An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65300D
Date of inspection: 27 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Rockwell College. 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 unitary manager, and representatives of the parents. 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.
Rockwell College is situated six kilometres south of Cashel. The school is a co-educational voluntary secondary school participating in the free education scheme. While the Congregation of the Holy Ghost are the trustees of the school, the role of patron, as outlined in the Education Act 1998, is assumed by the Des Places Educational Association.
The school has played an illustrious role in Irish education since it was first opened by the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1864. The historical legacy of the Holy Ghost fathers is still keenly felt in the college through the continued presence of members of the Order and through their role in providing Masses and other religious services to students and staff.
Rockwell College has undergone significant physical changes in the years since it was first established. The college infrastructure has been added to in stages over the last one hundred and forty years. Among the many extensions and additions to the original ‘Scots College’ of 1864 are included a two-storey building in 1879, the college chapel in 1898 and the stand-alone Crehan Wing in 1934. From 1939 to 1942 a further expansion occurred, with the construction of another two-storey building running parallel from the Crehan Wing and turning to meet up with the 1879 building. The meeting point is marked by the commanding tower which can be seen for miles around and the project provided the college with the formidable ‘Long Hall’ or ‘Hall of Forty Arches’ and the dining room on the ground floor, along with a combination of classrooms, offices and dormitories. A tarmac playing area was added in 1963 and in 1973 a 25-metre indoor heated swimming pool and a sports hall were incorporated. Other facilities include a nine-hole golf course, a weights room and tennis courts. There is also a lake, covering approximately twenty-three acres of the college grounds and some twenty acres of sports pitches. Currently, another major development programme is underway and this is supported by a fundraising campaign entitled Rockwell Going Forward, along with some funding provided by the Department of Education and Science (DES).
There are a number of different categories of boarding students in the school: day boarders; five-day boarders; seven-day boarders; overseas (European) seven-day boarders and overseas (non-European) seven-day boarders. There are also a small number of day pupils who avail of tuition only and do not pay fees because of the school’s participation in the free education scheme. The main distinction in the school is between day boarders and boarders. Both day boarders and boarders partake of the Day Boarding programme which, in addition to tuition, provides study supervision in the evenings, games and extracurricular activities, along with lunch and an evening meal. Those activities which exceed class contact hours are referred to by the term ‘the hostel’. The principal describes Rockwell as providing a ‘unique package’ in this respect, caring for day boarding students from 8:40 am to the conclusion of study at 8:15 pm.
One of the more significant events in the school’s history has been the move from its status as an all-boys’ school to a co-educational school in 1987. Since that time girls have become a very important part of life in the school. A number of girls take the full boarding option in Rockwell. Boarding girls are placed with local host families by the school. Contact is maintained with host families by the dean of girls.
Given the school’s boarding element, it is to be expected that students come from a wide selection of geographical locations. A striking feature of Rockwell College is the presence of a significant number of students from other countries. At present, upwards of twenty different nationalities are represented in the student population, adding to the multicultural atmosphere in the school. Overseas students apply on an individual basis, with the major nationalities represented comprising Spanish, German, Mexican and Russian students. In the local area, day-boarding students apply from Clonmel, Tipperary and Cashel in the main. Beyond this, there is a wide range of local and other Irish primary schools from which boarding and day-boarding students have come to Rockwell over the last number of years. This varied mix of students may be seen as inevitable, given the school’s relatively isolated and self-contained situation.
The school offers the following curricular programmes: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year programme (which is optional), the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. There is also a seventh-year option in the school for repeat Leaving Certificate students. The Whole School Evaluation process focused on school management, school planning, curriculum provision, learning and teaching and support for students. Four curricular areas were evaluated: Business Subjects, English, Spanish and Technical Graphics/Technical Drawing. Meetings were held with staff members, management, the unitary manager, parents’ representatives and the Student Council.
The Rockwell College motto is ‘Inter mutanda Constantia’ or ‘constancy in the midst of change’. While containing two apparently contradictory elements, both ideas are valued and pursued in the life of the school, which displays a dynamic approach towards the challenges it encounters, while maintaining a sense of its own particular identity and history.
The school is a Catholic, co-educational school and aspires to be a place where boys and girls can grow and develop in a caring and supportive environment. These values are evident in the welcoming and friendly atmosphere which has been created by management and staff. They are further reflected in the positive and lively aspect of the student population. The Catholic ethos is also strongly expressed through the presence of a number of Holy Ghost fathers on the teaching staff, along with the support of other Holy Ghost fathers who preside over a number of liturgical services during the year. The school chapel is a further powerful physical reminder of the Catholic nature of the school and there are regular retreats organised by religion teachers and the chaplain.
Another aspiration of the mission statement is that the college would seek to respect the rights and uniqueness of each pupil, as well as promoting respect for civil authorities and a concern and care for one another. These qualities can be seen in the daily interactions of members of the college community, along with the open and inclusive approach adopted by management towards staff and students. There is a well-developed pastoral care system and a comprehensive sports curriculum. The commitment of staff to these areas of school life is clear to see. An interesting strategy used in the promotion of a caring attitude between students for one another is the role of senior prefects in watching over junior years in the school. Further expressions of the college’s emphasis on catering to the unique needs of each student can be seen in the numerous adaptations made to the school curriculum in recent years, along with the commitment shown by management to the creation and development of an education-support team to cater for the special educational needs of students.
The evaluation took place at a significant juncture in the development of the management of the school. Up to this point in the school’s history there has been a unitary manager. This manager has always been a Holy Ghost father, referred to as the president of the college. The manager is to be replaced in the very near future by a board of management. The composition of the board is to follow the structure which is normal in voluntary secondary schools, that is, there are to be two representatives of the teaching staff, two parents’ representatives and four members appointed by the trustees. This report will focus on the arrangements pertaining to the management of the school up to this point, while highlighting possible routes to be pursued in the future by the new board.
The current unitary manager of the school was appointed at the beginning of the 2004 school year. This appointment was to last two years and has been extended slightly until the board can be put in place. On arrival, the main aims of the manager, who is a past pupil of the school, were to make an evaluation of Rockwell College, to forward a strategy for development in collaboration with the principal, and to prepare for the advent of a board. The manager was to report to the patron regarding each of these responsibilities. The ending of the unitary manager arrangement was instigated by the patron, due to the limited personnel available in the congregation. The creation of a board was viewed as the most inclusive and democratic option to replace the unitary manager.
Communication between the principal and the unitary manager has been good. On the arrival of the current unitary manager, weekly meetings between the two were organised with an ‘open agenda’ in order to facilitate communication and planning. Meetings with the different heads of departments connected with the running of the plant, such as catering and the hostel, were also organised on a regular basis. One of the key advances made during the last two years has been the rationalising of some of the principal’s duties so that more supports could be put in place for his role as senior manager on the site. A director of the hostel was appointed, as was a director of boarders. The manager has also supported the Rockwell Going Forward fundraising campaign and development planning initiative which is seen as central to the continued development of the school.
The unitary manager has been conscious of the need to respect the principal’s role in the day-to-day running of the school and has sought to operate in the same manner as might be expected of a board. While the manager has maintained a presence at staff meetings, essentially he has viewed his role as being concerned with the areas of fundraising and development, while acknowledging the right of parents and staff to raise issues with him should they desire to do so. Appointments of new staff and posts of responsibility have been delegated to the principal. School policies have generally been created ‘from the ground up’ and the unitary manager has then discussed them with the principal. The Des Places Education Office has also provided support in this area. The unitary manager has maintained communication with the patron regarding developments in the school.
The school has planned to provide training for the incoming members of the board. Training is to be delivered by the Joint Managerial Body and there will also be contributions from the patron. This is very positive and is to be commended. It is recommended that the new board of management should be actively involved in the school community. The board should seek to incorporate the views of, and facilitate communication between, all groups in the school community. It is further recommended that the board should have formalised procedures for reporting to the different education partners in the school, in accordance with section 20 of the Education Act, 1998 and that it should be active in supporting the characteristic spirit of the college. The creation of a board is a very positive development, particularly given its capacity to further extend the awareness of roles and responsibilities among the various members of the school community.
There is a highly effective senior management team. The principal has a clear educational vision and is successfully implementing that vision. He is ably supported in this by the deputy principal. The senior management team work very well together, have a strong team spirit and communicate regularly on both a formal and an informal basis. The principal and deputy principal meet several times each day. There is a very strong sense that both members of the senior management team are available and engaged ‘on the ground’ in the school. Both the principal and the deputy principal display a tireless commitment to the school, and this leadership is responded to in kind by the teaching staff.
A number of methods are used to communicate with different sections of the school community. There are regular informal communications between senior management and staff and the deputy principal regularly discusses particular students with staff. Announcements are made to staff at break times. Notices are posted in the staffroom on the ‘today’ noticeboard. Written notices are also sent to relevant staff members by the principal. The availability of both principal and deputy principal to students and staff through their consistent presence on the school corridors is particularly striking, providing both support and leadership through positive modelling of their roles.
There is a good rapport between senior management, staff and students. The principal’s style of management is to ‘involve people’. This strategy encourages a strong sense of ownership for all members of the school community with regard to many of the significant improvements which have been made over the last number of years. A clear embodiment of this partnership approach can be appreciated through the process which has led to the current infrastructural developments in the school, an achievement founded in the co-operation of the unitary manager, senior management, staff and parents. Formal, minuted staff meetings are held a number of times each term and staff have been involved in the School Development Planning process through a number of different committees.
A formal induction code has been developed for new members of staff. This code includes familiarisation of the new teacher with the school ethos, mentoring by the deputy principal and introduction to the relevant subject department. A comprehensive staff handbook has also been developed which serves as a further aid to new teachers. These induction procedures are most positive and it is commendable that they have been consolidated through their inclusion in a formal policy document.
Currently there are eight assistant principals and a programme co-ordinator with an assistant principal’s post, with eleven special duties teachers. They have a variety of responsibilities, with five of the assistant principals currently operating in the capacity of year deans. The duties attached to posts are generally well balanced and post-holders carry out their duties effectively. The posts are reviewed at the first staff meeting of every year. The principal and deputy principal also review the range of posts and attempt to match the skills of particular teachers and the needs of the school with particular posts. All of this is positive. As a further extension of the good practice which already exists in the school, it is recommended that post duties be rotated periodically in order to broaden the professional expertise of staff. This would also serve as a means of promoting and enhancing the educational leadership qualities which are already present in staff members. Furthermore, such an approach would ensure the smooth transfer of key skills and expertise essential to the running of the school between staff members. This would also allow for the creation of a pool of experience which might be drawn on in the event of staff movement into or out of the school.
There is evidence of good co-operation and collaboration between senior management and middle management. There is considerable day-to-day contact and communication. Year deans currently meet formally at the beginning of the school year and their role is discussed and reviewed at staff meetings when this is deemed necessary. As a means of further enhancing communication and collaboration and as an aid to long-term and short-term planning, it is recommended that there should be regular, formal meetings incorporating the principal, year deans, the chaplain, a representative of the education support team and the guidance counsellor. While recognising that at present there are considerable demands on the principal’s time, it is suggested that formal meetings of this nature would serve to greatly enhance the role of middle management, thereby providing significant support for senior management in the running of the school. Communication between middle and senior management might also be streamlined through the organisation of these meetings. Should scheduling these meetings prove to be a difficulty, the potential for some variation might be investigated, such as meetings for junior-cycle and senior-cycle year deans being held at separate times. An additional move towards the development of middle-management structures would be the convening of less regular formal meetings with assistant principals who do not have the role of year dean as part of their duties.
There is a code of behaviour which has been recently reviewed as part of the School Development Planning process. This code is widely distributed in the staff handbook and in students’ journals. It incorporates a positive element through the ‘notes’ system which operates on a continuous assessment basis and is reported on to parents. Alongside this, a ‘billets’ system, is linked to a series of sanctions and follow-up procedures. There is also a suspensions and expulsions policy to deal with serious or persistent instances of indiscipline. The chaplain maintains links with the discipline system. Where students have been suspended, he and the guidance counsellor will meet with them after their return and, if a student is persistently being placed in detention, the chaplain will maintain informal links with the year dean. The work that has gone into creating the code of behaviour and the suspensions and expulsions policy is to be praised. In addition, the involvement of students in developing elements of the code of behaviour is most positive and it is recommended that a similar input be extended to other areas of school policy in the future. It is suggested that the chaplain’s and guidance counsellor’s roles should be formally incorporated into the code of behaviour and the school policy on suspensions and expulsions. This suggestion is made with a strong acknowledgement of the very good disciplinary climate which currently permeates the school.
There is an admissions/enrolment policy which has been ratified by the unitary manager. This is positive. The policy describes the college as a voluntary secondary school and notes the seven-day boarding, five-day boarding, day boarding, day students and overseas boarding options. The policy goes on to state that a request for information regarding applicants’ religion will be made during the enrolment process. This request is based on a practical need on the school’s part to cater for the specific needs of students from different denominations, particularly in the area of dietary requirements, given the school’s multicultural character. Nevertheless, it is suggested that the reasons for this request might be set out more clearly in the policy. With regard to the policy’s statements on the circumstances surrounding refusal to enrol a student, where such a refusal arises, the criteria involved in making such a decision should be clear and transparent. Equally, the statement in the policy regarding the school’s capacity to provide for all learning needs except in the event of limited resources should be revisited. In light of these concerns, it is recommended that the admissions/enrolment policy be reviewed and adjusted in order to more fully comply with the requirements of the Education Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000. The development of clear and transparent criteria with regard to admission should also be applied to the school’s Repeat Leaving Certificate policy. It should be stated that this recommendation is based on a concern that the policy should reflect more accurately what is actually happening ‘on the ground’ with regard to enrolment of students. The principal states that the school operates an ‘open door’ policy and there has been a clear commitment to developing provision for students with special educational needs in the recent past.
Beyond this, while it is recognised that the school communicates through the ‘fees letter’ with parents every year regarding the option for students to avail solely of free tuition, it is recommended that the school’s participation in the free scheme should be reflected in the documentation surrounding enrolment. In particular, this should be the case with regard to the admissions/enrolment policy and the final confirmation of reservation form contained in Appendix III of the policy and included in the school prospectus. This adjustment should incorporate a wider explanation of the different options available than is currently the case in the admissions policy so that a ‘cascade’ effect is achieved. Thus, the option of enrolling as a student in the free scheme should be set out first, followed by the day-boarding option which would, in turn, be followed by the full boarding option. The policy should make clear that none of the aforementioned categories will be prioritised over one another when accepting students for admission. This ‘cascade’ effect should be carried through to the final confirmation of reservation form. This form and the admissions policy should also make clear that students opting for participation in the free scheme are not obliged to pay a registration fee and that this fee only applies to those who are seeking to partake in the day-boarding and boarding options.
There is a post of responsibility for student attendance and regulations with regard to student absences are set out in the staff handbook. Monitoring of student absenteeism is effective and in line with the requirements of the Education Welfare Act. The National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) statistics show that the number of students absent for twenty days is low. The school maintains links with a range of external agencies besides the NEWB. Amongst these are included the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO). The service from NEPS has been somewhat limited recently due to the transfer of the school’s educational psychologist. The school also has links with local businesses through the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), as well as a number of local groups which utilise the school’s facilities for a variety of activities.
There is open and ongoing communication with parents and there is evidence of strong parental links with the school. Parents played a key role in the current infrastructural developments, both in identifying areas for improvement, fundraising and at later stages in the process. This is very positive. The principal meets with all new students and their parents prior to their attending the school. Year Masses provide further opportunities for management and teachers to create links with students’ parents. A number of other strategies are used to ensure good communication with parents, including the school website, letters, the school journal, school reports, the monthly notes system and parent/teacher meetings. The school calendar is distributed to parents at the beginning of the school year. Beyond this, parents are regularly provided with information regarding upcoming events in the school and may contact year deans at designated times. A particularly encouraging development is the planned creation of a parents’ association in the near future, following on the formation of the board of management. This association should serve to further enhance the very positive role which parents currently play as part of the school community. It is recommended that, when it is formed, the parents’ association should make contact with its representative national organisation.
The school currently has a staffing allocation from the Department of Education and Science of 35.54 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE). This allocation includes the ex-quota posts of principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor and a .5 WTE allocation for learning support. There are also curricular concessions to support the teaching and learning process, along with allocations for resource hours and students for whom English is a second language. Beyond this, the school pays for some additional teaching hours in order to supplement the Department of Education and Science allocation.
A senior member of staff takes responsibility for the creation of the school timetable, under the direction of the principal and the deputy principal. Senior management approach timetabling as a key support to curricular development which continuously evolves from year to year. Teachers are allocated to classes appropriately, with due cognisance of the needs of the school and of its students. The school and senior management are supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development and have forwarded the planning process through the involvement of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A staff handbook is produced each year, covering areas such as the school calendar, the code of behaviour, the roles of year deans and class tutors and attendance policy. This is a worthwhile endeavour.
Given the school’s long history, it is to be expected that the need for renewal of some facilities has become a priority in the recent past. The involvement in, and commitment to, the current redevelopment of significant parts of the college on the part of the unitary manager, senior management, staff and parents is most praiseworthy and has resulted in significant updating of the school’s facilities. The Rockwell Going Forward project has been divided into three phases, with phase one already completed. This phase has included the refurbishment of the former Agricultural College building and its redesignation as an accommodation facility for seven-day boarders, along with a new accommodation facility for five-day boarders, new finance offices, a surgery and sick bay. Phase two of the work was almost completed at the time of the evaluation and, again, presents some impressive advances for the college infrastructure. Included are a new multi-purpose hall which will be the focal point for cultural activities in the school such as musicals, plays and concerts, a new art and craft studio, new classrooms and a lift. A major part of this phase of the redevelopment has been the building of a multi-purpose, all weather, floodlit pitch for hockey, an all-weather training area and the upgrading of the tennis courts. Anticipated improvements as part of phase three of the project are the creation of two new science laboratories, a guidance suite, new computer/library facilities and a fully equipped construction studies/materials technology room. At present there is one computer room, with additional Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities being provided for boarders. In the context of the continued expansion of ICT facilities, it is suggested that the professional development of staff in the area of ICT should continue to be facilitated and encouraged whenever possible. This should be particularly emphasised with regard to the potential impact of ICT on the ‘technical core’ of the school – teaching and learning.
There are three science laboratories in the school. The two modern laboratories are situated in the Crehan building, while the Physics laboratory is situated in the main school. These facilities were viewed during the evaluation. A preparation and storage area adjoins both the Biology and Chemistry laboratories. Good work has been done in storing equipment and materials in this area, chemicals being stored according to the correct storage classifications and DES guidelines. However, it is recommended that, in line with best practice, a flame-resistant press should be purchased. A number of issues with regard to these two laboratories and store were identified during the visit. There are no isolation switches for the gas/electricity supplies in the Chemistry or Biology laboratories and the chemical store is not vented. These matters need to be addressed.
It is noteworthy that teachers have endeavoured to overcome the poor facilities in the Physics laboratory by putting a good level of equipment in place to support the teaching and learning of the sciences. This laboratory has no fume cupboard, no isolation switches for the gas/electricity supplies and no chemical store. Consequently, chemicals are stored in the laboratory. It is acknowledged that this laboratory and the now defunct laboratory, which is currently being used as a classroom, will be replaced in phase three of Rockwell Going Forward. However, it is recommended that measures be taken in the interim, similar to the work done in the other storage area, to address the chemical storage in this laboratory. Management is commended on its commitment to the continuing improvement to the education facilities in Rockwell.
In the context of the weights room, the principal states that students are supervised at all times when using the facility. This is entirely appropriate and is an arrangement which should be continued. There is currently a health and safety statement for the college. Considering the changing face of the college infrastructure, it is recommended that a review of the health and safety statement be undertaken.
The school has been actively involved in the development of a range of policies, with support from the School Development Planning Initiative, for a number of years. Action committees were formed and this has resulted in the production of a range of policies, amongst which are included the following: Code of Behaviour; Health and Safety Policy; Admissions Policy; Transition Year Policy; Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy; Bullying Policy; Uniform Policy; Special Educational Needs Policy; and a Substance Use Policy.
In addition, a guidance plan has begun to be developed. The commitment of senior management and staff to the development of these documents is to be praised. A further and still more impressive achievement of the School Development Planning process has been the progress achieved to date as part of the ‘Rockwell Going Forward’ building programme. The involvement of staff in identifying priorities for infrastructural development is laudable. This commitment was further added to through staff involvement in the finance and research side of the project. The collaborative approach taken to bringing the initial plans to their current stage of development is to be roundly applauded.
Recent work on the developmental element of the school plan has focused on the creation of a subject-department and subject-planning structure. This work has been underway for just over a year. Subject co-ordinators have been appointed in all subjects and subject plans have been developed. Senior management has afforded time for formal subject departmental planning. Staff are to be praised for their enthusiastic commitment to building on the good collaborative relationships which are already present, as a means of further enhancing teaching and learning. It is suggested that, in the future, when subject plans are being advanced, ICT should be used in order to facilitate adjustment and review. As a further support to the curricular planning process, it is recommended that staff should continue their pursuit of in-service training opportunities in the areas of teaching and learning. Such opportunities can be accessed through the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) and a variety of models exist through which teachers may avail of these courses, including whole-school support, school visits for individual teachers or teams of teachers and modular courses aimed at individual teachers. The benefits of such training might be further extended through the use of assigned departmental or whole-staff meeting time for the dissemination of new ideas garnered by participants. Such feedback might then suggest directions in which the relevant department, or the entire school, could seek to extend its current practice. It is suggested that a potentially lucrative area which might be explored on a whole-staff basis with regard to curricular planning is that of assessment. The adoption of a unified approach to this key element of the teaching and learning process on the part of all subject departments would prove most beneficial. A useful resource in this endeavour can be found in the assessment for learning area of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
Given the significant progress to date on both the permanent and developmental aspects of the school plan, it is suggested that a number of folders containing the permanent parts of the school plan, along with current progress in the developmental aspects of the plan, might be organised. These could then be made available to the various partners and in the staffroom, in order to provide the whole-school community with a sense of the undoubted progress being achieved on each section of the plan.
Up to this point, a relatively informal approach towards the ratification of policy documents has been utilised. The principal states that it is expected that all policies will be reviewed and ratified by the Board in the next year and it is recommended that this formal approach be adopted. This process should not be viewed as necessitating an onerous reworking of existing policies which are seen to be working well, but might, in some instances, be approached as an opportunity to seek input from a number of the education partners, such as the student council and the soon-to-be-established parents’ council, where appropriate. A necessary adjustment to all policies should be the addition of a review date when they will next be considered, in light of the contemporary school context.
A school development planning co-ordinator has been appointed and it is anticipated that the co-ordinator will attend in-service training courses on school planning with the principal. This is very positive, encouraging the wider dispersal of leadership skills and responsibilities. The co-ordinator should work to agree areas for development with staff, management, student and parent input. Where a document is being prepared, progress should be tracked until it is agreed and ratified by the board. With the permanent section of the plan already at an advanced stage, there is now potential to focus on the developmental section, alongside the subject planning process. The development of the guidance plan should be viewed as a priority in this regard. The developmental element of the school plan should be advanced through the setting of short, medium and long-term objectives and action plans, together with timeframes for their achievement. In making these suggestions, the considerable commitment already displayed to the School Development Planning process on the part of all members of the school community is recognised, alongside an acknowledgement that priorities should be set by staff and management in a graduated, manageable way.
Beyond the current policies in situ, it is recommended that the school should develop an Irish exemptions policy, acknowledging its adherence to circular letter M10/94. It is accepted that this is the current practice in the school and such a policy would make the reasoning behind this approach apparent to all of the education partners with little need for elaboration.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the unitary manager 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 unitary manager has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. It is recommended that the new board consolidate the work already done in the school by adopting policies in line with the provisions of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children and the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools at the earliest opportunity.
The school communicates effectively with the education partners. It is suggested that a further extension of this good practice might include the further development of the school website as a vehicle for the publication of school policies, where appropriate. Effective circulation of the school plan within the wider school community is central to partnership and this would be a worthwhile development as a means of increasing transparency and accessibility.
Rockwell College offers a broad and varied curriculum, addressing the needs of the school population in a holistic and well-rounded manner. The following curricular programmes are on offer: Junior Certificate, optional Transition Year programme (TY), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Prior to the advent of a board of management, the unitary manager viewed the area of curricular provision as being primarily the domain of the principal and staff. The range of subjects and programmes offered in the college is broad and balanced and suggests a constant awareness on the part of management of the need to ensure a match between the curriculum and the interests and needs of students, both male and female. The college is considering the inclusion of a second technology subject as part of the curriculum in the near future. The attitude of the college is also welcoming towards requests regarding changes in the curriculum on the part of parents. This is most commendable.
The school timetable provides the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. Following a detailed analysis of the timetable supplied to the evaluation team in advance of the WSE, a number of points are made. It is noteworthy that the total time allocated weekly for instruction, for all year groups, complied with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science Circular Letter M29/95. Whole-school support with regard to timetabling provision is good in almost all cases. While the impact of the subject ‘taster’ system is evident in some subjects in first year, subjects are generally provided with an adequate time allocation. An exception is made in the case of Technical Graphics, which is timetabled on a modular basis opposite Physical Education in first year. In this instance, the limited time available to the subject in first year is not sufficient with regard to the teaching of the syllabus. A further and allied observation is to be made with regard to the timetabling of Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme link modules in fifth year and sixth year which are scheduled opposite the provision for Physical Education for these year groups. It is recommended that the provision of Physical Education on a regular basis to all students in the senior cycle and in first year should be re-examined. In making this recommendation, however, it must be stated that provision for sport in the school is excellent and the great majority of students participate in sporting activities during the week. Nevertheless, this recommendation is based on the key distinction between Physical Education and school sport, along with the recommendations regarding Physical Education to be found in Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. SPHE and CSPE are each provided with one period per week in each of the three years of the junior cycle and this is appropriate.
All classes in first year are of mixed ability. The same arrangement obtains in second year and third year, apart from Irish and Mathematics classes. In the latter two cases, classes are organised on the basis of whether students are taking higher or ordinary level in the Junior Certificate examination. Transition Year classes are of mixed ability and this is appropriate in light of the aspirations of the Programme. Classes in fifth and sixth year are of mixed ability in most subjects. However, Irish, English and Mathematics classes are set according to student ability.
There is a well-planned Transition Year programme. Management reports that the programme was in danger of being discontinued a number of years ago but that recently its fortunes have revived considerably. This is most clearly evidenced through the significant increase in student numbers participating in the programme over the last four years. Credit for these advances is due in no small part, to the co-ordinator, along with the commitment of the wider staff body to the success of the programme. The Transition Year programme is supported by subject-planning documents. This is positive. Subject departments are referred to the document Writing the Transition Year Programme as a support in the continued development of these plans. This is available on the website of the Transition Year Support Service at www.transitionyear.ie.
There is a well-managed approach to students’ entry to the Transition Year programme. The co-ordinator meets third-year students twice prior to their making the choice of whether to continue their studies in fifth year or to take part in Transition Year. Parents are also informed of the benefits of participating in the Transition Year programme during the third-year subject choice evening in April of each year. This evening follows results from students’ mock examinations and their participation in aptitude testing. There is an application procedure for entry to Transition Year which is informed by the behaviour records of students, student interviews and staff input with regard to the suitability of particular students for the programme. On the very rare occasions when students are refused admission to Transition Year, an appeals process has been set out in the school’s Transition Year policy document. It is suggested that, as part of the policy the school should include that appeals are to be heard by the principal or the board, in the interests of fair procedure and in order to ensure due adherence to any legislative imperatives which may obtain.
The co-ordinator seeks student evaluations of the Transition Year programme each year. This reflective practice with regard to the programme is laudable. A further extension of this worthwhile practice might be the formalisation of these procedures through a simple questionnaire, as can be found in the evaluation area of the Transition Year Support Service website. Formal evaluations of students’ work experience are conducted by their employers as part of the Transition Year programme and this is to be commended, along with the use of work journals by students themselves to record their impressions of the world of work. The Transition Year programme has been adapted regularly to offer students new experiences, so that elements such as a two-day ‘song school’, a driving-skills day and a film studies/making class are now incorporated into the programme. This is praiseworthy.
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is well established in the college. Again, its success is evidenced through the high uptake of the programme by students. There is evidence of a well-structured programme, which includes use of information and communications technology (ICT) by students, visiting speakers, mock interviews, work experience and visits to local businesses. It is commendable that timetabling for the link modules in the programme is arranged around double periods, thus ensuring that the activities essential to the teaching of the programme can be undertaken with minimum disruption. The link modules are currently allocated two class periods in fifth year and two class periods in sixth year. This falls short of the recommended three periods in Year 1 of the programme and two periods in Year 2. However, teachers report that this is somewhat offset by the arrangement whereby students are facilitated in accessing the school’s ICT facilities for one of these double periods on a fortnightly basis. Consequently, it is recommended that the link between the LCVP modules and the ICT facilities be maintained. The possibility of further extending the time allocated to the link modules should also be investigated, if practicable. Teachers involved in the delivery of the LCVP link modules have shown a significant commitment to their continuing professional development and this is to be commended.
The wide curricular range in junior cycle is divided into core and optional subjects. All junior cycle students study a core curriculum of Irish, English, Mathematics, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), History, Geography, Business Studies, Physical Education (PE), Science, Religion and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). First-year students also study all of the option subjects through a ‘taster’ system, including French, German, Music, Art and Home Economics. The exception to this is Technical Graphics, which is currently sampled by first-year students through a modular system, in tandem with Physical Education. This allows for the study of Technical Graphics in a double period for two four-week modules. The provision of a subject-‘taster’ system in first year is commendable as it assists students in making informed choices for their Junior Certificate.
There is a support system which further aids students and parents in making subject choices for the Junior Certificate course. Students are expected to choose two subjects from French, German, Music, Art and Home Economics but are strongly advised to maintain the study of at least one language. The guidance counsellor discusses subject choices with students during the year. A statement is issued by the college to parents around April, advising the choice of a language, along with the need to delay a final decision on subject choice until they have analysed students’ summer examination results for first year. The college operates a ‘best-fit’ model for subject choice and this is laudable as it is a student-centred approach.
Support for the subject-selection process in third year and Transition Year is provided in a number of guises. The guidance counsellor meets third-year classes on a number of occasions and provides them with a career interest inventory and, possibly, an ability test. Many of the third-year students also meet with the guidance counsellor on an individual basis for subject-choice advice. Transition Year students are provided with a guidance programme through a class period every week. Part of this programme involves the drawing up of personal profiles and the discussion of subject choice. A ‘taster’ system, similar to the one operated in first year, is also employed in Transition Year to afford students the opportunity to experience Leaving Certificate subjects prior to making a definitive choice with regard to senior cycle. A subject-choice evening is arranged for parents of third-year and Transition Year students. An extensive subject booklet is distributed at this evening and this is amended every year. Again, a ‘best-fit’ model is employed, with students choosing four subjects from seventeen optional subjects provided: Home Economics, History, Geography, Art, Accounting, Business Studies, Economics, Music, French, German, Spanish, Technical Drawing, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Applied Mathematics and Agricultural Science. These arrangements are commendable. The use of a ‘taster’ system in the Transition Year is particularly noted as an example of very good practice. The provision of a subject-choice evening for parents is also to be commended and it is recommended that this practice be extended to include a similar arrangement for parents of first-year students making subject choices.
The school provides an extensive range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities for day boarders and boarders. They are well organised and take place from four o’clock to five o’clock every week day, apart from Wednesdays, when the entire afternoon is devoted to these activities. A strong emphasis on the development of the whole person is evident in the programme offered, which provides experiences of a sporting, cultural, social and spiritual nature. Among the activities offered are included rugby, hockey, basketball, soccer, swimming and life-saving lessons, golf, athletics, tennis, canoeing and equestrian events. Cultural activities include choral and musical presentations, art competitions, drama and debating, while year Masses and retreats are also regularly organised.
There is a gamesmaster who assumes responsibilities associated with the co-ordination of the numerous rugby, hockey, basketball and soccer fixtures with other schools. Amongst these arrangements are included the ordering of buses, co-ordinating of referees, repair of sports equipment, arranging for meals and tea for visiting school teams and the promotion of games in the school. This latter area is attended to through the regular publishing of a games report and results of games are communicated to students and staff via noticeboards. There are specific noticeboards for year groups, debating and sports. There is also communication with senior management regarding the games programme. The gamesmaster also organises entry to competitions for the less mainstream sports such as badminton, swimming and chess.
The huge commitment of teachers to organising the extracurricular programme must be noted. The outstanding efforts of the staff in devoting their time and energy to the further holistic development of students can only be roundly applauded.
Formal subject department planning has been assisted by the school’s involvement in the school development planning process. In the four subject areas inspected, planning and preparation for teaching and learning was good. The school management is commended for the provision made for regular and formal department meetings throughout the school year. Interdepartmental and cross-curricular communication is a feature of the school. In instances where the department consists of one teacher, long-term formal subject planning is devised in collaboration with other teachers who similarly are the only teachers of their respective subjects in the school. In the case of languages, the language faculty meets as a specific planning group. This sharing of ideas outside the specific subject area is very good practice. There is also regular informal contact between the subject teachers throughout the year to offer support and to share resources.
Well-developed subject plans, arrived at by consultation, support the teaching and learning process in each of the four subjects evaluated. These schedules, which are set down on a year-by-year basis, are broadly in line with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. In some instances, these coherent programmes of work could be enhanced further by addressing items such as teaching and learning strategies, timeframes, and the resources employed. It is important to remember that any plan that is created will require regular review and should be modified to meet the needs of the students. Lessons observed were, without exception, well planned.
In each of the four subjects evaluated a good standard of teaching and learning was seen. Lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. Teaching methodologies and resources were varied to accommodate the different learning styles of students and to maintain students’ interest. The educational needs of individual students were addressed, with lesson content suited to individual students’ learning needs. Lesson objectives and learning outcomes were clear and, in some cases, shared with students at the outset, which is recommended practice.
An impressive array of resources has been amassed and these were effectively used and integrated into lessons by the teachers. Activities were varied and included teacher presentation, one-to-one questioning, worksheets, group work, effective blackboard work, use of the overhead projector, flashcards, speech cards, television, tapes and DVDs. The use of the overhead projector was commended in several subject areas and some suggestions are given for its further use. The introduction of new materials and exploitation of vocabulary and ideas through visual prompts and concrete resources was evident in some lessons seen and is commended. Recommendations are made for further development of these, particularly in the languages, to appeal to the learning styles of those students who learn and respond better to visual material. Information and communications technology (ICT) is seen as an area for development and recommendations are given in the individual reports for its further incorporation into the different subject areas. More details of subject-specific examples of resources used can be found in the individual subject inspection reports.
Questioning was frequently used to consolidate and review learning and to assess students’ progress. Very good practice was observed in several subject areas in relation to questions tailored to students of different ability levels, thereby affirming individual students’ achievement. Pacing of lessons was set at a level that maximised learning outcomes while suited to the ability range within the class. A strong emphasis was placed on the integration of new material with students’ previous learning and continuity with previous lessons was evident, both from lesson content and from students’ work seen.
Some good examples of strategies to foster active learning were in evidence. It was obvious that pair work and group work were regular features in some classrooms. In other lessons however, while it was commendable that there were some examples of active learning methodologies, it is strongly recommended that further strategies to encourage active learning be introduced and developed both at junior and senior cycle, to maximise individual student participation and to encourage autonomous learning. Activities which encourage independent learning skills and autonomous, rather than teacher-led, learning are to be encouraged.
In all cases, skilled management of classroom activities ensured a pleasant and productive atmosphere which was conducive to learning and where students’ efforts were affirmed. Interactions between students and teachers were at all times positive and mutual respect and trust were evident. Teachers circulated around the classrooms to provide help and encouragement as needed. Humour was, on occasion, used as an effective management tool. Displays of posters, students’ projects, maps, and other subject-related material, and the provision of bookcases, magazine racks and noticeboards, provided a rich learning environment for the subjects and this is commended and encouraged.
The level of engagement of students was generally very high. Students’ willingness to respond and to participate in classroom activities was noted and commended. Spontaneous note-taking was also in evidence and, in general, students’ copybooks were well organised. Overall, students’ achievement was of a high standard and this was evidenced both by their responses in class and work seen in copybooks and folders. Students displayed an enthusiasm and curiosity for the different subjects and, when questioned, showed an understanding and knowledge of the subjects commensurate with expectations.
The assessment modes in place in the school include bi-annual, formal in-house examinations for all year groups at Christmas and in the summer. In addition, those students who are participating in the State examinations in the current year sit mock examinations. A range of less formal assessment modes was encountered in the subjects visited in the course of the evaluation. These modes included class tests and assessments, both regular and organised at the teacher’s discretion. In general the combination of formal examinations, regular class tests and assessment of class work and homework was commended as an indication of good assessment practice.
In subjects which are studied by more than one class group in a year cohort, it may be desirable for common house examinations to be set. In particular, in the case of mixed-ability groups and where the subject teaching team follows an agreed programme, common tests and marking schemes would allow for the comparison of an individual student’s achievement with the performance of the whole year cohort. It is recommended that subject departments consider the introduction and co-ordination of common examinations.
In general there was a good deployment of informal assessment and affirmation of work. While good standards of student work were often encountered, it is recommended, in some instances, that more attention be paid to the presentation of work. This might be achieved through an agreed approach to the area within subject plans and departments.
In each of the subjects included in the evaluation, homework was regularly assigned, generally completed by the students and was monitored and corrected by the teachers concerned. Good practice was noted in particular in a number of subjects evaluated, where corrections were comment-based, facilitating the students’ progress. It is advised, where not already the norm, that teachers’ review of homework should include comments to indicate to students how they might improve their work. Good practice was observed in one subject where peer correction by students of each other’s work was employed effectively.
There was evidence of commendably systematic record keeping, in particular of records of students’ assessment outcomes. Records of daily attendance were also kept. In some instances there was little evidence of records of the review of homework being kept systematically and it is advised that teachers consider how this recording might be achieved. Where assessment of students’ work and topic tests are, commendably, aggregated with house-examination results, it is recommended that the weighting of these assessments and examination marks be stated in advance and that students be given constant feedback on their progress to help to increase their motivation further.
Contact with parents and communication of student assessments is supported formally at parent-teacher meetings, which are held annually for each year group, and by means of school reports issued following formal examinations. The ‘notes’ system is a further aid in communicating students’ progress and application to parents, issuing on a monthly basis. It is further commended that teachers are encouraged to communicate with parents weekly by means of students’ journals.
The school has displayed a significant commitment to developing provision for students with special educational needs in recent years. Provision for special educational needs is good. An education-support team has been formed and this is of an appropriate size, currently consisting of five teachers. The Special Educational Needs policy has been recently revised. Initially the plan was developed by members of the education-support team and research was carried out based on policies which were being implemented in other schools. Further revisions occurred following a subject inspection in the school. This work is to be commended. The school is encouraged to continue to maintain a reflective attitude towards planning in this area and it is suggested that, as a support for this approach, the current Special Educational Needs policy should incorporate a review date. A most valuable recent addition to the education-support team has been a former staff member who supports some students in their study of the German and Irish courses. There is strong leadership in the education-support team. There is a special educational needs co-ordinator. The co-ordinator’s duties include timetabling learning-support and resource classes, analysing students’ performances in the school’s entrance assessment, organising reasonable accommodations for the State examinations, arranging meetings of the education-support team and maintaining communication with parents of students in receipt of learning support or resource hours.
Senior management is very supportive of the education-support team. A resource room has been allocated in the last year for use in the teaching of students with special educational needs. One of the members of the education-support team has been facilitated in attending a postgraduate course, despite some inconvenience to the everyday running of the school. Other members of the education-support team have also undertaken courses in the area of special educational needs. Further professional development for members of the education-support team, and the wider staff, may be accessed through the Special Education Support Service (SESS) the website of which can be found at www.sess.ie, and through the Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe (ICEP Europe), formerly named Profexcel. Equally, the considerable expertise currently being built up through links with third-level institutions on the part of staff members themselves, should be viewed as a lucrative resource for the informing and development of the wider staff body. Representatives of the education-support team meet regularly with the principal in relation to their work. Meetings of the team are organised a number of times each year, on both a formal and an informal basis. The keeping of minutes regarding the latest meeting of the team was most positive and is a practice that should be continued. The education-support team has been allocated a slot at general staff meetings when needed in the past. It is suggested that this arrangement should be formalised to allow for planned, regular inputs on the area of special educational needs at general staff meetings. This would serve as a means of maintaining awareness among the staff regarding the different learning needs of students and of their own responsibilities towards students with special educational needs. At present there are some links between the education-support and the student-care teams. This is positive.
Students are selected for learning support on the basis of an entrance assessment for first years conducted in September of each year. This entrance assessment consists of examinations in Irish, English and Mathematics. The assessment is also used to identify those students who may be in need of further testing by a learning-support teacher in order to identify particular learning needs. Reports are also sought from students’ primary schools as a means of identifying those currently in receipt of learning-support or resource hours. Further procedures utilised in identifying students with learning-support needs include the receipt of psychological reports from parents and consultation with and referrals from subject teachers. Psychological reports are stored carefully and are only accessible to appropriate personnel – the principal, leaders of the education-support team and the guidance counsellor. This is sound practice. While acknowledging the diligence with which the arrangements for the identification of students in need of learning support are adhered to, it is suggested that, where practicable, the possibility of conducting the entrance assessment for incoming first years in the months prior to entry might be investigated. This would allow considerably more time for planning on the part of the education-support team for the needs of individual students. It is, however, recognised that the particular context of Rockwell College, with its wide catchment area and significant number of international students, makes this a considerably more problematic strategy than might normally be the case. Beyond this, it is recommended that a standardised test be incorporated as part of the screening process for all first-year students. Such assessments will yield information regarding students’ performances which is statistically more valid and reliable.
The school has been imaginative in its approach to organising classes for learning support and students with special educational needs. In many cases, significantly more time has been allocated to individual students than might otherwise be the case, had approaches like small-group withdrawal not been adopted. This is commendable. The learning-support co-ordinator reports that a current difficulty with regard to the allocation of resource hours is the unwillingness of some students entitled to these hours to participate in classes which have been organised for them using the withdrawal model generally favoured in the school. The school, nevertheless, tries to keep such hours for the student to whom they have been allocated. On occasion, however, parents of students refusing to participate in the special educational needs programme may be asked to agree to the allocation of these hours to another student in need of support. While accepting the bona fide nature of these arrangements, it is recommended that the school move to a more flexible model of provision in the area of special educational needs in order to avoid the possibility of this situation arising in the future, thus ensuring that all students entitled to resource hours from the Department of Education and Science (DES) are in receipt of these hours. Potential areas to explore include the provision of classroom support and team-teaching, alongside the present system of withdrawal. The current arrangement whereby a member of the education-support team begins with a blank timetable at the start of the school year should prove useful in supporting these strategies. The expertise of the education-support team should be accessed in planning for this move. Information on possibilities and best practice in the area of provision for special educational needs and learning support can be garnered from circular letters Sp Ed 02/05 and Sp Ed 24/03.
Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been developed for students in receipt of resource hours from the Department of Education and Science. The Special Educational Needs policy acknowledges the need for IEPs along with their potential to bolster communication between the education-support team, parents and subject teachers. All of this is praiseworthy and good practice. The recent publication, Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process, from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has been received by the school and this should further inform the development of IEPs.
There is a significant number of students from other countries attending Rockwell College. This adds considerably to the multicultural character of the school. Most of these students attend the college for a year with the learning of English as a main priority. There are, however, a number of international students who attend the school for the full junior and senior cycles. The school is inclusive with regard to international students.
There is a dean of foreign students who has responsibility for international students during the school day. The dean focuses in particular on pastoral and disciplinary matters relevant to these students. There are two periods in the week during which the dean of foreign students has arranged that she will be available should parents wish to contact her. She also makes contact with parents of international students, should the need arise. International students are facilitated in maintaining contact with their homes through use of the college internet service which is available to them in the Hall of Residence.
The intercultural character of the school is celebrated in a number of ways. At year Masses and, in particular at the final year Mass, each nation represented in the college brings forward emblems of their country. There are also prayers at Masses in students’ languages while songs from students’ cultures are performed at the Christmas concert. A further feature of the inclusive nature of the school is the regular acknowledgement of the religious festivals of other faiths represented in the student cohort. The school endeavours to ensure that boarders who share the same room are of different nationalities in a further attempt to encourage the development of an inclusive atmosphere. Attendance at Sunday Mass is strongly encouraged for all students. Students who are not Roman Catholic receive a blessing during the course of the Mass. Those students who do not wish to participate on religious grounds are expected to attend the Mass due to supervision difficulties and health and safety concerns. While accepting the practicalities which underlie these arrangements, along with the inclusive nature of the school, it is felt that alternative supervision possibilities should be explored for those students who do not wish to participate in these ceremonies on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The school is in receipt of a number of teaching hours to support students in their acquisition of English as a second language. The Oxford Quick Placement Test is administered to students to determine whether they need extra support in English language learning. The college provides Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) lessons for those international students who require additional support. This is very positive. It is recommended that, as a further support in the delivery of English as a Second Language (ESL) lessons, the college should make contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT), the website which can be located at www.iilt.ie. IILT provides training sessions and resources, including testing materials, for teachers and learners of English as a Second Language. It is further recommended that, as a support to the already good arrangements which are organised around the area of interculturalism, the school should consult the recent National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School.
There is good provision of career guidance. The school has a guidance allocation of 1.09 WTE, employing one guidance counsellor, with the other hours being allocated for guidance activities on the part of the school chaplain. The fact that some of this time is used to familiarise junior cycle students with members of the student-support team is most appropriate as a means of building the familiarity and trust necessary for the successful implementation of their guidance roles. The guidance counsellor has an office but, as part of phase three of the Rockwell Going Forward development plan, the creation of a more extensive guidance suite is envisaged in the very near future. There are many facets to the school’s guidance programme, including assessment of third-year and fifth-year students, organisation of open days, career appointments, meetings with individual students, mock interviews for sixth-year students, two career evenings and a subject-choice evening for students entering senior cycle. Students are also facilitated in using Qualifax when appropriate. The guidance counsellor has been involved in meetings with the representative of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). The guidance counsellor has a noticeboard and places notices on all student year boards.
Work has begun on creating a guidance plan. It is recommended that the guidance plan should continue to be developed as a whole-staff project, incorporating both career guidance and pastoral care as subsets of the overall plan. This work might profitably be progressed by the core student-support team. A useful resource for the support of this endeavour is the DES Inspectorate publication, Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the Implications of Section 9 (c) of the Education Act 1998, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance.
Guidance provision is delivered through a combination of timetabled guidance classes for Transition Year students, along with career and subject choice appointments, or counselling, with individual students. There is also class contact with a number of year groups, arranged with the co-operation of subject teachers. While recognising the considerable time, planning and commitment that go into the delivery of guidance through the latter, informal, arrangements, it is recommended that there should be formal, timetabled guidance classes for third-year and sixth-year classes. Such an arrangement would allow for greater facility in planning the delivery of guidance lessons to each of these year groups. While a full year of guidance lessons may not be necessary, it is suggested that consideration might be given to the provision of these formal, timetabled guidance lessons on a modular basis, where possible.
A comprehensive pastoral care system, with a sense of caring for the students, informs work at all levels in the school. This system incorporates the day school, the hostel and the boarding element. Important roles in pastoral care are occupied by senior management, class tutors, year deans, the chaplain, the guidance counsellor, subject teachers and the learning-support department. Pastoral care is also viewed as part of the duties of the director of the hostel and the director of boarders. The dean of girls and the dean of foreign students are further additions to this list, while a medical team, comprising three alternating nurses, cares for any students who may be taken ill. A nurse is also on call for the hall of residence and is present at sports fixtures, as negotiated with the gamesmaster.
As a means of consolidating the very good work being done in pastoral care, it is recommended that a core student-support team be formed. Weekly meetings should be organised, in order to enhance formal opportunities for communication between the different groups involved in the area of guidance and pastoral care. Key members of the student-support team should include the chaplain, a representative of the education-support team and the guidance counsellor, with the potential for one or, at most, two other interested members of staff to be involved. This group should take as one of its immediate focuses the further development of the pastoral care elements of the guidance plan. Elements such as a substance use policy and an anti-bullying policy are already in place, along with descriptions of the roles of year deans and class tutors. This is positive. From these foundations, further development of the plan could begin with an audit of the considerable good work currently being undertaken in the area of pastoral care, followed by a needs analysis of how the pastoral care system could be further enhanced. The involvement of the student council in this needs analysis would be of benefit. As the guidance plan evolves, the work of the team should be returned, at intervals, to senior management and the whole staff. This would allow for wider staff input, while ensuring that roles with regard to guidance and pastoral care are clearly delineated for all.
Opportunities for particular parts of the plan to be advanced by other small teams of teachers, with a particular interest in the area involved, should not be discounted. It is suggested that the student-support team should consider the creation of a critical incident management plan as part of its initial work. A useful resource in this endeavour is the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) publication Responding to Critical Incidents: Advice and Information for Schools. This document is available on the NEPS area of the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.ie.
The role of the school’s year deans is twofold, as a key stage in the notes and billets element of the discipline system and as a mentor to their year groups, advising on problems which may arise during the school day. Year deans generally oversee the same year group, thus allowing for the building up of professional expertise regarding the particular challenges faced by students at that stage in their school life. There is, however, some flexibility in these arrangements and this should be viewed as a strength. Such flexibility will allow for the further development of professional skills through the occasional rotation of year group duties, while maintaining the potential for support from colleagues who have more experience in dealing with the particular year involved. A further positive feature of the current arrangements is the teaching contact which year deans have with students in their year groups, allowing for the creation of a strong relationship with members of the year cohort. This relationship is further strengthened through monthly meetings between year deans and their year groups. Year deans are available for meetings or phone calls with parents at designated times during the week and this formal arrangement is to be praised. In addition, should an exceptional need arise, year deans will make themselves available at times other than those which have been formally set. Parents are contacted with regard to serious discipline issues by the year deans, while major breaches of discipline are dealt with by the principal and deputy principal. Communication with parents is also pursued regarding students’ performances in Christmas and summer examinations.
The role of class tutor is a voluntary position and applies only to the junior school. The commitment of staff who have assumed the role is commendable. Various issues, ranging from bullying to litter and respect for property, are discussed in a general way by tutors with their class groups. Tutors also provide a key link to parents through the weekly monitoring of students’ journals. Classes generally retain their tutor from second into third year. It is suggested that the college might investigate the possibility of extending the role of class tutor to incorporate senior cycle classes as a further addition to its already impressive pastoral care system.
The role of chaplain is integrated into the pastoral care system in the school. There is a policy statement regarding the role of the chaplain which notes that ‘chaplaincy is about people’ and that ‘being there for others is a good definition of chaplaincy.’ The chaplain is proactive in pursuing these goals through his interactions with teachers and students. First-year students are met with collectively and individually by the chaplain. These meetings facilitate an understanding on the students’ part of the chaplain’s role in the college while also serving to support students in overcoming a significant transition point in their lives. Outside speakers on various pastoral care issues are organised and school retreats, family Masses and other personal development opportunities for students are presented in co-operation with the Religious Education department. The chaplain liaises on an informal basis with the year deans, the medical team, the director of boarders, the guidance counsellor, the dean of girls and other teachers regarding difficulties being experienced by particular students. This aspect of the role is especially commendable, linking as it does to all of the different parts of the college which have an influence on the pastoral care of students.
Beyond the aforementioned roles, a number of posts are in existence in the college connected to its continuing identity as a boarding school. The halls of residence are managed by the Director of Boarders. This is a relatively new position and involves the drawing up of rosters for supervisors, responsibility for discipline, contact with parents, maintenance, organising transport and arranging accommodation for overseas students on free weekends and holidays.
Boarders are supervised during the week and at weekends by a number of deans. In all, there are seven deans who rotate their duties. At night, one dean stays in the seven-day boarders’ residence, along with a ‘gap-year’ student, while another dean stays until ‘lights out.’ In the five-day boarders’ residence, a dean and a ‘gap-year’ student from New Zealand have night-time supervision duties. The director of boarders remains on call in case of emergencies and is also ‘on the ground’ for much of the school day. At weekends activities such as cookery, arts and crafts and various sports are organised for boarders.
The director of the hostel has responsibility for students from the end of the school day to their departure at 8:15 pm. He is assisted in this by the dean of studies who is also the dean of girls. In collaboration with the principal, they ensure an adequate employment of staff to supervise the school property and the study halls. Students are provided with instruction in the area of study skills as an aid to their garnering the maximum benefit possible from the period they spend in study. A study skills policy is set out in students’ journals.
A student council has been in existence since 1972. This is elected on a democratic basis. A member of the teaching staff acts as co-ordinator for the student council as part of her post-holder duties. The council has an executive board comprising a seventh-year student, two sixth-year students, two fifth-year students and a Transition Year student. There is a system of representatives for the junior school. A congress involving both groups is organised once a term. The executive board meets approximately every three weeks. Prefects are also elected from amongst the sixth-year students and these act as liaisons between the members of the executive and year representatives in the junior school. Prefects eat in the junior refectory a number of times each week in order to encourage younger students to talk to them about relevant issues. Furthermore, prefects are invited to visit evening study halls and to meet with groups of twenty from the year groups they are responsible for, in order to discuss issues which are of relevance to the year group at a particular time. The prefects are, in turn, afforded an opportunity to raise issues relating to the junior school at meetings of the executive. Prefects also play a pastoral-care role, and contact the chaplain if an issue regarding a younger student arises that concerns them. This is very worthwhile and it is recommended that this link between prefects and the student care team be formalised through inclusion in the school guidance plan.
The student council has been involved in a number of areas of school life in the recent past. These include input on changes in the school uniform, the organising of a number of school uniform days, along with changes in the cafeteria menus and a revamp of the senior common room. All of this is praiseworthy and it is recommended that these endeavours be extended in the future to incorporate a more proactive involvement on the part of the student council in policy formulation in the college, where appropriate. This would increase students’ sense of ownership of school policies, while also encouraging awareness among the student body of their anticipated role as active citizens in society. Training has been provided for the student council in the past and it is recommended that opportunities for training for current and future councils be explored so that student council members might better understand their role. A particularly noteworthy aspect of students’ involvement in the college is the development of the college website. This most praiseworthy endeavour might be further enhanced through the inclusion of a ‘button’ giving access to information regarding the current activities of the council.
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.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
We accept the report as a fair assessment of the character and attainments of Rockwell College. We are pleased that it acknowledges with approval the aspirations as expressed in our motto and mission statement, the quality of management structures in place, the strategy for future development, the measure of teaching practice pursued, the curricular and extra-curricular facilities available and above all, the standard of care which we provide for our students.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
In School Management (P6) formal meetings incorporating the Principal, Deputy Principal, Year Deans, Chaplain, support team representative and Guidance Counsellor are planned from Easter 2007.
The Enrolment Policy is being reviewed and revised in accordance with recommendations on Page 7.
The School website is being developed to include publication of school policies (page 11).
The introduction and co-ordination of common examinations is to be considered by all faculties (page 16).
The Education- support team will be provided with a formal slot at general staff meetings to provide input on the area of special educational needs (page 17).
A standardised test will be incorporated into the screening process for all first year pupils (page 18).
Formal Guidance classes will be provided to 3rd & 6th year classes (page 20).
The link between prefects and the student care team will be formalised through inclusion in the school guidance plan.
The school Health & Safety plan will be reviewed.
Middle Management structures are being reviewed (page 6). The school services support team have been engaged to provide staff inservice (Friday March 16th – 2.30 – 4.30pm).
Subject Inspections: The school service support team have been engaged to provide support in the area of Teaching Methodology, Assessment (page 5 – Business Subjects Inspection), review of students’ work (page 6).
Facilities for CAD teaching related to Technical Graphics /Drawing are planned. CAD teaching is now taking place.
Applicants to Transition Year may appeal refusal through a formal appeal procedure which includes the Principal (page 12).
Transition year students will be invited to evaluate the course content to provide data for course review (page 12).