An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
De La Salle College
Macroom, County Cork
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 28 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
A whole-school evaluation of De La Salle College, Macroom 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 four subject areas was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
De La Salle College was founded in the County Cork town of Macroom in 1933 by the De La Salle Order. It is situated in a central location, close to Macroom courthouse and Garda station, on the western side of the Sullane River. The school consists of a single storey building, in several wings and incorporating some classroom space which was added on during the 1970s. There are approximately fourteen primary schools in the area which act as feeder schools for De La Salle College, with the largest number of students consistently coming from Macroom Boys National School on the eastern side of the town. The school has remained essentially a single sex school for boys throughout most of its history, although in recent years the provision of a repeat Leaving Certificate class has seen the enrolment of several female students at the school.
The school remained under the joint trusteeship of the De La Salle order and the Cloyne diocese until 1991. At that point, it went through a process which saw it being handed over to the trusteeship of the diocese and the patronage of the Bishop of Cloyne. The current principal of the school had been a staff member prior to this change and has been principal since 1992. The De La Salle Order does not have a representative on the school’s board of management but continues to play an important supporting role, not least through the strong De La Salle ethos which permeates much of school life. The school remains part of the De La Salle family of schools in Ireland.
Enrolment has remained relatively static in recent years, at just below 300 students, although projections suggest that the school will experience a significant increase in enrolment over the coming decade. Since the late 1990s, the school has had an application for an extension with the Department of Education and Science and this application is currently at Stage 2 of the planning and design process. The planned development will augment the school’s facilities through the addition of a physical education hall, two lecture rooms, science and technology laboratories, a technical graphics room, a multi-media room and other facilities.
Macroom is a typical Irish market town, situated on the main road between the larger population centres of Cork and Killarney. The town has expanded quite rapidly in recent years, rising in population from roughly 3,500 inhabitants to around 5,000 today. The town is at the heart of a thriving rural community but also has significant industrial activity, tourist attractions and retail outlets, all providing a good variety of employment opportunities in the locality. Recent infrastructural developments, particularly between Cork and Macroom, have also contributed to making the town more accessible for commuters to the city. Central Statistics Office figures, based on the census of 2006, suggest that the number of newcomer inhabitants in the Macroom area is well over 10% of the total population, with Polish citizens alone counting for nearly 300 of the area’s official population.
De La Salle College, Macroom has a very clear mission statement. It reads:
Our community aims to assist our pupils to develop their full potential in a Christian environment.
In our school this vision will be achieved by mutual respect and co-operation among the partners in an open, safe and caring atmosphere.
Throughout the evaluation meetings, it was clear that this mission statement has imbued many areas of school life with a clear sense of purpose, encouraging students to be the best they can be in a range of fields. The caring, respectful atmosphere and openness of members of the school community towards assisting each other and engaging in the inspection process were also very evident. The sense of this mission statement has been incorporated into some excellent school brochures in the last few years. Such is its clarity that the whole mission statement might be included verbatim in future brochures.
While the De La Salle Brothers no longer have a direct role in the management of the school, having no trusteeship or board of management roles, the order’s supports are evidenced by continued links between the school and other De La Salle schools in Ireland and abroad, as well as attendance by members of the school community at De La Salle organised celebrations and seminars over the years. With the Bishop of Cloyne as patron and diocesan representatives on the school’s board of management, the role of the Cloyne diocese is also directly evident in school life. The school’s ethos, the school plan and relevant school policies emphasise very clearly the Catholic nature of the school, while allowing for the enrolment of non-Catholics as well.
The school supports a Christian and Catholic environment by providing school Masses, including the celebration of the feast day of Jean Baptiste de la Salle. Some students are involved as helpers on the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes and also attend retreats. The chaplain, a local Catholic curate, is available on one day of each week to offer individual spiritual guidance. All students of the school, except for those in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), attend Religious Education classes, varying from one to three periods per week.
The current board of management is in its third year of operation. The chairperson is both a diocesan representative and also someone with a lifelong commitment to Catholic education. The trustees have four representatives on the board in all. Other board of management members include two parents’ representatives and two staff representatives, thus ensuring that the board is properly constituted. The principal acts as secretary to the board and, somewhat more unusually, the deputy principal acts as recording secretary. A very interesting and positive development has been that of placing the names of board members, and of the bodies they represent, on the school’s website. This is in keeping with the openness encouraged by the school’s mission statement and is applauded as a support to all stakeholders in the school.
The school’s board is commended for the degree to which it supports the school’s general ethos and for the highly supportive sentiments which its members have expressed in relation to the in-school management team and to the operation of the school generally. Board members have attended training for their roles, provided by the Joint Managerial Body and, in the case of teachers, by the ASTI as well. They are satisfied that they have upskilled themselves in relation to recent education legislation. The minutes of board meetings have revealed that the main topics under discussion at such meetings in the past two years have included the school’s building project, ratification of policies as they have come before the board and analysis of the content of inspection reports. The board does not involve itself directly in financial management issues but has deferred this responsibility to a separate finance committee. This is not a sub-committee, in that none of its members is a board member, but the finance committee does submit regular reports to the board for discussion and ratification. The board’s minutes record satisfaction with the current state of the school’s accounts.
Meetings of the board of management have occurred with a degree of inconsistency over recent years. It is noted that only one board meeting was held between September 2006 and the same month in 2007. The board is advised that this is insufficient for it to fulfil its obligations, including its very important role in the development of school policies and their ratification. The Articles of Management for Catholic Secondary Schools (Article 9) suggest that a minimum of one meeting per term should be held and the board is urged to see this as an important target to aim for.
The board is congratulated on the appropriateness of its reporting procedures, ensuring that agreed oral reports are given to parents and staff by the relevant representatives following board meetings. The possibility of issuing an annual report to parents on the school’s progress in terms of the school plan, attendance, the operation and performance of the school in general terms should also be considered, perhaps by means of the excellent school website, as this is a requirement of the Education Act (1998), Section 20. Such a report would merely enhance the already good lines of communication between the board and the parent body at the school.
The board has informally identified the school’s main development priorities as relating to the challenge of growing numbers (impacting on space, staffing and facilities) and the possibility of a broader curriculum as the school expands. It has also spent a considerable amount of time in fine tuning the admissions policy, with an eye to equality legislation and the desire to retain the school’s Catholic ethos. It is suggested that a practice of recording the dates upon which the board discusses or ratifies policies would be a good support to the process of reviewing policies at appropriate intervals and of moving school development planning forward. A more embracing look at school development priorities may also be worthwhile, in the sense of a strategic plan which can help identify such priorities for the future and chart progress in relation to them.
In-school management at De La Salle College sees a strong team approach to managing the day-to-day matters in school life. The principal and deputy principal share some tasks, such as the development of each year’s timetable and the enforcement of discipline in instances of serious misbehaviour. This said, there is also a very good understanding between principal and deputy principal of the areas which fall particularly within the remit of each. They meet formally at least once a day, to discuss any immediate issues or, if towards the end of a day, to review whether progress has been achieved. It is very notable also that the principal and deputy principal spend considerable time in the corridors and staff room, engaging with the school community at the most immediate level possible, and this is applauded. Each has an office located on one or other of the two main entrance corridors to the main school, assisting their involvement in the day-to-day management tasks, while the deputy principal also has significant teaching duties each week.
Given the experience and availability of the principal, it is natural that he has evolved as the main leadership figure at the school. There is a very strong sense, from parents, teachers and students, that the principal is a main port of call. Such a perception may, indeed, be something which a review of in-school management structures should examine in time, but at present it is one which is accepted in the context of current school size. The principal’s role has evolved over the years to one which has management of staff, external links with the school and dealings with the board of management as central elements. The principal has identified the main priorities for the school as being the ongoing enhancement of teaching and learning, professional development and provision of facilities. He sees the mission statement and good relationships as being at the core of everything the school does.
The deputy principal is in his third year in the position, having previously been a staff member and guidance counsellor. In addition to his teaching duties, the deputy principal’s main distinct functions have involved centrality in the school’s discipline system, organising supervision and substitution rosters and the co-ordination of school planning activities. This latter feature is a remnant from the deputy principal’s previous role within the school, as is his involvement with guidance planning, but some steps have been taken in recent times to streamline the role of the deputy principal a little more. This is sensible and, again, in the context of the potential growth of the school, such streamlining will be vital.
The school has a total of four assistant principal positions and five special duties posts. These numbers are in line with Departmental regulations. The posts have been decided upon with a view to assisting mainly in the management of student discipline, administration, pastoral care of students and staff, public relations, environmental awareness, programme co-ordination and some subject co-ordination. Each of the posts carries a sizeable amount of additional work and in general a good balance is maintained between the duties commensurate with an assistant principal post and a special duties teacher. Post-holders have shown a fine commitment to school life and all have given significant lengths of service to the school. When the school next engages in a formal review of its post structure – recommended to occur every two years – it is suggested that it consider how best the roles might be made more streamlined. For example, the allocation of duties in one central element of school life, rather than a mixture of administration, pastoral or other duties in the same post ought to be considered. So too, the practice of adding subject co-ordination to some posts ought to be reviewed, as it is not feasible to have every subject co-ordinated in this fashion. This practice is also a barrier to the practice recommended in many inspection reports of rotating subject co-ordination tasks among teachers, to help everyone to participate fully in future subject planning.
There is a weekly meeting of some in-school management personnel in relation to discipline, and some of the school’s staff meetings have also included formal post-holder meetings. As post-holders themselves have pointed out, the disparate nature of the work done within the posts lessens the value of having regular post-holder meetings. If the school’s intake increases as projected, it is advised that along with the streamlining of posts, the matter of allocating regular meeting time to post-holders dealing with similar issues could be considered.
Management of staff operates very much at a personal level within the school. With some important exceptions, teachers are generally allocated to teach subjects which they are qualified in and are happy to teach, while there is a strong sense of collegiality evident within the staffroom as well. A good commitment by the school to supporting teachers’ continuing professional development, both through attendance at externally provided courses and also through in-school presentations, has also been applauded. It is very good to note that progression of a mentoring programme has been allocated to a special duties post and that excellent progress has been made in this area. Very clear and relevant guidance has been developed for teachers new to the school, whether as student teachers or newly arrived qualified teachers. In time, it will be worthwhile developing this mentoring programme to include the pastoral care of all staff members. It has also been suggested that the involvement of student teachers in subject department meetings and in subject planning will assist not only the student teachers but also assist subject departments in keeping abreast of recent developments in teacher training.
Students are well looked after in De La Salle College. The code of behaviour is based on mutual respect, in keeping with the ethos, and is well explained within the hardback journals which all students use. The school’s report to the National Educational Welfare Board shows that attendance levels are high and incidences of suspension and exclusion are impressively low. A focus on a positive discipline system in recent years has been put forward by staff members for some of this success, and certainly the measures and rewards in place are applauded. Effective too has been a system of in-school detention, where incidences of moderate misbehaviour are dealt with by either one-day or two-day detentions, where students are allocated study to do and are supervised within the school. The provision of evening study is a further excellent support to students, as is the free Saturday study provided from Christmas onwards, for students from the school and others who wish to avail of it. Management has kept a close eye on student outcomes, being able to present a very clear breakdown of how students’ performance in state examinations compares with national norms, and also tracks the progress of students after they leave school, through third level or employment. This level of engagement with and interest in how students progress, even after they have left the school, is applauded.
The supportive role played by the school’s student council deserves mention as it contributes to the development of a positive environment for students within the school. Previous weighting of the council in favour of senior cycle students has rightly been reconsidered in recent times and the active role played by council members in supporting the school’s environmental policies and assisting at school functions is deserving of praise. There is no reason why greater involvement of the student body and council should not be considered, as they have much to contribute to many facets of policy formation and school life. Students have been actively consulted on matters like the review of the anti-bullying policy and the stated intention of management to maintain the student voice in policy development, as practicable, is applauded.
While the school has an open enrolment policy in the main and has not had appeals against it under Section 29 of the Education Act, it is advised that there are some potential areas of dispute in its current enrolment policy. One relates to the statement, in section 4.6, that reserving a place for a student is linked to the compulsory payment of a non-refundable fee. That such a stipulation is not rigidly enforced in practice is applauded, as is the obvious sensitivity of the principal to individual students’ needs, but the school is advised that the removal of such a section from the enrolment policy would be more in keeping with legislation. Another area of its enrolment policy which the school is strongly advised to review is section 3.3. As a Catholic school, De La Salle College is fully entitled to stipulate that enrolment priority will be given to Catholic students and that ‘non-Catholic enrolment will only be considered in the event of being under-subscribed.’ However, while applauding the fact that non-Catholics have not been prevented from attending the school, the follow-on point, advising parents of non-Catholics ‘that formal religious education classes are an integral part of the curriculum for all students’ is problematic. The Equality Authority advises that non-Catholic students ought not to be compelled to participate in Catholic religion classes, as this statement implies, and indeed the de facto situation in the school does not involve such participation. The statement is at odds with the school’s own draft religious education policy, as well as with equality legislation, and merits being reviewed and reworded.
Communication between the school and parents is of a very high standard. An active parents’ council supports significant areas of school life, including the holding of talks for parents and an annual quiz for all students in the area and sometimes exchange students as well. Commendably, the fundraising work of the parents’ council is kept to a modest degree and the council disburses any funds it has to the school by mutual agreement on priorities from year to year. Parents have been loud in their praise of the accessibility of teachers, not least the principal, whenever they need to contact the school. Furthermore, the class-teacher system, linking with the junior and senior discipline heads, the facility for written communication between parents and teachers via the students’ journals, the holding of annual parent-teacher meetings for all year groups and the compactness of the school itself all ensure that parents have every reasonable access to the school that they could wish for. The excellence of the school’s website also deserves a mention, as does the work done in highlighting students’ achievements and activities via the local press, as these are further invaluable supports to keeping the community engaged with the school, ensuring that local people are aware of what is going on and creating a sense of pride in the school.
School management has established excellent links with the local community. The involvement and support of the local business community for students’ work experience, whether in Transition Year (TY) or in the LCVP is a great support to students. Equally, the commitment of the school to fundraising for local charities, particularly via TY students annually, is also very significant and praiseworthy. The school has garnered significant community support for its building programme, not least through an annual golf classic organised by the past-students’ union. A highpoint of community support for the school was shown in recent years by the thousands of people who attended the 2006 Corn Uí Mhuirí Munster Colleges Football Final.
In the main, staff members are deployed appropriately to teach the subjects they are qualified in. The practice in some physical education lessons, where non-qualified personnel have been given sole charge of some physical education class groups, was strongly discouraged in a previous subject inspection report and management has indicated that it has begun to move away from this practice. This is timely. In another subject area, that of technology, the school is here applauded for its commitment to releasing a teacher to attend the relevant University of Limerick course to achieve the required qualification. The same has occurred in the area of special educational needs in the past and the school is applauded for facilitating such staff training, designed to meet the current and future needs of the school population.
The school is commended on the excellent deployment of support personnel. One special needs assistant works within the school at present and has integrated very productively into classroom and corridor life. The school is fortunate in having experienced and highly capable secretarial support in a permanent capacity, as well as being able to call on the services of two part-time caretakers who ensure that most, if not all, of the maintenance and repair tasks which are part of day-to-day school life can be handled in-house. The presence of a canteen facility, staffed by non-school workers, is an added bonus to students in that it makes meals available to them both at morning break time and lunch time. This latter situation is particularly appropriate, as the lunch break itself is quite short.
It was noted that the current timetable arrangements fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. The school indicated that it would be addressing this matter and making adjustment to the timetable for future years or seeking additional resources to address the matter if this adjustment would compromise essential course provision.
The school’s main physical resource, naturally enough, is its building. There is no doubt that the planned extension referred to in the introduction to this report will augment the school’s facilities significantly and deserves to be progressed. It is unfortunate that the school is effectively prohibited from applying for renovation funds, such as for window replacement, under the summer works scheme because of the fact that it is otherwise engaged in the planning process. It should be pointed out that the school has made significant efforts to operate effectively within the building it has and has adapted rooms, updated facilities and installed new equipment as much as is practicable. Such work has included the redesign of the guidance facilities, the division of a previously large room to accommodate two smaller classrooms, one with a data projector, and the creation of a French room adjacent to the previously larger technology room. It is also very much to the school’s credit that it has taken on board the recommendation of a recent evaluation of information and communication technology (ICT) and installed desks and computers in a newly designated computer room. Further progression of the school’s ICT resources ought to consider the provision of some desktop or laptop computers for use by staff in lesson preparation etc. and management has indicated a willingness to consider this, along with the development of ICT resources generally to facilitate teaching and learning. With classrooms networked and having broadband internet access, this is a very sensible direction to follow.
The school environs are well maintained although space is at a premium. This will become even more the case when the extension is built, as the most significant open space in the grounds will be used to accommodate the new wing. Playing fields at a nearby club complex, Tom Creedon Park, and the Town Park (covered by a legal agreement with the local urban district council) have managed to serve the needs of school teams and some classes over the years. Furthermore, the extension will provide an important indoor physical education hall. The school has a broad sense of environmental responsibility which deserves to be highlighted. While it has not gone down the route of seeking green flag or other recognition, it has endeavoured to progress a very solid recycling agenda. In addition, the unique situation whereby students from the school, in conjunction with a multi-national company, purchased a bog and continue to own it in trust, is quite remarkable. The bog has become a focal point of environmental research and awareness-raising within the school over the years and those responsible for this initiative deserve the highest praise. It is perhaps also no coincidence that a project on the nearby Gearagh area, undertaken by a student from the school who won the national Young Scientist competition some years ago, was a central plank in the successful campaign to get the area recognised as a natural heritage site.
The school has engaged productively with the process of school development planning. The present deputy principal has been the designated planning co-ordinator for a number of years and has overseen activities ranging from presentations by representatives of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) to in-school committee formation and consultation with the educational partners on the development of the school plan. Both the board of management and parents’ representatives reported that they had been involved in discussion of various school policies over recent years, and that the board had subsequently ratified such policies. Students have been involved in some elements of policy development, such as the anti-bullying policy, and such planning activity is certainly an area where the now more representative students’ council should be encouraged to play a more active role if possible.
Minutes of staff meetings on planning matters show a thorough and well structured approach to planning, with the school’s overall ethos helping to inform much of the discussion and outcomes. In 2004-05, for example, meetings identified priorities, specifically the need to examine school policies in relation to homework, alcohol, drugs and tobacco, admissions and attendance. All were recorded as having been ratified by the board of management. Subsequently, health and safety and positive discipline policies were examined, with significant numbers of staff members involved in the work in each, while current policy work is being done on ICT and first aid. A review of the school’s homework policy has already been factored into current planning activity, which is a very healthy sign. In this area specifically, the initiative whereby first-year classes have a homework record book in the classroom, allowing teachers on any given day to see how much homework the class may have, is a very sensible support to achieving regularity in homework allocation. This is worth expanding beyond first year and might also contribute to a whole-school assessment policy in time. The school has made impressive moves in the direction of common assessment in recent years and the development of an assessment policy, in harmony with the homework policy, could be a valuable support to collaborative work in this area. It is good to note that several of the staff training sessions held in recent years also revolved around teaching and learning, including an externally facilitated session on making effective learners and some presentations by the principal and deputy principal. These have ensured that a clear eye has been maintained on the central goal of school planning, the enhancement of teaching and learning opportunities for all.
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.
Management reports that the overall aim in policy work is to effect a review of existing policies for roughly 25% of the time available, which is again a very laudable aim. Some difficulties in relation to the school’s enrolment policy have already been referred to in Section 1.3. Curricular planning and matters relating to special education and assessment will be discussed in later sections. Beyond these, there are some areas of school policies which merit review. For example, some elements of the health and safety policy still need updating, to take into account current legislation on smoking and up-to-date equipment lists. In line with recommendations in the technology/technical graphics report accompanying this evaluation, the school is applauded on having already moved to provide isolation switches and safety signage in the technology room. The recent appointment of a new health and safety post-holder will undoubtedly help to speed up this review further. In finalising the reviewed ICT policy, it may also be worthwhile to incorporate some advice for students on acceptable usage of internet sources in the coursework elements of state examinations. This would help safeguard the school from possible problems in the future if any student were to download excessive amounts of such material for submission as an examination component. Given that the school has a small number of female students in its population, it is also advisable that existing policies be re-read for gender proofing, as several of them refer to a typical student as being ‘he’ only.
In the past two years, the main focus of planning activity has been the development of subject plans, with a staggered approach being adopted, quite sensibly, in order to ensure that teachers of more than one subject were not overly engaged in one area and hence unable to attend meetings in their other subject area(s). At the time of the whole school evaluation, most subjects had formulated full planning folders, with remaining areas for work in 2007-8 including LCVP, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Technical Graphics and Technology. This is applauded as a very sensible, staged approach and it is merely advised that any such planning, in addition to the general guidelines which have been supplied by the SDPI, should also take account of any subject-specific guidelines and circulars which have been issued by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) or Department of Education and Science in recent years. In CSPE, for example, there are subject guidelines dating from 2005, as well as two departmental circulars (M12/01 and M13/05) which can assist planning activity greatly if employed.
With a school plan, containing both permanent and developmental sections, now in place, and a suite of policies, the school principal feels very satisfied with the impact of school planning to date. The chief benefit mentioned has been the assistance the planning process has given to engaging staff members in open-minded discussion of the school’s work. There is equally little doubt that a number of policies, such as the reviewed homework policy and the moves towards positive discipline have impacted positively on students’ lives in recent years. The school has identified, in the developmental section of the plan, a number of areas in which it feels work is necessary, up to 2009. As previously intimated, some recommendations pertaining to curricular development will be made in a forthcoming section of this report. In a general sense, the main issue which the school is urged to factor into its strategic planning is to take account of the likely changes which lie in the not-too-distant future. Societal change, increasing need for supportive educational frameworks within schools and the issue of having to cope with greater numbers of students than at present should, and undoubtedly will, form parts of future planning at the school. These may also necessitate a more formal approach, perhaps to include a planning team with designated meeting times. The completion of the guidance policy, now a thorough position document, as a whole-school document and the work anticipated in SPHE, special educational needs and pastoral planning can also provide important support mechanisms for coping with future changes.
De La Salle College offers students a six-year education programme. Students cover a Junior Certificate curriculum for three years, then a compulsory Transition Year programme and then either the established Leaving Certificate or the LCVP for two final years. There is a small repeat Leaving Certificate class, open also to students who had not previously attended the school and with a designated study facility. Management has stated that the current student numbers, and current student profiles, have made it impractical for the school to consider introducing alternative programmes such as the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) course. This is a situation which may change in coming years, particularly if the school grows as the town has grown, but at present the curricular programmes on offer meet the needs of the school’s students satisfactorily. The school is applauded in that it set up a Board of Studies to consider curricular issues some years ago and this board might well be a vehicle to consider any forthcoming suggestions in relation to curricular enhancement.
In turning initially to the two programmes on offer within the school curriculum, the TY and LCVP, the role of the co-ordinators of each has been very significant. One of the co-ordinators also acts as the overall school programme co-ordinator and a very clear division of duties, as well as commitment to the job, has been evidenced through perusal of programme documentation and interview. An extremely comprehensive TY folder, replete with material on TY philosophy and a myriad of valuable activities which students have engaged in, is a credit to the co-ordination work involved. TY students are involved in work experience, as are LCVP students, charity work and a lot of other activities throughout the year, in addition to the Friday afternoon TY activities sessions, where they can access classes ranging from self defence to tractor driving as interest demands. The following recommendations contain no reflection whatsoever on the work of any co-ordinator but need to be addressed instead at whole-school and management levels. Firstly, it is accepted that the school has decided to make TY a compulsory feature of the curriculum, partly to ensure that viable numbers are available to take it up each year. However, there are issues which deserve review. One is that students are asked to choose the subjects they intend to take for Leaving Certificate before they enter TY. They would benefit from an extra year of maturation, and the chance to taste a wide range of subjects, before settling on their Leaving Certificate choices. The resulting TY timetable also tends to resemble a fifth-year or sixth-year timetable in most respects, except for an excellent range of activities timetabled for one afternoon per week. Management has suggested the possibility of including a modular course in Technology in future TY planning. The possibility of developing modular courses, for example in an ab initio language, and of introducing new subjects not geared so directly towards Leaving Certificate parallels, should also be investigated.
Although the school maintains that it is possible for TY students to change from one chosen subject to another during the early part of the year, this becomes increasingly difficult as the year progresses. While several subject plans for TY are excellent examples of what a TY subject programme should be, the choice difficulty is compounded by the fact that some other subject programmes in TY seek to cover excessive amounts of Leaving Certificate material. Thus, not only are they at odds with recommended TY practice, as found on www.transitionyear.ie, but it also means that any student who makes a wrong choice before TY would find it increasingly difficult to rectify the error as time progresses. With subject planning already a well established feature of school life, the review of some TY subjects in line with the above concerns is strongly urged.
At subject-specific level, it is very encouraging to note that students can access all available subjects at higher or ordinary level, and at common or foundation level if appropriate. The small size of the current student cohort has been accepted as a reason for a relatively small selection of subjects being available to students in junior cycle and, to some extent, in senior cycle also. All students, regardless of aptitude, follow the same core junior curriculum, with the only element of choice being one between Technology and Technical Graphics at the start of second year. The school is applauded for its efforts to offer some other subjects outside of school time, and free of charge, such as the provision of Art and Music. However, while mindful of staffing constraints, the school is also urged to investigate ways of broadening the junior cycle curriculum, perhaps to consider the possibilities of introducing a another language and incorporating subjects like Art and Music within the timetable. The excellent initiative of an Italian exchange, which has been part of school life for the past two years, could provide an impetus, for example, for the introduction of Italian as a further language option and the school is advised that there are supports available from the Post-Primary Languages Initiative for the introduction into the curriculum of either Italian, Spanish or Japanese. A broader curriculum would result in the creation of more option bands, which might cater better for the different aptitudes of students. It is also pointed out that even an increase of ten or fifteen students in any incoming first-year grouping would probably require the setting up of a three-way class breakdown in first year and beyond, so that consideration of broadening the curriculum and introducing more options is worthwhile for this reason too.
Subject availability for Leaving Certificate is, naturally, affected by what has been available to students in junior cycle. This said, it is very encouraging to note the commitment of the school to providing classes in the three main science subjects, and in facilitating after-school lessons in Agricultural Economics and Technical Drawing as required. It is unfortunate that, while all students in junior cycle must take either Technology or Technical Graphics, there is no timetabled follow-on from these in senior cycle as yet. The previously mentioned plan to send a teacher for training in Technology is applauded as an important move to broaden the school’s Leaving Certificate curriculum.
The absence of timetabled Physical Education in senior classes, as referred to in a previous subject inspection report, remains at odds with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (Page 7), which state that ‘Physical Education should form part of the curriculum’ and that ‘teaching hours should be registered on the school timetable’. For all academic subjects, whether in junior or senior cycle, timetable provision is satisfactory, and includes provision of double lessons in subjects with practical components, unless subject teachers have themselves expressed satisfaction with alternative arrangements, as in junior Science.
Taking into accounts the concerns expressed above in relation to the desirability of broadening some features of the school’s curriculum and revisiting the matter of asking students to choose Leaving Certificate subjects prior to TY, the system employed in developing subject options for Leaving Certificate is otherwise fair. Students are given an initial open choice, being asked to state their preferences from the range of subjects available in senior cycle. Following this, the subject blocks are worked upon by the guidance teacher and deputy principal to ensure that a set of blocks is developed which best meets the requirements of students. Subjects, apart from Irish, English and Mathematics, are generally grouped in blocks of two options, occasionally of three, with every effort made to satisfy students’ choices by placing more popular options in two blocks on the timetable. This is satisfactory provision.
Students are given appropriate guidance on the requirements for educational and career advancement before making any choices. One-to-one advice is offered to third-year students in cases where they have problems relating to subject choice for Leaving Certificate. It bears reiteration that the availability of more time within TY for advice on subject choice is a further reason for the argument against making choices for Leaving Certificate before TY, with the school’s own letter to parents pointing out that TY gives students ‘time to make more mature decisions about their Leaving Cert.’ Guidance offered includes clarification of the near-compulsory nature of Irish, English and Mathematics, the need for a foreign language for access to most universities, and subject-specific requirements for different courses. It is good to note that students are asked to select their preferred subjects before any consideration of possible LCVP options happens, ensuring that the availability of the LCVP is, appropriately, an add-on for students rather than a factor which impinges unduly on their initial subject selections. Parents are also kept informed, mainly through open nights, of requirements for different courses and careers.
A very impressive commitment to co-curricular activity has been noted in De La Salle College. The school has developed an enviable reputation, for instance, in Shakespearean drama, with three victories to date in the Cork schools Shakespeare competition, as well as a fine tradition of theatre visits. In addition, school groups are brought on occasion to films, either in Macroom or Ballincollig, when items of curricular relevance are showing. In keeping with the drama and film themes, extracurricular activity also includes the production of an annual drama with up to forty students involved, with this year’s production being The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Plans for TY students to enter the national TY drama competition this year, run via the Briery Gap Theatre locally, are also heartily applauded, as are the ‘Poetry by the River’ sessions which are offered on an occasional basis to all classes.
Returning to a co-curricular theme, the school regularly participates in debating competitions, generally against local second-level schools, and with considerable success. A tradition of success in quiz competitions has also been built up, ranging from overall victory in the original ‘Cork Examiner Quiz’ some years back to ongoing involvement in Leaving Certificate Chemistry quizzes and junior Science quizzes, in each of which success has been achieved. As previously intimated, a school student some years ago won the overall Young Scientist award for his work on the Gearagh area, while the initiative of using the school’s own bog for curricular and co-curricular work with science groups and TY students remains an excellent one. The strategy of offering visits to the bog as a reward for class good behaviour sits very well with the positive discipline system which the school has engaged in. A very sincere commitment to connecting students with nature generally, by means of a number of field trips and hill walks each year, is also highly commended, and it deserves ongoing support as a means of assisting students who may not necessarily enjoy team sports to choose healthy lifestyle options. Another hugely valuable area of co-curricular commitment in the school concerns the two exchange visits which are organised annually. The exchange with students from a sister De La Salle school in Bordeaux is well into its second decade now, while the Italian exchange has been a feature of school life for the past two years. Such visits and the reciprocal hosting of international students are excellent supports to language work, and to broader educational activity at the school. Full account has been taken of health and safety issues in all of such trips and parents are well informed about requirements as they arise.
The main extra-curricular activities at the school relate to the sporting arena, particularly football. The school fields five football teams and two hurling teams in annual competitions. The pinnacle, to date, of its success on the football field must be regarded as the victory by the senior football team in the final of the Corn Uí Mhuirí in 2006, an amazing achievement for a relatively small school. The school regularly supplies members of the Cork minor football team. Such a commitment to GAA games is a substantial one, and without a significant complement of playing pitches within the school grounds, the co-operation of local clubs has been readily available over the years. School teams also participate in table-tennis competitions and did so formerly in basketball as well, while a number of school athletes have achieved success at regional, Munster and national levels over the years. It has been explained that entering school teams in other sports, such as rugby or association football, is not feasible as it would involve the same relatively small pool of players too often in training and matches. Other challenges facing the promotion of co-curricular and extracurricular activity include the time needed by busy teachers, the lack of an indoor facility and the shortness of the lunch break. Finance is always an issue but the school has confirmed that it never seeks money from students participating on school teams and costs are kept more manageable by virtue of the school having its own bus transport.
Much of the co-curricular and extracurricular activity in the school is captured in verbal and pictorial form on the school’s website, via the newsletter and through regular articles submitted to local papers. It is also good to note that the school is happy to celebrate the achievements of students in any activities which are not provided in the school itself. Thus, the achievements of students in sports as diverse as judo, snooker and archery have been appropriately highlighted as well. The result is that a picture has emerged of a school in which students are immersed in many and varied activities, alongside or outside set curricular work, which is an enriching and valuable experience for all involved. The commitment of the school and the teachers involved here is deserving of the highest praise.
Good collaboration was in evidence between teachers in the subject areas evaluated. Subject departments have been created and subject co-ordinators designated in most cases. In the one instance where this is not the case, work is underway on the development of subject department structures and this is strongly encouraged. Here, it is recommended that the role of subject convenor in the department would rotate. Such an arrangement will allow for the sharing of the work involved and the equal involvement of members of the subject teaching team, over time. There was evidence of the involvement of the different departments evaluated in regular subject planning meetings. The keeping of records of what was discussed at meetings, along with actions planned as a result, is good practice.
The commitment of subject departments to the planning process was evident in all cases. The planning process is well advanced in most instances and, where subject plans are less well developed, it is noted that a very promising start has been made to the process, which is commended. The creation of common teaching programmes in a number of subject plans is most worthwhile. The further development of a common programme to incorporate syllabus and skills-based learning goals is suggested in one subject area, while the imaginative work involved in the creation of the subject’s TY programme is recognised. In another subject it is recommended that teachers develop the plan to identify key priorities for the subject. It is suggested that these should include a review of the content and methodologies utilised in the department’s TY programme. The good practice of another department in viewing programmes of work as working documents which are reviewed at the end of the year is highlighted and it is suggested that this approach should be a regular feature of the planning process. In this subject, it is recommended that the continued development of a cross-curricular dimension should be given priority in the first-year programme. There was evidence of individual teacher planning in all cases.
Good practice was highlighted in one subject where continuing professional development had been undertaken in the area of teaching methodologies and where content was varied according to students’ experiences and interests, within syllabus guidelines. A further strength of this department’s plan was the inclusion of a list of methodologies to be used in the teaching of the subject. In another subject it was recommended that the most effective teaching methodologies be considered and discussed as part of the subject planning process and these should then be included in the subject plan. The usefulness of focusing on planning to include active and differentiated methodologies was mentioned as a means of building on the high level of individual planning in another subject area.
The adoption of ICT in one subject is praised and the further plans of the relevant department to expand its use of ICT are encouraged. In other departments, the increased use of ICT is highlighted as an area to be considered in the subject planning process, along with further planning for resources. In a number of instances good collaborative work on the part of teachers in planning to cater for students with special educational needs is highlighted. The website of the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) is offered as a further resource for subject departments in this regard. In one subject inspection report, the organisation of the subject base room to instil an awareness of health and safety among the student body is referred to. As previously mentioned in Section 2.1, a number of recommendations are made in the report with regard to health and safety improvements.
Good quality learning and teaching was in evidence in all subjects evaluated in De La Salle College, Macroom. It is evident that, while teacher expectations are high, they are also realistic and flexible in responding to and meeting the individual needs of students. In almost all lessons seen, the learning objective was clearly stated at the outset. This worked particularly well when the objective was written on the whiteboard to maintain students’ consciousness of the overall aim of the lesson. In all cases the lessons were well paced and appropriate to the abilities and needs of the students.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed during the evaluation. These included some good examples of well-managed group and pair work, enhancing the potential for students to benefit from a co-operative learning approach. Where students were encouraged to actively engage in their own learning, their enthusiasm for, and engagement in, classroom activities was noticeable. In several subjects it is recommended that this good practice be developed and that teachers consider a wider range of teaching methodologies to increase students’ active engagement in their own learning. Greater opportunities for students to engage in problem solving or skills-based tasks were encouraged. Particular mention was made in one subject area of the teaching methodologies used in Transition Year and it was recommended that the teaching approaches used should aim to enhance the students’ educational and social development in line with the ethos and aims of TY.
It was commended that a variety of teaching resources, such as visual stimulus materials, worksheets to guide skills-based tasks, video, overhead transparencies, the whiteboard, ICT and other material props, were used to assist teaching and learning in the lessons seen. The use of effective and well-planned questioning was noted in all subjects evaluated.
Teachers’ clear awareness of and sense of care towards students with particular learning needs, together with collaborative practice in the preparation of education plans for students who need them, was commended. It is suggested that expansion of the collaborative IEP process could serve as a support for mainstream teachers and it is recommended that the merits of team-teaching, particularly in relation to special educational needs, be further investigated.
In one subject area the use of ICT during lessons was applauded and the continuation and expansion of this good work is encouraged. In each of the other subject areas evaluated, it was recommended that the use of ICT in teaching and learning be developed and increased.
Classes were, in all cases, well managed and teachers were encouraging and affirming of students’ efforts. Classroom atmosphere was at all times positive and conducive to learning. All classroom interactions were characterised by mutual respect and positive student-teacher rapport, with the judicious use of humour being noted on several occasions.
The provision of well-equipped designated base-rooms for the subjects is applauded. Teachers are highly commended for making very good use of the display of students’ work and other subject-related materials to create a print-rich environment within the dedicated subject areas. Further development of this is encouraged, as the potential benefits to be gained from creating an environment to support the learning of the subject are great.
In all subject areas evaluated, students displayed a good understanding of lesson content and responded readily to questioning. It was clear in all lessons seen that appropriate learning was taking place and that students are achieving to a high level.
In addition to the formal school examinations that are set at Christmas and in summer, and the mock examinations appropriately timed in third year and sixth year as preparation for state examinations, it is commended that various other forms of assessment are used to monitor students’ progress. The assessment modes encountered in the course of the evaluation included the assessment of students’ projects on completion and the combining of the outcomes of this assessment with formal examinations. Such combining of assessments was recognised as good practice consistent with the syllabus of the particular subject. The further extension of this approach to include the full range of student project work was recommended as was the introduction of alternative assessment methods in the TY programme of one of the subjects inspected. Further assessment modes in use in the school included standardised testing and diagnostic testing and these were used, together with teacher observation and class-based examinations, to capture learning achievements and further inform teaching.
Consistent with the reference to the effectiveness of formative assessment in the school plan, assessment for learning (AfL) was observed being applied in a variety of ways in the course of the evaluation. These included the use of comment-based assessment in the correction of homework, informal testing of students’ knowledge and understanding of earlier work by means of teachers’ skilled questioning and teachers’ interaction with students to provide affirmation and encouragement as they completed practical work. It was recommended that such commendable use of AfL be further developed, strengthening the focus on sharing learning outcomes with students. It was further recommended that subject planning focus on the development of AfL strategies and that consideration be given to further collaborative engagement between the learning support team and mainstream teachers in this context. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), www.ncca.ie, is cited as a source of further information on AfL.
The opportunity to set common examinations for particular year groups was availed of in one of the subjects inspected, and this was judged worthwhile, while in the other subject where this is possible the agreed subject plan is leading to the introduction of similar arrangements. Commendably, provision is made in the mock examinations for students with Reasonable Accommodations in Certificate Examinations. This provides students with the opportunity to become accustomed to the accommodations and to avail of assistive technology where appropriate.
In each of the subjects inspected, appropriate amounts of homework were assigned, monitored and corrected regularly. Homework was differentiated in most instances to meet the individual needs of students and where this was not the case, it was suggested that this approach should be adopted. The homework assigned was consistent with the aims of the respective subject syllabuses.
Communication of students’ progress and achievement to parents is undertaken, in the main, by means of the students’ journals, formal examination reports and parent-teacher meetings, held once a year for each year group. Parents are also free, on request, to meet teachers to discuss students’ progress. These arrangements are commended. The use of teachers’ diaries to maintain records of students’ attendance and progress is affirmed together with moves towards the development of more comprehensive recording of lesson outcomes, which are under way.
The number of students in the college presenting with special educational needs is relatively small. Senior management ensures that allocated resources are used effectively and all students are actively encouraged to participate fully in school life. The college has a qualified teacher in special educational needs who, as part of his role as assistant principal, ably co-ordinates support for students with special educational needs. The members of the core special educational needs support team include the co-ordinator, another teacher and a special needs assistant. Students with special educational needs are identified in a co-ordinated process by the special educational needs support team. The support team works with colleagues in a collaborative manner to achieve desired student learning outcomes. The extension of such collaborative practice to include team-teaching merits consideration, as does the continued engagement of all staff in special-education related professional development and learning. Management has also confirmed that appropriate supports have been facilitated for particularly gifted students over the years, including access to UCC and DCU courses, and it is worth considering the inclusion of an overall policy on gifted students within the special educational needs framework, in time.
Knowledge of students, of subject matter and the use, in general, of differentiated and co-operative learning ensures that students are supported in their learning. The quality of learning was found to be good. Comprehensive assessment procedures are in place to monitor and reward both student achievement and engagement. This in turn informs future learning and teaching. Planning and preparation at classroom level is well advanced. The college engages in the process of individual education planning for students with special educational needs. In line with more recent legislation, specifically the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, it is recommended that the college’s enrolment policy and other sections of the school plan pertaining to special educational need be reviewed. The subject inspection report on the quality of learning and teaching in provision for special educational needs, which is linked to this report, provides greater detail on the quality of support for these students in the college.
In turning to supports to aid the inclusion of students from disadvantaged, minority and other groups, and those for whom English is a second language, the school has shown an inclusive approach to the enrolment of students from different backgrounds. It is good to note that the previously mentioned stipulation that a booking fee must be paid to guarantee enrolment is, in practice, not pushed in any cases where management feels there may be a difficulty in paying. It bears reiterating that the school has a very good record in terms of student attendance and retention, with the incidence of absences over twenty days per year being low and a very thorough system of monitoring, morning and afternoon, in place. The school has had a small number of Traveller students in the past and gained valuable support from the Macroom Lions Club in endeavouring to meet their needs. The school has also established appropriate and regular links with bodies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) and the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO).
At present, there are a small number of newcomer students in the school and these students are given appropriate language supports in single or small-group sessions, using department-allocated resources. The school has been recommended to investigate the services of Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT), which provides both advice and support materials which could be of very practical benefit in the future. With the current levels of newcomer enrolment in local primary schools being quite high, and the Central Statistics Office confirming substantial numbers of newcomer workers in the Macroom area, a whole-school approach to language support, perhaps aided by the attendance of a teacher at an IILT or other approved language training course, would be a valuable investment in the educational future of the area and of the school. Investigation of the ways in which cultural, sporting and other bridges can be built to assist student integration and support their parents, is also worthy of consideration and planning from this juncture.
The school has an allocation of eleven hours ex-quota for guidance and counselling, in line with Circular PPT 12/05. In the past, the current deputy principal acted as the school’s guidance counsellor but recently another member of staff has attended a training course to become the school’s guidance counsellor and has been in that position since September 2007. The school is applauded for ensuring that continuity of guidance and counselling provision has been maintained through this time of adjustment, and also for the structural alterations which have been made to create both a secure office/counselling facility for the guidance counsellor and also a room where students can locate career-related materials, in both hard copy and online via Qualifax.
The work on whole-school guidance planning has been somewhat held up by the changing of key guidance personnel. This said, a very clear and thorough position document has been drawn up and the new guidance counsellor has already developed a set of annual tasks and plans for each year group which is certainly very thorough. Ongoing links between the deputy principal and new guidance counsellor have also ensured that a seamless takeover has been effected, and that important areas of policy and responsibility have been maintained. It is also to be commended that students at the school have access to a very full range of visits to careers exhibitions and third-level institutions, while the use of visits by FAS representatives has helped to reinforce the value of students staying in school to complete their Leaving Certificate.
There is a good balance between time allocations for guidance and counselling. The guidance teacher has timetabled classes with fifth-year and sixth-year classes, and gives particular attention to first-year and third-year students as part of their induction and subject choice procedures respectively. If the school finds itself in a position to take on board the recommendation that subject options for Leaving Certificate should not be made prior to TY, it would also be important to factor some timetabled guidance time into the subsequent TY timetable, as this would be an ideal opportunity to support students seeking to make informed subject choices without any disruption of class preparing for a state examination.
The fact that the guidance counsellor is integral to discipline and pastoral work in the school is commended. The counsellor has frequently been able to provide a new insight into student behaviour or study issues at discipline meetings. While the pastoral system has a less formal structure, without weekly meetings of a set team, there is a very important role for the guidance counsellor and representatives from SPHE and RE in the existing pastoral-care ethos of the school. In time, a more formal structure ought to be considered for pastoral care generally, to include the incorporation of excellent initiatives like the first-year induction programme and the regular anti-bullying surveys carried out in the school, into an overarching pastoral-care policy. It is very important that both guidance and pastoral care be always seen as whole-school issues, not just the concerns of certain personnel. The existing school ethos, the system of class teachers and senior/junior co-ordinators, and the work to date of the teachers involved in guidance and counselling, religious education, SPHE and the student council all suggest that the school is well positioned to put more formal structures such as those recommended in place for the future. Doing so will prepare the school for any challenges, foreseen and perhaps unforeseen, with which society confronts those in front line education.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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:
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
It is with pleasure that the Board receives this positive report. The Board wishes to place on record its appreciation of the professionalism, courtesy and thoroughness of the inspectors who conducted the W.S.E. The evaluation process was a very supportive and beneficial experience for the whole school community.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Some of the Key recommendations in the report have already been implemented, e.g. the health and safety policy has been updated; the timetable has been adjusted to ensure 28 hours of instruction time per week; the working of the enrolment policy has been amended. All the findings and recommendations have been taken on board.