An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60500J
Date of inspection: 26 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Marian College was undertaken in October 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Marian College was founded by the Marist Brothers in 1954 at the invitation of the then Archbishop of Dublin. A house with grounds on Lansdowne Road was purchased to provide accommodation for the first phase of the school’s existence. After a concerted fundraising drive, a dedicated school building was completed in 1956. A separate block for a preparatory school followed in the early 1960s, and an indoor swimming pool, partly funded by the local authority, was ready for use in 1964. In 1967 the college joined the Free Education Scheme and in 1970 another storey was added to the main building to cater for an increasing enrolment. The Marist Brothers remain the trustees of the school and a number of Brothers live on site in the residence.
Marian College serves both the local areas of Ballsbridge, Sandymount and Ringsend, and a wider catchment area with access to the school by rail and bus. Three of its main feeder primary schools are local, one is in Rathmines, and one in the Dalkey/Glasthule area. The school analyses its intake according to area every year, and currently just over half its students are from the local area while the rest commute. Located close to both the embassy belt and the docklands, and describing itself as “the school on the DART”, Marian College has a very diverse mix of students, which it believes places it in a unique position in its southside location and which it cites as one of the school’s strengths. A long-running summer school, now discontinued, and an exchange programme with students from Marist and other schools abroad have brought an international dimension to the school over the years, and it now regards very positively the presence of newcomer students in the school. The school is the only non-feepaying voluntary secondary school for boys in Dublin 4 and on the southern rail corridor as far as Bray, and is a participant in the DEIS initiative (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools).
The educational philosophy espoused by the Marist Brothers underpins the mission statement of the school and informs its characteristic spirit. The school articulates its mission as providing “opportunities for excellence for all its students – irrespective of background or means – through the provision of an holistic educational experience which aims at the highest standards of learning and behaviour”. This mission is lived out through the school’s open admissions policy, the implementation of a code of behaviour that promotes respectful relationships within the school community, and the development of a range of supports to give all its students an opportunity to succeed at second level and to continue into further education and training. The school motto “Optimum optare” – translated as the pursuit of excellence in school documents – has been given concrete expression through a strategy for school improvement, involving a number of timed objectives, which has been developed with the teaching staff.
In reviewing the mission statement in January 2007, the board of management re-affirmed its commitment to running an inclusive and therefore non-feepaying Catholic school in the Marist tradition, to maintaining the current demographic mix, and to reviewing and developing the curriculum offered. The inspectors were struck by the staff’s very strong awareness of the school’s mission and vision and their many references to it at various meetings. The first section of the excellent Information Booklet and School Plan, a handbook prepared every year by the principal, describes the purpose, philosophy and attributes of a Marist school and the ways in which Marian College is seeking to live up to these. An ongoing initiative which has been facilitated through links with the Marino Institute involves all staff in an examination of the mission and function of a Catholic Marist school in the twenty-first century. This is an exemplary instance of reflective practice.
The parents’ association praised the caring and inclusive environment within the school and the student council spoke appreciatively of the good mix of students and the very supportive teachers. According to the school handbook, a Marist school does not define the success of one individual in terms of superiority over others. The wealth of photographs of school trips, sports teams, musicals and year groups displayed in the corridors is a visible expression of the great value the school attaches to collective attainment and esprit de corps. Sports and extra-curricular activities are seen as engines of inclusion by management, staff and students. The validity of this view is borne out by the presence of seven different nationalities on this year’s senior rugby team.
A board of management has been in place since 1988, coinciding with the appointment of the first lay principal. The current board was appointed in October 2005, and has a good balance between new and longer-serving members. It is properly constituted and all members are aware of the role and responsibilities of the board in the management of the school. Each has a copy of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) manual for boards of management and also a copy of the Information Booklet and School Plan referred to above. Staff nominees have attended ASTI training courses, and all members are offered the training courses run by the JMB. It was reported that the teaching staff and the parents’ association have no difficulty in finding members willing to serve on the board. The relationship between board and trustees is outlined in two schedules: the first deals with the division of responsibilities as regards the property on the site and the second with the philosophy and ethos of Marian College as it has been developed by the Marist Brothers and is now entrusted to the board. Cordial and supportive links between Brothers and school are evident in their continued involvement in the daily life of the school.
The board meets with commendable frequency, as many as ten times a year. The finance committee, a sub-committee of the board, also meets regularly and reports to the board at each meeting. The principal as secretary to the board takes very detailed minutes. A review of the minutes of the last six meetings gave clear evidence of a board that attends punctiliously to the details of its responsibilities as employer and manager, but also keeps the bigger picture firmly in focus. For example, along with items such as the ratifying of appointments to posts of responsibility and work on school policies, there are records of detailed discussions of the school’s mission and how best to fulfil it through further development of the school’s curriculum and facilities. Frustration was expressed at the difficulties encountered in trying to secure additional classrooms and a sports hall for the school, which the board views as essential for continued and secure growth. The board is clearly supportive of the principal and staff in areas such as the implementation of the disciplinary code, including decisions to permanently exclude students where deemed necessary. The board’s commitment to the continuing professional development of staff is shown in its support for staff development days and its agreement to release staff for secondments and study leave. The work of this dedicated and forward-thinking board is highly commended.
The school views the board of management as an expression of the partnership between the Marist Brothers, the teaching staff and the parents, and such a view requires good systems of consultation and communication. The chairperson of the board, who is a Marist Brother, and the principal are in very regular contact. The staff nominees give verbal reports of board meetings to the staff at meetings which are reported to be very well attended and which provide a forum for gathering staff concerns and responses which can then be brought back to the board. The parent nominees similarly report back to the parents association, which meets eight times a year, and this is also a two-way communication. While the board agrees that certain items discussed must remain confidential and these items are clearly marked as such in the minutes, no formal written agreed report is issued to the nominating bodies. The inspectors suggest that the board consider the merits of an agreed report.
The principal and deputy principal constitute an excellent senior management team. The principal clearly has a pivotal role within the school and is very highly regarded by the board, staff and parents as an able administrator and educational leader. He holds a review meeting with each member of staff at the end of the academic year. Both he and the staff view this as a valuable exercise and it is commended as exemplary practice. The principal and deputy principal share a strong belief in the Marist ethos as socially and educationally just, and discuss all major issues before agreeing on a course of action. In the day-to-day running of the school, they have defined areas of responsibility: broadly speaking the principal deals with staff issues and the deputy principal with student matters. The staff handbook gives an outline of both roles and also lists agreed areas of shared responsibility. They meet before the start of school each day and touch base regularly through the day as the need arises. They show a commendable level of co-operation and communication.
The school has six assistant principals and ten special duties teachers, and a programme co-ordinator post in respect of Transition Year (TY). A review of all posts takes place when a vacancy arises to ensure that the schedule of posts continues to meet the perceived needs of the school, and efforts are made to ensure that post holders are suited to and happy with their posts. Senior management consults the staff in this regard. This good practice is commended.
Five of the assistant principals are year heads, traditionally known in the school as deans, and one of these additionally shares responsibility for the TY group with the TY co-ordinator. All deans have timetable concessions to assist them in discharging their duties, and a small room has been set aside for their use. The deans’ involvement in the management of students is considerable, and brings respect as well as responsibilities. The sixth assistant principal post is assigned to the director of sport, a very significant area in the life of the school. This assistant principal is also the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator.
While responsibility for the management of students ultimately rests with senior management, it is largely devolved to the deans. One dean has responsibility for first year only, while the others move up through the school with their year groups. This combined system is working effectively. It has allowed the first year dean to develop expertise in issues relating to the transfer of students from primary to post primary and to establish a network of supports for them both within and outside the school through close links with the learning support teacher and the (HSCL) co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor. The other deans get to know students over a number of years and value this. It is normal practice that they teach their year group. In addition, they hold a number of assemblies during the year and organise events for their year groups to foster bonds and a group identity.
The deans, the principal and deputy principal, and the HSCL co-ordinator have a timetabled weekly meeting, referred to as the deans’ meeting. This regular communication is most commendable. While the deans’ role has traditionally been associated with discipline, they see it increasingly as assisting students’ progress and welfare as well as monitoring behaviour and attendance. The records of their meetings reflect both the disciplinary and pastoral aspects of their role, and the latter is considered further in Section 5. This report acknowledges the commitment of the assistant principals to the students, and the appropriateness of their duties to this post of responsibility. However, ways of further developing the assistant principals’ leadership role in the school should be explored, one possibility being a greater consultative and advisory role in areas such as curricular development. This would be in keeping with the terms of the Department’s circular letter PPT29/02 in which the duties appropriate to posts of responsibility are described, and would reflect the experience and expertise of the assistant principals in all three areas referred to in the circular: administrative, pastoral and curricular. Consideration could also be given to identifying the deans’ meeting as a school leadership team meeting, given that it is in fact a weekly forum for the senior management and the assistant principals.
The responsibilities of the special duties teachers are generally appropriate to the post, and involve areas such as the monitoring of attendance and the mentoring of Repeat Leaving Certificate students. In many cases, these areas of responsibility are directly linked to those of assistant principals or senior management. Although this is not unusual, it has given rise to some lack of clarity as to the scope and functions of some posts, and some overlapping. It is therefore recommended that all posts have a clear though not unduly prescriptive written job description, which will assist in the ongoing review of the schedule and its effectiveness. Where overlapping may have occurred, consideration should be given to assigning other duties to post-holders. In this regard, reference should be made to the indicative schedule of posts appended to circular letter PPT29/02.
The inclusive practices that are the natural continuation of the school’s open admission policy were clearly evident in both the classroom and extra-curricular activities. The code of behaviour is based on the right of each individual in the school community to dignity, fair treatment and respect, and is couched in positive terms. The school rules and disciplinary procedures are clearly stated and communicated to students, parents and teachers in the school journal and staff handbook. In order to strengthen the emphasis on the positive, it is suggested that the school rules be stated in affirmative terms as far as possible and that the journal be used to record commendations to students for good work and behaviour. The system of referral for serious misdemeanours is clearly set out, as is the system of discipline detentions, which the deans administer. Senior management and the deans encourage subject teachers, especially new teachers, to handle less serious incidents themselves in the first instance. These may be recorded in the student’s journal and in the dean’s discipline book, which is kept in the staffroom.
Sixth-year students elect a captain and vice-captain from a panel nominated by staff. These two, along with interested sixth years representing various school activities, form the student council. Fifth-year and Repeat Leaving Certificate Year students may be co-opted. Over the years, the council has represented students’ concerns effectively to management and the present council is an articulate and positive group. However, the school has identified a need to further develop the council’s role, including proposals to have members take on a representative function for each year group, and to set up a formal staff-student committee. The council itself should pursue these proposals as far as possible, with the support of senior management and the board. Contact with other student councils would be beneficial, as would participation in a training programme. A member of the Citizenship Education Support Team has a specific remit to support the development of student councils and further information can be obtained on the Civic Social and Political Education web site, www.cspe.slss.ie.
The parents’ association, known as the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), was formed in 1987 and all parents are deemed to be members. Its officers described it as a voice for parents and emphasised its consultative and supportive role. Two parents from each year group make up the committee, which meets monthly during the school year. The HSCL co-ordinator and the principal or deputy principal also attend and the parents find this very supportive. The parents’ representatives on the board are also committee members of the PTA and provide an effective line of communication between both bodies. The PTA organises talks for parents to raise awareness of issues such as healthy eating and safe Internet use, and these are advertised in the school newsletter. They sponsor a ‘Civic Award’ to recognise students who make an outstanding contribution to the community and support initiatives for the welfare of students. The officers said that attendance at the AGM and other meetings was lower than they would like. It is suggested that the PTA consider how best to encourage all parents to participate in its activities. In line with the school’s inclusive ethos and practices, the involvement of parents of newcomer students should be particularly encouraged.
Good lines of communication with all parents are established early. An open day takes place every year, and two meetings are held with the parents of incoming students. A monthly newsletter is produced by a special duties teacher for circulation to all homes. Senior management and the HSCL co-ordinator reported a high level of parent attendance at the parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year. Parent representatives were deeply appreciative of the level of interest in and knowledge of their sons shown by teachers at these meetings.
Very strong links with community organisations have been developed, in the sporting, educational and business spheres. The school’s proximity to the Lansdowne Road rugby grounds has provided sporting facilities and a source of income, and the school hopes that good relations will continue after the redevelopment of the stadium.
Student attendance is recorded in the first and last period every day. Poor attendance is not a major issue across the school but has been identified as more prevalent in certain year groups. A special duties post has recently been assigned to monitoring student attendance and the deputy principal also has particular responsibility in this area. The intervention of the HSCL co-ordinator where attendance is related to personal circumstances has also proved of significant benefit. The targeted approach to ensuring good attendance is commended.
The school week has thirty-eight periods, ten of forty-five minutes and twenty-eight of forty minutes, with a half-day on Wednesday. This does not provide the twenty-eight hours of instruction time stipulated in Circular Letter 29/95, “Time in school”. Wednesday afternoon activities, which are dealt with in Section 3 of this report, do not form part of the school’s timetabled hours. A committee to consider various adjustments to the timetable that would address the shortfall and accommodate the introduction of Physical Education (PE) met over the last academic year. Its efforts are acknowledged, as is the commitment of the board and senior management to meeting the Department’s requirements. However, the shortfall in instruction hours is an urgent compliance issue and must be addressed in next year’s timetable.
The school has an allocation of 30.36 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE), including a full-time guidance post under DEIS, an ex quota HSCL co-ordinator, two WTEs for language support to newcomer students and 1.77 WTEs for special needs, with an additional allocation for one special needs assistant. The resources to provide specific support to students are used effectively, and are dealt with in section 5 of this report. In a very few instances, teachers are slightly below the required minimum of eighteen hours of class contact, and this should be addressed in next year’s timetable.
The teaching staff is largely deployed in line with their subject specialisms. In some cases, teachers are teaching outside their subject areas because of a personal interest or to provide contact with a particular class group. While the discretion of senior management in this regard is acknowledged, best practice in the deployment of subject expertise should be borne in mind. Classes generally retain the same teacher from year to year within cycles and in particular from second year onwards. Management allocates teachers to programmes and to levels, taking into account teacher strengths as well as teacher requests. It is suggested that a policy on allocation be adopted which will permit all teachers to gain experience of teaching all levels and programmes in their subject areas at junior and senior cycle.
The school facilitates the teaching practice of a number of student teachers taking the postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE). These are mentored by established teachers and are given opportunities to observe the classroom practice of experienced teachers within the school. This very good practice is commended. A very good induction process is in place for new teachers: senior management guides them through school policies and procedures and a special duties post has been assigned to teacher induction. New teachers found the school an enabling work environment where they were well supported in dealing with challenging situations. The presence of a significant number of past pupils among both new and established teaching staff speaks to a strong sense of identification with the school, and fosters a high level of loyalty and commitment.
The board and senior management have identified future staffing needs in technology subjects and PE, based on their desire to expand the curriculum offered. The school has no qualified personnel in these areas and will need to address this if it is to offer these subjects in the future. The existing sports facilities are restrictive and require modification and improvement. For example, the school hall is small and its existing fixtures and fittings are a health and safety risk in a sports venue. The school has applied for a new sports hall and in tandem with this it would be advisable to work on the introduction of the PE syllabus. Both the syllabus and the guidelines are available at www.jcpe.ie.
The school is well served by its support staff, including secretarial, maintenance and cleaning staff. The board, senior management and teaching staff spoke very appreciatively of their contribution to the school, and in turn the support staff felt that their work was valued. The school buildings are maintained to a high level of cleanliness and, given their intensive use, this reflects very well on the efforts of the cleaning and maintenance staff.
The main school building has fourteen general purpose classrooms, three science laboratories, a computer room, a small hall with a stage, a guidance suite, a deans’ room, a small learning support room, a staff room and kitchen, and offices for the principal, deputy principal and secretary. The smaller block has six classrooms. The grounds contain a grassed area used for sports, a basketball court, a yard intended for recreational activity and a covered and heated pool. A building formerly used for Art has been considered unsafe and is no longer in use. Other classrooms have been temporarily assigned to Art but have to be used for other subjects as well.
The school has been active in its efforts to improve and renew the premises and facilities. An application to the Department under the Permanent Accommodation Scheme (PAS) was unsuccessful and a fresh application for four classrooms and a sports hall was lodged in August 2007. Through the Summer Works Scheme, toilet facilities have been upgraded and application has been made for the replacement of the windows on the rear elevations. An application to the Dormant Accounts Fund for monies to renew the surface of the recreation yard has been prepared, but is on hold, pending the outcome of the PAS application. All opportunities to improve the appearance of the back of the school should be pursued, since it is highly visible from the busy DART line and therefore better known to the general public than the very attractive and imposing front. The pool, which has an admission charge to the public and clubs, has been the focus of discussions between the school and the local authority, as the school is concerned about its continuing viability. The refurbishment of the laboratories was included in the PAS application, and this project is now earmarked for the 2009 Summer Works Scheme. In the interim, measures must be put in place to reduce obvious laboratory hazards and to bring the storage of chemicals into line with modern practice.
Most teachers have their own base classrooms and these are well resourced with televisions, videos, DVD and CD players, overhead projectors and other materials relevant to the subject. The school management is commended on this level of provision. Very good efforts have been made by teachers to develop a vibrant classroom atmosphere. Displays of student work, various professionally produced charts and subject-specific notice boards were evident in many rooms. Due to constraints on space in the school, the library is now a classroom. However, teachers have, to a certain extent, overcome this problem by employing various praiseworthy strategies to promote reading.
The computer room is available through a booking system. There are also three computers with internet access in the staffroom, which are used for downloading teaching materials. The school is currently being wired for broadband. Teachers have been provided with basic information and communication technology (ICT) training and management plans to provide them with additional training. The board has agreed to the provision of laptops for each teacher over a three-year period to enhance teaching and learning, a very praiseworthy move, and eleven laptops have been purchased to date. The school’s continued commitment to upgrading its ICT facilities and to providing ICT training for members of staff is noted and commended. The school has developed an excellent web site (www.mariancollege.ie) which is regularly updated.
The cyclical process of planning, implementation and review is well established in Marian College and speaks to a high level of reflective practice and self-evaluation within the school. While driven by the principal and the board, the planning process is collaborative and consultative. Records of staff meetings show that decisions on such matters as entry into DEIS are fully discussed and agreed before implementation. There is no planning committee as such, since the practice has been to place planning and policy issues on the agenda for staff meetings. From time to time, staff sub-committees are formed to work on particular issues and to present proposals to the staff for plenary discussion. Recent sub-committees have considered areas including discipline, curriculum, attendance and critical incident management. In this context, consideration could be given to appointing a planning co-ordinator to oversee such committees and to help progress policies to implementation stage.
The Information Booklet and School Plan referred to in Section 1 of this report is amended yearly and contains a number of policies and action plans. The preparation and distribution of a yearly plan is excellent practice. The policies listed include those on admissions; the code of behaviour and accompanying rules; disciplinary procedures including the ladder of referral and scaled sanctions; homework and assessment. Policies dealing with aspects of the school’s duty of care including those on bullying, sexual harassment, child protection and the management of critical incidents. School management and staff are commended for the thoroughness of their work on policy development.
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 board has identified a number of priorities, both short-term and longer-term. The major focus is on enhancing the future of the school through the achievement of the proposed building programme and the maintenance of the upward trend in enrolment. More immediate concerns include the updating of the safety statement and the phased provision of laptops to teachers as part of the development of ICT within the school. Consultation on an acceptable internet use policy is to begin this year. The board has brought a school vetting policy for prospective staff to its final stages, and cited the intensive discussions on this matter as a good example of their active engagement in policy development.
Clear illustrations of the school’s involvement in action planning are provided in the Information Booklet and School Plan. An action plan under the heading “School Improvement” was developed last year and its implementation was agreed by staff at the May 2007 staff meeting. It lists a series of actions under various headings including atmosphere, curriculum, motivation and standards, and beside each one lists those responsible for implementing them. The intention is to focus initially on the second year cohort and extend to all years over the next four years. This plan is exemplary in its identification of specific interventions, its targeted approach to implementation, and the ease with which progress can be checked. It should prove invaluable to the realisation of the school’s aims over a number of years and is worthy of consistent and assiduous attention. A further illustration of the culture of self-evaluation within the school is provided in a short report on the outcome of the planning objectives for last year, indicating what progress has been made and which areas remain for further action.
The school has had contact with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and receives information on courses offered. It has not sought assistance from SDPI in relation to staff in-service on planning, since this was already well established within the school. More recently, the guidance counsellor has worked with SDPI templates in developing the whole-school guidance plan, and this has proved most helpful. In developing aspects of subject department planning which are dealt with in Section 4 below, the school may find it useful to consult the SDPI web site (www.sdpi.ie) where a range of relevant material is available.
The school offers the Junior Certificate, Transition Year and established Leaving Certificate programmes, and a repeat Leaving Certificate year. It believes that the established Leaving Certificate suits its own academic tradition and serves its senior-cycle students well, and this report acknowledges the good work of teachers and students within this programme. However, the school should now consider introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) for a number of reasons. There is already a strong commitment to business subjects, which are pivotal to LCVP, in the school’s current curriculum: business is a core subject in the junior cycle and in TY, and all three business subjects are offered in Leaving Certificate with a pattern of good uptake. The LCVP also provides a very good context for technology subjects, which the school has itself identified as a desirable addition to its curricular provision. Good attainment in the LCVP Link Modules would extend students’ options at third level, and add to the school’s good progression rate. Significantly, the students interviewed in the course of the evaluation were enthusiastic about LCVP and would like to see it introduced. There was evidence of some lack of clarity as to the precise nature and objectives of the LCVP among members of staff and parents who were asked their views. Therefore, as an initial step, the information available on the Second Level Support Service web site (www.lcvp.ie) should be accessed and disseminated to the school community.
The Transition Year (TY) programme has been running since 1995 and there are currently two TY class groups. It offers students a solid core of subjects along with new areas of study, a regular programme of outdoor pursuits, guidance and personal development, educational visits, and cross-curricular activities. The opportunities it provides were spoken of appreciatively by the student and parent representatives. However, subject inspectors noted some discrepancies between the written TY programme and the lesson topics observed. A review of the programme would therefore be timely, and indeed the year head and co-ordinator have already identified this need. It is suggested that the co-ordinator lead the review, in line with the duties described in the relevant circular (PPT17/02) and that a TY-specific student progress report be designed following this review.
In the junior cycle, the range of subjects offered is generally broad and balanced, and the principle of equality of access is observed to a commendable degree. All subjects with the exception of Irish and Mathematics are taught in a mixed-ability setting. It is also most commendable that newcomer students wishing to study Irish are encouraged and facilitated to do so. English, Irish, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science and Business are compulsory, and students choose either Art or Music, and either Spanish or French. The school is commended on its provision of two modern languages and its support for arts subjects. Management and staff have chosen not to offer religious education as an examination subject, believing that it should represent a space for reflection within the school timetable, and as such it is mandatory. Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) has the required provision of one lesson a week.
Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is allocated one lesson per week in second and third year. This is commended, as are the allocation of a co-ordinator to the subject and the establishment of a dedicated SPHE team. In first year, the subject is timetabled on a two-to-one rotation with swimming. Continuity in the delivery of the SPHE programme is important and should be safeguarded. Provision for SPHE should be kept under review and the time allocation set down in the relevant Department circular (M11/03) should be borne in mind.
The school is conscious of its position as the only non-feepaying school in the area offering all its Leaving Certificate subjects at higher as well as ordinary level. These include Physics, Chemistry and Biology, the full suite of business subjects, History, Geography, Art, Music, French and Spanish, as well as English, Irish and Mathematics. This broad and balanced provision is commended. Students in the repeat Leaving Certificate group are offered English, Irish, Mathematics, Biology, Geography and French as a separate class group. Concurrent timetabling allows them to join a sixth-year group for other optional subjects.
Timetabling and teacher deployment are well managed to provide students with a range of options in subjects, levels and programmes. Taster modules in Art and Music are offered to all first-year students. They study each for ten weeks (the third module being Computer Studies) and choose between them at the end of the year. Uptake of both subjects in second year is very good, and this system is commended. The study of a modern European language is mandatory in first year and students are offered a choice between French or Spanish. The school is usually able to accommodate the students’ preference, uptake of both languages is good, and almost all students take their chosen language to Junior Certificate. A small minority of students with attested difficulties do not continue with a modern European language after first year and receive learning support instead.
Approximately two-thirds of the third-year group take the TY option. They must apply in writing and are interviewed. The code of behaviour has recently been amended to state that students’ records of behaviour will also be considered before a place is offered. This is prudent practice and will, it is hoped, work effectively as an incentive. Given the school’s belief in the benefit to students of taking TY, ways of encouraging the greatest possible numbers to participate should be actively pursued.
All students in the Leaving Certificate programme take English and Mathematics. Students who are exempt from Irish have timetabled additional learning or language support as appropriate, and this provision is commended. All students then choose one subject from each of four preset option groups, as follows:
Group 1 French or Spanish or Business
Group 2 Physics or Business or Art
Group 3 History or Biology or Economics
Group 4 Geography or Accounting or Chemistry or Music
These are arranged to maximise students’ options in the science and business subjects, and they deploy the school’s teaching resource effectively. Students wishing to take Applied Mathematics are offered it as an additional subject outside the normal timetable. The option groups are reviewed from time to time in the interests of meeting changing needs and within the constraints of available resources. For example, previously students not taking a modern language were offered computer studies as a non-examination option, and a decision was made this year to replace this with Business at ordinary level. While this is a positive move, it is of concern that an increasing number of students do not take a modern European language for Leaving Certificate. Every effort should be made to encourage students to take a modern European language to Leaving Certificate.
When their sons are in third year, parents are informed of the option groups and given clear descriptions of each subject both through presentations at an options evening and through literature which is sent home. The TY option is also presented at this time. Parent representatives spoke very appreciatively of the helpfulness of the information given to them and particularly of the fact that students who have done TY present their own experience of the programme at the options evening. Excellent educational guidance is given to students by the guidance counsellor, and students themselves expressed general satisfaction with the range of subjects available and in particular with the assistance they received in making their choices.
A very varied and well-organised programme of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is available to students of Marian College. On Wednesday afternoons, an eighty-minute sports programme operates for all first-year and second-year students and their participation is mandatory and monitored. An elective sports programme operates at various times for all other years, and the TY programme includes adventure sports and futsal, a version of indoor soccer. Team sports have always been an important aspect of school life and, while rugby has the highest participation rate, soccer and Gaelic football are also popular. Basketball has also long flourished in the school. The list of sports played in the school includes rarities like water polo and cricket. The eclectic mix reflects the school’s inclusive practices and seeks to ensure high rates of participation. Many of the staff have coaching qualifications and also have links with local clubs whose facilities are used by the school, as are the municipal pitches and track in Ringsend and the sports facilities in Belfield. Very good links have been developed with the feeder primary schools through sports, whereby staff who coach students in Marian College work with pupils in these schools.
The wide range of co-curricular activities includes an annual musical, regarded as a highlight of the year by all members of the school community. Trips to the theatre, cinema, lectures, and to concerts are also organised. Students are encouraged to take part in various quizzes, debates and competitions, and to participate in musical groups. Other activities held at lunchtime include guitar lessons and a chess club. The involvement and commitment of so many staff in these activities is greatly valued by parents and by the board, and by the students themselves who expressed warm appreciation of the staff’s work on their behalf.
Marian College is actively involved in the planning process and teachers have adopted collaborative subject planning as part of this process. A strong ethic of collegiality and teamwork was noted by the subject inspectors. Subject planning forms part of the agenda for the individual review meeting held with each member of the teaching staff at the end of the school year. One formal subject planning meeting is held at the start of the year and thereafter management facilitates teachers to meet if required. Teachers also meet during lunchtime if required. It is recommended that management facilitate at least three subject planning meetings over the school year so as to underpin planning for skills development, to promote the sharing of good practice and to plan common assessment. These elements of good planning are further discussed below.
Practice varies when it comes to the organisation of subject areas. There is no nominated coordinator role in any subject. In some subjects one member of the department takes the main responsibility for organising and planning for the subject while in others, the role of carrying out different planning tasks is shared. The principal and deputy principal chair subject department meetings and the agenda for such meetings is drawn up jointly by senior management and the members of the subject department. A report of all formal meetings is retained by the principal for the purposes of informing future planning and the provision of resources. It is recommended that the chairing of subject meetings be rotated among teachers and that a record of the key decisions taken be passed on to management rather than the onus being on management to attend all subject meetings. It is further recommended that the coordination of each subject area be rotated among all subject department teachers so that all teachers within the department can gain experience of this role. This will ensure an equitable distribution of the responsibilities for the development of the subject. The position of coordinator would help to further the planning process in all departments.
Department plans were available in each subject area which all outlined course content for each year group and other aspects of organisation depending on the subject. The French plans for the junior cycle classes set out aims for each year group in the form of “will be able to do” statements. Such an approach is to be commended as it facilitates the development of a continuum of skills among students from first year through to sixth year and allows for variation in materials used and topics studied. Therefore, it is recommended that the key skills or learning outcomes that each year group should achieve be developed or, where this good practice has already commenced, expanded upon so that there is a clear sense of an incremental approach to learning achieved. It is further recommended that planning for each subject area include planning for common assessment and common resources, the sharing of effective methodologies including the integration of ICT, increasing uptake of higher level and the future priorities for each subject department. Good practice was seen in some subject areas where an inventory of resources is available. This good practice could be extended to all subject areas.
The individual subject plans presented in the overall TY plan are in need of updating to reflect the material that is actually being taught. In addition, care must be taken when planning for TY in all subject areas to ensure that material from the Leaving Certificate syllabus does not constitute too much of the course content as outlined in Circular M1/00. Where such material is included, it should be taught in a significantly different way as outlined in the Department’s TY guidelines to schools.
Teachers were very well prepared for the lessons observed. Teaching resources and practical equipment were ready in advance. Lesson content was well planned and, as a consequence, lessons had a good structure with generally very successful outcomes.
The positive rapport between teachers and students was commented on in all subject inspection reports. All teacher-student interactions were respectful and constructive; there was a warm atmosphere and no classroom management issues. Students exhibited a strong sense of motivation, enthusiasm and interest in their lessons and this greatly enhanced the learning process.
Lessons generally began with a roll call followed by a clear statement of the purpose of the lesson. Lessons were well structured, appropriately paced and the content appropriate for the time of year and the interests and abilities of the students. In some instances of best practice, the lesson plan was written up on the board. Links were created between texts and with life so that students’ learning was put in context and so that the subject was made relevant to the everyday lives of students. The overhead projector and whiteboard were frequently used to effectively present lesson content and as an aid to sum up material taught and to record key points, spelling and homework.
Teaching and learning strategies were varied and generally very effective and there was evidence that students were encouraged to work independently. This is very good practice as it fosters responsibility among students for their own learning. Effective teaching strategies included question and answer sessions, use of pair work, practical work and task-based learning. In almost all lessons there was good involvement of students in their learning. An investigative approach was observed in almost all practical lessons, which is the best practice and is in line with syllabus requirements, with students having a ‘hands on’ experience of their subjects. In such lessons, students were thoroughly engaged with their work.
Teachers used a variety of effective questioning strategies. These ranged from open-ended questions, which facilitated students to respond using higher-order thinking skills, to lower-order questions requiring specific answers. Questions were directed at named students or put to the entire class for discussion. These approaches ensured that all students were involved in their lessons. In general, questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of enhancing student learning. Teachers used questions skilfully as an aid to stimulate interest in the material being taught and to consolidate learning.
Teachers varied their teaching styles during lessons in order to support all students in the mixed-ability settings. Twenty-four is generally the maximum number in each class, and this assists differentiated teaching and learning. Differentiated teaching was generally in evidence with teachers catering for the whole class group by giving clear instructions but also visiting each individual in need of support as necessary. This is commended and especially taking into account the wide variation in the abilities within the class groups. This awareness of the importance of helping the students of lesser ability was seen in most lessons. However, it is equally important to challenge the many able students especially at junior cycle. This is in keeping with one of the school’s own objectives, identified in the School Plan for 2007/2008 of “enhancing the experience and achievement of well-motivated and talented students while continuing to meet the needs of weaker students”.
The school has a policy of encouraging as many as possible to take higher level and an analysis of examination results is carried out by management and presented to staff. The majority of students take higher-level papers across the range of subjects in the Junior Certificate, although uptake varies considerably from subject to subject. Few students take foundation level, good evidence of the encouragement of high standards. An analysis of results in the subjects evaluated suggests that the uptake of levels in the certificate examinations is appropriate to the student cohort. However, in other subject areas there is a need for vigilance when it comes to advising students about appropriate levels, through constant monitoring of students’ work and progress, in order to ensure that these students succeed in their chosen level.
There was evidence that students were given regular pieces of written work and project work at junior and senior cycle. In all lessons, students were articulate and answered the questions put to them by the inspector in a respectful and confident manner, displaying clear evidence of learning.
The students applied themselves to the tasks given and their responses indicated a good understanding of the work carried out in the lessons. Students were generally very confident at answering questions on their work during the course of the evaluation. They generally demonstrated good problem solving abilities and good practical skills. They applied themselves diligently, and generally achieved good standards in their work.
Students in all class groups are given frequent class-based tests and are assessed formally at Christmas and in the summer. Reports are issued to parents following formal assessments and a parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group in the school. Continuous assessments are provided to TY students. Teachers keep good records of students’ attendance and achievement in tests and longer pieces of work. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations which are marked internally. Work in practical subjects forms a percentage of all formal assessments; this is good practice. All formal examinations in European languages include an aural component, while an oral assessment is included for students at senior cycle. Teachers also reported administering an informal oral assessment at junior cycle. This is commendable practice. Some subject departments have introduced common end-of-term examinations as appropriate. This good practice is to be encouraged among all subject departments as it will ensure that there is consistency regarding marking criteria and will also enhance collaboration between teachers.
The school journal is used as an additional mode of communication with home. However, it could be better used in some classes as, although homework was set in most lessons observed, it was noted that large gaps were evident in students’ journals regarding the recording of homework. It is important that adequate time is given to students to record homework systematically before the end of class. Good practice was seen in that homework was written on the board at the end of each lesson so that all students were aware of their assigned homework. In addition, the homework assigned was to a purpose and complemented the work being done in class as well as providing a framework for the next lesson.
In line with the range of abilities observed, the standard of work presented was varied. Some students use hardback or manuscript copies for their work. This is good practice as generally students maintain these well. It is suggested that students be allocated some marks in end-of-term examinations for maintenance of copies and for monitoring of practical notebooks as a motivation to keep them well. Good practice was also seen where students had folders for storage of notes.
In most cases, homework was regularly monitored by teachers and good annotation of work, including comments outlining strategies for improvement, was in evidence. However, in some cases, there is a need for more formative assessment of work so that students are constantly reminded of where they need to improve. In all lessons, teachers monitored the work of students doing assignments in class. As a means of reinforcing acceptable standards for the presentation of work, the homework policy could be amended to include agreed procedures in relation to writing dates, titles and references to textbooks for each homework assignment.
A homework club is available for students with learning-support needs and evening study is also offered to Junior and Leaving Certificate students.
School management has shown strong educational leadership in its approach to provision for Special Educational Needs (SEN) students. The school appointed a qualified teacher for learning support in 2005 and a SEN policy is being developed. Commendably, the role of the learning support teacher includes providing guidance to the teaching staff on appropriate methodologies for SEN students. Both the learning support teacher and the guidance counsellor have given presentations to the staff on various aspects of special needs. Teachers who have signalled to the principal their interest in the area are involved in the delivery of learning support and bring to it a wide range of subject expertise.
The school’s admissions policy and system of class formation support the inclusion of students with additional educational needs. In the formation of junior cycle classes specific criteria are applied to ensure the greatest social and educational mix in a well-managed way, and this is commended. In the course of the evaluation, inspectors gathered good evidence of differentiated teaching to accommodate the range of abilities within each class. Assignments and tests may also be modified to ensure SEN students experience a sense of accomplishment while not being singled out.
The identification of SEN students is managed effectively. Very good information comes through from the feeder primary schools, which are visited by the HSCL co-ordinator and the deputy principal. Norm-referenced assessments of incoming students are carried out prior to entry, and a confidential questionnaire for parents of incoming students, asking about needs and interests, is sent out to parents with the application form. Through these means, timely planning to address the known needs of students can take place. Once students are in the school, subject teachers may refer them to the learning support teacher for further assessment where it is felt they have difficulties which have not been identified earlier.
Learning support is well resourced, both in human and material terms, although the issue of shortage of space also arises in this area. There is a small dedicated SEN room which can accommodate a teacher and up to three students. It has a computer, printer, scanner and software, and a small learning support library. More books are available in the HSCL room, and these are part of a commendable paired reading initiative with TY students. The learning support teacher has a collection of subject-specific material in a more simplified form for students’ use, and keeps a range of textbooks in order to access the most accessible material for students. In addition, the mainstream teachers communicate subject-specific key concepts and vocabulary to the learning-support teacher so that these can be worked on and reinforced in the support context. This level of communication is helpful and commendable. Communication with relevant external agencies and personnel was also reported to be very good.
The targeted approach to literacy and especially numeracy support which the school has taken is warmly commended. Timetabled learning support is provided in each year of the junior cycle. An initiative introduced this year to target numeracy difficulties provides a special class running alongside mainstream mathematics for a ten-week period from late September when students in need of such intervention have been identified. The aim here is to address significant deficits as early as possible, so that students will be able to return to and cope with a mainstream mathematics class. Literacy support and resource teaching in other subject areas are provided through concurrent timetabling alongside Irish and modern languages, and through withdrawal where appropriate. Commendably, support for students continues where necessary into the senior cycle both through timetabled lessons and withdrawal. Students’ progress is carefully monitored and, at the appropriate time, applications for reasonable accommodations in the state examinations are prepared.
The school has supported the inclusion and retention of students from disadvantaged backgrounds through its decision to participate in DEIS, which includes the School Completion Programme (SCP). The HSCL co-ordinator has a central involvement in the transfer programme for incoming first years, and has very good communication with the feeder primary schools so as to facilitate continued support where it is needed. Through the HSCL co-ordinator, there are strong links with local groups and agencies which provide practical, financial and educational support for schoolchildren and their families. The HSCL room, known as the parents’ room, is the venue for a twice-weekly breakfast club, and provides a very welcoming space for parents and students, and a centre for supportive activities including paired reading. Involvement in sport, music and other activities is seen as a significant factor in attendance and retention and is strongly encouraged.
A special duties post has been assigned to supporting the inclusion of newcomer students. Students requiring English language support are identified through an initial interview with the deputy principal. However, the school recognises the need for a more formal assessment of these students, in line with the procedures and provision set out in the recent circular, 53/07. The adoption of the language proficiency benchmarks to assess progress is recommended, and the range of teaching and assessment materials available from Integrate Ireland Language and Training should be utilised (www.iilt.ie). The school’s language support allocation is forty-four hours, and lessons in English as an additional language (EAL) are timetabled. Teachers delivering EAL support have teaching experience and qualifications in teaching English to speakers of other languages. The school recognises the calibre and commitment of many of these students, and gives appropriate advice on subject options to those entering the school in fifth year.
The HSCL co-ordinator visits the homes of most students and the learning support teacher is in regular contact with the parents of SEN students. Communication with parents of newcomer students can be more problematic where there is a language barrier, but the school strives to establish links. Interpreters have been used in cases where a newcomer student with limited English requires a SEN assessment.
The school has a long tradition of offering guidance services to students and it now has a whole-time guidance post under DEIS. There is very good planning for guidance, and a comprehensive guidance plan is prepared every year. This takes cognisance of the three domains of personal, educational and vocational guidance and identifies specific inputs for each year group. Development planning in the area of guidance is also taking place in association with the National Centre for Guidance in Education and SDPI, and a guidance planning group involving all members of the pastoral care team was convened to work on the whole-school guidance plan. Commendable initiatives arising out of their work include the provision of a study skills programme in the junior cycle. Good facilities for the provision of guidance counselling include a guidance suite, with computer, phone and guidance library. This is a very pleasant space for personal counselling. Issues of confidentiality have been thoroughly discussed and are carefully explained in the guidance planning documents. Good links were reported with outside agencies where further support for students is necessary.
The guidance counsellor and planning team have developed and will pilot this year a six-week programme for junior cycle, which is integrated into RE, SPHE and CSPE lessons as appropriate. The programme comprises six areas covering educational, personal and vocational guidance, with an emphasis on experiential learning. This is a commendable initiative, very much in line with the whole-school approach to guidance. Third-year students do aptitude tests and receive support in making subject and programme choices. The school funds the carrying out of a career interests inventory for all TY students, which delivers a useful and thorough report back to each student. The guidance counsellor has one-to-one interviews with third-year and TY students, and also provides individual assistance to students in sixth and Repeat Leaving Certificate Year. Two guidance periods are concurrently timetabled with RE in fifth year and are used to meet students in rotation in small groups rather than in a full class, as the guidance counsellor has found small group work more effective. In speaking with the inspectors, students and parents expressed great satisfaction with the level of educational and vocational guidance made available to them in the school. Students also showed a strong recognition of the guidance counsellor’s role in the area of personal counselling.
The pastoral care team in the school was established eight years ago to provide a co-ordinated approach to the educational and personal support of students. The team comprises the guidance counsellor who chairs meetings, the HSCL co-ordinator, the learning support teacher and members of the SEN team, a religious education teacher, the dean of first year and the principal. The team meets weekly and works very closely with the deans. For example, in a recent initiative, an index identifying students at risk has been drawn up and both the deans and the pastoral care team use it to monitor these students and to channel appropriate support to them. This linked approach is commendable. Students’ placing on the “at risk” list is determined by a number of factors, some of which must be treated confidentially, but teachers are aware of which students are at risk, and advice on how best to deal with them is available from members of the team. A praiseworthy level of co-operation and of concern for students is evident in this initiative and in the work of the pastoral care team in general. A staff survey of pastoral care provision was recently carried out. It found that the pastoral care system was perceived to be strong, students are well cared for and SEN supports are very good. An area for development suggested by the responses is the use of the school journal for monitoring students’ progress and behaviour. While it has been proposed that teachers should check the journals for parents’ signatures during the second period on a Friday, this is not happening consistently. It may therefore be timely to re-visit the idea of a class tutor system which would promote a more consistent pattern of monitoring.
The school offers a range of supports to raise the attainment of all students with a special focus on those with additional educational needs. As well as the homework club, a voluntary tuition programme (VTP) is provided on three nights a week by Trinity College students and staff. Students choose the subject areas in which they need additional help, parents’ permission is sought and a small one-off fee is charged for the programme. The school also participates in the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), which supports third-level access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students spoke very enthusiastically of their visits to Trinity as part of TAP, and school management and teachers gave examples of its success in broadening horizons and raising expectations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school lives out its inclusive and enabling mission statement through an open admissions policy, a positive code of behaviour and the creation of a supportive learning environment.
· The school has a dedicated and forward-thinking board of management, an excellent senior management team, and an effective and committed team of assistant principals.
· There is a high level of reflective practice and self-evaluation within the school, the planning process is open and collaborative, and the preparation and distribution of a yearly plan is excellent practice.
· Timetabling and teacher deployment are well managed to provide students with a range of options in subjects, levels and programmes.
· The school provides a very varied and well-organised programme of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
· All subject inspection reports referred to the positive rapport between teachers and students, the atmosphere of warmth and the good classroom management.
· Teachers used a variety of effective teaching strategies and students exhibited a strong sense of motivation, enthusiasm and interest, greatly enhancing the learning process.
· The school has taken a commendably targeted approach to the provision of literacy and numeracy support.
· Very good systems are in place to support the inclusion and retention of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to promote the inclusion of newcomer students.
· A praiseworthy level of co-operation and of concern for students is evident in the work of the pastoral care team. Educational and vocational guidance is well planned and of high quality.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The current shortfall in instruction hours must be addressed in next year’s timetable.
· The introduction of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme should be seriously considered.
· Ways of further developing the assistant principals’ leadership role in the school should be explored, and all posts should have a clear though not unduly prescriptive job description.
· A review of the transition year programme should be undertaken.
· The role of subject co-ordinator should be developed and the number of subject department meetings should be increased.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
· Subject Inspection of English – 24 and 25 October 2007
· Subject Inspection of French – 1May 2007
· Subject Inspection of Music – 23, 24 and 25 October 2007
· Subject Inspection of Science and Physics – 25 and 26 October 2007