An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Oaklands Community College

Edenderry, Co. Offaly

Roll number: 72540O

 

Date of inspection: 23 October 2009

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Oaklands Community College was undertaken in October 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). All relevant required documentation was made available to the inspectors prior to and during the evaluation. Pre-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and deputy principal, the board of management and the parentsí association representatives. During the course of the evaluation, an extensive series of meetings was held with the principal and deputy principal. Other meetings were also held with the studentsí representative council, the school completion programme co-ordinator and home-school-community liaison officer, and a number of support staff. Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and deputy principal and the board of management. 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

 

County Offaly Vocational Education Committee opened the vocational school that is now Oaklands Community College in 1958. Since then the school has continued to expand and its present size reflects the expansion of post-primary education in Ireland since the 1960s.

 

Oaklands is one of two second-level schools in Edenderry, a town near the Offaly-Kildare border. Because of its geographical position, the schoolís catchment area is wide. As well as serving the town of Edenderry, it also attracts students from rural Offaly, Kildare, and Meath. There are five main feeder schools, namely Edenderry Boys National School, Edenderry Girls National School, Derrinturn National School, Castlejordan National School and Clogherinkoe National School.

 

Edenderry has traditionally been a manufacturing town, but over the years this has greatly reduced and the employment profile of the area has been adversely affected. The school has been included in the current Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme, through which supports to help alleviate educational disadvantage are provided. Oaklands Community College has a tradition of being a resource for the community and this is being further developed by current management.

 

To accommodate an increased student population after the introduction of national free second-level education, several extensions were made to the original modest school. As a result the school grounds have contracted. Playing fields are accessed off-site.

 

Oaklands Community College currently caters for approximately 310 second-level students. These students present with a wide range of ambitions and abilities for which the school strives to cater. The school offers a range of courses, as follows: Junior and Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. In addition, the holistic development of students is well supported by extracurricular and co-curricular programmes, largely made possible by the generous efforts of a dedicated and motivated teaching staff.†

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

As a school within the Co. Offaly Vocational Education scheme, Oaklands Community College aspires to cater for the entire community and operates on the basis of an open and inclusive ethos. Co. Offaly Vocational Education Committee (VEC) has a good level of effective involvement in the school, through its role as trustee and through the contact that the school initiates, on an ongoing basis, for example when clarification is sought regarding issues in relation to staffing. The VEC provides a range of corporate and other services and supports for the school.

 

A mission statement has been in place since 1994 and it is quoted in documents such as the studentsí journal and the teachersí handbook. The aspirations of this statement, including the provision of a holistic education in an inclusive environment, are lived out daily in the routines of the school and in the manner in which the in-school management team plans and organises the various interventions and events that characterise the student-centred nature of the school. The development and implementation of the range of school policy documents has also reflected the mission statement.

 

The senior in-school management team have a clear vision for the school and have shared it effectively with all the diverse elements that constitute the school community. It is grounded in concern for the welfare of students and in enabling them to take advantage of the best the school has to offer, to the best of their abilities, in an ordered environment.

 

Much change has occurred since the formulation of the mission statement and, over time, it has become less central to the management of the school. It is therefore recommended that it be reviewed in the light of the current context of the school and in terms of the evolving nature of the vision for the school.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The school is governed by a board of management which is a sub-committee of Co. Offaly VEC. The present board is coming to the end of its term of office and a new board is shortly to be constituted. The board is representative of a range of partners, including the VEC, staff, parents and the community. The board has been proactive, under the guidance of the principal, in managing the affairs of the school for which it was responsible. Members of the board, with the exception of the parentsí representatives, have availed of training provided by the VEC. Most members of this board have shown great commitment to the school and have worked very hard on its behalf. Attendance at board meetings was generally good but it is noted that, going back over a substantial period of time, certain VEC representatives did not attend meetings. The commitment of these VEC appointees has been poor and less than that required by their obligations under the terms of Section 31 of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 2001.

 

When constituted, it is recommended that all members of the new board should receive appropriate training for their roles, including those existing members transferring to the new board, whose training should be updated. It is also recommend that appointees to the new board are apprised of the serious and important nature of the appointment and of the commitment required. Training for board members should reflect the nature of this commitment.

 

The current board has a very good relationship with the VEC and a proper level of communication, necessary to fulfil its function, is maintained. Decision-making procedures are open and decisions are made by consensus. An excellent relationship exists between senior management and the board. The level of consultation and communication is very encouraging at all levels. The board of management communicates with the VEC, in-school management, staff and parents through the representatives of these groups on the board. In addition to reporting to Co. Offaly VEC following its meetings, it is recommended that the board issue an agreed written report to parents and staff.

 

The board has ratified the legally required policies in relation to admissions, behaviour, child protection, guidance, special education and health and safety. An attendance strategy is currently under development.

 

The board, under the guidance of the principal, has prioritised a number of areas for development. These include further development of the school plan, establishment of a parentsí association, development of home-school links and certain health and safety issues. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that much progress has been made in all these areas. The board, along with senior management, are assiduously making efforts to include parents in the development of the school and in the education of the students.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The current principal has been in place for just over one year while the deputy principal has served the school for many years. The leadership, management and administrative aspects of the principalís and deputy principalís roles are evident from the manner in which they carry out their respective duties. In particular, the principal has been an effective leader, both of staff and of students. Effective academic leadership and leadership for change are evident also.

 

Principal and deputy work efficiently and effectively as a team, are mutually supportive and demonstrate commendable commitment to the school. They lead by example. They share a clear vision for the school and are effective in communicating this to others and motivating them to work towards achieving it. The vision of senior management is apparent in the policies and procedures that have been developed recently, in the new and very positive emphasis that has been placed on raising the expectations of all sections of the school community and in the level of communication that is apparent between the education partners in the school. Senior management is actively promoting the school as a learning community.

 

The implementation of the vision of senior management is apparent in the day-to-day running of the school from the level of order on the school corridors, the courteous and mature behaviour of students to the calm working atmosphere that prevails. Students behaved in an exemplary manner throughout the period of the evaluation.

 

There is an excellent level of communication between the principal and deputy principal. They meet frequently during the course of the day and also meet before specific events such as staff meetings. They are in constant, effective, communication and are constantly supporting each other. There is a clear division of roles and responsibilities within the senior management team. However, as there is no documented list of duties for each, it is recommended that such a list be agreed, in order to ensure that all relevant areas of responsibility are covered and that each is clear about his own and the otherís responsibilities.

 

Effective delegation of responsibility to middle management is also evident. There is good distribution of leadership to middle managers who are trusted to manage their functions and duties. All post holders have a written schedule of duties and they work hard and in an accountable manner. One assistant principal (AP) and three special duties teacher (SDT) posts of responsibility and the programme co-ordinator post are vacant and the school now has five AP and only two SDT posts currently occupied. The principal and deputy principal have taken on many additional duties to compensate for the reduction in posts. However, there is a lack of sustainability in the system at present and some critical decisions need to be made in the short term regarding the distribution of responsibilities. It is recommended that the responsibilities of post holders be kept under review to ensure that the most urgent needs of the school are met.

 

All teachers receive a comprehensive teachersí handbook at the beginning of each school year, which includes a diary and planner, a section for recording rolls and other class and studentsí details. It also includes useful information on the school and its procedures and policies. In addition, a staff induction handbook is distributed to all new and existing staff members, at the beginning of each school year. This valuable document provides an updated staff list, details of class tutors and year heads, arrangements for the return to school of students, a calendar for the up-coming school year and a range of other useful items. Newly arrived teachers are assigned a mentor from among the experienced staff, usually an assistant principal. The principal also meets with all new staff members.

 

There is effective communication at all levels within the school. Staff members are fully and openly consulted in relation to all relevant aspects of the schoolís business and development. Staff members are aware of the roles and responsibilities of post holders.

 

Senior management values and facilitates the continuing professional development of staff.

 

The school is run in an open and inclusive manner, for the benefit of its students, regardless of their level of ability, background or religion. The admissions policy, as it is implemented, reflects the inclusive nature of the school. It is recommended, however, that this policy is amended in order to eliminate an anomaly in respect of the admission of students with special educational needs, to ensure the policy is in keeping with relevant legislation and that the policy reflects the good practice on the ground.

 

A fair and transparent code of behaviour is in place. The school implements a positive behaviour programme and a system of rewards is used to encourage positive student behaviour. The number of exclusions has been dramatically reduced in the recent past.

 

Senior management is very focussed on the welfare of students as a prerequisite to their engaging in quality learning. A studentsí council is in place and students are being consulted regarding policy development. Students are also encouraged to participate in initiating school improvement and have demonstrated some success to date, including the provision of lockers and the choice of food in the school canteen.

 

The active involvement of parents is sought and encouraged in the education of their children and in the running of the school. A parentsí association has recently been set up, following an intense effort by senior management and the parentsí representative on the board of management. It is still in its early stages and exploring its role. Both the board and in-school management actively support this initiative.

 

The school communicates effectively with parents, as individuals and as a group. Strenuous efforts are continuously underway to improve this communication. Contact is achieved in a variety of ways, depending on the context. A quality newsletter is issued three times each year. Parent-teacher meetings are held for all year groups, with two meetings being held for parents of students in third and sixth year. The student journal and handbook, which all students are required to keep, are used to maintain continuous day-to-day contact. Parents may be contacted by letter, by phone or may receive a visit from school personnel, as circumstances require. Parents are invited to a range of events within the school also. In addition, the school operates an open-door policy with regard to parents initiating contact.

 

It is recommended that the board of management, in the interest of promoting partnership, should meet with both the parentsí association and the studentsí council, on occasion, to encourage both groups and to consider issues of mutual concern.

 

The school continues to establish and maintain links with the community and with a range of outside agencies, for a variety of purposes including the provision of work experience opportunities for students, to supplement the in-school student supports, to provide students with new and different experiences, to secure sponsorship of school events and to raise funds. The local School Completion Programme (SCP), of which the school is the only post-primary participant, has been of great assistance in setting up and maintaining these links.

 

There has been an increased emphasis on internal evaluation over the past year, following the appointment of the current principal. Many aspects of the schools systems and performance are being evaluated in the light of the vision that senior management have for the school. This process is being actively led by the senior management. It is intended that continuous evaluation and review become embedded as features of how the school conducts its business. The views of all partners are sought and valued as part of these processes. A significant positive outcome of the review process, to date, has been the renewed emphasis on student outcomes, as part of a realignment of the focus of the school, in tandem with the work being carried out to raise expectations.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

In compliance with Department of Education and Science regulations, the school is in operation for twenty-eight hours each week and 167 days per year. All teachers are timetabled for their maximum number of hours, without exception. In addition, all teaching hours allocated for a specific purpose are used for their intended purpose.

 

The deployment of staff is, in almost all cases, in keeping with the qualifications and expertise of staff and in the best interests of students. However, in one instance, a Home Economics class period is being supervised by a teacher with no Home Economics expertise. It is recommended that this situation be rectified as a matter of urgency. In addition, the school has a 0.5 whole-time-equivalent (WTE) allocation for Guidance, but has been unable to employ a qualified person. The incumbent, although unqualified in Guidance, has experience in this area from another school in Co. Offaly VEC and works very hard to implement the guidance plan. It is recommended that the school reviews this situation with a view to employing a qualified guidance counsellor as a matter of urgency.

 

Management, having carried out an analysis of current staff provision and of future anticipated staffing needs, has identified several areas where employing suitably qualified teachers would significantly enhance current provision and permit the broadening of the curriculum in the manner envisioned by school management. Specific subject areas have been prioritised for the recruitment of qualified teachers in the future, subject to overall provision within the VEC.

 

Support staff make a significant contribution to the smooth running of the school. All have received training appropriate to their responsibilities, including first-aid training and, in one case, training in the operation of a defibrillator. They have been included, as an integral part of the school, in all consultations and in the planning process and have acknowledged the quality of inclusion and communication within the school. †

 

School accommodation is more than adequate and is maintained to the highest standard possible. An attractive environment has been created which is immediately apparent on entering the school. Changes have been made to ensure that the required specialist rooms and up-to-date information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are available as required.

 

The school requests a payment of Ä80, upon enrolment, for individual students, with reduced amounts for families with two or more children in the school. The money collected is used to benefit students directly, including the funding of the school book loan scheme that the school operates. It is recommended that the wording of the request for this money be altered to reflect the use to which the money is put and to inform parents that this is not an enrolment fee. In addition, it is recommended that the school investigate the possibility of a group of parents managing the school book scheme in order to encourage parental involvement.

 

Management, staff and students, including the learning support and guidance departments, have appropriate access to the schoolís ICT infrastructure. This infrastructure, and associated resources, is up-to-date and suitable for purpose. Management has prioritised the provision of data projectors in all classrooms and substantial progress has been made in provision to date. ICT systems are used in management and administration and are available to all staff for research and lesson planning. Evidence suggests that ICT is being used in the classroom as a teaching tool and to enhance the studentsí experience of subjects.

 

The school has prepared a comprehensive safety statement, as required by legislation. All staff members have been made aware of this statement and have contributed to its preparation.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

Oaklands Community College has a long history of quality and well documented planning going back to the early 1990s. This comprehensive planning has led to the compilation of a high-quality school plan, satisfying most legislative requirements and facilitating the development of the school. Policy development is ongoing in a number of areas.

 

The school plan includes both permanent and developmental sections. Productive engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) has taken place and has contributed to the quality of plans and policies. Planning has been carried out in an open and collaborative manner, involving the VEC, board, senior management and school staff. Increasingly, parents and students have been included in planning, at the draft plan stage, and this is set to occur to an even greater extent with the formation of the parentsí association and the increased involvement of the studentsí council. It is recommended that the planning process facilitate the input of ideas and suggestions from the partners before drafts are formulated, as well as at draft plan or policy stage.

 

An effective school planning co-ordinator manages the planning process. Year heads and APs form the steering committee. While recognising that consultation with relevant staff takes place, in order to promote further involvement, it is recommended that membership of the steering committee be opened up, as appropriate, to those who have an interest or expertise in specific areas under consideration.

 

In the current school context, the planning process is firmly embedded in an analysis of the needs of the school and based on the vision for the school as shared and understood by all the partners. Outcomes are focused on improving the running of the school, increasing its capabilities and responding to the needs of students. Suggestions for policy development can come from any section of the school community.

 

The date of ratification by the staff or board is stated on most plans and policy documents. However, the planned review of policies and plans and their implementation is not a feature of current practice. In order to further develop the cycle of planning in a clear and consistent manner, it is recommended that all plans and policies include a review date. The school is actively gathering evidence in a number of areas on the effectiveness of current provision and is evaluating this with a view to further refinement of policies and procedures.

 

The various plans and policies in place are the basis on which the school manages its business and to which reference is made when there is doubt about the way forward. Staff members receive copies of all ratified policy documents and are involved in implementing them as relevant.

 

Future planning is informed by legislation, the identification of needs and the outcomes for students across a range of performance indicators, although many of these have not been overtly identified. Recent developments in the school, some of which have yet to be formalised in policy documents, have resulted in significant improvements in studentsí experiences. There are also still a number of areas where planning is incomplete. A number of these areas have been prioritised for development at an early date or work has already commenced. Realistic and achievable development priorities have been set for the coming school year, as outlined in section 1.2 above.

 

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. Due to recent and ongoing changes in staffing, it is recommended that child protection training be reviewed and updated.

 

It is now timely that planning is completed in a number of specific areas. The completion of an overall DEIS plan to tie together the various relevant processes and interventions is an example, as is the development of the associated whole-school literacy and numeracy plans and policies and the attendance strategy. The attention of the school is drawn to the recent inspectorate publication Effective literacy and numeracy practices in DEIS schools, which will prove useful.

 

Senior management stated the need to update and expand the critical incidents policy. The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has produced two valuable documents that will be of assistance: Responding to Critical Incidents - Guidelines for Schools and Responding to Critical Incidents - Resource Materials for Schools.

 

To ensure compliance with the requirements of department circular 27/08, the board of management must, through collaboration with senior management, staff and parents make provision for the completion of the RSE policy in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Science. These guidelines can be downloaded from the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.gov.ie.

 

It is recommended that the safety statement be updated to make provision for changes that have occurred in the school since it was last reviewed.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

It is commendable that the school offers a curriculum which is specifically designed to meet the needs of its students. This curriculum is as broad as staffing limitations permit and is balanced from a gender perspective. While a good range of subjects is on offer at all levels, it is acknowledged that provision is lacking in some areas, notably the arts. Management stated a desire to make greater provision for Art and Music on the timetable. In addition, management would like to expand on the current provision of Biology and Agricultural Science in the senior cycle curriculum with the inclusion of the physical sciences, Chemistry and Physics. However, due to restrictions in the allocation of teaching staff, it is proving difficult to employ qualified teachers for extra subjects.

 

The Junior Certificate programme and the JCSP are offered at junior cycle. On entering senior cycle, students have the option of following the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). In addition, a post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) class follows a course in Business Studies (secretarial). Appropriate time is allocated to each subject in both junior and senior cycles. However, the spread of class periods throughout the week should be reviewed in a number of specific instances. Likewise, the timetabling of double periods across breaks should be avoided. The curriculum is kept under review and options such as Transition Year are always given consideration. The take up of subjects by students is monitored to ensure that what is offered meets the needs and aspirations of students. All subjects are offered at higher and ordinary level and, where appropriate, at foundation level. All students have equal access to all aspects of the curriculum and all programmes are open to every student.

 

The JCSP and LCVP are significant curricular interventions that the school uses to support students. However, due to posts of responsibility remaining vacant, there is currently no co-ordinator in place for either programme. This is seriously affecting the schoolís efforts to provide quality programmes and has hampered efforts to improve outcomes in the LCVP in particular. Staff are working assiduously and on a voluntary basis to carry out some of the co-ordinators functions. However, in the long term, this situation is untenable and it is recommended that management review current arrangements with a view to appointing the necessary co-ordinators.

 

In second and third year, there are two mixed-ability class groups and a third class consisting of the JCSP students. This arrangement has caused difficulty and has been discontinued for the current first-year class. There are three class groups in the current first-year cohort. In order to encourage academic achievement, the more academically able students are in one class group and the remaining students, including those following the JCSP, are in two mixed-ability class groups. This arrangement is intended to avoid isolation of JCSP students and to facilitate them in mixing with their peers.

 

Junior cycle students are in their class groups for Irish, English and Mathematics but are in mixed-ability groups for optional subjects. Lessons in Irish, English and Mathematics are concurrent in some instances but not in others. In this current system, interim progress reports are issued in November for first-year students, at which time class membership is re-examined. JCSP students in second and third year are allocated extra class periods in Mathematics and those in third year also receive extra classes in English. JCSP statements of achievement and profiles are being used as appropriate and JCSP students sit the Junior Certificate examination.

 

The current models of class arrangement across the junior cycle effectively amount to streaming and should be reviewed. It is recommended that all first-year classes are of mixed ability for the full year. This arrangement will promote equity among students and allow sufficient time for all to settle into the school and achieve according to their ability. These classes should work to a common agreed programme and schedules and sit frequent common assessments. This will encourage collaborative planning at staff level and avoid the need for concurrent classes. Class groups may then be realigned in second year, by which time a detailed profile of each student will have been compiled, to encourage the more academically able and to support those who require more detailed intervention. However, classes in the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics should ideally be concurrent in order to permit movement of students, should this become desirable. This arrangement, which is more consistent with the stated desire of senior management of raising expectations, should then continue for the remainder of junior cycle.

 

Currently, in the senior cycle, there are two fifth-year class groups, one following the LCA and one following the LCVP. There are two LCVP class groups in sixth year. The arrangement of class groups is satisfactory in both years and is designed to help students to achieve the best possible outcomes commensurate with their abilities. However, the option of students following the Leaving Certificate (Established) programme should not be ruled out.

 

3.2          Arrangements for studentsí choice of subjects and programmes

 

Adequate and timely communication with parents and students with regard to all choices in programmes and subjects takes place. Parents are always included in the decision making process. Students are given on open choice of subjects and programmes at all levels.

 

Incoming first years make their subject choices prior to entry. Both they and their parents are supported through visits to the primary schools by members of the management team, the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) officer, open days in Oaklands and parents evenings. Relevant supportive literature is provided. Note is taken, at this stage, of students who would potentially benefit from inclusion in the JCSP and these students are encouraged to enrol. Their parents are also met and advised. The school operates an open-door policy if parents want to make contact and seek further information or clarification. It is suggested that the school gives consideration to facilitating incoming first year students to sample subjects, thus enabling them to make a more informed choice.

 

Gender equality is promoted in the manner in which certain specific subjects are on two option lines for incoming first year students.

 

All junior cycle students are provided with a core set of subjects, consisting of Irish, English, Mathematics, Science, CSPE, SPHE, Religious Education (RE) and Physical Education. Optional subjects include Business Studies, Metalwork, Materials Technology (Wood), Home Economics and Technical Graphics. Precise arrangements for optional subjects vary with the year group and class. Music, Art, History, Geography and French may be either core or optional subjects or may be restricted to specific class groups

 

Students in third year, and their parents, are given timely advice from the guidance counsellor regarding their options for senior cycle. Currently, they do not have regular timetabled class contact with the guidance counsellor. It is recommended that this situation be re-examined with a view to providing regular contact, thereby improving the service provided to students. This will also provide an opportunity to encourage greater parental involvement. Students may be advised and encouraged to follow the LCA programme if deemed appropriate to their needs.

 

Subject options for all other senior cycle students are driven by demand and are organised to ensure that they all have the appropriate subjects to enable them to follow the LCVP. The core of examination subjects for senior cycle students is Irish, English and Mathematics. Four other subjects are selected from the following list of optional subjects: Agricultural Science, Biology, Business, Engineering, Home Economics, Construction Studies, French, Geography and Technical Drawing. The actual subject groups from which students make their choices are designed to facilitate the maximum number of students, but are subject to the availability of teachers. All students take the LCVP link modules and a module in a modern European language is provided for those students who are not taking such a language to Leaving Certificate level. Classes are mixed ability. Students also follow programmes in Guidance, PE and Religion.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

A commendably wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities is offered and supported, involving all areas of instruction within the school. Examples of sporting activities include Gaelic football, soccer, basketball, badminton and athletics. Musical and entertainment activities include hip-hop dancing, the Stars in Your Eyes competition and the guitar club. A number of activities are related to specific curricular areas and include the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition, science week activities, the Young Entrepreneurs competition, cooking for JCSP students and an LCA outing to an outdoor education centre. The school was been awarded its first green flag last year for litter and waste. It is now pursuing a second, in energy. Social and charity-based activities include fundraising for local and national charities, Christmas carol singing and visits to a nearby senior citizens home.

 

These activities are available to all students and are designed to support their academic subjects, to encourage their social development and to enable students to develop specific skills such as leadership skills, teamwork skills and a variety of social skills. No restrictions are placed on students participating in activities, except to ensure that no one is so involved as to suffer academically. Significant fundraising is carried out to support these activities.

 

The effort and commitment of teachers in providing such a high level of extracurricular and co-curricular activities are indeed praiseworthy and all involved are commended for their work.

 

Management have stated the benefits that both teachers and students gain from participating in these activities. Activities contribute to the holistic development of students, expose them to new experiences, give them the opportunity to achieve success, and lead to improved self-confidence, the development of non-academic skills and improved relationships between teachers and students.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Subject departments are well established in the school and many good practices are in place to facilitate effective planning within each department. Subject co-ordinators lead the work of each subject department. The position of co-ordinator rotates within each subject team. This is very good practice, as it gives all members of the subject department an opportunity to shape on-going curricular planning, and builds leadership capacity among staff members. Collaborative planning is facilitated through formal planning meetings which are scheduled as part of the calendar of staff meetings. Minutes of meetings reviewed during the evaluation indicate good levels of teacher collaboration in a range of areas.

 

It is laudable that the senior management team sets part of the agenda for planning meetings to support a cohesive whole-school approach to planning. Of particular note is that a recent agenda requested subject teams to share effective practice in teaching and learning. Sharing experiences in teaching and learning should be a regular item on the agenda of planning meetings to encourage reflective practice and the sharing of expertise among colleagues. Interdepartmental meetings have been a feature of subject planning. In the context of one-teacher departments, the potential of multidisciplinary meetings should be optimised as a forum to discuss issues of common concern, to mentor new staff and to share best practice.

 

Good progress was evident in the development of subject plans in all of the subject areas inspected during the evaluation. In each case, programme plans have been developed to facilitate the implementation of the junior and senior cycle syllabuses. Best practice in programme planning was evident in instances where, for each year group, studentsí expected knowledge and understanding was outlined in terms of key learning outcomes that complemented the principles underpinning the relevant syllabuses. To support the very good work already underway, it is recommended that all subject plans be advanced and written in terms of differentiated learning outcomes and detail the effective teaching methodologies to be employed in achieving them.

 

Some good practice was evident in planning for students with additional education needs. In one subject evaluated, planning is underway for the use of a key-word approach across the subject area to support studentsí increased understanding of the key terminology associated with the subject. Good links exist between the learning support department and some subject areas. To enhance planning for students with additional education needs, all subject teachers should be aware of key points of information regarding agreed targets in each studentís individual education plan or language support programme. This information should inform lesson planning, support a whole-school approach to supporting students with additional needs and facilitate collaborative reviews of individual studentís learning. Likewise, planning for the presence of JCSP students in classes needs to be more specific and detailed, making reference to the short-term goals and targets that are appropriate to these students.

 

The quality of short-term planning, which included the use of ICT, in the individual lessons observed was good. Exceptionally good practice was evident in instances where the lesson content and the planned homework activities were appropriately differentiated to meet studentsí needs. A good range of resources was employed in the delivery of lesson content. The extensive use of ICT in preparing resources such as worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, student handouts and classroom posters was noted in all of the subjects evaluated.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

The lessons observed during the inspection were, in almost all instances, very well planned. This was evident from the structure and pace of the lessons, from the variety of learning opportunities afforded to the students and from the clear manner in which the aims of the lessons were shared with the students at the outset of the lessons. In the most effective cases, the lesson aims were written on the board. This very good practice, which serves to give the lesson a clear focus and provide a framework for assessing studentsí learning, should be adopted as standard across the school.

 

Classroom management, student behaviour and engagement were very good. The lessons proceeded in an atmosphere of mutual respect and were marked by very positive rapport between teachers and students. The presence of subject-specific posters and other relevant materials on the classroom walls served to create a media-rich environment and prompted positive attitudes towards the different subjects.

 

An appropriate range of teaching methods was in evidence in most cases. In such instances, a very good balance was reached between student-centred and teacher-led activities and students were provided with opportunities for independent and collaborative learning.

 

ICT and other resources were effectively integrated into lesson delivery in many of the lessons observed during the inspection. The use of such resources served to support the achieving of the lessonsí objectives, to introduce new concepts, to investigate complex concepts and to create a challenging and stimulating environment. In other cases, however, there was an over reliance on the textbook and on verbal communication with students. This was particularly inappropriate in classes containing students whose command of English is poor and where additional support is required to address the literacy and numeracy needs of the students. The appropriate integration of additional resources, including visual media, should form a central part of lesson delivery across all subject areas in the school.

 

In almost all cases, care was taken to ensure that the lessons were suitably differentiated and that the students, irrespective of their ability, were successfully included in all aspects of the lessons. This was achieved through good teacher movement, incisive teacher questioning and the use of graduated worksheets and other resources. This approach meant that the teachers provided very good support to students who were experiencing difficulties with the material being covered and challenged the more able students effectively. In some instances, the use of higher-order questioning to encourage the students to engage in analysis, to hypothesise and to interpret information could be further enhanced.

 

The quality of student learning was good and, in some instances, it was of a very high standard. The students demonstrated good levels of understanding of key concepts and had mastered a range of skills and carried out their assigned work in a competent manner. It was evident from the studentsí notebooks and copies that the quality of their written work is also of a good standard.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

A good range of assessment modes, to assess studentsí learning, was in use in all of the subject areas inspected. These modes included questioning of students, examination of homework, continuous assessment, end-of-topic tests and formal end-of-term examinations.

 

Homework is regularly assigned and frequently monitored in most instances. Best practice was observed when comments indicating strategies for improvement were provided. It is recommended that this Assessment for Learning strategy is adopted as an integral part of the schoolís assessment practices and documented in subject plans.†

 

Formal examinations are held twice yearly. Some very good practice in relation to the drafting of examination papers, where the structure and standard of the examinations was similar to that which the students will encounter in the certificate examinations, was seen in the course of the inspection. Formal testing is supplemented by regular class tests throughout the year. This is laudable.

 

Some subject departments routinely analyse student performance in the certificate examinations and compare them to national norms using the statistics available from the State Examinations Commission. This good practice should be extended across all departments. It is recommended that subject departments use the resulting data to inform department planning, focusing on areas of strength as well as areas for improvement, and devise strategies to encourage students to attain at the highest level possible. It has been noted that there are significant differences in the quality of certificate examination outcomes in certain subject areas. Management is aware of these and is working with teachers to improve outcomes in these subjects.

 

Record keeping of a very good standard was seen in the course of the inspection.† Very good procedures were in place to keep parents informed of student progress including the school journal, formal end-of-term reports, student progress reports, parent-teacher meetings, information evenings and telephone calls to studentsí homes.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Enrolment in Oaklands Community College includes a significant number of students with additional educational needs. A significant number of students for whom English is an additional language are in attendance also. An effective co-ordinated process is in place to identify students with specific needs, before entry to the school. This is carried out, for the most part, during the transfer process, through contact with parents, primary schools and other agencies, as necessary. Students may also be given additional support at a later stage on the basis of their ongoing progress or other relevant information and a referral procedure is in place to facilitate this provision.

 

A special education team is in place and is working to support these students. There are learning support and resource team meetings twice each year. The recent appointment of two special needs assistants (SNAs), the first time such support has been available in Oaklands, has enhanced provision and their deployment is appropriate. They have been integrated seamlessly into the school and have contributed significantly.

 

A resource room, which has four computers and relevant software, is available to the special education team. This facility has been funded by the School Completion Programme (SCP). A second ICT-equipped resource room is also available.†

 

Senior management is very supportive of the work of the learning-support department. A whole-school approach to learning support is evident and this is underpinned by a special education policy, grounded in the mission statement of the school, which has been ratified and is in operation. Teachers are aware of their responsibilities towards students with additional educational needs and they are aware of the students in their classes who are receiving support. There is good integration between learning support and other areas, for example the transfer programme from primary schools, the mentoring programme and the SCP. Good links are maintained with the local special education needs organiser (SENO) and with relevant outside agencies. Students with special educational needs are encouraged and assisted to access and participate fully in school life.

 

The main form of intervention currently in use is withdrawal from Irish and other subjects for one-to-one and small-group support. Extra classes may also be provided in Mathematics and English at junior cycle. Specific short-term interventions are put in place from time to time to address specific needs and circumstances. Individual education plans are used to plan for student learning. Parents and others are involved in preparing these plans and studentsí progress in monitored on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that consideration be given to the provision of in-class support, as an alternative to or in addition to withdrawal, in order to further tailor supports to individual needs.

 

The school has been allocated one WTE position to provide for the needs of students for whom English is an additional language (EAL). Good use is being made of this allocation to provide small group tuition, mostly during Irish and RE classes. The students are generally grouped in relation to their ability and level of English rather than their ages. Block provision, as part of an intensive programme, has also been used to give basic skills to those with no English. The function of these supports is to ensure that students have a level of functionality in English to enable then to access the curriculum and progress further with their peers. It is noteworthy that English-language classes have also been provided for parents of EAL students.

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Strenuous efforts are made to alleviate the effects of educational disadvantage through the curriculum and, at an individual level, through the extensive supports the school provides to students. ††

 

A whole-school approach to Guidance is in evidence in Oaklands Community College. A draft guidance plan is in place to direct supports and services to students. This plan is thorough and well thought out, in the context of the school. It makes reference to all stages of studentsí time in the school, from first year through to Leaving Certificate, and to the range of supports and interventions that are provided. It is recommended that this plan be advanced to ratification by the board at an early date.

 

Due to staffing limitations, as described in section 1.4 above, implementing this plan to its fullest extent is proving difficult. However, the staffing allocation is used appropriately for the provision of personal, educational and vocational Guidance and provision is made for all students to receive support, as appropriate in their progress through the school. For example, Guidance is available to all students and their parents at transition stages, both when enrolling in the school and when moving to senior cycle and parents are kept fully informed and actively encouraged to be involved in all decision making. It is commendable, also, that all sixth-year students can avail of one-to-one consultation with the guidance counsellor.

 

LCVP link module syllabus requirements are closely linked to Guidance and good liaison occurs between the link module teacher and the guidance counsellor to support student activities such as carrying out a career investigation and preparing a curriculum vitae.

 

The school has developed valuable links with businesses and third-level institutions to assist students in researching careers and further education options.

 

A variety of events are held each year for the purpose of communicating with and supporting students and their parents and to celebrate and share achievement and success. In addition to parent-teacher meetings, information evenings are held for the parents of all year groups, except second years. An open day is held for sixth-class pupils from Oaklandís feeder primary schools, followed by an open evening for their parents, as part of the schools procedure for maximising enrolment and to facilitate the transition to second-level school for the pupils. A number of other events are also part of the school calendar, including a first-year celebration in October, drug awareness and study skills evenings in November, a JCSP Christmas celebration and a Christmas celebration for parents and students. The school year culminates with a sixth-year graduation Mass and ceremony and an annual awards ceremony for all year groups. These events have been successful in raising the profile of the school in the community, in demonstrating the benefits the school has to offer to prospective students, in attracting students and in maintaining a positive atmosphere in the school.

 

The supports provided to the school as part of the DEIS initiative have proven to be of great assistance. Oaklands Community College is part of the local SCP. A HSCL officer has recently been appointed and a number of other supports are in place or being planned. Suspensions are significantly down in the past year, although a high and persistent level of absenteeism is still apparent. As part of its commitments under the DEIS programme, the school is in the process of formulating an attendance strategy which it hopes to complete and implement later this school year. Provision is also made, through the JCSP programme, for students who are at risk of leaving school early.

 

A very good mentoring system for supporting incoming first-year students is in place. Senior students are chosen and trained to act as mentors to small groups of first-year students. This initiative provides practical support for the junior students and provides role models for them. All concerned are to be highly commended for their dedicated and valuable work.

 

An effective and well-structured student-support system is in operation in Oaklands. A care team was convened this year and is currently in the process of establishing itself as the central point through which all student supports will be managed and co-ordinated. Its work is grounded in the new draft pastoral care policy, the development of which is almost complete and it is recommended that this policy be completed and ratified as soon as reasonably possible. The school is highly commended for this very positive and encouraging initiative. Membership of this team includes the principal and deputy principal, all year heads, the HSCL officer, the SCP co-ordinator, learning support personnel and the guidance counsellor. The work of this team is supported by the class tutors and by staff in general. A referral system has been put in place to facilitate the delivery of specific supports and there is ongoing monitoring of student progress. Personal counselling is available to students through the SCP-funded counsellor and links are also maintained with agencies that provide counselling and support for students with a variety of personal difficulties

 

 

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 senior management and with the 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:

 

 

 

 

Published, June 2010

Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report†† ††

 

The Board of Management of Oaklands Community College welcomes the extremely positive report from the Inspectorate on the Whole School Evaluation, which took place in October 2009.

 

In particular, the Board is very pleased that the many strengths of Oaklands Community College have been recognised in the report.

 

 

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 Admissions Policy will be amended as per recommendation

 

         Posts of Responsibility are reviewed and regular adjustments made if possible

 

         DEIS Plan is currently under completion

 

         RSE Policy will be addressed in the coming school year

 

         The model of class arrangement at Junior Cycle has been, and will continue to be, reviewed annually with a view to getting the best model for Oaklands Community College

 

         A qualified Guidance teacher will be employed this year (2010/11)

 

         A second Home Economics teacher will be employed when allocation allows