·         Renewed efforts should be made to recruit or train a teacher for SEN provision, as the appointment of a qualified SEN teacher would best fulfil the school’s educational and caring mission.

 

 

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:

·         Subject Inspection of German – 8 February 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 29 February 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Science and Physics – 26 February 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Social, Personal and Health Education – 28 February 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Published December 2008

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management, Senior Management and staff of Loreto High School welcome the Whole School Evaluation Report.  The process has been a positive and affirming experience for the entire school community.  The report highlights the excellent standard of teaching and learning in the school, the high level of student attainment and the broad and balanced curriculum.  The Board is very pleased with the very positive subject reports and wishes to commend the Maths, German, Science/Physics, SPHE departments in the school.

 

 

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

 

The Board welcomes the recommendations made by the Inspectors.  These recommendations are being addressed and the Board wishes to thank the Inspectors for their professional and courteous manner during the Whole School Evaluation.