An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School
Rosbercon, New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63630O
Date of inspection: 26 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School, Rosbercon. 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’ 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.
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School is an all girls’ Catholic school and was founded in 1924 by the Holy Faith Sisters at the invitation of the Bishop of Ossory. The school accommodated boarders from 1948 until the phased closure of the boarding school began in 1995. The Diocese of Ossory took over responsibility for the trusteeship of the school in 1997 and the following year the first lay-principal was appointed.
The school is located in Rosbercon on the outskirts of New Ross. Its catchment area covers both a rural and an urban base and attracts students of diverse backgrounds from a wide area including New Ross, South Wexford, South Kilkenny, East Waterford and South Carlow. In the nineties student numbers held at around 325, but dropped to 249 by 1999. However, due to the concerted efforts of the whole school community numbers increased steadily from 2000 and have reached 348 in the current year. With a planned maximum intake of ninety first-year students in the next school year, numbers will exceed this figure and the school expects its enrolment will exceed 400 by the 2008/2009 school year.
The rationalisation of education provision in New Ross has been addressed in both the Department of Education and Science (DES) commissioned McCarthy Report of 2002 and the DES School Planning Section report of 2004. These reports point in the direction of an amalgamation of some of the five existing post-primary schools in New Ross. The trustees, board of management, staff, parents and students are confident that Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School has a future in the town. Therefore, in light of increased enrolment, the board of management has embarked on a phased refurbishment of the existing school building.
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School has strongly maintained the Holy Faith ethos through the many changes in recent years. These include changes in trusteeship, name, principal and student intake. The whole school community supports the maintenance of this ethos. In the course of the evaluation, parents articulated their appreciation of the school ethos and the great effect it has on their daughters. Parents value the school as it is small, friendly and Catholic with good pastoral care and a good sense of discipline, high academic standards and especially that it is a single-sex school. Staff and students also expressed that they had high regard for the school’s small size and friendliness.
The school’s mission statement states that it is a learning community based on faith, hope and love, “where respect, responsibility and a Christian commitment grow allowing all our students to prepare for a meaningful life”. There was clear evidence in the course of the evaluation that Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School is true to its mission statement. All school activities strive to promote the school’s mission and vision. The school is Catholic in ethos but is welcoming of other denominations.
The school aims to maintain an environment where students and staff can learn and work in an atmosphere of respect, which is free from intimidation. The mission statement on bullying, which portrays this message is clearly displayed throughout the school. Respect and responsibility permeate school policies and are evident in the everyday life of the school. In the implementation of policies the school strives to be fair, and codes are equitably implemented in line with the school’s mission.
There is a clear sense of community in the school. The small student population ensures that staff knows each student. A sense of belonging and of being valued permeated the caring school environment. A good sense of orderliness and discipline, friendliness and calm was clearly evident throughout the school.
The trustees made a submission to the Department in July 2004 in response to the Department’s position paper on the future of education provision in New Ross. This submission concludes that the trustees believe that the post-primary education needs of the New Ross area would be best met by allowing the school to continue its growth as an all girls’ Catholic voluntary secondary school. The trustees support the board and the whole school community in their position on amalgamation.
The board of management of Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School consists of four patron nominees, two parent nominees and two nominees of teaching staff. The six-member board of trustees meet the board of management at least once during the lifetime of the board of management. The Bishop of Ossory is in constant contact with the principal and visits the school annually to meet sixth year students. The principal acts as secretary to the board and gives a report to the board at each meeting. An agreed report from the board is given at staff meetings and this communication is effective. Board roles and responsibilities are understood by board members. The board brings a complimentary range of skills and experiences to its work. The board meets regularly, on average about every six weeks in order to carry out its duties. Meetings are well attended. Minutes of board meetings examined at the time of the evaluation showed the board’s commitment to areas such as management, planning and support of students. The board’s interest in and dedication to the development and continued success of the school was evident. In addition, the finance committee meets at least once a month.
The board has been proactive in identifying key priorities for the school for the next five years. Strategies are in place to achieve these priorities. These include the consolidation of increased enrolment to 400-450 students, the improvement of the fabric of the school building and the consideration of broadening of the curriculum. The board has been proactive in implementing change with financial support for enhancement of guidance provision in the past, paying for part-time teaching hours to support the curriculum and funding capital school development projects. Good practice is evident in the fact that the board attends school events including the open night and the school musical.
The board has been active in policy formation and many key policies are in place. Further policy development has been prioritised. There is a need to revise the older, established policies on an ongoing basis. For example the homework policy is now seven years old and requires further attention. It is recommended that all school policies, once adopted by the school, are dated, disseminated and endorsed for implementation. This is in line with best practice. There is a need for all policies to be reviewed and updated regularly in consultation with the whole school community, and it is recommended that consultative reviewing, processing and enactment of policies take place on an ongoing basis.
The board’s key priority expressed during the evaluation is to ensure that a single-sex girls’ post primary school with the current ethos stays on the Rosbercon side of the River Barrow. A clear strategy has been developed in consultation with the whole school community. The board of management acknowledged the contribution of the current principal in successfully leading the school forward through a crucial stage of development.
The active and long-established parents’ association has a good relationship with the board. The board expressed confidence in the parents’ association and feel that they are true ambassadors to the school. The principal gives a verbal report on board proceedings to the parents’ association at their monthly meetings.
Senior management, consisting of the principal and deputy principal, share a common vision for the school, which is strongly supported by the whole school community. Strategies for the implementation of this vision have been formulated with support from the board of management and teaching staff. There was evidence that effective means of communication with school staff are maintained on an ingoing basis. A collaborative approach with staff is fostered. The principal leads the school effectively and is aware of the challenges facing the school into the future.
The principal is ably assisted by the deputy principal and they work very effectively together in the day-to-day management of the school. There is on-going consultation and both the principal and deputy principal present a strong management team. Their roles are clearly defined. For example, the principal takes responsibility for the timetable and allocation of classes and levels, while the deputy principal liaises with the Department on administrative matters. Both members of the senior management team have teaching duties and this establishes their instructional leadership. There is a clear on-the-ground senior management presence. However, the co-ordination and supervision activities currently undertaken by the principal in addition to the mechanics of the timetable would be better delegated to middle management and it is recommended that this be considered.
Senior management is supported in their work by five assistant principals (APs) and five special duties teachers (SDTs). Their diverse duties are carried out well. Of the five assistant principals two are year heads, one for the senior school students and one for the junior school students. The junior year head also carries responsibility for the Meitheal system while the senior year head has responsibility for the prefect system. They carry out effective administrative, pastoral and discipline roles with their respective groups. Year heads constitute part of the school discipline committee and sit on the relevant junior or senior committee when needed. The guidance service liaises closely with the year heads regarding the welfare needs of students. In light of increased first-year intake, it is recommended that consideration be given to the assignment of an additional AP as year head of first year. The remaining AP posts have responsibilities which span a list of tasks including: the school account, mock papers, book leasing, late list, newsletter, fire drill, first-aid, lost property and lockers. These duties are carried out effectively.
The SDTs carry out a varied range of duties including preparation of music for school events, artwork on display in the school, Green Schools’ co-ordination, transport and school shop duties and examination and timetabling duties. Teachers embrace the task assigned and are effective in carrying out their post duties.
The Green Schools’ programme is playing an important role in highlighting an awareness of the importance of recycling and waste management in the school. Various year groups take responsibility for the programme on a rota system over the week. The cleaning staff rates the classrooms for cleanliness. There is good support from the local authorities. There is on-going monitoring of recycling. The school was inspected for the Green Flag award immediately prior to this evaluation. It is highly commendable that the school has now achieved ‘Green Flag’ status. This is a great credit to the whole school community.
There is a large variation in the workload in terms of time and responsibility around some posts. Some SDT posts are lighter in terms of duties than others while some AP posts are almost redundant in terms of the overall needs of the school. The school should undertake a major review of posts to ensure that they are still meaningful to the needs of the school. This review would be timely in light of school evolving needs, including pastoral care and ICT, posts becoming vacant in the near future and especially given that the post structure has not had a major review in ten years. A school policy on ICT should be developed in line with best practice. It is recommended that an ICT co-coordinator be appointed in order to streamline planning for ICT into the future. This could be done when posts are being reviewed.
There are no regular meetings of posts holders, however SDTs and APs can communicate issues to the staff on a weekly basis at the Tuesday short staff meetings. It is commendable that these staff meetings are held every Tuesday during morning break and have become a very positive and effective element of school life.
The staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School is dedicated and shows its commitment in many ways. It is noteworthy and commendable that many teachers carry out the voluntary duties of class tutor. This role is predominantly pastoral and involves liaison with year heads when necessary. Class tutors play an active and important role in the life of the school. For example many are involved in extra-curricular activities. The relationship between senior management and students is excellent. There is a strong awareness of each student as an individual and of each student’s background, family, abilities, needs and skills. This was evident by the personal way students were greeted in the corridors by the principal, deputy principal and the whole staff. Students presented well during the evaluation as being mannerly and respectful and an atmosphere of calmness and organisation was evident over the course of the evaluation. This is a tribute to staff and students of the school.
There is a well-structured ladder of referral for discipline in the school and a stepped approach to sanctions exists. There is very effective management of students and very few discipline problems exist. Students were polite and friendly, orderly and respectful. The ethos of the school is instilled from first year and there is a clear understanding of the code of behaviour. Students feel valued and secure and this is one of the school’s greatest strengths.
Parents are very involved in the life of the school. Communication with home is regular and effective through parent-teacher meetings, information evenings and many informal school events. Parents highly rate the relationship fostered between school and home. The very active parents’ association supports the school and undertakes many important activities to promote the school in fulfilling its mission and ethos. Members are to be commended on their work.
Strong links have been created between the school and the community. For example, there has been good co-operation between Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School and other post-primary schools in New Ross in many areas. The school is facilitated in the use of the local youth centre for Physical Education lessons. Local businesses are supportive in providing work experience for Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) students. The main feeder primary school is located adjacent to the school and good links have been established with it and with other primary schools across the catchment area and beyond. The multitude of extra-curricular activities has played a large part in forging strong links with the wider community. School facilities may be used by the wider community. Good public relations, contacts and links with the media have been built up over time. Senior students visit open days in colleges in Waterford, Cork and Dublin.
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School has a teacher allocation of 23.17. This includes the ex-quota position of principal, a 0.59 ex-quota position for guidance and a 0.5 ex-quota position for learning-support teacher. The school also receives allocations for curricular concessions (2.64), international students (0.37), special needs (0.14) and travellers (0.62). There is a wide range of teaching experience in the school and teacher allocation is deployed effectively. Teachers are allocated to different programmes and levels on a rotating basis in many subject areas. This is good practice and is commended, as it enables teachers to develop individual competencies and expand their expertise within the overall subject department.
The attention given to continuous professional development (CPD) is very good. Teachers are encouraged and facilitated to go on in-service courses organised by education centres or the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). Some teachers have attended courses on ICT and health and safety. This is commended. However, ICT facilities could be further utilised. Therefore, it is recommended that teachers, with support of management consider participating in ICT training courses. Many very useful SLSS and National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) computer courses are offered by education centres. The school development planning steering committee has attended cluster meetings in a local education centre. The school had input from the SDPI on one occasion to facilitate subject department planning. Management support teachers in their membership of some subject associations. Teachers have attended in-service training in revised syllabuses. In some cases, teachers are involved in cluster meetings with teachers of their subject from other schools through the local education centre and this may extend to active research projects. This is of immense value to individual professional development and such participation is highly commended. It is recommended that opportunities are made available for teachers to disseminate material learned at in-service meetings to their colleagues. Examples of courses already attended by individual teachers include induction of first years, involvement of student councils in the planning process and assessment for learning.
The school is very well maintained and supported by a very dedicated ancillary staff. School administration, caretaking and cleaning duties are carried out effectively. The ancillary staff is an integral part of the school community.
School facilities include four basketball courts which may be used for tennis or athletics on occasions, specialist rooms for Science, Art, Music, Home Economics and Computers, hall, refectory, library, special needs/resource room, AV room, staff room, staff study room, oratory and a number of offices. It is commendable that the school is making maximum use of the available space. However, the library is in need of new books, journals and upgraded facilities. The Science laboratory and associated preparation and storage rooms have been completely refurbished with Department funding in conjunction with the introduction of the revised science syllabus in the school. There is a dedicated learning support room in the school.
Classrooms are very well maintained, are predominantly student-based and provide students with a print-rich and vibrant learning environment. The general maintenance of the school environment is exceptional. It is a litter-free environment, recycling is in evidence, photographic collages of school activities are on display in the corridors, colourful art-work brightens the buildings, potted plants are in evidence and notice boards are up to date and well maintained. This is despite the fact that the buildings are old and difficult to maintain. This good and very commendable work is a credit to management, teachers, students, caretaker and cleaners.
Audio systems for use in language lessons have been placed in some classrooms. Most teachers have their own designated CD / cassette players or easy access to such equipment, as many of the classrooms have CD players available in the room. Resources include videos, DVDs, tapes, dictionaries magazines and books. The school also has an audio-visual room, which is used for showing films or videos.
The computer room is fully utilised with maximum use from TY and LCVP students. In addition a small number of individual computers are located in specialist rooms and offices. Data-projectors are located in the Science laboratory and the computer room. It is acknowledged that ICT facilities have been expanded in recent years. This is commendable. However, there is a great need for the more widespread availability of computers around the school so that ICT can more readily be integrated into teaching and learning activities. In addition its use could be expanded in subject planning and administration. It is recommended that the school gives consideration to developing a website as this would strengthen links with the wider community and disseminate information to parents. It is important that teachers continue to develop ICT skills towards optimising use of any upgraded facilities.
While there is no annual budget for subjects, resources for the teaching and learning of the subjects inspected are generally provided upon request. Planning for the purchase of additional resources and re-stocking of materials in the practical subjects usually occurs at the beginning of the year and the procurement system is reported to be working well. However, it is suggested that the procurement system should be standardised across all subject areas to ensure equity of provision.
The school has a current health and safety statement, which was drafted in consultation with staff. Teachers can make an input regarding their own subject area and issues regarding specific rooms. It is reviewed frequently. The school had health and safety audits in the past and carried out the recommendations. A voluntary school health and safety officer is in place. Fire drills are conducted once per year and evacuation notices are posted in all classrooms. A first-aid kit is available at every Physical Education lesson and for every sporting event. Staff has completed a first-aid course, which is commendable.
Planning in the school dates back to the 1990’s in conjunction with the education office of the Holy Faith. Subject department planning was initiated in the school in 2005 with input from the SDPI. subject departments are now well established, each with a subject convenor. Time is given to staff for formal subject planning four times per year. In addition informal communication is ongoing and regular. This is very commendable.
The LCVP was introduced as an outcome of the consultative school development planning (SDP) process. In addition the review of the junior cycle curriculum was a positive and commendable outcome of the SDP process in the school.
Increasing student numbers will have a major impact on planning into the future at Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School. Key development planning priorities have been identified for the current year following staff consultation. These include the guidance plan, school uniform review, allocation of classrooms, provision of a sixth-year common room, and the development of the staff workroom. Some of these priorities have been already achieved. In addition work is progressing on the preparation of a teacher handbook. This is commended and will be of great benefit to new teachers in the school. It is highly commended that many of these issues have been addressed successfully as evidenced from minutes of staff meetings. The sixth-year common room is now in place, a working party has been established to discuss the change of uniform and a working party has been established to draft the new guidance plan.
A number of key policies have been developed as required by legislation including admission, discipline and health and safety. In relation to the admission policy, there is a need for further clarity regarding enrolment procedures and the provision for students with special needs. The school has identified the necessity for a guidance policy as a key priority. Following consultation, this key policy should be developed and ratified without delay. In addition, it is recommended that policies should be prioritised and developed in two other key areas: ICT and special education needs (SEN). While acknowledging wide consultation around a minority of policies, it is highly recommended that all parties, including parents and students, be fully consulted regarding all policies.
An initial school plan was drafted during 2006. As a consequence of this, a four-member steering committee for school development planning was established and is currently working on the school plan. Having consulted with staff it is hoped that the completed school plan will be ratified by the board of management in early 2007. The board is urged to ratify this plan as soon as possible. The draft plan is well put together and contains much useful school information including its mission, history, school structures and personnel, resources, curriculum provision and policies.
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.
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School offers a broad and balanced curriculum to students with a wide range of subjects on offer. The school provides the Junior Certificate, the TY programme, the Leaving Certificate and the LCVP. SPHE is offered at junior cycle. The programmes and subjects on offer meet the current needs of students in the school and students are happy that they get their desired choice of programme and subjects. The school has succeeded in further broadening its curriculum by gaining additional teacher allocation under curricular concessions. It is commendable that subjects with small numbers are maintained and there is a strong commitment from management and teaching staff in this regard. The curriculum is kept under constant review as evidenced from new junior cycle subject bands being introduced in 2006. Parents and students have expressed a wish to have more practical subjects on the curriculum, for example Technical Graphics. In addition, the introduction of Agricultural Science should be considered by the school. Deployment of staff is very good across the curriculum.
In general, there is good subject provision in terms of the number of class periods available to most subjects on the timetable. The distribution of units of lesson time allocated to certain subjects needs review for future years. There are some shortcomings in relation to timetabling for Science for example. Some class groups are not timetabled for any double lessons and first-year students should receive four class periods per week in Science instead of the three currently provided. There is a maximum of twenty-four students in each class group studying the sciences. All class groups for the sciences are arranged on a mixed ability basis, throughout both junior and senior cycle. Class groups retain the same teacher as they progress through junior and senior cycle. There is good whole-school support and provision for French in the school. The subject is timetabled for single periods at regular intervals throughout the week. Physical Education is a core subject for all year groups with each class group receiving one double period per week, of between seventy to eighty minutes duration. Although this time provision is adequate for the implementation of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus and to support the senior cycle programme, it is below the two hours per week as recommended in the Department of Education and Science, Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (Pages 7, 141). Management is encouraged to work towards achieving this level of provision.
Students in the optional TY receive a block of three periods one afternoon per week, to accommodate participation in a variety of activities, many of which are physical in nature. This level of provision is highly commendable as it supports the organisation of off-site activities and the facilitation of courses requiring in-depth study.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes in first year and are then streamed in second year for English, Irish and Mathematics. All other subjects are mixed ability. At senior cycle Irish, English and Mathematics classes are streamed and all other classes are mixed ability. It is commendable that students are encouraged to opt for higher-level, where possible.
Parents are well informed and students are well supported when making choices regarding subjects and programmes. Information nights are provided at each decision making stage. First year parents and students are well supported in making appropriate choices for Junior Certificate. Students choose between French or German on entry into first year and continue it through to Leaving Certificate. After evaluation and review, a revised subject choice model was introduced in 2006 for second years and is reported to be working well. Subject specialist teachers give advice to students regarding choice at junior and senior cycle. The DATS test is administered to students to enable them to make the correct choice of subjects for Leaving Certificate. A very good subject choice booklet is also made available to parents and students. In April of third year students and parents are invited to a presentation. A ‘straw poll’ is conducted and subject bands are created so that the vast majority of students get the subjects they wish to study. This is commendable. Students stated that they are very happy with the allocation of subjects and feel they are well supported.
Approximately one third of the students in this school avail of the TY programme, which is well balanced between core subjects, activities and calendar events. For example, TY students study Science for the whole year. This allows students the valuable opportunity to keep contact with the subject and sample some elements of each scientific discipline in senior cycle before making choices for Leaving Certificate. Work experience forms an integral part of the programme. A written plan for the programme exists. However, this plan needs review. Students receive timetabled guidance lessons during TY. This practice is highly commended. One of the highlights of TY for parents and students is the TY awards night. Students receive graded certificates for courses they have completed. This is highly commended and shows very good support for students. TY plans for individual subjects are generally good with the inclusion of some varied methodologies and topics from outside the Leaving Certificate curriculum. For many of the subjects evaluated, it was found that the plans were ambitious and the implementation of the plan in the classroom could more accurately reflect the aspired objectives. A review of TY subject plans is recommended in some subject areas. It is recommended that a common template is used for TY subject or activity planning and that all plans include assessment and evaluation criteria. Portfolio assessment should be introduced into TY in line with best practice and the criteria for its assessment outlined in the plan. It is recommended that an in-service day on writing the Transition Year programme be planned in collaboration with the SLSS.
Approximately one third of students initially enrol for the LCVP. There is good allocation of time to the link modules. The modern European language requirement is met by students studying their Leaving Certificate chosen language. The programme is well co-ordinated. Work experience is very well organised and there is very good communication with employers. All fifth year students follow the ‘Preparation for the World of Work’ link module regardless of them enrolling for LCVP. It is recommended that measures are taken by the school to address the dropout rate from LCVP, which the school is experiencing. While acknowledging the increased workload involved for students, students should be made aware of the benefits of completing the LCVP. It is incumbent on school management to ensure that Department allocations acquired be targeted at those students for whom the resources are intended.
There is good provision for a broad range of sporting and other activities in the school. A good balance exists between fun and developmental activities. Important links have been established with local clubs and the community. There has been very good liaison and co-operation with personnel organising similar events in other schools. Students are involved in the organisation and supervision of many activities as well as partaking in them. This is commendable. Many extra-curricular activities take place at lunchtime. This is ideal as students are supervised and it is school policy that students stay in school unless they live in close proximity to the school. Teachers are very dedicated and often give of their own time in these activities. This is commended.
Every second year and in co-operation with a local post-primary school Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School stages a musical. This commendable event plays a very important part in the life of the school and fosters co-operation with the local community.
Extra curricular activities in the area of sport include basketball and athletics. In addition, the school facilitates and enters students in equestrian and swimming competitions. Students have achieved to a very high level in these activities including winning an All-Ireland title in Basketball, a remarkable achievement considering that the school has only an outdoor training facility for this sport. The Physical Education department is also to be highly commended for undertaking to organise the south Leinster schools cross-country competition. This event involves collaboration with teachers from neighbouring schools and is a significant undertaking.
The majority of TY students apply for An Gaisce awards. School tours are now organised as a result of the tourism module in TY. A German trip is planned in the current year. A German student exchange programme is organised every two to five years. This project is organised in co-operation with another girls’ post-primary school in Waterford. It is commendable that teachers undertake to organise these activities with commitment and enthusiasm and students participate enthusiastically. These activities bring a new vigour to school life.
Teachers are commended for organising a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to their subject including: field trips, theatre and cinema outings, visiting speakers, public speaking and debating and other competitions. For example in recent times some Home Economics students entered the Tesco Young Cook of the Year Competition.
Co-curricular activities to support the teaching and learning of French include a French breakfast for junior cycle students, French theatre for schools and attendance at French films. The organisation of co-curricular activities is to be commended as it enhances students’ enjoyment of learning a language. Teachers also reported that TY students are planning to organise a quiz and treasure hunt for the first year students later in the year. This is highly commendable as student involvement in the organisation of co-curricular activities benefits all members of the school community both linguistically and socially. The celebration of Seachtain na Gaeilge in the school has recently been developed and this is commended.
Subject planning meetings are held on three to four occasions during the year. These are usually facilitated as the final component of general staff meetings. Minutes are recorded for subject department meetings and these are kept in the planning folders. A ‘diagnostic window’ is sometimes used as a tool for analysis during meetings to help determine things that are working well and the areas for development. This is commended. In some subject areas, one of the teachers acts as a convenor for the subject and this position is usually rotated on an annual basis, which is good practice.
Subject departments are progressing well in the subject planning process with the development of subject plans for all subjects in both junior and senior cycle. The subject plans reflect the syllabuses appropriately and include schemes of work for each year group in the form of lists of topics to be covered. There is scope for further development with some of the subject plans. It is recommended that in all cases a list of available resources, a list of teaching methodologies and a list of strategies that would support learning would be integrated with the lists of topics in the schemes of work. Some subject plans include the aims and objectives of the programme that are specific to the school. This is recommended for all plans that have not already incorporated this. In some cases the desired learning outcomes, in terms of what the students will be able to do as a result of their learning, had been developed in the subject plan. Where this is not the case it is recommended for inclusion.
Teachers meet informally as subject departments on a needs basis. A good atmosphere of collegiality was found amongst the members of the departments and they work collaboratively on a number of issues, not only as part of the formal planning process. The small size of the school and the use of shared facilities allows for much consultation on an on-going basis among teachers. A valuable resource box system is in use in some subject areas allowing quick and easy access to materials. There was evidence that in some subject areas teachers share resources and methodologies with each other. This practice should be expanded and formalised. It is recommended that subject departments would devote some time at their formal meetings specifically to the development of a broader range of topic-specific resources, particularly those that would allow for the incorporation of a more varied range of teaching and learning methodologies. Access to centrally shared resource banks should be discussed and decided. Resource banks should be fully utilised.
Detailed preparation and organisation for student practical work in the sciences and for the full implementation of the Physical Education programme are cited as specific examples of good practice in planning for subjects with practical activities.
A positive and affirming environment prevails in the school. A climate of mutual respect is successfully generated through the admirable student teacher and student-student rapport evident during lessons. Students are secure and confident participants in their lessons and they engage with enthusiasm and politeness. Students are positively affirmed during their lessons on the basis of their own individual abilities and strengths. The ability to provide such a positive working environment where student learning can take place is highly commended and this is found to be one of the greatest strengths of the school.
Lessons were well structured and paced to ensure continuity and progress. All lessons began with a roll call. In some cases this was followed with the teacher sharing the purpose and direction of the lesson with the students and this good practice helped the students to remain focused on the desired learning outcomes. All lessons involved some element of instruction and some element of activity, the integration of assessment of student learning and usually the allocation of homework. The good practice of building upon the students’ existing knowledge of a particular topic and drawing examples from everyday observations to develop the topic was also well applied.
In practical lessons a range of teaching and learning methodologies was used to promote student skill development and this is commended. In many lessons observed, however, the methodologies employed involved mainly whole class teaching and were often textbook bound. While there were some examples of good practice in varying teaching and learning methodologies, overall this strategy was not sufficiently widespread. Some of the examples of good practice cited in this area include the use of items such as handouts and assessment materials to support teaching and learning and the use of pair work and role-play. In a small number of cases, it was reported that there was particularly effective use of the blackboard to consolidate learning, particularly when it was used to generate memory maps and to note key points as the lesson developed. These learning strategies are commended for stimulating both student interest and learning but there is much scope for expansion of their use across all subjects. Teachers reported some use of ICT in the language class with junior cycle students and for downloading materials. Practical difficulties in accessing the computer room were the reasons cited for the limited use of ICT as a teaching tool in language lessons. It is recommended that the use of varied teaching and learning strategies be immediately expanded upon in order to promote more active and more varied opportunities for learning in all lessons. This should be supported by the development of more resources in each subject area and more creative deployment of these resources.
In most cases, there was extensive use of the target language by teachers during lessons in the languages. Students also used the target language to communicate but this often only extended to simple requests and in some cases it is recommended that this be expanded upon so that students have the linguistic strategies to ask questions in the target language. Efforts were made to integrate the different language skills, as is good practice. However, it is also recommended in some cases that greater focus be placed on integrating oral skills prior to the introduction of written tasks. Similarly students should be challenged to use topic specific terms during some aspects of their Physical Education lessons.
Students demonstrated a genuine interest in and an excellent appreciation of the subject being studied. This was supported by the strong enthusiasm for the subject expressed by the teachers throughout. Student copies examined were well organised and presented. Students demonstrated a willingness to communicate and were confident in asking questions during their lessons.
Students were found to be knowledgeable in answering questions put to them and in most cases they demonstrated a sound understanding of the subject matter learned. Although a range of abilities was evident in each class visited, and some students needed prompting from time to time, the quality of learning was generally very high and students of this school are achieving to a very good level. Teachers reported that students were ambitious to reach their full potential and this is commendable. Students are encouraged and facilitated by their teachers to achieve to the highest level appropriate to their individual abilities in the Certificate Examinations and this was evident in the examination results in all subjects. This is commended. Analysis of examination results and uptake of levels in the subjects inspected bears this out.
Student progress is assessed and monitored through the use of question and answer sessions in class, the assignment and correction of homework, class tests and formal examinations. Class tests were found to be frequently administered with all class groups and in all subjects. Instead of formal tests at Christmas, the grade given is based on continuous assessment of student progress up to that point. This good practice of formative assessment is commended. The non-examination class groups sit formal school-based tests in the summer and the examination class groups sit mock examinations in the spring. Examinations in French include an oral and aural component and this is commended. However, for Irish it is recommended that the assessment of oral skills would be integrated at a much earlier stage in the junior cycle programme.
In general, homework is regularly assigned and is usually corrected at the beginning of the next lesson. Where this was corrected as part of a plenary session, students were observed to be vigilant at including the correct answer wherever necessary. A review of student copies revealed that the homework is corrected regularly and that a comment is written giving positive affirmation for student effort and, where necessary indicating areas for improvement. This is to be commended. Tests are corrected according to a clear marking scheme and an overall grade together with a comment is generally given. However, the type of homework allocated and the frequency of this varies across the subjects. The school has a homework policy in operation but this is due for review and it may be timely for this area to be discussed by the whole staff.
Records of attendance are maintained for each lesson and in many cases teachers also record participation, punctuality and the completion of homework for the lesson. Careful records are also maintained of the outcome of class tests. These records help to provide a basis for informed comment on student progress to parents, who receive two reports during the year, at Christmas and summer in line with standard practice. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group.
There is good provision for SEN students and learning support students at Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School. SEN provision begins before students enter the school through very good liaison with the feeder primary schools and individual meetings between the principal and incoming first year students and parents. In this way, students with learning support and special educational needs are identified early and are well supported. Psychological assessments are pursued and acquired promptly. There is some liaison with the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) and the Special Education Needs Organiser. In addition some psychological tests are organised privately by the school. There is no student with an individual education plan at present. Teachers are aware of students’ needs and there is constant communication with the resource teacher.
The school has a learning support allocation of 0.5 teacher and 0.51 whole time teacher equivalents for special education needs. Generally, students are withdrawn from class for individual support. Students who have exemptions from Irish are withdrawn from Irish lessons. Students are given help and support in literacy and numeracy, as the need arises.
It is recommended that training should be prioritised and undertaken for the roles of resource teacher and learning support teacher. Teachers should avail of any support facilities available.
As recognised by school management, it is recommended that those aspects of the admissions policy referring to applicants with special needs should be reviewed in the interests of inclusion, so as to ensure that all existing legislation has been taken fully into account and to avoid any ambiguous interpretation of the policy.
The language support allocation is used appropriately in the school. The international students receive regular and appropriate English language support. These students get language support for two years initially, however, the school provides additional support if needed. The school may wish to make use of the Integrate Ireland Language and Training web site (www.iilt.ie) as an additional support in this regard.
Traveller students are actively encouraged to attend school and the principal and learning support teacher visit them in their home to ensure regular home-school contact.
The school has a very dynamic, reflective and well-planned guidance and counselling service and makes good and maximum use of guidance allocation. The level of support to students in this area is very commendable. Students are well supported in making informed choices and decisions about their lives. There is a good balance between timetabled and non-timetabled support and between careers and counselling support. For example there are timetabled guidance lessons in Transition Year and guidance is provided to all students from first year to Leaving Certificate level. Availability of support is very good. Maximum use is made of resources both inside and outside the school.
The guidance plan is well structured and the development of a school policy on guidance is well advanced and has been prioritised by the school. This is commended. There is good awareness of the guidance initiatives.
Liaison with year heads and class tutors is informal and is working well. Referrals are made from year heads and class tutors when necessary and referrals are made to outside agencies such as NEPS when required. Good links have been built up with outside agencies. This is very good practice.
Very useful information evenings have been organised for parents and students. Efficient use is made of resources including ICT in record keeping, career research and Central Applications Office applications.
It is very commendable that great attention and importance is given to ongoing training and development of the guidance service in the school. There are good links with other guidance counsellors in the local area. The strong emphasis and support for continuous development and training is highly commended.
The pastoral needs of students are very well supported by the school. Students feel valued and are treated and cared for as individuals. The year head, class tutor, guidance counsellor, prefects and Meitheal leaders are all part of the pastoral care team. Even though the structure is informal it is working very well. It is commended that priority has now been given to having a pastoral care co-ordinator appointed.
Each class is assigned a class tutor who looks after various administrative matters regarding students but whose main task is to look after the pastoral needs of students. This voluntary role is carried out commendably in the school. Tutors meet their classes frequently and on a daily basis, if possible. Discipline issues are dealt with sensitively and year head advice is sought as needed. Journals are well used by students and serve as a good means of communication with home.
Students who are in need of extra support are well supported and very good individual strategies have been put in place. Less able students are continuously monitored and supported as the need arises. Extra support is provided for new students and the appointment of a first-year year head would further support this induction phase of school. SPHE provision in the school is very good and works very well in supporting students. The whole school approach to the personal and social needs of students is highly commended. The good communications in the school around pastoral care are highly commended.
The Meitheal leaders are well organised. They received training around positive mental health and how to address bullying issues, if necessary. They help first years settle into school and are doing very commendable work. A senior prefect is assigned to every class. They represent students’ needs in the school, meet regularly; liaise with year heads and class tutors and feedback issues to classes. Students’ opinions are valued in the school and students expressed the view that the school has a fair and equitable discipline system. It is recommended that a student council be formed in the school so that the representative voice of students can be further enhanced.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school has strongly maintained its ethos through many changes over the past ten years.
· Students feel valued as individuals and are happy to be in a very caring environment.
· The trustees strongly support the school.
· The dedication of the board of management to the future development and continued success of the school was evident.
· Senior management with the support of the whole school community share a common vision for the school and strategies for the implementation of this vision have been formulated.
· The principal leads the school effectively. Communication with the whole school staff is effective and is maintained on an ongoing basis.
· The principal is ably assisted by the deputy principal. They work effectively together and present a strong management team.
· The assistant principals and special duties teachers carry out their diverse duties effectively.
· Class tutors play an active and important role in the life of the school.
· There is very effective management of students and there is a clear understanding among students of the code of behaviour.
· The very active parents’ association supports the school and undertakes many important activities to promote the school.
· Strong links have been created between the school and the community.
· Teachers are deployed effectively in the school.
· The school is very well maintained and provides students with a positive learning environment. Students’ work and achievements are displayed throughout the school.
· A very good and consultative draft school plan has been developed.
· Key development planning priorities have been developed following staff consultation. Subject departments and subject department planning are now well established.
· The school offers a broad and balanced curriculum. Subjects with small numbers are maintained.
· Parents are well informed and students are well supported in making choices regarding programmes and subjects.
· The TY programme is well balanced between core subjects, activities and calendar events.
· There is good provision for a broad range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in the school.
· A positive and affirmative learning environment prevails in the school.
· Lessons were well structured and well paced.
· Assessment practices are effective and students receive good feedback on their work.
· The school has reflective and well-planned guidance and counselling service.
· The pastoral needs of students are well supported by the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the board reviews those aspects of the admissions policy referring to applicants with special needs, and a policy in the area of special needs should be developed. Consultative reviewing, processing and enactment of policies should take place on an ongoing basis. The guidance plan should be completed in the near future, as well as a policy for ICT. All policies should be stamped and dated once approved by the board.
· In light of the evolving needs of the school a major review of posts is recommended to ensure that they are still meaningful. In light of increased first-year intake, consideration should be given to the appointment of an additional assistant principal as year head of first-year. The proposed appointment of a pastoral care co-ordinator should be followed through and the school should consider appointing an ICT co-ordinator in order to streamline the planning of ICT into the future.
· The school should ratify its draft development plan as soon as possible.
· Consideration should be given to the provision of more widespread availability of computers around the school and to the development of a website. Teachers, with support of management should consider participating in ICT training courses.
· In the context of increasing numbers the inclusion of additional subjects e.g. Agricultural Science or Technical Graphics on the curriculum should be considered.
· The Transition Year written plan should be reviewed. It is recommended that a common template is used for TY subject or activity planning. Portfolio assessment should be introduced into TY in line with best practice and the criteria for its assessment outlined in the plan.
Measures should be taken by the school to address the high LCVP student dropout rate.
· The use of varied teaching and learning strategies should be expanded upon in order to promote more active and varied opportunities for learning in all lessons.
· SEN resources should be enhanced, modernised and expanded and integration of ICT into this area should be progressed without further delay. Training should be prioritised and undertaken for the roles of resource teacher and learning support teacher.
· It is recommended that a student council be formed in the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
· Subject Inspection of French – 22 January 2007
· Subject Inspection of Irish – 30 January 2007
· Subject Inspection of Physical Education – 23 January 2006
· Subject Inspection of Science/Biology – 24 January 2007
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School welcomes the Report issued as a result of W.S.E. It is very pleased that the many strengths of our school have been recognised by the Inspectors. The Report strongly affirms management, teachers, staff, pupils and parents.
The Board is particularly pleased that the findings clearly identified that
· The school has preserved the Holy Faith ethos through the many changes.
· The Trustees believe that the Post – Primary needs of the area would be best met by allowing the school to continue its growth as an all-girl Catholic Voluntary Secondary School.
· The trustees support the whole school community in their position on amalgamation.
· Parents value the facts that the school is small, friendly and Catholic with good pastoral care, discipline, high academic standards and especially that it is a single sex school.
· There is a clear sense of community and a strong awareness of each student as an individual.
· Students feel valued and secure. They are polite, friendly, orderly and respectful.
· The staff is dedicated and shows its commitment in many ways including carrying out the voluntary duties of Class Tutor and involvement in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities.
· The quality of learning is very high and students achieve to a very good level. They are encouraged and facilitated by their teachers to achieve to the best of their ability which is borne out in exam results in all subjects.
· The schools administration, caretaking and cleaning staff are very dedicated and an integral part of the school.
· The Parents’ Association is very involved in the life of the school undertaking many important activities to promote the school and to fundraise.
The Board wishes to thank the Inspectorate for the professional way in which all areas of the Evaluation were carried out.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
· The Board of Management has reviewed and amended the aspects of the Admissions Policy referring to applicants with Special Needs. The School Plan was ratified by the Board in June 2007. Work is ongoing on the Guidance Plan. Special Needs and I.C.T Policies will be developed. Existing policies will be reviewed following best practice.
· A full review of posts is underway since August 2007 with the help of the S.D.P.I. A Pastoral Care Co-ordinator and First Year, Year-Head have been appointed pending the completion of the Review. Included amongst the current needs of the school are Student Council, I.C.T and S.D.P. Co-ordinators.
· The Board is very aware of the need to provide more computers and to develop a website. Provision has been made in the current budget to purchase new computers. Management has always supported teachers wishing to do I.C.T. Courses.
· It is planned to establish a Students Council in the current school year.
· There was no demand for either Agricultural science or Technical Graphics during School Development Planning around curriculum review in the very recent past.
· The L.C.V.P drop out rate has been addressed.
· A teacher pursuing a post grad course in Special Educational Needs.
· All class groups are now timetables for double lessons in Science. As there is just one Science lab for 360 students it is not possible for each student to have access to the lab for one double period.
· Transition Year written plan is being reviewed. New subjects are planned as they are added to the programme.
· The Board is supportive of continuous Professional; Development for teachers. However, it would encourage the D.E.S. to ensure that qualified substitutes are available