An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Roll number: 62770C
Date of inspection: 26 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ council. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management.
The board of management 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.
Mhuire, a voluntary secondary school operating under the trusteeship of the
Sisters of Mercy, Northern Province Congregation, was founded in the 1940s as a
day and boarding school and became co-educational in 1967. The school will
operate under the CEIST (Catholic Education - an Irish Schools Trust) from May
2007. Scoil Mhuire is situated overlooking Lough Swilly in the town of
The school’s mission statement is informed by the Mercy Order ethos and philosophy which aims to provide students with “an holistic education in an atmosphere of care and respect” and which seeks to promote “the Catholic faith and ensure that all students reach their potential, in particular the disadvantaged student”. This aspiration guides procedures and policy formulation. It is reflected in the practices through which the school fosters the development of individual student members and in the caring and friendly atmosphere generally evident in the school.
The board of management of Scoil Mhuire is appropriately constituted and meets monthly. The principal attends all board meetings as secretary and presents the principal’s report. Training, where members are informed of their responsibilities and statutory requirements, has been provided for board members by the Trustees, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) and the Joint Managerial Body (JMB). Almost all new members have received training and support has been received from CEIST. Commendably, further training will be provided by CEIST to acquaint members with the new model of trusteeship.
The board has established a list of priorities for the school. Its primary concern is a new extension for the school building to provide necessary accommodation. Decisions were taken in 2003 to decommission one of the ageing prefabs in order to ameliorate circulation on the campus and to cap student numbers. Regarding curriculum, priorities include the re-introduction of the Transition Year programme and an increase in students’ uptake of subjects at higher level in the certificate examinations. Three sub-committees have been established to progress these matters namely, finance, curriculum and accommodation. School accounts are audited annually. The board regards the appointment of staff, both in terms of recruitment and of posts of responsibility, as one of its most important key functions.
Board members consider the principal’s report as very important in keeping them informed about the running of the school and regard the principal as the main channel of communication between the board and the rest of the school community. An agreed report of board meetings issues to staff members, via the daily memo system, and to parents through the principal and the parents’ representatives who attend meetings of the parents’ council. This practice is commended. Board members, all members of the local community, attend school functions. The board’s confidence in the principal finds expression in the support provided for the day-to-day running of the school and for the decisions made.
The parents’ council in Scoil Mhuire was formed in 1999. It sees its role as ‘promoting the best interests of the students through partnership with management’. It meets monthly and is proactive. It has established a list of priorities and works closely with school management to progress an agenda to improve school environment and conditions for students and staff. This level of commitment is commended. While not affiliated to the National Parents’ Council, the parents’ council is well organised and very supportive of management and of the operation of the school. To date, no specific training has been received and it is suggested that the council might consider the provision of training in light of the imminent new trusteeship arrangements.
Parents have demonstrated significant involvement in matters relating to the school. They have carried out a survey in the south Inishowen area to determine what facilities are available for young people and published the report. The parents’ council also campaigned successfully to have pedestrian lights provided on the road and to have the school buses drive to the same entrance to the school to ensure the safest delivery of students. Committee members are proactive in supporting the school through fundraising activities. They also show ongoing support for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Representatives presented the council’s programme for the year and a log of completed activities to the inspectors. This recording of activity is commended.
Contact with the general parent body is maintained through newsletters issued regularly by the principal’s office. Annual reports from the chairperson of the parents’ council and from the principal are provided to parents. This is commended. The parents’ council has made efforts to accommodate a greater parent attendance at its meetings by organising venues at geographically convenient locations as well as in the school. Periodically guest speakers are invited to address meetings of the council. Parents consider the parent-teacher meetings to be very worthwhile and most informative and the school reports an excellent attendance of eighty to ninety per cent at these meetings. As there is a number of newcomer students in the school, it is suggested that, building on the work of the parents’ council, members consider how newcomer parents might be encouraged to become active in the council.
Parents’ representatives describe the ethos of the school as welcoming and supportive with an excellent atmosphere that is both relaxed and friendly. They state that the school caters well for the personal development of students and believe that students wear the school uniform with pride. Parents praised the openness and approachability of senior management and staff members and the strong links with management. They were very appreciative of the efforts made by staff to provide pastoral care for students. They also spoke highly of the many initiatives and interventions to support students and parents as well as the range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities available in the school. Areas they wish to see enhanced are the physical education (PE) provision in senior cycle and the extra-curricular activities for girls.
Into the future parents wish to sustain the current progress. They see their role as ensuring that supports are provided for the school and are concerned and frustrated by the delay in the progress of the building project which they see as inhibiting development.
In-school management comprises the senior management team of principal and deputy principal and the middle management team of ten assistant principals, eleven special duties teachers and one B post holder. In accordance with CL PPT 17/02 Scoil Mhuire has been entitled to a programme co-ordinator post since 2002. This post was advertised in December 2006 and an appointment made in January 2007. While applications for posts of responsibility tend to be made by staff in accordance with seniority, senior management states that each post-holder is appointed subsequent to a formal, rigorous interview.
The principal is a past student of the school and both principal and deputy principal worked in Scoil Mhuire prior to being appointed to their current positions in 1998 and 1990, respectively. Working closely together in an effective leadership team, both are involved in a wide range of administrative, management and pastoral roles throughout the school and are a visible presence on the corridors. Both share a common vision for the school and have identified priorities for the continuous improvement of the quality of educational provision for students and facilities and resources for staff. The principal and deputy principal are members of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), regularly attending meetings of the association and of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB). This is commended as a source of both information and support.
Meetings of senior management are scheduled twice daily and communication is ongoing as need arises. This level of communication is commended. Senior management wishes to encourage an open door policy. Staff members praised both principal and deputy for their approachability, their supportive style of management and the positive recognition of staff and student achievement provided. During the evaluation good relationships were evident among staff and between staff and students. All school personnel were courteous, friendly and welcoming.
Holders of posts of responsibility have one major area of responsibility each and all year heads are assistant principals. The schedule of posts documents the duties of each post-holder. The current schedule was constructed to reflect school needs and agreed in consultation with staff. Post-holders state that there is flexibility to change responsibilities as needs arise with a review every two or three years. Commendably, senior management has introduced a formal structure of evaluation and monitoring of post duties where a written self-evaluation report is provided by post-holders and discussed with the principal.
Fortnightly meetings of assistant principals with
senior management are both pastoral and managerial in nature. Sometimes these
meetings are limited to year heads. Year heads have attended training provided
by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and the
Scoil Mhuire takes a positive approach to the management of students. To assist relationship building and understanding of student needs year heads take their groups through from first to fifth year and have autonomy to contact parents as need arises. Year heads meet formally with class tutors and also with prefects once a term. Earlier this school year a group of twelve staff members worked, during lunchtimes, to reconcile school ethos with discipline of students resulting in a revised school code of conduct. The commitment of staff in this regard is recognised and commended. Parents state that discipline in the school is firm but fair and supportive of students and parents. The school is now planning to build an award system into the code of conduct. This focus on positive behaviour is commended.
Student attendance and punctuality are monitored closely and recorded twice daily. The attendance secretary updates the registers for each class teacher who then follows up with students. Full attendance is rewarded at the annual prize-giving events. The caretaking staff is committed to supporting management and teachers; members are visible in the yard, on the corridors and stairways assisting traffic circulation and organising the hall for assembly and meetings.
Parents state that there are effective and open lines of communication between the school and home. The school journal, which contains a good deal of useful information for students and parents, is inspected and signed by parents of junior cycle students daily and is regarded as the primary channel of communication between school and home. Ongoing communication with parents is maintained also through the principal’s annual report to parents; through the news bulletins issued to parents twice a term; through regular letters from the principal; through parent-teacher meetings which are held for each year group annually; by phone calls and letters from year heads and/or class teachers, as well as the school reports which are issued twice yearly. Information on school events is also carried in the notes section of the local newspapers and in the parish newsletters. The use of this range of channels to enhance communication with parents is commended. Parents are welcome to make individual appointments with staff members to discuss student progress.
Scoil Mhuire is commended for engaging with a wide
range of outside agencies and organisations to support students and their
families. These include the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS),
National Education Welfare Board (NEWB), the Health Service Executive (HSE),
Youthreach, AWARE, NALA, Co. Donegal
Scoil Mhuire has a total allocation for the school year 2006-2007 of forty-eight whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts and five special-needs assistants from the Department of Education and Science. Currently the school has one disadvantaged post and the full-time services of a home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. The school participates in the School Completion Programme (SCP) and the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative. There are seven additional members of staff, including technicians for information and communications technology (ICT) and science and two secretaries, who are funded either by the school or through the SCP.
The principal states that every effort is made to offer equitable timetabling to all members of staff. However, this year, over-quota positions enabled the school to allocate time to a number of post-holders to perform duties. Currently a number of staff members have recorded teaching contact time of less than twenty-two hours. It is recommended that such allocations be considered for the new school year, with a view to maximising use of resources available and in keeping with Department circulars. The school considers it important to maintain continuity in deploying subject teachers to class groups. Commendably subject teachers are encouraged by senior management to rotate between higher and ordinary level classes so that all teaching staff are afforded the opportunity to develop their expertise in all aspects of their subject areas and no one individual has sole responsibility for particular levels within subject areas. An analysis of examination results vis-à-vis national norms by senior management is discussed at staff meetings to give appropriate reference points to subject departments and to affirm and encourage staff.
The board of management facilitates staff job-sharing and career-break arrangements and it encourages and supports teachers in engaging in continuous professional development. Senior management reports good uptake of in-service with staff members reporting back to department colleagues. This level of collegiality is commended. A handbook for new staff members has been compiled and guidelines for teachers have been produced by the principal on effective class management and student motivation. These activities to support staff are very valuable. Commendably members of staff offer support informally to new teachers. It is suggested that the school considers formalising this support into a more structured programme.
A daily memo, prepared every evening in advance by the principal, is distributed personally to all teachers at morning break time by the principal and the attendance secretary to ensure successful communication. The memo provides news items and information on school activities and events and on planning. Relevant items from the memo are read out to students by class teacher/year head at registration/assembly and a copy is maintained in a folder for record purposes and to inform new staff members. The work involved in the preparation of the memo is acknowledged and the practice is commended as a model of effective communication between senior management, staff and students. Announcements relevant to the life of the school are delivered also via the intercom system. Staff briefings are held as the need arises. Currently two staff rooms serve the two main buildings in Scoil Mhuire and a gathering of the whole staff is held monthly to enhance camaraderie and collegiality.
Formal, structured and minuted staff meetings, three of full-day and three of half-day duration per year, take place chaired by an assistant principal. Copies of agenda and Powerpoint presentations were made available during the evaluation. The principal brings suggestions and ideas to staff meetings for discussion and consultation. The agenda for staff meetings is available in advance for staff input and the daily memo invites items for inclusion. Notice boards in the staff room, which are regularly updated, carry information on school events and in-service courses.
Accommodation in Scoil Mhuire was the primary concern of all groups met with during the evaluation. Great efforts have been made by the school authorities and the caretaking staff to provide facilities within the current limitations. The maintenance of the building and the cleanliness of the environment reflect the diligence of the caretaking and cleaning staff.
On the corridors and in some classrooms excellent displays of student work and subject-related materials were noted. The widespread use of display is encouraged as an extra stimulus to the learning environment. Scoil Mhuire regards the recognition of student achievement as an important aspect of student support and to this end a considerable number of student successes are recorded through documents and photographs displayed on the school corridors.
The school has good ICT facilities. This year the parents' council selected this area for support and added to the number of laptops and data projectors in the school. There are two networked computer suites and a considerable number of classrooms have individual PCs with broadband access, televisions and DVD players. The school has enjoyed video-conferencing facilities for the past ten years. Approximately three-quarters of teaching staff have a base classroom, with students moving after each lesson period.
The school library was refurbished through significant funding received from the parents' council and the post of librarian is one of the schedule of posts of responsibility. However, due to pressure of space, access to the library is restricted as the area is frequently used to provide supervised study for students not taking certain subjects. Application for funding the services of a qualified librarian has been made to the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board. It is recommended that, in the course of school planning, the school considers how the library facility could be organised to ensure optimum use by students and teachers.
There is a total of fourteen specialist rooms and safety rules are displayed. The school’s health and safety statement is being developed at present. Evacuation procedures are practised. It is recommended that records of these drills be maintained and that the formulation and ratification of the health and safety statement be expedited.
Subject budgets are not predetermined; request sheets are provided to subject departments at the end of the year and resources are made available on request. Staff members praised the support of the board and senior management in this regard. The school bursar, a post-holder, has responsibility for payment of wages and taxation returns. One of the school secretaries prepares school accounts for the board and for the annual audit. Commendably administrative procedures in Scoil Mhuire are clearly documented. Students entering or leaving the school premises outside normal times are obliged to sign in and/or sign out.
A well-equipped and resourced special educational needs unit of two dedicated classrooms and an office is used for the delivery of learning support and resource teaching. A wide range of support and teaching materials is available to enhance the learning environment. The school has good facilities for Guidance in the form of a classroom, with phone, storage, six computers and broadband internet access. Careers materials and a well stocked library are also housed in the guidance classroom. Careers notice boards provide information for students both in the class room and on the corridor. However, the present arrangement is not very suitable for counselling and when the new extension is built the board should effect a transfer into a more suitable office.
Scoil Mhuire has excellent facilities for sports. The local leisure centre, a joint venture between the local community and the Mercy Order, is located within the school campus and is an excellent model of collaborative development. Scoil Mhuire has ensured priority of access to the gym and swimming pool for students. Indoor games and PE lessons are accommodated in both the assembly hall and the gym. An all-weather football pitch, outdoor basketball and tennis courts, grass pitch, running track and athletics area also form part of the school campus.
Scoil Mhuire is commended for having engaged productively with school development and planning which began with a SWOT analysis at the introduction of lay management in 1998. Significant documented evidence of the planning process since then was provided during the evaluation period. The school has now progressed to the second five-year plan for the development of Scoil Mhuire. More recently the school has engaged with School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) personnel to provide training for staff. Performance indicators have been devised, the area of teaching and learning has been prioritised and the school has also benefited from templates provided by the SDPI. The principal, in collaboration with staff, has considerable input into planning management and a small group was established this year to progress school development planning. Currently the school is considering turning this into the planning steering group. Commendably, members of the parents’ council have been involved in the planning process and students have been consulted on the recently reviewed code of conduct.
Generally, planning work begins with discussion at staff level. Input is then sought from the board and drafts are forwarded to the parents’ council or returned to staff for further work. To date, emphasis has been placed on the development of improved interactive teaching and learning methodologies. School authorities and staff are conscious of the scarcity of employment opportunity on the Inishowen peninsula and the school is keen to preserve the academic achievement ethos and the value of education for progression. In addition, the development of good citizenship in students is strongly promoted in Scoil Mhuire. Commendably, this dual goal has merited discussion and led to the introduction of new programmes and initiatives to support students.
To date, a good deal of progress has been made in the planning process and a comprehensive outline of the school plan was provided. Two policies as well as the school’s dignity at work charter have been ratified by the board and a number of policies are in draft form. It is recommended that the board now begins the process of formalising and detailing the school plan, parts 1 (Permanent) and 2 (Development), to provide a structure within which to prioritise policy formulation and to progress these drafts to the ratification stage. The board should consider the importance of having a timeframe for both policy review and future planning so that all policies can reflect the continuous development of the school. In this regard useful material including policy templates are available on the Department’s website www.education.ie .
Subject departments, with voluntary co-ordinators, have been established and the commitment of staff to planning is commended. Subject planning is facilitated during staff meetings with ongoing informal meetings. Strong emphasis is placed by management on the importance of preparation of materials for classes. Senior management encourages teachers to leave lesson work prepared which substitute teachers can use in the event of absence. A whole year plan for each class group is prepared by individual teachers and is submitted to the principal at the beginning of the school year. These plans are maintained in folders in the principal’s office. This commitment to planning is commended and it is recommended that existing good practices in collaborative planning now be built upon to produce a more formal and comprehensive plan for each subject department in terms of delivery, methodologies, learning outcomes and assessment. Commendably, staff members are also working to improve the electronic comment system so that reports are more informative and meaningful for parents.
Procedures have been developed to respond to critical incidents and preliminary work has been completed on the school’s critical incident response plan. In finalising the plan it is recommended that the school networks with other local schools as such collaboration will provide additional support for all participants. Engagement with the information pack prepared by the NEPS is also recommended.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Scoil Mhuire is commended on the wide range of programmes and subjects provided for students. Currently, the school offers Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate (Established), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Including core and non-core subjects the school offers a total of twenty subjects at junior cycle level. In addition to the core examination subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics students are offered sixteen optional subjects in senior cycle. In both cycles there is an excellent mix of practical options available to students. The school used to provide a range of adult education courses, however there are other sources now within the local community and instead, as part of the HSCL service, the school provides courses for parents. In response to parents’ request, the school has engaged with the Transition Year (TY) support service and planning is advanced for the reintroduction of the programme in the 2007/08 school year.
Curriculum development planning began in Scoil Mhuire in 1996 with the initial introduction of the TY, followed by the LCVP in 1997, and was reinvigorated with the establishment of the curriculum development planning team in 2006. Commendably, a member of the board participates in this team. Historically the school has been forward thinking in the introduction of new subjects and programmes and it is proud of its achievements in this regard. The board praised the principal for being very proactive in curriculum matters. Many initiatives and subjects have been introduced which have resulted in a much improved rate of school completion. The principal states that that there is regular review of timetabling to reflect the student-centred emphasis in the school and that the introduction of new programmes follows vigorous debate within the whole staff, at board and parents’ council level. Evaluation and review are essential elements of programme introduction in the school. This degree of engagement is commended.
The LCVP is well regarded in the school and the annual trade fair organised by the programme co-ordinator for local and cross-border schools has enjoyed widespread success. However the programme is not recognised in colleges in Northern Ireland where a significant number of students from Scoil Mhuire choose to follow third level education. For this reason students are not always convinced of the benefits of taking the programme. It is recommended therefore that attention be focussed on the LCVP to ensure a vibrant and attractive programme with sustainable uptake. It is recommended also that consideration be given to determining optimum numbers for participation in LCA and TY and to documenting selection procedures and criteria. The wider use of the postcards system within the JCSP is recommended to apprise parents of student success and progress.
Generally the allocation of time to subjects is in keeping with syllabus recommendations. In first year classes are of mixed ability and common examinations are held. In second year setting arrangements are used in order to facilitate movement between levels in Irish, English and Mathematics classes. Commendably, there are also setting arrangements in place for Science, French and Business. All students are encouraged to realise their potential and to maximise their examination success to reflect their abilities. There is only one qualified PE teacher in the school and this year PE is timetabled in junior cycle only. Teachers noted the fact that this influences participation in competitions and find that it is more difficult to encourage senior students to become involved in teams. It is recommended that the school timetables PE in senior cycle. Parents praised teachers for their efforts in providing additional tuition through, for example, classes held after school.
At the time of the evaluation, the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme for some classes in junior cycle was provided in a modular arrangement with other subjects. In keeping with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03 it is recommended that one SPHE lesson be timetabled for each junior cycle class group weekly. The school SPHE policy is under discussion at present as is the introduction of the subject at senior cycle. It is recommended that the policy be progressed to the ratification stage as soon as is practicable. The board has supported the introduction of the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) course for the 2007/8 school year. It is recommended therefore that the school prioritises the development of the RSE policy and in so doing refers to the policy guidelines on the Department’s website.
Scoil Mhuire employs the services of a part-time ICT technician who maintains and manages the school’s IT facilities and website. Weekly dedicated ICT lessons are provided to junior cycle students. These lessons and those offered to senior students benefit from the knowledge and assistance of the IT technician. The school has introduced an acceptable usage policy with regard to the internet and its use in the school. It is recommended that, during school development planning, consideration be given to timetabling arrangements for the computer suites in order to ensure equitable access for all groups.
A total of twenty, ten core and ten non-core, subjects is offered in first year. Incoming students choose four from the non-core subjects before entry to Scoil Mhuire, following some ‘sampling’ classes during open day and transfer days. A comprehensive booklet prepared by the guidance department provides useful information to parents and students and an information session on subject choice is provided for parents prior to decision-making time. The school reports flexibility for change during the first term. Scoil Mhuire previously offered a subject-taster programme and it is recommended that the school considers the re-introduction of taster classes as part of the transition programme for incoming students. Such an approach would further assist students to make informed subject and level choices for the Junior Certificate examination. Parents and students will also find useful information regarding subject choice available at www.qualifax.ie
Subject and programme choice for senior cycle begins with an information module delivered by the guidance counsellor in third year. Students choose seven from a total of nineteen subjects. A comprehensive booklet containing information on choice procedures in Scoil Mhuire as well as information on specific subjects, college and course minimum entry requirements, the Central Applications Office (CAO) points system and details of senior cycle programmes is provided for students and parents. Subject teachers make structured presentations on course outline and content and students are encouraged to discuss the subjects they are interested in with their older peers. Students are invited to arrange individual appointments with the guidance counsellor to discuss options. The school hosts a parents’ information evening and parents are welcome to contact the school or to meet with the guidance counsellor as required.
Commendably Scoil Mhuire offers a wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities to students. The school has an excellent record in sports and the most inclusive activities, in terms of staff involvement and students participation, are the numerous teams that represent the school with distinction in a wide range of sports, currently upwards of thirty teams. A number of students have enjoyed success up to regional, national and international level. In order to encourage participation, inter-class competitions take place in first year soccer, gaelic and basketball. The school organises an annual sports day for first and second year students with a swimming gala for first year students. Many students participate also in teams and sports activities in their local areas outside school.
Commendably, the parents’ council has fundraised to provide team sets of jerseys and the school provides jackets with the school crest for all team coaches/managers. To meet the increasing transport costs associated with extra-curricular activities, a number of fund-raising events have been organised annually and both the school and the parents’ council subsidise costs. Teachers report that a high percentage of students are involved in co-curricular and/or extra-curricular activities including students with special educational needs.
Scoil Mhuire has a strong musical tradition showcasing many different styles of music. The school hosts gig nights and stages a musical show biennially. Local primary school pupils and teachers are invited to a special matinee of the musical production. Groups from the school participate in the town’s annual St Patrick’s Day parade. The school choir trains at lunch-times, performs at school and local events and on local radio. This level of engagement indicates that the school is an integral part of the local community.
The school was one of the original schools involved in cross-border projects and participates in the Knowledge of Enterprise for Youth (KEY) project and in international projects such as the Comenius exchange. Other noteworthy and commendable examples of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are the organised school trips and the successful involvement in many competitions related to subject areas such as art, science, music, business, engineering and drama.
Student achievement and success is affirmed and celebrated through recognition by the principal at assembly, through news bulletins, over the school intercom system, in the notes section of the local press and in the display of trophies. Homecoming successful teams receive a garda escort around the town and a guard of honour at the school gate. A significant number of sports scholarships for third level education have been earned by participants. Reflecting the school’s wish to recognise and celebrate participation and achievement, an annual presentation of awards by an outside guest speaker, for both academic and non-academic achievement, at both junior and senior level, takes place in the school with sponsorship from the parents’ council and local business. Representatives from the primary schools are invited to the prize-giving events. This affirmation of student achievement is commended.
Students participate in the Gaisce awards and provide help for first year students at the weekly homework club. It is to be commended that students from Scoil Mhuire have been active in organisations of student support by, for example, participating on the executive of the National Youth Council, in Dáil na nÓg, in a delegation to a Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting and in representing the Inishowen area on the Donegal Youth Council.
Subject department plans were available in all subject departments visited and best practice was observed where these were devised through consultation with all members of the department and when they were syllabus-based and contained reference to the appropriate learning objectives and teaching methodologies. In some instances, planning documents could be enhanced by the inclusion of a list of contents at the beginning of the folder, page numbers and the date of review by the subject department. These planning documents can be a valuable resource to the subject department, and especially to new or substitute teachers.
The planning process is facilitated by the provision of time for planning by school management and by the willingness of staff to undertake the duties of subject co-ordinators on a voluntary basis, which is praiseworthy. Broadband internet access is available in the classrooms and planning for the incorporation of ICT into lessons was included in some subject department plans. This is good practice.
In the lessons observed there was evidence of good short term planning. Appropriate materials and resources necessary for each lesson had been prepared in advance and this contributed to the quality of teaching and learning in the classrooms visited. It is commendable that most subject teams have developed a wide range of resources and these were made available during the subject inspections.
Findings on the quality of teaching and learning in the four subjects inspected are in general very positive. Particular areas affirmed include a uniform approach to classroom management that included the good practice of the aim of the lesson being made clear at the beginning of the lesson, roll calls at the outset, the assignment of homework at the end of lessons, monitoring and correction of homework. The rapport between students and teachers showed mutual respect and was variously described as caring, friendly, positive, enthusiastic, encouraging and affirming.
Class groups observed were, in the main, quiet, diligent and student behaviour was exemplary. A range of teaching methods including paired and group work, discussions and feedback, stimulating and instructive demonstrations, and visual aids, was used to stimulate student interest and to provide students with opportunities to learn from each other and to be actively engaged in their own learning. Good use of questioning where students were challenged to offer explanations and not just simply to provide descriptions effectively assisted the development of higher order thinking skills. Practical work was carried out enthusiastically and with due regard for health and safety issues. In general, lessons were appropriately paced. In some instances, there were excellent examples of display of student project work and fieldwork and a print-rich classroom environment enhanced the learning milieu.
The overall quality of teaching and learning is affirmed in the individual subject reports and is described as being of ‘a very high quality in almost all of the lessons observed’ in one particular subject, while the teaching in another is described as being diligent in all cases. In general, lessons were well planned and appropriately pitched to individual class groups while the quality of instruction is commended as being clearly delivered such that students of all ability levels could determine how to proceed with their work. The effect of this is described as a wholehearted enthusiasm, engagement with the subject and a high level of interest in their work on the part of students.
In a particular subject area management and teachers are commended for the level of support for and engagement in in-service training associated with a revision of the curriculum. A lesson in another subject area is commended for effectively achieving within thirty-five minutes all that was set out in the lesson plan provided. The quality of delivery of this lesson served as an exemplar of best practice.
Students generally demonstrated a good understanding of the topics being studied. They were willing to engage in discussions and generally knowledgeable about the lesson content and about their courses.
While the commentary on teaching and learning in the reports is in the main overwhelmingly positive it is not stating that best practice was universal. In certain instances teachers tended to be the focus of the lesson for the major part of the class with limited opportunities for students to engage in active or independent learning. Students’ lack of comfort with a key skill in a particular subject was evident.
The greater use of broadcast media and ICT is recommended as a means of providing variety and relevance to a particular subject area. Teachers in one subject area are encouraged to embark on a rethink of teaching methods that will complement the subject aims being developed in their planning documentation. Teachers are encouraged to further develop particular skills in which the teachers themselves are assured and competent with a view to greater engagement and enjoyment by students of the subject. A change of emphasis in teaching methodologies resulting in the enhanced achievement of planned learning outcomes would be an appropriate reward for the commitment and diligence that was evident on the part of teachers and students.
Recommendations in the reports on teaching and learning tend to be more subject-specific than generic. They relate to consideration of timetabling changes for practical work, the formalising of greater laboratory access, health and safety issues, the maintenance of learning targets and student profiles within JCSP, the greater integration of ICT into teaching and learning, the review of levels taken by students in the certificate examinations, the rotation of a subject co-ordinator, consideration of the use of the European Language Portfolio, and the need to adopt assessment for learning approaches.
A range of assessment techniques is in evidence and routinely includes questioning, written work, class tests on the completion of particular sections, written homework and house examinations. The effective use of a range of questioning to test recall as well as the use of more challenging questioning to encourage higher order thinking was noted in certain subject areas. The level of student engagement was generally good.
Formal examinations are held for all students at the end of the first term as well as at the end of the school year while Junior and Leaving Certificate students sit pre-examinations in the second term. The good practice of setting common tests and common marking schemes is in place in some subject areas and is being introduced in others. Reports are issued to parents after each formal assessment. The good practice of allocating marks in class assessments for the writing up of practical activities is commended as an encouragement for students to set high standards in practical work.
Student progress is recorded in teacher diaries and is a useful resource for feedback to parents at parent-teacher meetings and in advising on choice of subject level in the certificate examinations. Subject plans contained an analysis of the results of the certificate examinations.
Homework was an integral part of all classes visited and is used to support classroom activities. An examination of student copies indicated that homework was checked regularly, included high quality written work with neat presentation and showed teacher monitoring and recognition of the work with constructive and affirming comments. Some copybooks showed evidence of assessment for learning practices. In some instances students had a separate folder for handouts and worksheets. A recommendation is made in one instance that consideration might be given to including homework as part of the end-of-term overall marks.
The inclusion of the assessment of oral skills is recommended as a key component of a changed emphasis recommended in a particular subject area; this is a debate that might be conducted in the context of recently announced changes by the Minister for the future assessment of that area in the certificate examinations.
One subject area commends the nature of formative comments made by teachers during class time which have helped to make students very positive about their work. The exploration of assessment for learning methodologies on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie is recommended.
Scoil Mhuire has a total of 115 hours per week for learning support and resource teaching and this year twenty staff members are involved in provision. The learning support co-ordinator makes every effort to have a core team of teachers providing learning support and resource teaching with continuity of staff from year to year. It is recommended that the school explores the possibility of establishing a core team for the delivery of the learning support and resource teaching provision. This core team could then be augmented as required. There are five full-time special-needs assistants (SNAs) working in the school.
A learning support unit was established in the school five years ago and currently up to a total of 131 students are receiving extra support. Good resources, including an office and two learning support rooms, are provided by the school. The learning support department seeks to promote the concepts of inclusiveness, collaboration and independent learning and states that all students have access to all subjects and programmes as far as is possible and all special educational needs students are fully integrated into mainstream classes. Parents’ representatives stated their satisfaction with the support offered to students with special needs.
For diagnostic purposes all students are assessed before entry to the school. The school has identified the need for a testing policy. In this regard further liaison between the learning support and the guidance departments is recommended. In formulating the policy it is suggested that the school reviews the instruments used, access to test scores/results and how these are communicated to students and parents. Information regarding test materials is available on the Department’s website at www.education.ie.
In order to assess student needs there is close co-operation with parents and with the primary feeder schools. Information is channelled through the guidance and learning support departments. Feedback is received from primary schools and parents. Individual student and small group testing is also conducted in Scoil Mhuire to identify or confirm learning needs. In some instances the local special educational needs organiser (SENO) meets with the parents, the principal and learning support teacher from the primary school and with the learning support co-ordinator and guidance counsellor from Scoil Mhuire to discuss how best to support individual students. This collaboration is commended as an example of effective practice in student learning support. The school also operates an ‘Initial Concern Form’ where teachers highlight concern about any student who may need learning support. These identifications are then followed up by the learning support department and extra tuition is provided as appropriate.
Three full-time and one part-time member of staff are qualified learning support teachers, one of whom co-ordinates and manages the day-to-day running of the department on a voluntary basis. Not all qualified staff members are involved in special education delivery at present. A special duties teacher, who is the school’s special education officer (SEO), liaises with NEPS and with the SENO and makes application for resources. Weekly timetabled meetings take place between the SEO and the learning support co-ordinator to discuss ongoing issues.
The co-ordinator arranges small group and individual supports to maintain the concept of a ‘connecting’ teacher for each student to whom the student can relate and approach as the need arises. This good practice is commended. Organisation of the special educational needs resources takes place during September and their allocation is completed at the end of the month. Preliminary work has been completed on a special educational needs policy by the SEO and the co-ordinators of learning support and JCSP. It is recommended that the school progresses the special educational needs plan, as a priority, to include how the full teaching allocation and the timetable arrangements for special educational needs support could be put in place as early as possible for the 2007/08 school year, thus ensuring optimum levels of tuition and support for students.
Learning support and resource teaching are provided on a withdrawal basis from subject areas such as Religious Education and from Irish for students who have exemption. This arrangement provides a structure of one or three periods per week. All special educational needs students receive one class period of IT per week.
The five special-needs assistants work with individual and small groups of students, accompanying them to practical classes as is necessary. Weekly meetings take place between the learning support co-ordinator, the SEO, one of the learning support teachers and one of the special-needs assistants to discuss student profiles, testing results and student progress.
A summary of psychological assessment reports is provided for mainstream teachers by the learning support co-ordinator and a list of students with their specific needs is prepared as well as information and advice on differentiated learning to mainstream teachers. This is commended as an efficient use of the learning support resources. It is suggested that the school considers inviting the SENO and/or the Special Education Support Services (SESS) to address the whole staff as a further means of supporting mainstream teachers.
Student profiling has begun and it is commendable that student individual education plans (IEPs) have been included in the planning process of the learning support department. Daily journals are maintained by the special-needs assistants who liaise on an on going basis with the ‘connecting’ resource teachers. Commendably, recording and reporting procedures for the team have been developed by the learning support department.
The learning support department has an open door policy with regard to contact with parents. The principal reports that general information meetings with parents have an input and advice from the learning support department. There is close collaboration between the learning support and the HSCL departments with regard to assisting parents to support their children. There are many good practices. The deputy principal reports that weaker students have done much better since planning of supports has been initiated.
Staff met with in the course of the evaluation stated that there is good local knowledge of students among staff members and they regard this as a major strength in their awareness and understanding of student needs. A good informal network was evident in the school. Students in need of financial assistance are supported and subsidised by management in a sensitive and confidential manner. The school has good working links with the local St Vincent de Paul Society through the HSCL department. Twenty newcomer students are enrolled in Scoil Mhuire and support in English is provided to these students as required. This provision is made in addition to the learning and resource allocations and is co-ordinated by the deputy principal. Scoil Mhuire is commended for employing a non-Irish national to work with one ethnic group. Building on these supports, the school should plan for the further integration of newcomer students into the school community. In this regard reference to the guidelines on inter-culturalism in post-primary schools published by the NCCA and available on its website would be beneficial.
The co-ordinators of the HSCL and the SCP departments collaborate to provide an effective system of supports for students and parents. Scoil Mhuire entered the SCP in 2000 and funding from the programme is also used to employ extra staff. The SCP co-ordinator liaises with class teachers, year heads, deputy principal and the bereavement counsellor to provide initiatives to encourage students to stay on in school. Both the SCP and the HSCL co-ordinators meet monthly to discuss student attendance and punctuality and home visits by the HSCL co-ordinator are arranged as necessary with the feedback to the SCP co-ordinator at the subsequent meeting. This collaboration is commended.
The SCP co-ordinator tracks early school leavers and detailed records of student destinations were presented to the inspectors during the evaluation. Commendably the school currently has a 100% retention rate in junior cycle. The small number of students who leave the school before completion of the Leaving Certificate now do so to enter the labour force, training or apprenticeships.
Scoil Mhuire has the services of a full-time HSCL co-ordinator who works to provide a strong link between school and home and is an important aspect of student support. A degree of rural disadvantage is a factor in the school context. The HSCL co-ordinator participates in the local cluster group with the other second level school in the town and a number of relevant primary schools. The group consists of parents, students and HSCL co-ordinators as well as representatives from local voluntary, statutory and community organisations. This committee has identified a number of ‘educational issues relevant in the area’ which include extra support in subject areas, road safety, the transfer to second level, literacy and numeracy support for parents and a homework club where a number of students offer assistance to first year students. It is commendable that a number of students are proactive in providing and organising activities and events pursuant to identification of needs at local committee level.
Arising from road tragedies in the local area the group has engaged with the National Safety Council of Ireland, An Garda Síochána and local emergency service to provide a ‘driving safety’ seminar for both students and parents. The group has also produced an information leaflet for parents/guardians on education services and supports, on parents and family support, on youth facilities and supports in the local area of south Inishowen, and on the legal requirements for parents/guardians arising from the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. This level of response to identified needs is commended.
A considerable number of students who travel by bus to Scoil Mhuire have quite an early start to the day and in response to this the school has initiated a break-time and lunch-time club where soup and healthy snacks are available to students. Snacks are provided also for students before evening study. Due to lack of space the school does not have a canteen and at present a classroom facilitates food service. School management, staff and students consider this service an essential element in student support and indicated their frustration that lack of space curtails numbers and limits menus.
Scoil Mhuire operates a book rental scheme for junior cycle students. Supervised study facilities, availed of primarily by examination year students, are provided after school four days per week from November to June with an extra study period provided from March onwards. Guidelines for parents to assist their children with homework have been compiled in consultation with staff and parents. Courses and talks in relevant areas are offered to parents and a number of parents have progressed to sitting papers in the certificate examinations. Due to pressure of space in the school during the day most parent courses are now offered in the evenings. This level of commitment to parents is commended.
Scoil Mhuire receives an allocation of thirty-three hours for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. Currently there is only one qualified guidance counsellor in the school. A member of staff who has completed training in bereavement counselling provides bereavement counselling and a ‘listening ear’ for students. It is recommended that the board of management ensures that the total allocation from the Department is used for Guidance in the next and subsequent years and that it is noted on the timetable. A group, comprising the principal, guidance counsellor, bereavement counsellor, HSCL and learning support co-ordinators, is working on developing the guidance plan and to date good progress has been achieved. As a means of building on this progress it is recommended that the planning sub-committee now proceeds to include input from parents, students and from the business community. A student needs analysis would also inform the planning process.
At present guidance classes are timetabled for senior students. The guidance counsellor borrows classes to provide a guidance module for third year students on study skills, examination techniques, programme and subject choice for senior cycle. During September the guidance counsellor visits all first year classes to introduce the guidance service and to monitor the transition from primary school. In December a survey of first years is carried out and follow up is provided by the guidance counsellor as required. There is close collaboration between the guidance counsellor and the SPHE co-ordinator where areas of personal and social guidance are covered through the SPHE curriculum in junior cycle. Individual appointments with the guidance counsellor can be made by students throughout the school. Notwithstanding these supports and co-operation, it is recommended that, in the course of guidance planning, the school reviews the current timetabling arrangements in order to address the imbalance in provision between senior and junior cycles.
The Career and Probe Interest Inventories are completed in third year to assist subject choice. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) and the Eirquest Test are administered in pre-Leaving (fourth) year. Commendably, the guidance department has devised forms where students can identify goals and chart progress.
At present due to space restrictions senior cycle students have limited access to ICT facilities for guidance classes. As the most up-to-date information is available through the internet it is recommended that, in the course of school development planning, the school considers arrangements to provide optimum access to ICT facilities to meet guidance needs. The school participates in the STEPS Engineering project and a programme of guest speakers and visits out to college open days, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic, are arranged. It is commendable that Scoil Mhuire has devised procedures for students attending open days.
Scoil Mhuire participates in the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) programme with NUI Maynooth and there is ongoing liaison between the school and the Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT). As part of the access programme extra support is provided to students by the Inishowen Partnership. Visits are arranged for students to the laboratories in Queen’s University Belfast and to the facilities of North West Regional College in Limavady.
Personal counselling is offered to students throughout the school on a needs basis and there is ongoing liaison between the guidance counsellor and the bereavement counsellor. The guidance counsellor, a member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), attends local and national in-service as well as the professional development sessions provided to support counselling.
The guidance department works closely with programme and subject co-ordinators, class tutors, year heads and subject teachers to support students. Staff members have a referral form which is used to refer students for extra support to the guidance counsellor or to the bereavement counsellor. Students are referred also by parents or they self refer. Year heads state that they have a strong informal support system among themselves before they commit to referring students to outside agencies. These referrals are effected through the offices of the principal and deputy principal, in consultation with parents. Ongoing contact is maintained with the NEPS psychologist.
The guidance department has an open door policy in terms of parents’ access. The school hosts information sessions for parents of incoming students during which subject choice is explained; presentations on programme, subject and level choice are made to parents of third year students and an annual presentation on Central Applications Office (CAO) and the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) application systems and maintenance grants is offered to parents of Leaving Certificate students. This support for parents is commended. A significant number of students apply to UCAS and references are completed by the guidance counsellor. It is suggested that the school explores how other staff members could contribute to this time-consuming activity.
Tracking of student destinations is carried out by the guidance counsellor and the SCP co-ordinator and past students are welcome to return to the school for information and support. The school reports strong bonds with past students, many of whom return to provide career information and act as excellent role models for students.
The pastoral care system operating in the school is regarded as a major strength of the school by all representatives met with during the course of the evaluation. Parents state that the roles and structures of the pastoral care system are clearly explained to parents of incoming students. Senior management describe Scoil Mhuire as a Christian, caring school and state that pastoral care and support for students are key elements of the Mercy Order philosophy which the school wishes to promote. This is reflected in the system of class teachers, year heads, prefects, head girl, head boy and mentors operating in the school. All teachers and ancillary staff are regarded as having a role in providing pastoral care. The role of the class teacher is one of support for students within school, liaison between home and school and meeting frequently with parents. Major discipline issues are referred to the year head or to senior management as appropriate. The school has organised a bullying awareness week annually since 1999.
Class teachers have one period of pastoral care with their class group weekly and meet their groups daily at registration time. Registration begins with a prayer each day and relevant items are read to students from the daily memo. This time is also used to check student journals and generally acts as a channel of communication. Assembly for each year group is held weekly in place of the registration by the year head and/or the principal. Both registration and assembly are used as an effective means of contact with students and as an opportunity to acknowledge achievement.
The pastoral care team, which consists of principal/deputy principal, HSCL, guidance counsellor and bereavement counsellor, meets fortnightly. These meetings facilitate transfer of information on students and the identification of students in need of extra support. In the absence of senior management a report is provided to the principal. The school plans to include the learning support co-ordinator and a year head in the pastoral care team next year. This is recommended and it is suggested that the inclusion of the SCP co-ordinator also be considered. A draft pastoral care policy is under discussion at present. It is recommended that the school now progresses this to the ratification stage.
Scoil Mhuire operates a system of mentoring where third, fourth or fifth year students volunteer to work with incoming students to assist the settling-in process. Meetings take place at break time or lunchtime a few times a week at the beginning of the year and less often as students become familiar with school. Games are organised weekly by mentors at lunch time for first years. Mentors have received training from the Letterkenny Youth Group and report back to the HSCL co-ordinator. Any issues or concerns of first years are brought by mentors to the class teacher, year head or to the principal. Students met with in the course of the evaluation described the mentoring system as an excellent means of support for incoming students.
An induction programme, which continues into first year, ensures that incoming students are supported as they make the transition from primary school. The principal and guidance counsellor visit all the feeder primary schools to provide a presentation on Scoil Mhuire and answer queries. Sixth class pupils and their parents are invited to an open day in the school where there is an opportunity to view facilities, attend interactive sessions in optional subject areas and an information pack is provided to pupils. The head girl and head boy also visit primary schools to speak to sixth class pupils. An assessment day is held for incoming students and test results are discussed with sixth class teachers. Scoil Mhuire reports good feedback from the primary schools. Transfer days are hosted in May to familiarise incoming students with school facilities and an induction day takes place at the beginning of the school year. All of this preparation to ease the transition from primary to post-primary level is commended.
The school also hosts an information session for parents of incoming students during the open evening. First-year parents are invited back in class groups by the HSCL co-ordinator to an informal coffee morning in September. A further meeting takes place in October when first year parents have an opportunity to meet with the principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, HSCL, year head and class teachers to receive feedback on the student settling-in process and to clarify any issues of concern. This level of commitment to support parents is commended.
A system of prefects rather than a student council operates in Scoil Mhuire. Two students, elected by their peers, represent each class group and are ‘a voice for the class’. These prefects bring issues and concerns to the class-teacher, meet regularly with the year head and the full complement of prefects meets once or twice a year. However, students do not gain experience of holding office and meetings are not minuted. Senior prefects report a more formal structure, meeting with their year head once a term. Issues and concerns are brought forward to the meetings of senior management and assistant principals. While the present prefect system has served the school well it would now be opportune to build on progress achieved and establish a properly constituted student council. Information in this regard is available on www.studentcouncil.ie . It is evident that there are the skills and talents within the student body to progress many of the issues which the school seeks to promote, for example, those in relation to environment, healthy eating and canteen facilities. A student council notice board would be useful so that agenda and minutes of meetings could be posted for the attention of the general student body.
The role of the head girl and head boy, both elected without campaigns by Leaving Certificate students, is defined as representing the students, supporting prefects and representing the school at major functions. Commendably, Scoil Mhuire also operates a system of bus prefects with two prefects on each bus to ensure that students board and alight safely. Ongoing liaison is maintained between the bus companies and the school transport co-ordinator who organises representatives to attend the school to talk to students at the beginning of the school year.
The school debutants ‘formal’ which is organised, in partnership with parents, for Leaving Certificate students at the end of the first term is an important occasion for the school and is shared with family, friends and the local community. Prefects praised the school on the happy, friendly ambience, the good relationships within the school community, the transfer programme from primary school, the range of subjects and programmes available, the after-school study facility; the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and in general the assistance given to students. Students would like to see PE timetabled in senior cycle, more guidance support in junior cycle, improved physical environment and facilities, including a canteen.
The gospel and faith are important in Scoil Mhuire and close links have been established between the school and local clergy who act as part-time chaplains to the school. Weekly Mass and Confessions are offered in the school oratory. Liturgical seasons are marked, retreats are organised for students, a school Mass takes place at the beginning of the school year and again for Leaving Certificate students at graduation. All students met with in the course of the evaluation were friendly, welcoming, courteous and articulate.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths 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:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Scoil Mhuire accepts the findings of the Whole School Evaluation Report. We found the Whole School Inspection rigorous and intensive. The commendations and praise outlined are gratefully accepted as they reinforce independently, where we feel our strengths lie. Similarly, we welcome the recommendations as constructive criticism, which we will endeavour to implement.
Scoil Mhuire would like to put on record our appreciation of the various inspectors and their professional and courteous interaction with all partners during the inspection.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Since the inspection, Scoil Mhuire has followed up many of the recommendations outlined. Some of those outlined were in the planning stage prior to our WSE.
For example, 2007-2008 has seen the introduction of Transition Year as planned; the allocation of contact time has been implemented subject to staffing levels; new APs have attended in-service and have availed of professional training; SPHE has been included for one period per week and the policy has been adopted; timetabling arrangements for Guidance have been changed to suit Leaving and Junior Certificate. The school is liaising closely with our local SEN Co-ordinator and our student council is being reassessed.