An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Mac Dara’s Community College

Templeogue, Dublin 6W

Roll number: 70260V

 

Date of inspection: 11 April 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of St Mac Dara’s Community College was undertaken in April 2008.  This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (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

 

St Mac Dara’s Community College was established in 1982, under the auspices of Co. Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (VEC), to provide for the educational needs of the growing population in the Willington area of Templeogue.  The decision to establish the school as a co-educational community college was in accordance with the demands of the local community. The numbers attending the school have risen from an initial intake of 66 students and the current student cohort is 824 students. It has one main feeder primary school and also attracts students from outside its immediate catchment area. The school has just celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary and continues to maintain a high profile in a competitive local environment. 

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

According to its mission statement  “St Mac Dara’s Community College, through a caring and collective approach, aspires to provide a broad-based education for all and to foster respect and dignity and to promote a safe and just environment by positively encouraging all to realise their potential”. The evidence accrued during the course of the evaluation indicates that the school is true to its mission statement.  The VEC praised the commitment of senior management to the school over the past twenty-five years and spoke of the very good atmosphere and respect for all permeating throughout the school. It was reported that the school attracts students on the basis of its reputation rather than on demographics.  The board of management highlighted the spirit of partnership and its good working relationships with the different members of the school community.  In addition, the board expressed its care and concern for both students and staff in the college.  The concept of partnership also underpins the relationship between school management and the parents’ association. Members of the association felt that senior management listened to them and consulted with them as appropriate.  Parents indicated satisfaction with all aspects of the education provision for students and spoke of the teachers being there for the students. Teachers pointed to the very good working relations that exist among staff and with senior management. Students attributed the family atmosphere that exists within the school to the very positive teacher-student relationships.

 

The school offers a broad curriculum to meet the varied needs of the student cohort and a strong emphasis is placed on the quality of teaching and learning as a means of promoting academic and vocational success for all. Students’ holistic development is also promoted through the provision a broad range of pastoral, co-curricular and extra-curricular initiatives.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management is constituted in accordance with the model agreement established in 1982 between the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Co. Dublin VEC. The board is in its second year of a three year cycle.  The majority of nominees to the board have received training for members of boards of management which is commendable as it enables them to fully inform themselves of their statutory obligations and of their roles and responsibilities as nominees.  It is recommended that such training be provided forthwith for those who have not as yet benefited.

 

The board meets five times annually.  Additional meetings may also take place to deal with specific issues. Minutes are recorded and circulated to the members of the board in advance of the following meeting.  A copy of the minutes is also forwarded to the VEC in line with correct protocols. 

 

Members of the board reported being cognisant of their roles and responsibilities, supporting senior management in the overall running of the school.  The board oversees the allocation of resources and tries to balance issues in terms of the common good.  Members indicated particular concern about finances and how best to manage them in relation to the maintenance of the plant.

 

The board establishes priorities based on the needs of the school as communicated by senior management.  One of its ongoing priorities has pertained to concern about the lower number of girls enrolling in the school. However, the combined efforts of the board and senior management in further promoting the school have succeeded in reversing this trend. The board and senior management are highly commended for their efforts and success in increasing the number of girls attending the school.   

 

The board is supportive of school planning and policy development which is entrusted to the management and staff of the school.  Policy development is instigated and progressed at staff level before being brought to the board for discussion and ratification.  Members of the board reported that a significant number of policies have been developed over the years. However, there is a need for ongoing review of policies to ensure that they respond to the current needs of the school. It is recommended that, in acknowledgement of its statutory obligations, the board should take a more proactive approach in establishing long and short term priorities and action plans which would include identifying policies for development or review. 

 

The members of the board are invited to school events thereby affording opportunities to meet and interact with the staff.  Communication between the board and parents is generally through the school newsletter, although meetings between the board and the parents’ association have taken place whenever requested.  This communication between the board, staff and parents is to be commended.

 

The teacher nominees draw up a report following board meetings which they communicate to the general body of staff.  The principal reports back to the parents’ association since the parent nominees are not necessarily members of the association.  Consideration should be given to drawing up an agreed report at the end of each meeting which can be disseminated to teachers and parents alike.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Senior management works as a united team to provide strong and effective direction and leadership for the entire school community.  The principal and deputy principal share a clear vision for the school which is reflected in their respective leadership and management styles. This vision is to prepare students to be positive members of society, equipping them with the necessary skills for work, study and their personal lives, by continuing to promote academic excellence and instilling values which reflect the ethos of the school.  The principal sees his primary role as forward planning for the school, instigating new initiatives and, through effective communication, being a positive leader for all.  This he achieves through his strong presence in all aspects of school life and his contribution to ongoing policy development.  He places great and commendable emphasis on upholding the high quality of teaching and learning. The deputy principal supports the principal in the management of staff and students.  This involves ongoing collaborative planning with the principal as part of their daily meetings, the day-to-day organisation of supervision and substitution rotas for absent teachers and overseeing the effective implementation of the school’s disciplinary protocols and procedures.  Both the principal and deputy principal keep in touch with the realities of teaching and learning through their continued work as subject teachers to a class group which gives them authority when instigating changes which impact on the organisation of teaching and learning.

 

Senior management is ably assisted by nine assistant principals (AP) who carry out a significant range of duties which are essential to the effective running of the school.  Six of the APs are year heads, each of whom also carries out additional coordination tasks.  They work with senior management, staff, students and parents to ensure the effective implementation of the code of behaviour and the provision of the necessary pastoral supports for students.  Other AP posts include the management of the school accounts, state examinations secretary, health and safety officer with additional responsibility for the organisation of second and fifth-year examinations, and lateness officer with additional responsibility for the annual awards night.  The director of adult education and the programme coordinator also carry the equivalence of an AP post. 

 

Assistant principals described their middle management functions as those of an ongoing committee identifying issues of concern for the school. They are consulted by senior management and act as a useful sounding board in relation to school issues. They can also act as mentors for the more junior members of staff.  They meet as a middle management team every three weeks and see the development of their role as ongoing.  Some of their posts of responsibility have very clearly defined duties while others allow for new initiatives. Year heads, with the exception of Transition Year, move with their year group from first to sixth year. This facilitates a system whereby they can take a sabbatical from their year head duties every five years, while those assistant principals who wish to become year heads can then avail of the opportunity to take up such a post. This practice is highly commended as it provides opportunities for variety, change and renewal within the middle management structure, which in turn facilitates an optimum quality of care for students.  Assistant principals are highly commended for their significant contribution to the effective management of the school.

 

Assistant principals review their posts individually at the end of each year with senior management.  This is commended.  It is suggested that consideration be given to further building on this good practice by introducing a collective end of year review of middle management structures and duties for the purpose of ongoing development and improvement in accordance with circular 29/02.

 

There are fifteen special duties post holders, all of whom see their work as playing an important role in the effective running of the school. Their duties are primarily administrative, including the coordination of examinations and parent-teacher meetings, attendance and detention, the library, scholarship awards and learning support.  Other duties include liaison teacher for the student council, lost property and the promotion of the green school, and sports administration.  The work of these post holders in supporting the effective management of the school is commended.  A review of special duties posts is currently being planned.  As part of this review, consideration should be given to organising an annual meeting of special duties post holders for the purpose of facilitating opportunities for initiatives and development within these posts as well as ensuring no duplication of tasks. 

 

Opportunities for personal and career development are also afforded to non-post holders who are encouraged to sit on committees, all of which are composed of APs, special duties teachers and non-post holders.  They are also encouraged to actively involve themselves in the life of the school through the class tutor system and extra-curricular activities. Senior management further supports all teachers by being available to listen to them, being open to their ideas and suggestions and to acknowledge and affirm their contributions.  This is commended.

 

A significant number of teachers are class tutors.  This is a voluntary position established to support the year heads in the management of students.  Class tutors may also liaise with the chaplaincy and guidance services as part of their work in meeting the pastoral needs of the students.  They take morning registration, collect absence notes, disseminate information and check journals.  They also respond to the discrete pastoral needs of each year group.  Class tutors usually continue with the same class group from first to sixth year working in tandem with the same year head. This is very good practice as it ensures a continuity of care for the students. Class tutors have regular meetings with their relevant year heads to discuss issues of concern. They may also meet parents with the year head or a member of senior management. The work of the class tutor in supporting students’ pastoral development is highly praised.

 

All teachers are issued with an information pack containing information on school rules, protocols and procedures when they begin their teaching career in the school.  Commendably, the information pack also contains a list of guiding principles for a career in teaching, an information booklet from the Co. Dublin VEC Psychological Support Service on resolving conflict through negotiation and a booklet on different aspects of learning. The provision of such information is very good practice as full knowledge of rules and protocols supports fair and consistent practices when dealing with all members of the school community.  As a means of ensuring that all teachers are fully au fait with up-to-date protocols and procedures, consideration should be given to producing a general staff handbook containing useful school-related information including the names of all relevant personnel. Such a handbook could be disseminated on a USB key which would allow for it to be updated annually in a time and cost effective way.

 

Continuous professional development is supported by senior management and teachers are released for all relevant in-service.  In addition, teachers interested in pursuing further studies can apply to the board of management for funding.  The school is also willing to pay the teachers’ membership of their subject associations in addition to attendance at national conferences.  The school’s support for ongoing professional development is commended.

 

The student journal is well laid out containing student-relevant information in addition to the annual school calendar, the school rules and the code of conduct when engaged in extra curricular activities. This is good practice.  Space for a general comment form on student behaviour or progress, notes to and from parents concerning students’ absence and other issues of concern is contained at the back of the student journal.  Parents have to sign the journals each week and they are checked by the class tutors on a regular basis.  This is commended. It is suggested that the school’s mission statement be included in the student journal as a constant reminder to students of their shared role in upholding the values inherent in the school’s educational principles and characteristic spirit.

 

Parents of incoming first-year students are issued with a school policy document outlining the school ethos and the roles of year head and class tutor in supporting the students’ pastoral needs. The booklet provides a comprehensive overview of policies and practices in the school including the school’s code of conduct and the ladder of referral for disciplinary issues.  The creation of such a comprehensive and informative document is very good practice.

 

Central to the code of behaviour policy in St Mac Dara’s CC is the principle that the relationship between the school and the pupil is founded on agreement and co-operation, whereby the school undertakes to provide a holistic education conditional to the students’ acceptance of the code of conduct both in school and while engaged in extra-curricular activities.  The rationale underpinning the school’s disciplinary policy is to create an environment where good teaching and learning can take place.  Effective discipline is facilitated by the combined pastoral initiatives of the class tutor and the year heads and the protocols in place to deal with misdemeanours.  The school’s stance that no student should be permitted through misbehaviour to undermine the education of fellow students is communicated to students and there is a staged approach to dealing with behavioural issues.  This is good practice.  Following a review of the number of suspensions reported to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) in the previous academic year, it is recommended that senior management and year heads review the number of suspensions meted out to students to ensure that such a serious sanction is not handed out too readily.  The school has a separate code of behaviour for students engaging in extra-curricular activities. This code which is underpinned by the principles of good sportsmanship and generosity in victory or defeat is highly commended.

 

The school prefect system provides a further support to positive school discipline through the prefects’ work monitoring the one-way system on the corridors and supervision duties in the canteen and at break time.  This is commended.

 

The school has an effective attendance policy which sets out the rationale for such a policy and outlines a series of strategies aimed at promoting good attendance. Class tutors take the register each morning and all absences are recorded.  The NEWB is then informed of all absences of twenty days or more. Punctuality is also monitored as part of an assistant principal’s post of responsibility.

 

During the course of the evaluation inspectors met a significant number of students in the corridors during class time. These students were given permission to leave class to go to the toilet, but in some cases were slow to return. This was noted at different times of the day throughout the week. Senior management and staff reported that this was an ongoing issue, of great frustration for the teachers and which has been discussed at length.  While the efforts of teachers to curb the trend are acknowledged, the current practice compromises teaching and learning and as a result further solutions need to be explored to ensure that such absences are reduced to a minimum.

 

The school has an anti-bullying policy which is supported by a series of measures including awareness-raising among students as to what constitutes bullying, work in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) promoting positive peer relationships, the visit to the school of the ‘Sticks and Stones’ theatre group and the planned introduction in the next academic year of the ‘Cool Schools’ anti-bullying initiative.  Clear procedures are in place for investigating and dealing with incidents of bullying, and supports are offered to both students who are bullied and those who are bullying.  This good practice is highly praised.  It is suggested however, that the term bully contained in the policy be changed to reflect bullying as an aspect of behaviour rather than personality.

The student council, comprised of selected representatives from each year group and officers, meets every week to discuss issues of concern to students.  Training has been provided for all members of the student council, which is commended.  Meetings are attended by the liaison teacher. The student council is currently in the process of drafting a constitution and also working towards affiliation with Comhairle na n’Óg.  Some of their achievements to date include changes in the canteen, the introduction of a ‘green’ vending machine and consultation in relation to the litter policy and campaign. A very commendable student initiative is the stationery shop which has been set up and run by the student council and is open twice a week before school.  The commitment of the student council members to the overall student body is praised.   To support the students in their good work and to develop the student council as an elected body, it is recommended that contact be made with the coordinator in the Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) support services who has responsibility for the setting up of student councils.

 

There is a long-established parents association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council and is actively supportive of all that the school is doing for their children.  The association holds regular meetings which are attended by a member of senior management.  Members of the parents’ association described themselves as very much part of the school community, all working towards a shared goal.  They experienced great openness from senior management and staff to their proposals and reported being consulted in relation to the development of school policies and aspects of curriculum provision. The association reported satisfaction with the variety of programmes offered in the school and were very praiseworthy of the work being done to support the students’ academic and personal development. The parents’ association organises talks for parents and helps with student-related events during the year.  The work of the parents’ association in supporting ongoing school development is commended. Fundraising is carried out by a separate parents’ group whose commitment to the school is also highly praised. 

 

Contact between the school and parents is ongoing.  A school newsletter is issued twice each year, in September and at Christmas, providing readers with news of recent school events and successes, and information and reminders for the next term.  Annual parent-teacher meetings are also held for each year group. 

 

As a community college serving the residents of the immediate local area, St Mac Dara’s enjoys good relationships with the feeder primary school and the local community.  This is particularly evident in the area of sport where some facilities are shared by the school and the community sporting clubs.  Community activities also include a range of evening classes offered in a variety of disciplines.  These are coordinated by a director of adult education whose duties include identifying courses of interest, finding teachers and completing all the necessary administration. Classes currently offered range from leisure activities such as bridge lessons to more academic classes such as beginners Irish or mathematics for parents of junior cycle students.  Plans for the forthcoming academic year include lessons in English as a second language.  The school is commended for this commitment to the local community.   

 

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

St Mac Dara’s Community College has a teacher allocation of 49.85 teachers, including four ex-quota positions for the principal, deputy principal, for learning support and a chaplain. The school also has a 1.36 ex-quota position for guidance.  In addition, the school receives an allocation of 4.88 teachers for Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Non-teaching staff include one full-time and two part-time secretaries, one full time and two part time caretakers, and four cleaning staff.  The school currently operates a forty-six period week, each lesson being of thirty-five minutes duration.  However, plans are in place for the forthcoming year to change the timetable to a nine-period day and to extend the duration of lessons to forty minutes.  This will ensure that the school is fully compliant with the twenty- eight hours instruction time as directed in circular M29/95 Time in School. 

 

The teachers who have committed themselves to the substitution and supervision contracts engage in the supervision of students in the morning, at break time and lunchtime.  The senior management team reported that they cover supervision at the end of the school day.  It is important however, that a back up system is in place to ensure adequate supervision at this time should senior management be absent or unavoidably detained elsewhere. 

 

Teachers are deployed in terms of their subject specialisms and all are given the opportunity to teach to all levels.  The wide range of teaching experience and the rotation of teachers contribute to the provision of good quality teaching and learning.  A review of timetabling for the current year however indicated that all the assistant principals’ timetables fell below the required minimum teaching hours.  Senior management reported that this related to the timetabling of the thirty-five minute lessons.  However, the proposed changes to the timetable in the forthcoming academic year will result in all teachers teaching a minimum of eighteen hours.  Senior management makes every effort when devising the timetable to ensure equality of access and provision for all subjects.  This is commended. In addition, inspectors reported that those subjects evaluated were well resourced and well supported by senior management.

 

New teachers spoke very positively about the ongoing support they have received from senior management and staff since their appointment.  They began their year with a school-based induction programme.  This was facilitated by members of middle and senior management in St Mac Dara’s who have participated in a Co. Dublin VEC programme entitled “Training the Trainers”. The new teachers also benefited from the induction programme which Co. Dublin VEC provides for all new teachers working within its sector.  Many of the new teachers are class tutors and some are involved in extra-curricular activities.  This has helped them integrate more fully into the life of the school.  They reported that, in their work as class tutors, they experienced a great openness from year heads to some of their suggestions for improvement.  They also received practical help when experiencing difficulties with a particular group. The collegiality and supports afforded to all new teachers is warmly commended.

 

The school building, which is situated in a residential area and beside a local community park, is twenty-five years old and concern for its upkeep is an ongoing topic for discussion at board of management meetings.  It is well maintained and, through the commendable work of the green schools’ initiatives, the student council and ancillary staff, the corridors and classrooms are kept free of litter.  Photographs celebrating the achievements of past and present students adorn the walls of the entrance area and the corridors.  Classrooms are generally teacher-based and many of the classrooms visited were visually stimulating with subject-related posters and projects on the walls.  Some concerns however are raised about the guidance facilities.  The two offices are sectioned off within an open area, which can be accessed by students seeking guidance-related information, and by staff.  This results in a lack of privacy for students seeking individual counselling.  Senior management needs to address this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure an appropriate environment for counselling and for meetings between the guidance counsellors and parents.

 

Information and communication technology (ICT) is very ably coordinated by an assistant principal.  There are two networks in the school, one for administration and one for curricular use. Approximately forty percent of classrooms currently have computers in addition to the two computer rooms in the school.  A multimedia projector and a number of laptops are also available for use by teachers in the classroom.  As part of his work, the coordinator has approached the VEC with the proposal to establish a network among VEC schools for the sharing of good practice in relation to identifying, accessing and using ICT related resources. This initiative is commended. Members of the teaching staff are generally very comfortable with the use of ICT in teaching and learning. Students in first and fifth year have one period a week for computers, while TY students have four periods a week.  The school is also an accredited centre for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL).  The school has a comprehensive internet acceptable usage policy which will be reviewed jointly by the school and parent representatives in the next academic year.  The use of the internet by students is carefully regulated and both staff and parents work together to ensure appropriate use of particular websites by students.  Future priorities include the fully integrated use of ICT in the classroom and training for members of staff on the use of the Facility Programme.  It is suggested that the revival of the school’s website be also included among these priorities to order to, among other functions, celebrate and give public expression to the school’s many achievements.  

 

The school has a health and safety statement outlining protocols and the different responsibilities attributed to the relevant members of senior management, teaching secretarial and ancillary staff.  The current health and safety statement is under review and work is currently in progress to further develop or update health and safety protocols for trips outside the school, to provide more first aid training and to organise training in the use of a defibrillator for which the students are fundraising.  The ongoing work in relation to health and safety is commended.

 

Commendable efforts have been made towards developing a sense of environmental responsibility among students through surveys and competitions, litter and recycling campaigns and projects. The school is currently working towards achieving a green flag. Some of these activities have been commendably integrated into action projects carried out by students of Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE).  Coordination of the green school project is praised. However, it is suggested that greater responsibility for action planning and involvement be encouraged through the committee structure. 

 

The work of the school’s administrative staff in supporting senior management is highly commended.

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

St Mac Dara’s Community College has a long history of involvement in school development planning (SDP). The coordination of planning forms part of an AP post. Links with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), developed from the outset are maintained. The school has two school development planning afternoons during the year. An update on progress in relation to school development planning is provided at staff meetings.  Senior management also meets with the SDP coordinator to review progress and forward plan.  This ensures that planning as a whole school activity remains central to ongoing school development and improvement.  This is commended.

 

The school development planning process has involved different formats over the years.  In the past small working groups were formed to work on specific issues.  This year however, the staff has decided to work as a unit in relation to policy development and review.  Good practices were demonstrated in the approach to policy development and review which generally involves an evaluation of current practice, followed by the development and implementation of draft proposals for change, which are then further reviewed.  For example, the work carried out on the attendance policy in 2006 indicated how strategies for improving and recording attendance were developed, implemented and, following a review, were found not to have achieved the desired outcome, thereby leading to further review and improvement.  It was reported that much of the work initiated and completed by the staff in recent years in relation to whole school development planning has resulted in improved classroom management. 

 

Many of the current SDP initiatives relate to maintaining and enhancing the high quality of learning and teaching in the school.  These include the recent appointment of a learning support coordinator, the introduction of study skills seminars for certificate examination students and their parents, a review of the homework policy and the introduction of Assessment for Learning.  Ongoing efforts to support students’ personal and social development have resulted in the proposed introduction of the Cool Schools anti-bullying initiative.  

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 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.

 

A significant number of policies have been completed over the years. Others are still work in progress. One of the challenges of the planning process is to establish whether and when policies need to be reviewed. One of the policies currently in need of review is the school’s enrolment policy as it needs to be developed beyond outlining protocols into a comprehensive admissions policy. In order to ensure that all relevant policies are up to date, it is recommended that senior management and staff request the board of management to identify and list the policies in need of review as part of their annual priorities.  This would bring school development planning in line with the SDPI’s concept of best practice, which advocates a circular process of review, development, implementation and evaluation. It would also complete the circular process where policy development and review begins and ends with the board of management. It is also recommended that all policies and policy reviews, once ratified by the board of management, be signed and dated and kept in a separate planning folder.  Consideration could also be given to the possibility of establishing a school development planning committee to support the coordinator in the work of school development planning.

 

St Mac Dara’s Community College is highly commended for its proactive approach to school development planning and for the progress it has made over the years. 

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

St Mac Dara’s Community College provides a very broad and comprehensive curriculum responding to the needs and interests of all students.  The school offers four programmes, Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).  There is currently no Leaving Certificate Applied programme offered in the school.  This is due to lack of demand and perceived need for the programme by the entire school community.  However, this is kept under review.

 

Transition Year (TY) is optional in St Mac Dara’s and there is only one class group in the current academic year.  In instances where the number of applications exceeds the number of places, selection is based on students’ age, on medical grounds and on the advice of class tutors and year heads as to the potential benefits of the TY programme for the applicants.  It is recommended that the selection criteria and process be reviewed and documented to ensure complete objectivity and transparency which would stand up to appeal should this ever occur. The programme is jointly coordinated by the overall programme coordinator and the TY year head. A Transition Year plan for the current academic year was submitted during the course of the evaluation outlining the rationale underpinning the programme and the course content.  The plan is reviewed every year and changed every four years. The current TY programme offers a number of core subjects which are timetabled for the full academic year in addition to a series of modules which may be timetabled for a shorter duration. It is recommended that guidance be reintroduced as a module into TY to prepare students for and to support them in both their search for meaningful work experience placements and for future subject and career choices.  In addition to their course work, TY students engage in a range of social and cultural activities and outings, including visits from guest speakers.  Engagement in a range of activities is good practice as it enhances students’ personal and social development. However it is recommended that a set period of time be allocated on the timetable for such activities to ensure that disruption to core subjects is kept to a minimum.  It is also suggested that greater detail of such activities be included in the TY plan.

 

Students engage in one day’s work experience each Friday as part of their TY programme, completing three placements during the year.  There is also a strong focus on community care where students work with people with disabilities over a number of Thursdays during the school year. The community work carried out by the students is commended.  However, the organisation of this module and the day release for work experience means that TY students are present in school for only three days in the week for a significant part of the school year.  Furthermore, when absent from school for community work, students are missing from timetabled core subjects. This needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.  In light of new developments in TY, where best practice advocates that all work experience and community projects be carried out as block release, it is recommended that the current TY programme be restructured and the work experience and community care programmes be organised as block release programmes. This would allow more uninterrupted time for core subjects and for additional modules or activities.  The completion of a block release of work experience should furthermore afford a greater range of learning opportunities than the current format where students may have been limited to only experiencing the work carried out on a Friday.  

 

Members of the parents’ association, whose children had completed Transition Year, spoke of the benefits of such a programme for students. While demand for entry into TY in the current academic year did not exceed the number of places available, senior management reported that there was a significant increase in the number of applications for the forthcoming year, enough to warrant the formation of at least one more class grouping. It is recommended that both management and staff explore ways whereby the current difficulties envisaged in expanding the TY programme can be overcome, thereby affording a greater number of students the opportunity to benefit from a Transition Year experience.

 

Any student who has the appropriate subject combinations can apply to do the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.  In addition to their mainstream subjects, LCVP students are timetabled for one double period each week in both fifth and sixth year in order to complete the Link Modules.  Preparation for the world of work is central to the completion of the Link Modules and LCVP students have the opportunity to attend talks and seminars organised by the guidance service. However, consideration should be given to including a module on guidance to support them in their personal and career choices and decisions.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Junior cycle classes in St Mac Dara’s CC are formed into mixed-ability groupings and this practice was seen by inspectors to be working well.  On acceptance into the school, incoming first-year students are asked to choose the modern language they wish to study.  The choice of language dictates the student’s class grouping for junior cycle.  This is the only subject choice students are required to make prior to entry into the school.  The use of language choice to determine mixed-ability groupings is ostensibly an effective means of random selection into classes.  However, it needs to be kept under constant review as student choices, based on a perception of the ease or difficulty of certain languages, have the potential to result in a form of streaming. First-year students are then offered a taster programme of the ten subjects that are compulsory for Junior Certificate in St Mac Dara’s, as well as ten other subjects. The school is commended for the opportunity afforded to all students to experience such a broad range of subjects.  However, senior management should also consider the possibility of offering a taster programme of shorter duration, thereby affording students more time for the subjects they intend to continue to Junior Certificate.

 

Students have an open choice of subjects to choose from as opposed to choosing from pre-defined bands in both junior and senior cycle. This is very good practice. As a result, all students are guaranteed two of their three options at junior cycle and four of their five options at senior cycle.  TY students make their subject choices for senior cycle in Transition Year as opposed to third year.  This is good practice as it supports ongoing student engagement with the full range of subjects offered in TY.  TY students are also offered study skills seminars to support their successful reintegration into the desired work schedule at senior cycle, a practice which is highly commended.

 

Both junior and senior cycle students are supported in their subject choices by senior management and the guidance department.  Members of the guidance service meet with the relevant class groups to brief them about subject and career options.  Students are also issued with a booklet containing guidelines for choosing subjects and a brief overview of each subject offered.  Career opportunities arising from some subject choices are also included along with an information sheet for senior cycle students on the entry criteria for third-level courses.  This practice is highly commended.  An information night on making informed subject choices in addition to a brief overview of the different subjects on offer is also organised by the guidance service for parents of relevant year groups. Care should be taken to ensure that the information disseminated to parents is in line with the information students receive from subject teachers.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Senior management and staff in St Mac Dara’s Community College maintain a strong belief in the value of learning outside the classroom.  The broad range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities offered to students in St Mac Dara’s is testament to the ongoing commitment of senior management and staff to this belief and to the school’s mission statement encouraging all students to realise their full potential.

 

Subject-related field trips, language exchanges and cultural visits have taken place over the years both at home and abroad.  One of the most memorable of these trips involved singing for the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.   In 2003 students from the school represented Ireland at the inaugural European day where they participated in a debate on third World development at a special sitting of the European Parliament. Some students have also participated in visits to developing countries where they worked to help the people in the area and also witnessed some of the outcomes of their fundraising activities for Trócaire.  Such visits have inspired and underpinned the students’ strong and highly commendable commitment to fundraising for people in the developing countries. Students’ admirable commitment to promoting human rights and dignity is also evident in the work of the Amnesty group in the school.  

 

Interest and fluency in the Irish language is promoted through the school’s annual ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’. There is also a strong tradition of debating in the school. There has been a vibrant History Association in the school since its foundation, whose members engage in the commendable practice of presenting awards to all their peers who have achieved an ‘A’ grade in Junior Certificate History. Students of science are encouraged to participate in the annual Young Scientist and Technology competition, with some students achieving significant successes over the years.  Students of Engineering have also experienced noteworthy successes in the National Young Engineering Competitions over the years.  An annual Physics day is organised where a guest speaker comes to the school to give a workshop on a physics-related topic. 

 

There is a strong musical tradition in St Mac Dara’s Community College. Students who have a talent for or an interest in music can join the school choir.  The choir participates in the Co. Dublin VEC concert which is held annually in the National Concert Hall, in addition to taking part in all school liturgies and events.  The school also produces an annual musical which becomes one of the significant highlights of the students’ life in the school.  Respect for the different religious traditions in the school is promoted in the choir’s participation in all school liturgies including masses and an annual evensong celebration in the school.  

 

A wide range of both competitive and recreational sporting activities is made available to students, including Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, soccer, rugby, basketball and golf, athletics, kayaking and badminton.  A significant budget is allocated by the school to support the pursuit of excellence in sport.  The coordination of sporting activities forms part of the duties of an assistant principal, while some administrative duties are also assigned to a special duties teacher.  Every effort is made to organise competitive sporting activities on Wednesday afternoons, thereby avoiding a loss of tuition time.  The school has built up a high profile over the years in achieving significant sporting successes and was recently awarded an award for its achievements in sport. The success of all co-curricular and extra curricular achievement is celebrated at the annual end of year award’s ceremony.

 

The commitment of both senior management and staff to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is highly commended as it fosters a sense of belonging and pride in one’s school and enhances student relationships with their teachers and their peers.  

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Subject department planning is well established in St Mac Dara’s Community College. The subject departments are well-organised, meet regularly and make a valuable contribution to the development of their subject areas. Good records of the work of each subject department are maintained. Where minutes of meetings are not formally recorded, it is recommended that this would be considered by the relevant subject departments as a means of ensuring continuity of the developmental work of the subject department.

 

Apart from formal meetings, it was evident that subject teachers work well together in a collaborative manner and frequently liaise on an informal basis to assist and support each other in delivering the curriculum. This shared sense of responsibility and team spirit is to be commended.

 

A good level of planning was evident in the subject plans which showed shared approaches within the relevant subject areas to issues such as teaching methodologies, assessment strategies, identification of desired learning outcomes and the overall organisation of course content. The linking or integration of the work of the subject departments with overall school development planning is to be commended. This is particularly seen in the current focus by subject departments on developing Assessment for Learning strategies.

 

Planning for Transition Year courses or modules was generally very good and often included material designed to engage students in new, innovative and interesting ways. Where this happened it was highly commended.

 

The level of planning for resources, as shown in the development of shared folders of teaching and learning resources such as worksheets, videos or DVDs, and planning templates is very good. A very high standard of individual teacher planning for lessons and course delivery was evident in the advance preparation of relevant resources and the organised manner in which teachers went about their work.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

The quality of teaching observed in St Mac Dara’s Community College was generally of a very high standard. This was evidenced in the structure of the lessons, the pacing, clarity of communication, sharing aims and objectives with students, and the recapitulation of content at the end of lessons.

 

A very positive atmosphere was observed in the lessons with students showing enthusiasm and interest in their learning. The supportive and positive relationship between teachers and students, observed across all subject areas, is to be commended. Students were focused on their work during the lessons and their contributions were sought and valued. Individual support to students was provided, when required, in a caring and sensitive manner.

 

The application of a variety of teaching methodologies facilitated effective teaching and learning. Good use was made of practical activities, pair and group work, higher-order questioning, and real-life examples in engaging students with the lesson content. Particularly noteworthy was the use of methodologies which challenged students to engage meaningfully with the content of the lessons in an active manner. This ensured that students developed a good understanding of the relevant topics and also enhanced their development of associated cognitive or practical skills. In a few cases, greater use could be made of such methodologies to avoid over-use of a teacher-centred approach or of the textbook.

 

Very good use was made of resources such as white boards, data projectors, worksheets and notes, and displays of student work, to facilitate student learning. Some good use was made of ICT to effectively complement the work of the teacher. However, the sharing of good practice regarding the use of ICT in teaching and learning is an area which could be explored further in the future.

 

Classroom management was effective. For instance, practical activities were generally well organised. Health and safety issues need to be reviewed in some practical subject areas.

 

Students are encouraged to achieve at the highest level appropriate to their ability.   This was shown in the care given to ensuring that students of all abilities were fully included in class activities and in the use of differentiated materials and approaches when appropriate. Students demonstrated high standards of learning commensurate with their age and abilities and there was evidence that students were motivated by the lesson content and delivery.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

A good range and variety of assessment modes are used in St Mac Dara’s Community College. A high degree of formal and informal evaluation of students’ progress is achieved through the use of class tests, homework, end-of-year examinations, questioning in class, and the monitoring of portfolio or practical work.

 

The use of Assessment for Learning strategies in many areas is to be commended. These strategies were evident in approaches such as the sharing of marking schemes with students, and the use of self or peer assessment. An excellent feature of the use of Assessment for Learning strategies was shown in the frequent use of formative and affirmative feedback to students, both verbally and in writing, which was observed in many lessons and subject areas. The school is to be commended for introducing this focus on innovation in the area of assessment and it is suggested that a sharing of successful strategies or innovations across subject areas could be a useful means of enhancing and maximising the good practice observed.

 

Good records are kept of individual student’s progress. Parents are kept well informed of students’ progress through the issuing of reports after formal examinations and the holding of parent-teacher meetings for each year group annually. Good use is also made of students’ journals to assist in communication between home and school.

 

As part of ongoing curriculum development the school is currently reviewing the timing of the summer examinations which currently take place in mid May.  Such a review is timely as current practice may compromise the integrity of the school year. Current practices mean that students return to the classroom for a fortnight following their end of year assessments to engage in new learning.  Some teachers reported an increase in the number of students absent during this last fortnight.  This suggests that there may be a perception by students and parents that the work completed in this last fortnight is not important since it is not assessed. 

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

St Mac Dara’s has an allocation of one whole time equivalent (WTE) for learning support and six hours for resource teaching. There are also six special needs assistants (SNA).  The coordination of learning support and resource teaching is a special duties post.  There is an established learning support policy aimed at enabling students with additional needs to reach their full potential in their area of particular need which is commended as it reflects the commitment of the learning support department to inclusivity, whereby provision for students with additional educational needs is in accordance with the school’s mission statement.

 

The members of the learning support department meet as a department both formally and informally on an ongoing basis. There is a core team of five teachers involved in the provision of learning support, with a further small number of teachers providing individual or group tuition to students requiring additional supports. The policy of creating a small core team and involving a limited number of teachers in the provision of additional support is good practice. Two of these members of staff have been accepted for block release courses for teaching students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). 

 

There is close liaison with the main feeder primary school prior to students’ entry into first year in order to identify those who will require learning support.  Incoming first-year students also sit the Drumcondra and GRT tests for literacy and numeracy and complete some exercises in free writing.  This enables the learning support coordinator to further identify students with additional needs.  Priorities identified for development in first year include literacy skills enhancement, the enjoyment of reading and the building up of the students’ profiles.  First-year students receive learning support for English in small groups of between three and five students.  They are usually withdrawn for this purpose from Irish if they have an exemption, from non-examination classes or from subjects which they do not intend to continue in second year.  All efforts are made not to withdraw students from SPHE.  This is good practice as participation on SPHE lessons is important for students’ personal and social development.  Team teaching is the preferred approach for supporting students with learning needs in Mathematics.  However, individual tuition is also provided in the case of students with significant or specific needs. Given the benefits of a team teaching approach in supporting full inclusion of students with additional needs and the success of the approach for the teaching of Mathematics, the members of the other departments should consider piloting this method. Support for students with additional needs from second to sixth year focuses on the demands of the curriculum and help is provided with projects, examination questions and preparation.  In addition, organisational skills are developed in relevant areas, which enable students to gain greater mastery over the organisation of their work and the completion of assignments, thereby creating positive learning experiences for them and improving their self-esteem.  This is highly commended. 

 

There is good communication between the learning support department and subject teachers and any help requested is given.  Given the knowledge and expertise that has been built up or is to be acquired in the forthcoming year in the area of learning support and resource teaching, consideration should be given to the sharing of best practice in relation to students with additional needs through the provision of in-house inservice.

 

There are six SNAs working either full time or part time with individual students in the school.  All SNAs have relevant qualifications and they liaise with the learning support coordinator in order to best meet the needs of the students they are assigned to.  The SNAs reported very good working relations with the subject teachers in balancing the students’ need for help with their need for independence and their work is commended.

 

The location of the school in an established residential area and the absence of international students and other minority groupings in the feeder primary school has meant that there are no newcomer students in the school for whom English is a second language, nor students from minority groupings.

 

In order to avoid the duplication of services offered, it was decided to establish a care team to develop a more co-ordinated approach to support students, in particular those with SEN.  The team, which includes the learning support coordinator, the guidance counsellors, the SPHE coordinator, the school chaplain and the principal, meet each week to identify and discuss issues of concern and to coordinate a joint strategy for dealing with individual cases. Referrals to the care team can come from the year head, subject teachers or from students through the chaplaincy service. This team approach has been found to be very effective in accessing the supports and services of the relevant external agencies.  It also avoids a situation where parents of a student have to meet a number of different teachers. The inclusion of the SPHE coordinator means that some issues that are of concern to students referred to the care team can be dealt with in the SPHE lesson.  This is highly commended. 

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The school has an allocation of 1.36 WTEs to support the delivery of the guidance programme in the school and currently there are two guidance counsellors in the department; both of whom are also involved in mainstream teaching.

 

There is currently a school guidance plan in place and the members of the guidance service are commended for the planning work they have completed to date.  However, a review of the plan suggests that it is the discrete work of the guidance service rather than a whole school activity.  It is therefore recommended that the development of a guidance plan be progressed forthwith as a whole school activity beginning with a review of the current service. This review should include contributions not only from management and the teaching staff, but also from students and parents. Such a review should then inform the development of the whole school plan for guidance integrating programmes such as SPHE, learning support, chaplaincy and any other disciplines or extra-curricular activities which can support the guidance service in promoting overall student well-being in the school.  Information and guidelines for the development of an integrated whole school guidance plan is available on the National Council for Guidance in Education (NCGE) website.

 

Apart from sixth-year students who are taking the established Leaving Certificate, there are no timetabled lessons for guidance.  Classes are borrowed from SPHE lessons, some of which are taught by the members of the guidance service, or from other teachers when needed.  In order to maximise student access to, and contact with the service, it is recommended that guidance be timetabled for all students in TY and at senior cycle.  The provision of guidance on a regular basis should also be incorporated into the SPHE programme at junior cycle.  A system of rotating class groups could facilitate the provision of guidance for all junior cycle students without compromising the provision of one-to-one guidance and counselling.  Individual careers and personal counselling is available to all students.  The guidance service also organises information evenings for parents and guidance counsellors are available to meet parents when required.  The guidance service maintains good links with the psychological support service and the relevant referral agencies.  This is good practice.

 

The work of the guidance service is supported by the SPHE programme which is timetabled for one period a week for all students at junior cycle and for fifth-year students who are not following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).  There is an SPHE coordinator which is a voluntary post.  Good practice occurs in that teachers of SPHE are given a pack at the beginning of the year outlining the topics to be covered, a range of suitable teaching methodologies and forms for assessment and record keeping.  A review sheet is also provided for students to evaluate their learning at the end of each module.  This enables the SPHE team to evaluate the effectiveness of the programme and to amend it where necessary which is good practice. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) has also been incorporated into the SPHE programme.  The contribution of the SPHE team and programme to the pastoral care of the students is praised.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         St Mac Dara’s Community College is true to its mission statement in providing a holistic education which responds to students’ academic, vocational and pastoral needs.

·         Co. Dublin VEC, through the variety of initiatives offered, supports the management and staff of St Mac Dara’s in their ongoing work.

·         The board of management is properly constituted and members are generally cognisant of their statutory obligations and their roles and responsibilities.

·         The shared vision and commitment of senior management provides for strong and effective leadership. 

·         Assistant principals make a significant contribution to the effective management of the school though their work in the management of students and the completion of a range of essential administrative tasks.

·         The commendable practice whereby year heads complete a five-year cycle of year head duties with the same group followed by a sabbatical allows for variety and renewal within the middle management structure.

·         Special duties teachers work effectively as members of the middle management team, contributing to the successful running of the school. Non-post holders are also encouraged to participate on school committees and to take an active part in school life.

·         There is very good communication between senior management and staff, the parents’ association and the local community.

·         The school’s code of behaviour is clearly articulated in the context of promoting an environment which supports effective teaching and learning.  A staged approach to management of student indiscipline is in place.

·         Students’ contribution to the life of the school is promoted through the work of the student council and the prefects.

·         The school has been proactive in the area of school development planning since the outset.  A significant number of policies are in place.

·         The school offers a comprehensive range of subjects responding to the needs and interests of the student cohort, while the commendable range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities offered in the school promotes students’ social and personal development.

·         A high quality of teaching and learning was generally observed in the subjects evaluated.

·         There is very good provision in the school for students with additional educational needs.

·         Care and concern for students’ overall wellbeing is central to the school’s pastoral initiatives.

 

 

 

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

 

·          The board of management is encouraged to become more proactive as a board in identifying and establishing long and short-term priorities and action plans which would include identifying policies for development and review.

·          Senior management and staff need to further explore ways to reduce the interruption caused by students being excused from class to go to the toilet.

·          The enrolment policy needs to be developed into a comprehensive admissions policy.  All school policies and policy reviews should be signed and dated when being ratified by the board of management and kept in a separated planning folder.

·          The TY programme should be restructured in accordance with current best practice.  Selection for entry into TY also needs to be reviewed to ensure objectivity and transparency.

·          The timing of the summer examinations needs to be reviewed bearing in mind that current practice may compromise the integrity of the school year.

·          An integrated guidance plan should be developed forthwith as a whole school activity in order to optimise student access to the service.  Guidance should be timetabled for all classes at senior cycle and delivered on a rotational basis at junior cycle.

 

 

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:

·         Subject Inspection of English – 8  April 2008

·         Subject Inspection of German – 11 April 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Metalwork and Engineering – 8 April 2008

·         Subject Inspection of PE – 10 April 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Science / Biology – 9 April 2008

 

 

 

 

Published October 2008

 

 

 

 

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, on behalf of the staff, students, parents and senior management, accepts the whole school evaluation report as a fair and comprehensive recognition of the high quality of educational provision in the school.  In particular, the Board appreciates the acknowledgement of the excellent standards of teaching and learning, the strong sense of caring and community, the supportive and positive relationships between students and teachers, the collegiality and team spirit of teachers in various subject departments, and the long tradition of whole school development planning in the college.  The Board is further pleased that the extraordinary commitment of senior management and staff to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is highlighted and valued as central to the ethos of the school.  Recognition of the positive contributions of the student council, the important supportive role played by the parents’ association and parents’ support group, and the close links with the local community, is welcomed.

The Board also acknowledges the positive subject reports in English, Science/ Biology, Metalwork/Engineering, P.E. and German which affirm the professionalism and dedication of the teachers in these departments.

The Board is very appreciative of the courteous, sensitive, respectful and professional approach of the Inspectorate team throughout the evaluation.

 

 

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

 

The Board of Management is committed to prioritising the recommendations of the whole school evaluation report.  It has already implemented timetable changes to ensure compliancy with the twenty eight hours instruction time requirement.  In the area of policy development, the Board has reviewed, signed and dated a number of policies and is committed to further review and development of other policies.  The Board, in consultation with the various educational partners in the college, will avail of the recommendations of the report to ensure the standards of excellence to which the school always aspires.