An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Saint Mary’s College
Sallins Road, Naas, County Kildare
Roll number: 61730I
Date of inspection: 28 September 2007
A whole-school evaluation of St Mary’s College, Naas was undertaken in September, 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment 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.
St Mary’s College, Naas is a Catholic voluntary secondary school for girls, located on a spacious campus in the centre of Naas. It was opened in 1936 by the Naas Community of the Sisters of Mercy. In 1954, a thatched cottage on an adjoining property was converted into classrooms and used as a school until the present buildings were constructed in 1964. The school has a rural and urban mix of student population. The main feeder primary school, Mercy Convent Primary School is located adjacent to St Mary’s College. The other main feeder primary schools are located in Naas and other towns and villages in the local vicinity including Kill, Caragh, Sallins and Ballymore Eustace.
Student numbers have been progressively increasing over recent years and have increased from 806 students in 2004 to 862 students in the current year. In response to increasing enrolments, the school building has been extended further and the latest extension was opened as recently as April 2007. The school has made an agreement with the Department of Education and Science to increase enrolment to 900 over the next two years due to increasing population in the vicinity of Naas and surrounding areas.
The mission statement of St Mary’s College states that the school is ‘committed to creating a respectful, caring, safe, supportive learning environment, rooted in the Christian tradition and having as its aim the holistic education of all its students, encouraging each one to develop her full potential’. There was clear evidence in the course of the evaluation that this mission statement was being lived out to the full in all aspects of school life. The commitment to holistic development and to the pursuit of the achievement of each student’s full potential, evident from meeting all members of the school community, is to be commended. It is also in keeping with the Mercy philosophy of education.
The trustees of the school are the Sisters of Mercy, South Central Province. The Mercy ethos of the school is maintained in the first place by trustee appointments to the board. There is regular communication and visits between the Mercy Education Office and the school. Trusteeship will pass over to Catholic Education-Irish Schools’ Trust, (CEIST) in coming months. Mercy education is committed to on-going school development and this was particularly evident in the trustee’s commitment to St Mary’s College.
The way in which the whole school community gathered together after a recent and unfortunate tragedy reflects the characteristic spirit and caring school ethos articulated in its school documentation. The celebration of mass on Mercy Day is further evidence of the school ethos in action. The school’s annual awards ceremony acknowledges excellent student achievement, not just academically but endeavours to reward students for participation and effort, in line with their stated ethos.
Board roles and responsibilities are understood by board members who bring a complementary and wide range of experiences and skills to their work. The board of management manages the school very effectively on behalf of the trustees and it ably takes on responsibility for the school’s conduct and financial administration. It consists of four patron nominees, two teaching staff nominees and two parent nominees. The trustees support the board of management in fulfilling its managerial duties in different ways. Training for board members has been provided by the trustees of the school. Minutes of board meetings are sent to the Mercy Education Office, which respond appropriately and take action or follow up, when required.
The board meets every month in order to carry out its duties. Minutes of board meetings examined during the whole school evaluation provided good evidence of the board’s commitment, interest and dedication to the continued development and success of the school. The finance sub-committee, which received training from the Joint Managerial Board, provides a detailed report at each monthly meeting. The school principal, as secretary to the board, also gives a report on school activities to the board at each monthly meeting. The board acknowledged the extent of the work of the principal in the course of the evaluation. In addition, an agreed report from the board is given to teaching staff. The board communicates very effectively with the whole school community through its newsletter ‘School Connections, Journal of St Mary’s College’.
The board has met all legislative requirements regarding policies and has been proactive in developing new policies, updating necessary policies and it has consulted widely with all relevant bodies within the school community. The board seeks to reflect openness, inclusiveness and respect for the individual in its policy development and an examination of policies recently developed and reviewed by the board shows that this is indeed the case. The admissions policy is grounded in the principles of inclusion, diversity and equality, including those from minority groups, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs, (SEN). This policy, as approved by the board, is administered in a fair and equitable way. However, some aspects of the enrolment policy may need to be reworded to ensure the policy accurately reflects its implementation in practice and to avoid possible misinterpretation. Further policy development has been prioritised and it is recommended that this work proceeds in a targeted way to include consultation, review and enactment of policies. All school policies should be dated, endorsed and disseminated for implementation once adopted by the board.
The board’s ongoing commitment to self-improvement and reflective practice is commendable and the board articulated its key priorities in discussion with inspectors. There has been a clear emphasis on infrastructure with the opening of the school extension in April of the current year and the finalising of additional sports facilities in the current term. The board, in collaboration with the parents association and the whole school community, has been particularly successful in raising funds for this key development. Strategy and policy development are key priorities of the board and clear evidence has been provided to show that these priorities are being fulfilled. In addition, the board regards its management role of the school and its communication with the whole school community as an ongoing priority. The board is committed to increasing enrolment to 900 students in line with targets agreed with the Department of Education and Science to meet local needs.
The board expressed confidence in the long-established and active parents’ association and commended their on-going work for the school. The principal gives a verbal report on board proceedings to the parents’ association at their monthly meetings. In response to parents’ requests for a form of instant communication in relation to student attendance and punctuality, the board has approved a school-based texting system. A new board of management will be appointed to serve from October 2007 to 2010. The board welcomed the whole school evaluation process as a framework for future self-evaluation and to provide direction to the work of the new board.
A shared responsibility for the implementation of the school’s vision of providing quality education within a caring environment is being fostered in the whole school community. In the context of the culture of self-review and reflection being developed by both the board and senior management, school staff is constantly challenged to reflect on what is working well, what needs change and review. Senior management actively fosters a collaborative approach with staff in agreeing on and achieving the aims of the school and in delegating some management responsibilities to post holders. This is commendable and is working very well, as it encourages teachers to take ownership of the school organisation and decision-making. Action planning by senior management, based on this partnership approach, has resulted in considerable growth and development over recent years.
The principal and deputy principal both display commendable leadership qualities and lead the school forward with energy and vision. The principal and deputy principal present a strong management team and manage the school on a daily basis in a very effective and collaborative way. There is an active on the ground management presence in the school. They meet to review school matters at the end of each day and in addition, review the week’s work and plan for the week ahead at the end of each week. The administration of the school discipline system, liaison with board members on matters of school business, the ongoing management of the school finances, communication with parents, as well as the constant management of students and their learning achievements and difficulties are but some of the responsibilities carried out by senior management on a daily and weekly basis. The senior management team is readily available throughout the day. While this works well, consideration should be given to creating space in the day for dedicated uninterrupted planning time, in particular for the principal, in light of an increased workload and in the context of delegation being embedded in practice.
While senior management defines and implements the school’s curricular priorities and has full responsibility for the organisation of the school timetable and the allocation of teachers to classes, leadership roles are being distributed across the school to post holders. All year heads are assistant principals, (AP), with the exception of the TY year head who is a special duties teacher, (SDT). Year heads are viewed as senior staff members who are making a valuable contribution to the management structure of the school. Other APs have a wide range of responsibilities including school library coordination, school examinations coordination, pastoral care coordination, finance and school plan coordination. Coordination of an area of responsibility requires liaison with teachers and school management, a level of organisational and administrational skills and communication with external agencies. The duties associated with these posts are carried out effectively and in this way, capacity within the school for its effective operation from year to year is being consolidated. It is commendable that teachers are afforded the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the middle management structure of the school.
The SDTs too carry out a wide and varied range of duties which contribute well to the efficient operation of the school. These responsibilities include: organising the badge and award ceremonies, management of the school shop, fire drill, timetabling assistant, environmental officer, attendance officer and management of school lockers. Teachers are effective in carrying out their post duties and posts are in the main meaningful. However, some posts carry more weight and responsibility than others. This is being addressed in the ongoing review. As the process of filling a number of SDT posts was taking place during the evaluation, it is recommended that this review proceeds to identify how best the school needs can be met within the post structure. New areas of responsibility for year heads have been developed following a review of posts last year.
One further outcome of review is that attendance is now monitored by two attendance officers both of whom carry SDT posts. These are relatively new posts and their creation is an example of how effectively the post structure is meeting the needs of the school. The creation of these posts was seen as necessary in light of increasing numbers of students at both junior and senior cycle. Resulting retention of students from junior to senior cycle is very good. The school strives to meet the needs of all its students. This encompasses active encouragement of students to participate fully in not only academic activities but also co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
In St Mary’s College students have developed a sense of pride and respect for the school and the school community. This is one of the school’s greatest strengths. An effective graduated discipline system operates in the school. The school has a code of behaviour, which is constantly under review and includes measures such as ‘on report’ cards, contracts of behaviour, and students are supported and encouraged to modify their behaviour. Strengths and areas for development have been identified in an effort to improve learning outcomes for students. Teachers who have recently joined the staff of St Mary’s College remarked on the good discipline system and the support they received in implementing the code of behaviour. Students were consistently polite and friendly in the course of the evaluation.
The students’ council is actively involved in decision making and in appropriate activities that impact on students’ lives in the school. It is consulted on relevant policies, for example the students’ council’s opinion was sought on the bullying policy before enactment. This body has a good mix of students elected to its committee and is democratic in its operation. The head girl and deputy head girl, who are also ex officio members of the students’ council represent the school on official occasions and have an important guiding role with students. First years join the council after Christmas, following a period of induction and settling in to the school. Information is disseminated to students through the students’ council notice board and a suggestions box gathers input from students which forms part of the agenda at the weekly meetings of the council. The council has implemented positive change in the school and is seen as an important voice for students.
Parents are involved in the life of the school through the active and representative parents’ association which is affiliated to the national body. Partnership and collaboration with parents is promoted. Draft policy documents are brought for consideration to the parents association and the principal and board of management representatives attend parents’ association meetings. Priorities for the school have been developed and supported continuously by parents, for example, parents organise Saturday study for sixth years, organise mock interviews with the guidance counsellors, help at school events and are very active in fundraising.
There are good systems of communication within the school’s management structure. There is a sustained emphasis on regular communication across the school community. Relevant news is posted on the staff notice board each morning. There is one staff meeting at the beginning of the school year and five further meetings throughout the year. A democratic approach is adopted with staff invited to input into the agenda. Many staff meetings are also used for planning and for the provision of continuous professional development, (CPD). In order to accelerate the pace of school development planning, it is recommended that the structure of staff meetings be reviewed in an effort to streamline both the communications and planning process in the school.
Communication procedures with the diversity of parents, including those with English as an additional language are well established. Individual letters and newsletters are used as an effective means of communication. A school website has been established and it is currently being developed further. Parents are communicated regularly with student achievements and are invited to the school to partake in celebratory events in support of students. Well established links have been forged between the school and the community. Teachers, parents and school management have been instrumental in developing many of these links. Outside agencies support many school activities. These links have been particularly developed within the TY programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, (LCVP) offered in the school at senior cycle.
Staff is actively encouraged to pursue CPD, and the dissemination of information and the sharing of best practice are also encouraged. Senior management has pursued in-house expertise in staff training, as for example, in relation to the provision of Information Communications Technology (ICT) training. Learning support and resource materials are distributed among the staff so that all staff is kept informed of all aspects of support of students. This is commendable practice. It is recommended the school explores further modes of in-service for the whole staff with a focus on such themes as mixed ability teaching, differentiation and special needs, identified as areas for development in the course of the subject inspections.
A culture of self-review and self-evaluation is being fostered by the leadership of school management, examples of which were observed both in a wider school context and within individual subject departments. Policies are reviewed and updated as the need arises as recently with the code of discipline. Staff is constantly urged to monitor school procedures and policies with a view to making changes to those that are in need of review. This practice is highly commended.
St Mary’s College has a teaching allocation of 51.00 which includes the ex-quota positions of principal, deputy principal, learning support teacher and an ex-quota allocation of 1.64 for guidance counselling. The school also receives allocations for English as an Additional Language (EAL) students (0.75), programme co-ordinator (0.27) and special educational needs (2.39). Teachers are well qualified and teacher allocation is deployed effectively in a fair and equitable manner. Teachers are afforded the opportunity to expand their experience and competencies by being allocated to subject levels on a rotating basis. Management is proactive in analysing future staffing needs and seeks additional resources from the Department of Education and Science (DES), so that the school optimises provision for its students’ needs. Job-sharing opportunities are facilitated by the board, when and where possible. An effective system has been developed by senior management to ensure annual review, identification of changing needs and priorities and individual teacher reflection. This is commendable.
The school has a very good induction programme in place for new teachers. A teacher’s handbook has been developed for new staff members, and staff plays an active part in supporting new teachers in the school, including a number of student teachers. Support is ongoing from senior management and the induction mentor, an AP post-holder, throughout the year. Student teachers are well supported by the co-operating teacher and school staff.
Support staff including the office staff, the caretakers and the cleaning staff, all make an appropriate and effective contribution to the life of the school. The commitment of the support staff to the school is commended. They carry out their duties efficiently and effectively, as evidenced by the quality of the maintenance of the school buildings and grounds.
Classrooms are predominantly teacher based and are organised on the basis of clustering class groups with their year head and class tutors in a particular block or corridor. This works well for the implementation of the care and discipline system. The most recent extension to the school facilities provided by the DES, incorporating three classrooms, art room, staff room and staff work room, was opened in April 2007. The board of management and senior management expressed their wish to further upgrade school facilities including the provision of a canteen, an additional computer room, a language laboratory and in the long term, additional classroom space. The school has disabled access to toilets and ramps and lifts are provided in the newer extensions. All rooms are wheelchair accessible. A sports hall, provided by the Mercy order, was added to the school in 1993 and new sports facilities including a grass pitch and an Astra-turf pitch were being completed at the time of the evaluation. The school, under the direction of the board of management and senior management, has made a concerted and commendable fund raising effort to initiate and complete this extensive project.
The well stocked and spacious school library is a widely utilised resource in the school and the very good access to the library encourages students to read. An assistant principal’s post has been assigned to library co-ordination and student assistants help in the organisation and running of the library. In line with further developments in the ICT area, it is intended to introduce electronic cataloguing of the library resources. The school has one computer room which is well utilised by staff, however student access to this facility is limited given the size of the student population. Computers are also provided in many specialist classrooms but their more widespread use in general classrooms has yet to be developed. In its ICT development plan, the school aims to create the circumstances for ICT to be thoroughly integrated into the curriculum with staff and students becoming autonomous users of the available systems and ICT resources. The school plans to develop an ICT policy and an ICT plan after extensive staff consultation. It is recommended that an ICT policy be developed and that ICT facilities be upgraded in the school in line with planned developments.
The school has an up-to-date health and safety statement which was drawn up with input from appropriate staff members and with the help of outside expertise. It is commendable that a health and safety audit was carried our recently in the school and a wide range of possible hazards were identified with possible actions proposed. It is furthermore commendable that the school has dealt with the majority of these hazards and that this work is ongoing. Fire drill takes place once per term and is attached to the duties of an SDT post, as is the stocking of first aid materials.
Awareness of environmental issues is being developed and encouraged and has resulted in the creation of a post for its coordination. An active recycling programme is being put in place with the provision of recycling bins and the school has already registered with An Taisce investigating the possibility of being awarded a Green Flag. The focus on a cleaner environment has led to staff and students working together on a common development project. The school assistants, environment officer and planning steering committee have worked collaboratively to develop a clean school environment.
The school development planning initiative, (SDPI) was instrumental in initiating the planning process in the school in 2003 and its involvement is ongoing. School planning has now found a new impetus and direction. The collaborative planning process is enabled by the vision and leadership of senior management and the board of management.
A school development planning (SDP) steering committee is in place under the direction of the co-ordinator whose duties are attached to an AP post. The school planning co-ordinator ensures that the emerging school plan is consistent with the ethos of the school. The planning process is based on school self-reflection and self-evaluation. It is noteworthy and commendable that the outcomes of this process are focused on maintaining and improving the standards of student learning. Evidence from staff meeting and board of management minutes demonstrate how achievable development priorities, within realistic timeframes have been identified through widespread consultation. The SDP steering committee has analysed staff meeting minutes and has developed a needs analysis with staff. It is commendable that the majority of staff have taken ownership of this process.
The school plan has many sections in place. Comprehensive policy statements in line with best practice and Department circulars and guidelines are in place. Many policies including admissions, discipline and health and safety have been adopted and enacted by the board while others are under review or development. In relation to the admissions policy, there is a need for further clarity regarding enrolment procedures and the provision for students with special education needs, as already mentioned in an earlier section of this report. The discipline policy was reviewed by staff in June 2007. A clear action plan and timeline are in place to progress the review and to implement any necessary changes to policies.
Clear developmental priorities have been identified and achievable action plans have been devised. In early 2007, a questionnaire was distributed to staff requesting input on their perceived developmental and planning needs. The feedback from staff contained both long-term and short-term needs. The long-term issues included those relating to ESL students, curriculum review and school security. Short-term issues identified were the cleanliness of classrooms, the wearing of the correct school uniform and the pastoral care of staff. It was decided that an action plan on one long-term issue and one short-term issue should be implemented. The short-term issue was prioritised and an action plan on a clean school environment was initiated. Actions taken included clean environment blitzes on the intercom system and encouragement of staff and students to take ownership of the process. School security has improved over the summer with the installation of CCTV cameras. Action plans are being developed for other short term and long term issues. The school needs now to focus on bringing the diverse elements of school development planning together into a school plan. This is one of the challenges for the new board in collaboration with the whole school community.
Recent school development planning has identified curriculum review as one of its priorities. Subject departments are now well established throughout the school and this is one of the many successes of development planning. Each department has put a voluntary co-ordinator in place. Planning in subjects is focused and good use is made of the SDPI template for this purpose. Staff has shown commitment to this process and have shown a willingness to move forward. Collaborative planning has developed initially within subject departments and now this culture has spread out to encompass whole school issues such as policy and curriculum review. For example, the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied has been discussed; Technology at senior cycle has been introduced in the current year and the number of students taking TY has now been increased to four class groups as a result of increased demand. The above examples illustrate the school’s commendable response to the changing needs of its student cohort. In this context, the school is now encouraged to reconvene the board of studies whose role it is to advise the board of management on curriculum matters.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
Recent and prioritised action planning has resulted in identifiable improvements for the whole school community. The SDP steering committee has identified policy review and development as part of its remit. Three policies have gone through a process of consultation. Much work has been carried out and special educational needs policy has been prioritised for completion and the guidance policy is at an advanced stage of development. Staff members are committed to achieving the targets set out in the school planning process and as a result of consultation there is shared ownership and endorsement of policies. A culture of self-evaluation has been developed in all aspects of the school. The school’s future action planning will incorporate consultation with all school partners.
St Mary’s College provides a broad and balanced curriculum with a wide range of subjects and programmes to effectively meet the current needs of students in the school. The range of programmes includes the Junior Certificate, the TY programme, the established Leaving Certificate and the LCVP. The TY programme is optional. Students can choose the LCVP, if their subjects meet the requirements of the Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs). The school’s curriculum provision seeks to ensure equality of access to subjects, programmes and levels for all students within available resources. It is commendable that St Mary’s has introduced Technology at senior cycle as part of the national pilot of the new Leaving Certificate technology syllabus.
The school provides instructional hours in compliance with Department circular M29/95. The primary focus of staff deployment and timetabling is to meet students’ needs within the resources available, to enhance their learning experiences and to support students in their learning. All teachers are provided with the opportunity to teach to all levels in their subject areas. This is good practice, as it enables them to build up experience of teaching a full range of classes. It is also good practice that teachers retain the same class group from first year through to third year and from fifth year into sixth year. The allocation of time in terms of the number of class periods assigned to subjects is generally good. The distribution of units of lesson time to certain subjects, however, needs review for the future. In addition, some subjects are timetabled more than once on the same day. This practice should be reviewed.
All class groups are mixed-ability in first year. Second and third-year students continue in the same class group for most subjects but are banded for Irish and Mathematics. The evening study committee organises and oversees evening study for students. In addition, Saturday study is organised for Leaving Certificate examination students. This is commendable.
Access to curriculum options is maximised in the way the school offers programme and subject choice. Students are well supported regarding subject and programme choice. Subject bands for senior cycle are created in such a way that the vast majority of students can study their desired subjects and combinations of subjects. Students are required to initially make their subject choices and to indicate an interest in enrolling for the LCVP.
The LCVP in St Mary’s College is true to the principles of the programme and complies with programme guidelines, including meeting the modern European language requirement. LCVP work experience is well organised and monitored. Assessment is mainly formative and portfolio assessment is well established. The programme is well co-ordinated and planned. However, it is recommended that an overarching LCVP plan be put together from the existing segments of the plan already developed. This should be completed electronically, to facilitate regular updating and review.
As the TY programme is optional and frequently over subscribed, selection is based on an application form and interview, where students are asked for their reasons for choosing TY. St Mary’s TY provision has all the required elements of a good TY programme and modules have recently been introduced. A good TY plan exists in line with Department requirements. An individual plan exists for each subject or module. Planning for TY is commended. In Science, for example, the TY plan aimed to develop students’ skills of critical thinking and communication as well as giving them some insights into the three senior science subjects. The TY plan for Mathematics outlined a range of topics, all of which are on the syllabus for the Leaving Certificate. However, the TY plan did not adequately reflect the good practice such as project work observed during the inspection. Teachers’ TY plans are generally in line with the philosophy of TY and are commended.
It is also commendable that evaluation processes are built into most subject plans. It is recommended that a common template be used for each subject and that a collaborative subject department approach to planning be extended to all subjects. In the interests of balance and variety in the programme, the school is encouraged to continue to expand the modular aspect of TY. The TY programme is very well organised and coordinated in St Mary’s College. There is a weekly scheduled meeting of the core team to aid planning and coordination. It is commendable that students receive graded certificates for courses, activities and challenges completed. The annual awards night gives parents the opportunity to celebrate in TY activities and to view the year’s work.
Involvement in extra-curricular activities develops positive relationships between teachers and students and the holistic approach to education in line with the stated school ethos. Parents are very supportive of these activities and the valuable links established with the community also enhance holistic educational provision. The vast majority of students partake in some form of activity from a wide range on offer in the school. Many co-curricular activities relate to subjects or programmes and impact positively on students’ experiences of the subject.
Approximately 600 students are involved in the nine sports on offer in the school. Good links with local sports clubs have enabled the school’s range of sporting activities to be expanded. The advent of new and enhanced facilities on site will benefit the whole school community. An extensive extra-curricular programme accommodates students at a recreational and competitive level in both individual and team-based activities. The Teachers of Physical Education and other teachers are involved in the organisation and coaching of the broad range of extra-curricular physical activities available to students. These include athletics, badminton, basketball, camógie, hockey, soccer, tennis and volleyball. The students’ achievements in some of these activities are to a very high standard including having representatives on the national volleyball squad.
A multitude of other activities enhance student experiences at St Mary’s College. These include: school Amnesty group, senior debating, public speaking, letter writing, retreats, choir, school musical, and the annual school tour. TY students produce a musical each year and this contributes greatly to team-building and shared commitment and collaboration. In addition many TY students take the Gaisce challenge.
As already mentioned, teachers have embraced collaborative subject planning as part of the of the SDP process in St Mary’s College. Subject departments are now well established throughout the school. School management facilitates formal subject meetings at the beginning and the end of the academic year, and teachers meet informally at regular intervals. These meetings provide opportunities for teachers to work together to agree subject plans, as well as to plan for overall development for the subject area. The system of rotating the subject coordinator on an annual basis is working well in the school.
The need for both long-term and short-term collaborative planning is all the more crucial where the responsibility for the group is shared, as in the case of a small number of class groups, where the subject is taught by two different teachers. Evidence was provided in the planning that the curriculum had been divided and that teachers were paying on-going attention to this situation. Nevertheless, teachers need to ensure there is no unnecessary overlap and to ensure students are challenged to reach their full potential. In this context, it is recommended that a policy comprising a series of desired protocols for sharing of classes be developed.
Teachers are planning to introduce a common examination to be taken by all first year students, in order that they will be able to place students in their class groups in second year in a consistent and transparent manner. To consolidate this development, it is recommended that teachers agree common learning outcomes for each year group to achieve. The agreement of learning outcomes would allow teachers the autonomy to teach, for example, their own choice of literary texts, and at the same time ensure that students have achieved the same basic skills.
Subject plans, in for example English and Mathematics, are in effect an amalgamation of each teacher’s individual schemes of work, whereas the Physical Education teachers have collaborated to produce a common subject plan. Members of the science department also worked together to produce agreed subject plans for each science subject. It is recommended, where this is not already the practice, that over time teachers merge the work completed individually into a single collaborative document. The plan should include learning outcomes for each area of study, the aims and objectives for the teaching of the subject. Planning for the acquisition of resources should also be included.
Lessons were generally well structured, appropriately paced and the content was appropriate to the interests and abilities of the students. Teachers often commenced the lesson by discussing or correcting homework or lesson content from the previous lesson. Teachers also used this time effectively to outline the content and purpose of the lessons. The good practice of sharing the purpose of lessons with the students from the outset is commendable and should be extended to all lessons.
Good teaching methods were employed, integrating excellent questioning strategies with clear and concise instruction. This was combined with varied opportunities for students to practice their learning including role play, worksheets, question and answer sessions and experimental practical work, where applicable. There was good integration of the different language skills in many of the language lessons observed. There was evidence that pair and group work are used at times, which are methodologies to be encouraged from time to time as they allow students to learn from each other as well as from the teacher. The use of pair or group work is to be commended as it engages the students in active and independent learning. Overall, a greater variety of teaching methodologies will ensure that all students’ learning styles are catered for.
There was good use of the target language by the teacher in all of the language lessons observed. This is to be commended as it grounds the language in authentic situations thereby improving students’ listening and oral skills. There was also evidence that spelling and parts of speech were seamlessly integrated into the teaching of genres such as short stories and writing and this method is to be encouraged as it enables students to put the importance of grammar and punctuation in context. While the target language was used throughout by the teacher, there were some lessons where translation was the dominant methodology used to promote comprehension skills development or to consolidate learning. It is recommended that alternative ways to translation be considered.
In many lessons observed, a very high level of attention to detail was evident, particularly during teacher instruction of new concepts. While it is important to point out key concepts and themes, it is also important to ask questions in order to ensure students’ understanding. There were some good examples where the teachers asked frequent questions to elicit students’ responses to their texts. Recall questions allowed teachers to establish students’ understanding of a topic and were, in general, followed up with higher-order questions. This type of higher-order questioning challenged students’ thinking and often led to good discussion. In addition, lower-order questions allowed less able students to participate. While there were good examples observed of student participation through discussion and question and answer sessions, there were times when there was an over dominance of teacher talk in the classrooms and therefore a lack of full student participation. In these lessons, the teachers tended to explain too much rather than eliciting student responses or else did not give students opportunities to participate through asking questions and answers or through reading.
Classroom management observed was good, and teachers administered the code of behaviour in a fair and equitable way. Teachers have established a good rapport with their students and all aspects of classroom management and interaction were conducted in a respectful manner. A positive learning environment prevailed throughout and teachers were affirming and students were attentive and applied themselves to any tasks given. The school journal was used to maximum effect, as all teachers ensured that they had clearly indicated the exact homework for each lesson on the board and that this had been noted by each student in their journal. The students demonstrated maturity, confidence and a positive attitude to both the school and to studying their subjects. Students remained focused throughout their lessons and clearly understood the expectation that they would participate in their lessons and give their full attention at all times.
Student practical skill attainment was observed to be very good. During practical work, the students worked purposefully in their groups, communicating effectively. Students also demonstrated high levels of concentration and application to execute the required sequence of skills whilst working effectively as a team. In some cases, lesson development revolved mostly around skill practice through a series of drills. Students’ results in the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations indicate a striving for high standards. Teachers are advised to do an analysis of all examination results each year in order to examine trends in terms of uptake and results.
Teachers use a variety of modes of assessment. There was evidence of best practice in both formative and summative assessment practices. Formal assessment takes place at Christmas and summer, and reports are issued twice a year based on the results of these tests. Progress monitoring also takes place for fifth and sixth years. The practice of using common assessments among some teachers is commendable and should be extended to all year groups, where appropriate. Students are regularly assessed at the end of term and at the end of topics, and there was evidence that students’ work was corrected to a high standard by the teachers. The combination of frequent assessments and daily formative assessment of homework is commended, as it provides students with many means and opportunities to recall their learning and to receive constructive feedback on their individual progress. The students benefit from such thorough monitoring and assessment in preparing them for state examinations, as well as benefiting from the evening study provided and the quality of the feedback given to students by their teachers. Credit is given for the completion of laboratory work and the associated report to all science students as part of the overall grade in the formal school reports. This reflects the marking allocation in the state examinations. It is commendable that the Physical Education department has begun to use self-and peer-assessment strategies as promoted during syllabus reform. It is recommended that the Physical Education department develop a system of student portfolios of learning to retain a record of their work and achievements.
A statement of school practice and philosophy in relation to SEN has been drawn up by the special needs and resource department. This is a well produced and well researched document, which will form a sound basis for the development of a policy. It is recommended that this policy on special educational provision for students be prioritised for completion, for ratification by the board and for adoption by the whole school community. In the context of the development of a SEN policy, care should be taken to ensure consonance and consistency with the reviewed admissions policy.
The school has received 52.5 resource hours. Teachers visit the feeder primary schools to gather information regarding incoming students. Communication with parents is very good, with a general meeting organised followed by a private appointment, if necessary. If and when a student is reported to be experiencing difficulties at any time in the course of the year, parents are contacted and permission is sought to give the student extra support. If necessary, having consulted with parents, psychological assessments are recommended for some students experiencing difficulties.
In practice, all students, including those with special needs, are encouraged to participate in the school community so that they are integrated into school life and develop a sense of ownership of the school. In the interests of inclusiveness, team teaching rather than withdrawal from class is currently under discussion in the resource department. This approach is in line with the philosophy articulated in school documentation. Students are being well supported in many ways: good links have been built up with outside referral agencies and small SPHE classes afford all students the opportunity to express their opinion in a caring environment. In this way students’ strengths and needs become apparent. Individual education plans are available to all junior cycle students with resource hours. This is highly commendable.
There are around 40 newcomer students and the language support allocation of 0.75 is used appropriately. English as a Second Language (ESL) students receive regular and qualified English language support. It is commendable that reports for parents of some ESL students are translated by the school as the need arises. Newcomer students who are receiving language support are given such support in age appropriate settings and there was evidence that these support classes are an extension and reinforcement of their English lessons as well as being for developing proficiency in reading, speaking, writing and listening. This is commended. Students are given additional literacy support through the creation of a Special Education Needs (SEN) class grouping for English, when required.
Numeracy support in the school is very good. Teachers of first-year students monitor student progress, and those who present as having difficulties in Mathematics receive support within small class groupings. It was reported that on occasion following such support, students in these groupings return to their base class for Mathematics, which is good practice.
Guidance at St Mary’s College is planned as a whole school responsibility involving school management, guidance counsellors, year heads, tutors, parents and students. Provision of guidance and care draws on the whole school community, as well as drawing on the support of local networks, government bodies and professional agencies. Care and guidance in the school is collaborative and cross-curricular in that it involves all subjects and programmes. The school makes full and appropriate use of the ex-quota hours allocated to provide personal, educational and vocational guidance.
The school has developed a suite of guidance facilities which are suitably located and easily accessible to students, comprising offices with ICT facilities, storage, telephone and a guidance library. This is a commendable enhancement to the guidance service in the school. In addition, the school library contains a guidance section. Some guidance classes also gain timetabled access to ICT in the school computer room. A well structured and comprehensive guidance plan is in place. It contains detailed information including a full guidance plan for each year group, provision of guidance and care in the school and a set of policies relating to guidance and care. The work of the guidance service in drawing up this plan is highly commended. The school plans to have its whole school guidance policy enacted by the end of the current school year and it is recommended that it proceeds with this schedule of completion of the plan.
Students in all year groups receive well planned and structured guidance programmes. Throughout the year, guidance counsellors are available for classroom contact regarding specific events, and in particular critical incidents, should the need arise. Examination and study skills form part of many yearly programmes. Subject and programme choice are supported in third year and at the end of TY. Guidance is delivered using a range of effective and appropriate methodologies. There is good balance between individual and group guidance and between provision for junior and senior classes.
A very well organised student support structure is in place. Year heads and class tutors, with the support of the guidance counsellors, when necessary, oversee the welfare of students on behalf of the whole school community. Care teams for each year group consist of the principal, deputy principal, year head, pastoral care coordinator, guidance counsellors, tutor, SPHE teacher, Religion teacher and resource department personnel. Guidance counsellors liaise closely with all members of the class care teams.
Support for students is strengthened in St Mary’s through its participation in the Meitheal programme. Meitheal is a diocesan run programme and Meitheal leaders provide a buddy service to first year students and help them to comfortably settle into secondary school. Students have volunteered for this role, are very well organised and have received training in order to carry out their work. In discussion with inspectors, students described their motivation in wanting to give something back to the school and enjoy helping students and acting as a role model to them. The work of the Meitheal leaders is highly commended.
The school has developed an atmosphere of care in line with its ethos and mission. Pastoral care coordination is carried out effectively and the pastoral needs of students are very well supported with an assistant principal post responsible for this area. Each year group has a year head whose duties encompass pastoral and discipline responsibilities. They have developed an administrative, discipline and caring role and work with students to maintain a positive school environment. Each class group has a tutor who looks after both pastoral and administrative matters. There was evidence in the course of the evaluation that journals are used very effectively by subject teachers, tutors and year heads. Each junior cycle tutor continues with their class group in order to foster a sense of continuity with students and parents. Tutors meet year heads regularly. Year heads and tutors carry out their diverse duties effectively.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There was clear evidence in the course of the evaluation that the mission statement of St Mary’s College, characterised by commitment to holistic development and to the pursuit of the achievement of each student’s full potential, was being lived out to the full in all aspects of school life.
· The board of management manages the school very effectively on behalf of the trustees and board roles and responsibilities are understood by board members.
· The board has been proactive in developing new policies, has consulted widely with all relevant bodies within the school community and articulated its key priorities for the school.
· The principal and deputy principal both display commendable leadership qualities and lead the school forward with energy and vision. The principal and deputy principal present a strong management team and manage the school on a daily basis in a very effective and collaborative way.
· Senior management actively fosters a collaborative approach with staff in agreeing on and achieving the aims of the school. A shared responsibility is fostered in the whole school community. Post holder duties are meaningful in that leadership roles are distributed across the school.
· Parents are involved in the life of the school through the active and representative parents’ association. Partnership and collaboration with parents is promoted.
· A school development planning steering committee is in place. Achievable development priorities, within realistic timeframes have been identified through widespread consultation.
· Subject departments are now well established throughout the school and this is one of the many successes of development planning.
· Students are well supported in making choices in the school. A very well organised student support structure is in place. Year heads and class tutors, with the support of the guidance counsellors, when necessary, oversee the welfare of students on behalf of the whole school community.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Work should proceed in a targeted way to include consultation, review and enactment of policies. All school policies should be dated, endorsed and disseminated for implementation once adopted by the board.
· In the context of the development of a SEN policy, the admissions policy should also be reviewed to ensure consonance and consistency.
· The post of responsibility review should proceed to identify how best the school’s needs can continue to be met within the post structure.
· The school should focus on bringing the diverse elements of school development planning together into a school plan.
· An overarching LCVP plan should be put together from all the different segments of the plan already developed.
· The school should explore further modes of inservice for the whole staff with a focus on such themes as mixed ability teaching, differentiation and special needs, which were identified as areas for development in the course of the subject inspections.
· Portfolio assessment should be introduced into the TY programme. The modular aspect of TY should be expanded further to add variation to the programme.
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 – 26 September 2007
· Subject Inspection of French – 28 September 2007
· Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 20 October 2006
· Subject Inspection of Physical Education – 11 October 2007
· Subject Inspection of Science and Biology – 25 September 2007
Published June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the WSE report and its endorsement of the overall excellence of St. Mary’s College.
The Board is particularly pleased that the Inspectorate found clear evidence in the course of the evaluation of the school’s commitment to a respectful, caring, safe, supportive learning environment and of the pursuit of the achievement of each student’s full potential. It was also gratifying to note that the Inspectorate was satisfied with the manner in which the Board undertook its governance and policy functions. The energy vision and leadership qualities that the Principal and Deputy Principal bring to the school have been referred to by the inspectors and the Board very much agrees with these observations. The Board is delighted with the inspectorate’s commendation in regard to the standard of teaching and learning which are crucial to the effectiveness of the school. The Board and the entire school community constantly strive to ensure that the optimum teaching and learning experience is received. The Board wishes to acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the teachers, students and parents in ensuring that St. Mary’s College remains a centre of educational excellence in all its facets.
The Board expresses it appreciation for the professional manner in which the inspectors undertook the evaluation and the quality of the final report. The Board acknowledges the inspectorate’s recommendations in relation to building on the existing strengths of the school and has already initiated their implementation.