An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Patrick’s Comprehensive School

Shannon County Clare

Roll number: 81007U

 

Date of inspection: 30 November 2007

 

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 Saint Patrick’s Comprehensive School, Shannon was undertaken in November 2007. 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 seven for details).   The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School, a co-educational, multi-denominational day school, was founded in 1966 as one of Ireland’s first comprehensive schools. Referred to locally as ‘The Comp’ St. Patrick’s is located in the heart of Shannon town and has always been an integral part of the community. Many community activities are hosted in the school and local clubs make use of the schools’ pitches. The school can also book the local leisure centre as required. The school avails of these resources for its extensive sports programme, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The school is conscious of its role within the community and it strives to provide a comprehensive system of post-primary and continuing education through post leaving certificate (PLC) courses, back to education initiative (BTEI) and adult education night classes. Over the years the school has benefited from its close association with the Shannon Curriculum Development Unit and has spearheaded much curricular development and change.

 

The school has a current enrolment of 605 students and draws students from a variety of geographical areas. The student population includes students from a diverse range of academic abilities, socio-economic groups and cultural backgrounds. Approximately one fifth of the current student population comprises newcomer students from over twenty-four countries. This diversity creates challenges for the school in terms of inclusion, support for students for whom English is a second language and pastoral support that is sensitive to the cultural and personal needs of all students. School management and staff are mindful of the need to develop strategies to assist further the integration and inclusion of these students. The school celebrates this diversity by fostering a spirit of inclusion and tolerance among all of its students and the school operates an inclusive enrolment policy. The school asserts that this diversity, leads to the enrichment of the educational experience of all students at the school.  Within the school community, the respect for and inclusion of this diversity is central to its essence and lived ethos. The school has always been at the forefront in developing links with the European Community, through language exchanges, European Studies debates and visits to the European Parliament together with work experience abroad.

 

The holistic development of the students is emphasised and the friendly and caring atmosphere of the school encourages and motivates students in developing useful life-skills, good communication skills and interpersonal relationships which promote self-esteem, mutual respect and consideration for others. A pleasant student-centred visual environment has been created throughout the school. Photographs, posters, displays of students’ work and various notice boards adorn the hallways and celebrate the participation, successes and achievements of students in a range of activities. In keeping with European trends, students are encouraged to dress according to their own individual tastes within specified guidelines and the school believes that this encourages individuality and responsibility.

 

The challenge for the future lies in continuing to respond with confidence and determination. The particular strengths of the school which will aid this are: the committed support of the parents; the supportive board of management; the effective leadership of senior management and the loyalty, experience and commitment of the whole staff to the school and its students.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The mission statement of the school asserts; “St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School is committed to excellence. We provide equality of opportunity for all students in a disciplined and caring environment. We encourage individual students to achieve their full potential and to relate positively to one another and to the community in which they live”. The school’s educational philosophy also emphasises individuality, equality of opportunity, positive relationships and the importance of partnership between home and school and recognises the importance of each student reaching his or her full potential. The school’s crest features the school motto “Beart de Réir Ár mbriathar” meaning “Our word is our bond” emblazoned on it. Evidence from the evaluation suggests that the school is true to its mission statement and to its educational philosophy.

 

The characteristic spirit of the school is reflected in the way in which the needs of the students are met academically, socially and spiritually. The school’s chaplain, the guidance counsellor and the many staff members involved in pastoral care of students play a central role, valued by all the school, in the daily realisation of the school’s ethos. The principal and deputy principal through their leadership and administrative systems embody the ethos of the school. Throughout the evaluation the school’s spirit was described by the various partners consulted as one of inclusiveness, respect, caring and openness. This characteristic spirit is reflected in school policies and is lived out in the day-to-day life of the school and pervades the support, care and encouragement given to students and the wide curriculum and activities provided for them. Staff members are involved in many school initiatives and through these make a vital contribution to the characteristic spirit of the school and the attainment of its educational goals.

 

Students presented as happy, courteous, well-behaved and confident young people and reported on the friendly and respectful atmosphere between staff and students. Inspectors noted excellent rapport among staff and students throughout the evaluation. The parents’ association emphasised the caring supportive atmosphere, the open-door policy and the very good communication within the school community. Parents commended the school on the holistic and inclusive approach taken to their child’s care. A strong sense of loyalty and camaraderie among staff and students was evident during the evaluation. Teaching and support staff spoke of how much they enjoy working at the school. Parents are invited to participate actively in the life of the school and students benefit from a wide range of learning and personal supports. A noteworthy sense of community and partnership is evident in many aspects of the school among parents, students, staff and the board of management. These bodies work hard, separately and collectively to promote the ethos of the school. A strong tradition of charitable projects at home and abroad is supported and there is also evidence that students have a strong social conscience as demonstrated through such activities as fundraising and work in the local community.

 

Members of the board of management and the parents’ association stressed the goodwill and commitment shown by teachers to their students and the school. They described how this manifested itself in the classroom and in their dedication to the numerous co-curricular and extra-curricular activities catering for all age levels in the school.

 

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The new style expanded board of management is in its second year of operation and has been appropriately constituted. Board members demonstrate a complementary range of skills and experience, have strong links with the local community and their collective wisdom supports the school well.  The board meets regularly and operates appropriately, having formal agenda and recorded minutes. The Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) provides advice and training to board members. Outside expertise is sought as required, for example to assist with health and safety and with legal issues. The board of management demonstrates a strong commitment to the school and has a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the school. Board members are committed to fulfilling their role, responsibilities and statutory obligations and are visible in their support for the school by attending school events such as open nights. With the support of the school’s senior-management team, the board actively encourages, supports and facilitates staff to participate in appropriate post-graduate studies. Support is also provided towards teachers’ annual subscriptions to the various subject and professional associations. Accounts are audited annually. While the board of management does not get involved in the day-to-day running of the school, it is involved in ratifying decisions made by selection boards with regard to staff appointments and promotions. It is also involved in policy matters, finance and from time to time student welfare issues. The principal advises the board on various matters relating to the school, issues are discussed openly and decisions are reached democratically through consensus. The board has a role in approving policies and procedures brought forward by in-school management and in discussing all aspects of these policies before they are ratified and then implemented. However, the closer involvement of the board in the initial stages of policy development and in reviewing progress on whole school issues would be beneficial.

 

A supportive and collaborative partnership exists between the board and senior management. Both the board and the parents’ association expressed their full confidence in the principal’s direction and management of the school. With regard to communication conduits between the bodies represented on the board, a most comprehensive principal’s report, an account of current school issues, is the main communication link between the principal, the board of management and the parents’ association. The principal attends parents’ association meetings and parents reported being well informed regarding school matters. While communication between the board and the school community is ongoing the board is currently considering more formal mechanisms, such as an agreed format by which it can report in the future. 

 

The future key development priorities for the board are to maintain high quality teaching and learning at the school, to plan for demographic change and to further develop the school plan. The board should develop strategies, informed by well-developed communication that will lead to the achievement of these key priorities. In addition, the board should be more proactive with regard to policy review and developing the school plan and to continue to involve the whole-school community in the process.

 

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The in-school management team consists of the principal and deputy principal as well as the middle-management team of nine assistant principals and fourteen special-duties teachers. There is also one programme co-ordinator at assistant principal level and a director of adult education at assistant principal level.

 

Effective management and leadership is provided by the principal, who was appointed in 2000 and worked previously as the deputy principal. She is ably assisted by the deputy principal, who was appointed to the position five years ago. Both have been long-serving teachers at the school and work effectively in partnership with common aims such as ensuring the smooth and efficient running of the school, provision of good facilities, supporting staff and ensuring that the needs of each individual student are well catered for. Their individual talents and abilities are complementary and their management style is open, collaborative and consultative. They are hard-working, dedicated and are committed to providing a caring, supportive learning environment and maintaining good academic standards. They make and review decisions together and share the day-to-day management of the school. In addition to meeting before the official starting time to prepare for the day’s activities, senior management also meet throughout the day and in the afternoon to review the day’s progress and to identify issues for follow-up, in line with best practice. The visible presence of the principal and deputy principal on the corridors and in the staff room and their open door policy ensures that they are accessible to staff and students, while at the same time maintaining good order, punctuality and positive relationships. Their professionalism, courtesy and good humour were acknowledged by the staff and the visiting inspectors as major contributing factors to the spirit of the school. The principal and deputy principal are committed to working in co-operation and consultation with the board of management, staff, parents and students.

 

The effective leadership qualities of the principal are such that, staff, students, parents and members of the board of management feel valued and are empowered through the delegation of tasks and responsibilities. The openness and willingness of the principal and deputy to listen to and engage with others permeate all interactions throughout the school. This has helped to achieve a very positive working environment for staff. It is praiseworthy that they both have participated in the Leadership Development for Schools management course.

 

The schedule of posts of responsibility is reviewed regularly, through consultation and discussion, and in general, is meeting the needs of the school. Job descriptions specifying the duties assigned to each of the middle-management posts exist and post-holders interviewed were fully aware of their duties.

 

Normally six of the assistant principals act as year heads. The year heads are appointed for the specific year groups and have both a pastoral and disciplinary role. They liaise as necessary with parents, principal, deputy principal and other members of staff regarding student behaviour, welfare and academic progress. The remaining assistant principals carry out the duties of examinations secretary, adult education co-ordination, PLC co-ordination, programme co-ordination, public relations and purchasing officer. It is planned to schedule weekly meetings of the assistant principals from January 2008. During this time slot consideration should be given to scheduling regular meetings of the year heads with senior management, the guidance counsellor and the school chaplain in order to facilitate their work in supporting students.

 

The fourteen special duties teachers have a broad range of responsibilities including, special educational needs (SEN) co-ordination, school library, school book scheme for needy pupils, health and safety and school maintenance, school development planning, in-house examinations, student council, stock control for the Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies department, sports co-ordinator, school pitches and stock control officer. At the time of the evaluation three assistant principal and four special duties posts were to be filled. 

 

Post-holders indicated that they maintain ongoing communication with the senior management team, which provides support and advice when issues arise. It is positive that a review of the posts of responsibility to be facilitated by a school development planning expert is scheduled for Spring 2008. This should address the clear imbalance and inequality in some of the tasks and responsibilities as currently assigned and ensure a more even distribution of workload among all post-holders. During future reviews of posts some consideration should be given towards the intertwining of such duties as support of newcomers and interculturalism, care team co-ordination, ICT co-ordination and attendance officer, which may meet the more urgent needs of the school currently. Positive views were expressed in relation to opportunities for the creation of new roles within the posts structure. The desire to progressively review and adapt the schedule of posts is evidence of the schools commitment to meeting the needs of the students in its care. However, not all post-holders perceived themselves as part of middle management. It is recommended that senior management promote a greater awareness of the role of middle management; in the context of the key contribution of such posts to the effective management of the school. In the context of ongoing review of posts, senior management should ensure that the full potential of this human resource within the school be explored.

 

Effective communication structures in the school are varied and clearly work along well-established lines. Communication and relationships within the school community are characterised by openness, recognition, respect and concern as was evident in meetings held during the evaluation. Senior management and teaching staff have developed a system of communication involving, for example, the staff room notice boards, informal announcements at mid-morning break, staff meetings and the school newsletter. A number of staff meetings are held each year; these are minuted and usually include a planning element. The fact that staff members are invited to add items to the agenda in advance of meetings illustrates the inclusive and open approach of management. Staff meetings should continue to be varied in their structure. This should ensure that groups such as year heads, the care team, the guidance counsellor and learning support/special needs teachers have an opportunity to report to the whole staff regarding ongoing business and that individuals can report to the whole staff regarding progress on designated tasks. Staff members are aware of the various lines of communication in relation to all aspects of the work of the school. It is positive that suggestions for improvement to the school timetable and curriculum are sought annually. The approaches employed by senior management as outlined in the above section reflect many of the principles of best practice.

 

There is great collegiality amongst staff members and numerous teams operate in the school comprising both post-holders and non-post-holders alike. It is commendable that teachers, some of whom are employed on a part-time basis, contribute voluntarily to various areas of school life and demonstrate a sense of commitment that is much appreciated by management, parents and students. The school is fortunate to have such committed members on its staff. It was indicated that support and affirmation was provided by senior management to staff in the performance of teaching duties, post of responsibility duties and voluntary activities.

 

The school is to be commended for the ongoing focus on providing for the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff. Numerous guest speakers, seminars and workshops have been organised over the years. Furthermore, staff is facilitated to participate in CPD, including, attendance at support-service courses and membership of subject associations is encouraged by management. Teachers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with ICT and are facilitated to attend courses which are run regularly in the local Education Centre. Some consideration should be given to induction and training for new post-holders in accordance with their needs. The principal actively and effectively promotes collaboration with teaching and support staff, ongoing communication is evident and ideas are encouraged. Such inclusive and collaborative approaches are commendable.

 

The school adopts a positive approach to the management of students and this is very effective.  Clear disciplinary procedures exist, however disciplinary issues are of a minor nature and are adequately managed by the application of a balanced code of behaviour in which responsibility, self-control and the expectation of and affirmation of positive behaviour are encouraged. This is evident in the way staff and students interact and in the recognition of positive contributions to school life in for example the Arts and Heritage Festival, school magazine, fundraising, competitions, sports events, outdoor pursuits, music, involvement during open nights and the many extra-curricular activities undertaken by students. Management is committed to fostering co-operation and interdependence by improving communication across the whole-school community, reinforcing positive student behaviour and supporting staff in the implementation of the code of behaviour. Ultimate responsibility in matters of discipline rests with the principal and she is assisted in this task by the deputy principal, the year heads and the subject teachers. Serious breaches of the code of behaviour may be referred to the board of management. Teachers are encouraged to use Incident Sheets or Report Cards as necessary when managing student behaviour. During the evaluation there was openness to the idea of the reintroduction of the class tutor system, which would emphasise the pastoral role of teachers and students’ need for life balance. Tutors could have a role in discussing academic progress, study habits, subject choices and any personal or social issues affecting students. The school views issues in relation to discipline as a relevant part of pastoral care, therefore regular review of the implementation of the code of behaviour is planned in order to ensure an effective and streamlined approach to discipline as part of the pastoral care structure.

 

The school strives to be inclusive and its admissions policy is revised regularly. It includes reference to students with special educational needs, however, there is scope to include reference to disadvantaged, minority groups and those for whom English is a second language. The school endeavours to include the diversity of students in all curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Attendance and retention are well monitored and students are required to produce a note of explanation when absent from school. Generally there is good attendance by students. Despite the schools best efforts to include newcomer and Traveller students their attendance and progress can be haphazard, however the school makes good efforts to educate, assist and retain the maximum number of newcomer and Traveller students. Management and staff strive to identify any issues and in conjunction with outside agencies provide support to individual students as early as possible and deals with such matters in a sensitive and discreet fashion. At the time of the evaluation a policy for attendance and participation was before the board of management for approval. Management of students is supported by various policies that have been developed in the school, including policies on behaviour, substance use, critical incident, homework and anti-bullying.

 

The student council established in 1998, is elected by and representative of the entire student body and provides an invaluable means of communication among students, teachers and management. It allows students to become involved in school activities and decision making through partnership. The student council has recently surveyed the entire student body with regard to improving aspects of services at the school and this is commendable. A sense of belonging and community is evident in the student council and students involved displayed a high level of care, maturity, commitment, co-operation and leadership skills. Issues from the student council are communicated to management via the teacher representative. Overall, evidence suggests that students are proud of their school and feel that they have a real voice, responding positively to changes that have been implemented recently. Management and staff are commended for supporting the development of the student voice. Looking forward, the student council constitution should be finalised, should then be discussed at a whole school level and then presented to the board of management for ratification.

 

Parental involvement in the school is significant and effective and the school community is greatly appreciative of the work of the parents’ association. The parents’ association continues to be a key supporter of the school and has been involved in many projects over the years and provides an effective communication system between the school and parents. The parents’ association has a high profile and is affiliated to the Parents’ Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS). Some of the projects parents have been involved in recently include: running school discos, fundraising for interactive white boards, fundraising for the Arts and Heritage Festival, the re-development and re-decoration of the school library, involvement with school open nights and improving the road signage at the school’s entrance. The parents’ association plans to organise several school events throughout the year such as provision of guest speakers, hosting a careers information night for senior students, fundraising, continuing to run school discos and the mammoth task of redeveloping the school’s web site.

 

There are strong, collaborative links among the parents’ association, the board of management and senior management. In turn, the parents’ association communicates with the general parent body through letters home via the school and more recently by text messaging. Representation from the newcomer community on the parents’ association should be pursued. The board communicates with the parents’ association through the principal who attends association meetings. The members of the parents’ association interviewed expressed satisfaction with regard to how the school operated and were particularly appreciative of the interest taken in and support provided to each student. They spoke warmly of the good education their children were receiving and commented on the positive atmosphere in the school. They expressed the view that communication within the school community is very good and that the principal is very approachable and supportive. They also stated that they were very satisfied that their suggestions are listened to and that action is subsequently taken on foot of them. The Parents’ association has a definite consultative role, for example it is consulted around the development of policies and school events. Parents are encouraged to become members and to be involved in school social events and fundraising.

 

The school has developed systems of communication with the diversity of parents. The main channels used for school-parent communication are letters from the principal; the school newsletter; parent-teacher meetings; the student journal; school reports; telephone calls; the principal’s attendance at parents’ association meetings and at open and option nights. Individual parents may also contact the school to set up an appointment. On occasion volunteer translators are utilised where language barriers exist. Formal parent teacher meetings and mechanisms for reporting to parents are organised in line with agreed procedures. In addition individual meetings can occur either requested by parents/guardians or where parents/guardians are invited to the school to discuss a student’s progress.

 

The openness and willingness of the school management to communicate and consult with the local community and outside agencies to support school activities are commended. The school maintains well-developed links with a variety of businesses, agencies, other educational institutions, training bodies, organisations and support services in the local community. These in turn support the services provided by the school to meet the personal, cultural, and sporting and employment needs of the students. The school’s well-regarded PLC, BTEI courses and its adult education programme foster strong links between the school and its local community. Finally, the well-structured and effective communication that takes place with the school’s feeder primary schools (particularly in relation to the needs of students who received learning or resource support in primary school) underpins how the school strives to aid students’ transition to second-level education. The redevelopment of the school web site as a further vehicle of communication will be very beneficial.

 

There is ongoing review and evaluation of the work of school management in the form of self- and peer-evaluation among post-holders who are responsible to senior management for their tasks and this is commendable. At senior-management level, review and evaluation also take place on an informal basis as decisions are made, implemented and their effects evaluated.

 

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school operates a 42 period week and it is acknowledged that some teachers provide additional tuition at lunch time and after school. The school sets aside the last class period every Tuesday for whole-school planning meetings and other activities. While acknowledging the value of these meetings, it is noted that the arrangements for this practice result in timetabling arrangements that fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours per week. It is therefore recommended that time in school be urgently reviewed in order to be fully compliant with the twenty-eight hours instruction time as required by circular M29/95 Time in School.

 

In-school management actively seeks all necessary resources, both material and personnel to support the work of the school. By far the most important resource available to the school is its teaching and support staff. Most teachers in the school are permanent whole time, some have contracts of indefinite duration, others are part-time and some are job sharing. A small number of staff are paid from the schools own resources. In the context of meeting students’ needs, members of the teaching staff and supporting personnel are deployed in line with their qualifications, subject specialisms and school requirements. In general, there is little difficulty in securing qualified personnel. School management analyses the current and future staffing needs of the school, on an ongoing basis and proactively seeks additional resources, so as to ensure that the future staffing of the school continues to meet students’ and curricular needs.

 

Where possible teachers remain with classes through the cycle and within subject departments teachers collaborate and agree responsibility for higher and ordinary-level classes, rotating this from year to year as is desirable. It is recommended that a policy of staff rotation to different programmes, subjects and class levels should be extended to all teachers where feasible. The school is dependent on some concessionary hours to maintain the present level of curriculum provision. Additional designated teaching hours are being utilised effectively for the intended purpose.

 

The school organises induction for new or substitute teachers who reported on the high level of support they received from more experienced colleagues.  Student teachers are equally very well supported by management and co-operating teachers and each is assigned a mentor teacher. A comprehensive staff handbook has been developed which serves as a great aid to new teachers. This provides background information of the organisation of the school and its key policies.

 

The secretarial, maintenance, cleaning staff, shop assistant, special needs assistants, school librarian and staff room attendant make an important and valued contribution to the smooth administration of the school’s daily routine, in caretaking and maintenance areas and in caring for staff and students. They are highly commended for their efforts.

 

The school building is spacious, in good condition and as the school population expanded in size an extension was added in 1978. There are a number of offices allocated to senior management, administration staff, year heads, the guidance counsellor and the chaplain. The canteen area is well utilised by students and there are plans to further develop the facilities here. The school facilities are made available to the local community and the school has an arrangement with the neighbouring leisure centre for students to access those facilities. The school also has very good playing pitches.  The maintenance of school buildings and grounds is of a high standard and this helps to create a positive teaching and learning environment. The school had a number of the specialist rooms refurbished in recent years and these are well utilised for their designated purpose. The corridors display photographs, awards and art work which pay testament to the many activities the school is engaged in. Classrooms are generally teacher-based and this facilitates the display of subject-specific work in classrooms and the work done by teachers and students in this regard is commendable. The school library has been recently redeveloped as a key learning resource for the school. It is spacious, centrally located, well stocked and used regularly by students and teachers. The school librarian facilitates access to the library throughout the school day, which is commendable.

 

Inspectors’ observations are consistent in their positive view of the quality of existing accommodation, on the cleanliness and orderliness of classrooms and the school environment in general. The cleaning staff and caretaker are to be complimented on maintaining the building to its present high standard. Some consideration might be given to redeveloping a Green School’s Committee which would have a role in raising students’ awareness of improving litter disposal at lunchtime and of more global issues such as the need for recycling and energy conservation. Cross-curricular links could also be developed around environmental issues with Science, Geography and other relevant subjects.

 

The school has an effective system for keeping stock of existing resources and for identifying and acquiring new resources. Resources are provided to subject departments on the basis of requisition and provision is reported to be equitable. In order to ensure that all teachers are aware of available teaching resources relevant to their subject area it is recommended that such resources be catalogued annually by subject departments. The librarian is also in the process of developing a teachers’ resource section in the library. This process will also allow for a review of the usefulness of current teaching resources and for an assessment of future resource needs.

 

The school is well resourced with ICT and the whole-school community has been very pro-active in fundraising to enhance facilities. Teachers have access to overhead projectors, computers, television and video and audio equipment. There are three well-equipped computer rooms in the school; one of which is a Design and Communication Graphics room. The school library has a suite of computers dedicated to research. The main resource classroom has eight laptops with appropriate software. A number of laptop computers and data projectors are available for teachers to share and there is a dedicated computer work area in the staff room for teachers. In addition to the computer room, some classrooms have a computer and data projector and eight classrooms have interactive white boards and teachers share these. This level of provision does much to ensure that teaching and learning are at their most efficient in the school and is commended. An acceptable use policy outlines the use of the school’s internet resources in the school. Teachers can pre-book the computer rooms for classes and ICT is also well-utilised in school administration, Guidance and student support. These developments are to be encouraged and commended.

 

Where teachers have good access to ICT they use it extensively and many teachers expressed a great desire to incorporate more ICT into teaching and learning. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work. First and fourth years have timetabled computer classes, the school should consider however, how student access to and the use of computers might be further developed over time. Management is very committed to supporting the continued improvement of ICT to enhance teaching and learning, as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time. It is envisaged that the provision of shared laptop computers and data projectors for each subject department will soon be a reality. There is also commitment to supporting the training and upskilling of staff as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and into school administration. The sharing of valuable in-school expertise in ICT should continue to be explored in this regard. To further build on the good work currently taking place, the appointment of an ICT co-ordinator and in time the finalising of a whole-school ICT plan is recommended.  

 

The school has a health and safety statement, based on a risk assessment, which was drawn up by a Health and Safety specialist in consultation with the school’s safety officer and staff. A planned review of this statement is to be undertaken in the near future to ensure compliance with current legislation, (Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005). There is evidence of good practice in relation to health and safety matters including clear signage for fire exits, serviced fire extinguishers, first aid kits in rooms as well as a procedure for recording accidents and incidents. It is highly commended that all members of staff recently undertook a first aid course.

 

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

While planning has been ongoing since the schools inception, the school began to formalise the process of school development planning (SDP) in 2002. The school is actively engaged in an ongoing collaborative whole-school planning process. This process involves the collaboration of the board, senior and middle management, the school staff, the parents association and the student council at various stages of the process. Whole-staff inputs from a variety of speakers and customised support are regularly sought from an SDPI co-ordinator, which is laudable. The school has set a very high priority on school planning. A steering committee consisting of senior management and a post-holder is efficiently leading and managing the process of SDP with support being provided by the board of management, mainly through formal policy adoption. The leadership and vision of senior management facilitate the process very well, however, it is recommended that the board should be more pro-active with regard to planning and that school development planning should be included as a standard item on the agenda of future board meetings.  There is scope for the more active involvement of parents’ association and student council in the various stages of SDP i.e. review, design, implementation and evaluation. This should be fully explored.

 

Time is dedicated to school planning during staff meetings and much of teachers’ own personal time has been devoted to planning. The school planning process supports the implementation of the school’s mission statement. It is praiseworthy that the process is based on school review, prioritisation and action planning. Through consultation and partnership clear and achievable development priorities have been identified, within the context of the school. Realistic timeframes for the achievement of these priorities are in place as are procedures for the implementation, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of all elements of the school plan.

 

The school has made very good progress in developing and agreeing individual policies and procedures and these reflect and describe practices across all aspects of the school’s functioning. A substantial number of school planning folders have been developed. The permanent section of the school plan presents general information about the school, the school’s staff handbook and a wide range of ratified statements, policies and procedures which are in line with statutory requirements and Department of Education and Science circulars or other guidelines on best practice. The Transition Year plan, the emerging guidance plan and subject department plans, which are at varying stages of development, are other valuable elements of collaborative school planning. Much of the planning for the school is documented and circulated to staff in the schools’ handbook. The production of such a comprehensive handbook, balancing logistical information and pastoral and professional advice is commendable. School management is applauded for initiating and supporting the process of formal subject department planning. In the context of ongoing subject planning, it is recommended that teachers build on the good work done to date by expanding and developing the emerging guidance plan and the existing subject plans as outlined in the individual subject inspection reports.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to staff (including 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.

 

The developmental section of the school plan is focused on school improvement and on improving the learning outcomes for all students in the school. Agreed developmental priorities have been identified. Action plans, including timeframes have been devised. These plans are focused on achieving key developmental priorities, in the context of available resources. Clearly, action plans will be valuable tools in helping the school to identify and work toward achieving its goals. At present the developmental section of the school plan contains a number of policies that are currently being progressed to completion including pastoral care, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), staff development/CPD, school attendance and participation, record keeping, home school links, extra curricular activities and an ICT plan. In recent years, more formal attention has been given to the area of special needs. In response to this emerging challenge, a post of responsibility was created and there has been some whole staff in-service led by a Department of Education and Science Psychologist and work is ongoing in this area. The school’s special needs policy should be reviewed  and broadened in the light of the two recent publications Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines, Department of Education and Science 2007and Guidelines on the Individual Plan Process, National Council for Special Education 2006. In addition procedures and unwritten policies in relation to inclusion of newcomer/international students, their language support and care should be formalised.

 

The implementation of action plans over the years has resulted in considerable school improvement. The focus of ongoing planning and review is on the improvement of curricular provision, teaching and learning and student support strategies. The SDP process involves the school in an ongoing cycle of review and monitoring of progress in achieving targets. The outcomes of the review and monitoring processes are used to inform future planning. The school planning co-ordinator, senior management and the teachers are to be highly commended for their effective engagement in whole-school planning.

 

The collaborative and consultative practice embedded in the SDP process ensures a genuine sense of ownership and empowerment for the entire school community. Responsibility for the implementation of the various elements of the plan rests collectively with all members of the school community but in particular with teachers and school management. The teaching staff has developed a culture for review especially through staff meetings. The challenge for the future is to balance the continuance of their philosophy with the need to meet the requirements of both legislation and educational developments. Therefore, it is recommended that the board of management considers how best to do this in conjunction with the staff, parents and students.

 

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school is commended for the broad and balanced curriculum provided at both junior and senior cycle to cater for the educational needs of all its students. Currently the school offers the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate (LC), Transition Year (TY), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The Transition Year (TY) is optional and while it did not run this year due to insufficient uptake, it has consistently been a highlight of the school’s senior cycle curriculum. These programmes are delivered in line with the programme requirements, guidelines and best practice. The school also offers a very successful range of post-leaving certificate (PLC) courses and caters for adult students through the back to education initiative (BTEI) and adult education night classes. There is continual consultation to determine community needs, including the use of the local media in circulating information on the various courses. A reported strength of these programmes is the teamwork among the staff and the manner in which the needs of the students are accommodated. The development of possible future courses is a focus for personnel involved.

 

The school offers access to the widest possible range of subjects and levels to accommodate the needs, interests and abilities of all students. The majority of subjects are delivered in accordance with the requirements of the appropriate circular letters. The school endeavours to provide equality of access to programmes, subjects and levels, within the limits of available resources, for all students.

 

Co-ordinators for TY, LCA, LCVP and a programme co-ordinator currently exist at assistant principal level. The LCA, LCVP and TY teams are proactive in promoting their programmes and comprehensive plans have been developed for each programme and these are reviewed regularly. Best practice is evident in the use of end-of year evaluation by teachers, students and co-ordinators variously of each of these programmes. Work experience is a highly valued part of these programmes and formal evaluations of students’ work experiences are conducted by employers. Cross-curricular links with a range of subjects including Guidance is evident. Strong community links are fostered in order to make experiences meaningful for students. Teachers regularly attend courses to update their knowledge and skills. These approaches demonstrate best practice. At present there is significant drop out of students from LCVP and reasons for this should be investigated. The school should continue to highlight the broad educational value of all of these senior cycle programmes to students and their parents.

 

Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by management. Curricular issues, subject and programme choices are regularly reviewed and discussed at staff meetings as part of the school planning process and outcomes revert to the principal and deputy principal for further action. Parents, students, management and teachers collaborate in a spirit of partnership in this review process and in determining the needs and interests of students. Management is very aware of its duty to ensure that the range of programmes and subject choices on offer continues to meet the needs, aptitudes and ambitions of all students. Interviews held with various members of the school community revealed much satisfaction with curricular provision in the school. The school has a long and successful history of curriculum innovation and management is encouraged to continue to be involved in the development and implementation of new programmes and syllabuses.

 

Meeting the needs and choices of students, is a key consideration in framing the timetable and in deploying staff. The skills, qualifications and interests of teachers are also taken into account. Management should be mindful that it is best practice to schedule teachers who are qualified in the subject for lessons. Subjects are taught in mixed-ability classes as much as possible throughout the school with a variation in the case of some subjects e.g. Irish, English, Mathematics, French and German where concurrent timetabling of these subjects permits the formation of classes corresponding to the respective levels offered in these subjects. This facilitates student choice and movement. Management’s commitment to smaller than average class sizes, where possible is a positive feature of the school. Much credit is due for providing supervised after school study for students who wish to avail of it.

 

In most cases the time allocated to subjects evaluated is in line with syllabus recommendations and best practice, however, the following timetable issues should be addressed. In order for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) to be available to all junior cycle students, management must make provision for the timetabling of SPHE for all third year students as required by circular letter M11/03. The provision of Applied Mathematics as an additional subject is commendable, however its inclusion as an alternative to mandatory classes must be reviewed. In addition, it is recommended that equitable allocation of time for all subjects should be ensured in the future. Notwithstanding the fact that the guidance counsellor meets with all students individually and teachers are willing to share some of their class time for essential guidance in the various year groups, Guidance is not formally timetabled and this should be re-examined as a priority. It is commendable that all students have some access to PE, which is a core subject. However, there is imbalanced provision where PE is concurrently timetabled with some other subjects. In keeping with reports such as National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005 and School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI, 2005, it is therefore recommended that the timetable arrangements for PE be reviewed to provide for a minimum of one double period per week for all students to encourage health and fitness. More detailed recommendations with regard to the provision of PE are outlined in the appended subject inspection report for PE.

 

There is evidence of some valuable cross-curricular links across programmes and subject areas for example LCVP with Guidance and ICT, Science and Geography with ICT, however; there is scope to formalise such links and these could be further developed over time.

 

The areas of learning and language support are facilitated on the timetable and a number of teachers are deployed appropriately in these areas. The issue of supporting engagement by newcomer students with education is foremost among the school’s priorities. Thus, the school has entered such students whose native language is a non-curricular modern European language for the State examination in that language. This initiative is noteworthy in the context of the increased number of newcomer students of various nationalities. In order to enhance the current good work, some consideration should be given to linking with other similar schools to study their operational systems and investigate models of best practice.

 

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Students and their parents are well informed of the programmes and subjects on offer for junior and senior cycle. ICT is effectively used to assist students in making these choices. The involvement of parents at key stages, such as the transition from primary to post-primary and from junior into senior cycle is actively encouraged by the school. Open night and a number of information evenings are very well organised and attract a large number of parents and prospective students. In line with best practice the principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, some teachers and students attend and present information to parents and students at the various information evenings. Considering the increasing numbers of newcomer students the school will have to be proactive in continuing to provide such a high standard of service to all of its parents. The use of the school web-site should be considered for the dissemination of such information in the future.  

 

Students are well supported in subject choice decisions through a combination of visits to the feeder primary schools, aptitude testing, and meetings with the guidance counsellor, programme co-ordinators, year heads, subject teachers and peer advice. The school hosts an information evening for parents of incoming first years who then undergo assessments arranged by the guidance counsellor. Incoming first-year students experience a range of eight optional subjects during the six-week ‘taster’ programme. This arrangement is commendable as it permits students to study a range of optional subjects and should facilitate students in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects available for junior cycle. To support students in making their final choices of optional subjects Guidance is provided to each student and an information night is organised. 

 

The choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate examinations is made in spring of third year and is well facilitated by staff members including the guidance counsellor, year heads and subject teachers. Several information evenings and individual guidance and counselling are provided as necessary to students and parents to assist them in choosing programmes, subjects and levels within subjects and there is appropriate provision for students to alter their choice of subject or level. The school should be mindful of gender equality in relation to subject choice. The student council and parents interviewed indicated their approval of the subject choice system, quality of communication and advice offered in choosing subjects and of the change-of-option arrangements.

 

The school offers an impressive array of subjects at junior cycle and senior cycle. The option bands provided in first year are amended regularly in accordance with students’ demands. They are structured in such a way as to enable the vast majority of students to obtain their preferred subject choice and are dependent on available teaching resources and the organizational needs of the school. Junior-cycle students are offered English, Irish, Mathematics, History, Geography, Religious Education, SPHE, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and PE. Students can choose from eight optional subjects: Science, Business Studies, Home Economics, Music, Materials Technology (Wood), Art Craft, Design, Materials Technology Metal, Technical Graphics. In addition, students are offered either French or German. First and fourth year students undertake computer studies.

 

Senior-cycle students are offered English, Irish, Mathematics, Religious Education, PE and a choice between either French or German. The balance of subjects, usually three, are chosen from the following 14-subject range that includes, History, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Accounting, Business, Economics, Technical Drawing, Construction, Engineering, Music, Art and Home Economics. Applied Mathematics is offered as a fourth option, however it is recommended that its position on the timetable be reviewed. It is commendable that the school is in a position to provide three science subjects, three business subjects and two language choices at senior cycle. Optional Subjects offered at Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) at present are: Hotel Catering and Tourism, Agriculture and Horticulture, Active Leisure Studies, Arts Music, Graphics and Construction. In May each year, the students who opt for LCA are consulted and the subject options are chosen depending on their preferences.

 

Management is commended for reviewing the outcomes in State examinations and comparing them to the national norms annually. This process could usefully be extended to comparing the proportion of its students taking subjects at the various levels in State examinations with the national norms.

 

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The school is entitled to pride itself on the level of involvement and exceptionally wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities available. Students are actively encouraged to strike a life balance and become involved in such activities as sports, artistic, cultural, spiritual and social activities, which support and enhance learning and help them to develop personally and socially. The level of uptake in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities at the school is very significant and is part of the characteristic spirit of the school. Staff members are highly commended for their dedication to the provision of a holistic and well-rounded education for students.

 

The wide range of sporting activities available to students includes basketball, athletics, swimming, Gaelic football, camogie, hurling, golf, rugby and soccer. The school has enjoyed much success at local, provincial and national levels. In addition students undertake outdoor pursuits. Good links are maintained with local sports clubs. Teachers arrange access to the local leisure centre and the hire of transportation to events. Teachers volunteer to take charge of the school’s many teams and frequently surrender their lunch break and other personal time to train them.

 

The students’ cultural, artistic, spiritual and social development is facilitated through a myriad of co-curricular activities such as school excursions, field trips, language exchange programmes, educational competitions, quizzes, school publications, chess, debating and public speaking, Seachtain na Gaeilge, Gaisce awards, fund raising for charity and organising church celebrations. Art has become a strong growth area on the curriculum and offers students a variety of activities such as excursions and competitions. Students exhibit and sell their own art work locally. The school has had a long and proud tradition of music. Various types of music are represented at school concerts and events, including traditional, classical, dance, pop and rock. Visits to musical events are undertaken and a musician in residence scheme is in operation.  In order to promote personal reading students can access the school library throughout the day. TY students are actively encouraged to participate in mini-company and attend trade fairs. The school ensures that there is provision for both the less academic and the exceptionally talented to excel in many of these areas.

 

There is a strong tradition in the school of social, community and international projects and in conjunction with parents and staff students in St. Patrick’s have conducted various fundraising activities for charities at home and abroad. Three sports pitches have been developed at the school as a result of Department of Education and Science funding in addition to local fundraising. More recently a Technology and Culture committee made up of staff and parents, raised funds to provide the school with a number of interactive white boards.  

 

The annual Arts and Heritage festival is ambitious and gives students and teachers an opportunity to participate in a number of creative and physical activities and is a resounding success. The aim of the festival is to provide students with a range of activities which they may consider pursuing as a career or hobby in the future. Physical activities such as kickboxing, dancing, yoga, tae bo and an environmental walk provide a physical and educational challenge for students. Creative activities such as journalism, film making, creative writing, drama, pottery and art  inspire and challenge students’ imagination and creative abilities. Specialists are hired to provide many of these activities, therefore a committee made up of teachers and the special needs assistants organise fundraising to run the various activities. This generous and diligent commitment is particularly meritorious. The development of students’ talents and abilities as a result of the festival is to be commended. The festival is thoroughly evaluated and this informs future planning of events.

 

The annual school newsletter is a conduit of information regarding the school and its activities. Staff and students contribute to the newsletter providing in-depth information about events in the school, articles of interest, extra-curricular activities, photographs and new developments in the school. Students undertake a number of various subject related field trips throughout the year and religious retreats are organised locally. The Leaving Certificate students are supported by a number of teachers in the production of an annual year book. 

 

Local businesses demonstrate a high level of good will towards the school as is evident by their co-operation with work experience throughout the curriculum. Speakers are invited to the school to address students regularly and visits outside the school are arranged to support students in their educational and career choices.

 

The school promotes and celebrates achievement by students in many aspects of school life in the local newspaper, the school newsletter and school notice boards and the many framed photographs of events throughout the school are testimony to the support for the school’s proud tradition in these activities. This helps to promote a positive school spirit, positive behaviour, achievement and demonstrates a greater awareness of the school as a community. The board of management supports activities in line with the school’s ethos. During the course of the evaluation, students, parents, senior management and the board of management expressed deep appreciation for the voluntary contributions being made by staff to students’ lives through their organisation of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The management, staff and students of the school are highly commended on the time and energy they commit to these activities.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

The formal process of subject department planning commenced in 2006 to complement and enhance existing practices of individual teachers in subject planning. Formal planning meetings are held at the beginning of the school year and additional meetings are facilitated throughout the year if requested by subject departments. Teachers also meet informally on a regular basis to discuss issues pertinent to subjects. Best practice was observed where subject departments record the outcomes of meetings. The use of this practice is recommended in all departments to support continuity in the planning process.

 

Most subject departments have an appointed co-ordinator in place to lead subject planning. It is recommended that all subject departments should have a subject co-ordinator that rotates at agreed intervals so that the responsibilities are shared among the team members and to enable individuals to acquire the leadership skills associated with this position.

 

Teachers have worked collaboratively to produce subject planning documents and the work that has been achieved to date is commended.  Subject planning is therefore ongoing and it was noted that the development of curricular plans has progressed at different rates for the various subject departments and in a number of subjects; it is recommended that teachers further develop their individual plans into short-term or termly schemes of work. These documents should identify the learning outcomes for each year group and outline the resources, assessment modes and methodologies including differentiation strategies employed to achieve these outcomes. Consideration should also be given to the incremental development of students’ skills in the various subject areas. There was evidence of effective individual planning and development of resources to support teaching and learning by the majority of teachers. Recommendations for the future development of subject plans in the subjects evaluated are contained in the respective subject reports.

 

 

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Good quality, effective teaching was observed over the course of the evaluation. Lessons were structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses. The content of lessons was generally appropriate and most were focused on achieving a particular learning outcome. Very good practice was observed when the intended outcome was shared with learners at the outset of a lesson. This helped students connect new learning with previous work and also invited them to share responsibility for the lesson.

 

A range of appropriate methodologies was used during lessons observed and students' learning was effectively scaffolded by teachers. Active learning strategies, differentiation and a wide variety of teaching resources were used in many of the lessons observed. Opportunities for independent and collaborative learning were included as appropriate. Teachers’ instructions and explanations were precise and accurate.

 

Classrooms were very well organised and planned activities were well-managed. Ordered learning environments were created and classroom routines were evident during lessons evaluated. In most classes observed, teachers had made efforts to create motivational print-rich and visually-rich environments to support their teaching and students’ learning.

 

Excellent rapport between teachers and students was evident in classrooms visited. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses and integrated them into lessons. In general students were engaged in their learning and displayed a good level of knowledge and understanding of the subjects evaluated, relative to their abilities.

 

 

4.3          Assessment

 

The school has developed an agreed homework policy and the school intends to further develop this to include assessment of student learning. It is commendable that a range of assessment modes is used to monitor student competence and progress, including oral questioning, in-class assignments, homework, continuous assessment and formal examinations. Assessment in LCA is based on the completion of key assignments and required tasks. Furthermore, some teachers commendably use assessments diagnostically to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform future teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners. Building on this foundation, it is advised that the assessment modes currently in use in each subject area be further developed to ensure that they regularly assess core subject-specific knowledge, skills and competencies. For example, a percentage of marks in end-of-term assessments could be allocated for project work, portfolios, and/or other subject-specific tasks.

 

From a review of students’ written and practical work, it was evident that homework was being set and monitored in all classes. In some cases, students’ work was acknowledged by oral feedback and/or a tick on written work. In other cases, written developmental feedback was also provided about the work, affirming its strengths and giving concrete ideas for improvement which is highly laudable. To arrive at common practice on the provision of developmental feedback on student work, subject departments are advised that direction and ideas for implementation of Assessment for Learning principles are detailed on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (www.ncca.ie).

 

First, second and fourth-year students are assessed using class tests and formal Christmas and summer examinations. Third and fifth-year students are assessed using a formal Christmas examination and a pre-certificate examination in the spring. Some teachers use SEC chief examiners’ reports and marking schemes to inform their work and some departments analyse the results achieved by their students in State examinations. These practices are commended and should be further developed across all departments. Parents/guardians are informed of students’ progress through school reports, annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group, notes in homework journals and individual meetings either requested by parents/guardians or where parents/guardians are invited to the school to discuss a student’s progress, which is commendable.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs 

 

The school welcomes all students and strives to ensure educational and social inclusion. Leadership at board and senior management level promotes inclusive strategies and the inclusion of all students is reflected in the school’s ethos. The school is committed to helping all students to reach their potential and is continually active in seeking material and personnel resources for all students, including those with learning-support needs, language-support needs, a disability, special educational needs (SEN) or from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. However, the school management asserted that the school needs additional resources, to deal with the increasing number of students requiring various forms of support and intervention.

 

Strengths of the school’s learning and resource-support service for students include effective identification procedure, flexibility of provision, experienced staff, good communication and collaboration with parents, subject teachers, feeder primary schools and outside agencies. There is good informal communication among year heads, special needs assistants, mainstream subject teachers and the other learning-support/resource teachers in order to monitor students needs, attendance, welfare and progress. The school building has been adapted to meet he needs of students who have physical disabilities. Students’ learning difficulties are identified in a co-ordinated process and supplementary support is then organised for students through small groups or by the creation of additional small classes for students requiring more individual attention. It is suggested that teachers involved should explore other interventions such as team teaching in the future, particularly where classes are of mixed ability. The school endeavours to ensure that students in need make an application for reasonable accommodation for State examinations (a reader or a tape recorder and waivers in grammar and spelling) as necessary. The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) is not available in St. Patrick’s, however; the materials that have been developed for the JCSP are usable independently of the school being signed up for the full programme. It would be useful for the school to explore these materials and assess their appropriateness within education provision for students with additional needs, given that JCSP has a useful student motivation dimension.

 

The co-ordination of learning-support/resource support is undertaken by the guidance counsellor, who holds a special duties post in the area, in conjunction with the main learning-support teacher and senior management. In the context of the ramifications of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (2004), an increased work load in relation to special educational needs lies ahead of the guidance counsellor in the role of special educational needs co-ordinator. Therefore, it is recommended that the roles of guidance counsellor and special educational needs co-ordinator should be separated as the current arrangement may be unsustainable long term. In developing its current good practice, it is recommended that a formal special educational needs support team be established, to include senior management, the guidance counsellor, the learning-support teachers and the resource teachers. This support team should meet on a regular basis to discuss individual student’s needs, timetabling, policy development, implementation and review, the sourcing of resources and general progress with various initiatives. A teacher qualified in the area of special needs should ideally be appointed as co-ordinator in the future.

 

The school’s policies which deal with the admission, attendance and participation of students (with SEN and for students from a disadvantaged or minority background and those for whom English is not their first language) should be reviewed and broadened to ensure compliance with statutory requirements. As recommended in Section 2 of this report the school’s special needs policy and practices should be reviewed and broadened in the context of current best practice.

 

The school has a long tradition of welcoming and integrating international students and over the years they have integrated well with their peers due to the holistic approach taken by the school to assist these students. However, recently the numbers of students enrolling for whom English is not their first language has increased dramatically. The school is aware that it must be proactive in responding to the challenges which this presents and is mindful of the need to engage and support parents and guardians of these newcomer students. Against a background of this rapid increase in student numbers with English language needs, the level of resources needed to address the issue and the lack of established practice nationally in this area, the school is endeavouring to provide an adequate service with its current limited resources.

 

The school has accessed most of the appropriate resources and available supports to aid the inclusion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, minority groups and those for whom English is not their first language. A small number of Travellers are currently enrolled, are fully resourced and well integrated into school life. In the context of circular 0053/2007, the school may be entitled to an additional teaching allocation depending on the language competency of those students currently enrolled in the school and these resources should be forthcoming. Financial assistance is also provided as necessary, in a sensitive and discreet manner to students experiencing difficulties.

 

Given the inclusive intake of the school, a formal whole-school approach, policy and procedure should now be devised to address the education of newcomers with little/no English in the school, based on the recommendations of the NCCA’S Intercultural Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools, Circular Letter 53/2007 and Integrate Ireland Language and Training materials (www.iilt.ie). At present, language support is being provided to newcomer students with little/no English by a number of teachers. As with all other students the needs of these students are identified during the enrolment process and in the case of students for whom English is not their first language their language competency is assessed. With regard to the assessment of English-language proficiency the school should redesign its current assessment modes in line with the Integrate Ireland Language Training (IILT) devised English proficiency benchmarks. Given the size of the school’s newcomer population, it is recommended that the school appoint a language support co-ordinator (separate from, but in liaison with, the special educational needs support team) to develop a systematic, skills-focused programme of instruction in English for students with little/no knowledge of the language. This individual could advise the school in the area of student placement; could brief and develop reference materials for teachers delivering that support; could link with parents of newcomers and could develop pastoral care support for newcomer students. In time the school may consider creating a post of responsibility for interculturalism and newcomers. Consideration should also be given to creating a base room for language support, separate from the learning support/resource classrooms. In addition, the school may wish to investigate the possibility of creating a partial English language immersion programme for those students in the first year of their enrolment. (See the IILT publication A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools, 2007).

 

Individual students’ progress is monitored and planned learning outcomes are assessed within a culture of review and evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions. It is recommended that provision be made for more regular formal meetings between subject departments and the teachers associated with designated students with additional needs for the purpose of monitoring and reviewing individual student progress. Also opportunities to share the experiences and expertise of the key teachers involved in the provision of support with whole staff should be arranged. 

 

Given the increasing numbers of students with additional educational needs, particularly English language needs, currently enrolling, it is recommended that continued training of staff take place both at a specialist level, where individual members of staff could attend the relevant courses to qualify as learning support, language support and resource teachers and at a whole school level with further opportunities for in-house learning in specific areas of special education and the inclusion of newcomers. Furthermore, further links with the Irish Learning Support Association (ILSA), the Irish Association of Teachers in Special Education (IATSE), the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and the Second Level Support Service (SLSS)  should be developed as appropriate, to ensure the continued provision of up-to-date information and support to the school community.

 

The importance of a strong home and school partnership is recognised as vital therefore, parents of all students are welcome to visit the school and meet with management or teachers to discuss students’ progress or family circumstances. Teachers involved in support provision to students with additional needs communicate regularly with and are available to meet parents of all students at parent-teacher meetings or by individual appointment. The school maintains a focus on the attendance and retention of all students. Parents are made aware of procedures for contacting and meeting members of staff.

 

Good links with outside agencies such as the school’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Educational Psychologist, the Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO), psychiatrists, the Education Welfare Officer, Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMS) and the Health Service Executive staff (Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and Clinical Psychologist) have been built up by the school and it was reported that such links have a positive effect with regard to inclusion of students.

 

St. Patrick’s is to be commended on its committed efforts to meet the needs of students with additional educational needs. The school’s approach is student-centred, caring and wholeheartedly embraces diversity.

 

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

There is a good level of provision and whole school support for guidance and counselling and students have access to a well-established guidance and counselling service. Personnel involved are highly experienced, innovative, conscientious, responsive and committed to continuing improvement in the service. The guidance counsellor is mainly deployed in the delivery of Guidance and has an impressive record of CPD. This provision is generally managed through one-to-one sessions and class teachers co-operate well with the guidance service to make class periods available for Guidance and in arranging student referrals. However, Guidance is not formally timetabled and it is therefore recommended that some classes for guidance should be timetabled particularly at senior cycle (in order to maximise student access) in the context of students’ needs as per C/L 12/05. This could enable a greater range of methodologies to be employed in the delivery of guidance and would provide good balance between individual and group guidance in line with best practice. 

 

The guidance and counselling service provides personal, educational and vocational guidance to individual junior and senior-cycle students based on plans for each year group. When deemed necessary, students are referred to the school’s fully qualified counsellor for personal counselling or, after consultation with parents, to relevant outside agencies for the provision of counselling or psychological interventions. Other facets of the guidance programme include: supporting transition of students from primary school; supporting pastoral care; assessment and testing; organisation of visits to college open days; organisation of careers’ speakers; tracking the progression of students to third level and or the workforce; information nights for parents and building links with parents and the local community. Guidance and counselling are fundamental to the learning support and pastoral care structures currently in place and students are assisted on an individual basis. Students can self-refer to meet with the guidance counsellor or they can approach a year head if they need to discuss personal or other issues. There is ongoing and effective communication among the guidance personnel and subject departments, programme co-ordinators and senior management. The guidance personnel liaises effectively with parents and provides information and support for parents to assist them in helping their child to make subject and programme choices and to make successful transitions. 

 

The guidance facilities available in the school are good and include a dedicated guidance counsellor’s office. Students are encouraged to use ICT and relevant software such as Qualifax, Careers Directions, Careers World are available. A careers notice board with information about college open-days and other career events is regularly updated.

 

School guidance planning is currently undertaken mainly by the guidance counsellor and programmes of work have been drawn up for each year group involved. This emerging guidance plan also contains a number of policies in relation to guidance provision. In the context of ongoing review and future planning and in order to promote a more whole school approach to guidance planning in line with departmental guidelines, it is recommended that a school guidance-planning group be established with a view to formalising current best practice and the collaborative further development of the emerging guidance plan. The documents Planning the School Guidance Programme – National Centre for Guidance in education, 2004 and Guidelines for Second-Level Schools on the implications of Section 9(c)of the Education Act (1998), relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance – Inspectorate of the Department of Education and science, 2005 should be carefully explored/examined in developing the guidance plan. In addition, the policy template for the development of a guidance plan available on www.education.ie may prove useful in developing the guidance plan. Upon its completion the guidance plan should be circulated to management and staff for further review and then to the wider education partners and the board of management for ratification. Mechanisms for review and evaluation of the guidance service should also be explored.

 

The school sets a high priority on the pastoral care of its students. It is praiseworthy that care is provided through a variety of policies, monitoring structures, curricular programmes, co-curricular activities, student-support facilities and resources and through the work of the school’s teaching and support staff. A care team comprises senior management, some RE teachers, some SPHE teachers, learning support and resource teachers, chaplain and the guidance counsellor. This team also has responsibility for responding to critical incidents at the school and accordingly have developed a critical incidents response plan. In fact some staff has received training in dealing with critical incidents and the guidance counsellor was a member of the team which drew up the Critical Incident Programme promoted by the HSE and the Department of Education and Science. There is effective ongoing communication among members of the care team and mainstream teachers and parents with regard to students’ progress and welfare. Year heads monitor the personal development, academic progress and attendance of students in their care and communicate with other staff members and parents as appropriate. Consideration should be given to scheduling regular year head meetings to plan, discuss and deal with student issues. These could be attended by senior management, the chaplain and the guidance counsellor. The reintroduction of the class tutor system was mooted at a number of meetings during the evaluation and should be further deliberated.

 

The school has an ex-quota chaplain and chaplaincy plays an integral part in the school’s support system, contributes greatly to student welfare and the school chaplain is effective in focusing on the care of the whole school community. The chaplain provides a comprehensive programme of support to students and meets all new students individually. The chaplain fulfils the roles of providing spiritual and faith guidance to the school community, is a member of the pastoral care team, prepares prayer services, celebrates liturgical seasons and has a teaching role. Each of these functions is significant and contributes to the life of the school. It is noted that the role of chaplain currently has a weekly teaching timetable of 13 hours which is a significant teaching allocation. While it is recognised that relationships with students may be formed through teaching students in class, it is recommended that the balance of duties attaching to the role of chaplain and the time required for these must be reviewed urgently as the current balance favours academic work.

 

The school has appointed a co-ordinator for SPHE and has developed a programme for SPHE in first and second year and a Lifeskills programme for senior cycle and these form a central element of student support. The SPHE and Lifeskills teachers act as informal pastoral tutors to students. The importance of achieving gender balance, in so far as is possible, in the team of teachers involved in SPHE should be a consideration in the deployment of staff. Within SPHE a Social Skills programme for second year students will commence in January 2008 and will be co-ordinated by the guidance counsellor and the school psychologist. Such innovations are commendable. Another consideration might be to develop a mentoring programme for students in the first year of their enrolment. This could be of particular benefit to newcomer students. In the context of future planning, policy and programmes for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) must be reviewed as required by circular letters M4/95 and M20/96 and the school should also ensure that a comprehensive RSE programme is undertaken by all students in both junior and senior cycle. The Department of Education and Science online templates for RSE should be a useful reference. In addition an SPHE programme should be developed and delivered to all third year students as outlined earlier.

 

The dedicated and committed work of the care team is a tribute to the school’s ethos and practice in the area of pastoral care and is to be commended. Although there is currently no formal pastoral care policy in the school, practice in the school underlines the fact that care and support of students are core values in the school and teachers act in a pastoral, as well as an academic capacity. The care team should investigate ways in which Chaplaincy, Guidance, learning support, RE teachers, SPHE teachers and the year heads system could contribute to formalising pastoral care and involve parents and students in policy formulation in this area. Some consideration should be given to allocating a post of responsibility for the co-ordination of this important work in supporting students. The school has membership of the Irish Association for Pastoral Care in Education (IAPCE) at Marino Institute of Education which should be consulted as the school develops its policy and practice in relation to pastoral care.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The school is conscious of its role within the community and it endeavours to provide a comprehensive system of post-primary and continuing education.

 

 

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:

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

Area 1

Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The board of management, parents’ association and staff of St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School welcomes the WSE report for its recognition of the characteristic spirit of the school, notably that students presented as happy, courteous, well-behaved and confident young people and also commending the excellent rapport among staff and students. We were pleased that the inspection team acknowledged that communication and relationships within the school community are characterised by openness, recognition, respect and concern. 

 

It is gratifying that the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum was highlighted, together with effective teaching, a willingness to implement appropriate methodologies and a wide variety of teaching resources. In support of this, we are also glad that the collaborative efforts of the staff, the DES, the parents’ association and the wider community in providing, updating and enhancing facilities, more recently ICT, was understood. Noteworthy also was the high commendation given to staff for their dedication to the provision of a holistic and well-rounded education for students, characterised by the provision of an exceptionally wide range of co-curricular and extra curricular activities and setting a very high priority on pastoral care.

 

The whole school community found the WSE to be a very positive and affirming exercise. We wish to thank the inspection team and acknowledge their professionalism and courtesy.

 

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

 

 

  • The board of management notes the recommendations made and has begun a process of dealing with them

 

  • The board of management is currently reviewing and further developing a range of policies.

 

  • The school has formalised a special educational needs support team and a school guidance planning group.

 

  • A post-holder has been assigned to oversee the implementation of the recommendations with regard to educating and supporting newcomer students.

 

  • Compliance with the twenty-eight hours instruction time will be effected in Sept. ’08

 

 

 

 

 

Published June 2008