An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Kilmuckridge Vocational College,

Kilmuckridge, County Wexford

Roll number: 71650Q

 

Date of inspection: 24 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Kilmuckridge Vocational College was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects, Mathematics, Science, English, Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics, were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details).  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Kilmuckridge Vocational College is a co-educational, inter-denominational college under the management of County Wexford Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). The college has been in existence since the late 1930s and is the only mainstream second-level education provider for the greater Kilmuckridge area. The college was renamed Coláiste an Átha in 2007 following a proposal from the board of management and an adoption by the VEC. The VEC should inform the Department of Education and Science of this change in name so that it will be amended for official use. The college has experienced significant investment in infrastructure with the completion of a recent extension in 2008, providing a number of specialist rooms, administration area and enhanced sports facilities.

 

The college has a current enrolment of just under two hundred second-level students which includes an increase of twenty-eight students in the school year 2008-2009. These students come from the local primary schools in the surrounding area. A significant number of potential students travel to schools outside the locality.

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The college is “dedicated to providing a quality education in a caring and supportive environment where the holistic development of each individual student is nurtured”. The trustees of the college, Co Wexford VEC, articulate the same objective in their published five year Education Plan that of “providing a quality education service”. To fulfil this objective, the VEC has provided the college with the required infrastructural and educational supports to implement its mission statement. The college has developed the support structures for students through the introduction of a care team to ensure students’ holistic development. The inclusion of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) on the college’s curriculum now also supports students in their learning. These are praiseworthy initiatives, which serve to fulfil aspects of the college’s mission statement.

 

During the course of the evaluation, however, there were many instances in the organisation and the day-to-day operation of the college which demonstrated that the objectives of the mission statement were not being achieved.  The timetable is a key tool in college organisation. The decisions and priorities of the timetable were not underpinned by the aspirations of the mission statement. It is recommended that the mission statement of the college should be elaborated into a set of clear, realistic and achievable aims and objectives which will guide all college decisions and policies. When the mission statement is accompanied by clearly defined aims and objectives, the desired objectives for increased student enrolment and student attainment, articulated by senior management at the time of the evaluation, can be addressed. The fulfilment of these objectives is crucial to the future of the college.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management of the college is a sub-committee of Co Wexford VEC and is properly constituted, comprising board members from Co Wexford VEC, parents’ nominees and nominees from the teaching staff. The principal acts as secretary to the board. At the time of the evaluation, the board was just completing its three-year term of office and a new board of management was to be shortly constituted. Members of the board had attended training provided by the VEC and management bodies. This is in line with best practice and is commended. In this context, newly appointed board members are strongly encouraged to also avail of training.

 

In the past, the board of management met infrequently and additional meetings were convened by the board on a needs basis. In April 2008, the board made the decision to meet on five occasions per year. This is in line with the minimum requirement as per the articles of management of the VEC and is a welcome development. Brief minutes of board of management meetings are retained. Minutes of previous meetings examined during the evaluation indicate that the work of the board was mainly concerned with everyday issues requiring attention, particularly in relation to the physical facilities. The one main area of priority that has occupied much of board’s time over the past two years has been the acquisition of the new facilities. The building project has been successfully completed and is a credit to the commitment and work of all concerned.

 

The formal mechanism in place, whereby minutes of board meetings are forwarded to the VEC, should ensure that the VEC is kept informed of college matters and equally that VEC representatives can bring the priorities of the VEC to the attention of the board. It was not entirely clear that this mechanism was being exploited effectively by the board. Currently, there is no mechanism to formally report on board activities to the teaching staff or the parents’ association.  This requires attention and in the interest of best practice, an agreed statement regarding the key decisions of the board should be drafted and disseminated to all the relevant partners.

 

The Education Act 1998, Part IV, outlines clearly the functions of a board of management. At the time of the evaluation, the board’s management and leadership roles for the college were not being adequately fulfilled. The impetus for systematic policy formation and review should come from the board. While some work had been completed in the area of policy formation and ratification in previous years, revision and development of policies had been neglected more recently. Furthermore, the board does not fully comply with its statutory obligation in relation to making arrangements for the preparation of a school plan as outlined in the Education Act 1998. The college does not have a school plan. The college is not in compliance with circular M29/95 Time in School. This requires immediate attention to ensure that all students receive a minimum of twenty-eight hours instruction time per week. The board has been aware of this for two years, since the issuing of a Department of Education subject inspection report and has not addressed the matter.

 

The admissions policy is applied fairly and transparently in an equitable manner by management. This is commended. The policy is inclusive of students including those with special educational needs, those from disadvantage and minority backgrounds and those for whom English is a second language.

 

It was not evident that the board’s central role in relation to strategic whole-school planning and to defining priorities for future development was being fulfilled. Individual members of the board articulated priorities, such as the establishment of new curriculum programmes and the further development and ratification of policies, to inspectors at the time of the evaluation. Senior management articulated the desire for increased student enrolment and student attainment. At the time of the evaluation, there were no plans in place to address these articulated priorities. The board should collectively identify the current needs of the college and establish key priorities for the future and address them in a cohesive and planned way. Board members are encouraged to avail of all supports provided by the VEC in the fulfilment of its obligations.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

In the college’s own document in relation to its in-school management structures, senior management, comprising the principal and deputy-principal, sets out to ensure that the organisation runs smoothly and effectively. The structures document also includes reference to meeting times for senior management, to review policies, strategies and planning.  The management procedures as outlined in this document were not observed being implemented in practice at the time of the evaluation. Much of senior management’s time and energy has been focused on issues relating to the physical facilities. Following the recent completion of the new buildings, it is now opportune for senior management, guided by the board of management, to develop, communicate and implement a shared vision to progress the college into the future. The aims of increasing enrolment and raising the academic standards need to be proactively addressed by senior management, together with the support and leadership of the board of management.

 

Senior management has a visible presence in and around the college environs and both senior management members share responsibility for discipline and undertake teaching duties. Weekly timetabled meetings have been established by senior management but while the purpose of such meetings was reportedly for strategic planning and management, issues discussed were mainly limited to matters arising in the course of the day or week or events for the forthcoming week. The in-school management structures document also outlines clear duties associated with each of the roles of principal and the deputy principal. Current documented duties associated for each member of senior management do not fully reflect the activities or responsibilities undertaken by them. In the course of the evaluation, the principal reported responsibilities that include deployment of staff and timetabling, as well as those duties recorded. The deputy principal also identified additional areas of responsibilities including student welfare, enrolment, presentations at parent evenings and increasingly, the area of special educational needs.

 

The practice that pertains at present leads to lack of clarity and results in inconsistency with senior management undertaking additional duties or duties not being carried out effectively. Senior management needs to provide clarity of direction and organisational cohesion to the day-to-day administration and operation of the college, so that senior management’s response to all matters is considered and is consistent with policies. Robust managerial structures and procedures clearly documented and consistently implemented are required to address efficiency and effectiveness of college management. It is essential that the profile of the principal be strengthened and promoted to ensure that the college’s direction and vision are achieved.

 

Middle management comprises one assistant principal (AP) post and four special duties teacher posts (SDT). Timetabled meetings with senior management and APs have taken place in the past but this practice has regrettably lapsed. Areas of responsibility delegated to post holders, in the main, involve coordination or administration duties or responsibilities relating to the management of students. Some duties assigned were being administered effectively, while the responsibility, for example, for the crucial area of school development planning had been suspended for the duration of the building project. Additionally, there are discrepancies between documented duties of post holders and their stated duties as articulated to inspectors during the time of the evaluation. This is not satisfactory. It is recommended that regular reviews of posts and associated duties be undertaken to allow for their ongoing appraisal and to ensure that the post structure is adequately addressing the ongoing needs of the college.

 

A root and branch review is now timely. This review should be undertaken in consultation with whole staff and the board of management.  Particular attention is directed to Circular 20/98, which encourages the post structure to focus on key management areas such as: “instructional leadership, curriculum development, management of staff and their development and the academic and pastoral work of the school.” A review should ensure that the post structure optimally meets the current needs of the college. Consideration, for example, should be given to the establishment of a “dean” system, whereby one AP post would have responsibility for junior classes in terms of their discipline and academic performance, with a similar structure for senior classes. This would enable senior management to drive forward the priority of monitoring and raising student attainment.

 

The majority of students observed and encountered by inspectors during the evaluation were well behaved and courteous. However, there was a small but visible cohort of students who presented with challenging and sometimes aggressive behaviours. The college has an additional resource specifically for the management of students’ behaviour. During the course of the evaluation it was noted that only one student was experiencing an ongoing intervention with a specific timetable prepared and in operation. It is recommended that a review of this significant allocation be undertaken to ensure that the recommended practices are implemented.

 

Senior management together with staff has developed a comprehensive code of behaviour within which clear procedures are outlined. This is to be commended. While acknowledging the need for a graduated and an appropriate range of sanctions, the code of behaviour should also accommodate affirmation of positive student behaviour or achievement.  A review of the code of behaviour should be undertaken to include positive sanctions with specific references to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) “Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools”.

 

Attendance is monitored by the class teachers during a ten-minute assembly period each morning. Personnel funded by the School Completion Programme (SCP) also reviews attendance on two days per week, at which time contact is made with parents or guardians of students who are absent. In addition, the responsibility for returns of attendance to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) falls under the remit of a special duties post. The current system requires a significant and disproportionate amount of time and personnel to perform the monitoring of attendance for the college. Therefore, to streamline the monitoring of attendance in the future, it is recommended that the system that currently exists be reviewed.

 

A review of student retention over recent years, conducted as part of the evaluation, indicates that a number of students do not transfer from third to fifth year and from fifth to sixth year. This is a matter of concern. Strategies to address student retention should be examined and proposed for adoption by the board of management. An analysis of the state examinations results reveals that a sizable number of students are taking subjects at ordinary level, particularly at Leaving Certificate. It was also noted that student attainment at ordinary level, for many subjects, is poor. This has correctly been identified as an area for attention by management and staff. It is recommended that management and staff review the attainment and performance of students on an annual basis with a view to considering all possibilities that might lead to an increase in students’ performance, including the adoption of more effective teaching approaches.

 

At the time of the evaluation, there was no elected student council. However, preparations were being made for its formation during the current academic year.  The establishment of a student council should allow for students to have a voice in many aspects of college life and ultimately in policy formation and to fulfil the requirements of Section 27 of the Education Act 1998.

 

Communication between senior management and staff is maintained through the staff notice board, through announcements made during morning break and through staff meetings. The reported practice is that agendas for staff meetings are issued in advance of a meeting, at which time staff can add additional items. Minutes from previous staff meetings retained are brief and there is little record of discussion and decisions in relation to educational provision and policy development.  This underlines the need for more effective and focused use of meeting times and the recording of key decisions for action towards the development of educational provision.

 

Communication between home and the college is fostered through the student journal, individual student progress reports, individual meetings with parents and the college newsletter. The use of the journal as a means of communication is inconsistent and requires consistent adherence on the part of all teachers, students and parents to ensure its effectiveness. Parent-teacher meetings are convened for all year groupings and only attendance at first-year meetings is reportedly good. To address this, senior management invites parents to the college on an individual basis to discuss student progress. While this may serve as an interim solution, it is recommended that links between home and school be strengthened to ensure that student progress is communicated to the home as effectively as possible.

 

The parents’ association has been in existence since 1984 and has been involved in a number of activities, most recently in campaigning for the new buildings. The parents’ association expressed regret that they are limited in their involvement in the broader life of the college. One of the current activities of the parents’ association includes requesting a voluntary contribution from parents. This is inappropriate and it is therefore recommended that this practice be discontinued. This is a function normally undertaken by school management with relevant accounting and reporting practices established. Currently, representation from senior management or from the teaching staff of the college does not attend parents’ monthly meetings. The principal presents an annual report at the parents’ association annual general meeting. It is recommended that the parents’ association be accommodated to hold their monthly meetings within the college and that stronger links are established to ensure that they have a voice in the long-term development of the college.

 

The commitment to updating the college’s website is commendable and should be undertaken promptly, as it may afford opportunities to promote and display achievements and relevant news to the wider community. The profile of the college could be enhanced by further engagement with the wider community. This could include the promotion of Adult Education courses which have lapsed. Continued efforts should be made to re-establish Adult Education courses in the college.

 

Newly appointed members of staff are supported in their induction in a number of ways. The deputy principal provides initial training for staff early in the school year where new teachers receive details of necessary policies, a map of the college and class lists. Newly appointed teachers indicated that they felt fully supported and had opportunities to contact the deputy principal if necessary. In addition, the college is involved in the national mentoring programme in conjunction with University College Dublin (UCD). A member of staff has been trained as part of this initiative and offers newly appointed staff ongoing support throughout the school year. This support for staff is to be commended. Senior management facilitates attendance of subject teachers at appropriate in-service, when available. Teachers have recently been facilitated to attend in-service in JCSP and t4.  Provision of whole school in-service has also been availed of and further whole-school training is recommended. Both members of senior management have engaged with in-service provided by the VEC and by the Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) initiative. Continued involvement in such professional development is commended and encouraged.

 

To maximise the wealth of available technologies within the college continued efforts to access training in the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of subjects should be undertaken by staff. Particularly reference to the Second Level Support Service, www.slss.ie  and to www.teachnet.ie websites are made, where subject specific material can be accessed. Commendably some staff members indicated their willingness to provide training to colleagues in the use of the technologies. The availability of expertise within the staff should be assessed and all contributions and sharing of knowledge to increase professional development among colleagues should be availed of.

 

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The college is in receipt of 18.16 whole time teacher equivalents (WTEs). This comprises an ex-quota position for principal, 0.36 ex-quota position for guidance, 0.14 ex-quota position for guidance under Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) and 0.5 ex-quota position for learning support. The college participates in the home school and community liaison (HSCL) scheme funded by DEIS and has an allocation of 0.4 for this service.

 

The utilisation of some of the above mentioned allocations is a cause of concern. It was not clear from the timetable provided during the evaluation how the 1.2 WTEs curricular concession to support optional subjects in senior cycle were being used. The use of the allocation of eleven hours given to the college specifically for learning support was also unclear. In addition, the college has been allocated additional support and personnel for the management of students’ behaviour. This resource should be utilised for the intended purpose and its deployment clearly documented.

 

The college has a timetable of forty-five class periods per week, each class period being of thirty-five or thirty minute duration. It was noted that the significant shortfall in tuition time brought to the attention of senior management on the occasion of a previous subject inspection had yet to be addressed. The current timetabling arrangements fall two hours and ten minutes short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact instruction hours. Therefore, there is an urgent need to review time in school in order to be fully compliant with the twenty-eight hours instruction time as directed in circular M29/95 Time in School.  It should also be noted that the allocation of ten minutes for registration at the beginning of each day does not constitute instruction time.

 

Many students arrive to the college by bus, with many arriving up to an hour in advance of morning registration. While it was observed that the principal did undertake the supervision of students during this time, the documented supervision roster presented during the evaluation indicates personnel involved in the supervision of students at morning break and lunchtime only. It is recommended that the supervision roster be extended to include the beginning and end of the school day in line with circular PPT 01/03, to ensure the duty of care to students at all times. The daily supervision of students also deflects the principal from crucial and sometimes urgent aspects of college management.

 

In relation to the deployment of teaching staff, there was evidence to suggest at different times during the evaluation that teaching staff could be deployed more effectively and efficiently. An analysis of teachers’ timetables indicates a number of issues regarding teacher deployment. For example, some teachers are not deployed either to their subject specialism or to their appointed subject areas. Poor deployment of subject specialists has resulted in the formation of a combined class group for some fifth and sixth year optional subjects for three of their five class periods per week. It is recommended that senior management ensures that there is an effective and efficient staff deployment system in place.

 

A number of further anomalies in the timetable came to light in the course of the subject inspections. In the first place, time allocated to subjects, particularly at junior cycle, is compromised due to the shortfall in tuition time, already mentioned.  The core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics are allocated four class periods per week in each of the three junior cycle years. This is less than satisfactory for syllabus completion. A fifth Mathematics class period is allocated to JCSP students only. The allocation of five class periods per week to all optional subjects in third year imposes an additional burden on tuition time available. Two class periods per week are assigned to Civic Social Political Education (CSPE) to first and third year groupings which is more than the required allocation.

 

At senior cycle, the allocation of three class periods to the Link Modules and an additional two class periods for computers for Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) students in sixth year is considerably more than the required allocation. Furthermore, the timetabling of ab-initio German for some LCVP students is arranged during one of their Mathematics periods. Senior management needs to ensure that sufficient time is allocated equitably to the teaching of all subjects and programmes within the college. 

 

The review of teachers’ timetables indicated that most teachers are timetabled to teach the maximum number of hours as per their contract. However, issues still remain regarding effective deployment of teachers. A number of restrictions have been placed into the timetabling programme which impact negatively on the efficient deployment of teaching staff. It is recommended that, when the timetable is being constructed, the students’ needs are the focus of all decisions and that the college’s educational priorities underpin the decisions taken. This may require senior management to increase their timetable teaching hours and in this regard attention is drawn to Circular 81/2007.

 

The college campus comprises four buildings. The new extension incorporates a fully equipped gymnasium, general classrooms and specialist rooms. All buildings are very well maintained and artworks serve to enhance the college environment. Plans are in place to progress with the acquiring of a Green Flag for the college. This is commendable. The existing health and safety statement now requires updating and this will be undertaken in consultation with VEC.

 

Some teachers are classroom based and in such instances many rooms had an array of posters, student displays or commercially produced posters to aid in the teaching and learning of the subject. Classrooms within the new buildings have a wealth of equipment such as audiovisual, interactive whiteboards, computers and data projectors which is commendable. Specialist rooms are well resourced and are consistently used for their designated purpose. An inventory of all equipment in the college is currently being prepared. While some subject departments have identified resources to aid in the teaching and learning of subjects, other departments should identify collectively a core list of suitable and necessary resources. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities are excellent throughout the college. Students have supervised accessed to ICT in the library during lunch time.

 

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

The college introduced whole-school planning through its involvement in the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), which was facilitated by senior management in the past. Records of the school planning were not available in the college at the time of the evaluation and essential school development planning has not progressed sufficiently in recent years. This was reportedly due to the increased workload encountered during the building project. In the past, the college had a coordinator for school planning but this post no longer exists. The circumstances outlined have resulted in unstructured planning and limited school self-review. 

 

As stated earlier, the college does not have a school plan. Nevertheless a number of policy documents are in existence. Policies examined during the evaluation are now out of date, are at times inaccurate and in need of immediate review. Furthermore, there is an urgency in relation to drafting of a number of policies for ratification to ensure compliance with the legislative requirements. For example, an up to date Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy as per circular CL 27/2008 should be drafted.

 

The college should make provisions for the preparation of a school plan. It is recommended that the board of management prioritise this for action to fully conform to the Education Act 1998 Section 21. There is an urgent need for the establishment of a long-term plan to include priorities for school development, timeframes for the achievement of these priorities, procedures for the implementation, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of all elements of the school plan. Furthermore, consideration should be given to the establishment of sub-committees in key areas. For example: policy development and review, curriculum review and implementation, student attainment and performance and review of post of responsibilities. The good practice of having a Staff Council who could oversee curriculum development as per the Articles of Management of a VEC should be considered. Such committees should allow for significant but necessary progress to be made in all areas within a stated timeframe. During the evaluation it was noted that not all partners are being adequately consulted during the development of policies. It is therefore recommended that mechanisms be established to ensure greater consultation takes place within the college community during the formulation of relevant policies.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The college offers its 205 students the following programmes: Junior Certificate (JC), Leaving Certificate (LC), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC). In the school year 2008-2009 the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) was introduced from second year for some students. This programme will enhance the existing educational provision for the college’s cohort of students. Consideration is being given to the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied as an optional programme at senior cycle. While it is commendable that the college has indicated the need to provide alternative programmes to meet the needs of all its students, senior management should make the necessary planning to ensure that the programme is ready for introduction at the beginning of a school year.

 

Social Personal and Heath Education (SPHE) is timetabled for one class per week for each year of the Junior Cycle. However, there is currently no provision for an RSE programme at senior cycle, which is mandatory. It is recommended that this situation be rectified to ensure compliance with CL27/2008.

 

Two class groups are formed within each year of junior cycle and students are placed in mixed-ability classes in first year and, when necessary, setting occurs in subsequent years. This is good practice. Students generally remain within their class grouping throughout the cycle. Concurrent timetabling for the core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics is not accommodated except for third year, while concurrent timetabling for optional subjects is facilitated from first year onwards. In line with the aim to increase student attainment, consideration should be given to concurrent timetabling of core subjects to provide students with opportunities to access a level that should either support or challenge their abilities, as appropriate.

 

Only one fifth year class group has been formed this year. This arrangement has resulted in the teaching of three different levels in some subjects within this group. This impacts negatively on student achievement at all levels. A review of this practice should be undertaken to address this situation and to ensure that students are both challenged and encouraged to remain with the highest level for as long as possible thus supporting the aim of the college to increase student attainment. In sixth year, two class groups are arranged and concurrent timetabling occurs for core and optional subjects.

 

The distribution of subjects within the week does not allow for optimal contact with the subject for some year groupings. The timetabling of optional subjects and Science, for example, as two double periods per week for first year is resulting in contact with the subject on only two out of five days per week.

 

The concerns outlined above relating to the curriculum provision and organisation requires immediate attention on the part of management.  It is recommended that a review of the current curriculum offered in the college is undertaken and an analysis be conducted of how the use of the available resources can optimise the educational experience for students.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

At junior cycle responsibility for the provision of information for students and parents to support them in making curricular choices is organised by the deputy principal. An open evening for incoming first-year students and a variety of programmes for these students including a summer camp and a two-day induction programme are organised. The principal and a special duties teacher arrange an assessment day for incoming students. A three-week taster programme is arranged for first-year students in the optional subjects. Students who request to change their optional subjects are accommodated provided there are sufficient places available in their preferred option.

 

There is only informal consultation with parents and students regarding subject choice at senior cycle.  Therefore, it is recommended, in line with best practice that parents are invited to an information evening where subject choice and programme options and their implications for third level are discussed. The proposal from the guidance and counselling service to participate and facilitate in an open evening for senior cycle options to ensure that students and their parents are making informed subject, level and programme choices should be acted upon.

The LCVP coordinator advises students on the LCVP programme and the necessary choice of subjects to qualify for participation in the programme. Senior cycle students are given a free choice to select their preferred subject options. Option blocks are based on this process. Concerns were expressed by parents and students during the evaluation regarding accessing preferred programmes and subjects. It is recommended that, in conjunction with a review of the curriculum provided, an examination of optional blocks be undertaken to ensure that students’ aptitude are being catered for and to ensure that in so far, as is feasible, students have access to their preferred choice of subject.  Furthermore, it is recommended that consideration should be given to offering an additional senior science subject to students.

 

Students who qualify based on the required vocational subject groupings (VSGs) follow the LCVP at senior cycle, which is most of the senior cycle cohort. Students, in the main, study French to Leaving Certificate level thereby fulfilling the language requirement. Students who do not study French study German as a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) module to fulfil the mandatory language requirement in compliance with the LCVP Circular 22/2008. The coordinator of the LCVP has an allocation of two hours for the coordination of LCVP. In addition he undertakes the task of programme co-ordinator. Links have been developed with the wider community and guest speakers and trips to companies are arranged throughout the two-year LCVP programme.

 

The recent introduction of the JCSP for second year students has been a positive feature in the curriculum options for students. Students within this class remain as a distinct group for their subjects. While there is concurrent timetabling for optional subjects, concurrency is not accommodated for core subjects. This practice does not allow all students to achieve to their full potential and therefore should be reviewed to reflect the philosophy of JCSP. A coordinator for JCSP has been appointed and has a two-hour allocation for coordination of the programme. Additionally, a core team has been established which is in line with best practice. Minutes of JCSP meetings record issues discussed, which include the progress of students and the identification of subject statements. Parents of the present class of JCSP students were invited to meet with the co-ordinator who outlined the aims and objects of the programme. This is good practice. In the future, consideration should be given to the college presenting the rationale to parents collectively, with inputs from the principal, the coordinator and teaching staff engaged in the programme. Planning for events to celebrate students achievements in the JCSP is acknowledged and in line with the philosophy of the programme.

 

As already mentioned in an earlier section of this report, there is evidence to suggest that many students are choosing ordinary level in many subjects in both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. Parents articulated concerns that students are not always sufficiently challenged or encouraged to remain with higher level in a subject. It is therefore recommended that in the context of college’s aim to increase student attainment that appropriate strategies to promote student learning are identified and progress achieved be recorded, so that student attainment can be monitored and developed incrementally at an individual student level, at a subject level and at a whole-school level.

 

A Business and Computer Studies FETAC level five programme is offered as a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course. Many of the students who choose this course completed their post-primary education in the college. Some students, who are following the PLC programme, also attend classes in Irish and Mathematics in preparation to repeat the examination in Leaving Certificate.  The college has an allocation of 0.38 WTE for this programme. However, it has proven necessary to supplement this provision from the college’s allocation. College management needs to explore the question as to the viability of continuing with a PLC course, which has little demand. At the time of the evaluation, the PLC timetables were not fully complete. This resulted in some elements of the programme being timetabled but no personnel identified to teach the lessons. All timetables should have personnel clearly identifiable for the delivery of the programme. A special duties teacher coordinates the programme and associated duties include the advertising of the programme, preparing documentation for external evaluation of the programme and delivery of the programme.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

A wide range of extra curricular activities is offered in the college for students. The college has teams in the areas of soccer, hurling, camogie and basketball and has had many successes in competitive events. In conjunction with the new building, a PE hall was provided. Students have access to an array of gymnasium equipment. These facilities can be accessed by senior students during lunchtime. Links with the local Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) have been established and the college receives training by the GAA in these facilities in hurling and camogie.  In addition to sporting activities, students have been involved in fundraising activities most recently collecting for aid agency GOAL. 

 

Students also have a range of co-curricular activities including ecology trips, visits to museums and Dublin Zoo, industrial and enterprise visits related to subjects and programmes. In addition, teachers have arranged for theatre workshops and performances companies to visit the college to perform and facilitate workshops. Trips are also arranged to the Gaeltacht.  Many teachers are involved in coaching and supporting students in co- curricular and extra-curricular activities and are commended for commitment in these areas.

 

The new buildings have provided the college with a display cabinet within which the opportunity to display trophies is afforded.  The provision of notice boards for subject areas and activities would help to promote student involvement in activities which would augment and enrich student learning experiences in their subjects. It was noted during the evaluation of subjects that there is a need for greater awareness of activities to promote subjects, such as mathematics and science. Students should be encouraged to participate in subject specific competitions, as such events allow students to experience the subject outside a classroom setting and should allow for the profile of the subject to be enhanced.

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1 Planning and Preparation

 

Subject planning time is made available to teachers at the beginning of the year with teachers meeting informally throughout the year. Two planning days have been facilitated by management for teachers in their subject areas. Some subject departments have not yet appointed a coordinator and it is recommended that a voluntary rotating coordination position be created in these subjects. The role and functions of the coordinator should be agreed and documented in the relevant department plan. Possible duties may include effectively driving subject planning by liaising with senior management, promoting best practice, encouraging student participation in extra-curricular activities, encouraging uptake of senior subjects and formulating an analysis of examination results and uptake of higher level in collaboration with senior management. Minutes are generally not taken at department meetings. Therefore it is recommended that issues discussed and decisions taken be formally recorded, included in the subject planning folder and communicated to the senior management.  The small size of the team and of the college has allowed a level of ongoing informal collaboration.  The teaching team is encouraged to develop this reflective practice further, identifying issues and suggesting solutions for consideration by senior management.

 

A subject plan has been drawn up by some subject departments. Collaborative schemes of work have been drawn up. Currently there is no long-term plan for the development of some subjects. It is recommended that subject departments formulate a number of attainable goals for subject development and strategies to achieve desired outcomes. Some areas for development in the subject plan include a review section, use of the student journal, review of homework procedures and development of a policy regarding students requesting to change subject level. The main focus should be on boosting student achievement and encouraging increased uptake of higher level. Furthermore subject plans should be expanded upon so that each topic is related to syllabus learning outcomes and methodologies.

 

The level of individual teacher planning varied.  In some instances, individual plans and term plans were made available and individual teacher planning for lessons was good for some subjects evaluated. Effective planning and good lesson planning led to the successful achievement of learning outcomes in some lessons. The content of lessons was generally well planned and practical and ICT equipment were set up in advance and ready to use.

 

 

4.2 Teaching and Learning

 

Subject matter was often introduced to students in a sequential manner building on previously covered material. Lesson objectives were set out at the start of some lessons. It is recommended that this practice be extended across all lessons and that a plenary session is used to summarise the learning experience at the conclusion of lessons. While in some lessons there was evidence that students’ interest was maintained and that the learning experience was enjoyed, in other lessons observed time management was not effective. The slow pace of the lesson resulted in insufficient material being covered, thereby compromising student progress. On occasions, clear direction and timeframes were not given to students as to what was expected of them when completing assigned work. There was limited use of differentiation in the lessons observed. Abilities in all class groups were wide ranging and required a differentiated approach. Differentiated teaching should be further developed across subject departments. 

 

The board was used effectively in some lessons observed to provide visual reinforcement of aspects of examination technique, to record homework and to note down points made during the lesson.  ICT was used effectively in some lessons visited and was well integrated into the lessons.  There was further scope for the use of ICT in some lessons observed and it is recommended that use of the data-projector, internet and CD resources be introduced at appropriate intervals in some lessons. The interactive whiteboard, where available, could also be used as an effective aid to student learning.

 

Classroom management was good and a firm yet friendly control was exercised in many cases.  The atmosphere for learning was good in most lessons. Teachers affirmed students where appropriate and there was, in the main, a good rapport between students and teachers. Students were acknowledged for their work and generally worked with confidence on the tasks assigned. This is commended. Students were encouraged to respond and were prepared to ask questions and to volunteer responses where appropriate. In most cases, students showed a willingness to learn and to work co-operatively with their peers and with the teacher.  It was especially noted that where high expectations and a purposeful learning pace were established, students rose to the challenge and participated well. The majority of students played an active part in lessons. However, there is scope for greater levels of participation of some students. Methodologies related to the management of learning should be developed to improve this situation. In some cases, the organisation of students during classroom demonstrations should be improved so that all students have the opportunity to actively take part in the work in hand.

  

Students worked collaboratively during practical investigations. Demonstrations interspersed with student activities formed part of some lessons. It is recommended that teachers use a range of active methodologies that are appropriate to the learning needs of all students. For example, paired work, when used effectively, would have allowed students to learn effectively from one another. Some good work in the area of drama was observed in both junior and senior cycle.  Performance and interpretation were emphasised as being central to the nature of drama.

 

While challenges were set for some students, there was a clear need to challenge students sufficiently. All students should be enabled to reach their potential by raising expectations of achievement and the level of that achievement by teachers and senior management, particularly students who are being prepared for certificate examinations. Therefore, measures should be developed to support students sufficiently in this task. There were situations where the quantity of material studied was limited. It is therefore recommended in such circumstances that material is carefully selected which is sufficiently and suitably challenging for the learning needs of all students. Agreed practice should promote a responsible attitude that facilitates independent learning both inside and outside the classroom. 

 

There was effective use of questioning in some lessons observed.  Questioning was used as an ongoing learning strategy. Further use of questioning focused at individuals may be effective at increasing participation when necessary and at setting challenging tasks for students. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during some lessons observed. However, questioning was frequently focused on recall with little use of higher-order questions. The use of global questions did not allow for participation by all in some lessons. It is therefore recommended that a range of questioning strategies be used in all lessons to encourage the participation of all students in the lesson.

 

In the subjects evaluated, the majority of students follow the ordinary course at junior and at senior cycle and while these students generally achieve quite well at this level, inspectors expressed concerns in relation to student attainment and expectations for students in state examinations. While student achievement in the Junior Certificate Science examination at ordinary level is satisfactory, the low percentage of students receiving ABC grades at higher level in recent years is a cause for concern. In general in Mathematics, students follow the ordinary or foundation level course and there is no discrete higher level mathematics class group in either junior or senior cycle. In relation to Mathematics, it was noted that a significant number of students achieved below a grade D at ordinary level in both Junior and Leaving Certificate. A review of recent data relating to the certificate examinations shows an improvement in the uptake of higher level English. 

 

4.3 Assessment

 

Homework was assigned in many lessons observed; however, some assignments did not constitute a sufficient challenge for students. Examination of students’ journals showed that the general quality of homework set needs to be increased. In this regard, care should be taken to ensure that, as homework is assigned all students record their work in accordance with homework policy.

 

Varying practices with regard to the setting and monitoring of homework were observed through an inspection of students’ copies and folders.  It is recommended that, in addition to oral feedback, some annotated comments be included in students’ homework copies. Best practice was followed where meaningful and imaginative work was set regularly and where substantial assignments received written feedback of a developmental nature, ensuring that assessment was informing learning.  Other aspects of assessment for learning were used in some cases, for example peer evaluation and self-evaluation.  These are to be encouraged as they foster in students a sense of their responsibility for and ownership of their own work. 

 

Non-examination classes sit formal examinations at Christmas and summer. In addition to Christmas exams, third and sixth-year students sit pre-certificate examinations during the second term. Common testing is now the norm for summer examinations in first year.  Consideration should be given to extending this practice to other year groups when common levels are being taught. In addition to the formal assessments, it is recommended that regular end-of-topic assessments be given to students to ascertain their understanding and needs in specific areas.  A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents following each formal examination.

 

Records of practical investigations were often of poor standard. In an effort to improve this situation, a portion of the marks of term examinations should be allocated to the completion of the student record of practical work. While there is some annotation of notebooks, teachers should follow up on this activity to ensure that students consistently maintain notebooks of high quality. In most practical lessons oral feedback was given to students to help them to identify areas for development. In some cases written feedback was given on students’ portfolio work. Some coursework at senior cycle is currently not included in the calculation of students’ end-of-term grades. It is recommended that this practice be introduced as soon as possible in order to prepare students for new examination procedures.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Much of the responsibility for the coordination of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in the college is currently being undertaken by the deputy principal. The deputy principal visits the main feeder primary schools, collects the necessary documentation, such as psychological assessments for students who enrol in the college, and applies for the necessary support. The deputy principal also liaises on a weekly basis with the Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) and provides individual teachers with relevant information regarding students with SEN. The role and responsibilities of the nominated coordinator for SEN appear to be confused in relation to specific areas of responsibilities. A core team of teachers comprising of the nominated coordinator, senior management, the Guidance service and relevant personnel should be established with roles and responsibilities clearly defined and documented.

 

The college has an allocation of 2.37 WTEs for SEN and has three SNAs. Timetables of SEN students presented indicated that some were not receiving their full allocation of resource teaching. Poor timetabling is resulting in many SEN students being withdrawn from a subject to receive support in that same subject. This is not in line with best practice.  An analysis of the student and teacher timetables provided indicates that two teachers are providing support to the same two students at the same time. This is unsatisfactory. Eleven teachers from a staff of eighteen are deployed to provide support to SEN students, which is not in line with recommended practice.  It is imperative that an immediate review of all of these issues be undertaken.

 

The mechanism for delivery of support is mainly provided through one-to-one tuition, with paired work undertaken in a limited number of cases. A college record sheet or learning profile is retained for each student in receipt of SEN support. There is a need for all staff members to become familiar with these documents to ensure that the continuity of the learning experience for SEN students is maintained and that learning targets set are realistic and achievable. These student records should be shared with relevant subject teachers. As many students receive support from more than one teacher in a subject, there is a need for ongoing review and updating of these records.

 

The evidence presented above shows that there is clearly a need for a fundamental review of all issues relating to the organisation and coordination of SEN within the college. It is recommended that this review should be undertaken but also that best practice is being observed in the support structures provided in the college. It is also recommended that a comprehensive SEN plan be developed that should include an up to date SEN policy. To assist in the development of these documents reference to the Department of Education and Science Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines publication should be noted to ensure that best practice is observed.

 

Consideration should be given to regular inputs at staff meetings to allow for mainstream teachers to be fully informed regarding specific needs of SEN students. Accessing whole school in-service in the teaching of SEN students in mainstream classes should also be considered. There is a need for subject departments to ensure that methodologies used in teaching and learning are inclusive to allow for the specific needs of SEN students.

 

A small number of students for whom English is a second language attend the college. It is commendable that some students participate in Irish classes regardless of their exemption in the language. 

 

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The college has an allocation of 0.36 ex-quota position for guidance and a further allocation of 0.14 ex-quota position for guidance under the DEIS scheme. The guidance counsellor has a dedicated office and resources and facilities are good. Display boards are used to detail upcoming open days for colleges and ongoing career advice and notice about the access to third level, including the college’s link with UCD through its “new era” initiative which assists students’ access to third level university education. The timetable provided for the guidance service included dedicated time periods for class contact with senior cycle and PLC students. Documents provided indicate a clear programme of work for senior cycle with term work identified. This is good practice. Counselling is provided by the Guidance service and by personnel from the special resource to address behavioural issues.  There was no whole-school guidance plan made available at the time of the evaluation. It is recommended that a whole school Guidance Plan as per Section 9(c) Education Act 1998 be prepared.

 

The college participates in the home school and community liaison (HSCL) scheme funded by DEIS and has an allocation of 0.4 WTE for this service. Links between the college and home are maintained not only through phone calls and visits but also by events and classes for parents organised by the college’s HSCL service. The School Completion Programme (SCP) has provided financial support to allow for personnel to be employed to operate a successful breakfast club each morning for students. Additionally, financial subsidies funded by the Department of Family and Social Affairs have afforded the opportunity to operate a lunchtime club. The SCP funding has provided financial support to operate a homework club which is available to some second and third year students. In addition evening study is provided to third and sixth year students throughout the year. This is commendable support for students.

 

A care team has been established recently and comprising of the Guidance Counsellor, HSCL teacher, senior management represented by the deputy principal and a member of the behaviour support team. A timetabled weekly meeting takes place to discuss the care needs of the students and how best they may be met. Information is disseminated to teachers on a needs basis following meetings. The team aims to identify students at risk, discuss students’ needs and agree appropriate interventions for students. Their work in the care of students is commended.

 

A Meitheal team comprising of sixth-year students provides support for incoming first years students. Each class elects two class captains whose position includes supporting the class teacher throughout the school year. Consideration should be given to a formal ceremony at which the entire college community is addressed by the principal and the Meitheal team and class captains are formally presented to the college. This should not only allow for the profile and leadership role of the principal to be raised but it should also allow students and the college community to acknowledge the leadership roles that have been assigned to these selected students.

 

To acknowledge the importance of all students’ efforts and achievements the college has an awards ceremony arranged towards the end of the school year. Consideration should be given to inviting members of the parents’ association and the board of management to such events as this should strengthen the links between the college and parents as partners in education.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

 

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

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of English – 21 October 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Science – 21 October 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics – 16 October 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 17 September 2008.

 

 

 

 

Published October 2009

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report  

 

The W.S.E. was carried out from 16th to 20th October 2008, at a time when management and staff were still coping with the demands of the final stages of the new school building.  It is the opinion of the Board of Management that due regard was not given to the fact that the building, furnishing and equipping of the new school had placed an exceptional and inordinate pressure on the time and resources of the College management. 

The W.S.E. team do not appear to have taken cognisance of the fact that the College had one Assistant Principal Post in total, and that seven of the teaching staff were new to the College at the time of evaluation.

In the Board’s opinion, the extensive voluntary input by teaching staff in extra-curricular activities and in the pastoral care area is not sufficiently acknowledged in the report.

A function of the W.S.E. is “to support and advise” and while advice was given in the form of recommendations, the Board of Management and the staff feel that the evaluation process was not a supportive or an affirming experience.

 

 

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 one Assistant Principal post allocated to the College has been re designated to Whole School Planning.

Key priorities have been established and planning is ongoing.

Parents Association meetings are being held in the College with the Principal attending.

The Guidance Plan has commenced.

A review of current curricular provisions has taken place and significant changes have been implemented.  A fundamental analysis of the timetable is planned and further changes will be implemented for the academic year 2010/2011.

S.P.H.E. / R.S.E. policy document has been adopted by the Board of Management.

A formal rota for before and after school supervision is in place.

The College’s Student Council is established and meets monthly.

Consultations regarding post duties were conducted and a reconfiguring of assigned duties has been put in place.

A variety of strategies to further promote student learning has been initiated and in particular for examination classes. For example, recording of monthly subject assessments in student journals with parents being notified by text message of same.  A school work and homework contract to be signed by student and parent / guardian has been established.

Teachers are facilitated by management in attending in-service training and continuous professional development: - Feedback to staff is encouraged.

A cohesive team with S.E.N. Co-ordination is currently working on the College’s S.E.N. Plan.

Finally the board of Management of Coláiste an Átha wish to emphasise that the College is a vibrant progressive centre of learning with a dedicated and committed management and teaching staff.

The Board looks forward to the College having a bright future within the community.