An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Loreto College,

Mullingar, Co. Westmeath

Roll number: 63290Q

 

 

 

 

Date of inspection: 23-27 October 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007

 

 

 

 

This Whole School Evaluation report

1.  Introduction

2. The quality of School Management

2.1    Characteristic spirit of the school

2.2 School ownership and management

2.3 In-school management

2.4 Management of resources

3.    Quality of School Planning

4. Quality of Curriculum Provision

4.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

4.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

4.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

5. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

5.1 Planning and preparation

5.2   Teaching and learning

5.3 Assessment

6. Quality of Support for Students

6.1 Students with special educational needs

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

6.3 Guidance

6.4 Pastoral care

7. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

8. Related Subject Inspection Reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

This Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Loreto College, Mullingar. 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 and the deputy principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

1.  Introduction

 

Loreto College, Mullingar is located on Harbour Road, a quiet, scenic area of the town. The extensive site overlooks the Royal Canal and is surrounded by mature trees, playing pitches and open parkland.

 

Loreto College is a Catholic voluntary secondary school for girls, which was founded in 1881. The school community is justifiably proud of its heritage and tradition and of its long history of providing education in Mullingar. During the last academic year, the school organised a considerable number of religious ceremonies and cultural events, culminating in the visit of Her Excellency, President Mary Mc Aleese, to celebrate its 125th anniversary.

 

The school has grown considerably over the years from an initial enrolment of three students in 1881 to the current enrolment of 780. Student numbers over the past four years have fluctuated slightly, but have always remained above 770. The projected enrolment of the school for the academic years 2008/09 is 820 approximately, due largely to the growth of population in the area. The school draws its students from the town of Mullingar and its environs and from a wide rural catchment area. The school has drawn up a comprehensive enrolment policy stating that students of all social, economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds are admitted to the school. 

 

2. The quality of School Management

 

2.1    Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The characteristic spirit of the school is one where genuine value is placed on tradition. The school warmly cherishes its strong sense of identity and continuity in the community. The school’s mission statement, which is underpinned by the Loreto philosophy of education, aims “to provide a Christian, caring community of learning, which seeks in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation, respect and justice, to develop the talents and potential of all members”. This mission statement, by virtue of the fact that it is displayed prominently in a number of areas in the school, printed in the staff handbook, in the school prospectus and in the students’ journal, is readily accessible to all the key stakeholders in the school.  Ways in which the aspirations of the mission statements will be realised in the daily life of the school are detailed in a short appendix to the main statement.

 

The school’s caring ethos is characterised by an atmosphere of cordiality and co-operation between students and staff. Personal contact, warmth and concern epitomise the nature of student-teacher interactions and are in keeping with the school’s stated aim of creating an atmosphere of mutual co-operation, respect and justice.

 

2.2 School ownership and management

 

The trustees, The Loreto Education Trust Board, delegate the management of the school to the board of management, which was established in 1988. The trustees fully support and promote the characteristic spirit of the school through the provision of financial and educational support to the school and by facilitating the professional and personal development of management and staff. Under the auspices of the Loreto Education Centre, a schedule of professional development seminars is drawn up and delivered annually to various school personnel. The trustees acknowledge the work of the board of management by providing ongoing advice and support. A member of the Loreto Education Trust Board meets with each board once a year. In addition, appropriate training is made available to new board members in Loreto schools nationwide and this must be acknowledged as a very positive support. In a spirit of leadership and collaboration and in an effort to identify the strengths and areas for development of individual Loreto schools, the Loreto Education Trust Board also requires each school to submit a wide-ranging annual school report.

 

The board of management in Loreto College, Mullingar includes representatives of the trustees, the parents and the teaching staff and has been properly constituted. The work of the board is strengthened by the broad and diverse range of skills, views and expertise that individual members bring to the meetings. Meetings are held monthly and good communication with staff and parents is assured through the presentation of an agreed written report after each meeting.

 

At the time of the Whole School Evaluation, (WSE) the newly appointed board (October 2006) had not yet had the opportunity to meet as a management group. One member of the previous board, a Loreto sister who teaches in the school, continues to serve as chairperson. Two other representatives of the trustees and one other member had served on the board prior to 2003 and are therefore familiar with the running of the school. Due to the fact that the board had not met prior to the inspectors’ visit, it was not an opportune time to discuss achievements, decision-making processes and involvement of the board in policy making to date, as would be usual in the course of a WSE.

 

The new board of management suggested a number of priority areas for its attention over the course of its term of office, October 2006-October 2009. The board is acutely aware of the changing nature of Irish society and will seek to allow for cultural diversity within school structures. The board will address the issue of psychological assistance for students with difficulties while recognising that such assistance is not always readily available. The board will also oversee the substantial building programme scheduled to start in May 2007. The board recognises the need to expand and enhance the school’s information and communications technology (ICT) and will work towards this goal in partnership with the principal, staff and parents’ advisory council.

 

2.3 In-school management

 

The school principal was appointed in 1995, and was the first lay person to occupy the position in Loreto College, Mullingar. The deputy principal, who was appointed in September 2005, had taught in the school for a number of years and had served as Transition Year co-ordinator. A strong, mutually supportive working relationship is evident between the principal and deputy principal and both display dedication and an unquestionable commitment to the school.

 

The strongest characteristic of the principal’s style of management is his ability to use face-to-face interaction with members of the school community to best effect. The principal attends meetings of the parents’ advisory council and of the student council. He chairs staff meetings and is secretary to the board of management. The principal makes himself available to staff and to students and is a constant and visible presence on the school premises. The principal takes responsibility for the motivation of staff and achieves this, for the most part, by building good interpersonal relationships with colleagues. He has a designated notice board in the staff room, and while he does, on occasion, post notices, as does the deputy principal, he prefers to speak to people in person. The principal holds a weekly assembly with each year group and works hard to prevent any minor disciplinary issues becoming major problems. He knows individual students by name, a fact that was borne out and appreciated by students and parents alike. He also teaches Mathematics to a first-year group twice a week. The organisational duties of the principal include the drawing up of the school timetable, the allocation of first-year students to various classes, overall responsibility for the school’s curriculum and liaison with the Department of Education and Science. Both principal and deputy principal attend the weekly year heads’ meeting and both assume a disciplinary role.

 

The deputy principal and the principal have adopted a partnership approach to school leadership. Their sense of teamwork and effective communication was evident. The deputy principal has attended the Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) programme for newly appointed senior management. Since her appointment, she has overseen the drawing up of a school policy on dignity in the workplace and use of the Internet. The deputy principal assists the principal in the day to day running of the school and takes on particular responsibility for the monitoring of students’ attendance and for organising the substitution rota for teachers. She supervises students at lunchtime, accompanied by the principal, and they meet informally at the end of each school day.

 

In common with many other schools, the substantial administrative workload of the principal and deputy principal, as detailed above, leaves little time for formal, structured meetings and for long-term school planning. Leadership and administration can, however, complement one another provided that a robust system of delegation and good time management is in place. In such a scenario, the principal could incrementally increase his involvement with planning and curricular matters and his time spent in consultation with key groups in the school such as the care team and the learning support team. Better teamwork, leading to greater staff participation in decision-making and implementation, needs to be promoted. The strongest possible encouragement and support should be given to teachers who wish to take on greater responsibility in middle management. Such a change will also require a willingness on the part of post-holders to take up new responsibilities.

 

Loreto College has a significant network of post holders in place. A total of twenty-three teachers form the middle management structures of the school. Five of the nine assistant principals are year heads while the remaining four assistant principals are responsible for (a) health and safety and liaison with local primary schools, (b) co-ordination of book lists and the setting up of centres for all examinations, (c) Timetabling and supervision rotas for in-house examinations, (d) Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. The fourteen members of staff who hold special duties posts of responsibility look after the following areas of school life: (a) school library, (b) collection of fees and organisation of supervision rotas for mock examinations, (c) administration of payment, tax and PRSI for substitute, part-time and ancillary staff and induction of new teachers, (d) development of the school environment (e) co-ordination of the school litter awareness and prevention programme, (f) co-ordination of students’ awards and lost and found office (g) co-ordination of Gaisce, the President’s Awards Scheme and promotion of lunchtime activities, (h) liaison officer for the Student Council and co-ordinator of senior prefects’ duties, (i) public relations, (j) maintenance and development of audio-visual equipment, (k) co-ordination of weekly detention and information for staff handbook (l) convenor of staff social committee, (m) co-ordinator of Transition Year Programme (n) co-ordinator of Leaving Certificate Applied Programme.

 

Two further special duties posts will shortly become available and this will afford an opportunity to review the existing middle management structures. The present posts of responsibility system has been in place since 1998, so such a review would be timely and could function as a response to the changing needs of the school. Circular letters 04/98, 05/98 and PPT 29/02 should be consulted. The restructuring initiative should aim to give post-holders a greater role in the operation of the school as well as a genuine responsibility for the many and varied duties required. Duplication of duties should be eliminated and imbalances in the workload of post-holders need to be minimised. The Educational Philosophy of Loreto Schools, Ireland (2001) states that The board of management should exercise a significant role in determining a schedule of posts of responsibility which meets the needs of the school. The board of management of Loreto College, Mullingar could work towards a fuller implementation of this aspect of the philosophy.

 

At present, channels of communication between senior and middle management vary between formal and informal. Year heads meet formally with senior management on a weekly basis, but there are no formal meetings arranged for any other post-holders. A structure for such meetings, perhaps once a term, should be put in place as should an annual review of the posts of responsibility system. The pastoral area is a key one in a school of 780 students, and consideration should be given to creating new posts or moving some existing posts into that area.

 

The year heads and form teachers play a crucial role in the management and pastoral care of students. All year heads hold assistant principal posts while form teachers act in a voluntary capacity. At meetings with the inspection team, year heads warmly acknowledged the invaluable contribution of the form teachers and stated that they would be unable to deliver such an effective pastoral care and discipline structure without such support.

 

The year heads adopt a co-ordinated, collegial and professional approach to their role. They see themselves, and are seen by fellow staff members, as middle management. The combination of pastoral and disciplinary duties that they undertake makes them a vital element in the effective working of the school. They attend the weekly assembly of their year group with the principal and take the assembly in his absence.

 

A good record keeping system is in place and year heads maintain a comprehensive set of files. This work is greatly assisted through the completion of a detailed profile form by each student annually. A new computerised system of monitoring students’ attendance/absence was introduced in September 2006. Year heads, while acknowledging that all new systems experience start-up problems, expressed some reservations as to its reliability and effectiveness and, together with the deputy principal, they are keeping the system under review at present. Year heads progress with their year group, from first to fifth year and as a result they get to know the students well. They also teach some of the students in their care. The year heads meet weekly as a group with the senior management team. This good practice provides an important line of communication and it is recommended that records be kept of such meetings and particularly of any decisions taken.

 

The effective management of students is promoted through the consistent implementation of the disciplinary system throughout the school. The school’s disciplinary code, which is printed in the students’ journal, is practical, realistic and just. The code is due to be reviewed shortly and this should provide an opportunity to consult and include parents and the student council. The meaningful involvement of students in the devising of the school rules, in conjunction with parents and staff, would enable them to take greater ownership of the rules. Teachers who organise school outings and tours have wisely drawn up an inclusive and distinct set of rules pertaining to acceptable student behaviour while on such trips and students and their parents are made fully aware of all rules in advance of travelling. 

 

In one sub-section of its mission statement, the school states its aim of creating “an orderly, positive environment which allows quality teaching and learning to take place.” This was seen to be a reality in the school. Students were well behaved, polite and courteous both in the classrooms and on corridors. The work ethic is very strong and there are high expectations of students regarding behaviour and academic performance. The discipline code is, in the main, administered by the year heads, who operate a system of on report sheets and complaint forms. If necessary, the year heads communicate with parents regarding breaches of the discipline code. A weekly detention session, lasting through thirty minutes of lunchtime, is employed as a sanction for minor offences. A special duties post holder has been appointed to manage this system in co-operation with the year heads.

 

The school actively promotes the positive behaviour and co-operation of students through its annual awards ceremony, when the achievements and contribution of students to all aspects of school life are acknowledged and rewarded.

 

Communication between the school and parents is clear and effective. The school has developed an attractive, compact prospectus which contains detailed information for parents of incoming students. Reports are sent home after formal school examinations and parent-teacher meetings are held for all year groups. The school journal is a source of essential information for parents and is used effectively as the chief means of day-to-day interaction between the school and parents. Communication with parents is further promoted through the circulation of a newsletter from the principal, highlighting school events and achievements. It is suggested that further communication with parents would be greatly enhanced by the establishment of a website carrying information on all aspects of the school.

 

The Parents’ Advisory Committee, (PAC) which was set up in 1986, offers considerable support to parents and to the school. The committee meets on a monthly basis. The presence of the school principal at these meetings helps to ensure good lines of communication between parents and the school. Parents also reported much satisfaction with the formal contact mechanisms that are available to them should they wish to speak to a teacher or to raise an issue of concern.

 

The PAC has engaged in fundraising for the school and in facilitating a number of parenting courses. In recent years, the council has sponsored study skills workshops for students, purchased a new piano and a digital camera for school use, given a subvention to the school magazine, Loreto Link, and has run a supervised disco to enable Junior Certificate students from Loreto College and from other schools in Mullingar to celebrate their results in safety. Parents reported that they had been invited to review existing school policies and this good practice should be extended to involve parents more significantly in the initial consultative stages of policy formation. The PAC might also be able to help in a practical way to improve the school’s ICT facilities.

 

The creation of a post of responsibility for public relations has done much to raise the profile of the school in the local community. Information and photographs of the many academic, sporting, cultural and enterprise achievements of students are displayed weekly on a designated notice board in the school and subsequently sent to the local press. This good practice is commended in that it helps to develop student self-esteem while ensuring that the wider community is kept aware of the varied achievements of the school. The school yearbook, Loreto Link, further highlights the school’s participation and success as well as the commitment of staff and students.

 

 

2.4 Management of resources

 

The full teaching staff allocation for the school, including ex-quota positions, is forty-seven. The ancillary team comprises six full-time and four part-time staff: two caretakers, one full-time and one part-time secretary, two canteen assistants, one full-time and three part-time cleaning staff. In terms of staff deployment, teachers are assigned to classes in order to make optimum use of their subject specialism and to ensure that they are provided with the opportunity to teach a variety of levels, cycles and programmes.

 

The school has been granted additional teacher resources from the Department of Education and Science to cater for the changing needs of the student body. A considerable proportion of these supplementary hours are not being used in the current school year for the purposes for which they were allocated. School management needs to address this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure that additional resources are used effectively to benefit the students for whom they were intended.

 

The school operates a forty-five period teaching week and is fully compliant with Department of Education and Science regulations in respect of the provision of tuition time in junior cycle. Leaving Certificate year two students have less tuition time as they are timetabled for assembly twice a week with the principal in addition to a number of study periods, due in part to the fact that the school’s ICT facilities are only accessible to twenty students at a time. A similar situation occurs in Leaving Certificate year one where students, who do not participate in Physical Education (PE) or in the senior choir have three study periods in the week. With the improvement in the ICT provision, it is suggested that these periods could perhaps be used more efficiently to equip the students with valuable life skills.  

 

In terms of continuous professional development, the school facilitates the attendance of its teachers at all Department of Education and Science syllabus or programme-related courses and teachers have availed of such training in a number of curricular areas. In the context of school development planning, a full analysis of the future staffing needs of the school would be timely. Management has already identified the area of learning support as one in need of additional qualified staff and in the next academic year, a member of staff will seek qualification in this area. With the increase in the number of international students attending the school, teacher qualification in the teaching of English to speakers of other languages would be not just desirable but necessary. The board expressed its full commitment to supporting and facilitating the in-career development of staff in order to enhance the quality of educational provision in the school.

 

While no formal budgets exist for the different subject areas, resources are generally provided on request from subject teachers. In order to ensure that all teachers are aware of available teaching resources for their subject area, it is recommended that such resources and their location be documented annually and that a copy of this inventory be circulated to all teachers at the start of the school year. The drawing up of such an inventory will become particularly important as the school building programme progresses over the next two years.

 

The present staff handbook, which consists of photocopied pages, could serve as a starting point for the production of a more comprehensive edition. The handbook contains a list of staff members and form teachers and would be enhanced by a list of post-holders with a description of their duties. A plan of the school layout could accompany the existing list of classrooms and the work of form teachers would be made easier by the inclusion of good quality photocopiable letter templates suitable for sending to parents. Copies of the updated school rules and relevant school policies could also be included.

 

The original convent and school building date from 1881, but over the years various extensions were constructed to accommodate increasing student numbers. The school functioned as a boarding/day school for girls up to 1979 and the building clearly displays its origins. Eight specialist rooms and eight of the existing purpose-built classrooms are bright and spacious. One of the home economics kitchens was refurbished in 2006 under the Department of Education and Science Summer Works Scheme. However, at the time of the evaluation, the electrical work had not been completed to a satisfactory standard and the school was still unable to use the newly renovated kitchen for Home Economics.

 

The former dormitories on the two top floors have been converted into classrooms, which although generous in height, are of irregular size and shape. The management of students in this area of the school is challenging as narrow corridors make movement difficult. The school has a full Health and Safety policy and fire drills are carried out once a term. All junior cycle students are taught in base classrooms while the majority of teachers and senior students move from one classroom to another. Considering the height and extent of the school property and the number of stairs involved, this can be problematic for teachers and students alike. The existing room allocation requires senior students and teachers to move to another classroom, sometimes on a different floor, in the middle of a double period and this situation needs to be addressed immediately. With a view to minimising movement and maximising tuition time it is recommended that a full audit of room allocation be carried out and that every effort be made to assign at least one large classroom to each subject area. This provision would give all teachers the opportunity to create a subject-related stimulating learning environment for their students

 

There is a spacious assembly/concert hall which has to serve a dual purpose owing to the fact that the school has no gymnasium. A large canteen in the basement can seat almost 400 students, while a spacious study hall can accommodate a further 250. Students should be encouraged to avail fully of these excellent facilities during the lunch break.

 

Work is scheduled to commence in May 2007 on a major construction programme which will entail the demolition of some parts of the existing building to make way for a new, wheelchair- accessible school entrance, administration suite, general purposes area for students, three science laboratories, a gymnasium, two extra classrooms and a flood-lit, astro-turf pitch. A lift to connect the four floors will be installed. Permission and funding has also been granted to convert the existing three small, inadequate and isolated classrooms that house the present Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Applied and Learning Support students into two “floating classrooms” which will be used on a needs only basis. The students in the above–mentioned groups will then be accommodated in more suitable classrooms in the main area of the school.

 

The school library is quite spacious and is centrally located. It is open to students at lunchtime, but due to the fact that it is regularly used for senior cycle English and Irish lessons, it cannot function as a library for much of the school day. There is a good range of books some of which would need to be updated in line with the reading tastes of students. Advice may be obtained from the portal site for Irish libraries, www.library.ie and from the website, www.sla.org/uk 

 

Consideration might be given to upgrading the existing language laboratory into a multi-media room.

 

There are two separate staff rooms in Loreto College, which makes interaction, good collegiality and the dissemination of information difficult at present. A possible alternative arrangement would be to convert the smaller staff room into a quiet workspace with ICT facilities and to have one main staffroom with improved storage facilities. 

 

Notwithstanding the external stone stairs access to the building, the interior of the school is bright and welcoming. Much effort has gone into the decoration of stairwells and corridors where there are occasional floral arrangements and displays of students’ Art work. Designated notice boards show photographs and news of students’ activities and successes. The school grounds are very well maintained.

 

While some computers have been installed in the Art and Music rooms, (two and three computers respectively) Loreto College has, at the time of the evaluation, only one fully-equipped computer room to serve 780 students. There is an urgent need for a major investment in order to increase and improve the provision of information and communications technology (ICT) throughout the school. The limited existing provision means that junior cycle students have no access at all to ICT classes. At senior level, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students have reasonable provision, but the Leaving Certificate (Established) students can take only a short module. Furthermore, access to ICT facilities for research and guidance purposes is very limited.

 

Considering the importance of ICT as a life skill for all students, it is imperative that students are given every opportunity to acquire good skills to enable them to engage in independent learning outside the classroom. In the short term, it may be possible to withdraw some junior cycle students from class on a cyclical basis to reinforce and develop the computer skills acquired by them in primary school. In the context of subject planning, ICT needs to be integrated into all subject areas. Training has been delivered to some members of staff, outside of school hours, and it is acknowledged that further training is needed. Better ICT facilities for staff will promote increased use of this technology across the school. Consideration might also be given to upgrading the existing language laboratory into a multi-media room.

 

 

3.    Quality of School Planning 

 

Although the school has, over the years, worked towards the development of a school plan, a properly-structured whole-school planning process is not operating in Loreto College at present. Considerable effort needs to be invested in building up a culture of self-evaluation and informed strategic planning. The foundation for such a culture of collaborative planning is already in place as evidenced by the thought and energy that went into organising the events and ceremonies to mark the 125th anniversary of the school. Several committees were set up to plan and organise these events and all those involved spoke of this as an uplifting and unifying process. Collaborative work has also been carried out over a number of years by members of the Advisory Board of Studies although the work of this body remains largely undocumented. It is regrettable that so few written records have been maintained of the meetings of these working groups including dates of meetings, attendance, agenda and minutes.  The maintenance of such records is strongly recommended in the future as a means of tracking the progress of planning processes within the school, and of facilitating continuity and review.

 

A number of elements of school planning have been put in place. The school has agreed and documented its mission statement and, to date, five school policies have been completed and a further three are in the process of development. This work needs to be completed and further policies progressed, with all the key stakeholders being involved from the outset.

 

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, 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.

 

Subject departments were established in January 2006, with the assistance of a facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Very good progress has been achieved so far in the area of subject planning and the work continues apace. Teachers reported that this was a very worthwhile exercise. It is recommended, therefore, that the school build on this positive experience to extend collaborative planning relating to whole-school issues. This process will need clear leadership from the board of management, in accordance with its statutory duty under the 1998 Education Act, to lead the school forward by ensuring the preparation, implementation, dissemination and evaluation of the school plan. One possible strategy would be to set up a steering committee composed of a broad spectrum of staff members. A co-ordinator, possibly a post holder, could liaise with senior management and an SDPI facilitator in order to draw up an agreed modus operandi, convene whole-school and sub-group meetings, agree timeframes and articulate a vision.

 

It would prove useful for the entire staff of Loreto College in collaboration with the board, the parents and a representative number of students, to carry out an examination of the strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats (SCOT analysis) facing the school. Such an analysis would lead to agreement on the present and perceived future needs of the school and the drawing up of priority areas. The need to work out a shared vision and a full understanding of how the school should develop could be thus addressed in the context of a proactive approach to change. The formation, development and realisation of a coherent, strategic plan for the school is essential.

 

 

4. Quality of Curriculum Provision

 

4.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The curriculum in Loreto College provides an extensive range of subjects and programmes to serve the diverse educational needs of the student cohort. Four discrete programmes: Junior Certificate,(JC) Transition Year Programme, (TYP) Leaving Certificate Established, (LCE) and Leaving Certificate Applied, (LCA) are offered in the school and a significant amount of time is devoted to ensuring that all students are well informed in relation to selecting appropriate programmes. 

 

It would now be timely to conduct a review of curriculum provision as part of the school development planning process and in response to the changing student profiles. The challenge for the school will be to ensure breadth and balance across subjects, while taking cognisance of the identified needs and aptitudes of students and the availability and deployment of teaching staff.

 

In any future review, the long-term viability of some subjects and the extent to which the needs of all students are being addressed must be seen as a core issue. The present junior-cycle curriculum has a very strong academic focus and leaves little room for individual student choice or aptitude.

 

Every first year student takes ten core examination subjects: Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Business Studies, Science, French, Religious Education and CSPE, along with SPHE, choir and P.E. These subjects remain core through to Junior Certificate. The choice of optional subjects is very restricted since incoming students must choose, in February prior to entry, between (a) German and Home Economics and (b) Art and Music. This choice is further narrowed in second year when students must drop one of these options.

 

Although the Advisory Board of Studies has, on occasion, examined the above-mentioned options and implemented some changes within those option bands, no significant change has occurred. There is a strong case for regular and systematic review of the choices on offer to students at present. There is a huge imbalance, for example, between the numbers choosing Home Economics and those choosing German. The inability of students in Loreto College, Mullingar to study both Art and Music would appear to be at variance with the Loreto tradition which places special emphasis on “the nurturing of the aesthetic sense through the creative arts” The strong academic focus of the school is, of course, recognised and lauded but the learning needs of all students, rather than tradition, should be a key element in guiding the curricular principles of the school.

 

In senior cycle, the school provides a wide subject choice and is highly commended on its commitment to ensure that students are accommodated within the option lines.  The optional subjects available to senior cycle students include four science subjects; Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Agricultural Science, Business, Accounting, Economics, Art, History, Geography, Music, Home Economics (Social &Scientific), French and German.  This wide range of options caters most comprehensively for students in the LCE group.

 

Examination of the school timetable shows that the number of periods allocated to various subjects in junior and senior cycle is in line with national norms and with syllabus requirements. Practical subjects are taught in the recommended double period blocks. The school is to be commended for its provision of two/three periods of PE as an optional module in the senior cycle curriculum, as PE plays a vital role in ensuring a healthy, active lifestyle. It was noted, however, that second and third year junior cycle classes have only one single period of PE in the week. The implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus requires schools to provide a double period, i.e. eighty minutes of P.E. as a minimum (circular M15/05)  

 

The school offers both the TY and LCA programmes at present and is actively researching the feasibility of introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP)

 

Loreto College is the only post-primary school in Mullingar to offer the TYP and it has done so since 1994 as a senior cycle option. Since its inception, participant numbers have fluctuated between fifteen and thirty-eight students and at present there is one mixed-ability TYP class of eighteen students. The TYP timetable is a very full one and it appears to lean towards a strongly academic curriculum. In the school’s own literature, it is stated that the main focus of the year is on personal and social development and on preparation for adult life. The traditional structure of the present timetable, however, appears to allow only limited opportunities for experiential learning or personal growth, apart from a one-day course on personal development and a three- week work-experience placement.

 

The content of the different subject areas is the responsibility of the subject department. Following examination of the existing TY programme, it is suggested that the content of some subject programmes needs to be reviewed and amended to ensure that it does not replicate areas from the Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate syllabus. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on autonomous learning and the development of new skills, including research skills. The TYP provides the opportunity to offer new subjects or new aspects of existing subjects, a wide range of modules and in-school and out-of-school activities which contribute to the holistic development of students.

 

It is commendable that the TY students of the present academic year have taken on a new venture with two Media Studies periods per week dedicated to producing the school magazine, Loreto Link. This excellent initiative is made more worthwhile by the addition of a strong element of photography. Furthermore, participation in The Irish Times school magazine competition will pose a stimulating challenge for the TY group.

 

The TY is a very valuable programme and every effort should be made to raise the profile of transition year in the school and to increase participant numbers. During interviews with the TY team, good ideas on how to further promote the programme were clearly in evidence. It would reinforce and endorse the programme if a specific TYP information sheet or leaflet could be produced and made available to students and parents. Renaming the final two years of senior cycle in the school as fifth and sixth year would recognise and validate the fact that the TY students have spent an additional (fourth) year in the school.

 

The LCA programme is now in its ninth successful year in Loreto College. This innovative and flexible programme has much to offer to senior cycle students who intend to pursue a Post Leaving Certificate course. In Loreto College, it is considered that the LCAP assures the successful retention of students for whom the Leaving Certificate Established might not be suitable. The programme is delivered by a dedicated team of teachers, headed up by two experienced co-ordinators. One of the co-ordinators, a post holder, promotes the programme and explains its rationale to third-year students. It was reported that the promotion of the programme has become easier in latter years due to the fact that successful past students of the LCAP have come into the school to speak positively about their experience as LCAP participants and about their career paths. In common with their TYP counterpart, the two LCA co-ordinators have an allowance of two hours per week for administrative work. Apart from a slot at staff meetings, no formal time has been set aside for meetings of the LCA team to plan and review progress, but, sub-groups of the fifteen-member team meet informally by arrangement. The co-ordinators are responsible for the day-to-day running of the programme and for disciplinary matters, combining the roles of year head, co-ordinator and form teacher.

 

 

4.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The range of subjects and programmes on offer in the school and the choices offered to students in junior and senior cycle have been discussed in section 4.1 above. This section, therefore, will focus on the arrangements made to facilitate such choice.

 

Information evenings for parents of prospective students, attended by senior management, the Guidance counsellors, and year head are designed to provide support and advice on subject choice. Students who enrol in Loreto College are very well supported in all stages of the transition from primary to secondary school. Students entering senior cycle, together with their parents, are also given professional support and advice on subject choice and appropriate programmes. The peer information sessions on senior cycle subject choice and content given by Leaving Certificate students to third year students have proved very popular and beneficial.

 

4.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The excellent range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities offered to students in Loreto College caters for a wide variety of tastes and interests. The formal education of students is greatly enhanced by the readiness of teachers to give freely of their time to organise and supervise numerous sporting and cultural activities.

 

Teams of all ages have enjoyed success within a school that fosters a strong sporting tradition. The first year basketball team, for example, did very well last year in winning the All Ireland Plate tournament. Cross-country running and track and field events have also become popular and students have achieved success in athletic competitions over the years. The national games are also promoted and the school enters both a junior and senior camogie team in the relevant competitions. In addition, the students have the opportunity to play Gaelic football with four teams in action among first and second years. Soccer is a relative newcomer to the school, but its arrival was warmly welcomed as a number of girls play with a local team, Mullingar Celtic. The under 14s team succeeded in taking the Leinster title in 2005/06. A total of seven hockey teams, managed and trained by a teacher and a local coach, participate in the Leinster league.

 

The bi-annual ski trip is open to students from all year groups and, on average, seventy-five students participate. Participation in equestrian and show jumping events is made possible and encouraged through the commitment of a teacher and some parents. Students with an interest in gymnastics or fencing are facilitated in a local club and the school organises an annual swimming gala in the local pool.

 

The teachers in Loreto College were anxious to acknowledge the dedication of a committed group of parents, the support of local sports clubs and in particular the generosity of the local Christian Brothers’ Secondary School (Coláiste Mhuire) in making its facilities available for training and competitive games.

 

The student whose interests lie outside of sport can choose from a wide variety of non-sporting extra curricular activities. Public speaking and debating have a long tradition in the school, and senior students participate annually in two competitions, the Mental Health Ireland Debates and the Soroptomists International Public Speaking which is for individual speakers. In 2006, a student from Loreto College won the All Ireland final of the latter competition.

 

Students with a flair for music may participate in the Senior Choir which is an optional activity for TY and LC students. A four-day trip to a choral festival in Prague is planned for late April 2007. A group of second-year students recently took part in the Drogheda Youth Choral Festival and individual violin and piano tuition is available in the school.

 

In 2004, following the implementation of a detailed seven-step plan for environmental awareness and action, Loreto College was awarded the Green Flag. A new Green Flag school committee, made up of teachers, non-teaching staff, students and parents has been set up to direct the renewal application of 2007.

 

Through involvement in the Student Enterprise Awards, the entrepreneurial, business and team-building skills of students are developed. An in-school competition is held in January to select the best entries to represent the school at county final level. Table quiz events are held in the school with the aim of encouraging students to participate in social activity and a quiz team is entered for the local Lions Club competition. Senior students are also encouraged and enabled to work for the President’s Awards Scheme, Gaisce, and in October 2006, thirty-eight students from Loreto College received their bronze medals in recognition of their accomplishments.

 

The school trip to France has replaced a previous exchange programme and it has grown in popularity with ninety-nine second-year students and nine teachers scheduled to travel to Paris in May 2007. A noteworthy feature of this trip is the organisation of interactive French classes in Paris. Other occasional co-curricular activities include Geography trips, a German exchange with the Mary Ward Gymnasium in Gunzburg, the organisation of many visiting speakers and theatre groups and a TYP project where presents are packaged and sent to children in the Third World.

 

The willingness and generosity of the staff to volunteer their time to organise the many activities outlined above has meant that the breadth of education available to the students in Loreto College is considerably enriched.

 

 

5. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects

 

The curricular areas inspected were English, German, Guidance and Art.  A subject inspection in Home Economics carried out in mid-September 2006, in advance of the WSE, also informs the composite reports below. Specific findings and recommendations for English, German, Guidance and Art are included in the subject inspection reports which are appended to this report. The following are the general findings on planning and preparation, teaching and learning and assessment overall in the subjects concerned.

 

5.1 Planning and preparation

 

Yearly plans have been developed in all of the subjects which were evaluated. The yearly plans presented in the course of the evaluation varied according to the subject. In some instances the aims of the subject plans were grounded in the mission statement of the school. In general, subject plans provided details about topics and themes to be covered with the different class groupings in the course of the year. Best practice was observed where the focus of planning was on the development of skills. It is recommended that subject plans be seen as a work in progress and that they be reviewed regularly. It is recommended that the existing schemes of work be developed over time to include information on specific learner outcomes, the sequence of topics to be covered and specific timeframes for the delivery of each topic. It is further recommended, when plans are being reviewed, and in order to maximise student learning, that attention be paid to evaluating the success of the teaching strategies used. Further subject specific recommendations as outlined in each of the subject inspection reports should be incorporated into these reviews. Further advice on subject planning is available from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) at www.sdpi.ie or from certain individual subject support services.

 

It was evident in the course of the inspection that formal structures are in place to facilitate subject department planning. In some instances a subject convenor has been appointed. This is very good practice. In general regular subject planning meetings take place both on a formal and informal basis. There was evidence of very good collaborative practices in most of the subjects evaluated. In the course of the evaluation, minutes of subject meetings were reviewed. It was clear from this documentation that minutes and decisions are carefully recorded. This is good practice and is to be commended. The overall impression gained was that a professional, cooperative and committed approach is taken to subject department planning.

 

The school’s facilities for Information Communication Technology (ICT) are out-dated and inadequate to meet the needs of the school. It was reported that in certain subjects, a full class group cannot be accommodated in the ICT room. In another subject area it was noted that, although computers were available in the base classroom, teaching activities related to ICT were not referred to in the planning documentation. It is recommended that planning for the use of ICT in the classroom be incorporated into all subject department plans.

 

In some subject areas it was observed that subject planning documentation included a catalogue of resources. These resources included educational packs, posters, leaflets and reference books. It is very useful to have a catalogue of the resources available in a subject department as it facilitates the access of all members of the subject group to such resources. It is important that, where syllabus change occurs, resources be reviewed and updated accordingly. It would be useful if the good practice of cataloguing resources and the inclusion of such a catalogue in planning documentation were extended to all subject groups.

 

It was noted in the course of the subject evaluations that co-curricular activities were planned. Co-curricular activities provide rich learning experiences and can serve to extend student learning considerably. It is also noteworthy that good contacts are being maintained with local and national third level colleges, with further education providers and local business. This is good practice. There was evidence of good cross-curricular planning across a range of subjects. This too is commendable as it provides opportunities for the reinforcement of learning.

 

5.2   Teaching and learning

 

In the subjects evaluated, the quality of individual lesson planning was generally good. In some lessons, however, the pace could be faster. Best practice was observed where the lesson objective was shared with classes. 

 

A variety of resources was used to good effect in the lessons visited. Useful aids and resources included texts, handouts (questionnaires, worksheets, notes) and role cards. A film-clip had been made ready, a tape-recorder was a good support for teaching and learning in different subject areas and a data projector and laptop were also used. Concrete teaching aids were used in one good example and this reinforced language acquisition. In specialist practical rooms, the resources necessary for the subjects were in place although, in a few cases, more use could have been made of available resources. 

 

In general, ICT is under-utilised and the school’s limited resources may have impacted negatively on some subject areas. Improvements, as and when they occur, should be factored into subject planning and the use of ICT should be integrated into the teaching and learning of all subjects. ICT was well used in one of the areas evaluated. This was possible because the department in question had immediate access to appropriate resources, (a laptop and data projector) in the subject room. In another subject area, however, notwithstanding the availability of appropriate resources, insufficient use appears to be made of ICT except in the case of the LCA programme, and this is a matter that should be redressed. 

 

Methodologies were varied and thoughtful teaching strategies were employed in most lessons observed. The board was used to good effect for recording key points, or for spelling which was taught in a stimulating way with an emphasis on fun. Very good practice in language teaching was noted where the target language was used for communication. Brainstorming was used in junior cycle teaching observed; all students were involved and were encouraged to communicate clearly. The development of oral skills is laudable. In one subject area, the more innovative approach to the teaching of the LCA course is commended. In some lessons, very good practice was observed in the use of active learning strategies and this should become a model for all subject areas. Resources such as worksheets created the opportunity for group and pair work and independent learning and were used appropriately in some subject areas. Teacher explanation and instructions were efficient and clear in the subjects evaluated. Guidance was given and demonstrations were good. Particularly commendable were the efforts made to ensure student understanding. Good practice was also observed where there was an emphasis on the integration of different aspects of syllabuses or of the various skills in language development. Questions were targeted at individuals to include maximum participation and this is good practice. 

 

There was evidence of student learning through interaction with teachers in question and answer sessions, and in interaction with the inspectors. Students were very motivated and were forthcoming in their responses. However, in some instances it is recommended that sufficient time be given to students to formulate answers themselves. Teachers should not answer the questions for the students. Portfolios of practical work showed progression in the learning of skills in the relevant subject areas. 

 

During the course of evaluation, it was noted that in a very few lessons there was an overemphasis on examination outcomes to the detriment of creativity and independent thinking. Where this occurs, it is recommended that current planning and teaching practices be reviewed. The syllabus, not the examination alone, should inform all aspects of teaching and learning. Changes necessitated by any review should be documented in subject planning and implemented in teaching practice.

 

5.3 Assessment

 

Formal in-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer for all junior-cycle students and for the fourth years. Mock examinations are held for fifth and third years in the spring. State Exams Commission (SEC) criteria should inform in-house assessment practice for examination classes. In some subject areas, course work is included in summative assessment and this good practice could be extended where relevant. In one instance, it was noted that marks accrued during the term were factored into the individual student’s overall result. This is commendable practice. While all four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) are evaluated in senior cycle in-house exams, the oral component was not evaluated in the junior cycle, and this is a matter that should be reviewed. The administration of oral testing could take place during class time. A positive aspect of departmental policy in some subject areas was the use of common assessment. This good practice is underpinned by a collaborative ethos.

 

Assessment methods are varied in the Transition Year, and the inclusion of portfolios of work was noted in one subject area. This is commendable, since assessment practice in Transition Year should complement the variety of approaches in the programme. There should be a strong element of student participation in assessment.

 

High academic expectations are set for the students in Loreto College, Mullingar. Students are challenged and good learning outcomes are achieved. In some subject areas, departments routinely review examination outcomes. Such a practice is commended since the gathering of information helps to inform teaching practice and makes remedial action possible. Information gathering is another very useful function of assessment in the area of guidance and good practice was noted in relation to interaction with the feeder primary schools. Scope for development is detailed in the Guidance report appended to this document.

 

It was noted that homework, both written and oral, is regularly assigned. High standards are expected and clear instructions are given to students. Folders were well organised in some subject areas, notes and handouts were stored systematically and standards of presentation were good. This is praiseworthy practice since it encourages learners to adopt a responsible attitude to their materials and their work. In the case of written assignments, good assessment practice was noted in many cases where helpful comments were written in copybooks. Such advice and affirmation provide important feedback to learners and the practice should be widely extended. It was noted that oral feedback in the immediate class context was helpful to students. Peer evaluation was in evidence when students read out written homework assignments. This is commendable practice.

 

There is considerable emphasis on examination criteria in the course of teaching in some subject areas and student awareness of such criteria was noted in the course of subject evaluations. While it is acknowledged that a range of assessment modes is employed in some cases, there is scope for development. It is recommended that practice be designed in such a way as to develop in students the confidence to make independent responses and the capacity to evaluate their own work. To this end, students should be encouraged to participate in their own evaluation (for example, through the keeping of logs or personal response diaries) and to take ownership of their learning. Subject departments might consider broadly the purposes of assessment when reviewing and developing subject-specific practices. Diagnostic testing instruments and techniques, whether oral or written, should be regularly reviewed to monitor their suitability and effectiveness. It is further strongly recommended that assessment be informed by a school-wide policy on assessment for learning. Useful advice is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie). 

 

Accurate records of assessment were kept in the subject areas evaluated. This is commendable in view of the importance of record keeping in relation to the maintenance of student profiles. Profiling facilitates the sharing of accurate information on choice of subjects and levels with students and parents. In the area of guidance, accurate records of aptitude tests are also invaluable in this regard and students receive feedback from the guidance team. This is commended.

 

 

6. Quality of Support for Students

 

6.1 Students with special educational needs

 

The school has recently drafted a special needs policy that is due for implementation as and from November 2006. Most of the work on this policy has been done by the principal and two members of staff and at the time of the WSE, it had not yet been ratified by the incoming board of management. It is recommended that the wording be checked as some references to the admission of special education needs (SEN) students may not be compatible with Department of Education and Science guidelines.

 

There is one ex-quota qualified learning support (LS) teacher and an additional allocation of 25.08 resource hours. The Drumcondra Verbal Reasoning Test is administered in April prior to the student’s admission in order to identify students with SEN or learning difficulties. This process is aided by information gleaned through the LS teacher’s visits to the feeder primary schools. Liaison with the special education needs officer (SENO) is also of considerable value. Students are tested again in literacy and numeracy in September of the year of entry. Parents are consulted and their approval sought before students are offered learning support. Regular consultation with subject teachers also takes place.

 

At the time of the evaluation, the school had one student listed as having special education needs and management was awaiting a psychological assessment for that student. There are no special needs assistants (SNA) employed in the school. A small number of students have been identified as requiring learning support. This is delivered in English and Maths in junior cycle to small groups but there is little or no individual tuition or team teaching. The area of learning support in Loreto College needs to be further developed in order to maximise the opportunities for the students. The fact that a number of students have an exemption from Irish and do not study French provides an occasion for the withdrawal of these students for extra tuition.

 

A high level of co-operation, commitment and informal but ongoing communication is evident in the work of the present learning support team. In the interest of a more co-ordinated delivery of support, it is recommended that time be made available for a weekly meeting of the ex-quota LS teacher and other members of the team and to plan, discuss and devise programmes and teaching methodologies for less able students.

 

At present, learning support is centred in an annexe rather than in the main school building. There is no specific audio-visual equipment for the LS department nor is Internet access available although there is a computer, printer and scanner which were acquired through the special needs allocation. The issues of existing and new accommodation and buildings were discussed in section 2.4 of this report. As an interim measure, the learning support room would be a much more comfortable and welcoming place for students and teachers alike if better lighting, heating and upgraded classroom furniture were made available.

 

The teachers in Loreto College recognise that support for SEN students and those requiring learning support is a whole-school issue and that all staff members need and would benefit from continuous professional development in this area. Accordingly, management has made contact with the special education support service (SESS) and a staff development day is being planned.

 

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

 

The school supports socially disadvantaged students in a number of practical ways and does so with discretion as required. Financial support is provided from the Mary Burke Bequest to students in need around school trips and outings, uniforms and lunches, and whenever a need is observed. After-school study facilities are also made available, free of charge, to disadvantaged students. The importance of these initiatives in retaining underprivileged students within the schooling system is acknowledged. The school has eleven junior cycle students from the Traveller community on its roll books, but reported great difficulty in retaining these students. School management liaises with the local representative of the National Education Welfare Board and the Visiting Teacher for Travellers in an effort to promote better attendance.

 

The school has enrolled a number of international students, most of whom do not speak English as a first language. The school now needs to develop inclusive, intercultural policies to support fully the integration of these students in a meaningful way into the school community. Training for all members of staff would equip teachers with the skills to raise awareness in the general student body as would liaison with outside agencies such as Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). Information relating to this organisation was forwarded to the school by the inspection team and further information may be obtained from the website www.iilt.ie. The school has an additional allocation of forty-four hours arising from its enrolment of international students and these concessionary hours need to be directly targeted at that specific group. Presently, there are no special initiatives in the school designed to aid the full inclusion of international students or to encourage them to participate in extra-curricular activities. There may well be a productive role for the school’s student council in the area of integrating minority groups.

 

6.3 Guidance

 

In Loreto College, guidance is seen as an integral part of the support system for students. A guidance plan has been drafted for each year group in order to make the most effective use of the school’s allocation of thirty-one hours. Guidance classes are delivered in junior cycle through SPHE and there are timetabled guidance periods in senior cycle. Students also have access to support from the guidance team on an individual basis. Guest speakers are regularly invited to speak to students on a range of career-related topics. The lack of good ICT facilities in the school in general and in the guidance room in particular, hinders students’ access to information on careers and colleges. The guidance team holds regular planning meetings and they work collaboratively with the TYP and LCA co-ordinators. There is evidence of good collaboration with parents and with outside agencies and support bodies. Good communication with local primary feeder schools further ensures that students’ needs are identified at an early stage and are dealt with appropriately by the school.

 

A full report on Guidance in the school, including a summary of findings and recommendations on areas for development is appended to this report.

 

Although the school does not have disadvantaged status and is not allocated a full-time Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, an assistant principal post holder takes responsibility for liaison with parents. The school also liaises with outside agencies such as the Midlands Health Board Psychological Services, if or when the need for further external support is identified.

 

6.4 Pastoral care

 

The management of students and the organisation of the year head system have already been discussed in section 2.3 so it is intended to focus in this section on a number of other support measures for students.

 

The school has devised and documented an excellent definition of the role of the form teacher, together with a full description of the fifteen recommended duties. It was noted, however, that no specific time is allocated for the form teacher to meet with the students in her/his care so clearly, it would prove difficult for the form teacher to carry out these duties to the fullest extent. Strong consideration should be given to the notion of providing a designated form teacher/class group meeting time, perhaps on a rotational basis.

 

The school prides itself on its strong caring ethos. The care and genuine concern of management and staff for the welfare of students is a hallmark of the school and a good range of support structures has been set up. However, there is no designated Care Team in place to ensure the co-ordination of these various support measures for students. In the context of whole-school planning, it would now be appropriate to develop, document and implement a pastoral care policy. It is strongly recommended that a forum be established where the guidance team, the chaplain, the HSCL and LS co-ordinators and senior management would meet weekly to identify issues, to plan collaboratively and to adopt a co-ordinated approach to looking after the personal development and the learning and pastoral needs of vulnerable students  In addition to in-school personnel, the school has engaged the services, on a part-time basis, of an external life coach who sees students individually.

 

Loreto College has a comprehensive anti-bullying policy with clear step-by-step guidelines for parents which are printed in the school journal. Commendably, this policy is underpinned by very practical strategies such as the mentoring of first-year classes by senior prefects, the placing of first-year students in classes with at least one “nominated friend” and discussions on the issue of bullying in all SPHE classes.

 

Loreto College benefits from having a fully qualified lay chaplain. The chaplain, however, does have a substantial number of teaching periods, and consideration should be given to reducing this teaching load to allow for extended chaplaincy work. This constraint, however, has not stood in the way of excellent work relating to the spiritual development of students. School masses are held on various occasions, there is a well-appointed and peaceful prayer room and retreats are organised off campus for senior students.

 

In common with all Loreto Schools, a Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation chapter is now established in Mullingar. The aim of the group is to raise awareness and understanding of these key issues throughout the school. At present, TY students and some second-year students are involved. Again, there is a potential future role for the student council as a steering group for this initiative.

 

The setting up of the student council (SC) in 2002 was a most positive step towards greater student participation in all areas of school life. Representatives on the council are elected by their peers and come from all year groups except first year. In the interest of equality, it is suggested that first year students be part of the council, perhaps from Halloween or Christmas onwards when they have had a chance to familiarise themselves with the school and fellow students. Meetings are held regularly under the guidance of a designated teacher. The principal also attends some meetings. The SC has a designated notice board and a suggestion box and they welcome input from all students. Their role in the school has yet to be clearly defined as the student council structure operates parallel to the senior prefects system and there is a certain amount of overlap. Forty-two senior prefects are elected annually by their fellow students in the Leaving Certificate group. They are assigned to different duties such as canteen supervision, sports, library and particular year groups. A full review of the duties and role of the prefects and the SC members could be undertaken by management, staff, parents and most importantly, by the students themselves. The publication Second Level Student Councils in Ireland: a study of Enablers, Barriers and Supports, available from the National Children’s Office (01 2420000) or www.nco.ie may provide some useful advice and guidelines.

 

The school community of Loreto College, Mullingar has a keen sense of pride in its history and heritage. There is a strong appreciation of the support offered by The Loreto Education Trust Board. The Loreto philosophy guides the work and the overall culture of the school. Interviews with a representative group of students from all year groups served to confirm that this philosophy underpins the caring atmosphere of the school and the strong rapport that exists between students and staff. Loreto College cherishes its long tradition as a provider of education in Mullingar and, building on that heritage, it looks with confidence to a future of endeavour, innovation and collaboration in education.

 

 

 

7. Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Further Development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The board of management is aware of the changing needs of the school and is keen to respond appropriately to such needs.

·         The principal and deputy principal operate as a strong senior management team. Their style of leadership is one of openness, approachability and collegiality.

·         A committed and active Parents Advisory Council makes a valuable contribution to the life of the school.

·         The school’s pastoral care system is well structured, with key roles for year heads and form teachers.

·         Subject departments have been established; formal meetings are held on a regular basis and work is ongoing in the area of collaborative subject planning.

·         A positive atmosphere was observed in many of the classes visited, with students motivated and keen to engage in the learning process.

·         High expectations are set for students and very good learning outcomes are achieved.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

8. Related Subject Inspection Reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

Subject Inspection of Art – 25 October 2006

Subject Inspection of English – 23 and 24 October 2006

Subject Inspection of German – 25 October 2006

Subject Inspection of Guidance – 25 and 26 October 2006

Subject Inspection of Home Economics – 19 September 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

 

The Board of management is very pleased that the many strengths of Loreto College have been recognised and outlined in the whole School Evaluation Report, page 22.

 

The Board has considered the areas outlined in the key recommendations of the Report and it is prepared to take on these challenges in the overall interest of continuous school improvement.

 

 

 

 

 

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

               activity implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.             

 

 

1)       The delays in upgrading I.T. facilities in Loreto College have been largely due to the many delays in progressing the school’s building project over the past ten years.  Now that the building is due to begin this year, broadband has been extended to twenty six classrooms, the Careers offices, and Co-ordinators’ offices.  Staff has engaged in another round of I.T. training.  The re-sitting of the computer room to a larger room will occur when the building project is completed.

2)       A full review of posts of responsibility has begun, facilitated by the regional S.D.P.I Co-ordinator.

3)       The Advisory Board of Studies has reviewed Junior Cycle subject choices and a revised set of choices is being offered to incoming First Year students.

4)       The Board and staff will engage in a more structured school planning process, beginning April 2007.

5)       Given the large and increasing numbers of International students in the school, the Board and staff will continue to work towards developing a more structured approach to the integration and educational development of these students, beginning September 2007.