An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Sancta Maria College

Ballyroan, Dublin 16

Roll number: 60341P

 

Date of inspection: 27 April 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007

 

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

1. Introduction

2. The quality of school management

3. Quality of school planning

4. Quality of curriculum provision

5. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

6. Quality of support for students

7. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

8. Related subject inspection reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management 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.

 

 

 

1.         Introduction

 

Sancta Maria College is situated in Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16. The school was originally a preventorium for children with or at risk of tuberculosis. When the preventorium closed and as the local population increased, the Mercy order opened a secondary school for girls in the building in 1960. A large extension was added in 1979 to cater for the growing school population. The school is currently nearing the end of stage two of a building project with the Department of Education and Science (DES) which will involve demolishing the preventorium and adding a new building on that site and refurbishing the existing school.

 

School enrolment has decreased from over nine hundred students to just over five hundred students in the last ten years. A number of factors were cited as being the cause of this decrease, including the building of a new community school nearby, competition from fee-paying schools and changing population trends. Nevertheless, it is hoped that enrolment in the school has stabilised and should increase in future years. This is due to an increase in fifth-year enrolments, an increase in the size of Transition Year (TY), and to increasing enrolments in feeder primary schools, especially after first class. Students mainly come from the local feeder primary schools but are also now coming to the school from further afield. It was suggested by the board of management that six hundred and thirty students was the optimum enrolment for the school. Stabilising numbers, new outside facilities and the prospect of a new school building and refurbishment should ensure the future growth of the school.

 

 

 

2.         The quality of school management

 

2.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The Mercy philosophy of education focuses on the development of the full potential of each student, and, in particular, those who are disadvantaged or marginalised. There is considerable evidence that this philosophy is being lived out in Sancta Maria College.

 

Sancta Maria College is a Catholic school under the trusteeship of the Sisters of Mercy. Our aim is the holistic development of young women in a caring Christian environment. Our college strives to be a centre of academic excellence where each child is helped to achieve her full spiritual, physical and emotional potential in preparation for life. This is achieved through the partnership of staff, students and parents.” The above mission statement is truly reflected in the school’s policies and practices and in the atmosphere that pervades the school. An acute awareness of the need to live out this mission was in evidence from all members of the school community. For example, new staff members are inducted into the ethos of the school and the rationale behind school policies.

 

The school is Catholic in ethos but caters for students of other faiths and those with none. Nevertheless, it strongly promotes its religious ethos and aims to develop the faith of its students. The focus on faith development is led by senior management and developed by the school chaplaincy service and the committed religious education team in the school. Opportunities are provided for daily prayer and there are regular religious liturgies.

 

The vision of the school, articulated by many staff members, is to maintain high academic standards and pastoral care for it students as well as to provide quality religious education. There was evidence that the school strives to meet the needs of each individual attending the school. While there is a very definite focus on academic excellence, the school also caters well for students with particular or special educational needs. Students of a wide range of abilities work harmoniously with their teachers and fellow students. Therefore, the school is very inclusive. This was borne out through observation of daily interactions between students and their teachers, and through discussion with parents and students. The holistic development of students is provided through a range of co- and extra-curricular activities provided by the college. The school retains the vast majority of students from junior into senior cycle which is further evidence that it is meeting the needs of its students.

 

At the time of the evaluation there was evidence of happy students, a professional and caring staff and of a breadth of experiences provided for students.

 

2.2          School ownership and management

 

The Mercy order is in the process of handing the trusteeship of their schools over to Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust (Ceist). The trustees currently oversee the operation of the school through monitoring financial accounts and examination results and providing training for board members and for staff on ethos-related issues. The trustees also fund the position of chaplain. The trustees are commended for ensuring that the land surrounding the school remained available to the school by selling the land to the local GAA club on the basis that the school would have access to the facilities developed on the site. A Code of Practice for Mercy Schools sets out guidelines on safe and good practice when interacting with students to enable a “safe working, learning and study environment and to enable the enriching experiences students and young people gain from positive interaction with staff within the school.” There was evidence that this code was being implemented.

 

There has been a board of management in operation in the school for the last twelve years. This is the last year of the three-year term of office of the present board. The composition of the board conforms to requirements and the board members have a broad range of skills which gives strength to the overall management of the school. Training has been provided for board members by the trustees, from the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) for secondary schools and from union bodies for teacher members. The board meets monthly during school time and accounts are provided on a bi-monthly basis.

 

The board entrusts the principal with the day to day running of the school, while it works on macro issues including the new school building, management of finances, and management of human resources in light of decreased enrolment. The board has had to make difficult decisions in this regard, but it is commended for appropriately basing its decisions on the best interests of the students and the curriculum. It was reported that consensus is reached in any decision-making process, but that this consensus is often reached following much debate.

 

The board approves all policies. The present system is that policies come as drafts to the board which it then scrutinises and makes changes to, if required, before ratification. The board funds a school librarian and it was reported that most requests for resources to the board from staff for the enhancement of their subjects are met.

 

While the board is aware of its functions and has stated priorities, it needs to ensure that all legislative requirements in relation to policies are in place. While there are procedures for admission in place, there was no Admissions Policy available at the time of the evaluation. The board should ensure that this is developed and ratified as a matter of urgency to meet legislative requirements. The policy should include a section on transfer of students into the school in mid cycle, as this is a situation that occurs quite regularly. In addition, the board must ensure that there is a health and safety officer on the staff.

 

The priorities of the board were stated as being safety and security of staff and students, and the building project. The former priority is because of the many accesses to the school so that it becomes a through road for many pedestrians. The board plans to re-launch the school when the new building is underway to increase enrolment. It is recommended that the school strategically promote itself immediately rather than waiting any longer. While there is excellent communication to parents about school activities, it is recommended that the school promotes its achievements to the outside school community more frequently. This could be achieved in many ways and would be beneficial now, especially in securing numbers for future years. The development of the school website should help in this regard.

 

The practice has developed over the year that as a post of responsibility becomes vacant, the staff decides what the needs of the school are in terms of the next post and then creates a job description for the post. This has the effect of disempowering senior management and the board of management when it comes to determining the post structure. This is not in accordance with Circular PPT29/02 which states that the board of management of each school shall, following consultation between the principal and staff, “determine the duties which need to be performed for the effective internal management of the school and the distribution of these duties between the available in-school management posts”. While it is correct procedure for the principal in consultation with the staff to prepare a draft schedule of posts, it is the duty of the board of management “to determine the schedule of posts”. Therefore it is recommended that the board should take the lead in determining the schedule of posts of responsibility for the school.

 

Members of staff and of the parents’ association receive an agreed report from the board of management after each meeting and the board also liaises with staff at school functions and through the interview process. There is good practice in that the parents and staff members on the board carry out their role as members of the board as opposed to representing the relevant interest groups. Any correspondence from these groups must come through the secretary of the board who also gives a principal’s report at each meeting.

 

The parents’ association in the school has been active for approximately twenty years. The association has experienced a recent increase in membership following the holding of its annual general meeting on the same evening as the first-year induction evening for parents. The parents’ association is mainly involved in fundraising and has organised many activities including fashion shows, race nights and Christmas fairs to raise funds to improve the resources within the school. For example, it has funded new flooring in the school. The association is consulted around relevant policies and school developments. It and the board of management communicate with the general parent body via the school newsletter which is published at least four times each year. It was clear that parents are very well informed about school activities through regular newsletters and other correspondence to parents. Parents were aware of the systems and structures in the school. It is suggested that the school journal be used more regularly as a conduit between parents and teachers through the expectation that parents and tutors or year heads sign the journals on a regular basis.

 

 

2.3          In-school management

 

The principal takes a strategic role in the organisation of the school, is responsible for teacher deployment on the timetable, oversees the new building project, and leads school development planning, as well as being involved in some more immediate issues including supervision of lunchtime detention each week. The deputy principal is largely responsible for the day to day running of the school. Her duties include responsibility for supervision and substitution, checking student lateness, administering subject lines on the timetable, organising the house examination timetables and organising parent-teacher meetings, placement of students in class groups and having a presence throughout the school. Many of these duties should be reassigned as the deputy principal, in particular, has a large amount of duties. Both members of senior management liaise with staff, students and parents and both are in daily communication with each other which is good practice. In addition, both members of senior management have a vision of what needs to be done to improve the school further.

 

While many of the posts of responsibility meet the current needs of the school, it is now timely to examine the overall post structure in the school in place of the practice mentioned earlier in this report. The staff has identified a prioritised list of possible future posts which is commended, but evidence from the evaluation indicated that there are some existing posts which are not of a sufficient management role or may no longer be relevant to the immediate needs of the school. It is therefore recommended that a whole school review of the posts of responsibility be immediately organised. This review should be led by the board and senior management. It is important for staff to be consulted in this review in line with existing agreements. The ultimate needs of the school and the post description should be decided by the board in consultation with senior management.

 

When it comes to identifying the job description of the post holders, this should be agreed between management and the individual post holder as outlined in the circular PPT 29/02. The circular also outlines that there should be periodic review of posts to “review workload and responsibilities associated with the performance of the duties – to ensure that the duties performed are reasonable and proportionate to the allowance; review in the context of the changing needs of the school; review of the level of performance of duties.”

 

There was some evidence of a middle management structure in the school in that year heads have much autonomy over their year groups. Other assistant principals cover a range of duties from audio-visual equipment organiser to responsibility for attendance. Not all year heads are assistant principals and those who are not, generally share responsibility for a year group. The year heads have a clearly defined role and are empowered to take responsibility for their year group. Assemblies are held for each year group at regular intervals throughout the year and year heads are involved in hosting these assemblies. Year heads are in receipt of thirty minutes non-class contact time for each class group managed. Some other posts of responsibility dovetail very well with the role of year heads, including the post for induction of new staff, the anti-bullying post and the post for attendance. This is commended. It is recommended that senior management meet more regularly with post holders, and especially assistant principals, to discuss management issues in the school on a formal basis and to develop further an in-school management team in the school. The fact that such a meeting has already occurred once is a good start. Such meetings would also be beneficial to year heads to ensure consistency of administrative procedures, an area for improvement that was identified by the year heads themselves.

 

Both members of the senior management team, i.e. the principal and deputy principal, have been appointed within the last four years and staff and members of the school community are adapting to different management styles from the old to the new. This has proven a challenging process at times but there was evidence that building good relationships with staff is of importance from the point of view of senior management and efforts to achieve this are commended. Appreciation was expressed by staff that they are empowered in decision-making and that their opinions are valued. Management was described during many meetings as being approachable and supportive of new initiatives. An example of such an initiative is the breakfast club which is run by and for fifth years in conjunction with a member of staff. Management is commended for its efforts to be inclusive of staff in the decision-making process. Minutes of staff meetings also reflect good discussion on a wide range of issues. The staff is consulted about items on the agenda for staff meetings. There was evidence of regular staff meetings. In addition, a brief meeting is held at the end of the school day on most Thursdays. It was reported that these meetings are very useful and include meetings between year heads and class teachers.

 

Management of new staff is highly commended as there is an induction day organised for all new members of staff, where they are briefed on the operations of the school and given a handbook outlining relevant policies and information.

 

The management of students is also highly commended. The discipline code, reviewed very recently, is very transparent and its stepped approach is reportedly very effective. There is a definite ladder of referral and a strong awareness was shown by all staff of the code of discipline. There are clear procedures in place for dealing with suspension and expulsion. In addition, the code emphasises commendation and affirmation of good behaviour, and achievements are celebrated at assemblies, in newsletters and during the presentation of awards. Evidence gathered over the course of the evaluation indicated that students are, in the main, well behaved and well managed. There was a strong work ethic in evidence during the course of each school day, with student behaviour on corridors very good. In addition, students were well presented in terms of uniform. Observation of conduct and detention books indicated mainly low level incidents of discipline. However, there was evidence that any such incidents or more serious incidents are dealt with effectively by the school. Although it was reported that a small number of students are consistent offenders when it comes to lateness, there was evidence that the majority of students attend class and school on time. The clear attendance and punctuality strategy in the school is working quite effectively. The school is currently investigating the possibility of recording absences electronically with the availability on the market of new technology.

 

Many links are created with the outside community. This is often achieved through making the school available in the evening for night classes and for rehearsals for the Dublin Youth Orchestra, through links with feeder parishes and through links with feeder primary schools. The collaboration between the local GAA club and the school is an example of very good partnership between the school and the outside community. Essentially the school has gained access to three new pitches.

 

Overall, there was evidence that the school is operating effectively. All staff members showed a good awareness of the needs of the school and there was evidence from examination of school documentation and from meeting with various staff members that the school engages in self-evaluation and review of particular issues.

 

2.4          Management of resources

 

The deployment of teaching staff is, on the whole, satisfactory. Members of staff are generally deployed within their subject specialities although there are some non-specialist teachers teaching Physical Education (PE), a practice which should be reviewed. The staff is consulted in May as to the teaching of programmes and subjects and management attempts to facilitate staff in this regard. Because the school is facing being over quota by almost five teachers, senior management will have, in future years, further challenges in relation to the deployment of teachers. It was reported by the teachers themselves that the teaching of levels is rotated fairly among subject teachers. However, it is suggested that a policy on the rotation of programmes and levels be developed in consultation with management to ensure transparency. Teachers carry classes from second year into third year and from fifth year into sixth year. This is good practice. A large number of teachers are involved in providing a small number of resource classes to students with special educational needs (SEN). This is not an optimal situation from a co-ordination point of view, although it does create an awareness of SEN among a broader range of staff. It is recommended that efforts be made to deploy a smaller group of teachers to cater for the needs of students with SEN. Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) teachers are generally also teachers of History or Geography, which is good practice. Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) has been introduced onto the timetable for first-year students this year for the first time. This is to be welcomed, as it is important that the requirements as outlined in Circular M11/03 regarding programme provision are adhered to. A core group of teachers with expertise in this area delivers the programme which is also good practice.

 

There was evidence of very good and effective systems in place which ensure the smooth operation of the school. Such systems include the effective operation of the tutor/year head system, the guidance system and the pastoral care system. In addition, there was evidence of capacity building in some areas of school organisation such as the school timetable so that the system for organising the timetable is no longer reliant on one individual. This is good practice.

 

There have been staff development days on mixed-ability teaching, reporting procedures, on school development planning and on changes in the senior cycle curriculum. Staff members are facilitated to attend inservice and the staff is consulted on possible staff development days. This is good practice. Teachers access funding for their subjects through filling in requisition forms which are submitted to management. It was reported that rarely are requests refused and that the system is working well.

 

The oratory is central to the life of the school in keeping with its ethos. The school also has a well stocked library which is regularly used by students. The school finances the position of librarian and the library is run efficiently and very well promoted. Students are encouraged to borrow books and to read for pleasure. Year heads have access to offices although they cannot phone mobile phone numbers from these offices, which is anomaly that should be rectified. There is a clear delineation of duties between the two administrative staff in the school.

 

 

All parties in the school identified improving facilities and resources as a challenge for the school. Many of these new resources will become available with the acquisition of the new building and some windows were replaced in the current school building under the department summer works scheme in recent years. There are plans for the building of new classrooms and specialist rooms, new offices, a new PE hall and refurbishment of existing accommodation. The school now has access to an astro-turf pitch which is also used for tennis, and will soon have access to two other full size pitches and a gym. The school grounds are well maintained.

 

At present, there are seventy computers in the school with just ten of these being described as up- to-date. There are two computer rooms in the school and most of the remaining computers are housed in the library, resource room, staff room and career guidance room. The school also has only two data projectors and one laptop. The management of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is one area where there is a need for capacity building as September and October returns, computerised timetabling and maintenance of ICT resources fall within one remit. It is therefore recommended that some capacity building take place in this area. Some continuous professional development in this area would be of value to the school and is also recommended, as there was little evidence of the integration of ICT into teaching and learning. The principal has identified the development of ICT resources as a future priority and it is recommended that efforts be made by management to upgrade existing ICT now which can be easily transferred to a new building. There is a college website which is in the process of being developed. This is commendable as it will promote the school and be a link with the outside community. In addition the computers and internet use policy is almost ready for ratification.

 

There was much evidence that students were not conscientious in tidying and cleaning their classrooms. Students must be made constantly aware of the need to tidy their rooms as this culture of untidiness could otherwise transfer across the whole school including the new building. In addition, the appearance of the school is of paramount importance in maintaining an attractive learning environment and attracting students to the school. The fact that there is no canteen in the existing school and therefore students eat their lunch in their classrooms is undoubtedly a contributory factor to this untidiness.  This will be rectified in the new school. In addition, the voluntary recycling programme in first and second year and the work of the students’ council and teachers are acknowledged as efforts to alleviate this problem.

 

A health and safety audit was conducted in November 2005 and a number of areas received attention as a result. A Safety Policy was ratified in March 2006. However, there is no health and safety officer in place and there is no clear system in place for reporting health and safety hazards which is an area which needs immediate attention.

 

 

 

3.         Quality of school planning

 

The formal school development planning process began late in Sancta Maria and only in recent years has the school plan begun to take shape. In 2005, a facilitator from the school development planning initiative (SDPI) was invited into the school to address the staff on planning issues. The staff prioritised subject planning as an area for development, and planning meetings were facilitated by management. It is intended to have further inputs from the SDPI at future staff events to continue the planning process in the school. The principal has taken on the responsibility for leading school development planning within the school and for co-ordinating policy development.

 

The code of discipline mentioned earlier was reviewed and improved in the last two years and is reported to be working very effectively. The school community has also collaborated to review and revamp the school journal, to examine the use of the school uniform and to review the use of prayer during tutor time. The review of the junior cycle curriculum in 2005/2006 is another effective example of school planning. This has led to a further review of Transition Year this year. In all these examples there has been a tangible product which has contributed to school improvement, the ultimate aim of school development planning and is commended. A number of policies have been developed or are in the process of being developed in the present school year. This is done in a collaborative way with teachers being consulted on their policy and planning priorities. Members of staff volunteer to sit on committees to develop policies. This is good practice. Time is set aside during staff development days and after staff meetings for policy development.

 

Policies, including the pastoral care policy, code of behaviour, uniform code and anti-bullying policies have been ratified and are communicated to the students and parents through the very useful student journal. Other policies including the safety statement, policy for a smoke-free workplace and the dignity at work policy have all been ratified. Parents, students and the board of management are all consulted before the policies are finally ratified by the board which is in keeping with good practice. Good practice was also seen in that the students’ council was responsible for the development of the jewellery policy in the school.

 

Senior management and staff have identified the development of an Admissions Policy, a Special Needs Policy and a Guidance Plan as areas for development. Drafts are available of the latter two policies. Work should continue in order to ratify the latter two policies as these are required by law. One lacuna which still remains is the absence of an Admissions Policy and it is recommended that this be prioritised as a matter of urgency. The staff has also identified relationships and sexuality and religious education, internet use, substance use and student record keeping, a critical response policy, an emergency response policy and a vetting policy as areas for development. Drafts of these policies are available and the policies are dated and include review dates, which is good practice. It is recommended that these be finalised and ratified as soon as is possible. As a result of the planning process, staff has identified the need for first aid courses as a priority and it is intended to provide such a course for staff in the near future. In all cases, it is clear that the mission of Sancta Maria College underpins the policies.

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

 

 

 

4.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

4.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The principal takes responsibility for the deployment of staff on the timetable, as is appropriate. The timetable itself is designed in house by members of staff with expertise in this area. The timetable design is highly commended as seen from the awareness of the need for the timetabling of core subjects every day, the concurrency provided for many subjects and the awareness shown by those drawing up the timetable of the issues and complexities involved. All inspectors commented favourably on the timetabling arrangements for the subjects inspected. First-year, TY and LCVP students have timetabled computer classes; first, second and TY students also have timetabled Speech and Drama classes. Singing is also provided in junior and senior cycle. It is clear that the needs of the students are prioritised when organising the curriculum. There was evidence of a good awareness among senior management and those members of staff with delegated responsibility for timetabling of the importance of projecting a needs analysis into the future and of the implications of retirements and declining numbers. A clear awareness of the need to plan for the future was also demonstrated in terms of succession and transfer of knowledge around designing the timetable.

 

The school is faced with the challenge of continuing to provide a wide range of subjects on its curriculum even though student numbers have declined. On the whole, the school offers a broad and balanced curriculum as seen from the fact that it provides the majority of the programmes available. In addition, a wide range of optional subjects is available for students to choose from. There is a good commitment to the teaching of languages in the school: the school is offering three modern European languages to first-year students from 2007/2008 and up to now has offered four. In addition, it has participated in the DES Language Initiative. Japanese is currently taught in TY, the school has an Italian language assistant and Italian is taught by a member of Sancta Maria staff in the main feeder primary school. Good practice is evident in that all students must study a European language.

 

The school is commended for its recent review of junior cycle. This came about from a recommendation in a Department History inspection report about increasing the number of History periods at junior cycle level. In the course of the review several timetabling options were examined and teachers considered moving from an eight to nine class period day. After a survey it was decided to abolish the taster of all subjects offered in first year and students must now choose two subjects from Science, Business Studies, Art, Music, German and Home Economics. There is recognition that some students may complete junior cycle with no experience of either Science or Business Studies. As a result both subjects are now compulsory in TY in order to ensure that students have experience of these subjects prior to fifth year.  It is recommended that the curriculum and timetable be kept constantly under review, and the effects of the recent changes be evaluated in future years.

 

Lessons are forty minutes long and there are forty lesson periods per week. On four days each week, fifteen minutes are used for tutor contact time with students where the register is called and pastoral care issues are dealt with. There is no tutor time on Thursdays to facilitate a twenty minute meeting for staff around relevant issues. The school is currently providing twenty-seven hours of instruction time per week and is, therefore, not in compliance with Circular M29/95, Time in School, which sets down that the minimum instruction hours per week is twenty-eight. It is recommended that the school increase its instruction time to twenty-eight hours each week to comply with the circular.

 

There was clear evidence that the needs of all students in the school are addressed as it was reported that, in the main, students are facilitated with their first subject choices. First-year students make their subject choice in the spring of sixth class after being notified of this choice the previous November. Fifth-year students make their subject choices the preceding Easter. They have an open choice; choosing four subjects from an open list. Class groups are created based on the students’ choices. This is excellent practice. Parents and students reported being very happy with the range of subjects and programmes in the school. In addition, the school is very accommodating of students who wish to change subjects or programmes. A very clear system of ensuring that students make the most appropriate subject choices has been developed in conjunction with the guidance service and there is regular communication to parents.

The programmes offered by the school are the Junior Certificate, Transition Year, the Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).

 

The LCA is coordinated by the assistant principal for co-ordination of posts, while Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are both coordinated on a voluntary basis. It is recommended that the programme coordinator role be expanded to include the coordination of LCVP. All three programmes are well co-ordinated and students were well informed and aware of their options, if they choose a programme. It is clear that there is constant review and monitoring of the programmes and priorities are identified for the future. All three programme coordinators have met together to discuss common issues including insurance and work experience. This is good practice. LCA and TY students all embark on work experience, while LCVP students are currently provided with opportunities for work shadowing.

 

TY students have opportunities to participate in the annual TY musical, and a range of other activities. There is a good link with the nearby boys’ school in that girls attend this school in TY for Technical Graphics while boys attend Sancta Maria College for Home Economics. TY students go on a trip at the beginning and end of the year. Work experience is organised and students do community care. The TY programme contains clear evidence of excellent planning and review. The programme is divided between core academic subjects which are studied throughout the year and courses offered on a modular basis. The success of the TY is seen from the increased number of students wishing to follow the programme.

 

An example of the inclusive nature of the school can be seen in that the LCA students are integrated with mainstream fifth and sixth-year students for tutor time and for some religion classes. Students who follow the LCA generally do so with great success and it was reported that this year all LCA students are pursuing Post-Leaving Certificate courses. The programme has also attracted students from other schools. A cornerstone of the programme is the constant review and improvement to practices in LCA. Good practice is seen in that there is an evening for LCA students and their parents held each year.

 

The link modules for LCVP are currently timetabled parallel to Physical Education which means that a large number of senior cycle students are missing out on this aspect of the curriculum which is to be regretted. However, the programme is in compliance with all relevant circulars and there is good vigilance to ensure suitable subject choices for those who wish to follow this programme. It was reported that examination results in the link modules have been successfully used by students for gaining points in their pursuit of further studies. Good practice is seen in that the LCVP enterprise activity takes the form of a fundraising event for charity. This year the enterprise was a Talent Show for students.

 

The manner of student placement in class groups is commended. Students are placed in mixed-ability class groups in first year and are then divided into higher and ordinary level for English, Irish and Mathematics in second year. One class group which works at a slower pace is formed for English in second and third year and the school is considering introducing this for Mathematics also, if existing resources allow. In addition, the SEN team would like to see setting taking place during first year for Mathematics. This is a good example of forward planning and taking the needs of the students on board.

 

 

4.2           Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The principal initially visits feeder primary schools to speak to prospective students about the school and about subject choice. Students make their subject choice prior to entry to the school; generally in sixth class. An information evening is then arranged for parents of incoming first-year students in the November prior to entry, and a description of the subject options is given to students and parents to inform their choice. An induction night is held for first-year parents in September where parents are briefed on the school facilities, pastoral care and learning support facilities among other things. There are two information nights for third-year students: one for third years going into TY and another for third and TY students going into fifth year. This latter information night informs parents of their daughter’s choices regarding programmes and subjects. Sixth-year students from all programmes run a subject fair or ‘subject information’ morning for third-year year and TY students where students discuss their subjects and chosen programmes. This is excellent practice.

 

Students and parents are given information by programme coordinators about available programmes after third year. All students are met individually by the guidance department to discuss options and are given advice as to their best option. In addition, students are facilitated to move between programmes or subjects, if at all possible, if they feel they have made a wrong decision in fifth year. The manner in which students and parents are informed about subjects and programmes is exemplary and the work of the school in this regard is highly commended.

 

4.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Parents and students expressed a high level of satisfaction with the range of activities offered by the school for students. Such activities include student exchanges to European countries, participation in debating in many languages, the annual skiing trip, other organised trips, retreats and helping the underprivileged.

 

The school has created good links with Europe and further afield and has developed a keen European awareness. There is good participation in student and teacher exchange programmes: trips are organised to the European parliament as part of the Euroscola project, Europe days are held in the school, the school participates in Comenius projects, and a number of foreign visitors, including ambassadors, have visited the school. The school is also welcoming of students of different nationalities attending for part of a year or for longer. For example, there have been visiting students from Mexico and Korea. Students from TY and fifth year can participate in the Kenyan project where a group of students and teachers spend two weeks in the summer working with trustee run projects there. In preparation for the Kenyan project students have to submit essays detailing why they would like to be chosen for the trip, are interviewed for the project and have to fundraise. TY students are all involved in the annual school musical which has been running for many years. Teachers in conjunction with students organise evenings to showcase students’ talents. Such evenings include a talent show and the annual arts evening. There is also an annual arts exhibition in the school. The school has a choir which participates in a range of local and national events. Students also participate in a range of competitions pertaining to their curriculum.

 

There is a good range of extra-curricular activities offered by Sancta Maria College. Sports activities include Gaelic football, camogie, hockey, tennis, badminton, athletics and basketball. The school has many sporting achievements and uses local facilities for training and match purposes including local GAA clubs, leisure centres, the basketball arena and other local schools.

 

There is good balance between sporting and non-sporting activities to cater for the needs and talents of all students in the school and the willingness of staff to give of their time to nurture these talents is highly commended.

 

 

5.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

5.1   Planning and preparation

 

Subject department planning has been incorporated into the School Development Planning (SDP) process. Formal subject department meetings are facilitated twice per year and the proceedings of these meetings are recorded. In all cases, the minutes of these meetings indicate that a range of relevant issues is discussed and that many subject departments are reflective and self-evaluative. Informal meetings between subject department colleagues take place on a daily basis and this level of interaction is commendable. A good sense of collegiality and cooperation was noted in all subject departments where there is openness amongst teachers and a willingness to work as a team. This was particularly the case in the language areas and in PE.

 

Most subject areas do not have subject coordinators or convenors, although in some subject areas there is a level of coordination happening on an informal basis. It is recommended that subject departments appoint a coordinator, perhaps on an annual rotating basis, to further enhance the development of the subject department planning process. This should help to ensure that subject planning can focus on both the short and long-term issues influencing its development. There were some excellent examples of well-structured and comprehensive planning documentation. In the language areas, schedules of topics, learning outcomes and course-content are agreed for each year group, which is commendable as this ensures consistency of practice across all classes. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all subject areas to ensure that course syllabuses are appropriately covered at the relevant stages of students’ progression through school.

 

The school operates a requisition system for the purchase of resources. Applications are made through the board of management for approval and this system was reported to be working well in most cases. Some subject departments demonstrated high levels of innovation and initiative to develop a range of resources to support teaching and learning. In such cases, a diversity of stimulus material has been compiled including those accessed through subject specific websites, which support planning and preparation for the learning outcomes identified in the syllabus. This good practice should be extended to subject areas, where possible, particularly where there is an over reliance on the textbook. Furthermore, subject departments should access and integrate the diversity of resources and strategies available from ICT, as an aid to support their work in the classroom. A challenge remains for some subject departments to establish a system whereby teachers share the diversity of successful teaching and learning strategies, assessment methods and share the development or acquisition of suitable resources to support each aspect of subject provision.

 

In relation to long-term planning, it is recommended that subject departments in conjunction with senior management focus on issues that require strategic planning and whole school review. Such issues include strategies to increase the uptake of certain subjects such as German and Science, a review of how students in receipt of exemptions in Gaeilge are catered for and a review of practices in Physical Education (PE) such as the timetabling of the subject for all sixth-year students and a review of the practice of deploying non-PE specialists to teach the subject.

 

 

5.2   Teaching and learning

 

There was a high standard of teaching and learning in the majority of lessons observed in Sancta Maria College. In the majority of lessons there was very good preparation to ensure that materials and resources were available prior to the commencement of lessons. It was noted in all cases that teachers have established efficient techniques for recording attendance and for general classroom administration that help to optimise the time available for teaching and learning. In many cases, teachers began lessons by introducing the topic or theme of the lesson and sharing the intended learning outcomes with the students. This good practice is commendable, as it helps students to remain focused on these outcomes as the lesson progresses and by providing them with tangible targets for their learning.

 

Inspectors found that most lessons were well structured and paced to suit the ability levels of the students. A diversity of strategies was used to promote learning and some excellent examples of active methods were found in most lessons. Teachers are commended for their efforts to promote the target language and students’ development of technical language. In language classes, the constant use of the target language encouraged students to apply their linguistic skills to communicate with each other and respond to questions and tasks confidently. The competency of teachers was also noted in most cases, and their knowledge, skills and experience provided models of excellent practice for student learning. However, some exceptions were noted in the range of strategies employed in practical subjects. In these cases, it is recommended that teachers use a greater diversity of methods to improve students’ active engagement with the subject matter.

 

In most cases, there was good oral questioning to determine students’ knowledge and understanding of a topic. In some cases questions were supported by well constructed worksheets to help consolidate learning. Best practice was observed when questions were directed to students by name and differentiated according to the student’s level of ability. Equally, skilful questioning assisted students to use their existing knowledge to further develop their understanding of the topic of study. It is recommended that teachers continue and expand on this good practice as such practice informs students of their importance as  members of the class, ensures that they remain attentive and helps determine the rate of learning and understanding of the topic.

 

Practical activities were appropriate to the syllabus and ensured that students’ skills levels were developed. However, it is recommended that students are appropriately guided and assessed to draw conclusions from their practical experiences to consolidate their learning.

 

The range of resources and materials to support individual, paired and group work in most subjects is commendable. A good balance was observed between whole class teaching and group work, with frequent opportunities for students to engage with one another. In most cases, teachers used a variety of stimulus material to introduce, assist and reinforce learning. Good use was also made of the blackboard as an aid to record student responses and to demonstrate key techniques. Students were encouraged to record items from the blackboard to consolidate their learning, which is good practice. It is recommended that teachers use existing technology, such as data logging equipment, when appropriate in their classes. In addition, there is scope for use of ICT to support and further enhance the range of effective teaching and learning strategies. 

 

In all cases, there was clear evidence of warm student-teacher rapport. Students were mature and respectful towards each other and their teachers and demonstrated good application and behaviour in lessons observed. Classes were firmly managed and, in most cases, teachers affirmed students’ engagement and efforts in the learning process. This is commendable practice as students who regularly receive positive affirmation view their efforts as worthwhile and their contributions as valuable in the creation of a positive learning environment.

 

In most cases, students were knowledgeable and confident in their responses to questions asked by inspectors. Work observed in practical notes and homework copybooks indicates that students are advancing well in their studies. It was also found that teachers challenge their students and encourage them to attain to the best of their ability, as evidenced by the numbers taking higher level in most subjects. An analysis of state examination results against national averages and uptakes of various levels is conducted by the trustees education office, presented to the board of management and made available to staff for examination.

5.3   Assessment

 

Formal house examinations for all non-exam classes take place twice per year, at Christmas and in summer. Excellent practice is seen in that during Christmas examinations block teaching takes place for third-year, sixth-year and LCA Year One class groups.  TY students practise for their musical at this time. TY students are formally assessed in Irish, English, Mathematics and a European language in end of term examinations and modular subjects are assessed throughout the year. They are awarded credits during the year for assessment, participation and attendance and for work experience.

 

Examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations in the spring. Results are reported to parents twice per year and the school hosts a parent-teacher meeting for each year group once per year, in line with standard practice. Applications are made for students granted Reasonable Accommodation in state examinations in good time and students are supported in practising using assistive technology, which is commended.

 

In most subject areas, a comprehensive range of formative and summative methods are used to assess students’ progress including questioning, completion of worksheets, completion of practical assignments and end of topic tests. Students are frequently assessed throughout the year and receive regular feedback regarding their progress. Language students are assessed across the four key skills of reading, writing, oral and aural competency. It is recommended that oral competency be included in junior cycle classes’ assessments and that marks be awarded for this language component as part of the end of term assessment. Furthermore, it is suggested that Science students be awarded marks for their practical note copies as part of their end of term grade.

 

Homework was regularly assigned in most subject areas. There were some excellent examples of annotated feedback in students’ homework copies. This good practice provides students with informed comment on their strengths and areas for development, which helps to focus their learning and expansion of this practice to all lessons is recommended. It is commendable that some subject departments have documented a range of possible assessment methods that may be used including self- and peer-assessment, video recordings and the compilation of student portfolios of learning. The development and deployment of these methods are commended. After school study is offered by the school four evenings a week. As the school does not currently have a homework policy, it is recommended that this be prioritised to enhance the system in the school.

 

 

6.         Quality of support for students

 

6.1          Students with special educational needs

 

There is a strong and committed department which caters for students with special educational needs (SEN) and there was clear evidence that these students are valued in the school. Teachers support students with learning, emotional and social needs in keeping with the mission statement of the school.  The resource and learning support allocation is used to create an extra line on the timetable in second and third year for students to study English at a slower pace. It is hoped to introduce this for Mathematics also. Students are also withdrawn in small groups or individually for extra help in certain subjects and those with exemptions from Irish generally receive support at this time. The allocation is also used to employ a counsellor six hours a week to help students with emotional difficulties. In addition, the allocation is used to keep the numbers in LCA class groups small so that these students can receive close attention. There was evidence that the resource allocation of 2.91 and the learning support allocation of 0.5 was fully utilised for the maximum benefit to students. Consideration should be given to the introduction of team teaching in some classes where there are a number of students with learning support or special educational needs.

 

There are good procedures in place to identify students with SEN or students who may need learning support. These include visits to feeder primary schools, collection of psychological reports, liaison with parents and identification through the school’s ‘entrance skills test’ procedures. It is suggested that the ‘entrance skills test’ be renamed as it suggests that the school is screening students when in fact the school accepts all students. Excellent practice is in use in that students with assigned resource hours meet the SEN team prior to entrance to first year and are orientated into the school. Students are further tested in September of first year to identify any students with literacy difficulties. Such students who do not qualify for resource hours but show evidence of reading difficulties are monitored until after the first term. The learning support English class usually caters for these students in second year.

 

A care meeting takes place on a weekly basis attended by members of the SEN, guidance and pastoral care departments as well as the deputy principal. Observation of one such meeting was evidence of the very good care that students in the school receive in a coordinated way from the various parties who attend the meeting. It was clear that efforts are also made to foster strengths and to push students to strive to reach their highest attainable level. Gifted children are referred to the Centre for Talented Youth in Dublin City University.

 

The resource room in the school is a hub of activity where a number of teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) can be seen working with different groups of students. This room is also used by students at lunchtime or break time, if they have issues they wish to discuss or for vulnerable students or students who are new to the school.

 

There is a co-ordinator of resource teaching in the school who meets with special needs assistants (SNAs) on a weekly basis. The role of the special needs assistants in the school is central to supporting students. Their role is clearly defined, all have a qualification in SNA and they work with students during lessons, or on a withdrawal basis to support students in whatever way they can.

 

There is a draft special educational needs policy that should be ratified as soon as is possible so that the wider school community is fully aware of the very good procedures in place for supporting these SEN students. The policy identifies the stages of support and the role of the various parties who provide learning support and resource teaching. There is a clear division of roles between the co-ordinators of learning support and resource teaching and evidence of good co-operation. Efforts are being made to develop individual education plans (IEPs) for all students with special educational needs and it is recommended that the SEN team continue to develop these IEPs.

 

It was reported that there is good communication between support and mainstream teachers and that subject teachers are regularly briefed on strategies for dealing with SEN students in their class groups and on students with particular needs. Communication also takes place as necessary with outside agencies.

 

6.2          Other supports for students: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

 

The school supports disadvantaged students in a number of ways in keeping with the Mercy tradition. For example, the school pays for the books and uniforms of needy students and provides soup and a roll at lunchtime to those who may not be able to afford this. The administrative staff continue a tradition of providing hampers to the needy at Christmas.

 

A small number of Traveller students attend the school. The school has a very good record of caring for these students and of retaining them to Leaving Certificate and links have been made with the visiting teacher for Travellers.  

 

The school caters for international students by hosting an international day which is a celebration of food and dance from Ireland and the countries of origin of these students. In addition, a welcoming committee has been organised where a member of the student council takes responsibility for helping each international student new to the school to settle in. A small number of Muslim students attend the school and the school reportedly has refined its uniform and religious education policies to cater for these students. These are further examples of the inclusive nature of the school.

 

The school has an allocation of 0.62 for newcomer students. The school also provides some English as a second language (ESL) support to a number of students who attend the school for one year as part of exchange programmes. These students are generally in TY. Currently the allocation of timetabled hours for these students is organised by the SEN department. It is recommended that the coordination of ESL teaching and of newcomer students be decoupled from SEN and become an area in its own right. The organisation of ESL teaching needs to be re-examined. Currently there is no school based assessment procedure to identify the level of English of these students, there is no dedicated room available for teaching these students and there is a lack of resources for supporting teaching. Students whose first language is not English and who are in receipt of resource hours for ESL from the Department of Education and Science should be withdrawn for English language support at least four times each week according to ability level, preferably in small groups. A dedicated coordinator of this area could rectify some of the gaps identified above and also ensure regular liaison with English teachers and other teachers in the school. Strategies could also be developed to communicate with the parents of these students who may not have English. It is recommended that Integrate Ireland Language and Training www.iilt.ie  be contacted for advice in this area.

 

 

 

 

6.3          Guidance

 

The guidance service in the school is divided between junior and senior cycle. This is a new departure this year and one to be highly commended. There is a clear division of roles between the junior and senior cycle guidance counsellors which are well defined and there is very good communication and passing on of key information between them. In keeping with best practice students receive guidance and support from first year through to sixth year and there was evidence from the students and parents that this support is much appreciated and that students are very well informed. Students also receive individual counselling from the department or from the outside counsellor on a needs basis. Students are referred for counselling by tutors or year heads or by self referral and the guidance counsellor refers on students to the school employed counsellor. Study skills seminars are also organised by the guidance service and students are brought to relevant careers talks and seminars. There is one guidance suite in the school and the guidance service has discussed with senior management requisitioning other space in the interim period before the opening of the new school.

 

A member of the guidance department attends the weekly care meeting and there is very good liaison with the chaplaincy service and the SEN department as well as with year heads and tutors. The department has a very good system in place to support students. All first-year students are met individually by the guidance and chaplaincy services. The department liaises with first, third and TY parents at information evenings and meets parents individually if needs be. Second and third-year class groups are briefed on study skills and stress management and second-year students are also met in groups of three. Third-year and TY students are met individually to discuss subject choice and sixth-year students are met individually before filling out the Central Admissions Office (CAO) forms. Formal timetabled classes of guidance are provided from TY onwards which is commendable. The service has recently introduced tracking of students on leaving schools. This was previously only done for SEN students.

 

The guidance plan is also being developed in the school and overall the guidance service in the school is highly commended.

 

6.4          Pastoral care

 

 

The roles of tutor and year head are of paramount importance in the pastoral care of students in the school. Both roles are very clearly defined with tutors having a pastoral and administrative responsibility while year heads are involved in discipline, pastoral care and administration. Each student belongs to a base class which meets its assigned tutor four days a week. Year heads are also available at this time to deal with specific students. Year heads are proactive in communicating with home if needs be and overall there was evidence of a caring staff who work well together to care for the students. The position of anti-bullying co-ordinator is seen to be very important as a preventative measure and anti-bullying seminars have been organised for all year groups. There is excellent liaison between all teachers and students involved in providing pastoral care.

 

The school community benefits from a full-time chaplain provided by the Mercy order. This promotes the Mercy spirit in the school and is of vital importance in the pastoral care of students. This service organises a ‘Rainbows’ programme and a ‘self-esteem’ workshop for first years. In addition, there is a religious education team in the school which is proactive in organising liturgies, such as the sixth-year graduation Mass and other events in the school.

 

A guidance counsellor and chaplain visit feeder primary schools to gain relevant information about incoming students who may be in need of emotional and behavioural support. This is a separate visit to the SEN team visit. This is good practice as it means that the school can attempt to put the necessary supports in place prior to entry to the school. An induction day is organised for all first-year students on entrance to the school and again in September which reportedly provides students with the skills to enable them to make the transition from primary to post-primary education. The students are inducted into the ethos of the school and ice breaking activities take place.  A ‘Cara’ or mentoring programme is organised between sixth-year and first-year students and these sixth-year students are involved in the induction day as well as meeting their assigned first-year student once a week for fifteen minutes. Good practice is seen in that where possible students from the main feeder primary school are paired with students who acted as that student’s ‘Faith Friend’ for their confirmation. There is a first-year induction night held in mid-September for parents of new first years. As a result, teachers are very familiar with individual students from first year onwards.

 

There is a well-organised and long-established students’ council in the school which has a draft constitution, clear procedures, a well-defined role and which meets at lunchtime on a monthly basis. Like so many other students, the members of the students’ council were very positive about their school. The student council has been involved in ratifying relevant policies including uniform and discipline and was involved in the drawing up of the jewellery policy. The students’ council has also led a promotion of tidy classrooms campaign and it is urged to continue with this campaign. It has also been involved in establishing the ‘welcoming committee’ for new students. The members of the students’ council, and indeed all students with a particular role in the school, are easily identified through badges. There is a student council member elected from each class  group which means that issues can be discussed with the class group during tutor time. The head girl, deputy head girl, a prefect representative and staff representative also sit on the council. The liaison teacher has brought issues raised at student council level to the staff for discussion.

 

There is also a prefect system in the school. Prefects organise a coffee morning for first-year students as part of their induction and provide peer support for one junior cycle class each among other duties outlined. Prefects are elected in an interesting and very educational way by staff and students, by proportional representation. The election of the prefects and the procedures for conduct of the student council are examples of lifelong learning for the students. The qualities of prefects and head girl are clearly laid out for staff and students.

 

Awards are organised at half yearly intervals and the achievements of all students and good attenders, regardless of ability, are reportedly recognised at this time.

 

Overall, the pastoral care policy in the school is a reflection of the supportive environment in which students in the school are educated. It aims to nurture in students spiritual, academic and physical care and is implemented throughout the school’s daily work.

 

 

7.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The Mercy philosophy of education is truly being lived out in Sancta Maria College. The school’s mission statement is reflected in the policies, practices and atmosphere that pervade the school. An acute awareness of the need to live out this mission was in evidence from all members of the school community.

·         There was evidence that the school strives to meet the needs of each individual student attending the school. While there is a clear focus on academic excellence, the school also caters well for students with particular or special needs. There was evidence of happy students, a professional and caring staff and of a breadth of experiences provided for students.

·         Board of management members have a broad range of skills which gives strength in the overall management of the school. Parents were aware of the systems and structures in the school and communication between the school and home is very good. Many links are created with the outside community.

·         Both members of senior management carry out their duties efficiently and effectively. Both have a vision of what needs to be done to improve the school further and both are very supportive of new initiatives.

·         The majority of posts of responsibility serve the needs of the school well. Some key areas of responsibility are delegated as is appropriate.

·         The staff is empowered in the decision-making processes.

·         New staff members are well inducted into the life and ethos of the school.

·         Students are well managed and well behaved. The discipline code is very transparent and its stepped approach is reportedly very effective. There was a strong work ethic among students in evidence during the course of the evaluation.

·         There was evidence of very good and effective systems in place which ensure the smooth operation of the school.

·         The new school building, the refurbishment of the existing building and the development of excellent outdoor sports facilities are welcome developments for the school.

·         The planning process has contributed to tangible changes and improvements in the school.

·         The timetable and process of timetabling is highly commended and serves the students well. There was evidence of a strong awareness of the importance of projecting a needs analysis into the future.

·         The school offers a broad and balanced curriculum and the majority of available programmes are offered. These programmes are well co-ordinated and are kept constantly under review.

·         The arrangements for students’ subject choices are excellent and the fact that students get their first choice of subjects is commended. Every effort is made to inform and facilitate students in the area of curriculum choice.

·         There is good balance between sporting and non-sporting activities to cater for the needs and talents of all students in the school and the willingness of staff to give of their time to nurture these talents is highly commended.

·         A good sense of collegiality and cooperation was noted in all subject departments.  Many departments are reflective and self-evaluative and there were some excellent examples of well-structured and comprehensive planning documentation.

·         There was a high standard of teaching and learning observed in Sancta Maria College.

·         Inspectors found that most lessons were well structured and paced to suit the ability levels of the students. A diversity of strategies was used to promote learning.

·         In all cases, there was clear evidence of warm student-teacher rapport.

·         Student work observed indicates that students are advancing well in their studies. It was also found that teachers challenge their students and encourage them to attain to the best of their ability.

·         There is a strong and committed department which caters for students with special educational needs (SEN) and there was clear evidence that these students are valued in the school. The school supports students with learning, emotional and social needs in keeping with the mission statement of the school in a variety of ways.  It was clear that efforts are also made to foster strengths and to push students to strive to reach their highest attainable level.

·         The school supports disadvantaged students in a number of ways in keeping with the Mercy tradition. It caters for international students and makes many efforts to include them in the school from the outset.

·         The guidance and counselling service in the school is highly commended. The department has a very good system in place to support students.

·         The pastoral care of students in the school is exemplary and is a reflection of the supportive environment in which students are educated.

·         There is a well-organised and long-established students’ council in the school which has a draft constitution, clear procedures, and a well-defined role.

 

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

 

·         The school should examine strategies to promote itself to the outside school community more frequently to secure enrolments.

·         The board of management must ensure that all legislative requirements in relation to policies are in place and in particular the Admissions Policy which should be developed and ratified as a matter of urgency. In addition, the board must ensure that there is a health and safety officer on the staff.

·         The board should take the lead in determining the schedule of posts of responsibility for the school.

·         It is recommended that all post holders, and especially assistant principals, meet more regularly with senior management to discuss management issues in the school on a formal basis to develop further an in-school management team in the school.

·         It is recommended that a whole school review of the posts of responsibility be immediately organised. This review should be led by senior management and the board. The job description of the post holders should be agreed between management and the individual post holder and periodically reviewed. Some of the deputy principal’s duties should be reassigned.

·         Work should continue in order to ratify the draft policies that are being developed and it is recommended that a homework policy be prioritised for the future.

·         It is recommended that subject departments appoint a coordinator, perhaps on an annual rotating basis, to further enhance the development of the subject department planning process. Subject departments in conjunction with senior management should focus on issues that require strategic planning and whole school review such as curricular provision and strategies to increase the uptake of certain subjects such as German and Science, a review of how students in receipt of exemptions in Gaeilge are catered for and a review of practices in Physical Education (PE) such as the timetabling of the subject for all sixth-year students and a review of the practice of deploying non-PE specialists to teach the subject.

·         It is recommended that efforts be made to deploy a smaller resource teacher team to cater for the needs of students with SEN. Work should continue to ensure the development of IEPs for SEN students.

·         Efforts should be made by management to upgrade existing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) resources and to build capacity among staff in this area.

·         There is a need for diligence among students in the maintenance and cleanliness of classrooms.

·         It is recommended that the curriculum and timetable be kept constantly under review and that the school increase its instruction time to twenty-eight hours each week to comply with the circular M29/95.

·         It is recommended that the coordination of ESL teaching and of newcomer students be decoupled from SEN and becomes an area in its own right. The organisation of ESL teaching needs to be re-examined.

 

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.

 

 

8.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of Physical Education – 20 April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Gaeilge – 24 April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of German – 26 April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Science – 27 April 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report    

 

 

Sancta Maria College is delighted at the acknowledgement that Sancta Maria is an excellent school serving a wide range of students.  The report recognises the wide subject choice, the excellent academic results, the professional, dedicated and caring staff, the many varied extra-curricular activities and the happy community spirit in the school.  We are delighted that the first recommendation is encouragement to raise the profile of the school to proclaim the many excellent features of the school.

Specific points we should like to mention:  Consideration and implementation of the recommendations is on-going by management and staff.  However, there are surrounding issues that should be noted affecting some of the recommendations. 

Allocating only a qualified Physical Education teacher to Physical Education classes is not possible for us in the near future because of the teacher allocation given to us by the Department of Education and Science and because we block Physical Education for some classes; for example all 4th Year students have Physical Education at the same time for 3 periods in a row to facilitate a variety of activities.  For the near future, we will continue to allocate classes to the small number of teachers who have coaching experience and a commitment to sport.

The role of the Principal is narrowly described (2.3) and a list of the responsibilities of the Principal would be much longer. 

Planning for resource teaching for special needs students would be more effective if the Department of Education and Science were to change its method of allocating resources to facilitate the appointment of a core group of permanent resource teachers. 

The Science Department would benefit greatly from the services of a laboratory technician to prepare experiments, order glassware and chemicals, prepare solutions, order laboratory stocks and equipment and prepare, clean and maintain resources.  Teachers currently add all these tasks to their teaching duties. 

Over the years the school has done much from its own resources as opportunities arose to purchase and install computers.  Of the 58 computers currently in use in the school, 28 were funded by the Department of Education and Science. 90% of these 28 computers are now more than five years old and close to needing replacement.  For many years staff have skilled themselves and provided technical support.  It is imperative that the Department follows its own recommendations and gives more funding for resources and technical support.  

 

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.          

 

 

Staff has undertaken several initiatives (such as a leaflet drop into residential areas and additional signage) to raise the school profile.  Up-dating the school website has been completed. An increased allocation for ESL has facilitated separation from SEN.  A staff day has been organised for 7 December for staff deliberation on recommendations.