An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Johnstown, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70600T
Date of inspection: 2 May 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Coláiste Mhuire was undertaken in May 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in three subjects, Irish, Physical Education and Metalwork/Engineering, and in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects/programmes. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Coláiste Mhuire, located in Johnstown in northwest Co. Kilkenny, is a co-educational, second-level and continuing education school run under the auspices of Co. Kilkenny Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). The school was established in 1952 as Johnstown Vocational School. It was renamed Coláiste Mhuire in 1995 when the current school buildings, built to cater for 300 students, were completed. Three additional classrooms have since been added to the school.
The school provides the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme for its second-level students. In addition to this, the school also provides a significant number of adult education courses and three Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. Currently, 370 second-level students and an additional forty-two PLC students attend the school. While the school is the only provider of second-level education in its catchment area, it has to compete with single-sex second-level schools in adjacent communities that attract some of the school’s potential students.
The local feeder primary schools provide almost the entire student intake into Coláiste Mhuire from year to year, resulting in a broad intake of students with varying abilities. The school benefits from its participation in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) and the School Completion Programme (SCP).
The patron of Coláiste Mhuire, Co. Kilkenny VEC provides a supportive framework for the school through its provision of a variety of initiatives and educational services. Examples of these initiatives include a two-year induction and mentoring programme for all new teachers. This programme initially focuses on classroom management techniques, gradually shifting to the promotion of quality teaching and learning practices within the classroom. Each school within the scheme nominates two mentors who in turn receive training in order to equip them with the relevant skills necessary to fulfil their roles. This induction process is further supplemented in Coláiste Mhuire by a staff induction booklet that is currently being reviewed with a view to developing a new document more beneficial to new teachers. Co. Kilkenny VEC also designates a portion of its budget specifically to staff development providing a number of continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities for teachers within the scheme. In addition to these initiatives, plans are afoot to implement pilot investigations into the feasibility of restorative justice practices across the scheme and into the involvement of a number of the schools in the scheme in the second phase of the Teaching and Learning 21 (TL21) programme with the National University of Ireland (NUI) Maynooth. The provision of these supports by Co. Kilkenny VEC for the ultimate benefit of its students is commended.
The board of management, a sub-committee of Co. Kilkenny VEC, meets five times per year and is appropriately composed, with eleven voting members. These members bring a wide variety of skills and perspectives to the board and contribute to the decision-making process at board meetings. This skill base has been further enhanced by the board’s decision to co-opt two representatives from the wider community onto the board. This decision has benefited the school through the links that have been developed with local industry and the close ties that have been formed through student involvement as part of their various curricular programmes. In addition to these members, the principal, acting as secretary, is a non-voting member of the board. It was stated during the evaluation that the role fulfilled by the deputy principal of recording secretary, allows the principal to contribute fully to board meetings. The minutes of previous board meetings stated that the recording secretary has been involved in the proposal of resolutions to the VEC. The role of the recording secretary at board meetings should be confined to recording only in order to protect the integrity of the board’s decision-making process.
The board fulfils its statutory obligations and, in addition to this, is well directed and informed by its chairperson who has acted in this position for over twenty years. The teacher nominees who have been appointed to their role this year have, as of yet, received no training in order to make them aware of the roles and responsibilities entrusted to them. It is therefore recommended that Co. Kilkenny VEC should ensure that all new members are given appropriate training when they are nominated to serve on school boards of management.
The links between the school and its patron are maintained by the VEC nominees on the board who provide a clear conduit for communication to and from Co. Kilkenny VEC. To further build on this good practice, the board should draw up an agreed report at the end of all meetings for dissemination among the other represented bodies.
There is a clear and well-developed structure in place for the development and adoption of policies at board level (this structure is detailed fully in section 2). The board has adopted all legally required policies and a significant number of additional policies.
The board presented as having a clear direction and focus in relation to its developmental priorities. These priorities include the provision of additional buildings to further accommodate students, ensuring that the school provides an appropriate curriculum for all students and the provision of comprehensive PLC and adult and continuing education programmes. While it is recognised that the board has identified significant developmental priorities, it is recommended that these priorities be progressed in cognisance and in conjunction with the existing school development planning structures. By doing so, the implementation of strategies to achieve these priorities could be monitored and evaluated readily, providing a structured approach to the developmental planning of the school.
The senior management team in the school, consisting of the principal and deputy principal, presented as a united and complementary team who are fully committed to the school and to its students. This partnership approach to school leadership provides the opportunity for both the principal and deputy principal to work within clearly defined roles, both of which contribute to the effective management of the school. The principal’s role consists of mainly long-term strategic issues concerning the school’s development. This is supported by the deputy principal’s day-to-day organisation of the school, which includes organising the daily supervision and substitution roster and communication with students and staff, including ensuring the implementation of the school’s code of behaviour.
There is good communication between the principal and deputy. This is facilitated by informal daily meetings prior to the beginning of school to plan for the day’s activities. The principal and deputy principal, both longstanding members of the school community, are fully aware of the factors impinging on the development of the school and have been proactive in the implementation of strategies to remedy certain issues. An example of this is the introduction of a number of curricular and extra-curricular activities to promote the school among prospective female students and the creation of a special duties post specifically to promote the participation of girls in school activities. During the course of the evaluation, students, parents and teachers described the senior management team as open, supportive and inclusive.
The middle management team has a clear role in the management of the school. All posts are clearly defined and reviewed annually, which is good practice. All assistant principals (APs) are timetabled to meet as a group with senior management on a weekly basis to discuss relevant issues. This provides a forum for discussion and communication on a range of issues including student progress, staff CPD, pastoral care, environmental and health and safety issues, the review and development of school policies and the implementation of the code of behaviour. These meetings also allow for the views of assistant principals to be expressed and provide senior management with the opportunity to discuss proposals prior to their implementation in order to gain the assistant principals’ perspectives. These meetings are exemplary practice and are highly commended. Currently, there is a system in place allowing assistant principals to deputise for senior management when the occasion arises. At these times the roles and responsibilities of senior management are shared among all assistant principals thereby instilling a genuine sense of devolved responsibility and empowerment among all assistant principals. Further examples of leadership roles extended to middle management include school development planning and the coordination of health and safety within the school.
Management has expressed satisfaction with the range of AP and special duties teachers (SDT) posts which include pastoral, administrative and curricular matters. Generally the evaluation team concurs with this view. However, a duty of one AP post involves the construction of the timetable. The efficacy of the development of this timetable needs improvement as currently it is constructed manually, and problems have arisen in relation to time allocation for subjects and deployment of teachers. It is recommended that senior management take a more involved role in developing the school’s timetable in order to ensure maximum efficiency and the optimum deployment of teachers to specific subjects, programmes and supports. This will be further explored in section 3 of this report.
In addition to the weekly meetings of assistant principals, various methods of communicating with staff have been developed, such as staff meetings once per term and through the staff room notice board that details daily school events and activities. Staff members are provided with the opportunity to add points to the agenda prior to staff meetings, thus providing an open and consultative forum for discussion.
The school has recently reviewed its admissions and participation policy. This policy details the procedures and criteria for enrolment to the school. While the school engages in many inclusive practices, the current admissions policy does not reflect this. Some of the criteria for enrolment are vague and ambiguous and need to be clearly defined. In addition to this, the school should remove the clause whereby admission to the school is dependant on the provision of the requisite supports and resources, as additional supports and resources can only be allocated to a school when a student is enrolled. The admissions and participation policy should also include information relating to the school’s various curricular programmes, such as their duration and procedures for admission to them, and the right of a parent (or a student who has reached the age of 18) to appeal to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science the decision of a board of management to refuse enrolment under section 29 of the Education Act. It is therefore recommended that the admissions and participation policy be fully reviewed in order to ensure it complies with the relevant legislation.
A clear and structured code of behaviour has been developed within the school in a consultative manner. This code of behaviour is understood by all and during the course of the evaluation students identified it as a fair system. Within the system there are a number of intermediary steps in place before sanctions are imposed and also some preventative measures to promote positive student behaviour such as a supportive role provided by the class tutor at disciplinary meetings. Assistant principals assist in the management of their assigned year groups, ably supported by individual class tutors and subject teachers. This system provides a clear ladder of referral and helps to promote positive student behaviour. Sanctions are imposed for serious breaches of the code of behaviour in a three-step process. These sanctions are imposed judiciously and all avenues are explored to encourage consistently misbehaving students to behave in an appropriate manner. The code of behaviour is printed in the student journal and parents are also required to sign a copy of the code at the time of enrolment. Throughout the evaluation, students were seen to be well behaved, mannerly and respectful to their peers, teachers and ancillary staff.
Having identified student retention to Leaving Certificate as an issue, a number of strategies have been put in place by senior management to remedy the situation. These include introducing a designated post of responsibility for the monitoring of student absenteeism, and the introduction of both the JCSP and the LCA programmes. These initiatives are further assisted by in-school, after-school and out-of-school projects supported by the SCP such as the Art and Craft programme, the Kilkenny Music Project and the Drugs Awareness programme. Statistics presented at the time of the evaluation suggest that these interventions have resulted in much improved retention rates. The school’s success in this regard is commended.
A Student Council is well established in the school. This proactive group meets regularly and has been actively involved in the development of a number of relevant policies. The Council has also been involved in a number of worthwhile projects, namely, fundraising for the purchase of a school defibrillator and the petitioning of local councillors resulting in a pedestrian crossing being positioned outside the school. The Student Council is well advised and has delegated a number of significant responsibilities among its members ensuring that members not only fulfil an important function but also benefit individually from their experience as members of the Council. The Council reports back to the student body informally during Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) classes and through its publication ‘Kablammo’.
Senior management values the role of parents in the operation of the school and encourages and promotes their involvement at every possible opportunity. Parents expressed their satisfaction in this regard during the course of the evaluation and commented on senior managements’ and teachers’ accessibility. This access is further enhanced through the principal’s facilitation of regular meetings with nominees of the Parents’ Association to clarify and discuss relevant issues. Parents also provide a valuable contact with local industry and services which are utilised, especially when sourcing work placements.
Coláiste Mhuire has fostered strong links with the local community resulting in a school that parents described as “supportive of the community and part of the community”. Links have been forged through the school’s association with a variety of community groups such as the local ‘Community Concern’ group who are represented on the board of management and through the school’s close ties with the ‘Urlingford on the Move’ group who are involved in the PLC childcare course. In addition to these formal ties, the school’s provision of a large number of adult and continuing education courses further embeds the school’s position as a centre of education in the locality. Specific information pertaining to the school is also circulated in the local community through the publication of the ‘Coláiste Mhuire Newsletter’.
The school currently employs thirty-nine teachers on a full-time and part-time basis. It has an official allocation of 28.04 whole time teacher equivalents (WTE) and is operating within this allocation. In utilising this allocation, senior management, through its organisation of the school week, has optimised tuition time for Junior and Leaving Certificate students. This is highly commended. Teachers are deployed to take class groups throughout the course of the relevant programme and are accommodated to teach all levels and ranges of ability where possible. This rotation of teachers, providing opportunities for them to gain experience of a variety of teaching and learning situations, is essential in a teacher’s professional development. The school has a resource allocation of 4.25 and an additional 0.5 for remedial teaching. The current situation is that teachers who are timetabled for less than their required teaching hours are included in the special educational needs (SEN) team thus ensuring that they teach the required number of hours. While it is acknowledged that this system spreads experience in this area, such timetabling is rarely to the students’ advantage as it can inhibit the development of a specialised core team with the required skill set to appropriately cater for students requiring additional support and poses difficulties in the effective coordination and implementation of SEN and learning support. It is therefore recommended that a review of the deployment of teachers to learning support and SEN take place, with a view to developing a smaller more specialised core team that could meet and plan together on a more regular basis.
The school is designated 0.5 WTEs for home-school-community liaison (HSCL). In addition, the HSCL coordinator is the programme coordinator and is also timetabled to teach an additional fourteen class periods. The responsibilities allocated to the HSCL coordinator pose a difficulty to the effective fulfilment of the role. This situation should be reviewed in order to ensure that sufficient time is made available in order to carry out the specific duties of HSCL.
Senior management has researched the current staff profile and has been proactive in the identification of future staffing needs. This forward planning is commended and has allowed for the recruitment of key staff essential for the maintenance of a broad and balanced curriculum and programmes.
The school employs one full-time secretary who has responsibility for a range of duties. In addition to this, two part-time caretakers and three cleaning staff are employed by the school. The school canteen, subsidised by funds from the SCP, provides breakfast and lunch for students. Although space is at a premium in the canteen, students were seen to be well behaved and orderly at breakfast and lunchtime. Members of the school’s ancillary staff expressed their satisfaction in relation to the support offered to them by school management and were highly complimentary of the student body.
Senior management has been innovative in its utilisation of ancillary areas in the school. This creativity has allowed an ever-growing number of students to be catered for in adequate accommodation. The school buildings and grounds including a central courtyard and garden area are very well maintained. Photographs of class groups, both past and present, adorn the walls of the school. Commemorative displays of the school’s sporting and theatrical achievements are also displayed in the foyer. These displays give visitors a valuable insight into the school’s history and accomplishments. The school is very well resourced in relation to specialist rooms and facilities, including a well-stocked library, practical classrooms, Science laboratories and dedicated Art and Music rooms. The school has made considerable investment in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) resources. The majority of the school’s classrooms are fitted with digital projection equipment providing its students and teachers with modern visual display media and access to innovative teaching and learning resources.
The school, in consultation with an outside agency, has prepared an in-depth health and safety statement. This has resulted in the appointment and training of a health and safety representative within the school. Tasks have been identified and prioritised and are implemented on a monthly basis. Examples of these improvements include the improved safety signage and the ongoing plans for the safe disposal of chemicals in the science rooms.
All students remain on campus throughout the course of the school day. Parents expressed their satisfaction with this arrangement and some cited it as a reason to send their children to the school. A supervision roster is in place to ensure students are well supervised during break times. This roster is heavily dependent on three key personnel. During the course of the evaluation some areas were identified as requiring additional supervision. It is recommended that the current model of supervision should be fully implemented or re-examined to ensure optimum break time supervision of students is achieved.
The school’s participation in the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) has been instrumental in bringing about a system of ongoing and collaborative planning. Involved in school development planning since 2004, the initial focus was mainly on policy development. From 2006, subject department planning and the review of existing policies became the focus for school development planning. The planning process within the school involves all members of the school community, allowing different viewpoints to be expressed at various stages in the process. Planning is well coordinated within the school and has benefited and enhanced the school’s policy development and strategic planning. An innovative method of organising subject department meetings has developed over the years minimising the loss of class contact time due to planning meetings. This method seamlessly integrates the planning process into the weekly operation of the school by providing each subject department with the opportunity to meet once per term. The school development planning coordinator identifies two subject departments to meet each week and each subject department identifies a class period that minimises disruption. This system of subject department planning is highly commended.
The role and benefits of school development planning are now firmly embedded in the day-to-day operations of the school. During the course of the evaluation it became apparent that all subject departments work within this now well established structure, allowing all staff members to take ownership and responsibility of the process and of its outcomes.
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.
Coláiste Mhuire offers a broad curriculum at both junior and senior cycle. All junior cycle students study English, Irish, Mathematics, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education (RE), Physical Education (PE), CSPE, Geography and Science. The school’s curriculum includes many practical subjects, providing students wishing to follow a vocational course of study with a wide choice of appropriate subjects. Most of these practical subjects at senior cycle are allocated six class periods per week. In contrast, junior cycle students generally receive four class periods per week in the core subjects of English, Irish and in some cases Mathematics. In addition to this, an unequal distribution of class periods in option bands containing Home Economics exists at junior cycle creating an anomaly for students studying History, Metalwork and Woodwork. These subjects are allocated three or four class periods, as opposed to Home Economics’ allocation of five class periods per week. Students who have a deficit in relation to class periods caused by the five periods allocated to Home Economics receive additional tuition in some optional subject during these surplus periods. This system is disjointed and is not student centred. To address this situation, school management should instigate a full review of the organisation and delivery of the school’s curriculum. This review should fully examine the school’s allocation to core and optional subjects at both junior and senior cycle to ensure equity and fairness of provision.
A range of curricular programmes is provided for students, including the JCSP, TY, LCVP and the LCA programme. These programmes provide a diverse choice for students of all abilities and talents enabling them to take a full and active part in their education. These curricular programmes are successful and effectively coordinated by the relevant school personnel. The school also provides considerable adult and continuing education through its Secretarial and Childcare PLC courses and through its provision of a broad range of night classes for adults that are regularly reviewed and changed in line with public demand. The adult and continuing education programmes are well promoted, well organised and self-sustaining.
In recent years the school’s curriculum has been redesigned in order to further accommodate its students. These changes have seen the introduction of Music at junior cycle and Agricultural Science, Physics/Chemistry and Design and Communication Graphics at senior cycle. The LCA programme, introduced in 2006, has also benefited students by offering an alternative to the established Leaving Certificate. The school’s response and proactive measures to offer a curriculum suitable to an ever-changing student profile is commended.
Currently the time allocated to PE and to Leisure and Recreation in the LCA programme is minimal. In addition, students who follow the LCVP have no access to PE. It is recommended that steps be taken to ensure all students, including those following the LCVP, are allocated appropriate time to PE and to the Leisure and Recreation module in the LCA programme.
A comprehensive Transition Year plan has been developed detailing: the current programme; roles and responsibilities of the TY team and subject teachers; once-off activities; work experience guidelines; correspondence to parents and the individual programmes of study for core and modular subjects. This in-depth planning of the TY curriculum is commended. Transition Year students complete the work experience component of their course by attending a work placement every Friday. While it is recognised that work experience forms a valuable component of TY, it is recommended that the current model of work experience for TY students should be reviewed to ensure that an optimum balance is achieved between work experience and class contact time and to ensure continuity of experience for the students.
Students are placed into class groups on a mixed-ability basis from first year with the exception of JCSP students who form a standalone JCSP class group in each year of junior cycle. At senior cycle, core subjects are concurrently timetabled to allow for the setting of students. This is good practice.
Having introduced a partial sampling programme for optional subjects for first-year students this year, plans are in progress to introduce a full sampling programme in the coming year. This will assist first-year students in making more informed optional subject choices based on their experiences rather than any preconceived subject stereotypes. This will complement the current sampling modules of Leaving Certificate subjects offered in TY and will assist in the continued development of appropriate optional subject bands at both junior and senior cycle based on student preferences.
In Coláiste Mhuire, students studying Business and an appropriate second vocational subject grouping (VSG) subject at senior cycle are enrolled in the LCVP. Given the success of these students in the programme, the possibility of expanding the availability of the programme to all students whose subject choices match those specified in the VSGs detailed in Circular letter 0018/2006, should be examined.
Information evenings are held for parents at key decision-making times for their children, such as at the beginning of first year and the end of third year. While it is acknowledged that students receive appropriate guidance and support in relation to subject and programme choice, parents identified a possible need for additional support specifically for and targeted at parents of incoming first-year students and parents of students entering the various senior cycle programmes as it was felt that some information given to students was never conveyed to parents. This additional support could take the form of an information pamphlet, listing the implications of subject and programme choices and highlighting the deadlines for the return of students’ optional subject choice preferences.
A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are on offer to students attending the school. These activities are open to all students and efforts have been made to include as many students from all backgrounds as possible in the various activities. Examples of these activities include a TY musical, an annual variety show, and a Christmas carol performance. A large number of sporting activities are also organised for students in both competitive and non-competitive environments. The school has a proud hurling tradition and has had particular success this year in winning the All-Ireland vocational schools’ senior championship. Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are coordinated through the use of an events planning book. This reduces the disruption to students’ tuition time and ensures that adequate supervision can be provided for school groups and teams travelling to events and fixtures. The work carried out by staff in organising these activities is highly commended.
Subject department planning is advancing well in the school and forms an integral component of school development planning. In the subjects and programme evaluated, subject convenors are in place, written plans have been developed and regular meetings of the teaching teams are held. The role of subject convenor is rotated amongst the members of each subject department, which is commended as good practice as it ensures that the responsibilities of co-ordination are shared. In addition to dedicated time at the beginning and end of the school year, the facilitation by senior management of subject departments to meet at an agreed time, at least once per term, provides valuable opportunities for further collaborative planning. Minutes of these meetings are documented and provide a record of key decisions taken and topics discussed. Arising from formal meetings, a subject department drafts a schedule of tasks, which are assigned to teachers to be completed prior to the next meeting. This was cited as good practice in ensuring that formal planning meetings are effective in advancing the work of the subject department. The good structures in place in the school and the collegiality within subject departments provide a most useful framework in which subject planning can be developed, reviewed and modified as the need arises.
Written subject plans have been developed in all subjects inspected. In most cases, these plans are detailed and address all the elements required for the effective organisation and delivery of the agreed programmes of work. Inspectors commended subject departments that had designed programmes of work for each year group that were aligned to the intended learning outcomes. Recommendations were made in some cases for subject departments to plan for the use of a greater diversity of teaching and learning strategies and modes of assessment.
Planning for the inclusion of students with special educational needs was highly commended. Subject departments are supported in this work by the learning support team. The practice of documenting differentiation strategies to accommodate students of all abilities in their learning is commended and should be extended to all subject departments.
Colourful posters, models, drawings and charts were displayed in many subject department classrooms. These resources provide visual reinforcement of key concepts and relevant terminology to consolidate students’ learning. It is important that all subject departments ensure that the range of resources is relevant and stimulating to support the learning process. It is recommended that subject departments regularly audit their existing resources and update when necessary. In addition, planning should include the development or acquisition of specific resources to support each block of learning. Some departments have a central storage area for resources that is accessible to all teachers, which is good practice and this should be extended to all subject departments. Many departments have researched and planned for the effective integration of ICT to support the teaching and learning process, which is commended and this practice should also be extended to all subject departments.
Cross-curricular links and co-curricular activities have been documented in some subject departments. For example, links have been formed between the Physical Education, SPHE and Science departments to enhance students’ understanding of their physical well-being. It is commendable that TY students are encouraged to undertake coaching of first-year students to prepare them for the annual sports day and are entrusted to organise and run the various events on the day. It was also reported that Engineering students regularly achieve recognition in local and national competitions organised by the Engineering and Technology Teachers’ Association. The Irish department also organise class events as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge. The use of opportunities to extend activities beyond the classroom to support and consolidate students’ learning is commended and such opportunities should be availed of by subject departments whenever possible.
In addition to departmental planning, many individual teachers have developed yearly schemes of work with particular reference to content and timeframes and this is commended. Short-term planning was good in most classes visited. Best practice was observed where a variety of interactive teaching and learning methods was planned and the materials to be used in the lessons had been prepared in advance. Such careful planning contributes to the overall quality of teaching and learning and ensures that an appropriate balance is maintained between student and teacher input.
There was a good quality of teaching and learning in many of the lessons observed. The content of lessons was clearly focused and good practice was observed when teachers shared the content, direction and intended learning objectives with students at the outset. This practice ensured that students were focused on their learning throughout their lesson.
The structure and pace of lessons were effectively managed. Links with prior learning were established at the beginning of a number of lessons by revising previous material, by questioning students to determine their recall and understanding of a topic or by briefly reviewing homework. This practice facilitated the introduction of new material that built upon students’ knowledge and experience.
A variety of effective teaching and learning strategies was observed in the classes visited. In some cases students were given responsibility to lead the introductory activities or to engage in focused conversation. These effective strategies are commended as they provide valuable opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills. There was also some good evidence of the skilful use of questioning to engage students in the learning activity. Questioning was most effective when directed to named students and when open-ended questions were asked that required students to demonstrate their understanding and competency and to apply their knowledge to a range of situations. Lessons were particularly effective when students were actively engaged with the content through task-based learning. Good examples were found when students participated in pair and small group work, practical work, discussion and completing simulated online applications. Teachers made good use of the whiteboard, worksheets and demonstration as methods to highlight specific technical points and develop students’ understanding of the focused topics. There were some very good examples of the effective use of ICT to provide demonstrations and activity tasks for students to complete. Where these active, learner-centred strategies were used, students demonstrated high levels of enthusiasm and engagement in their learning. Recommendations are made for the greater use of such methods in some cases.
Tasks set for students were challenging and appropriate to their ability. Teachers were praised for their classroom management. In the practical lessons observed, students displayed good routines for setting up and putting away equipment and materials. Teacher mobility was high in many classes and students were supported in their learning either individually or in small groups. Good practice was observed when there was variety in lesson content and in the methodologies used within lessons. This is commended as it accommodates the varying learning styles of students and it is particularly important in mixed-ability settings.
A caring and supportive environment was evident in classes visited. Students were mature and respectful towards each other and their teachers and demonstrated good application and behaviour in lessons observed. Students were affirmed for their efforts, which is commendable practice as students who regularly receive positive affirmation view their efforts as worthwhile and their contributions as valuable in the creation of a positive learning environment. In most cases, individual student work is displayed in the classrooms, which is also commendable practice as it validates students’ efforts and achievements.
Observation of classroom activities, interaction with students and an examination of students’ work indicates good progress in teaching and learning and overall, student enjoyment of the subjects was evident. An analysis of state examination results against national averages and uptakes of various levels is conducted by senior management and Co. Kilkenny VEC. These are presented to the board of management and made available to staff.
Formal house examinations for all non-exam classes take place twice per year, at Christmas and summer. The practice of setting common examination papers in each subject area is commended. However, it is recommended that where one does not exist, a shared marking scheme be applied to ensure consistency in the correction of these papers. In the practical subjects, marks are awarded for the completion of a practical component and coursework component as well as the completion of the written paper. This good practice ensures that cognisance is taken of students’ range of skills and competencies in keeping with the aims and objectives of the subject syllabuses. To further enhance the assessment process in Irish, it is recommended that students’ oral competency be assessed for all junior cycle classes and that marks are awarded for this language component as part of the end-of-term assessments.
Examination students sit ‘mock’ examinations in the spring. Results are reported to parents twice per year and the school hosts a parent-teacher meeting for each year group once per year, in line with standard practice. Arrangements for students requiring reasonable accommodation in state examinations are processed in good time. It is commendable that these students are afforded opportunities to practise using any assistive technology required to support their participation in the state examinations.
A range of formative and summative modes of assessment are used in most subject areas. These include questioning, completion of worksheets and assignments, practical and project work and end-of-topic tests. Students are frequently assessed throughout the year in most subject areas and receive regular feedback regarding their progress. Inspectors praised the high quality of student portfolios and practical project work. In addition there is a high uptake of higher level in practical subjects in the state examinations. The level of attainment of students in some subject areas in the state examinations is to a high standard. It is commendable that some subject departments have documented a range of possible assessment for learning methods that may be used, including self and peer assessment.
Homework was regularly assigned in most subject areas. Strategies have been developed and implemented in the school to improve students’ adherence to the completion of assigned homework. There were some examples of annotated feedback in students’ homework copies and this practice should be extended to provide students with informed comment on their strengths and areas for development. The student journal is effectively used as a means of communication between the subject teacher and parents and this practice was commended by inspectors.
There is a clear and sequential policy outlining the process dedicated to the assessment of incoming first-year students and the identification of those who may require additional educational support.
The school has accessed the resources it is entitled to and these resources are targeted specifically at students with SEN. The educational support coordinator advises senior management in relation to the most beneficial methods of distributing these allocations including utilising a variety of models of provision such as cooperative teaching, one-to-one and small group withdrawal and the creation of smaller class groups by dividing the JCSP group into two smaller groups. The models of provision utilised were seen to be student centred and their application is commended.
The educational support system in the school is well coordinated and there is a clear and structured approach to the provision of education for students with special educational needs and to those who require learning support. This system integrates and includes students from all backgrounds. The educational support team consists of a qualified learning support teacher, a qualified resource teacher, the guidance counsellor, four Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) who are assigned to individual students and a large number of subject teachers. The role of each SNA is clearly defined in a school policy document and each SNA details their planned involvement and assistance in all of their students’ classes. However the practice of SNAs distributing and collecting class attendance rolls should be discontinued, as this does not lend itself to specific support for students.
The educational support team are afforded regular meetings and have had the opportunity to present to staff on their role and on appropriate strategies for supporting students with additional educational needs. In addition, they meet with individual teachers in order to inform them of the various needs of the students that they will be working with and to advise them on the courses to follow. These communication structures are most beneficial. Parents expressed their satisfaction with the educational support structures in the school and the positive experiences of students in a mixed-ability setting.
The school has taken part in a number of JCSP literacy initiatives. Documentation reviewed during the evaluation suggests that plans are afoot to introduce some numeracy support initiatives in the coming year. This will be a welcome development. The school, through its regular celebrations of students’ achievements, recognises the efforts and accomplishments of its students. These awards include attendance awards, JCSP and LCA celebrations, JCSP postcards home recognising positive behaviour and student of the year awards. This affirmation of students is commendable as it validates students’ efforts and engages them further in their education.
All members of staff have received CPD in the area of inclusion of students with SEN in the mainstream classroom. This is commended and was seen in practice through a number of strategies that had been identified in order to cater for the students enrolled in the school with English as an additional language (EAL). These include: EAL students being assigned specific language support in order to help with their induction to the school; the identification of training courses in the area of EAL for teachers during the summer and a planned immersion programme for EAL students in September. These strategies allow for the further integration of EAL students into everyday school life and help with their literacy, social and personal development.
Through the review and revision of its various curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes the school has made considerable efforts to include all students in all activities offered by the school. In addition to this the school has endeavoured to adapt its policies, procedures, curriculum content and its approaches to teaching and learning for the further inclusion of the diversity of students.
Coláiste Mhuire has a guidance allocation of 0.77 WTE with an additional allocation of 0.23 WTE under the DEIS programme amounting to one full guidance counsellor. A comprehensive guidance plan has been developed and it details the roles and responsibilities of all involved in delivering the guidance programme in the school. In addition, the guidance plan lists the guidance team members and includes information pertaining to areas of cross-curricular links; guidance resources; significant curricular planning for each year group; areas of CPD; planning for guidance provision in a non-classroom environment and strategies to promote improved retention, social inclusion and the further integration of disadvantaged and minority groups. The well-defined role of the guidance counsellor includes timetabled class contact time, individual and group counselling and involvement with the educational support team. During the course of the evaluation, students expressed their satisfaction in relation to the procedures for making appointments with the guidance counsellor for additional academic, vocational or personal counselling.
The guidance counsellor has a designated office with adequate ICT resources. To further improve the availability of resources for students, a section of the existing school library could be designated to guidance in order to promote and encourage student access to guidance-specific ICT resources and to careers/college literature.
Senior cycle students are timetabled with one period of guidance per week focusing mainly on academic and vocational guidance. During these periods students are advised on various career and college options, examination and interview techniques and are given a number of aptitude and personality tests. Junior cycle students are exposed to guidance in a cross-curricular manner through timetabled SPHE, RE and CSPE and through the regular interventions of the guidance counsellor. This guidance provision is further supplemented through the services of a visiting family counsellor funded by the SCP who visits first-year students and their parents for a weekly counselling session with a view to promoting a healthy attitude to life. The level of guidance provided for students in Coláiste Mhuire is commended.
There is a commendable induction programme for first-year students. All students enrolled in the school are invited to participate in the summer camp which provides students with the opportunity to become familiar with their new surroundings prior to beginning school. The summer camp, through input from teachers and Ossary Youth, provides students with advice and information in relation to their subject choices. This induction programme continues when students begin school in late August when they are introduced to their class teacher, year head and the various student support personnel. In addition, student mentors, identified from the student council, are allocated to first-year students to further assist their transition to post-primary education.
The pastoral care system in Coláiste Mhuire provides an additional support structure for students. As well as the effective year head and class tutor system, all teachers are aware of their pastoral role and students know what supports are in place for them when they need help. Some members of staff are involved in after school study and in the homework club providing a further means of support for students. In addition to this, a number of activities are provided for students who may be at risk of leaving school early. These activities, mostly supported by the SCP, help to ensure that the school’s increased success in reducing the number of students leaving school early is maintained.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school admirably supports, cares and caters for the diversity of its student cohort.
· Co. Kilkenny VEC provides an overarching supportive framework for the school.
· The various members of the board of management contribute a variety of skills and perspectives to the board resulting in a well-advised and well-represented unit.
· The senior management team in the school has clearly defined roles and presented as a united and complementary team fully committed to the school and to its students.
· The middle management team has developed into an empowered group with significant devolved responsibility facilitated by the distributed leadership style of the senior management team.
· The school has identified and tackled successfully the issue of student retention to Leaving Certificate through its implementation of specific strategies targeted at possible early school leavers.
· The role of parents is both welcomed and encouraged by the school.
· Coláiste Mhuire is a school that is supportive of its community and is very much part of its community. The school’s provision of a large number of adult and continuing education courses enhances these links and further embeds the school’s position as a centre of education in the locality.
· The school day has been optimised to maximise weekly tuition time for students.
· The school grounds and buildings are very well maintained including a central courtyard and garden area that are aesthetically very appealing and conducive to a calm learning environment.
· The school is very well resourced with a variety of specialist classrooms and significant ICT resources.
· The school has developed a self-sustaining planning structure that minimises the loss of class contact time and maximises the benefits and enhancements to the school.
· Students in the school benefit from a broad curriculum at junior and senior cycle.
· The JCSP, TY, LCA LCVP and PLC programmes are effectively coordinated by the various personnel within the school.
· A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are available to all students in the school.
· Teaching and learning was generally of a good standard in the subjects and programme evaluated.
· The educational support system in the school is well coordinated with a variety of models of provision utilised in its implementation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that Co. Kilkenny VEC should ensure that all new board of management members are provided with appropriate training.
· The developmental priorities identified by the board should be progressed in cognisance and in conjunction with the existing school development planning structures. In doing so, the implementation of strategies to achieve these priorities could be monitored and evaluated readily, providing a structured approach to the developmental planning of the school.
· The admissions policy should be fully reviewed in order to ensure it complies with the relevant legislation.
· A review of the deployment of teachers to learning support/SEN should take place with a view to developing a smaller more specialised core team that could meet and plan together on a more regular basis.
· Senior management should take a more involved role in the school’s timetabling process in order to ensure maximum efficiency and the optimum deployment of teachers to specific subjects, programmes and supports.
· School management should instigate a full review of the organisation and delivery of the school’s curriculum. This review should fully examine the school’s allocation to core and optional subjects at both junior and senior cycle to ensure equity and fairness of provision. In addition, optional subject bands at junior cycle should be reviewed in order to determine a system that is based on consistency and continuity for students.
· It is recommended that steps be taken to ensure all students, including those following the LCVP, are allocated appropriate time to PE and to the Leisure and Recreation module in the LCA programme.
· It is recommended that the current model of work experience for Transition Year students should be reviewed.
· The wide variety of teaching and learning strategies and modes of assessment observed in some subject areas should be extended to all subject departments.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
· Subject Inspection of Metalwork & Engineering – 24 September 2007
· Programme Evaluation of LCVP - 29 April 2008
· Subject Inspection of Irish - 1 May 2008
· Subject Inspection of Physical Education - 2 May 2008
Published February 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management, Principal, Staff and Parents of Coláiste Mhuire welcomes the very positive outcome of the Whole School Evaluation, which affirms that the education provided by the school is of the highest quality.
The extremely positive nature of the report recognises the hard work and dedication of all the staff. The report acknowledges the strengths present and visible at Coláiste Mhuire, including the caring atmosphere, strength of relationships, efficiency of management, the high standard of teaching and learning, the quality and extent of the curriculum offered and the comprehensive range of extra-curricular activities available.
The school recognises the contribution of the Whole School Evaluation towards promoting and maintaining the standard of excellence of education in our school.
We thank the team of inspectors for their professionalism and courtesy throughout.
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, Staff and Parents of Coláiste Mhuire greatly value the findings and recommendations of the evaluation team. The whole school community is committed to the highest possible standard of care, teaching, learning and support of all students attending the school.
The findings are very positive and indeed a source of some pride to all of us. Many of the recommendations have already been attended to and the remaining small number will be pursued with enthusiasm.