An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Eureka Secondary School

Kells, County Meath

Roll number: 64410F

 

Date of inspection: 26 September 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Eureka Secondary School was undertaken in September 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in three subjects and in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme were evaluated in detail. One subject was evaluated prior to the whole-school evaluation. Separate reports are available for each of these evaluations (see section 7 for details). 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.

 

 

Introduction

 

Eureka Secondary School is a Catholic voluntary secondary school for girls. The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy opened a secondary school for girls in Kells in 1924. In 1956 the school moved to its current address, Eureka House, from which the school name was adopted. The school marked fifty years at Eureka House in 2006. In the same year the school’s first lay principal was appointed. Since 2007 the school operates under the collaborative lay trustee body CEIST – Catholic Education, an Irish Schools’ Trust that represents schools formerly under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy and four other religious orders.

 

Eureka Secondary School is one of two post-primary schools, situated close to each other, that provide for the educational needs of the town of Kells and its rural hinterland. In recent years Eureka Secondary School has enrolled a limited number of boys as repeat Leaving Certificate students who are integrated into the existing sixth-year class groups. An examination of student enrolment patterns shows that enrolment increased from 444 girls in 1980 to a peak of 801 girls in 1994. The current enrolment is 689, a figure that includes nine boys as repeat Leaving Certificate students. While the main feeder primary school is the adjacent Our Lady of Mercy School, Eureka Secondary School attracts first year enrolments from as many as thirty primary schools spread a considerable distance from Kells. This is an indication of the popularity of the school with parents and students.

 

The school occupies a six-acre site close to the centre of the town. The school has been extended in response to the increased enrolment with a number of additional buildings added to the original Eureka House. These include twelve prefabricated classrooms that have been added in stages in recent years. Four of the prefabricated classrooms have been added in the last two years, while a second art room has been created from the renovation and amalgamation of two classrooms in the current year.

 

The achievement of a new purpose-built school building that would permit modernisation and improvement of educational facilities and learning is a key focus of the board of management. This aim is supported by all the representatives of the school community met with in the course of the evaluation. The need to increase the number of science laboratories beyond the current two so as to better support the high level of student uptake of Science is described as a priority. An application for a new school building on a new site, under the public private partnership model, is before the Department of Education and Science.

 

Consolidating the achievements of the school and effecting improvements in all areas of school life is equally a priority that enjoys a whole-school commitment under the leadership and support of the principal and deputy principal.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

A pride in the school’s long association with the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy is evident among management, parents and staff interviewed in the course of the evaluation. There is also an evident concern to transmit the educational philosophy, values and ambitions of the school founders to both staff and students who are new to the school.

 

The school’s mission statement guides the writing of all school policy documentation and is included as a preamble to each of these. The document dates from the mid nineteen nineties. It is the first text in the school prospectus, is included in both staff and student journals, and features prominently on the recently introduced school website. The statement is holistic in tone and in aspiration and aims to provide the highest quality education possible to meet the needs of all students. The mission statement commits the school to providing for students whatever their ability, circumstances or religious affiliation in an environment that promotes Christian values, mutual respect and responsible citizenship and where bullying behaviour is not tolerated. The mission statement commits the school to maintaining a supportive partnership with parents and to supporting and encouraging the work of the school staff.

 

A number of key school policies resonate with the core concerns of the mission statement. Most prominently among these are the admissions policy, the code of behaviour, the anti-bullying policy, and the dignity in the workplace policy. The characteristic spirit of the school is well expressed in the mission statement and is an authentic feature of school life. This finding is supported by the quality of interpersonal relationships observed throughout the school, comments made in the course of the evaluation, the level of care and support provided for students and most recently by the establishment of the care team, the high expectations of management and staff and the quality of teaching and learning observed by inspectors.

 

As there appears to be both a short and a long version of the mission statement included in various documents, it is recommended that the definitive version of the mission statement be confirmed as the sole text to be used. With the adoption of the common CEIST charter that defines the vision, values and framework that operates in CEIST schools, the opportunity now presents to further review the existing school mission statement in light of the challenging common values of Catholic education that are set out in the charter. The language of the admissions policy should also be reviewed to reflect the changes in the management structure of the school following the transfer to the new trusteeship.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The current board of management has completed two years of its three-year term and has overseen the transition in the trusteeship authority that governs the school. Thus it has operated for part of that time as a board answerable to the Sisters of Mercy Congregation as trustees and more recently to the new collaborative trustee body CEIST. The board is properly appointed and includes members with a diversity and wealth of experience from various careers. Board members have attended in-service courses provided by the trustees, and by the Joint Managerial Body, while teacher representatives have attended further in-service courses provided by the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland. This commitment indicates well the diligence of all board members in contributing to the management of the school. The board has appointed a financial sub-committee and commissions an annual auditors’ report to ensure good governance of the school finances. The board is fully acquainted with the CEIST trustee body and members are familiar with the statutory obligations and functions of boards of management. Minutes of board meetings provided to the evaluation team indicate that the board revisits particular areas of educational legislation and guidelines on the operation of a board on a regular basis. This approach is good practice.

 

Board meetings are held regularly, typically one per month of the school year, amounting to approximately nine meetings per year. A full attendance of members is recorded in the minutes of meetings examined and it was indicated that attendance at board meetings in general is excellent. The comments of members regarding the operation of the board as one team indicated that relationships among members of the board are excellent. Board members also attend school events, such as prize giving, to mark particular achievements as an indication of their support and appreciation. A trustee nominee on the board also contributes to delivering a module on the social, personal and health education programme (SPHE). These latter activities provide examples of how members of the board play a positive and active role in the life of the school.

 

Ten days advance notice of board meetings is provided along with relevant documentation to permit adequate preparation. Minutes of meetings are clear and well summarised. Decisions are achieved by consensus. It is good practice that an agreed report forms part of the agenda of each meeting. This permits representatives of parents and teachers to brief their association and their colleagues respectively on the proceedings of board meetings. The chairperson, by virtue of involvement with the new CEIST body, is a conduit for communication between the board and CEIST. It is recommended that consideration be given to formalising the process of providing a report from the board to the new trustee body on the operation of the school, possibly by way of an annual report.

 

The board expressed its full confidence in the senior management team of principal and deputy principal. The principal was described as a progressive, open, and innovative leader of the school who brings all staff with her. Relations between the board and the principal were described as excellent. The deputy principal was cited for his support of the principal and for his putting the interests of the school before all things. The board is committed to supporting the principal in her concern to further develop the whole-school areas of management, planning, curriculum, teaching and learning and care for students.

 

The board supports the characteristic spirit of the school through its direction of the school, attention to policies, involvement in selection boards and in the consideration of appointments and promotions among the teaching staff. The board is supportive of staff participation in development days and of attendance at subject-related in-service activities. Also, it gives consideration and support, where appropriate and when possible, to applications for further continuing professional development that involve a financial commitment.

 

Developmental priorities for the board include a particular focus at present on securing a new site for a new school building. However, the board does not wish these matters to distract from the need for retaining the school focus on excellence in academic achievement, the move to mixed-ability classes, the continuation of recent team-teaching initiatives, the maintenance of high participation rates in extracurricular and co-curricular activities, and other developments described elsewhere in this report. The board wishes to see the benefits of each of these developments consolidated. The approval and appreciation of the board for staff commitment to each of these areas of school life was evident in the contributions of the chairperson and other members at the meeting with the evaluation team. The board’s awareness and support of these developments indicate a thorough engagement by board members with the full experience of school life and with the provision of a holistic education in the Catholic tradition that is core to the CEIST charter for its schools. The board has a clear view of the direction of the school and performs its role thoroughly and effectively.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The principal and deputy principal form an effective senior management team and have an excellent working relationship. Both are well qualified for their current positions through personal experience, continuing professional development and further academic study. They share a vision of leadership for the school that aims to make school life a happy experience for all who learn and work there. The principal has senior management experience from another post-primary sector and brings valuable perspectives gained in that area to her present leadership position. This is most apparent in her aim to create a distributed leadership among the middle-management structure and to encourage staff to assume leadership and responsibility for areas that best match the needs of the school. The deputy principal is fully supportive of these developments and recognises that these changes in school culture will bring opportunities to nurture talents among the staff who are receptive to these developments. An example of this is the sharing of school development planning and the shared ownership and responsibility for this work among all the teaching staff that has been introduced.

 

The principal and deputy principal meet each morning and review matters at the end of each school day. They also meet informally throughout the day. They are a visible presence in the school and while they are approachable to staff, students, and parents they are not office bound. The principal has had a particular association with planning since her appointment and has overseen the creation of formalised policies to underpin procedures and to guide reflection on the improvement of teaching and learning. Staff members have been encouraged to join initiatives that provide for the greater assimilation of students into the life of the school through care structures and the closer monitoring of student attendance and punctuality. Observations of the senior management team shared with inspectors in the course of the evaluation indicate respect and trust for both principal and deputy across all areas of school life. The approachability and openness of both are affirmed by all parties interviewed.

 

While the deputy principal retains a portfolio of assigned duties dealing with the day-to-day organisation and administration as well as discipline he has recently become much more involved in planning decisions. While identified with student discipline he is supported by the ladder of referral system, set out in the code of behaviour, which frees him from too early an involvement in discipline matters. The deputy retains a teaching involvement in English with repeat Leaving Certificate students and remains closely involved with the Leaving Certificate year in particular in monitoring the integration of repeat sixth year male students and in overseeing the production of the annual sixth year students’ yearbook publication.

 

There is very good communication between senior management and staff. This is achieved via notices in the staffroom, announcements at break-time, personal interaction and an availability to meet with staff. Formalised arrangements for meetings with middle management have been established. Assistant principals are timetabled to meet with senior management on a weekly basis. Originally this time slot was provided to those in year head positions exclusively but has been expanded to include a wider number of middle management personnel. The focus of this work is planning and strategic matters. This marks a departure for assistant principals from a previously exclusive focus on post-related duties. It is a good example of the new move towards distributed leadership and a recognition that the principal and deputy principal value the collaboration and assistance of colleagues in leading the school. Senior management meets with special duties teachers at three defined times in the school year – September, Christmas and May and beyond those times as needs arise.

 

Senior management has introduced the process of self-review and self-evaluation among the staff. The schedule of posts of responsibility for the nine assistant principals and fourteen special duties teachers was reviewed in 2006. The process included the good practice of gathering the observations of all teachers to develop a school needs analysis to identify areas of school life of greatest need and to match these to the schedule of posts. Some reassignment of post duties followed. A logbook system of recording the work carried out by post-holders has been introduced in the interim. This is a transparent process whereby the logbooks are open to all staff. A further review of posts of responsibility is currently underway after a two-year interval. Comments made in the course of the evaluation indicate a willingness among staff to move forward to a more radical reappraisal of the current schedule of duties and this is to be welcomed.

 

Senior management is in frequent communication with teachers who are not holders of posts of responsibility and care is taken to affirm all teachers on the performance of their work and in the involvement of staff in extracurricular and co-curricular work. Staff meetings are a regular and formal forum for contributions from staff members. Staff may contribute to the agenda, and minutes are recorded and published. The staff handbook is a very good publication that includes a summary of key policies for the attention of all staff.

 

An induction and mentoring programme has been introduced for newly-appointed members of staff. Work tables in the staffroom are assigned by lottery thereby providing a mix of staff and avoiding the isolation of newly-appointed staff. A group of newly-appointed teachers attested to the support of colleague mentors and to the kindness of the general body of staff towards them. They described the approach of senior management as one of keeping in touch with them in a totally supportive way that made them feel at ease and not under scrutiny. The good management and valuing of all staff reflects the commitment to staff included in the mission statement.

 

The management of students is conducted effectively through class teachers, tutors and year heads. The tutor system has been introduced in the last twelve months and allows students to identify with one teacher who meets them each day and also teaches the class group. Communication between year head and tutor is ongoing and informal throughout the year with assigned times for meetings at the start and end of the year. The informal structures also include lunchtime or after school meetings, typically once a month. The work of tutors is appreciated greatly by year heads and senior management and is freely acknowledged. The student journal is a key component in communication with parents and is seen as a school document entrusted to the care of students rather than attaching to the students as personal property. A student council, and mentor and prefect positions are all recent developments designed to encourage students’ greater identification with the aims of the school and to play a greater role in school life. It is very evident that the support of students is a central focus of all the work of the school.

 

An active parents’ association provides parents with the opportunity to contribute to school life and to support efforts to improve facilities. A teacher representative on the parents’ association ensures an up-to-date flow of information between the association and school management. The principal attends meetings of the association on a regular basis. The association contributes to the operation of the breakfast club that supports students and thereby contributes to a core commitment of the mission statement. The school newsletter, published at Christmas and summer is a further channel of communication to parents that celebrates student achievement. Members of the parents’ association indicated their complete satisfaction with the level and nature of communication from the school to parents.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

During a guided tour of the buildings and campus provided in the course of the evaluation, the school presented as being well maintained and clean. This applied to the grounds, sportshall, student dining area, administrative area, library, reception area, classrooms and specialist rooms. A schedule of cyclical renewal of student furniture is in place. Maintenance staff indicated that teachers and students contributed to their efforts to have the school well presented. An awareness of the environment and conspicuous student involvement was evident in the prominence of the recycling initiatives that are promoted throughout the school in association with local commercial recycling interests. An environment policy setting out the practices and procedures that have been introduced is currently a work in progress. This achievement in regard to the maintenance of the school and to active participation in environmental issues is indicative of the level of pride and commitment to the school evident among students, teaching staff, ancillary staff and parents throughout the evaluation.

 

There are acknowledged difficulties that have led to the pursuit of a new school building on a new site. These include the age and dispersed nature of the existing buildings, the shortage of science laboratories and sports ground facilities, the limitations on space for a staffroom work area, the shortage of office space for year heads, the incremental growth in the number of prefabricated structures, as well as planning restrictions that limit development of the current site.

 

Subject inspection reports included with this report indicate approval of the level of provision made by management for supporting the teaching and learning of each of the subject areas examined. In most cases, application is made to management for resources rather than by way of an annual budget allocation and such applications are supported subject to availability of resources. The competing demands on space, as evident in the subject inspection reports on Art and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, illustrate well the demands placed on management in the allocation of this scarce resource. The space limitations faced by staff are also a challenge to which management is sensitive and weighs delicately against the need to provide space for student learning. Although concerned with the achievement of a new school as a priority, active consideration is being given to an action plan for the provision of a third science laboratory over the next twelve months. The dilemma involved here of investing in a facility that may be short-lived illustrates the centrality of the mission statement which prioritises attention to the needs of the students as learners in school governance.

 

The promotion of information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool for teaching and learning as well as the care and maintenance arrangements for ICT is well managed. Subject inspection reports indicate the success of efforts at increased integration of ICT into teaching and learning in a range of subjects. The continuing support of parents in augmenting these resources and in contributing to the provision of further interactive whiteboards was drawn to the attention of the evaluation team. A post of responsibility in the area of ICT co-ordination indicates the school’s attention to the ongoing promotion of this area. The comprehensive ICT plan provided deals thoroughly with the development, management and increased integration of ICT as well as with resource limitations. Subject departments that currently do not have access to ICT are urged to reconsider the benefits of ICT and to pilot the integration of ICT into their subjects. The willingness of one such department area, which met with the evaluation team by special arrangement, to consider extending the use of ICT indicates a general receptiveness to these ideas. 

 

The total number of teachers employed by the school for the current school year is fifty-nine. This figure includes forty-two teachers in permanent positions and a further seventeen part-time posts. The staff allocation provided by the Department of Education and Science to the school in the current year 2008/09 is 48.94 whole-time teacher equivalent (WTE) posts. This includes 4.5 ex-quota posts. The latter figure includes a 0.5 WTE allocation in recognition of the school’s participation in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative, with which the school has been associated from the introduction of this initiative. In this regard the staff also includes a number of senior personnel who hold qualifications in Guidance in addition to the two highly qualified guidance counsellors. This expertise is a considerable asset and resource to the direction and delivery of Guidance and to the recent development of the care structures in the school. A further 39.63 WTE posts arise from ordinary enrolment and allocations for the provision of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Separate from these allocations, an additional 4.81 WTE posts are provided as concessionary posts, comprising 3.34 WTE for special educational needs, 0.88 WTE for students for whom English is an additional language, and 0.59 WTE for curricular concessions.  

 

An approved policy on job-sharing and career break operates in the school and a number of teachers are currently availing of this option. A post of responsibility is also allocated to staff development and social events. These measures, together with the widely acknowledged encouragement and support of staff continuing professional development, indicate the attention of management to the professional support and welfare of staff. These measures further reflect the school mission statement which identifies staff as the school’s most valued resource. 

 

In addition there are three special-needs assistants who are well directed in their support of students by the special educational needs co-ordinator. There are three secretarial staff, a librarian, two maintenance staff and a team of five contracted cleaning staff. A school chaplain, who contributes to the celebration of liturgies in the course of the school year and provides support and encouragement for the religious education programme, is a recent additional service provided by the Catholic Diocese of Meath.    

 

An examination of teachers’ timetables and enquiries in the course of the evaluation into the performance of duties indicate that teaching resources are in most cases used for the purposes for which they are intended. Appropriately qualified teachers are assigned to teaching duties in their areas of expertise. Senior management is centrally involved in the design of the timetable and is well acquainted with the current and future staffing needs. The school complies fully with regulations in regard to the minimum number of class contact hours assigned to teachers’ timetables and an allocation of time that is additional to the minimum eighteen hours’ class contact time is made for the performance of post of responsibility duties. Timetabling of staff is fair and equitable.

 

Recommendations regarding teacher timetables centre on two areas. In the review of measures that would help to promote a wider participation of senior cycle students in the LCVP, consideration should be given to providing time for the performance of duties associated with the co-ordination of that programme. This should include a review of duties currently undertaken within the Programme Co-ordinator post (granted under terms of Circular Letter PPT 17/02). The present LCVP co-ordinator undertakes the role in a voluntary capacity and discharges the duties while working a full timetable of twenty-two hours. The second timetabling matter relates to the practice of including study supervision periods on teachers’ timetables as part of their timetabled hours. Although management has been reducing this, this currently amounts to almost eleven hours per week. It is recommended that steps be taken to discontinue the provision of timetabled study supervision periods for teachers and that the resource be redeployed to active teaching. 

 

The acceptance and integration of repeat Leaving Certificate students into sixth-year classes is carefully managed and is monitored on an ongoing basis by one of the senior management team. Among the current sixth-year cohort of students are some twenty-three repeat students, nine of whom are boys. The proportion of repeat students currently amounts to close to twenty per cent of the entire sixth year cohort. The acceptance of boys as repeat Leaving Certificate students has been the practice for a number of years and has been well managed and is working well. The procedures are set out clearly in the school’s admissions policy.

 

There is a detailed health and safety policy in place that is referenced in subject department planning. A member of staff is assigned responsibility as health and safety officer as part of post of responsibility duties. Staff members are kept aware of responsibilities, precautions, and immediate actions to be taken in this area.

 

The school benefits from a range of Department grants along with sums received in annual voluntary contributions from parents. The latter are recorded as amounting to ten per cent of total school income in the school year 2006/07. Income and expenditure is included in annual audited accounts.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

There has been a very high level of engagement with school development planning over the past two years. This was evident from the contributions of all parties interviewed in the course of the evaluation and from the detailed records of planning provided in written format to inspectors. This engagement has been informed by facilitation from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), particularly since the start of the 2007/08 school year. The inclusion of parents and students in contributing to various areas of the planning process was confirmed by representatives of both groups. This involvement indicates a confidence in achieving a true partnership in the school community as contemplated by the mission statement. The major focus of the school’s development planning activity to date has rightly given priority to measures that support the care of students and target improvements in teaching and learning.

 

Observations of most parties interviewed indicated that the school community has adapted to the planning process and perceives it as providing a focus and rationale for current practice and as a support for the future best direction of the school and for the achievement of improvement in all areas of school life. The latter view has gained currency among the teaching staff although there were initial apprehensions at the perceived raft of policies required by educational legislation. Senior teachers interviewed were clear that there is a strong sense of commitment and ownership of the school among the entire staff. This is a positive development that bodes well for the ongoing formulation and review of the school plan.

 

The process by which this has been achieved relates directly to senior management’s direction and support, together with ongoing SDPI facilitation. School development planning has been a core concern of the current principal since appointment to the position, and the deputy principal has provided full support. Building on the engagement with school development planning to that point, that identified an audit of school needs in 2005, the process has since delivered an impressive corpus of planning documentation that relates to both permanent and developmental sections of the school plan.

 

More than any other element of school development planning, the collaborative process employed to date among the staff and between the staff and the various other parties in the school has contributed to a shared ownership in the direction and operation of the school. In this respect, senior management believes that different aspects of the planning process should be distributed amongst all staff members. It is a hallmark of the senior management team that contributing to school planning is devolved to task groups composed of staff members who have volunteered to research, draft and present planning documentation for consideration, input, amendment and review by the fuller body of staff and constituent elements of the school community. The response of staff in engaging so fully with this demanding process over the past two years is commended.

 

Subject departments succeed in engaging all teaching staff in the core work of the school. At this level, the quality of planning for teaching and learning is high. Specific reference to this is to be found in section four of this report. Most of the subject department plans have been ratified by the board of management, with the remaining subject plans at draft stage and earmarked for ratification by the board of management shortly. In the course of the evaluation some subject departments that did not feature as part of the subject inspection process for this whole-school evaluation sought an assessment and direction for the quality of subject department planning. This indicates a confidence in their work and a determination to effect improvements. This is a telling example of the level of engagement by teachers in Eureka Secondary School with their commitment to deliver a quality service to students in the delivery of the curriculum.

 

Separate from the development of subject planning, the school development planning process has seen the involvement of staff in researching and drafting a further fifteen different policy documents within the past two years. This has been achieved through the collaboration of staff in task groups in each case. The scope of these task groups gives an indication of the extensive range of whole-school planning activities that have been addressed in a relatively short space of time. These policies relate to: internal communications; critical incident responses; improving working conditions, student prefects and mentors; substance abuse; environment; care team; suspension and expulsion; guidance; out-of-school activities; the school website; anti-bullying; student transition from primary to secondary; special educational needs and the transition year team.

 

The above policies are at various stages of completion, with a small number ratified, others at draft stage and a further group classified as work in progress. From all of this activity a set of agreed development priorities has been identified for attention in the current phase and this includes a focus on cyclical review of planning. Some policy areas have been reviewed. The review process has involved a canvassing of views beyond the staff and the board to include the parents’ association, and in some cases the student council. Such policies have included school uniform, mobile phone use in school, anti-bullying, healthy eating, code of behaviour, admissions policy, mission statement and subject policies. The inclusiveness of this approach is commended.

 

Areas of ongoing review include the post of responsibility structure, the continuing focus on a new school building, the development of a pastoral care policy and the development of individual education plans (IEPs) for students with special educational needs. It is noted that the review of posts of responsibility is the second such review in two years, thus indicating that the commitment to ongoing review is being implemented in practice.

 

There are some evident shortcomings in the school development planning process that may inhibit further progress, unless addressed. Senior management believe that the capacity of the school’s planning process to continue to deliver on the programme of school planning is hampered by the time demands involved and the scale of the planning work in progress. This has the potential to lead to disengagement of staff who have readily committed to the process to date. Staff meeting proceedings also indicate concerns at the scale of commitment required by school development planning.

 

Another factor is that the process has been interrupted by the departure of post-holders from the position of school development planning co-ordinator. Leadership of the process has been resumed by senior management while a steering committee, drawn exclusively from post-holders at assistant principal level, has been appointed only since April 2008. This development has helped to balance the perception of planning activities as being synonymous with senior management personnel alone. In the interests of consolidating the achievements to date and of maintaining the focus on planning, it is recommended that early consideration be given to the appointment of a school development planning co-ordinator from the post of responsibility structure. Such a move would contribute to the management of the process and provide future direction. This could include the good practice of identifying planning areas for attention in the short term, medium term and longer term. It is also recommended that the current restriction on membership of the school development planning steering committee to assistant principal post-holders be reviewed so as to permit the inclusion of staff members who could contribute to this critical task. It is noted that a number of staff members have indicated an interest in pursuing formal qualifications in school development planning. This is a very positive development that could contribute much to the ongoing work and future direction of school development planning in the school.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, all teaching staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all teaching staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all teaching staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. In the course of the evaluation, conflicting accounts emerged regarding the familiarity of ancillary staff with child protection guidelines. It is therefore recommended that the above steps with regard to child protection guidelines be reviewed and extended to include all staff employed by the school.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

There is a well founded confidence among all of the parties interviewed in the school about the quality of the curriculum provided and the ongoing attention to its review. Curriculum review in the context of Eureka Secondary School has included a consideration of the entire experience of students in the school beyond a focus on the academic curriculum alone. The issues dealt with in these considerations are treated in greater detail in section five of this report. It is acknowledged here that the school has an entirely appropriate focus on the needs of all students in its approach to curriculum provision. This understanding of curriculum emerged in many of the meetings in the course of the evaluation and clearly indicates that management and staff have horizons beyond the delivery of an academic curriculum that nonetheless remains core work of the school.

 

The school complies with Department of Education and Science Circular M29/95 (Time in School) in regard to the length of the school year and in the weekly instruction time provided for students. Weekly instruction time provided to all students amounts to twenty-eight hours and twenty minutes. This comprises twenty-seven hours and forty-five minutes dedicated to the teaching and learning of curricular subjects, along with a further daily seven minute timetabled slot where classes meet with tutors as part of the care programme.

 

The academic curriculum provided by the school is both broad and balanced. The junior cycle curriculum includes ten subjects that are taken to Junior Certificate examination level. Six of these ten subjects are English, Irish, Mathematics, History, Geography, and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) that form the core curriculum at junior cycle. A further four subjects for examination are chosen from a range of eight that are provided in bands of options. These eight subjects are French, German, Spanish, Business Studies, Science, Home Economics, Art and Music. Among the eight subjects provided in options bands the number of modern languages provided has recently been increased to three and students may select any two of these. Spanish, as the third modern language to be added to the curriculum, has been conspicuously successful in attracting a high uptake among students. While Science is not offered as a core subject and appears within the competing options bands it commands a very high uptake. Together with the popularity of the sciences in senior cycle, this supports the finding that the curriculum is both broad and balanced. The uptake in Science has placed considerable demands on the two science laboratories that currently serve the needs of the school.

 

The decision to add Spanish to the junior cycle curriculum was consultative and included, commendably, a canvass of parents’ views. The subject will in due course be added to the senior cycle curriculum. It is recommended that a similar consultative process should attach to the discontinuation of any subject at certificate examination level, such as in the case of Religious Education in the junior cycle, where the reasons for its discontinuation as an examination subject beyond the Junior Certificate examination 2008, could have been better communicated.

 

Participation rates by students at higher level in Junior Certificate examination subjects bear favourable comparison with the published national averages. In addition to the ten subjects taken to Junior Certificate examination level, good provision is made for Religious Education (RE), Physical Education (PE), and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) which includes the delivery of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Typing and keyboard skills are provided in second and third years for students as an alternative to the study of a modern language. Although competing for space on the curriculum, there is a renewed focus on providing students with exposure to information and communication technology (ICT) beyond the subjects where it has become an integral part of teaching and learning. ICT is now included on the first-year curriculum and is again provided in varying measures on the senior cycle curriculum in each of the programmes along with the option of certification of ICT skills. This approach to complementing students’ ICT skills while pursuing the incremental integration of ICT into classroom teaching is a good arrangement that reflects the quality of planning in the school’s ICT subject plan.

 

Within the past two years mixed-ability classes have been formed in base classes from the outset of first year and this practice continues for the duration of the junior cycle. Apart from the concurrent timetabling arrangements made for English, Irish and Mathematics in second and third year to facilitate the formation of class groups at the different levels in those subjects, students are in a true mixed-ability class setting throughout the junior cycle. Management reports that teachers have experienced fewer discipline issues as a result of these developments. The reported benefits of introducing truly mixed-ability class groupings from the start of first year are noted and the willingness of staff to adopt these arrangements is commended.

 

The special educational needs department has made a telling contribution to the area of curriculum provision. This has further influenced subject department planning and teaching and learning practices. Two classes in each of the three year groups in the junior cycle include a number of students with special educational needs. Awareness of these students’ needs is well promoted and well supported by a dedicated team of teachers who have specialist qualifications in special educational needs. This has led to greater collaboration among teachers in developing new methodologies and receives more specific mention later in this report.

 

The school has been proactive in the provision of programmes at senior cycle beyond the established Leaving Certificate. These additional programmes cater for a broader diversity of student needs beyond the well established academic profile which retains a high approval and attraction among parents and students and features prominently both in school promotional literature and in print media coverage. Thus the school has considerable years experience of providing the three optional programmes of Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The continuation of the LCA programme in circumstances where the numbers are low is a challenge to the management of resources and an indication of the school mission statement influencing curricular provision decisions in circumstances where the case for its suspension or abandonment might otherwise prevail. For example, the number of students currently enrolled in year one of LCA is six students with a further ten enrolled in year two. In these circumstances the school is urged to retain its focus on the merits of the LCA programme and to resist any temptation of identifying the LCA programme to meet the needs of senior cycle special educational needs students as LCA is not a learning support programme.

 

Over the past five years there has been a doubling in the number of students who have committed to the optional TY programme. There are forty-nine students enrolled in the TY programme for the current year, involving two class groups. This is the third occasion within four years that the TY has expanded into two class groups. Contributory factors to this increase are the quality of the programme provided, the attraction of a core team of teachers who monitor and review progress throughout the year and the thoroughness of the review process. Arrangements are made for students to gain work experience at two intervals in the course of the year. A more structured follow-up of TY work experience is listed in the school’s own planning documentation as a priority area. This is a good indication of the efficacy of self-evaluation in the school’s planning process.

 

The TY plan indicates a freshness of approach to the review and renewal of the schedule of modules provided and indicates a wide participation in extracurricular and co-curricular activities as well as the development of social awareness. Among the modules currently provided are debating and public speaking, Young Social Innovators programme, media studies, photography, hair care, web design, and road safety. Student evaluation of the TY programme is, commendably, an integral feature of the TY review process while the assessment measures include a detailed end-of-year student profile of performance under all of the skills identified for development in the TY programme. Copies of TY subject plans are provided annually to the TY co-ordinator and included in the current TY plan. This good practice retains a focus for subject planning in TY to develop students as autonomous and participative learners.

 

The number of students attracted to LCVP does not reflect the merits of this programme. The well written LCVP plan sets out clearly the purpose and aims attaching to the programme and the arrangements for its delivery. The school’s subject groupings sit well with those prescribed by the Department for LCVP and would appear to be ideally suited to attracting higher numbers than the seventeen students currently enrolled in LCVP year 1 and the eight students enrolled in LCVP year 2. Recommendations are made elsewhere in this report on the need to better support the delivery and promotion of this programme which now enjoys enhanced recognition for admission to third level. Any confusion among parents that the inclusion of the word ‘vocational’ in the programme title suggests a non-academic focus should be clarified. The new school website could become a useful further resource for providing such information.

The established Leaving Certificate curriculum includes all of the subjects provided at junior cycle with the exception of Spanish which will be added in due course. In addition to the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics, a further twelve subjects are provided in options bands, from which students choose four. The twelve subjects are French, German, History, Geography, Business, Accounting, Home Economics, Art, Music, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. All of the subject department plans include useful profiles, both of student participation rates within the options subjects, of the proportions who choose the various levels within the subjects and of the profile of results achieved. Relevant national statistical data is provided for comparative purposes. From both the planning documentation provided, and from interaction with teachers, students and parents in the course of the evaluation, a commitment by the teaching staff to the quality delivery of subjects to the school curriculum was evident.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The school provides good supports to parents and students to assist them in making the best choices both of subjects and programmes. The transfer programme provided to incoming first-year students includes detailed inputs at meetings with parents on the implications of these choices, prior to enrolment in the school. Students and parents are subsequently well advised on these matters at various stages throughout the junior cycle. Copies of PowerPoint presentations made to parents at information meetings at various stages in the junior cycle clearly show the thorough detail that is provided on both subjects and programmes. Very useful summary information is provided in the prospectus package provided to all applicant families. Guidance department members are involved to support the provision of the best information and advice on these important choices.

 

In the case of first-year students, the year long sampling programme of options subjects is a central feature of the arrangements for informing students’ choice of subjects. The purpose of the programme is to provide students with the fullest exposure possible to all eight options subjects so as to best equip them to make an informed choice of the four they will study to the Junior Certificate examination. As a result of this arrangement, first-year students study fourteen Junior Certificate examination subjects up to mid-term break at Halloween, when one of the three modern languages is dropped, and thirteen subjects thereafter for the remainder of the year. Students have, in addition, four other timetabled subjects – those of RE, PE, SPHE and ICT. While all parties questioned on these matters strongly supported the year-long sampling programme, it is recommended that the school keeps these arrangements under regular review.

 

Such review might consider the possible de-motivating effect on a student of having to study a subject, or subjects, to the end of the first year when she has made up her mind that she will not be continuing with the subject or subjects. This is particularly relevant as students indicate their second year choice of options subjects by February of first year. Meeting the time recommendations for full coverage of Junior Certificate subject syllabuses is a further area for consideration as is the cumulative load of seventeen and eighteen subjects for first-year students of all ability levels. The case of special needs students merits careful consideration here. Notwithstanding the commendable developments outlined in section five of this report aimed at supporting special needs students, the potential of such an extensive range of subjects in the sampling programme in first year to act as a deterrent to enrolment for parents of special needs students should be included in the review.  

 

The process by which subjects are provided in options bands in both the junior and senior cycles is open and transparent. Student preferences for subjects are the first consideration and this information informs the provision of subjects in the bands. The guidance department provides support, information and direction for students and parents, prior to the making of senior cycle choices. It was reported that students’ top choices of subjects are invariably accommodated. Parents and students’ observations on subject choice concurred with this assertion.

 

In established Leaving Certificate classes, higher and ordinary level classes are formed in the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics and also, in the case of French and German. Mixed-ability class formation obtains in the remaining ten subjects that are provided for the Leaving Certificate. In the case of the two classes formed for Geography, for instance, the school has moved to form one class in each of two subject options bands as opposed to forming two class groups within one band. This arrangement was adopted following a subject inspection evaluation of the subject. The effect of this changed arrangement is to ensure that the highest number possible of students have the opportunity to access the subject and also, to opt for higher level within mixed-ability classes. The readiness of the Geography teachers to effect this change indicates the priority accorded to student choice of subject, and level. A focus on the success of these developments in Geography is recommended as an appropriate consideration in the future review of arrangements for subject choice by both management and subject departments. 

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

There is a very wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities provided by the school that attracts a very wide participation by students. This area is an evident strength of the school that supports the depiction of the school as a very busy place for students beyond the classrooms. It is an area of school life that received very favourable comment from students, parents and members of the board of management. A meeting with a small number of staff representatives involved in these activities indicated the scale of participation involved for both staff and students.

 

In the area of sporting and physical activities alone a list of thirteen different activities was provided, involving competitive inter-schools sports and related areas of coaching and refereeing. The success of the school in the area of girls’ soccer received recent extensive coverage in a national broadsheet newspaper, displayed prominently in the school. Co-curricular activities include musicals, fashion shows, debating and public speaking in both Irish and English, poetry writing, poster design and awareness raising of people with intellectual disabilities through the school branch of the Best Buddies organisation.

 

The prominence of participation by students in science-related co-curricular and extracurricular activities is well documented. The presentation of first prize of media equipment for the school valued at €7,500 coincided with the evaluative process. The award was obtained for the achievement of first place in a competition for the production of a radio programme, the theme for which was the environment. The school’s winning entry was on the topic of radon gas. That the school also produced the winners of the national final of the Agri Aware Healthy Eating Challenge in 2007 is a further indication of the scale of involvement and success.

 

An awareness of the pleasures and benefits of reading and writing is well promoted through the activities of the book club in the school library and the visits of writers that feature on the programme. The yearbook committee that produces the annual commemorative publication of departing sixth-year students’ contributions is another group that makes a contribution to the myriad activities that are provided. Students of Eureka Secondary School are very well served by the level of provision in this area.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

School management provides dedicated time for subject department planning each term to facilitate teacher collaboration. Minutes of these meetings were made available to the evaluation team. In the departments visited during the evaluation it is clear that collaboration also occurs on a more frequent and informal basis. The professional collegiality which results supports best practice in the classroom.

 

Comprehensive subject department plans are developed for all the subject departments evaluated. A collaborative and structured approach was taken to developing these plans by each of the subject departments. All subject plans provide a useful guide to the structures and procedures governing the departments.

 

Schemes of work were prepared for all of the subjects evaluated and the curriculum content of these schemes of work reflect all aspects of syllabus and programme requirements. Best practice was observed where these contained learning outcomes for the topics to be taught, linked to appropriate methodologies. It is recommended that, as schemes of work are reviewed, learning outcomes should be included to place the student at the centre of planning and to facilitate the more effective assessment of progress.

 

Written programmes for TY were presented in the subjects evaluated. In some subjects the TY plans should be reviewed to ensure that a clear distinction is maintained between the study of those topics within the TY and the Leaving Certificate syllabuses.

 

Teachers’ individual planning in the areas evaluated is of a very high standard. The best schemes of work developed by teachers for class groups provide a description of the assessment modes to be used to track students’ progress and how these link to the learning outcomes and methodologies of the overall subject plan. It is recommended that as these plans are reviewed that assessment should be incorporated into all schemes of work.

 

Teacher planning and preparation included a good range of resources for lessons in the subject departments visited. These included worksheets, word banks, word searches, wall maps and charts, visual aids, video, PowerPoint presentations, and collections of relevant subject matter. The generation and provision of these resources is very highly commended as it reflects the commitment of teachers to provide stimulating and enjoyable educational experiences for their students.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

High quality learning and teaching was evident in the lessons observed. Some teachers were careful to outline the learning objectives at the beginning of each lesson. This is good practice as it provides focus and structure to lessons and encourages students to take personal responsibility for their own learning. Best practice occurs in this regard where the learning objectives are revisited at the end of the lesson to check that they have been achieved. A good routine had been established in the structure of lessons in the classes visited and students were guided through activities with clear instructions. The pace of lessons was lively yet appropriate to the ability level of the students.

 

In addition to teacher-led methodologies, a wide range of teaching strategies was used to actively involve students, these included group, pair, practical, and drama activities. It was evident that this variety served to encourage student participation, motivation and enjoyment. Good use was made of resources such as the smartboard, data projector, whiteboard, magazines, textbooks, and worksheets. Where handouts were used they were well designed to support and consolidate learning. Teachers organise a wide range of learning activities that take place outside of the classroom. These include the school musical and extracurricular art activities. All of this is good practice.

 

Teachers made good use of questioning to engage students and to assess learning. The questioning strategies employed ranged from knowledge-based questions to open, higher-order questions, requiring students to apply their knowledge. Students were also encouraged to offer personal opinions through participation in plenary sessions following the introduction of a topic. In some classes, where there was a wide range of abilities, teachers made every effort to differentiate the learning experience to suit all of the students present. This was achieved by including questions on worksheets of varying levels of difficulty, by differentiating lesson content and by engaging students in activities with teacher support, where necessary. Students clearly benefit from the considerable effort teachers invest in designing lessons that comprehensively meet the needs of their students.

 

It was evident from the lessons observed throughout the subject inspections that student-teacher and student-student relationships are very good and classroom atmosphere is positive. This has contributed to very high standards of student behaviour and co-operation in all cases. Students participated in lessons with confidence by asking and answering questions and by joining in with class discussions. Students remained on task, willingly engaged in the learning activities and were affirmed by their teachers.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Formal assessments are held for all students at Christmas and summer. Mock examinations are held for third-year students and sixth-year students in the spring. Reports are issued after all formal assessments.

 

In the subjects inspected, teachers maintain good records of student attendance, achievement, homework and end-of-topic tests. In one subject area, student behaviour is also included in these profiles. It was noted in one particular subject area that students’ work is meticulously stored in folders and closely monitored by teachers. As a result, students have developed very good habits regarding the collation and maintenance of these materials. This illustrates the importance of ongoing monitoring of students’ work in order to enhance progress and is recommended to all subject departments. The commendable practice of providing comments with constructive guidance for improvement was noted by inspectors.

 

Assessment criteria for certificate examinations are used to inform assessments in some subject departments. The allocation of marks toward practical activities and as part of formal school assessments is one example of this good practice. In one subject area examined, students were encouraged to use the marking schemes from certificate examinations to grade their own work. In another, students were required to maintain a journal in which they recorded their learning. These are very good practices as they encourage student self-evaluation. Consideration should now be given by other subject departments to using such strategies to ensure that all components of the subjects are assessed in line with the assessment objectives of the relevant syllabuses.

 

Parents are regularly informed of students’ progress at parent-teacher meetings and in school reports. Achievement in certificate examinations varies between departments. In some cases students perform very well and the uptake at higher level is very good. In other cases there is scope to challenge more students to participate at higher level. Statistical information is provided by school management and this has clearly informed subject department planning. The achievements of students in the certificate examinations across the full range of subjects receive widespread promotion in the media and in school promotional material. Parents’ representatives confirm these achievements as an important element in the appeal the school holds for prospective parents.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

There is a clear expression in the school mission statement of a concern to meet the needs of all students, regardless of ability, circumstances or religious affiliation. Commendably, these sentiments are positively expressed as a commitment rather than as a requirement arising from any duty of care. The evidence considered by the evaluation team indicates that the school has taken measures, which it continues to review, that indicate a very high quality of support is provided for students.

 

In the area of special educational needs a comprehensive policy has been drafted that clearly references special educational needs as a whole-school commitment. It is clear that the school mission statement has guided the writing of this policy. Under separate headings, their precise roles and responsibilities in provision for special educational needs are specified for the co-ordinator, the team of resource and support teachers, subject teachers, principal, special-needs assistants, the board of management, parents, and students. Ensuring an inclusive school environment and the integration of students with special educational needs into the whole school community are key aims and objectives of the policy. These aims find expression in much other school planning documentation and are referenced in all subject plans charged with teaching and learning.

 

An awareness of special educational needs provision by the school is communicated to parents of applicant first-year students at the earliest stage. It forms part of the information provided to parents at the school open day in March and also features among the presentations made to parents of incoming first-year students at the follow-up information night in May. Procedures for the identification of students with special educational needs are thorough and the securely maintained register of such students indicates the careful attention to detail applied in all cases by the co-ordinator and the special educational needs team. This latter team combines the areas of learning support and special educational needs under the direction of a co-ordinator. The team includes two teachers who hold qualifications in learning support and special education. The school links fully with the assigned educational psychologist of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), the principals of feeder primary schools and parents.

 

The work of the three special-needs assistants (SNAs) currently assigned to the school is well monitored and supported by weekly meetings with the special educational needs co-ordinator. Information to staff on all areas of special educational needs is well communicated by the co-ordinator and provision is made for information sharing at staff meetings. The co-ordinator meets separately with each of the year heads to both share and gather information on all aspects of special educational needs. Parents are kept informed and involved in the decisions affecting support interventions. The principal is an associate member of the team and is informed of educational support issues through a weekly informal meeting with the co-ordinator. Either the principal or deputy principal may attend the weekly, timetabled meeting of the team to stay acquainted with developments, by invitation or by request. This illustrates well the high level of support and ongoing concern for special educational needs that is provided by school management.

 

Ongoing review of students’ special educational needs by the team is assisted by the results of standardised tests as well as by a referral option for all staff members. This may include the consideration of interventions in the area of learning support from the general allocation and, of equal importance, the ending of such support subject to the progress made with identified students. The same attention to the review of ongoing needs applies in the case of students for whom English is an additional language (EAL). The needs of the latter cohort of students are complex as they variously include English language support, learning support and intervention through resource teaching. Records examined indicated that all of this work is well monitored and well managed by a dedicated special educational needs team whose members are pivotal figures in ensuring a whole-school awareness and support for additional and special educational needs.

 

An indication of the developing engagement of staff with special educational needs provision is the team teaching model provided in particular subjects in the junior cycle to classes that include special educational needs students. It is a very positive development that reflects a wider commitment such as contemplated by the school’s special educational needs policy. The team teaching model complements the withdrawal model of support that is also provided. The team teaching developments are now in their third year and include team teaching in Mathematics in third year, Mathematics and English in second year, and Mathematics, Business, Science and Home Economics in first year. This model remains, appropriately, the subject of ongoing review.

 

While Mathematics is among the subjects provided through team teaching intervention in each of the classes containing special educational needs students in the junior cycle, it is noted that English in the form of team teaching support is provided to the second year cohort alone. It is recommended that a careful focus be retained on the adequacy of support for literacy in English to all special educational needs students. Regarding the ongoing monitoring of special educational needs student progress, it is recommended that the position of special educational needs students in senior cycle be as closely reviewed and recorded as their counterparts in the junior cycle where a growing number of teachers are well informed of students’ needs. 

 

Supports are provided to special educational needs students through the school library, the school administrative office, and the contribution made to the administration of the library from among this group of students. These are further indicators of the validity of the school’s claim that there is no tension in Eureka Secondary School between the academic profile of the school and the inclusion and integration of students with special educational needs. 

 

The current number of students in the school with identified special educational needs is a small proportion of the overall number of students enrolled. The same is true of the number of students whose first language is not English. The school has taken steps to better support the inclusion of students whose first language is not English into school life through, for example, an international morning for languages. In order to further develop the evident commitment to inclusion, greater whole-school recognition of students whose first language is not English is recommended. The NCCA publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School (2006) provides direction in this area.

 

Considerable energy and resources are devoted to the recording, monitoring, and follow-up on student attendance and punctuality as part of the attendance strategy. Computerised records of punctuality and attendance are maintained through the assignment of an assistant school secretary to this task along with consistent practices among the teachers on the recording of attendances. This is supported by the attention of class tutors to monitoring attendance and the provision of accurate data to year heads. The school routinely communicates information to parents regarding students’ absences and alerts parents by same-day text message where the registers of attendance indicate doubts about student truancy. Full returns of data are made to the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB). This detailed monitoring is properly balanced by the encouragement of students and the acknowledgment of good attendance as a category among the end-of-year student awards.

 

While there is appropriate concern to improve the statistics on attendance indicated in the most recent school NEWB returns, it is recommended that the school’s intention to include the task of follow-up on student attendance and punctuality among the post of responsibility structure be reconsidered. While a focus on implementing a school attendance strategy is a proper concern for the school, the creation of such a position, from the limited number of posts of responsibility available, would appear to unnecessarily duplicate an area of responsibility that falls within the remit of the respective year heads. Such a duty, for one person alone, would likely involve a constant engagement with a negative experience that runs counter to the aims and objectives of the school for both the staff and students. The school is scrupulous in its recording of this data and in informing parents. There is also the positive encouragement and recognition of student effort regarding attendance, of which the recently introduced breakfast club initiative is a good example. The school is managing the school attendance strategy well. A further administrative layer of intervention is not recommended.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

There are two experienced guidance counsellors delivering the school guidance service. The school has an allocation of one fulltime ex-quota post for Guidance which is supplemented by a further half post that is allocated under the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). There is good support by management for guidance provision in the school. Both guidance counsellors are also members of the recently created care team that receives separate mention below. Timetabling arrangements for guidance personnel permit both teachers to meet every week and to co-ordinate and monitor the delivery of the service. There is also good support for the continuing professional development of the highly qualified guidance personnel. Resources provided to the guidance department in terms of offices, ICT facilities, and library resource space are good.

 

Guidance provision is targeted primarily in the senior cycle where guidance counsellors are timetabled for one class period per week with all classes in TY, LCA, LCVP and the established Leaving Certificate. The counsellors indicate a balance of approximately sixty per cent of their time to educational and vocational guidance with the balance of time devoted to personal counselling. No timetabled classes for Guidance are provided in the junior cycle. Specific interventions are made with first-year students to raise an awareness of the service, to provide direction on study skills and to advise on subject choice. The limited service provided to second-year students is an area identified by the guidance department for review and development. Guidance classes in third year are provided by special arrangement with other teachers to permit the administration of aptitude tests, interest inventories and the provision of talks on subject choice. It is recommended that a review of guidance provision in the junior cycle should identify the means by which a greater balance of provision can be achieved.

 

Referrals to the guidance counsellors, whether for personal counselling or educational and vocational guidance counselling, may be initiated by any teacher, at the request of parents, or by student self-referral. The guidance counsellors report that parents have become more receptive to onward referral for personal counselling to external agencies with which the school maintains good links.

 

An earlier (2002) subject inspection report on the operation of the GEI in the school recommended that a guidance plan be produced. The plan presented in the course of the present evaluation, entitled Guidance Counsellor’s Plan, is a draft plan and remains to be presented to the board of management for ratification. The current plan reads well as an implementation plan for Guidance and owes much to the work of the two guidance counsellors. It should now be progressed as a whole-school plan for Guidance to form part of the school plan. In this context a guidance planning group should be formed, to include relevant members of staff such as the SPHE co-ordinator, the LCA co-ordinator as well as the principal or the deputy principal and representatives of parents, students and the local community. The latter grouping might include representatives of the local Chamber of Commerce, the Health Service Executive (HSE), and voluntary community groups. Through the planning group, all members of the school community should have an input into the whole-school guidance plan. This can be arranged through questionnaires and inputs into meetings. There are materials available to assist schools in the development of the guidance plan. A template is available on the Department’s website which includes links to the SDPI, the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE), as well as the Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998

 

The school provides significant supports for students through a range of interventions. A ladder of referral system applies in the case of the student pastoral care system and the student discipline structure. The aims of both these structures are to contribute to supporting students to realise their full potential through ensuring that students are cared for in an atmosphere of positive discipline. The ladder of referral system is clearly set out in school documentation and refers students in turn from class teacher through the offices of tutor, year head and upwards to deputy principal and principal. It is a relatively new introduction, pioneered by the principal, and brings clarity to the system for students, teachers and parents.

 

A care team has operated since March 2007 with the specific task of considering an action plan and appropriate interventions to support specific students who have come to the attention of the general team of teachers or by way of information provided. The care team now co-ordinates supports that previously had operated in a non-structured way among a network of teachers. The purpose of the care team is to widen the network of supports in an effort to ensure that students do not fall through the net. The team includes the most senior school personnel and all members are well qualified to contribute to this service. It comprises the principal, deputy principal, the two guidance counsellors, resource and learning support teachers, a staff member with specific chaplaincy duties and the relevant year heads. It is significant that this highly qualified group of experienced school personnel is provided to the students with greatest support needs. A student friendship support group, known as Threads, composed largely of sixth-year students, is available to the care team as a further option in the support of students whose cases are reviewed and it has been deployed in that role with success. In the support structure provided by the care team, and in the prominence accorded it in the school, the school’s claim to providing a holistic approach to the care and welfare of students is strengthened further.

 

The care team meets once a week at a scheduled timetabled slot with submissions for the agenda received in advance. An examination of the register of meetings of the care team indicated a clear, well-organised structure for the identification of the issues of concern, agreement of an action plan, nomination of persons to provide the support as well as a timeframe for action and review. The detail of interventions with particular students is treated as confidential and members of the teaching staff are informed, in a general way, to alert them to care team involvement with particular students. The care team fits as a layer within the pastoral care system.

 

An additional support for students is provided by the chaplaincy service. This is provided by a teacher with an allocation of three and a half hours per week for chaplaincy duties and a local curate nominated to the school by the Catholic Bishop of Meath.

 

Overall, the care structures and delivery of care to students in Eureka Secondary School are a conspicuous strength of the school that receive priority attention and leadership at the highest level in the school. It is recommended that the work-in-progress of drafting a pastoral care policy that provides a coherent account of the structures and supports that are already in place should be completed. That the principal chose initially to proceed with the development of the pastoral care structure over the need to draft a policy reflects well the concern of senior management to deliver improved supports for students as the more appropriate priority to address.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Published May 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

8.         School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management, Senior Management and staff of Eureka Secondary School  welcomes the Whole School Evaluation Report, which affirms the high quality of education provided in the school. 

 

The Report highlights the excellent standard of teaching and learning in the school, the caring atmosphere, the efficiency and dedication of management, the quality and extent of the curriculum offered and the comprehensive range of activities available. The process has been a positive and affirming experience for the entire school community.

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

The Board of Management wishes to thank the Inspectorate for the professional way in which all areas of the evaluation were carried out. Recommendations are welcomed and

being addressed.