An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Ardscoil na Tríonóide

Athy, County Kildare

Roll number: 68077S

 

Date of inspection: 22 February 2009

 

 

 

 

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 Ardscoil na Tríonóide was undertaken in February 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects and in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects and programmes. (See section 7 for details).

The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Ardscoil na Tríonóide is a coeducational Catholic voluntary secondary school, resulting from the amalgamation of Scoil Eoin Christian Brothers’ secondary school and Scoil Mhuire Mercy secondary school. Until May 2007, the school operated under the trusteeship of the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers. It now enjoys the patronage of Ceist (Catholic Education an Irish Schools Trust).

 

The school draws its students from a number of primary schools in the town of Athy and the surrounding area. The school provides a broad and balanced educational experience for its students and welcomes students from a wide variety of social, cultural and educational backgrounds.  

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

The amalgamation of the two schools to form the new entity was very effectively managed. All of the stakeholders contributed to the creation of a shared vision for the school and in the development of the school’s mission statement. The partnership approach adopted in all aspects of the amalgamation is epitomised by the manner in which the new school crest was developed. The crest, which reflects the background and ethos of the school, was produced following a competition open to students and parents.

 

The characteristic spirit of Ardscoil na Tríonóide reflects the educational philosophy of the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, it is holistic and advocates a strong sense of social justice. The school’s mission statement outlines the commitment of the school to the moral and spiritual formation of its students and to their intellectual, social and physical development. Emphasis is also placed on the provision of an educational environment that is challenging, creative and happy.

 

The characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in the manner in which the school is managed and in the commitment and dedication of the staff. The senior management team and the pastoral-care team maintain a visible presence on the school corridors and the interaction between staff and students, and between the students themselves, are respectful and courteous. All of the school’s policies are framed with reference to the mission statement and reflect the agreed ethos of the school. The Christian values at the core of the school’s ethos are given expression through the regular celebration of religious services, the provision of religious education classes and through the murals and other visual media that adorn the school.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

The board of management, which was ratified in October 2008, is properly constituted and boasts a commendable level of expertise. The recently ratified board contains all but one of the board members who skilfully managed the amalgamation process and played a central role in creating a shared vision for the new school. Practices in relation to holding meetings, recording the minutes, and reporting the proceedings of the meetings of the board of management are very good. Agreed reports are provided to parents by the principal at the meetings of the school’s parents’ association, while a written report is placed on an appropriate notice board in the staff room. A verbal report is also provided to the teaching staff following each board meeting. Staff members may bring issues to the notice of the board through the staff nominees.

 

The board sees its role as ensuring that the ethos of the school is maintained and developed, that the operation of the school is in line with government legislation and that the quality of curricular and resource provision is of the highest standard.

 

The board receives a significant level of support from the patron. It is commendable that Ceist provides training for senior management, newly appointed teachers and board members where appropriate. In light of the recent formation of the board and to facilitate the sharing of existing expertise, it is recommended that collective training be provided for the members of the board.

 

The board is actively involved in the life of the school. Members of the board attend school functions, meet annually with the students’ council and engage in policy formation and adoption. The work of the board is enhanced through the activities of a number of sub-committees. A permanent finance sub-committee, which oversees expenditure and harmonises the school’s accounts, is in place, while sub-committees to administer appointments and to facilitate policy development are established as needs arise.

 

School development planning is well established and considerable work on the development of a school plan has already taken place. Policies are reviewed annually and areas for development are identified. In order to build on the existing good work in school development planning, it is recommended that, as part of the annual review, an audit of existing policies be conducted and that priority areas for development be identified and action plans to facilitate such development be put in place.

 

An immediate priority for the board is the development of an amended admissions policy. Ongoing increase in applications for entry to first year has meant that the existing selection criteria are insufficient and that additional criteria need to be developed. The board is aware that the admissions procedures need to be fair and inclusive but is also cognisant of the need to maintain student numbers at a manageable level. A sub-committee has been established to review current practice and to recommend appropriate amendments. This proactive approach, in response to an identified need of the school, is very good practice.

 

1.3          In-school management

The senior management team work as an effective team. The principal and deputy principal have clearly defined roles, share a common purpose and have a visible presence in and around the school. The senior management team have been very successful in leading the school through the amalgamation process and in creating a collaborative and supportive atmosphere in the school. Members of staff testified that they felt invigorated and reenergised in the new school and that they were well supported in facing the various challenges they had encountered.

 

The senior management team has identified a number of areas for development. Chief among these is the need to develop strategies to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the school and to continue to provide an environment where students are supported and challenged. Initial steps have already been taken. Members of the senior management team together with the senior year heads meet with each senior cycle student to review progress and to discuss issues. A language club has also been established to assist students in preparing for the oral examinations. In order to augment these initiatives, it is recommended that additional strategies to develop the quality of teaching and learning be identified and implemented.

 

The middle management team of assistant principals (APs) and special duties teachers (SDTs) contribute very effectively to the running of the school. The team boasts considerable expertise and its members are very committed to the ongoing development of the school. Senior management facilitates the work of the middle management team and each member of the team is provided with a detailed job description. Procedures for reviewing the schedule of posts allocated to the middle management team are timely, inclusive and comprehensive.

 

Practices and procedures in relation to the management of the student body are very good. A very warm atmosphere permeates the school and the behaviour of students on the corridors and around the school is very good. The school’s code of behaviour was prepared following a commendable level of consultation with the various stakeholders, it contains a clear ladder of referral that students, teachers, and parents described as working very effectively. It was also evident that due cognisance is taken of any special circumstances pertaining when sanctions are being applied to students as a result of breaches of the code. The written policy, in its current form, does not reflect the compassionate approach adopted in implementing the code particularly in relation to students with special educational needs, it is therefore recommended that a review of the code be undertaken. The review should be carried out with reference to Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools from the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) and should utilise the audit tool available from the NEWB website (www.newb.ie).

 

The school has a number of structures in place to support and encourage positive student behaviour and attainment. Year heads, ably supported by class tutors, provide invaluable back-up to the senior and middle management teams and ensure that any difficulties being encountered by students are identified and dealt with at an early stage. Students identified as being in need of support are referred to the school’s care team or to the guidance counsellors, as appropriate. Once referrals have been made, clear and comprehensive procedures, managed by the guidance counsellors, are put in train. The membership of the care team has evolved over time and represents a broad cross-section of the staff of the school. Meetings take place on an informal basis and the very good work being done by the group is a testimony to the interest and energy of the members of the group. In order to facilitate the further development of the care team, it is recommended that the team be placed on a more formal footing, that a convener of the team be identified and that the roles and responsibilities of the team be clarified.

 

The care team, in tandem with the principal, manages the school’s Cairdeas programme, which is designed to support the school’s first-year students. Individual fifth-year students, chosen following a comprehensive selection process, establish and maintain links with small discrete groups of first-year students. They assist the members of their groups to settle into the school and provide a range of activities that take place, both in and out of school time. Members of the Cairdeas team also identify students who are experiencing difficulties, will offer support, and can discuss their concerns with a member of the care team. The provision of this programme, which develops leadership within the student body and creates a caring and supporting environment, is very good practice.

 

Students who are feeling unwell are allowed to go to the school’s sickbay. A student is only admitted to the sickbay following registration with the school’s office and may remain there until he or she is deemed well enough to return to class, or is taken home by a parent. However, while students are in sickbay, they remain largely unattended and observation of their condition only takes place when management or staff members call in while passing. It is therefore recommended that the arrangements in relation to monitoring the sickbay be reviewed and, if necessary, the facility should be closed if more comprehensive arrangements cannot be put in place.

 

Management identified student attendance as a key challenge following the amalgamation. In response to this challenge, the post of attendance monitor was created as part of the schedule of posts. Initially the attendance monitor manually tracked student absence, collected absence notes and communicated with parents when issues arose. An automated system is now in place and an attendance officer is employed by the board of management to collate absences and generate reports. In addition, the class tutors now liaise with the students to establish the reasons for any absences and to ensure that absence notes are collected and are given to the attendance monitor. These developments have greatly improved the efficiency of the reporting and tracking system. Further training in the use of the automated system is required if its full potential is to be realised. Awards for good attendance are distributed at the school’s annual awards ceremony. Consideration should also be given to the development of additional strategies to generate positive student attitudes towards attendance.

 

An active students’ council is in place. Weekly meetings are held and practices in relation to recording the proceedings of these meetings are very good. The council has been proactive in liaising with management in making proposals and in reviewing policies. In order to support the work of the council, it is suggested that a dedicated notice board be erected in a prominent location in the school. Work should also begin on the development of a constitution for the council. At present, first-year students are not members of the students’ council; this anomalous situation should be reviewed as a matter of priority.

 

The school’s parents’ association is an integral part of the school. The association assists in fundraising, in organising a range of events that bring added value to the life of the school, and in policy formation. Regular meetings are held, and the parents of newcomer students are facilitated by the provision of interpreters when the need arises. The association maintains very close links with the school’s senior management team and with the board of management. The principal attends all meetings of the association, reports on ongoing activities in the school, and delivers the agreed report from the board of management. As a result, the association is very well informed about the operation of the school and of any issues that arise.

 

Communication channels with parents, staff and students are comprehensive and inclusive. In addition to the various reports outlined above, very good use is also made of staff and student handbooks and the notice boards that are distributed around the school. Regular staff meetings and parent-teacher meetings are held. The school’s website is also used to communicate with the school and wider community. It is recommended that the existing website be updated to reflect the recent changes in the school’s management structures and that arrangements be put in place to ensure that the website remains current. In developing the website, due cognisance should be taken of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the school community. 

    

1.4          Management of resources

The school buildings and grounds are maintained to a very high standard. The school is set back from the main road and a large playing field lies in front of the main school building. A river bounds the playing field on one side, and a paved path runs around the field’s perimeter. The school’s Green Schools committee ensures that the river remains clean and litter free and also maintains the path as part of the Green Schools programme. Displays of shrubs and flowers border the main entrance to the school and colourful murals and posters, welcoming visitors and celebrating the history and ethos of the school, are prominently displayed in the reception area. The reception area also contains multilingual signage providing clear directions to the different areas of the school. The school’s corridors are decorated with posters and other materials outlining the various activities engaged in by the school and celebrating student achievement. This is very good practice.

 

The condition of the school is a testament to the commitment and hard work of the management, teachers, caretakers and cleaning staff. Currently, maintenance issues are reported verbally to management or to the caretakers, and it is suggested that this process should be formalised and a systematic process for reporting and recording maintenance issues, as they arise, be agreed and implemented.

 

The school is very well resourced. As part of the amalgamation, extensive refurbishment of, and an extension to, the existing facilities were undertaken. This resulted in the provision of additional practical and specialist rooms, laboratories, a staff room as well as administration and pastoral offices. The facilities now in place to support teaching and learning, guidance and counselling, special educational needs and the administration and management of the school, are of a very high standard.

 

Additional areas of strength include the school library, the gymnasium and the school’s information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities. The library is well stocked, beautifully maintained and managed in an innovative fashion. A number of initiatives are underway to encourage students to avail of the facility. The appointment of a team of Transition Year (TY) students to act as assistant librarians is one such example and is particularly praiseworthy. 

 

The school’s gymnasium is in very good condition and very well resourced. In addition to the usual requisite equipment, it also boasts a separate weights and conditioning room. It was evident that the gymnasium acts as a hub for the school’s wider sporting activities and is also a valuable community resource. The innovation of management and staff in developing, managing and utilising this valuable resource is highly commended.

 

The school’s ICT facilities are extensive. Each classroom is provided with a networked computer and data projector, and there are two fully-equipped computer rooms. In addition, the school has a multimedia language laboratory containing thirty-two computers and appropriate projection equipment, and a suite of computers for use in Technical Graphics is also in place. The maintenance of such an extensive facility is an enormous task and the focus of the work to date has, quite rightly, been on installation and maintenance. In order to maximise the benefits of the ICT infrastructure, to promote ICT integration into teaching and learning, and to accommodate phased development and renewal, a cohesive ICT plan needs to be developed. The plan should address whole-school and subject-specific issues and should result from a comprehensive consultative process with all of the stakeholders.

 

At the time of the inspection, the school had a staffing allocation of 52.6 whole-time equivalent (WTE) teaching posts, which included one learning-support teacher, 3.97 WTE posts for special educational needs and three WTE posts for newcomer students. A detailed description of the special educational provision in the school is contained in the subject inspection report attached to this document. It is evident that the arrangements in place for these students are in need of immediate review. To begin with, only fifty-three per cent of the allocation intended for learning support and special educational needs is being used for the intended purpose and it is clear that the person identified as being the learning-support teacher has been assigned other, very arduous, tasks in addition to this post. It is, therefore, recommended that an immediate review of the use of special educational needs and learning support provision be undertaken. The review must ensure that all resources allocated to the school to support students with special educational needs or in need of learning support are appropriately assigned. It is further recommended that the roles and responsibilities of the learning-support teacher be clearly defined and uncoupled from other management and coordination duties.

 

The provision in place to support the school’s newcomer students is also inadequate. The provision lacks any real coherent plan and the time allocation intended to support those students having English as an additional language is not being used for its intended purpose. Steps must be taken immediately to ensure that the resources provided to the school be used for their intended purpose and that arrangements must be put in place by the school to address the linguistic and wider social needs of the newcomer students.

 

The school complies with Department of Education and Science regulations regarding the number of class-contact hours per week and the number of days of instruction per year. The school timetable is created following an analysis of the expressed needs of the students and consultation with staff. This is very good practice. However, there are instances where teachers are not assigned to classes in line with their qualifications and expertise and this should be avoided in designing future timetables. Procedures for deploying Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) students are also in need of review. It is advised that PGDE students are only assigned to appropriate classes and should not be assigned duties involving programme co-ordination or managing the deployment of resources, as is the case at present.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

Collaborative school development planning was a key component in the successful amalgamation process and in the development of a shared vision for the new school. Very good progress has been made on the development of a school plan and in embedding the planning process as an integral part of school activity. Subject co-ordinators have been appointed and school policies have been developed following a good level of communication with the different stakeholders and through the activities of subcommittees appointed for the purpose.

 

Initial planning focussed on developing policies required by legislation and great credit is due to management and staff for the degree to which that has already been achieved. An obvious gap is the absence of a policy on relationships and sexuality education (RSE), and it is recommended that this be addressed as soon as is practicable.

 

Management is committed to ongoing school development planning. A school development planning coordinator has been in place since the new school came into being and responsibility for coordinating school development planning has recently been assumed by an AP. Clear roles and responsibilities have been devised for the post and chief among these is to liaise effectively with the various subcommittees and the general teaching staff and to lead a review of the existing school plan. As part of that review, the school’s first-year taster programme and admissions policy have been identified as planning priority areas and action plans have been developed. In order to support the work of the planning co-ordinator, a school planning team should be established. The team would assist in identifying planning priorities, in the development of action plans and in ongoing review. The planning priorities identified as part of this review should include the development of a homework and assessment policy and a redrafting of the school’s critical incidents policy.

 

A health and safety statement has recently been completed but has yet to be ratified by the board of management. The planning co-coordinator has identified subject department compliance with the health and safety statement as a key target and has sought input from each department to establish the current state of play. This is very good practice.

 

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, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all 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.

 

Subject department planning is well established. Co-ordinators have been appointed and subject department plans are in place. Responsibility for co-ordinating subject department planning rotates between the members of the departments; this has resulted in building capacity within the departments and in encouraging professional dialogue. It is intended to extend the activities of the subject planning teams to include cross-curricular planning and to standardise the approach to subject planning across each department. This is very good practice. It is recommended that this standardised approach should include learning outcomes as an integral part of each subject plan.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

Curricular provision in the school is broad and balanced. Three modern European languages are available in senior and junior cycle, while three science subjects and three business subjects are available to senior cycle students. The school also provides Transition Year (TY), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Timetabling arrangements are also very good with classes well distributed through the week and the effective use of double periods and concurrent timetabling where appropriate.

 

Students transferring from the feeder primary schools to first year are provided with a comprehensive and student-centred transfer programme. All incoming students to first year sit standardised assessment tests administered by the school’s guidance counsellors. However, the first-year class groups are created using an alphabetical list and without reference to the outcomes of the entrance assessments. Given that the first-year classes are described as mixed ability, it is recommended that the outcomes of the assessments tests be used to inform the configuration of the class groups.

 

First-year students are provided with a core of eleven subjects and have access, through a taster programme, to a choice of eight further subjects. There are three option bands in the taster programme and the subjects within the bands are accessed by rotation. While all stakeholders were happy that a taster programme should form part of the first-year programme, it was evident that management and staff were concerned about the model currently being employed. As a result, a process of review is now in place and an action plan has been developed; it is intended that an amended programme will be in place for the 2009/10 school year. This reflective and proactive approach to curriculum planning is very good practice.

 

Systematic planning and review is a feature of the programmes being offered in the school. The programmes are delivered by committed and enthusiastic teachers, there are clear selection criteria for each programme and the programmes are well organised. Very good links are maintained with the school’s guidance and special educational needs teams. In order to support the work of the programme co-ordinators, it is recommended that the meetings of the core teams, which are currently held informally, be formalised. The programme co-ordinators should update the board of management annually by providing a review of programme activities and to outline any challenges encountered during the course of the year.

 

Good procedures are in place in relation to managing the work experience modules in each programme but it is suggested that the model currently employed in LCA, where the students go on work experience one day each week, be reviewed. Decisions on whether to amend the current model should take account of the impact it is having on curriculum delivery and on the completion of reflection tasks. Very good practice was evident in relation to programme review in TY. This review model is an exemplar of good practice and should be adopted as an integral part of general programme implementation.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

Procedures in relation to informing students with regard to subject choices are equitable and student-centred. Information evenings are provided for parents of students in first and third year and in TY. The school’s guidance counsellors discuss subject options with students during dedicated classes and parents and students are free to meet with the counsellors if they so wish. Incoming fifth-year students are presented with a list of subject options and asked to select four subjects. Results are analysed and a best-fit model is used to create the option bands. The option bands are circulated to all relevant students and parents and the subject choices are then made. Parents and students alike expressed satisfaction with these arrangements.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 An excellent co-curricular and extracurricular programme is in place. The programme involves a wide range of students and embraces the sporting, cultural and wider educational fields. The programme is characterised by the superb commitment of the teaching staff, by an admirable spirit of volunteerism and by the very productive links that have been established with the community. It is evident that the board of management, the senior management team and the wider staff regard the programme as a valuable core activity in the school.

 

It emerged during the inspection that, as a result of difficulties with the provision of substitution cover for teachers accompanying students at matches and other events, some rationalisation of the programme is reluctantly being considered. It is hoped that the difficulties currently being encountered can be overcome by enhancing the role of parents in supporting the teachers on occasions requiring teacher absence from school.

 

  

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

Formal department structures have been established across all subjects and programmes offered in the school. This is commended. In line with good practice, minutes are maintained of the regular formal subject and programme department meetings, which are, in general, held once per term. Frequent informal meetings also take place among subject-team members in order, for instance, to progress different aspects of the work. This is in line with good practice. Instances where the role of co-ordinator is rotated among department team members are highly commended. This practice should be extended as it affords all members an opportunity to develop leadership skills in the area of curriculum provision and development.

 

Plans for individual subjects and programmes are at different stages of development: this reflects the relatively recent establishment of Ardscoil na Tríonóide and the resultant formation of new subject and programme department teams comprising staffs from the two former schools. Subject department plans for Irish and Art were of good quality and reflected a collaborative approach to their development and implementation. It is noted that a collaborative approach is also being advanced in the work of the home economics department. This approach promotes the sharing of experience, expertise and good practice as regards methodologies and resources and is highly commended. In order to support and enhance this work, it is recommended that teaching and learning methodologies be included as items for discussion on the agendas for department team meetings. These methodologies should include those that support the incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning across the curriculum.

 

While an LCVP plan was not yet in place at the time of the evaluation, steps had been taken to initiate its development. It is recommended that the process emphasises cross-curricular planning and should also include specific planning for the formal integration and inclusion of Guidance in the Link Modules and for the modern European language module. While the TY programme is good, individual subject plans for TY were found to be of poor quality in a number of instances. It has been established, in the case of Irish for instance, that a comprehensive plan needs to be developed.

 

The profiling of students with special educational needs is well advanced in the case of students in first and second year. This good practice should be extended to other year groups. Some subject department plans included useful statements on planning for students with special educational needs. This good practice should also be extended. As recommended in a number of subject areas, and in order to guide teachers in differentiating content to cater for the individual learning needs of students, it is recommended that the good practice of engaging in the development of individual education plans (IEPs) be extended. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) guidelines for students with special educational needs should be consulted when engaging in this work. It is further recommended that a whole-school literacy plan be developed.

 

In order to place a greater focus on planning for learning and its outcomes, it is recommended that each subject and programme department team develops and agrees a framework of the expected learning outcomes at the different stages and levels. The outcomes should then be used to inform planning for the differentiation of the content of individual lessons and to form assessment criteria. Some, but not all, subject departments analyse students’ attainment in state examinations. This commendable practice should be adopted as a whole-school policy and its outcomes should inform planning in the different cycles.

 

Good progress was noted in all subject areas as regards the development and collation of appropriate resources. The manner in which resources are stored, providing easy access for both students and teachers, in the area of Home Economics is particularly laudable and should be extended.

 

Planning and preparation for individual lessons was of a good quality, ensuring that appropriate resources were in place, that lessons were well structured and that optimal use was made of class-contact time.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

Lessons in general were well structured. Best practice was evident in instances where the lesson content was pitched at a level that was appropriate to students’ needs and in keeping with the requirements and rationale underpinning syllabus and programme requirements. In some instances, the expected learning outcomes of the lesson or task was shared with student from the outset. This practice is encouraged as a means of focusing students’ attention throughout the lesson. Furthermore, it is recommended that these learning outcomes provide a framework for students to reflect on their learning at the end of a lesson.

 

There was some very good practice in the effective use of ICT among students and teachers in the lessons observed. ICT was used create visually stimulating teaching materials and enabled students to play an active role in their own learning. This good practice is encouraged in all subject areas.

 

A range of teaching methodologies was observed during the course of the evaluation. To assist student understanding, good links were made between class content and students’ prior learning. In some instances, commendable attention was placed on enhancing students’ literacy skills through reinforcement and repetition of the key words associated with the topic being taught. This very good practice is encouraged as a means of promoting literacy across the curriculum.

 

In most of the lessons observed, a range of teaching and learning strategies, which promoted the active engagement of students in their learning, was effectively employed. This included the use of individual student reflection activities, pair work, group work, games and mime. There was some very effective use of visual information to support learning. Some worksheets and class activities were particularly well designed to support the development of higher-order thinking skills such as the analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information. However, there is some scope to consider the best use of class texts as a means of supporting effective classroom practice. 

 

No targeted instruction, based on specific learning needs, was observed during the course of the evaluation. To optimise inclusive classroom practice, it is recommended that targeted instruction, based on specific needs of students identified though the use of IEPs, be factored into all lessons. There is considerable scope to plan for differentiated lesson content. The individual learning needs of students should be recognised and teaching strategies adapted accordingly. 

 

Classroom management was very good in all the lessons observed. A warm rapport was evident and a climate of mutual respect permeated all classrooms. Very good use was made of the classroom environment to create a space that was supportive of learning. The displays of students’ work and the development of subject-specific resource libraries are particularly noteworthy.

 

Students displayed a good level of understanding of key concepts and engaged with the learning process. Students demonstrated a good level of practical skills and were able to work independently and in collaboration with each other. Strategies that assessed students’ learning were an integral component of many lessons. There was some good use of questioning to assess students’ recall and understanding of information. Best practice was evident where there was an appropriate balance between global and directed questions and where students were afforded time to provide solutions to the queries posed. Plenary sessions from group work, and in-class monitoring of individual student’s work, also provided teachers with opportunities to affirm good practice among students and to give constructive feedback. To enhance such good practice, it is recommended that the classroom board be used to summarise students’ responses from plenary sessions as a means of enhancing learning.

 

4.3          Assessment

A variety of appropriate assessment modes is used to measure student progress and some good practice is evident in summative examination procedures. Summative assessment consists of class tests on an on-going basis, at the discretion of individual teachers, and formal in-school examinations. Common assessments are used whenever possible. This is highly commended.

 

Formative assessment is continuous and takes place through teacher circulation and monitoring of students during class, through questioning of students, and through monitoring and correcting homework, written assignments and coursework. A homework policy is in place in some subject areas and homework is appropriately monitored and assessed. Students’ copybooks are regularly monitored and constructive feedback was noted in some instances. This is good practice. It is recommended that the practice of providing positive and constructive feedback to students, following the correction of their written work, be extended to include all written exercises, in all subject areas, and should be based on the principles of assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available on the website of the NCCA at www.ncca.ie, and the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie.

 

The school has begun to administer a standardised cognitive ability test as part of its entry procedure. This test provides data on students’ ability in general, and is used by the learning support department to identify students in need of support or further assessment. This test is also used to identify, at a later stage, students who are not progressing at a satisfactory rate. This is good practice. The special educational needs team administer diagnostic tests, as required, to gain additional information on students. It is recommended that the results of the cognitive ability test, and other relevant information, be used to create truly mixed-ability classes in first year.

 

While continuous assessment is used to monitor learning in the first term for some year groups, formal examinations are held at Christmas for other non-certificate examination classes. All non-certificate examination classes are assessed formally in May. Mock examinations are held in the early spring for certificate examination classes. Progress reports and assessment results are issued to students’ homes on two occasions per year: at Christmas and following mock or May examinations, as appropriate. It is recommended that in-house examination papers should match the style and format of the certificate examination papers, in so far as possible, in order to familiarise students with the style of these examinations.

 

It is recommended that the school collaboratively develops a whole-school assessment policy which relates to all students, including those with special educational needs, and which clarifies how student progress in monitored, recorded and reported. It is also recommended that learning outcomes, in all the various subjects and programmes, are shared with students and are used as the basis upon which assessment criteria are developed. In addition, data gained from an analysis of in-house and certificate examination outcomes should be used to inform the planning process in subject departments.

 

It was evident that teachers maintain good records of assessment outcomes and of student progress. Such recorded information can form the basis of very useful evidence when communicating student’s progress to parents at parent-teacher meetings, which are held once each year for all classes, and in advising both students and parents on their choice of subjects for senior cycle and the appropriate level at which each subject should be taken in certificate examinations.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

The school has an open admissions policy and a number of initiatives to promote inclusion are in place. A learning-support team, whose activities are facilitated by a co-ordinator, is well established. The team is currently reviewing and extending the school’s special educational needs policy. The review includes documenting existing practice and the development of agreed new procedures to reflect the changes that have resulted from the amalgamation. As part of the review, it is recommended that a whole-school literacy plan be developed which should include a developmental approach to reading across the school.

 

The learning-support team has a high level of expertise and is highly motivated. Its members have a sincere dedication to supporting the students in their care. It is essential that the expertise and enthusiasm of the team be cultivated by the management of the school and that the team be given a central role in managing the allocation of the dedicated resource and learning support hours provided to the school by the Department of Education and Science.

 

The school provides a range of resources to facilitate the delivery of the special educational needs programme. A designated learning-support classroom, equipped with ICT and other relevant resources and secure storage for students’ files, is in place. It was evident, during the inspection, that the resources were being integrated in lessons to enable active teaching and learning to occur. A number of special needs assistants (SNAs) provide dedicated support to individual students. Their support provided by the SNAs is appropriate and take due cognisance of the need for the students to develop as independent learners. 

 

Learning support is primarily provided during withdrawal sessions, while some team teaching also takes place. Students experiencing difficulties with literacy and numeracy, and who meet criteria established by the learning-support team, are selected for withdrawal. If these students have exemptions they are withdrawn from Irish classes, otherwise they are withdrawn during Science. The rationale for withdrawing students from Science needs to be reviewed. If students are experiencing difficulties in Science, these difficulties should be addressed through differentiated instruction or through the provision of in-class support.

 

The school caters for a large number of newcomer students, many of whom have limited competency in spoken and written English. A number of teachers are involved in providing support for this cohort and, while the commitment of the individuals involved is not in doubt, the support is delivered in a largely unco-ordinated fashion and is in need of urgent review. The review should be carried out by a core team of teachers, established for the purpose, and should ensure that the resources accruing to the school to support these students are appropriately used. Furthermore, the review should determine the most effective means of identifying and assessing the educational and social needs of these students and should lead to the drawing up of an agreed programme to provide for these identified needs. Time should be made available from the allocation to facilitate co-ordination of the programme and to facilitate meetings of the core team.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

The school has an allocation of 1.36 WTE posts for Guidance. The school employs two guidance counsellors who work as a very effective team and ensure that Guidance is a whole-school activity. Students transferring from the feeder primary schools, those students moving from junior cycle into senior cycle, and those making the transition to third level, receive very good support from the guidance team. The guidance counsellors maintain good links with the different programmes in the school; however their contribution to the LCVP should be reviewed in order to ensure that more formal input into the Link Modules be provided.

 

The guidance department is very well resourced. Two well-appointed and appropriately equipped offices and a careers library facilitate the provision of academic, personal and career support to the student body. The school’s extensive ICT facilities are also available when required. The guidance team maintains good links with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and their engagement with continuing professional development is also satisfactory. It is imperative, however, that all members of the guidance team attend regular personal supervision training.

 

The guidance team has co-operated effectively in constructing a whole-school guidance plan that is based on the perceived needs of students. The plan is well developed and contains guidance programmes for each year group and a school programme for junior and senior cycles. The plan has undergone a recent review, which resulted in an alteration of the timing of the fifth-year options selection. It is recommended that, in conducting the next review of the plan, the recommendations contained in the recently published subject inspection report be implemented in full.

 

Access for students to Guidance and to one-to-one counselling support is available when required. Regular contact is maintained by the guidance team with management, which is reported to be very supportive of whole-school Guidance. The referral of students for support within the school operates efficiently and referrals to outside national and local support agencies are handled sensitively and effectively.

 

The school is a caring one and it adopts a very collegial approach to providing care for students. A wide range of supports is available for students both from the pastoral system and from guidance personnel. Year heads meet each week to discuss students who require extra support. An informal care team, that includes Guidance personnel, then meets to plan interventions for these students. As outlined earlier in this report, the care team needs to be put on a more formal footing, with clearly defined roles and responsibilitues.

 

 

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:

1.       Subject Inspection of Gaeilge – 25 February 2009

2.       Subject Inspection of Home Economics – 24 February 2009

3.       Subject Inspection of Art – 23 February 2009

4.       Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs – 23 February 2009

5.       Programme Evaluation of LCVP – 24 February 2009

 

Published, January 2010

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management of Ardscoil na Trionoide would like to thank the Whole School Evaluation Team for the very positive report on our School. We wish to acknowledge that the report was conducted in a fair, courteous and respectful manner. The School Management were unfaltering in their cooperation with the Team and welcome the publication of the report.

 

The School acknowledges rewards and encourages our students good attendance with prizes and certificates of attendance. We liaise with the E.W.B. in recognising and promoting good attendance.

 

In response to the report of the Special Needs Provision, the Board wishes to highlight that 2.2 W.T.E. allocated for Special Education and Newcomer Students were not drawn down from the Department of Education and Science for the following reasons:

 

  1. A number of students for whom the School had received hours had left the school. Therefore these hours could not be used.
  2. A number of students did not wish to avail of the hours which they were automatically entitled to.

 

 

This will redress the figure of only 53% of Learning Support hours being used for their intended purpose as highlighted by the WSE. We acknowledge that the school should have informed the allocations section of the Department of Education and Science.

 

The School Management with the consent of parents/guardians utilised a number of student’s hours to provide an alternative provision for the Leaving Certificate. Although technically this is not what the hours are deemed to be allocated for, the final result was that a number of students completed the Leaving Cert. Applied Programme successfully with a very small teacher pupil ratio.

 

The School is committed to meeting the needs of all its students. At the time of Inspection there was a designated co-ordinator for English Language Support, a designated classroom with resources. Staff members had been released to attend In Service on Intercultural Education.

 

In the context of recent severe Government cutbacks where the Schools allocation for newcomer students is now 0.4 of a teacher, the School has utilised its links with community groups to access additional language classes and social support for our newcomer students. All hours allocated for English language Support and Learning Support have subsequently been ringfenced by school management for their specific purposes as outlined by the WSE team.

 

In designing the Timetable the School is always cognisant of teachers teaching their exam degree subjects however, there are a small number of cases where a teacher has an expertise in an area and allocating a class of students to them in no way reduces the quality of education our students receive. Ardscoil na Trionoide will always strive to ensure that our students receive the highest quality education. If timetabling difficulties arise we will use innovative measures and committed professional teachers to ensure our students are educated to the highest level.

 

 

 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 School’s Taster Programme was amended and changed for September 2009.

 

The Care Team meetings are now scheduled on a weekly basis thus formalising the process as suggested by the Whole School Evaluation.

 

The Board reviewed its Admission Policy and after extensive consultation with all the stakeholders in the School Community, approved the new Admission Policy in October 2009.

 

The provision of the Sick Bay facility has been reviewed and it is now only used when an appropriate Staff member is available to supervise the un-well student and in all other instances it is locked. Students report directly to the Main Office.

 

The Student Council now has representation form all year groups including First Year.

 

The Schools website is under construction and currently being improved.

 

First Year students are now allocated classes on a purely mixed ability basis and not alphabetically, as recommended by the WSE.

 

We have introduced formal exams for 2nd and 5th year as recommended by the WSE.

 

Students are no longer removed from Science instead a specific Science class has been established for Learning Support students.

 

All members of the Guidance Department now regularly attend personal supervision training.