An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Killarney Community College

New Road, Killarney, County Kerry

Roll number: 70450D

 

Date of inspection: 22-26 January 2007

Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007

 

Whole School Evaluation report

1. Introduction

2. The quality of school management

2.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

2.2 School ownership and management

2.3 In-school management

2.4 Management of resources

3. Quality of school planning

4. Quality of curriculum provision

4.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

4.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

4.3 Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

5. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

5.1 Planning and preparation

5.2 Teaching and learning

5.3 Assessment

6. Quality of support for students

6.1 Students with special educational needs

6.2 Other supports for students: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

6.3 Guidance

6.4 Pastoral care

7. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

8. Related subject inspection reports

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Killarney Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of managementThe board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

 

1.         Introduction

 

Killarney Community College is a co-educational school under the patronage of Kerry Education Service (KES), continuing a system of publicly managed education in Killarney which began in 1903. The present school, built in 1986, is located on the western side of the town in a scenic area adjacent to Killarney National Park. It began as a school of housewifery and woodwork, later became a technical school (Scoil na gCeard), then a vocational school and latterly a community college. Traditionally it provided apprenticeships to local industry and its long-standing secretarial course continues as a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course today. It is the only co-educational school in Killarney town and this year has a total mainstream enrolment of 161 students. A PLC class of twenty-four students are also enrolled and the school’s thriving adult education programme sees in excess of a thousand adults enrolled annually.

 

There are no fewer than twenty-three feeder primary schools whose students enrol in Killarney Community College, comprising students from a range of social backgrounds and communities and including many international students. The school celebrates this diversity by fostering a spirit of integration, inclusion and tolerance among all of its students and has a truly open enrolment policy through which it welcomes and values all students. The school’s mainstream enrolment has been in decline in recent years, with a significant number of students from the school’s catchment area enrolling in schools in nearby towns. More recent indications are positive however with an increase in enrolment experienced within the past year and an expected further increase for the 2007/08 academic year. The school offers the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) to students.

 

 

2.         The quality of school management

 

2.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The mission statement of the school is “to create and nurture a quality, caring, learning culture of initiative and responsibility. It will foster personal contentment, where people will grow in self-confidence and respect. It will lead, promote and encourage so that everyone will be enabled to improve society”. This mission statement is lived out through all aspects of the school’s organisation and interaction with its community but is most evident in the support structures which are in place for students, especially those from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds or those with special educational needs. Catering for the talents and needs of each individual student in a practical and progressive way is a priority for the school and KES is supportive of this by providing financial and personnel support in helping the school to identify and foster students’ individual needs through a variety of initiatives. The efforts that the school makes to care for all its students are reflected in the pastoral care, student-mentoring and class-teacher structures. This  also extends to following students’ progression routes once they have left the school, and inviting the Leaving Certificate students back to the school for an evening the year after they have left.

 

There is a warm, welcoming atmosphere in the school and the friendly relationship between staff and students is evident. This has helped to foster a true sense of community in the school. This is particularly evident in the way senior students look after the welfare of junior students, particularly more vulnerable students. KES, the school’s board of management, in-school management and staff have all helped to create this atmosphere and the board, through its role in the approval of school policies, is commended for its efforts to ensure that all policies are inclusive and have student welfare at their core.

 

2.2          School ownership and management

 

The school’s board of management meets each month, typically serves for a three-year term and is broadly representative of the stakeholders in the school. It comprises two representatives of KES, two parents’ representatives, and two staff representatives. The school principal acts as secretary to the board. The various representatives provide relevant information to their nominating bodies after board meetings, but an agreed, formal report is not provided. Although the commitment of all board members to the welfare of the school was evident throughout the evaluation, the reported KES policy of not nominating KES committee members to boards of management in schools close to where they are living may mean that individual board members may not always be familiar with the background to local issues that affect the school. As it is considered desirable that, as a community college, the school continues to serve and remain in touch with the needs of the local community to the greatest extent possible, it is recommended that the board consider co-opting additional community representatives from within the school’s catchment area.

 

In its role as school patron, KES is proactive in attending to the training needs of members of boards of management and has organised fora for parents, students and board of management members, including a three-hour training programme provided for each board of management. This is regarded as good practice and is viewed as essential by KES, especially in light of the revised responsibilities and functions which have devolved to boards of management in the VEC sector as a result of the Education Act 1998 and the VEC Amendment Act 2001. KES adopts a key management role in the overall operation of all schools within KES. The draft minutes of board of management meetings are sent to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who makes contact with schools as necessary, arising out of issues under discussion. The CEO has monthly meetings with the eight school principals of the schools within KES and principals are encouraged and facilitated to place items on the agenda for these meetings. The CEO is in telephone contact with most of the school principals on a weekly basis and ongoing interaction takes place between KES and its schools, particularly in relation to the school’s financial affairs. The principal gets a monthly financial statement from the KES Finance Officer which forms part of his report to the board of management. When dealing with educational matters, the KES Education Officer is the main point of contact between KES and its schools, where his role in assisting schools in policy formation has been significant. This involvement has helped to provide a unity of approach to policy formation between KES schools and is regarded as practical and appropriate. Although KES issues an annual report on its operation, the board of management of Killarney Community College does not issue an annual report to parents on the operation and performance of the school. The Education Act 1998, Section 20 requires that the board establishes procedures for informing parents on matters relating to the operation and performance of the school. In addition, Section 21 of the Educational Welfare Act (2000) requires the school to submit, not later than 6 weeks after the end of the school year, a report on levels of attendance at the school to the Education Officer assigned to the school and the parents’ association. It is recommended that these matters be attended to as soon as is practicable and that procedures are put in place to ensure that they take place as a matter of course for future years.

 

The board sees its role as working with and supporting the principal for the good of all the school community. It views as important its role in making the school inclusive for all. In carrying out its management role, it follows official guidelines, mindful of the procedures outlined in the Handbook for Boards, Committees and Staff of Kerry Education Service which has been produced by KES. This is an excellent handbook containing clear information, referenced to relevant legislation, on the functions, duties and responsibilities of boards of management in KES schools as well as, the diversity of roles of KES as patron, owner and employer within the schools. The key priority for the school in the view of the board of management is to increase student numbers through more effective promotion of the school. The board feels that Killarney Community College is a very good school and that this view needs to be reinforced in the locality. An incorrect perception of the school locally and the increasingly comprehensive nature of second-level education in general, leading to difficulties for KES schools to achieve a particular educational identity, are among the reasons speculated for the previous decline in enrolment in the school. The board is confident that this trend is being reversed and recognises the excellent efforts of all staff in the school in this regard.

 

The parents’ association in Killarney Community College was established several years ago and is representative of the diversity of students in the school, including international students. A board of officers of the association is appointed annually and the association appoints representatives to the school’s board of management. It organises student/parent advisory sessions and promotes a students’ bursary which is used to provide financial aid to students. It advises school management on issues of mutual concern and is affiliated to the National Parents’ Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (NPAVSCC). The secretary of the association is in regular contact with the school principal and it is acknowledged that the school is always open to the views of parents. Despite the fact that members of the parents’ association are dedicated to helping the school provide the best possible education for students of the school, they feel that they are limited in what they can achieve due to the relatively small number of parents who actively participate in the association. With this in mind, the parents’ association has combined parents’ meetings with talks on topics such as drugs awareness and study skills in an effort to boost attendance at its meetings and this has proved successful. This is considered good practice and is commended.

 

The school is conscious of its role in serving the educational needs of the community and has forged links with the local community through local organisations such as the Credit Union and local businesses who are always willing to take LCA students on work experience. Local sporting organisations also have links with the school and it has been the policy of the board of management to promote the increased use of the school’s facilities by these organisations. The school’s adult education programme continues to thrive, due in no small measure to the efforts of the adult education team to ascertain the educational needs and interests of the local adult community by means of locally distributed questionnaires and a variety of publicity and enrolment campaigns. Such efforts are commended and it is hoped that these will result in increased enrolment in mainstream education in the school as parents in the community become aware of what is on offer in the school.

 

2.3          In-school management

 

A clear but informal division of duties exists in the operation of in-school management at a day-to-day level in the school, with the principal generally attending to staffing issues and the deputy principal dealing with resource and equipment issues. These areas of responsibility are by no means strictly delineated however and senior management are in regular contact throughout the day especially when an issue related to students’ welfare arises. Management is conscious of its role in leading the school out of a difficult period of falling enrolments and a good sense of community and unity of purpose has been created in the school in the recent past, for which management is to be commended. This is reflected in the range of initiatives which have taken place, particularly in the area of public relations. Although the impetus for many of these developments has come from staff as well as from management, these could not have taken place were it not for management’s openness to change and willingness to listen to the views of all stakeholders. The setting up of a school promotions committee, charged with promoting a positive image of the school, is regarded as a key example of this, as a decision was taken to actively promote the school’s work and image in the community. Although the work of this committee has been quite time-consuming and has delayed other school development planning activities, the decision to prioritise the promotion of the school’s image is regarded as an appropriate response to the school’s falling enrolment. Those involved in the school’s promotions committee are commended for the excellent efforts to promote the school through the distribution of brochures, commemorative booklets, open nights and awards ceremonies that are taking place.

 

There are five assistant principal and nine special duties posts of responsibility in the school, not including posts allocated for adult education and the overall co-ordinator’s post. Teachers who hold assistant principal posts form a management advisory committee and meet with senior management weekly. Issues that have arisen or are likely to arise are discussed and a brief verbal report is often given relating to the performance of post duties. These meetings provide a consultative forum for management and help it to keep in close touch with issues that directly affect teaching and learning in the school. As this committee is a subset of senior management in the school, care should be taken that any documentation published by the school does not inadvertently give the impression that it is a body to which senior management reports or is subordinate, and that it is not an intermediate stage of school management between KES and the school’s board of management. The committee is, nonetheless, regarded as a very positive step towards collaborative management in the school and is seen as an instrument of collegiality and an internal mechanism for advice to management. Its formation and operation is commended. This committee and other groups such as the promotions committee, staff representatives on the board of management and school principal, regularly provide informal feedback to staff on matters that have arisen at various fora. This has been very beneficial in increasing staff’s sense of ownership of the decision-making processes in the school and has also helped to create a uniformity of approach to disciplinary and other matters. The holding of staff meetings at least once per term, with staff having an input into the agenda of these and other meetings, is also regarded as beneficial in creating a sense of team spirit within the staff. This was obvious throughout the evaluation. The input of the school’s ancillary and secretarial staff is welcomed and valued as contributing towards the achievement of the aims and objectives of the school. Staff are encouraged to take advantage of any and all professional development opportunities that become available, and availing of opportunities to further integrate the use of ICT in teaching and learning is seen as an area for development by management.

 

The duties assigned to posts of responsibility in the school are generally regarded as fair and balanced and are decided by school management when a post becomes available. Although some adjustment has taken place in recent years due to some posts being lost through retirements, there has not been a complete reassessment of duties pertaining to posts of responsibility for some years. It is recommended that such a review take place to ensure that the schedule of posts meets the evolving needs of the school and that the work allocation is equitable. A possible model for such a review might involve the allocation of a points weighting to all duties, depending on how onerous the particular task is perceived to be. These points can then be allocated to particular posts with an assistant principal post being allocated a certain number of points and a special duties post being allocated a lesser number. Staff who hold either of these posts can then be invited to suggest duties which they will carry out, amounting to the required number of points commensurate with their post. This process should be subject to annual review to ensure post-holders’ duties continue to meet the changing needs of the school. As part of this process, post-holders should be asked to provide annual work plans or targets which they hope to meet in the performance of their duties and these should be reviewed annually as part of a brief report submitted by each post-holder to management. While it is acknowledged that certain duties lend themselves more easily to this process as the work involved is more easily quantifiable, it is nonetheless regarded as desirable that all post-holders engage in a process of review and evaluation of the impact which their work is having on the school community. This should be seen as part of the overall process of school self-evaluation and review being encouraged by senior management. The collaborative manner in which programme co-ordinators work with management, staff and each other is commended. Meetings, both formal and informal, take place as the need arises. Management facilitates this process on request and the only additional meeting time that may require consideration is an opportunity for the learning-support team to have regular, scheduled meetings.

 

A health and safety representative has recently been appointed to a post of responsibility in the school and this teacher has received training from KES. Attention has been drawn to health and safety issues since a recent inspection of Science and many of the recommendations in this subject inspection report have already been implemented. Although a pro-forma health and safety document has been issued to the school from KES, it is essential that the school formulates its own health and safety policy as soon as is practicable and this should pay particular attention to specific hazards associated with practical subjects. As part of this plan the Annual Maintenance Checklist supplied by KES should serve as a focal point for the identification and recording of hazards in the school.

 

The school’s code of behaviour is a fair and balanced document that has the respect of the whole school community, placing the care and welfare of all students at its centre, and thus is a further embodiment of the school’s caring ethos. The guidance counsellor has a critical role in the disciplinary structures within the school which also involve both the year head and class teacher. The latter are also involved in carrying out other student-management duties such as uniform checks, monitoring of student journals and communication with parents. Attendance and school uniform are also monitored at student assemblies which take place in the morning and after lunch. Such efforts to maintain tight but not overbearing control on students’ attendance and uniform are commended and students feel that the right balance is struck between the role of the teacher in implementing school discipline and acting as a confidant whom they can approach in times of difficulty.

 

The students’ council has been active in the school since the 2001-2002 school year. Members are voted on to the council by individual classes and there is one representative for each class. Meetings are held approximately once a week and council members are encouraged to report decisions taken at meetings back to the student cohort. The council has been consulted recently with regard to proposed changes in the school uniform and have effected changes in the menu on offer in the school canteen, in favour of more healthy-option foods. It is obvious that their input into such matters is valued by school management and this has been beneficial to the students in terms of promoting a sense of ownership and pride in the operation of their school.

 

The school values the input of parents into the running of the school and encourages them to participate fully in the school community. Parents feel that they are always listened to if there is a matter that needs to be brought to the attention of management or teachers in the school. There is a good flow of information from the school, and parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for all year groups, with meetings for some year groups combined due to their small size. The results of Christmas and summer tests are sent to parents but it has been the practice in the school to date that the results of the pre-state examinations are not sent to parents. Although it is acknowledged that these results can take a while to arrive in the school as scripts are sent outside the school for correction, the school is encouraged to also send these results to parents by post.

 

 

2.4          Management of resources

 

The practice in the school is that the deputy principal attends to all matters relating to resources and it is generally acknowledged that this has been very successful in helping to keep the school up to date with regard to equipment and resource grants that have become available. The building and environs are maintained in excellent condition and recent investment in relation to the provision of a new roof and windows, the conversion of a drawing room to an information and communication technology (ICT) suite and the provision of an outdoor basketball court have taken place. The good range of specialist rooms which is in place is considered adequate to meet the school’s needs, although a dedicated counselling room, possibly doubling as a meeting room suitable for private parent-teacher meetings, would be advantageous as there is currently no such facility in the school. As the provision of a meeting room suitable for private parent-teacher meetings is recommended by the Report of the Task Force on Student Behaviour in Second Level Schools (2006) it is recommended that the school investigate the feasibility of providing such a facility.

 

Provision of ICT facilities in the school is excellent, with two dedicated ICT suites and fifteen additional laptop computers available in the learning-support room. The use of these facilities is promoted by management, although the maintenance and upkeep of the ICT infrastructure is a significant drain on the school’s finances. It is planned to have network points available in all classrooms in the school and it is recommended that, in keeping with management’s desire to further integrate ICT into teaching and learning, wireless networking be also considered in order to increase the functionality of the laptop computers. Further developments with regard to the school’s facilities in Art, Home Economics, school library and canteen are planned under various schemes and the support which the school gets from KES in its pursuit of any projects with the Department of Education and Science is acknowledged as being of significant benefit to the school. Staff who make a request for funding, particularly capital funding for their subject area, are required to submit a development plan to management and all such requests are facilitated wherever possible.

 

The system of teacher and budgetary allocation operated by KES is open and transparent including, as it does, a variable amount based on enrolment and school capacity. The financial allocation for adult education classes is similarly calculated with items such as heating, lighting and maintenance factored into the school’s allocation. The teacher allocation to Killarney Community College from KES is 22.19 wholetime teaching equivalents. Allocations related to programmes such as the LCA and LCVP as well as the allocation for students from the travelling community and students with special educational needs have led to a favourable pupil-teacher ratio in the school which the school, quite rightly, highlights in its promotional material. Although the deputy principal has some class-teaching time, the school is not complying with the requirements of Department of Education and Science circular 58/98 which stipulates minimum teaching hours for both the deputy principal and principal in VEC schools. This may weaken the school’s case should it request additional resources from the Department of Education and Science through KES. Management, however, feels that the school can cope with the present situation whereby the principal does not have class-teaching time.

 

 

3.         Quality of school planning

 

The school has been involved in school development planning for a considerable amount of time, being one of the early schools involved in the pilot phase of the school development planning initiative. Progress on policy development has been slow in the recent past due chiefly to the temporary secondment of the teacher with responsibility in this area to the role of KES Special Project Officer, and the fact that the school, quite understandably, decided to prioritise the promotion of the school’s image as part of its planning activities in order to increase enrolment. A review and updating of the developmental section of the school plan with regard to all materials documented since 2002 is currently being undertaken.

 

The permanent section, referred to as the “relatively permanent features”, of the school plan has been published since 2000 with amendments and updates up to the 2002/2003 school year. This document reflects a significant amount of work carried on in the school in the early days of school development planning and contains information on the school’s values, missions and aims, its structures and resources, curriculum provision and key school policies. KES, as patron of the school, reserves the right to veto or ask for amendments to school plans and is currently engaging with all schools under its patronage to produce policies on ethos statement, admissions, suspensions and exclusions, behaviour, student-teacher relationships, child protection, bullying, ICT and internet use. The support of the KES Education Officer has been central to policy development in Killarney Community College with pro-forma templates supplied by KES in the areas of homework, substance use, admissions, discipline, code of practice for staff and health and safety, proving very useful to the school in the area of policy formation. Although some of these templates have led to the school formulating and publishing policies of its own, notably in the areas of admissions, suspensions and permanent exclusion, behaviour, a guide for parents and internet acceptable usage, there remain some important areas in which the school has not published policies. Chief among these are the areas of special educational needs, although it is acknowledged that this policy is near to publication, and guidance. The latter is of particular importance in view of the high priority that the school gives to its overall support and care for students. The guidance plan should be seen as an essential, whole-school element to the care structures which are so valued within the school and, as such, should be seen as a priority area for development. Consulting relevant websites such as the School Development Planning Initiative (www.sdpi.ie) and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (www.ncge.ie) is recommended as part of the process of formulation of this policy. As the Education Act, 1998 Section 21(1) specifies the responsibility of the board of management to arrange for the preparation of a school plan, and to ensure that it is regularly reviewed and updated, it is recommended that the board promote the development of the guidance plan and ensure that regular review and updating of all other essential policies takes place. The school’s newly constituted website (www.killarneycommunitycollege.com) provides an opportunity to disseminate information to the school community with regard to practices and procedures in the school and it is recommended that the website should contain links to all school policies once these have been ratified by the board of management and KES.

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies as part of the school’s code of behaviour and guidelines provided by KES. A designated liaison person and deputy designated liaison person have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.

 

Policy development in the school has usually involved the school planning group identifying a person with a particular interest or talent in a specific area and that person heading up a group that forms an initial draft policy. Consultations with regard to the formulation of school policies has led to educational discussion and dialogue within the school and it is felt that it has focused people’s intellect on the need to comply with legislation.  The process has also been beneficial in heightening awareness among teachers of parental expectations. Although the school consults with parents and students regarding the formation of policies, it has been the practice that these groups are usually involved once the policy has reached the draft stage. While acknowledging that it is not possible, or necessary, to consult with all stakeholders in the early stages of policy development in every area, parents should be consulted at the earliest practicable stage and this should take place before the policy is at the stage where it is ready to be approved by the board of management. Such early consultation should avoid giving the impression that parents are being asked to approve a policy that is, in effect, a fait accompli and should encourage parents to become proactive in their contribution to policy development. The spirit of openness with which the school engages with its students is evidenced by the fact that the students’ council have had the opportunity to make suggestions regarding proposed changes to the school uniform and have also effected changes in other areas of school life. It is also recommended that the school amend its enrolment form by deleting a request for information regarding the occupation of the student’s parent or guardian. While it is acknowledged that this information is requested without prejudice, and that the school has a truly open enrolment policy both in policy and practice, it is nonetheless desirable that a parent or guardian is not asked to include any information on an enrolment form that might be misinterpreted as being prejudicial to a student’s enrolment.

 

In tandem with the need to formulate outstanding policies, and the need to maintain a regular review of policies that are in place, subject department planning also needs to be addressed within this context as individual subject departments may have particular expertise or wish to have their voices heard with regard to specific policies. It is acknowledged that, although considerable informal planning is taking place among the teachers of each subject area, steps need to be taken to formalise subject department planning in the school and the school is encouraged to put such structures in place. The existing collaboration between teachers as part of the LCVP link modules and the employing of some JCSP methodologies in mainstream classes, together with initial steps taken by the school planning group to promote assessment for learning and the greater use of ICT in teaching and learning, should be seen as a useful starting point for this process. Continuation of professional development regarding teaching and learning methodologies and assessment procedures is seen as a priority by management as is the refinement of the Outdoor Resources Brought Into Teaching (ORBIT) programme. The greater involvement of local community entrepreneurs in cross-curricular development is also planned for LCVP students and the promotion of inter-agency involvement in the LCA, particularly for students with special educational needs, is planned.

 

 

4.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

4.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The curriculum on offer at Killarney Community College is broad and balanced, reflecting the school’s desire to provide students with the greatest range of subject, and thus career, choices as possible. This has proved particularly challenging in the past due to falling enrolments and the capacity of the school to maintain the breadth in its curriculum is commended. This is due in no small measure to the willingness of staff to teach subjects which are not always within their areas of expertise. It is school and KES practice to employ teachers who are fully qualified in the subject areas in which they will teach and staff have availed of continuing professional development opportunities so that they can cover particular curricular modules in areas in which their undergraduate training was lacking. Appointments to the school are overseen by KES and each school under KES makes out a curricular-needs plan and teaching posts are advertised accordingly. The range of curricular options available to students reflects a culture of curricular innovation in Killarney Community College and includes the Junior Certificate, JCSP, Leaving Certificate, LCVP, and the LCA. There is also a PLC class of twenty-four students in the school. The Transition Year option (TY) was provided previously but the school discontinued this programme approximately ten years ago due to falling student demand. There is good gender balance in all subject areas, with the traditional breakdown of specific subjects along gender lines not evident. As an example of this, approximately thirty per cent of Home Economics students are boys and there are many girls studying Materials Technology (Wood) and Metalwork.

 

The most significant curricular innovation that the school has undertaken in recent years has been the ORBIT programme. This programme was introduced to the school in pilot form in 2005/2006 and supported by KES through financial assistance and the appointment of a co-ordinator within KES. The programme was developed in conjunction with the nearby Cappanalea Outdoor Education Centre and Knockreer Education Centre and provides students with an opportunity for cross-curricular, active learning using the outdoors as stimulus through the organisation of trips to the local national park and other outdoor venues. It is being delivered in the school as part of the JCSP and is currently being offered to all first-year students, who spend one day per fortnight on an outdoor excursion, and some second-year students who spend one day per month on such excursions. Each of these excursions involves a significant amount of organisation and a number of meetings were required in the first year of its operation in order to co-ordinate learning that was to take place in each subject area. The programme co-ordinator was facilitated by management to organise meetings of staff involved in delivering the programme and this facility has also been extended to other programme co-ordinators in the school as part of their work. The excellent structures which were put in place regarding assignments last year are being replicated in the current year, resulting in little or no demand for formal team meetings. The programme is regarded as an outstanding success, has the approval of all members of the school community and has received acclaim from a wider international educational network called Espair (Education through Open-Air Sports) aimed at combating early school leaving as part of the European Year of Education through Sport. Although it is acknowledged that KES provided funding for the Orbit initiative on a once-off basis in 2006, it is strongly recommended that KES continue to support the school in this initiative, such is the positive impact that it, and the JCSP generally, is having on the school.

 

The LCA was introduced by the school in 2001 and is being very positively received by parents and students. Staff feel that it provides a natural progression for students who have done the JCSP in junior cycle. The programme co-ordinator is in regular contact with other staff members especially in relation to work experience which takes place on one day per week throughout the school year.

 

Parents feel that the curriculum is reasonably broad and balanced but would like to see some Occupational First Aid provided as they feel this would be an advantage to students pursuing a career in nursing or working in the building industry. Parents would also welcome some provision for Music, but are aware that a school the size of Killarney Community College does not have the student numbers, and consequent staffing levels, to offer everything that they would like. Provision in all subject areas is broadly in line with Department of Education and Science regulations, although the fact that senior cycle students have no timetabled provision in Physical Education is a cause for concern. As a variety of recent publications such as the National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, and School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005 have highlighted the role that Physical Education can play in combating many of the problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle, it is strongly recommended that the school provide timetabled Physical Education classes for students in keeping with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005.

 

A Business and Secretarial PLC course is running in the school after which students go on directly to the second year of the Business Administration course in the Institute of Technology, Tralee. As management feels that there is sufficient interest for a second PLC course to run in the next school year, an Art Portfolio Preparation course is planned for 2007/2008 which would have recognition from the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). The school is to be commended for this initiative and the provision of this course should be seen as having the capacity to complement the excellent work in Art by mainstream students, so evident throughout the school. The school would like to offer a course of Driver Education and is considering this as part of one of the challenges for the Gaisce awards. Ambitious plans are also in place for future e-learning initiatives to facilitate distance learning in particular subject areas, namely Woodwork, Technical Drawing, Engineering, Maths, Art and Geography and the school is highly commended for its willingness to undertake such educationally innovative projects.

 

It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements in Killarney Community College fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. The school indicated that it would be addressing this matter and making adjustment to the timetable for future years or seeking additional resources to address the matter if this adjustment would compromise essential course provision.

 

4.2           Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

There is a wide choice of subjects available to students in the school at all levels and classes are generally of mixed ability throughout the school, with a special-educational-needs class formed at junior cycle. In junior cycle there are fourteen core subjects and three optional subjects available. In second and third year, all students do Irish, English, Maths, Science, Geography, Computers, Religious Education, Physical Education, Civic Social and Personal Education (CSPE) and Social and Personal Health Education (SPHE). Other subjects such as Art, Technical Graphics, Metalwork, Materials Technology (Wood), French, History, Home Economics and Business Studies are available as options in second and third year. The formation of option bands for these subjects varies from year to year and is dependent upon student demand, a best-fit model being applied. Concurrent timetabling in Irish, English and Mathematics enables these subjects to be studied at different levels and also facilitates the provision of learning support for students. This is commended. Provision for students following the JCSP is slightly varied from the traditional Junior Certificate, although it is school policy that all JCSP students have the same choice of options as all other students.

 

At senior cycle the school offers the LCA and LCVP in addition to the Leaving Certificate programme. The LCA is limited to twelve places annually, priority being given to students with special educational needs, and is aimed at preparing students for the world of work. The LCVP is proving very popular in the school, being a full Leaving Certificate programme with the addition of link modules in Enterprise Education and Preparation for the World of Work. The guidance counsellor goes to each class for at least three periods at the end of third year to assist students in making their subject choices for senior cycle and is available to students in individual or small groups should they require assistance in this regard. The LCA co-ordinator also assists in this process by visiting classes to inform students about subject and programme options at senior cycle and the learning-support team and class teachers also offer advice. The Rothwell Miller Interest Bank and a Differential Aptitude Test are administered to students and evaluated so that broad career fields of interest and aptitudes can be identified. A genuine spirit of collaboration and consultation exists in the school, with parents centrally involved in the decision-making process, being expected to countersign choices identified by students. The guidance counsellor arranges information evenings for parents before the Junior Certificate examination to inform them of the subject choices that are available for senior cycle and give information about these. A letter is sent to parents in March/April regarding senior cycle subject choices and an information sheet is sent to parents with a summary description of the LCA and LCVP link modules, including subject combinations. It is commendable that option blocks are always arranged on a best-fit basis, with student demand given the highest priority. The range of option subjects available at Leaving Certificate level are Art, Biology, Business Studies, Construction Studies, Engineering, French, Geography, History, Home Economics, Physics & Chemistry and Technical Drawing and option blocks are formed once all students have listed their top six preferences from these subjects.

 

Talks are also organised for Leaving Certificate parents around the time that students are filling out Central Applications Office (CAO) forms and these meeting are particularly well attended. The school plans to give more detailed information to parents of students at all levels in the school regarding the career implications of making particular subject choices. It is intended that this will include brief details of the subject areas that are desirable and essential for specific careers. Such a move towards providing this level of detail is commended and should be an invaluable aid to both parents and students.

 

4.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

There is a wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activity taking place in Killarney Community College, reflecting a significant voluntary effort from the school staff. The range of these activities includes, but is not limited to, an Art exhibition at Christmas, decorating of the school at Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, trips both within Ireland and abroad, extracurricular Music, Judo, JCSP celebrations and awards nights, a day of culture and participation in the Gaisce awards. These activities are having a hugely beneficial effect on school life, as are the school’s sports teams, chiefly in basketball, football, rugby and soccer. The formation of competitive teams at particular age levels in these sports has been a challenge for the school in recent years but, in keeping with the school’s inclusive ethos, the school holds the view that participation is more important than competition and a variety of strategies have been employed to allow the school to create teams to represent the school.

 

Although all of the school’s co-curricular and extracurricular involvements are to be commended, and it is difficult to highlight any of these as being more significant that another, there are some activities that deserve special mention, being an outstanding embodiment of the spirit and ethos of the school. The co-curricular activities as part of the JCSP, especially work relating to the Orbit programme, are particularly noteworthy. Activities as part of “Make a Book” have involved students in language development through compiling a book based on their learning experiences. This book was on display in the Civic Offices in Dublin and in University College Cork and students involved were brought to the exhibition in Dublin in March 2006. The Orbit group also produced a DVD, along the theme of a news report, which reported on some of the activities in which they had been involved during the year. Although the tone of this DVD was light-hearted, and the level of enjoyment of students in creating it was quite obvious, it was clear that real, substantive learning had also taken place during its production in areas such as ICT, the use of digital video, drama and co-operative learning and this is to be highly commended. Another highly commendable area of extracurricular activity is the school’s involvement in charitable ventures such as the adoption of an under-privileged school in Nairobi, Kenya, for whose benefit table quizzes have been organised, fundraising for St. Mary of the Angels, Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and a Belarusian Orphanage and Operation Christmas Child, through which students collected shoe-boxes full of toys and clothes for delivery to welfare areas. Last year no fewer than sixty boxes were collected. Involvement in such ventures can be expected to impact positively on students’ overall view of life and is very much in keeping with the school’s desire, expressed in its mission statement, to lead, promote and encourage so that everyone will be enabled to improve society. It is recommended that, as part of the school’s promotional activities, the school website be used to provide a written and pictorial record of the many diverse and interesting activities in which students are involved.

 

There is no post of responsibility allocated to the co-ordination of extracurricular activities and the enthusiastic involvement of staff is valued and acknowledged by management, parents and students. As the majority of training and preparation of school teams takes place during lunch break, careful consideration will have to be given to how the school’s timetable is to be adjusted so that the school can comply with the requirement to provide twenty-eight class contact hours per week, mentioned earlier. Any adjustment of the school’s timetable that affects the length of the lunch break may negatively impact on the capacity of staff to prepare teams as, having allowed students some time to eat lunch and to get changed and possibly showered, there is relatively little time remaining for actual activity. This should be borne in mind when the school community is considering how the timetable for the 2007/2008 academic year will be adjusted. It is further suggested that a broad consultation process, involving all members of the school community, should take place before deciding on how changes to the school timetable are to be effected.

 

 

5.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

5.1          Planning and preparation

 

Subject department planning is in the early stages of development. Subject co-ordinators have been appointed in English and Home Economics. It is recommended that the position of subject co-ordinator be rotated among the members of the Home Economics department. The provision of time for formal subject departmental meetings is noted in English and it is recommended that plans for the scheduling of more of these meetings be carried through. This recommendation is also reflected with regard to Home Economics and Science.

 

Extensive files of material and schemes of work were noted in French. The review and self-evaluation undertaken in the French department is commended. Beyond this, the planning undertaken for the French course in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme is noted. It is recommended that the possibility of developing links with teachers of languages in other KES schools should be investigated as a support to ongoing subject planning and professional development.

 

Formal subject planning should be initiated in Science. This should be undertaken with a view to devising a common, written programme for Junior Certificate Science and should be approached on a phased basis. In one instance, comprehensive folders of resources have been compiled to support teaching and learning in Science and in Physics and Chemistry. This illustrated a good level of individual planning. Lessons observed were found to reflect syllabus requirements and preparation for these lessons was noted as being of a high standard. It is recommended that the level of chemicals being held in the department be examined with a view to the removal of all out-of-date and unlabelled chemicals.

 

Programmes of work have been prepared in Home Economics and work on the subject plan has begun. It is recommended that the department prioritise discussions relating to the preparation of a template to assist in the drafting of programmes of work. A consensus approach should be adopted to the planning of work to be covered with each year group, involving all members of the department. The effective planning undertaken for the fostering of cross-curricular links between Home Economics and other subjects is noted, as is the current planning for more formal integration of ICT into Home Economics. The latter, very progressive, initiative is commended. It is recommended that, in planning for the textile area of the Junior Certificate syllabus, provision should be made for the completion of a simple item of clothing and a household item.

 

The variation of text choice in junior cycle and senior cycle English is positive and the department is encouraged to continue to expand this approach. Formal department planning has begun this year and it is recommended that an English subject plan be developed, with input from all members of the English department. The department’s approach to the study of Shakespeare in the junior cycle should be kept under review and it is recommended that the study of a third comparative text as part of the Leaving Certificate course should be adopted.

 

5.2          Teaching and learning

 

Lessons were generally well structured and appropriately paced. Advance planning by the subject teachers ensured that worksheets and handouts were prepared and resources such as scissors, glue, and the props necessary for a play were ready to hand. In many cases, the aims and objectives of the lesson were outlined to students and this helped to focus students’ attention. Teachers are encouraged to continue this good practice and to introduce it in all classes. This would allow students to have a clear understanding of the purpose of each lesson and would help them in evaluating their learning.

 

Classroom management was very good and the relationship between teachers and students was positive and conducive to good learning. Students were addressed by name, their efforts were affirmed and they were encouraged to participate in lessons.

 

The use of a range of questioning techniques was in evidence in classes. Good practice was seen when questions were designed to test knowledge and to affirm students’ understanding of new topics. It was most effective as a technique when all students were involved. This helped to increase students’ participation and engagement with the lesson. In some instances, the questioning approach used needed to be more varied so as to develop student communication and independent learning.

 

A number of active-learning strategies were used effectively in the delivery of lessons. Involvement in a play evoked an enthusiastic response from one group. There were some instances where students were given the opportunity to work in pairs and in small groups as well as on their own while their work was carefully monitored by the teacher. This allowed for variation in the pacing of lessons and also facilitated classroom discussion. In practical lessons, the hands-on activity undertaken by the students helped to highlight their confidence and their well-developed practical skills. Teachers are encouraged to expand their use of active methodologies as a way of further developing students’ participation and engagement in the work of the lessons.

 

The laudable practice of linking lesson content to everyday life was noted in a number of lessons as an important way of making a subject relevant for students. The importance of reinforcing students’ learning was mentioned. A number of strategies for consolidating learning in the various subject areas were suggested, ranging from a plenary session on completion of practical activities, to the replaying of a tape and the provision of a lesson summary.

 

The importance of the classroom itself as a learning resource with appropriate and stimulating displays of posters and charts was commended. Effective use of notice boards and the creation of a print-rich environment were noted as examples of ways that appropriate displays help to promote learning. The use of JCSP keyword posters as an aid to developing subject-specific vocabulary is likewise commended. The further development of this practice to include more examples of students’ work is to be encouraged.

 

Overall the teaching observed in individual subject areas was very good and students are achieving to a good level in Killarney Community College.

 

5.3          Assessment

 

Students’ progress and achievement is assessed in a number of ways. Oral questioning in class helps teachers to determine students’ understanding and learning. Topic tests are also administered at appropriate intervals. The testing of aural proficiency in French is applauded, as is the fact that senior students are required to participate in an oral examination. In Home Economics, there is some examination of students’ project, journal and practical work. This is further encouraged. It is recommended that consideration also be given to the inclusion of a percentage of the marks achieved by students in such work in the overall marks that are awarded at key times during the year. Similarly in French, in order to encourage students to communicate in the language and to emphasise the importance of oral proficiency, it is recommended that an assessment mark for spoken French be included in the grades provided on school reports.

 

Formal, house examinations are held for second-year, third-year, fourth-year and fifth-year students at Christmas. Students in examination classes also participate in mock examinations in February. Prior to the summer vacation, students in second year and fourth year are also required to sit formal, house examinations. The progress and achievement of first-year students is determined by means of continuous assessment. The criteria used to assess first-year students is subject and teacher dependent. It may include performance in class tests, assessment of students’ homework or an average of marks awarded to students over the course of the year. JCSP subject statements are also used by some departments as an additional assessment tool.

 

Given the good work evident in assessment practices, it is recommended that departments consider developing subject-specific assessment policies. Such policies would allow for a unified approach to marking, examinations and other forms of assessment. It would also create an opportunity to investigate the appropriateness of a wide range of possibilities in assessment such as differentiated assessment and Assessment for Learning (AfL). The policy should then be included in the subject plan and referred to occasionally to ensure that it is being adhered to.

 

Students’ accomplishments are recorded in a systematic fashion. This helps to inform feedback provided to parents or guardians. Students’ progress and achievement is communicated to parents or guardians by a variety of means. Parent/teacher meetings, which are held once per year for each year group, provide a forum for two-way communication between school and home. Reports are also issued to the parents or guardians of all students at Christmas. Following the summer examinations another report is issued to the parents and guardians of first-year, second-year and fourth-year students. In the case of students in receipt of literacy support there are additional contacts with the home through awards days, informal meetings and telephone contacts. All of these communications and interactions with parents are commended.

 

There is evidence to suggest that homework is regularly assigned and corrected. The use of comment-based formative assessment was apparent in the correction of students’ work. Departments are encouraged to further expand the use of this approach, due to the very real difference it can make to students’ application to their studies and their performance in assigned written work. The English department should continue to expand the use of ICT as a tool in developing students’ homework and as a means of drawing students’ attention to the drafting and redrafting process which is central to all good writing. In some instances, junior cycle students’ copybooks illustrated the use of JCSP achievement stickers to acknowledge work well done. A difficulty in getting students to return homework for monitoring and correction is a cause for concern that was also raised. Consideration should be given therefore to the design and adoption of strategies that might further encourage students to complete work and return it to teachers for evaluation and assessment.

 

6.         Quality of support for students

 

6.1          Students with special educational needs

 

The provision for students with special educational needs in Killarney Community College is excellent, and is a true embodiment of the spirit and ethos of the school in catering for the learning needs of all students. The school has an allocation from KES of 4.79 wholetime teacher equivalents (WTE) for students with special educational needs and an additional 0.5 WTE for learning support education. All of this allocation is utilised to provide a range of individual and group supports to students who require it. In addition to this, South Kerry Partnership has given funding for 14 hours in the current school year which is also being used to provide learning support. The school has a learning-support room, a school library and a dedicated LCA room, all of which are used from time to time to assist students in need of learning support. The learning-support team work very well together and have placed an extensive range of supports in place for students who require learning support.

 

The team is proactive in ascertaining the learning needs of students even before they arrive at the school, with close consultation with feeder national schools taking place. Students are tested prior to the start of first year and a programme of learning support through withdrawal from lessons for one-to-one tuition is available for fifteen hours per week for students who score below the tenth percentile on a variety of diagnostic tests such as the Drumcondra Verbal and Numeracy Tests, the Gap Reading Test and the Norman France Test of Mathematical Ability. In tandem with this system, two teachers are assigned to some classes on two days per week to target students who need learning support without actually withdrawing them from class. The range of supports in place includes collaboration with the International Language Testing Association (ILTA), National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), work on paired reading and a pooling of teacher resources to provide team teaching and one-to-one support.

 

Re-testing takes place for students in receipt of learning support at the end of first year and testing also takes place before and after any other school-based intervention. There are three meetings per year of the learning-support team dedicated to tracking and profiling students’ progress through learning support and regular informal meetings often take place between teachers where progress of students in receipt of learning support is discussed and appropriate actions put in place. The learning-support teacher carries out a diagnostic test if it is considered that little progress is being made with a student who is in receipt of learning support. A profile is then put in place to match the results of the diagnostic test. Such is the quality of learning support provided in the school, and so significant is the impact that these supports are having on students, that management is encouraged to further facilitate the work of the learning-support team by providing time for weekly, or at least fortnightly, meetings if this can be facilitated without impacting upon teacher-student contact time. These meetings will be useful for the team in planning and evaluating supports for individual students and assessing the impact of the comprehensive individual educational plans that are in place for students with special educational needs. It is noted that steps have been taken to formalise meetings between the learning-support teacher and subject teachers, in line with the recommendations of the recent Department of Education and Science inspection of Science at the school, and this is to be commended. It is recommended that formal meetings, at least once per term, be facilitated between the learning-support teacher and the Maths and English subject departments so that literacy and numeracy provision issues can be prioritised. A timetabling error resulted in the learning-support teacher being timetabled for class this year at a time when, ideally, she would have been available to provide learning support on a one-to-one or small-group basis. Management are encouraged to monitor this situation to ensure that the learning-support teacher is in a position to provide appropriate support to students who require it in future years.

 

KES has appointed a Special Needs Co-ordinator who is in regular contact with the school and provides assistance in all areas of special educational needs provision, especially with regard to the acquisition of resources and the formulation of individual education plans. Additionally, it is highly commendable that school-based assistance is funded by KES for students who require reasonable accommodations, by the provision of a reader for example, in preparation for state examinations. Extra hours are allocated some six to ten weeks before the state examination to coach students in examination techniques. This support enables these students to work with one of the school’s special needs assistants so that they will have time to become used to this system before taking the actual state examination. Some learning support is also supplied to an exceptionally able student in Killarney Community College whose talents, particularly in Mathematics, are being nurtured by the provision of some additional support. Such initiatives are highly commended and reflect the ongoing creativity of the school’s learning-support team and KES in providing the best possible assistance for all students.

 

The culture of openness and collaboration which exists in the school is evident in the range of consultation that takes place between the school and parents of students who are in receipt of learning support. The school is mindful of the sensitivities around students with special educational needs, and does its utmost to ensure that supports that are in place are provided in a seamless and unobtrusive manner, particularly through the general assistance provided by special needs assistants. Although parents are very satisfied with the level of support that is provided, the school has to remain cognisant of the desirability of reducing learning support over time for students who can cope without it. Though some parental reluctance, chiefly in relation to the social and personal needs of the student, has been encountered in the case of students for whom such a reduction in learning support was proposed, the school should seek to minimise any risk of a dependence on learning support becoming established among some students. The reduction in learning support over time should be seen in the context of raising both students’ and parents’ expectations and will help students to achieve greater autonomy in learning.

 

6.2          Other supports for students: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

 

Killarney Community College has a wide diversity in its student population with a small, but significant, number of its students coming from minority backgrounds. The school celebrates the unique character that all of these students bring to school life and readily accepts the challenge which their integration presents. Particularly noteworthy are the supports that the school has in place to assist in the integration of international students, many of whom arrive at the school with little or no English. KES is acutely aware of this and has placed an advertisement in the local press seeking to employ someone as a link person to assist Polish nationals who are in KES schools. This is commendable and demonstrates a willingness to fully include these students, who constitute the majority of international students within KES schools. At a broader level, the school feels that the issue of how best to cope with students who have very little English is one that will have to be tackled at national policy level and they feel that a short immersion programme might be beneficial for these students. In this regard, the ability of international students to understand and comply with safety notices in practical subjects is of particular concern to the school. There are a significant number of supports, particularly language supports, provided for international students in the school, with all getting extra English lessons, some on a one-to-one basis and some in small groups. A teacher who has Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualifications uses the “Issues in English” CD-ROM to assist students for whom English is not their first language and the learning-support team is trying to set up language classes for the parents of international students. Parents have suggested that it would be beneficial if staff learned even a few basic phrases in Polish so as to present a welcoming atmosphere for Polish students. The school has found that some minority groups do not wish to have supports provided for them as a particular group or through withdrawal from lessons. These students do not want to be identified in terms of any additional support being offered and have a cultural opposition to special classes. Thus the school, in respecting these views, has been creative and flexible in the manner in which it provides some supports and the increased integration of the special educational needs class with mainstream students has helped to overcome this issue.

 

An induction day is held for all first-year students in the Killarney National Park and this helps to integrate new students and helps the whole group to knit together. The role of extracurricular and co-curricular activities are regarded as having a hugely beneficial effect with regard to the integration of students into school life as sport in particular has helped to break down any barriers that may exist. The student-mentoring programme has also been used to great effect to assist new students and to foster a spirit of mutual respect and care. The guidance counsellor is in charge of this programme and mentoring students are hand picked, in March of third year, by the guidance counsellor and usually serve in the role for two years. Training takes place in the April/May period and lasts for approximately six weeks. Formal meetings take place in September/October and regular informal meetings take place throughout the rest of the school year. The programme is a clear testimony to the caring ethos of the school and has resulted in a feeling of security and belonging among students, particularly younger students. In order to further facilitate students, particularly newly enrolled students, in identifying members of the students’ council, it is recommended that the names of council members be displayed in a prominent student assembly area in the school.

 

Pedagogical supports for students have included the production of questionnaires for students as part of the JCSP and LCA programmes, aimed at eliciting the type of information that they would need for project briefs and investigations for practical work. These act as prompts for students who may lack the skills to collate the correct information on their own. The school has availed of a variety of initiatives to help combat disadvantage and to increase student retention rates. The school has appointed a co-ordinator for the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme and funds secured under DEIS are used to benefit all students, though specific interventions are targeted at individuals in need. There is a very successful breakfast club and homework club in operation and a very good level of parental support for DEIS. Killarney Community College has also been invited to participate in an access programme being provided by University College Cork which is aimed at disadvantaged students and the local Visiting Teacher for Travellers is engaged by the school to assist in the provision for traveller students. The local NEPS psychologist is very available to the school and groups from the school have gone to the South-West Counselling Centre (formerly the Killarney Counselling Centre) to participate in programmes such as an anti-bullying programme. This centre was established in 1994 to provide a counselling service to the greater Killarney and South Kerry area and has proved very useful to the school in the provision of talks or short courses in areas of need identified by the school. The willingness of the school to engage with all of these bodies and the consequent provision of services beneficial to a large number of students is indicative of the school’s inclusive philosophy and is commended.

 

6.3          Guidance

 

In keeping with the caring ethos of the school, the role of the guidance counsellor is hugely positive and multi-faceted in Killarney Community College. In the current, temporary absence of the guidance counsellor, the teacher who has been employed in a pastoral care role under the School Services Support Fund (SSSF) has also taken on the role of guidance counsellor, thus highlighting once again the willingness of staff to be as flexible as possible in providing the best education for students at the school. The guidance allocation to the school is 0.5 WTE.

 

As already mentioned, the guidance counsellor has a multi-faceted role in the school with her role as counsellor receiving equal prominence to her role in providing career guidance. The guidance counsellor has a critical role in disciplinary structures within the school and is always consulted if there is a student in difficulty. She acts as co-ordinator of the student-mentoring programme and liaises with the students’ council. The guidance counsellor also maintains close links with the local primary schools and works with the past pupils’ association in the school in tracking students’ progress once they have left the school. An awards committee has been established by the past pupils’ association to recognise outstanding achievements of past pupils of the school and the association also provides an annual student bursary to assist students. Apart from the obvious promotional value of such ventures, it is again indicative of the caring philosophy in the school that it values contact, and takes an interest in students, both before and after they enrol in Killarney Community College.

 

A school guidance plan has not been formulated to date and management and staff are conscious that this will have to be addressed. This should be regarded as a priority by the school, especially in view of the emphasis which the school places on its support for students and the central role that the guidance counsellor in Killarney Community College has in providing such supports. It is recommended that the school refer to Department of Education and Science Circular 12/05 and the document Planning a School Guidance Programme, issued to schools in 2004, for information on guidance provision and the formulation of a guidance plan in second-level schools. Despite the fact that a guidance plan is not in place, however, the guidance counsellor has outlined a comprehensive range of procedures in the guidance area as part of her subject plan. These include information on the student-mentoring programme, procedures for dealing with transfer of students, integration for minorities, counselling for students and staff, care for ill students and staff, fostering of teamwork and tolerance, integration of new staff, Gaisce programme, charitable fundraising and workshops from Cura, Rape Crisis, Road Safety, Drugs Awareness and Environmental Awareness. These procedures should provide the foundation for much of the required work in formulating the school’s guidance plan.

 

There is no specific lesson period allocated to guidance at senior cycle, rather, the school has found from experience, that providing guidance as part of the LCVP link modules and on a modular basis for LCA is more suited to the needs of students in the school. This is regarded as appropriate to meet the needs of the school and is acceptable as long as students have access to appropriate levels of timetabled guidance provision. The guidance counsellor has individual appointments for senior cycle students in September and before completion of the CAO forms. In addition to this, students come to the guidance counsellor on a regular basis as they need to and are facilitated by subject teachers to do so. Guidance support for students in junior cycle is mainly pastoral in nature and the guidance counsellor, together with other teachers, assists students in making subject choices for senior cycle.

 

Although the school does not have a formal home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher, a teacher in the school has been given responsibility for HSCL as part of her special duties post of responsibility. This is a commendable move on the part of the school as this teacher visits all first-year parents and tries to adopt a preventative rather than curative role with regard to any problems. There are plans to formalise the role of HSCL teacher and the school hopes to be able to formally appoint a person to this role in the near future. It is recommended that the person appointed will need to collaborate closely with the support services such as the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), NEPS and the Visiting Teacher for Travellers in particular, in order to provide a co-ordinated approach to provision for disadvantaged students.

 

6.4          Pastoral care

 

There is a genuinely caring environment in Killarney Community College, epitomised by the school’s policies and practices in numerous areas of school life. The pastoral structures involve the principal, deputy principal, class teacher, year head, and guidance counsellor in particular and also some subject teachers, notably those teaching Religious Education and Social and Personal Health Education. These people combine to form the care team in the school and most, or all, are involved in dealing with particular student issues as they emerge. They meet formally at the start of the school year and informally thereafter as the need arises. It may prove beneficial to schedule formal meetings of the pastoral-care team at least once per term as this should complement the range of informal meetings which are taking place. It is considered good practice that time is allowed at the regular staff meetings for the pastoral-care team to disseminate essential information regarding students to the rest of the staff. In keeping with best practice, and in line with child protection legislation, information that is disseminated is on a “need-to-know” basis.

 

Students are encouraged to be open and honest with staff in the school and the system of student mentoring has helped to ensure that, in the rare event of a student in difficulty not wanting to approach a staff member, peer support is always available. This has proved very successful and senior students in particular are very vigilant in making sure that any incidents of bullying are not ignored. This is a tribute both to the culture that has been created by management and staff in the school and to the maturity and caring attitude of senior students.

 

Although a specific, formal pastoral-care policy has not been formulated by the school, the care of students is at the heart of all of the school’s policies and respect for oneself, one’s peers and teachers is central to the school’s code of behaviour. Nonetheless, it may prove useful for the school to document all of the supports that are available into a pastoral-care policy, demonstrating the range of care structures that are available and how these integrate with all other areas of school policy and procedure. This should help to highlight the excellent level of pastoral care extant in the school and should include the guidance counsellor’s thorough plans in relation to procedures for dealing with tragedy, the integration of international students and the counselling and care of students and staff. The latter is of particular significance as an indication of the school’s acknowledgement of its role as a caring community. Thus the recognition that the school needs to look to its own support structures to assist staff, as well as students who may experience difficulties, is commended.

 

The numerous charitable involvements of students in the school, mentioned earlier, together with charitable staff involvements such as the work of teachers with the local Kerry Parents and Friends Association, has helped students to look outside the school to see how they can help others. The school’s involvement in the Gaisce programme is a further example of this and, as part of this programme, ten fourth-year students in the school have received a bronze award within the past year. The involvement of students, and their teachers, in such ventures is highly commended, inculcating as it does, a spirit of generosity and selflessness among its participants. The school’s contact with the local community and parents is extensive and the parents’ association is regularly consulted with regard to issues of student welfare.

 

Although the school does not have a chaplain, it has proved very beneficial that the local Franciscan friar makes himself available on a voluntary basis and calls to the school most weeks. He has taken student groups to the prayer room in the local Friary and takes charge of organising student masses, such as the “Going Forth” mass for Leaving Certificate students, a September prayer service for first-year students, a remembrance mass in November for second-year and fourth-year students and a morning in the Friary for third-year students. All of these services are made available to students on a voluntary basis, in keeping with the school’s non-denominational status, and students who wish to be exempted from participation are facilitated to do so. 

 

 

7.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Killarney Community College is commended for the manner in which it lives out its mission to provide the best educational and personal care for all of its students.

·         The school celebrates the diversity of its student population by fostering a spirit of integration, inclusion and tolerance among all and has a truly open enrolment policy through which it welcomes and values all students.

·         The school’s board of management is commended for ensuring that all policies which it approves are inclusive and have students’ welfare at their core.

·         The board of management is properly constituted and its members are broadly representative of the stakeholders in the school.

·         In its role as school patron, KES is proactive in attending to the training needs of members of the board of management, staff, parents and students.

·         Although the number of parents actively involved in the parents’ association is small, their efforts are commended and are greatly valued by the school.

·         The school’s adult education and continuing programmes continue to thrive and management hopes to offer a second PLC course in the next school year.

·         Senior management in the school operate effectively as a team with a clear but informal division of duties between principal and deputy principal.

·         Management has overseen a range of initiatives, particularly in the area of public relations, which have taken place in the recent past, aimed at increasing awareness in the community of what Killarney Community College has to offer.

·         The setting up of a management advisory committee is regarded as a very positive step towards collaborative management and collegiality in the school.

·         The school’s code of behaviour is a fair and balanced document that has the respect of the whole school community, placing the care and welfare of all students at its centre.

·         The school building and its environs are maintained in excellent condition and further developments with regard to the school’s facilities in Art, Home Economics, school library and canteen are planned.

·         The system of teacher and budgetary allocation operated by KES is open and transparent and provides the school with the resources it needs.

·         The permanent section of the school plan has been published since 2000 with amendments and updates up to the 2002/2003 school year. 

·         The support of the KES Education Officer has been central to policy development in the school with pro-forma templates in many areas supplied by the KES.

·         The board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with Child Protection Guidelines.

·         Despite falling enrolment figures in recent years, the school is to be commended for its success in maintaining a broad and balanced curriculum which is accessible to all students. 

·         The introduction of the ORBIT programme has been particularly successful and reflects a culture of curricular innovation in the school.

·         It is commendable that subject option blocks are formed on a “best fit” basis with students’ interests dictating the allocation of subject areas to particular blocks.

·         The guidance counsellor, learning-support teacher, LCA co-ordinator and class teacher all provide advice to students regarding subject choices and excellent consultative procedures to involve parents in this process are in place.

·         There is a wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activity taking place in the school with the school’s charitable involvements particularly noteworthy. 

·         Short-term and individual lesson planning in specific subject areas is good.

·         There is a very good quality of teaching and learning in the school with an excellent student-teacher rapport in evidence.

·         Good assessment practices with varied modes of assessment are in place.

·         A proactive, dedicated learning-support team ensure that the provision for students with special educational needs is excellent and is a true embodiment of the spirit and ethos of the school.

·         KES is commended for its vision in appointing a Special Needs Co-ordinator whose regular contact with the school provides assistance in all areas of special educational needs provision.

·         The school has an excellent system of supports, sensitively provided, for students from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds and significant language supports are provided for international students. 

·         The role of the guidance counsellor is hugely positive and multi-faceted in Killarney Community College, reflecting the school’s caring ethos.

·         The caring environment in the school is lived out through its policies and, more importantly its practices, in all areas of school life.

 

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

 

·         The school will have to adjust its timetabling arrangements to ensure that all students are provided with a minimum of twenty-eight hours class contact time per week. 

·         The school needs to comply with Department of Education and Science circular 58/98 which stipulates the amount of class teaching hours required of the principal and deputy principal.

·         The board of management should consider co-opting additional community representatives from within the school’s catchment area on to the board.

·         The board should issue an annual report on the operation and performance of the school and a report on levels of attendance at the school to the appropriate bodies at the end of each school year.

·         The duties performed by teachers who hold posts of responsibility should be regularly reviewed and post-holders should submit annual plans and reviews of work carried out in relation to posts.

·         The school is encouraged to send the results of pre-State examinations to parents by post.

·         The board of management should arrange for the publication of outstanding school policies, especially in the areas of special educational needs and guidance, as soon as possible.

·         The school should formulate a health and safety policy as soon as is practicable and this should pay particular attention to specific hazards associated with practical subjects.

·         Parents should be consulted at the earliest practicable stage in the formulation of school policies.

·         The school is encouraged to put structures in place to formalise subject department planning.

·         It is recommended that KES continue to support the school’s ORBIT initiative, such is the positive impact that it is having on the school.

·         The use of active-learning methodologies should be expanded to encourage independent learning.

·         Subject departments should consider developing subject-specific assessment policies.

·         Management is encouraged to further facilitate the work of the learning-support team by providing time for formal meetings.

 

 

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.

 

 

8.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

·         Subject Inspection of English – 23 January 2007

·         Subject Inspection of French – 24 January 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Home Economics – 30 January 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry – 19 October 2006