An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Kilfinane, County Limerick
Roll number: 64130W
Date of inspection: 20 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil Pól, Kilfinane. 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 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.
Scoil Pól, a co-educational school under the trusteeship of the Sisters of Charity of St Paul, is the only second-level school located in the town of Kilfinane in South County Limerick. The school serves a small catchments area comprising five main feeder primary schools. There are five post-primary schools located in the neighbouring towns of Kilmallock, Mitchelstown and Hospital five, twelve and eight miles respectively from Kilfinane. Students from Scoil Pól come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and are predominantly Irish nationals. The school is an integral part of the life of this close rural community. Many of the parents of the students have attended Scoil Pól and have longstanding connections with the school. It is estimated that more than one hundred pupils of the school have joined different orders of sisters in the past hundred years, the vast majority of whom have entered the Sisters of St. Paul.
The Sisters of St Paul arrived in Kilfinane on 15 October 1903 on the invitation of the most Rev. Dr O’ Dwyer, Bishop of Limerick. The Sisters taught in the primary school from this time. In 1915 Scoil Pól began as a secondary school catering for female day pupils and some boarders. The original facilities for these students were limited and consisted of a room in the convent basement, a room in the national school and other temporary accommodation. In 1926 the building of Árus Pól by Mr James Ryan marked a significant step forward. It originally had four classrooms, two music rooms and some sleeping accommodation for a small number of boarders. Accommodation was further increased in the fifties with the building of Árus Bríde, again by Mr James Ryan in response to the increasing number of boarders. In 1968 Scoil Pól became a co-educational school. This led to a large increase in numbers and a consequent proliferation of pre-fabricated buildings to cater for the growing numbers of students. In 1987 the new secondary school was opened and was further extended in 2004 with the addition of a new computer room, resource room and library.
The school is positively meeting the challenge of the change in trusteeship and negotiations are currently underway to facilitate a smooth transition to the Le Chéile Trust. The school’s enrolment figures show a steady decline since 2003 to the present time. This decline is attributed to a combination of factors including the closure of the boarding school and falling numbers in the catchments area. The ability to maintain a broad curriculum in view of decreasing enrolment was thus a concern expressed by school management and staff. A projected increase in numbers is expected around 2012. Despite the uncertainties school management and staff remain committed, positive and are determined to continue to provide optimum opportunities and a high quality service to all students.
The mission statement of Scoil Pól states that it is ‘committed to the provision of an inclusive broadly based education, within a Christian community, where mutual trust and respect facilitate personal, social, vocational, academic and spiritual development’. It was clear during the course of the evaluation that the characteristic spirit of the school is very much informed by its mission statement and is mirrored in the daily interactions throughout all levels of the school. The importance attached to the care of students is one of the striking features of the school and is clearly evident in the school’s comprehensive policy on pastoral care and related practices. The word ‘care’ in relation to students emerged frequently in all interviews and meetings with the various members of the school community including staff, students and parents.
It was noted that the school’s policies are anchored in the school’s mission statement. This is good practice and is indicative of the commitment of the school to ensuring its policies are in line with its core beliefs and ethos.
Relationships throughout the school community are underpinned by mutual respect. Communication among school management and all members of the school community is characterised by an atmosphere of partnership and openness. A strong spirit of collegiality is evident among all staff members. Students and parents referred to the school as a happy and friendly place where each member of staff knows all the students in the school. They commented very favourably on the high levels of care extended to students and the good relationships among teachers and students.
The ethos of the school is reflected in the community spirit that pervades the academic and social activities of staff and pupils. While the academic development of students to their full potential is actively promoted and fostered, the education of the whole person is a priority. To this end the provision of a wide range of extra-curricular activities is facilitated by staff members in conjunction with students. The school recognises the achievements of all students through the display of photographs, announcements made over the intercom and the hosting of an annual awards evening to publicly celebrate successes and achievements in a broad range of areas. This acknowledgement of the multiplicity of students’ talents instils a positive sense of self-esteem and accomplishment.
The spiritual development of students is fostered in the numerous liturgical celebrations that take place during the school year including school masses, prayer services and retreats for students. The recent development of a prayer room has created a meditative space for prayer and reflection for both staff and students. Inside the main entrance to the school the creation of a sacred space allows for the celebration of various Christian themes during the year. At the time of evaluation an inspiring and creative display of the Trócaire Lenten Campaign was in place in this area. These practices reflect the commitment to the Christian ethos proclaimed in the mission statement.
The school is under the trusteeship of the Sisters of Charity of St Paul. The trustees maintain a very active role in their responsibility for ethos, finance and property in the school through their involvement in the board of management. The Superior General of the congregation of the Sisters of St Paul is invited to attend one board of management meeting per year. A school trustee who is a former principal of Scoil Pól attends all board of management meetings. This level of involvement is reflective of the ongoing commitment of the trustees to the school community.
The board of management which has been properly constituted under the Articles of Management for voluntary secondary schools is currently in the third year of its present term of office. The board comprises eight members including four members nominated by the trustees, two parent representatives and two teacher representatives with the principal acting as secretary. The board seeks to incorporate educational expertise and maintain gender balance among its members. All members of the board have availed of training and proactively execute their statutory roles, functions and responsibilities. The board meets at least five times a year and on other occasions if the need arises. The proceedings of all meetings are minuted and are circulated to all members.
Decision-making procedures at board level are characterised by open and shared discussion and taken in the best interests of the school community with due regard to the ethos of the school. It was reported that decisions have historically been reached through consensus. This is lauded in facilitating a focused and common purpose to school management. Communication among board members and between the board and the school community is effective. The provision of a principal’s report at every board meeting updates members regarding day-to-day activities in the school. The current chairperson is a member of the teaching staff and this affords regular contact with the principal to discuss issues. Agreed reports of the meetings are circulated to the parents’ association and to the staff. This good practice ensures that these groups are informed of relevant issues.
The board is actively involved in policy development in the school. Policies brought forward by in-school management are discussed and amended if necessary before being ratified. The board has adopted legally required policies such as admissions, code of behaviour, and health and safety. A number of policies have also been initiated by the board including substance abuse, child protection, vetting policy and the recently reviewed Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). The board is aware of the need for systematic review and updating of policies, thus many of the existing polices are currently under review, for example, the health and safety policy. Policies on the induction of teachers and job-sharing have been earmarked for future development. The development of a special educational needs (SEN) policy has been highlighted by the board as a priority and work is to be progressed in collaboration with the expertise of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The commencement of this work is strongly recommended and the reported whole staff approach characterising its development and implementation is highly commended.
The board is also proactive in its management of school affairs and continuously seeks training to assist it in its effective functioning in this regard. Training has been engaged in to deal with issues that frequently present at board level including discipline and finance. All financial allocations are approved by the board and it has established a finance sub-committee to assist with this work. The work of the committee includes costing and projecting expenditure for coming months. A health and safety sub-committee has also been put in place and identified risks are referred to the board for consideration. In this context the upgrading of the school alarm system and the provision of a new footpath and a pedestrian crossing are among some recent health and safety initiatives addressed by the board. Both sub-committees convene before every board meeting and report back to the full meeting of the board. Requisition for resources from the different teaching departments in the school and other large purchases are referred to the finance committee and ultimately are considered by the full board. The board also fulfils its role and follows formal procedures in relation to the selection and recruitment of staff.
Issues in relation to school accommodation have been among the recent concerns addressed by the board. Emergency funding has been granted for the replacement of burners on the school boilers. A complete roof replacement is also to be undertaken as part of the Summer Works Scheme. The board has also identified the further development of the school library as an area to be addressed in the future.
In leading the school into the future the board faces contextual uncertainties. The preservation and integrity of the ethos of Scoil Pól under the Le Chéile Trust is under consideration at board level. The retention of the current broad curricular provision in light of decreasing enrolment poses a challenge to the aspirations outlined in the school’s mission statement for all members of the school community. During the course of the evaluation the establishment of an Advisory Board of Studies, as provided for under the Articles of Management, was mooted to examine curricular provision. It is recommended that this proposal is further progressed to review and advise on curricular provision in the light of expected decreasing enrolment over the next number of years.
It is clear that the board of management is keenly interested in the operation and development of the school. It carries out its responsibilities in a dedicated and effective manner and is most supportive of the work of all members of the school community.
The parents’ association has been in existence in Scoil Pól since the early 1970s. The parents play an active role in the life of the school and have organised a significant number of fund-raising events to sponsor the purchase of equipment and support school projects. During the evaluation senior management and teaching staff acknowledged this valuable contribution to many aspects of school life. The organisation of a book exchange scheme within the school is one of the issues prioritised for attention by the parents’ association. The refurbishment of the school canteen has also been suggested for consideration. The elected representatives meet regularly and the principal attends each meeting. School management promotes and encourage the involvement of parents in their child’s education, for example through the provision of information evenings and a study skills seminar for parents. Regular communication with parents is facilitated through a variety of means including the school journal, parent-teacher meetings, calendar of events, and three annual newsletters. Reports are issued four times a year accompanied by letters providing up-to-date school information. The parents expressed a high level of satisfaction with these levels of communication. They also commented very favourably on the wide curriculum offered in the school, the range of extra-curricular activities, the supports offered to students and the friendly and happy atmosphere that prevails within the school.
The senior management team in the school comprises the principal and deputy principal. The principal, appointed in 2004 provides very effective management and leadership to the entire school community. Her commitment, diligence and energy are evident in the extensive range of duties carried out around the day-to-day running of the school. These responsibilities include disciplinary and pastoral care issues, administration, supervision and substitution, maintenance of the plant, staffing, financial management and accounts, timetabled meetings with year heads and the planning team, organisation of special needs requirements, and communications with the Department of Education and Science. The principal also acts as secretary to the board, liaises with the trustees and attends all meetings held by the parents’ association.
The role of the deputy principal includes checking of uniform, the monitoring of attendance, the provision of absentee lists on a daily basis in the staffroom and reporting to parents and the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) in this regard. Morning and between classes supervision of the corridors ensures that the deputy principal has a definite on-the-ground presence and provides valuable help and support in the effective management of students. In addition the deputy principal reported a willingness to engage in any other tasks and activities when requested.
There was evidence of a good relationship between both members of the senior management team. They meet informally during the day to discuss relevant matters that need to be addressed. During the course of the evaluation the principal raised a concern for the increased availability of time to engage in the leadership aspects of her role. To facilitate this it is recommended that, the senior management team review their respective roles as an integral part of the recent review of in-school management structures and responsibilities. The suitable expansion of the deputy principal’s role is recommended as part of this review. This development would make an invaluable contribution to the overall management of the school given the wealth of experience and knowledge the deputy principal brings to her position having served for twenty-five years as both teacher and deputy principal. This would also enable the principal to become less involved in day-to-day concerns and focus more on providing leadership in driving forward the future development of the school. The establishment of a formal meeting time at the start of the day to discuss organisational matters would also prove beneficial in planning for the day’s activities and enabling the work in hand to be appropriately assigned and shared. The principal regularly attends leadership programmes in school management. It is encouraged that opportunities for such training be availed of by both members of the senior management team in the spirit of developing further collaborative leadership.
Senior management promotes a partnership approach with staff in agreeing on and achieving the aims of the school. The views and contributions of staff are valued and acknowledged as reflected in the central role played by all staff members in the recent review of the schedule of posts. A co-operative and consultative process of discussion and review was facilitated in agreeing a schedule of posts appropriate to meeting the needs of the school. This approach is commended. There are very good lines of communication between staff and management in the school. The provision of a weekly staff meeting provides an opportunity to discuss issues of importance and enables senior management to access the views and suggestions of staff on various issues. The open and collaborative approach adopted by senior management is again highlighted by the distribution of agenda before such staff meetings to which staff members are invited to add items.
There is a strong middle management structure consisting of assistant principal posts and special duties posts within Scoil Pól. All teachers who have a post of responsibility have a contract relating to their post and this is appropriate. Posts of responsibility are in the main structured to ensure a good mix between pastoral and administrative duties. The responsibilities assigned to assistant principals include year head duties, State and house examination duties, programme co-ordination, pastoral care co-ordination and health and safety. Duties are allocated to individuals following a consultation procedure between the principal and the post-holder. This practice is commended in that the talents and interests of individuals are maximised thus facilitating increased ownership of and enthusiasm for the assigned duties. The introduction of a year head system represents a new development in the revised schedule of the posts. The importance attached to this crucial role is reflected in the provision of a weekly timetabled meeting for year heads and the principal. This is good practice in that it allows for ongoing evaluation of the new disciplinary procedures and the effectiveness of the corresponding pastoral care structures put in place to meet the needs of individual students.
Special duties teachers also engage in significant middle-management roles including timetabling, student council and prefects, public relations and hospitality and the management of the library and teaching aids. These duties are discharged in a dedicated and systematic manner.
In interviews held during the course of the evaluation general satisfaction was expressed with the current schedule of posts in meeting the needs of the school. However it was also reported that the role of co-ordination of special educational needs may be incorporated within the posts of responsibility structure. This reflects the commitment of staff to ensuring that management structures in the school are appropriately developed and organised to meet the needs of all students. The current formal review being undertaken by the staff and management is commended. It is also encouraged that the duties attaching to posts are regularly reviewed and adapted to ensure that they continue to meet the changing needs of the school.
There are extensive duties carried out by teachers who do not hold posts of responsibility. Their work significantly and positively impacts across various areas of school life. These teachers are highly commended for their commitment and voluntary contributions in supporting the effective operation and management of the school.
There are good lines of communication maintained between senior management and staff in the school. The opportunity to meet regularly as staff is catered for through the provision of a weekly staff meeting. Communication is also facilitated through the posting of items of information on the staff notice board, regular briefings by the principal at break times and a weekly staff bulletin to inform staff on the week’s activities.
The management of students is effectively facilitated through the school’s code of behaviour and disciplinary procedures. These are strongly supported by the school’s pastoral care system, year heads and a number of related policies such as bullying, homework and school attendance and punctuality. In order to instil and promote high expectations for good behaviour the school operates a credit award system for first-year students and their efforts are appropriately acknowledged at an end-of-term presentation ceremony. A caring and pastoral approach is adopted when dealing with matters of discipline. At each stage of the disciplinary process the students are encouraged and offered every opportunity to improve their behaviour. This redemptive approach is commended and fosters a strong sense of personal responsibility for one’s actions. This was reflected in students reporting that they find the discipline system moderate, just and fair to all parties involved. Students have also been involved in drawing up rules for acceptable classroom behaviour. This collaboration ensures ownership on the part of students and is commended. A copy of the code of behaviour must be signed by parents prior to students’ admission to the school. Parents are continuously informed of breaches of discipline through the school journal. The code of behaviour is reviewed annually in order to ensure its effectiveness. This is good practice.
Attendance and punctuality are effectively monitored on a daily basis and records of student absenteeism are appropriately maintained. School management is commended on the good level of communication with parents in relation to students’ absenteeism. On three occasions during the year letters are sent to parents of students who have accumulated ten days absence or more. Student absences are reported to the NEWB as required and the school’s Educational Welfare Officer (EWO) is contacted when there are concerns about a student’s attendance. It is recommended that school management consider the introduction of a reward system for attendance. Such an incentive would act as a motivational factor to students and further promote good attendance.
In the main teachers are deployed in accordance with their subject specialisms. It is general policy within the school, where possible, that teachers retain classes for the duration of the cycles. There is also regular rotation of teachers to higher and ordinary level classes within subject departments. This practice is commended as it creates a broad skills base among staff.
School management is commended for actively promoting and facilitating staff participation in continuing professional development (CPD). Several in-school seminars and training days have been provided across a broad range of areas over the years. The school has also facilitated staff attendance at external support-service courses. Financial support is allocated for membership of subject associations and for participation in relevant further studies. This commitment to ensuring that teachers are assisted in receiving the most up-to-date professional developments is lauded as it impacts positively on teaching and learning in the school.
An induction policy for new teachers is to be developed. The writing of agreed practices and procedures for Scoil Pól teachers is currently taking place as the precursor to the development of this policy. It is encouraged that this policy gives consideration to the development of a formal mentoring system for newly-appointed teachers. Practices in place at present which support new teachers include support and advice from experienced subject colleagues and a staff handbook is also available to new staff members. These practices are to be commended.
The school has one long-serving full-time caretaker, one full-time secretary, one part-time secretary and one part-time cleaner. Their work and contribution to the life of the school is highly valued by all members of the school community. It was evident from discussions with these ancillary staff members that they are effectively empowered by school management in their respective roles and enjoy very good relationships with staff and students.
The current schedule of accommodation includes several general purposes classrooms and specialist rooms which include two science laboratories, one home economics room, one woodwork/constructions room, an art room and a canteen. Accommodation has been modernised over the years with an extension to the school in 2003/2004 consisting of new computer room, resource room and library. This enabled the development of a prayer room and a board room in what was previously the old computer room. The installation of a new dust extraction system in the woodwork/construction studies room also led to the replacement of old machinery under health and safety requirements. There are adequate administration facilities comprising an office for secretarial staff, and the principal and deputy principal have their own offices. A number of small storage areas are located throughout the school building.
The school has good sports facilities. The availability of a fully equipped sports hall, two outdoor hard courts and a hurling/camogie pitch provide valuable sporting and physical education (PE) facilities. The school has access also to the local GAA pitch which enhances this provision.
The school building and grounds are maintained to a very high standard and are a credit to the hard work of caretaking, management, teaching staff and students. The corridors and classrooms were litter free and the quality of paint work and floor coverings was maintained to a high standard. The work of the caretaking staff is to be highly commended in this regard. The skilful and unobtrusive integration of the locker provision along the main school corridors provided for an ordered and visually pleasing environment.
The school benefits from a good level of resource provision. Teachers have access to overhead projectors, data projectors, television and video/DVD equipment. The school has a well-equipped broadband enabled information and communication technology (ICT) suite with twenty-nine terminals. A small number of classrooms are also equipped with a computer and data projector. Over the years provision has been made for the effective management of these resources. With the formalisation of subject departments it is advised that the school work towards delegating responsibility to each department for the resources used by them. It is recommended that a stock of supplies be maintained in the school to facilitate easy replacement of parts.
Scoil Pól became an accredited European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) test centre in 2000 and there are a number of qualified ECDL trainers among staff members. The school has a very impressive website which contains information on the school’s history, board of management, facilities, pastoral care arrangements, yearly calendar and curricular provision at junior and senior cycles. The site is regularly updated to provide the latest news on sporting and other school events. The ongoing development of the role of ICT within the school is outlined in the school’s ICT plan. It is recommended that school management and subject teachers continue to explore ways in which the increased integration of ICT into teaching and learning can be supported. It is also recommended that consideration be given to increasing student access to ICT facilities.
The further development of the school library was proposed by the board of management. The suggestions outlined in the English subject inspection report will provide useful guidelines in this regard. The provision of computers therein could enhance the library as a resource centre for all subjects and give increased student access to ICT facilities.
There is no dedicated budget allocation to subject areas. Requisitions for resources from the different subject departments are submitted to the finance sub-committee of the board of management for consideration. Requests are generally responded to favourably and there is good satisfaction among teachers with the level of resource provision.
In some classrooms the physical learning environment was enhanced through the display of subject-specific materials and student work. Teachers are highly commended for their input in creating print rich and motivational learning environments. Given that classrooms are teacher-based it is recommended that all teachers explore ways of developing this good practice as a means of supporting teaching and learning in their respective subject areas.
The school’s health and safety policy and practices are regularly reviewed. This is good practice as it enables the school to ensure it complies with all relevant legislation. The health and safety statement is currently under review. Training has been provided to staff in related areas such as First Aid. Regular health and safety audits take place including a fire drill once a term. In addition to an assistant principal teacher being assigned responsibility in this area, collaborative responsibility for identifying and reporting health and safety hazards is also in place. Health and safety risk forms are made available to all teachers during the final school term and consequent recommendations in relation to risks identified are referred to the Health and Safety sub-committee of the board of management.
School development planning is an integral part of school life and good progress has been made in developing a school plan as required by Section 21 of the Education Act 1998. The process commenced in 2000 when the staff carried out a needs analysis of the school and established a list of priority areas for development. The initial areas of focus included discipline, health and safety, homework, bullying, substance abuse, and admissions. The school mission statement and ethos and how these influence and permeate school life were also revisited. Action plans were implemented to attain the planned priority objectives and a lengthy and ongoing process of review and consultation was embarked upon to achieve the targets set.
A well established school development planning process and supporting structures are in operation. The school development steering committee consists of the principal and two staff members. The planning team meets once a week to discuss issues and progress the planning process. The provision of a weekly staff meeting with a time slot for planning facilitates the advancement of planning work, the raising of issues for discussion, the exchange of ideas and relevant information and documentation. The process used entails teachers working in task groups and sub-committees, with personnel drawn, in as far as practicable, according to their areas of expertise and interest. It is evident that there is a high level of participation by staff in the school development planning process and very good planning work has been done in a strong spirit of collegiality and team support. In addition the planning team regularly updates staff on progress made, work accomplished and future areas for development. This is best practice.
The permanent section of the plan has progressed very well in the last number of years. A number of key policies have been put in place including an admissions policy, code of behaviour, homework, attendance and punctuality, school tours and field trips, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) policy, substance abuse, bullying and ICT policy. All of these policies are anchored in the school’s mission statement and mirror its key ideals. These have been finalised and ratified by the board of management. It is recommended that all policies are collated within the permanent section of the school plan, are dated on adoption and outline a review date.
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.
Comprehensive work is being carried out on the developmental section of the plan. It is evident from a review of the minutes of school planning meetings and discussions held during the evaluation that each year a number of areas are highlighted for development and that targets are being met on an ongoing basis within specified timeframes. This systematic and incremental approach to planning is highly commended. It is suggested that action plans are presented in a more accessible format to reflect the impressive volume of work that has consistently occurred in planning since 2000. Extensive work commenced on the Guidance plan in 2005 and is ongoing in identifying and developing a range of student support services within the school community. Policy documents have been appropriately drafted on each of these services. At present the developmental section of the school plan consists of the pastoral care policy that is being progressed to completion. The health and safety policy is currently under review following a recommendation from a Science inspection conducted in March 2006. Other policies to be progressed and developed in the current school year include assessment, the induction of new teachers, critical incident management and special educational needs. It is recommended that special educational needs be prioritised for immediate action and those current procedures in relation to learning support and special educational needs be formalised.
There is recognition by staff that school self-evaluation, review and planning are essential components in promoting continuous improvement and there is clear flexibility among staff to adapt to change. This willingness is reflected in the adoption of new duties assigned following the recent review of the post of responsibility structure in response to changing needs identified within the school. Subsequent to this development and to accommodate new disciplinary procedures incorporated into the new post structure a full review of the code of behaviour was undertaken.
In 2005 subject department planning was formalised. Considerable staff planning time has been allocated to this work. In supporting the work of subject department planning school management organised whole staff in-service on ‘Creating a positive classroom environment’ and ‘Teaching the reluctant learner’. The need for the development of a whole school Assessment policy has also been highlighted to reflect changing assessment structures. All staff has been issued with documentation on Assessment for Learning (AfL) for use in subject planning and it is hoped to provide staff in-service in this area at a future date. Teachers have commendably collaborated in the development of subject plans across all departments and subject convenors are in place. However as planning has advanced at different rates it was noted that subject departments are at different levels of development. It is recommended that teachers continue to build on the good work accomplished by progressing subject plans and assessment practices in line with the recommendations outlined in the individual subject inspection reports.
School management favours a partnership approach to policy development and the consultative and collaborative procedures established with the entire school community foster a strong sense of ownership and empowerment among all school partners. Parents are consulted through the parents’ association and their input has been obtained on some policies for example, the code of behaviour, admissions policy, SPHE policy and sections of the Guidance plan. Parents expressed a high level of satisfaction with the regard given to their opinions and concerns. A copy of the school plan is available in the staff room and in the secretary’s office. Elements of the plan are also included in the staff handbook, students’ handbook and in the students’ journal. However parents and students were not generally familiar with the complete contents of the school plan. In view of this and in further building on the established consultative practices, it is advised that the contents of the plan be circulated to parents and other relevant stakeholders as envisaged in the Section 21 (4) of the Education Act 1998.
Students are consulted through the student council and have also participated in the creation of policies, such as the Acceptable Use Policy and the Substance Abuse Policy. This inclusive approach is commended and should be continued.
From the initial stages of school development planning the expertise of external facilitators has been availed of to assist with the planning process. Members of staff have also attended cluster meeting organised by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to gain further insight and knowledge into the area of planning. This engagement is commended as it reflects the importance placed on this crucial aspect of school life and reflects the commitment of management and staff to engaging in meaningful and high quality school planning.
The characteristic feature of school development planning in Scoil Pól has been the ownership by the staff of the process. It is clear that policies were not developed ‘just for the sake of it’ and appropriate cognisance has been taken of their lived experience and school contextual factors. The board of management, senior management and staff are commended for their commitment to school development planning, the spirit of collegiality and co-operation that underpins their approach and for the work that has been accomplished to date.
The school offers a broad curriculum as is evidenced by the wide range of subjects offered at junior and senior cycle. In addition to the established programmes the school provides the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). The setting up of an Advisory Board of Studies is recommended to ensure that the range of programmes and subject choices on offer continue to meet the needs of all students. It is also envisaged that school management in collaboration with the Advisory Board of Studies would develop review mechanisms for curriculum provision as part of school development planning.
It has not been possible to offer the Transition Year (TY) programme due to the small number of students choosing to partake in this option. In the context of the establishment of an Advisory Board of Studies, it is recommended that the board of management in consultation with senior management, teaching staff, parents and students explore ways of maximising the profile of the Transition Year programme to effect its introduction as a viable senior cycle option.
The LCVP is a popular option among students. It is praiseworthy that access for students to the LCVP occurs only after they have made their subject choices. In meeting the requirements of Circular 0018/2006 the school offers an ab initio course in Spanish for those students who have not chosen French for the Leaving Certificate. The allocation of time to the LCVP link modules is balanced across the two years of the programme and is in compliance with timetabling provision for those modules.
The LCA programme was introduced in 2001 in response to the perceived needs and talents of a cohort of students within the student population. The LCA has a positive effect on retention rates from junior to senior cycle in the school. The fundamental goal of the LCA programme in Scoil Pól is appropriately aligned and in keeping with school’s mission statement and ethos. The co-ordination of the LCA is carried out by the programmes co-ordinator in conjunction with the assistance of a core planning group. This core team holds weekly meetings at which the organisation for cross-curricular integration and co-curricular learning experiences and linkages are discussed and planned. Memoranda reflecting discussion at these meetings are issued to the entire LCA team, thus suitably facilitating effective communication between departments. This focused and co-ordinated approach is highly commended as best practice. The team is further lauded for the informal mechanisms in place for the ongoing review of the programme, part of which includes an analysis of student outcomes in the terminal examination. It was reported that this analysis revealed high students attainment which is acknowledged at the annual student award ceremony. It is recommended that the informal procedures currently employed to review and evaluate both the LCA and LCVP programmes be developed into more formalised evaluative instruments. This would beneficially support and inform more strategic planning for LCA and LCVP provision within the context of staffing resources and students’ needs.
Following an analysis of the timetable it was found that the time allocated to the various subjects is generally in line with syllabus guidelines and the requirements set out in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. The lack of a qualified Physical Education (PE) teacher inhibits the development of a PE programme. To compensate for this absence there are a number of teachers who are making a significant contribution to the health of students by providing physical activities and sport. In light of recent reports such as the National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005 and School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005 it is important that all schools provide appropriate levels of PE for students. Notwithstanding the fact that students have the opportunity to engage in a wide range of extra-curricular physical activities, it is recommended that timetabling arrangements are put in place for PE. Advice on this may be obtained in Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.
The commitment to providing a high level of training in ICT skills to all students in the course of their schooling in Scoil Pól is a key aim of the ICT mission statement. This commitment is reflected in the provision of ICT lessons to all first, second and fifth year students. All the fifth year students have the opportunity to obtain a European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). External certification by the Commercial Examining Board (CEB) is offered to junior cycle students.
The school is to be commended for providing as wide a range of subjects as is possible and reflects its efforts to meet the needs of all of its students.
A comprehensive range of supports is provided to in-coming first year students to assist them in making the transition from primary school to Scoil Pól. Prospective students and their parents are invited in advance to attend an information evening about subject choice. Students are provided with the opportunity to tour the school, visit classrooms and view facilities accompanied by prefects. Two first year students also speak to parents and students on their experiences of student life in Scoil Pól. The school is commended for these provisions as they assist students in becoming familiar with their new educational environment.
An information booklet, containing among other things, the school’s code of behaviour, information on the curriculum offered and details on the school uniform is also supplied to parents. It outlines clearly the procedures to be followed subsequent to the decision to enrol and contains the relevant registration forms to be completed on enrolment. In addition the principal and pastoral care co-ordinator hold a further meeting on an individual basis with all incoming students and their parents as a means of getting to know the student and to discuss any concerns that they may have. The planned attendance at this meeting of the school guidance counsellor in the future is strongly encouraged as a further support.
All junior cycle students study core subjects as required as well as History, Geography, French, Science, Religious Education, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), SPHE, and Computer Studies. In addition students also select two subjects, ranked in order of preference from a list of five optional subjects. This selection process occurs prior to entry. Option bands are then developed based on an analysis of students’ preferences. For the last two years this has resulted in Home Economics timetabled against Materials Technology (Wood) with Art, Technical Graphics and Business forming the second group.
At the end of the junior cycle students make their programme and subject choices for the senior cycle. Again at this significant transition point in the students’ post-primary education they are very well supported in making informed choices appropriate to their future career hopes. An annual senior cycle options night is hosted for parents. Students also receive information and advice from subject teachers and the programme co-ordinators. The guidance counsellor plays a central role in the entire process, meeting third year students in class groups and on an individual basis to guide them in their decisions.
Students are initially given a free choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate from which option groupings are designed to provide maximum opportunity for students to study preferred subjects. The school is commended for the broad range of subjects on offer at senior cycle, albeit with small numbers in some cases.
The school is to be commended for the diverse range of extra-curricular activities offered to students. There is also student participation in a number of co-curricular activities. The variety and range of provision bears testament to the genuine commitment of staff in actively striving to achieve the ideals enshrined in the school’s mission statement. These activities beneficially support the personal and social growth of students and positively enhance their holistic development, a highly valued and central aim of the school’s mission statement.
The teachers involved in extra-curricular activities are highly commended for their dedication and generosity of time in facilitating these activities. Congratulations are also to be extended to the members of Meitheal Spóirt, a group of senior students who volunteer to organize and monitor break time and lunchtime activities on a rota basis. The combined and co-operative efforts of senior management, teachers and students have enabled the provision of a rich variety of activities which satisfactorily cater for a very wide range of interests.
A large number of sporting activities such as hurling, football, camogie, rugby, volleyball, basketball, badminton, chess, table tennis, and athletics is offered in the school. The school has established good links with sporting organisations and the wider community. Bruff Rugby Club has provided the school with a coach for training in rugby. The local GAA club has provided sponsorship to school teams. An arrangement is also in place whereby the school can use the club’s facilities when necessary. This level of co-operation with local clubs is highly commendable.
The school is very conscious of its responsibility in maintaining balance between students’ participation in extra-curricular activities and engagement with their academic studies. Students are advised on appropriate allocations of their time to these activities. There is a clear and firm expectation set that any students absent from class due to participation in extra-curricular activities have the required homework completed for the following lesson. Concerted efforts are made to minimise the loss of teaching time and there are good systems in place to accommodate this.
Co- and cross-curricular activities engaged in include quizzes, competitions in a number of subject areas, European tours, portfolio work and the President’s Awards (GAISCE). Students’ social awareness is also promoted through participation in fund-raising activities for local and international charitable organisations such as Bóthar. Given the clean and litter free environment of Scoil Pól it is suggested that students give consideration to participating in the Green School Initiative. This project would further enhance students’ environmental awareness and promote the increased development of recycling activities taking place in the school.
Student participation in all activities is actively encouraged and affirmed by all members of the school community. Their achievements in co- and extra-curricular activities are appropriately acknowledged. Members of Meitheal Spóirt who satisfactorily complete a minimum number of sessions are awarded a Certificate of Merit at the end of sixth year. There is a good sense of pride and celebration in the school. The school has achieved many successes in a variety of competitions and these are appropriately acknowledged in the display of trophies and cups in the foyer area of the school and in the corridors. Other successes are acknowledged on the school’s public address system, at school assemblies, in the local newspapers and at the school’s annual Awards ceremony. These initiatives are highly commended in celebrating and recognising students’ successes and also serve as an additional motivation factor in promoting student participation in such activities.
The school through the school development planning process has supported subject planning and this is to be commended. All subject departments have developed subject plans. This has occurred through a collaborative process and this is best practice. It was noted that this collaborative process has progressed at different rates for various subject departments. However, it is clear that all subject departments are working in a dedicated and professional manner to develop and extend their subject plans to ensure optimal benefit for their students.
Subject departments meet formally and informally throughout the school year to plan for teaching and learning in their subject areas. Best practice was seen where subject departments agree agenda in advance of their formal meetings and minute the outcomes of the meetings. It is encouraged that all subject departments adopt these practices.
Subject plans were presented for inspection for all subjects evaluated. In some subjects the plans have informed the production of schemes of work for specific year groups and this practice is to be commended. In a number of subjects, it was recommended that teachers build on the subject plans by collaboratively developing common schemes of work for each year group. These schemes should be constructed to support teaching of content in a sequence that enables student mobility among class groups and subject levels. The methodologies and assessment practices to be used should also be outlined in the schemes of work. Recommendations for future development of subject plans in the subjects evaluated are contained in the associated subject inspection reports. Best practice was observed where subject plans are reviewed regularly to ensure that the teaching and learning processes they support continue to meet students’ needs and this is to be encouraged.
Teachers’ individual planning files were also presented for inspection. The individual planning undertaken was in line with the requirements of the relevant syllabuses. Best practice was noted where teachers had identified appropriate resources including ICT resources and reflected on how to best integrate these resources in the teaching and learning processes. In one subject area, there was evidence of a beneficial, focused approach to cross-curricular work and planning and this is to be commended. The high level of individual planning and preparation evidenced by teachers’ individual planning files is to be commended.
All lessons observed had a clear purpose and in most instances this was shared with students at the start of each lesson. Most lessons were clearly structured so that the content and pace were appropriate to the class groups, the time of year and to the time available. It is suggested that best practice is when lessons are planned in terms of intended learning outcomes for students and when those outcomes are then shared with learners at the outset of lessons. It is further suggested that learning outcomes are chosen with a mindfulness of student ability, the stage in the cycle and that the learning activity associated with one learning objective be completed before setting another.
A range of appropriate and varied teaching methodologies was employed in the subjects evaluated. Very good practice was observed where students were encouraged to interact with peers, think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should be incorporated regularly into all lessons.
Teachers employed a range of effective questioning and explaining strategies to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to link new information with prior learning and in some instances to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills
There was evidence of differentiated teaching methods to meet the needs of students in some of the lessons observed. Differentiation by questioning was evident in most classes in that all students were included and targeted, thus encouraging the active participation of students who are less able and to provide a challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter. Differentiation by teacher intervention was discreetly employed during practical activities in some lessons observed. It is recommended that differentiation planning and processes for students in mixed-ability classes and for students with special educational needs be further developed across all subject areas.
An appropriate range of resources was used to support teaching in each of the lessons observed. These included student handouts, teacher and student solutions and samples, textbooks, authentic materials, DVDs, CDs, newspapers, wall charts and ICT resources. It is recommended that subject departments consider the further increased integration of ICT to support teaching and learning.
Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained and was conducive to a safe and orderly learning environment in most lessons observed. In almost all lessons observed teacher-student interactions were engaging, purposeful and mutually respectful and were conducive to a positive classroom atmosphere. Very good rapport between teachers and students was evident during the evaluation. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses and integrated them into lessons. In a few classes, students’ eagerness to understand a topic in greater depth prompted them to ask their teacher unsolicited questions.
The classroom environment in most lessons observed was stimulating for learning and teaching and in a number of instances student achievement was acknowledged on the classroom walls.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home to parents periodically. These practices are appropriate. Teachers keep records of students’ progress and this is appropriate. There are effective systems in place to maintain communication between school and home. These include use of parent-teacher meetings, formal school reports, homework journals, and individual meetings between parents and teachers to discuss a student’s progress.
In the subject areas inspected, teachers evaluated students’ progress using a range of modes of assessment. In nearly all of the subjects evaluated a variety of homework tasks was set for completion by students. It was observed that in nearly all subjects evaluated, teachers monitor all components of students’ work frequently. The use of a variety of homework tasks is good practice as it ensures that reinforcement of students’ learning reflects the knowledge and skills gained through class teaching. It is recommended that all subject departments ensure that a variety of appropriate homework tasks are set for students on a regular basis.
Best practice was observed where subject departments used students’ results in the State examinations to inform the subject planning process. It is recommended that all subject departments implement this practice.
Some subject departments have put in place a subject-specific homework policy and homework and assessment guidelines. This good practice is to be commended. In building on this good practice, it is recommended that all subject departments develop an agreed homework and assessment policy. It is advised that such a policy should detail agreed guidelines on the homework to be set and on the correction of homework. The development and implementation of agreed subject-specific homework and assessment policies will ensure that all students in all subject areas continue to benefit from regular feedback and assessment of their work. Best practice was observed where teachers included formative feedback in their assessment of students’ work. This type of feedback assists students in learning from their errors and improves their learning. It is recommended that the subject planning process be used to develop greater integration of formative feedback in the modes of assessment used by subject departments.
Scoil Pól endeavours to offer a good level of support for students with special educational needs. The co-ordination of special educational needs provision is currently undertaken by the principal. The provision of this service has been recently curtailed due to staffing constraints. Plans are underway within the school to rectify this by facilitating the training of a staff member during the next academic year. This development is commended and greatly encouraged. It is recommended that the planned drawing up of a formal written policy for special educational needs be progressed as an immediate priority.
Students are withdrawn primarily from Irish and French for one-to-one tuition or in small groups. In addition extra class groups for some junior cycle and LCA students have been created in Irish and English in order to facilitate smaller class sizes to cater for the needs of these students. At the start of the year teachers involved in resource teaching met with a member of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) to receive some guidance. A presentation on inclusion and differentiation was given to the whole staff by a former colleague. The request for further staff in-service on differentiation will be pursued through the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). It was reported during the evaluation that it is common practice to support the learning needs of students in the mainstream classroom through active inclusion and differentiation. This approach is lauded and reflects the commitment to an integrated whole-school approach to learning.
Students in need of learning support are identified through information obtained by the principal from primary schools, psychological reports, parents and formal assessment carried out on intake by the guidance counsellor. Class teachers may also relate concerns about individual student’s performance to the principal.
The school has a dedicated resource room which is equipped with seven computers, CD player and some resource materials. Subject teachers have developed individual education plans (IEPs) for students identified with special educational needs. This is good practice.
Learning support personnel liaise among themselves and have regular formal and informal contact with subject teachers and the principal. They also attend parent teacher meetings. The principal conducts all communication as necessary with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), the Health Service Executive (HSE) and other external agencies to ensure a high quality of service provision to students. The principal also communicates frequently with the parents involved.
Scoil Pól is to be commended on its committed efforts to meet the special educational needs of students despite the staff constraints experienced. Their approach is student-centred, caring and wholeheartedly embraces diversity.
The school has an open admissions policy which welcomes all students and supports their inclusion irrespective of background or ability range. There are a small number of international students enrolled in the school for a number of years. It was reported that these students have integrated very well into the life of the school.
Close links are maintained with feeder primary schools and there is ongoing communication with parents in relation to their children’s progress and well-being. School management also liaise with external agencies in the area of support for students. It was evident during the course of the evaluation that management and staff have a high level of knowledge of students and an understanding of their individual needs from an early stage. In response to the identified needs of students a range of strategies has been put in place to support their effective participation in the school. These supports include Cairdeas, the prefect system, study skills programmes and supervised study in the evenings. Financial and material assistance is also provided in a sensitive and discreet manner to students experiencing difficulties. In addition the school has established a comprehensive pastoral care system that strives to affirm, encourage and support students in all aspects of their school experiences. School management and staff are to be commended for this commitment to supporting all students.
Scoil Pól has an ex-quota whole-time teacher equivalent (WTE) allocation of 1.0 for guidance and counselling. There is clear evidence of effective planning for guidance in the school. Guidance support is viewed as whole school activity. Very good progress has been achieved to date in the development of a draft school guidance plan in conjunction with the guidance planning group and the school development planning process. The guidance plan outlines the services available to students to support the guidance programme and describes the role of the guidance counsellor and other staff members in relation to guidance. In addition it contains the programmes of guidance activities for each year group.
A high level of support is offered to students particularly at times of transition. Parents are also encouraged to be involved in the guidance programme. They are invited to attend annual presentations on subject and programme choice and on career options. This inclusive approach is commended. The planned increased involvement of the guidance counsellor with incoming first year students is encouraged and will further support their induction process into the school. The guidance counsellor maintains regular contact with parents as deemed necessary and facilitates a drop-in arrangement where possible. These inclusive and supportive approaches are commended.
At junior cycle level students engage with the guidance service through the study skills programme, SPHE classes and the pastoral care structure. The guidance counsellor works closely with the SPHE teachers in planning a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of guidance themes to junior cycle students. In third year the guidance counsellor meets all students individually in addition to borrowing classes to support students in making subject choices for Leaving Certificate. The assistance of programme co-ordinators and subject teachers is also arranged to provide information to students. The guidance plan articulates the need for increased access to junior cycle classes as an area for development. The progression of this initiative is recommended. This provision would provide more time for students to explore a wide range of career options in a more structured manner.
The guidance counsellor maintains regular contact with the year heads and the pastoral care teachers in identifying students at risk. Individual counselling is available for students who are experiencing personal difficulties. Students may avail of the counselling service through self-referral or may be referred by the principal, class teacher, year head, parent or other student. Students are also referred to external professional services if considered necessary.
At senior cycle formal provision for guidance includes one class per week for fifth-year students and two classes per week for Leaving Certificate students. In addition sixth-year students are seen individually throughout the year. The vocational preparation and guidance module delivered over all four sessions within the LCA is allocated four timetabled guidance periods per week for each year group. The guidance counsellor maintains close contact with the LCVP and LCA co-ordinators and plays an important role in the delivery, organisation and co-ordination of the vocational aspects of these programmes.
Comprehensive schemes of work have been developed for senior cycle students. They are very well supported in conducting career investigations and exploring career options. This work is facilitated through the provision of aptitude testing, preparation for and participation in trial interviews, guest speakers on various careers, attendance at seminars and visits to third level institutions and further education colleges.
The guidance counsellor has a dedicated office equipped with a laptop and printer. This provides a suitable place for meeting with individual students. It is recommended that a careers notice board be placed outside this office to provide easy access for all students to important careers information. Career classes are not timetabled in the computer room and are primarily delivered in a room which contains a careers library and a computer and data projector. The lack of access to ICT facilities was cited as a current difficulty. In this regard it is recommended that arrangements are put in place to ensure increased access to the school’s ICT facilities by the guidance department. This provision will enable guidance software to be more widely used by students and provide them with greater access to the internet for information on careers and third-level colleges.
Guidance provision in Scoil Pól is of a high standard and is carried out in a conscientious and caring manner. The engagement of all the relevant school partners in the process is commended. In the future development of the Guidance plan the continuation of a whole staff approach is encouraged. In this regard the in-service courses provided by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE) will provide invaluable information and assistance.
The development of positive relationships where each member of the school community is valued, respected and nurtured underpins the provision of pastoral care in Scoil Pól. The school has developed a formal pastoral care policy and its current draft policy document outlines an integrated and structured approach to the organisation and implementation of the school’s pastoral care system. The welfare of students is accepted and regarded as the responsibility of all members of staff and such a whole staff approach is integral to the pastoral ethos of the school. Some members of the pastoral care team have received considerable training in preparation for their roles. The planned provision of whole-staff in-service in pastoral care is commended and further reflects the commitment of management and staff to actively supporting a whole-staff approach.
The school’s pastoral care co-ordinator oversees and co-ordinates the comprehensive range of structures which have been put in place to support the pastoral care needs of the student body. Teachers volunteer to take on the role of pastoral care teacher for an individual class group. The pastoral care teacher is also a subject teacher of his/her assigned class and where possible remains with this student group throughout the duration of the junior and senior cycles. This continuity is praiseworthy as it facilitates the development of close and trusting relationships between the pastoral care teachers and students in their care. The pastoral care teacher adopts a holistic approach to the development of students. Respect, listening, positive reinforcement, showing care and evoking care characterise all pastoral encounters and engagements with students.
Further support is provided to students through the year head system which forms an inherent part of the school’s pastoral care structure. While the role of year head entails a disciplinary brief all discipline issues are dealt with in a manner that supports and nurtures the pastoral care of students. In addition to meeting students on an individual basis during the school year the year heads meet once a week to share relevant information and discuss any concerns in relation to students. The fact that the pastoral care co-ordinator is also a year head beneficially enhances and informs these meetings.
The pastoral care team meets once per week. Here students’ behaviour, well-being and academic performance are reviewed and any necessary interventions to support students are discussed and planned. This proactive approach to assist students with pastoral care needs is highly commended.
There is ongoing collaboration and co-operation with senior management, all members of the pastoral care team and other school staff in the delivery of a high quality pastoral care service and support system to students. Strong links are forged with the school guidance counsellor, SPHE teachers and RE teachers in recognition of their crucial pastoral care work with students. The provision of SPHE as a core element of students’ timetables in junior cycle is an invaluable support to meeting the pastoral care needs of students. The teachers involved in teaching SPHE have undertaken appropriate training to enhance their work in this area. The proposed development of procedures in the event of a critical incident and the writing of a related policy in conjunction with the recently established crisis management team exemplify the integrated, co-ordinated and whole-staff approach embedded within the pastoral care system established in Scoil Pól.
Pastoral work is further enhanced by the school’s religious education teachers and is in line with the Catholic ethos of the school. The spiritual development of students is fostered through the many liturgical celebrations throughout the school year.
Communication with parents is encouraged and facilitated through the parents’ association, parent teacher meetings, other various informal meetings and the participation of parents in the development of several school policies. Parents are appropriately informed during open nights of the school’s code of behaviour and pastoral care structures and policy. They are also issued with a list of pastoral care teachers at the beginning of the school year. During the evaluation representatives of the parents’ association reported very favourably on the commitment of all staff to the care of students and the numerous strategies put in place to support first year students in the transition to post-primary education. They also positively acknowledged and appreciated the extensive range of activities and events organised for students and the positive impact these have on students’ development. A high level of satisfaction was also expressed with the extent of consultation afforded to parents on all aspects of school life.
The students of Scoil Pól have been actively encouraged to participate in and contribute to the pastoral care structures in operation in the school. The school prefects consist of a team of sixth year students nominated by their classmates and staff. This core group are regarded as exemplary role models for all students and are the official representatives of the school at both internal and external organised events. The prefects play an important role as a support system to all students. One of their recent projects involved a talk to third year students on appropriate study, eating and exercise habits in preparation for the Junior Certificate examination. This advice is currently being drafted into written guidelines for this student group. Prefects are assigned to junior classes and provide leadership to class groups and pastoral support to individual students as deemed necessary. In this latter regard close contact is maintained with the school’s pastoral care team of teachers and co-ordinator. Prefects are all known to students following an introduction at the start-of-year assembly. They also wear their prefect badges making them easily identifiable on the school grounds and corridors.
A formal mentoring system, Cairdeas, co-ordinated by second year students, provides further support to first year students in the transition to secondary school. The aim of Cairdeas is to link students in friendship and all first year students are befriended by a nominated student. Through close contact with this ‘cara’ first year students are empowered to feel secure and welcome as new members of the school community. In addition, to assist their integration into Scoil Pól a range of activities is organised including a recreational day in September, various sporting activities during the year and table quizzes. The recent “First Year Factor” proved most successful in building students’ confidence and self-esteem and was reported as being most enjoyable and entertaining for all involved. All students interviewed during the evaluation displayed competent and mature leadership skills. Their enthusiasm, diligence and commitment is highly commended. It was clear from discussions held with these students, parents, teaching staff and senior management that their contributions to the life of Scoil Pól are impressive and highly valued by all members of the school community.
A student council has been in existence in Scoil Pól since the 1970s. It is elected annually and currently comprises eleven members drawn from senior cycle classes. In view of the competent leadership work carried out by some junior cycle students it is recommended that procedures be put in place to enable first, second and third year students to become members of the council. The participation of junior cycle students would further enhance and support the good work done by the student council.
The student council meets weekly to discuss issues of importance to the student body. Two designated staff liaison teachers attend all meetings. There is appropriate consultation with senior management undertaken by the chairperson of the council. This communication is indicative of the school’s commitment to ensuring the meaningful participation of students in school life and the value placed by senior management on their views and work. Members of the council reported that they can approach school management on issues and that their suggestions and ideas are listened to and generally facilitated. This open and partnership approach adopted in the school is commended.
The council communicates with the general student body through a dedicated notice board, posters of events are displayed, messages are given over the school intercom system and occasionally an information table is set up at break time. A comment box for student suggestions is also positioned in a central location in the school foyer. These strategies are commended in facilitating communication among all members of the school community.
The student council plays an active role in the life of the school. The work involves assisting at school events and functions such as quiz night, the awards ceremony and open night. This year the council has carried out significant fundraising, the proceeds of which were used for the benefit of students in Scoil Pól. This included the purchase of Christmas decorations, a wide-screen TV and sports equipment. During the evaluation issues under consideration by the council included the repair of fencing in the basketball courts and the provision of a vending machine in the canteen. It was clear that the work of the student council makes a significant contribution to the life of the school and is valued and appreciated by the entire school community. These energetic and capable students are commended for their interest and impressive work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· In line with its mission statement Scoil Pól’s ethos, policies and practices foster the holistic development of students in an inclusive, caring and respectful environment.
· The board of management is actively engaged in the management of the school and committed to its development.
· There is an active parents’ association which valuably contributes to and supports the work of the school.
· The school principal provides effective management and leadership to the entire school community and is supported by the deputy principal in carrying out this role.
· The school has a committed and diligent middle-management team.
· The school building and grounds are maintained to a very high standard.
· The school benefits from a good level of resource provision.
· School development planning is carried out in a systematic and thorough manner. The planning process includes consultation with all the relevant stakeholders. Regular review is undertaken in promoting continuous improvement.
· Students have access to a broad range of subjects at junior and senior cycle. The LCVP is a very popular option among senior cycle students.
· The commitment of teachers and students to facilitating a diverse range of extra-curricular activities is commended.
· The school offers a good level of support in providing for students with special educational needs.
· Guidance provision in Scoil Pól is of a high standard.
· The students of Scoil Pól are actively involved in school life. Their diligence and commitment to supporting school projects is impressive and valued by all members of the school community.
· One of the striking features of the school is the strong commitment of all staff to the care of students. The school has a comprehensive pastoral care system that effectively supports and enhances the well-being of students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that an Advisory Board of Studies be established to review and advise on curricular provision in the light of decreasing enrolment over the next number of years.
· Senior management should review their respective roles with a view to further developing and enhancing their collaborative leadership.
· The development of a special educational needs policy should be progressed as a matter of priority. This work should focus on the development of a whole school approach to supporting students with special educational needs.
· Subject departments should build on the good work achieved to date by developing subject plans and assessment practices in line with the recommendations outlined in the individual subject inspection reports.
· The increased integration of ICT into teaching and learning in all subject areas should be pursued. Consideration should also be given to increasing student access to ICT facilities.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
· Subject Inspection of English – 23 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of Gaeilge – 20 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of Home Economics – 22 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing – 21 March 2007
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Board of Management Response to Whole School Evaluation Report
The Board welcomes the Whole School Evaluation Report. This report is a clear, comprehensive document capturing the caring ethos of our school and the good relationships and mutual respect that exist between all members of our school community. It is evident from this report that Scoil Pól is committed to the academic, social, spiritual and physical development of all our students and that our Mission Statement permeates all aspects of school life.
The Board is particularly pleased that the report provides independent evidence of
· The provision of a wide range of subjects and programmes, which meet the needs of all our students.
· The impressive range of methodologies being used in teaching and assessment, effective classroom management, the setting of clear learning purposes and high expectations for students, the promotion of learner autonomy, the high standard of guidance for students and the comprehensive lesson planning undertaken by teachers.
· The good rapport between teachers and students
· The effective operation of the school that reflects strong leadership and management, supported by efficient senior and middle management systems and valued contributions by non-post holders.
· The provision of a pastoral care system, which values and nurtures each member of the school community.
· The commitment of staff to providing a diverse range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in an inclusive manner
· The high level of maintenance of the school building and grounds
· The diligence, enthusiasm, commitment, competence and mature leadership skills displayed by our students.
· The spirit of collegiality and collaboration which underpins the relationships between all school partners – Board of Management, trustees, parents, students, staff, local community and outside agencies.
The Board wishes to acknowledge the professional manner in which the evaluation was carried out, which afforded us an invaluable opportunity to self-evaluate and affirm best practice.
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 examined the key recommendations of the report very carefully and immediately set about addressing the issues highlighted. The main follow-up actions are listed below.
· The development of a Special Educational Needs (SEN) policy is currently being progressed by a task group within the school. This is focusing on the formalization of a whole school approach to supporting students with SEN. This process has been further assisted by presentations on SEN facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative on the 28th May 2007 and the Special Eduction Support Service on the 11th October 2007. A member of staff is currently undertaking the Graduate Diploma in SEN in Mary Immaculate College.
· The development of subject plans and assessment practices is ongoing, building on the work already done and incorporating the recommendations arising from the evaluation.
· A Board of Studies is in the process of being established on the recommendation of the Board of Management
· A review of senior management, begun in June 2007, is ongoing.
· The integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of all subject areas is being supported and facilitated as ICT resources become available to the school.
- A dedicated room for Home Economics (Needlework component) and Design and Communication Graphics has been provided and equipped with ICT facilities.
- Provision has been made on the timetable for increased access to ICT for Career classes.
- 3 computers for research purposes have been placed in the Library.
- Supervised access to computers is made available to students during lunchtime in addition to their timetabled class access.