An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School

Blanchardstown, Dublin 15

Roll number: 91316Q

 

Date of inspection : 26 September 2008

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of curriculum provision

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 Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School was undertaken in September 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details).  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School is located in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15. It is surrounded by mainly local authority housing and is in the Delivering Equality in our Schools (DEIS) programme. The school opened in 1979 with eighty-nine students. The school population grew exponentially in the early years reaching a maximum of 1015 students in 1985/86.  Student enrolment decreased gradually over the next number of years to its present level of just over 500. Almost thirty per cent of the school population are newcomers.

 

 

1.  quality of school management

 

1.1         Characteristic spirit of the school

The school’s mission statement states that “Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School is totally committed to improving the future of the community by fostering academic and personal development in a caring and challenging environment through enhancing the quality of learning.” This mission statement has been in existence for a very long time. It is therefore recommended that the mission statement be revisited in the near future to ensure that it remains relevant. This review should be a consultative process to ensure that all partners, the students, the parents, the board and the staff, work together.

 

The school strives to live up to its mission statement in many ways. In addition to the principles aspired to in the mission statement it was evident in the course of the evaluation that the school is inclusive and accepts students of all abilities and nationalities. The school’s inclusive approach is to be commended. The care for students’ welfare and well being was also noted positively in the course of the whole-school evaluation.

 

1.2         School ownership and management

The board of management of Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School is properly constituted and is composed of three representatives of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC), two representatives of the religious trustees of the St Louis order, two parents’ representatives and two teaching staff representatives. The board has not received training regarding the fulfilment of its role, its statutory obligations concerning the management of the school, and specific duties. It is recommended that this training be sought as soon as possible. The board meets regularly, however full attendance at these meetings is difficult to achieve. Given the responsibilities of the board it is suggested that ways be sought to address this issue. Perhaps scheduling board meetings at times other than late afternoon could be considered.

 

The board has fulfilled many statutory obligations with regard to policy development and ratification. While good work has been completed on the development of several policies, there is a clear need for these to be collated into the permanent section of the school plan and for a systematic description of strategies for further development to be thoroughly and formally documented. In line with this recommendation the board should consult section 2.10.3 of Tagairt: A Manual for Boards of Management and Principals of Community and Comprehensive Schools.

 

According to members of the board of management and previous minutes of board meetings, the issues discussed by the board are predominantly concerned with the suspension of students and matters relating to staffing and changes in personnel. It is recommended that the board make an effort to develop its leadership role and drive forward issues which will impact on the future development of the school.

 

There is a strong sense of consultation at board level and decision-making procedures are open and clear.  Communication among board members is good. Effective minutes of board meetings are kept. Formal lines of communication between the board and other members of the school community should be reviewed. It is recommended that an agreed written report be given to staff and parents following board meetings.

 

1.3         In-school management

The senior management team comprises the principal and deputy principal. Both members of the senior management team have held their present posts for many years and have worked tirelessly to develop the school. Both display a great commitment to the school, have a partnership approach to the tasks of senior management and work very well together. They communicate effectively as a team and are very effective in motivating, managing and supporting other members of staff.

 

The roles of principal and deputy principal are clearly documented and are printed in the staff handbook. The role of principal as outlined in the document focuses on management duties and liaison with other layers of the management structure and Department of Education and Science. The role of deputy principal focuses on management duties and the organisation of the day-to-day running of the school, encompassing tasks such as arranging substitution and supervision. As a new deputy principal was about to take up the post at the time of the evaluation it is timely that the roles and responsibilities of the senior management team be reviewed.

 

The middle management structure comprises eight assistant principal posts and thirteen special duties posts. There is a strong culture of distributed leadership at middle management level. This is to be highly commended. Post-holders are given the opportunity and are encouraged to show initiative and to lead projects in the school. This is excellent practice. Communication between senior management and middle management is very good. Regular meetings are held between small groups of post-holders. It is suggested that meetings for all year heads and assistant year heads take place to ensure consistency of practice and to allow for the development of new ideas in this important role.

 

The vast majority of posts are suitable and appropriate to the needs of the school and are being carried out very well. In a minority of cases a very small workload has been assigned to the post or the duties of the post are not being carried out at all. In some cases, for historic reasons, the same post has been held by the one person for a long number of years. Currently, not all post holders have a written job description. In order to provide for the current needs of the school and to ensure an equitable distribution of the work load, it is recommended that a formal review of posts take place. In order to ensure accountability it is recommended that all post holders be given a written formal job description.

 

Communication between staff and senior management is good. The senior management team is receptive to new ideas which members of staff have. Regular staff meetings are held. It was noted that there is excellent practice in the running of staff meetings whereby staff members take it in turn to chair and be secretary of these meetings. This is highly commended.

 

Management and teaching staff are committed to continuous professional development (CPD). Members of the teaching staff are always facilitated to attend in-service provided by the second level support service (SLSS). It was noted that a total of fifty days of in-service was availed of last year. This represents a significant loss of teaching days. While the enormous benefits of attending in-service are acknowledged, it is recommended that a plan for CPD be put in place. The various in-service courses should be prioritised to balance the amount of days spent at in-service courses against the loss of learning time for students. In addition it is recommended that structures be put in place to ensure that the outcomes of all professional development are shared with the whole staff.  This will build on existing good practice and maximise the benefit of attendance at in-service for all staff

 

A plan for the priority of issues for whole-staff CPD should also be put in place. It is recommended that CPD relating to planning and mixed-ability teaching be prioritised. The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and the Special Education Support Service (SESS) may be useful to the school in this regard. Year heads have not received CPD for their role. This should be sought and useful information in this regard can be found on the website of the Irish Association of Pastoral Care in Education (IAPCE) at http://www.iapce.ie. The board of management supports members of the teaching staff in the acquisition of membership of their subject associations. It is recommended that teachers, in particular subject co-ordinators avail of this. Subject-specific CPD should be availed of by teachers to keep updated in their subject areas.

 

The school’s admission policy has been reviewed regularly to keep up to date with changing contextual factors. The policy is grounded in the mission statement and this statement forms the first section of the policy. This is good practice. However there are a number of issues in the policy which need to be reviewed. The areas which specifically need to be reviewed include the admission of newcomer students and students who wish to transfer to the school from another school. 

 

The school strives to take cognisance of the diversity of students and to be inclusive. All students are welcome to partake in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Greetings in different languages are used at morning assembly. A number of years ago an intercultural week was organised in the school and was very successful. Such initiatives are beneficial and praiseworthy. The school has sought to address its multicultural context in a number of ways, for example by encouraging newcomer students to become involved in sporting activities at lunch time. Members of staff are to be commended for initiatives designed to welcome newcomer students. However, it is evident that, given the ethnic diversity among the student cohort, the school needs to further develop its efforts in this regard. It is recommended that strategies for promoting inclusion at all levels be developed and their implementation prioritised. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: guidelines for schools will be most useful in drawing up a plan for inclusion in the school. This document should also be used at the level of subject department planning. Very practical steps to promote inclusion are also available on the website of Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) support service at http://www.lds21.com under the section entitled ‘celebrating diversity’.

 

At present there is no parents’ association in the school. While it is acknowledged that efforts have been made to address this issue, such as writing to parents inviting them to an annual general meeting, these efforts to date have not been successful. It is timely for the school to renew its efforts to encourage parents to form a parents’ association and to take an active role in the life of the school for the benefit of their children. The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) and the LDS at http://www.lds21.com could be contacted for advice in this regard.

 

The school operates an open door policy for parents. Parents are welcome to come to the school to discuss issues concerning the students’ welfare and progress. A small group of parents interviewed in the course of the whole-school evaluation reported great satisfaction with the open door policy. The school is to be commended for this. Parents also reported satisfaction with communication generally from the school in the form of letters or telephone calls. The school has a website. However this is currently out of date. As the website is a useful means for communicating with parents and prospective parents it is suggested that the website be updated.  Students could usefully become engaged in such a project. Formal parent-teacher meetings are organised for each year group. It was reported that parental attendance at these meetings is generally low.

  

Very good efforts are made to manage students effectively and to promote positive student behaviour. Assemblies are held each morning, for fifteen minutes for each year group, by the year head. Class tutors and assistant year heads also attend these regularly to assist in the management of students. During assemblies students are encouraged and praised for achievements. A number of excellent strategies, such as the tidy classrooms competition, the class profile and other awards, have been established to encourage positive behaviour. The management and staff are to be highly commended for their work in this regard.

 

It was noted in the course of the evaluation that significant numbers of students were left unsupervised in the hall during the school day. These students comprised mainly

newcomers who do not study Irish.

It is recommended that this practice be reviewed forthwith so that students are not left unattended at any time during the school day.

 

The code of behaviour specifies expected behaviours and behaviours which constitute major violations of discipline. Sanctions including detention, suspension and expulsion are also referred to. However it is unclear when exactly most sanctions will be imposed and by whom, due to the vague wording in the final section of the code of behaviour. There is no clear ladder of referral in the code of behaviour.

 

In the school staff hand book, it is stated that the role of the year head and assistant year head is “to apply appropriate sanctions including suspension if necessary, on consultation with the Principal”. In line with legislation the power of suspension must rest with the board of management. Cognisance must be taken of the fact that the use of suspension may ultimately counteract some of the supports which have been assigned to the school to promote attendance and retention.

 

Detention takes place four mornings every week. Some students were placed on detention twice or three times in the course of the evaluation week. All students were required to fill out the same penalty sheets which involved transcribing repeatedly the names of all subjects on the curriculum. This exercise serves no educational purpose and is likely to alienate students further. Sanctions should be imposed with the purpose of changing students’ behaviour. The timing of detention is counterproductive as the Education Opportunities Programme (EOP) under the auspices of the School Completion Project (SCP) runs a breakfast club at the same time. Therefore, many students are unable to avail of this support which has been put in place to encourage attendance at and participation in school. The frequency, timing and type of punishment work assigned during detention should be reviewed.

 

The school has a high rate of suspension and there are issues regarding the use of suspension which need to be addressed by the board of management. Repeated suspensions are common. Many of these students are already poor attenders and are at risk of dropping out of the educational system. Suspension is referred to in the school’s pupil attendance policy as being a possible sanction for students who break the school rules on attendance. This is likely to be an ineffective sanction. The use of in-house suspension is in use to a considerable extent for first-year and second-year students.

 

Procedures for the reintegration of students who have been suspended should be developed to ensure that students do not fall behind in their school work. This perpetuates the difficulties in attending school for these students. Procedures for informing personnel of the SCP and the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) should also be established and documented to ensure that suspended students receive vital support immediately upon return to school.

 

It is recommended that a full review of the code of behaviour take place. In doing this a comprehensive partnership approach should be taken involving students, parents, staff and the board. The NEWB publication, Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for schools, on drafting codes of behaviour should be used. A complete review of the use of the sanctions of detention and suspension in line with this publication should take place. Every effort should be made to build further on the very good techniques of positive discipline which the members of staff and management are implementing so effectively.

 

It is laudable that a new student council has been set up in the school this year and elections had just taken place prior to the evaluation. The student council has received training and this is to be commended. Members of the student council will provide mentors for junior classes, organise sports activities and work towards enhancing the physical environment of the school as well as representing students’ views and opinions.

 

There are good strategies in place to monitor student attendance. Roll call is taken every morning at assembly and absences are recorded by an attendance officer who is employed by the SCP. Parents of absent students are contacted as soon as possible. In the course of the evaluation parents stated that they were very appreciative of the school’s commitment and vigilance regarding students’ attendance. Teachers are diligent in the recording of attendance at individual lessons and this is to be highly commended. In planning for future development of the attendance strategy, consideration should be given to the use of web texts and the e-portal system, resources permitting. In addition, statistics should be compiled and used to monitor attendance strategies. Good efforts are made to retain students into senior cycle. However it is recommended that comprehensive data, in the form of statistics, be collected regarding attendance and retention as, in the absence of such statistics, it is impossible for the school to ascertain the success of its policies and initiatives.

 

The school has forged good links with the community, and these are used effectively for the benefit of the students. Linkages with other neighbouring educational establishments, such as the local primary schools and the Blanchardstown Insitute of Technology, are good. Links with the local enterprise board and the Blanchardstown Area Partnership have brought good opportunities to the school. Links with local employers could possibly be developed further. For example, there are some large multinational companies very near the school with whom the school has yet to establish links.

 

Links with local and state agencies are very good. The school works well with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). Links with three educational support programmes, the Blakestown/Mountview Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP), the Blakestown/Mountview Youth Initiative (BMYI) and the Educational Opportunities Programme (EOP) which is funded under the School Completion Project are particularly strong. Staff and management are to be highly commended for their commitment to working closely with local agencies for the benefit of the students.

  

1.4         Management of resources

In general, the school complies with regulations regarding instruction time and teaching days. However, students following the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme have no school on Friday afternoons and therefore are not in receipt of a minimum of twenty-eight hours tuition time as stipulated in circular M29/95. It is recommended that the provision for LCA be reviewed to comply with the circular.

 

In most cases the deployment of staff in the school is consistent with teachers’ qualifications and experience. However, a number of issues require review. As the school is over the quota, permanent members of staff who leave are not generally replaced. Therefore the school has an over supply of teachers in certain subjects and a deficit in other subjects. It is recommended that school management plan carefully for the future and do all that is possible to ensure that teachers who are qualified in subjects teach those subjects within the aforementioned constraints.

 

A number of teachers in receipt of a permanent incremental salary from the Department of Education and Science are not teaching the required minimum eighteen hours in accordance with the rules for the payment of the incremental salary. The failure to maximise the teaching hours available to the school, and paid for by the department, is a serious cause for concern. This matter should be addressed immediately by the board of management with whom the ultimate responsibility lies. Teaching hours are the biggest and most important resource the school has allocated to it by the Department of Education and Science and everything should be done to maximise the use of these hours.

 

The support staff of the school comprises a very dedicated and committed team. These members of staff make an appropriate and effective contribution to school life. This is commendable.

 

The school is to be commended on the manner in which the physical environment is maintained. School accommodation is spacious and there are very many specialist rooms. Effective use is made of the accommodation and school management is praised for its commitment to ensuring that the learning environment is maintained to a high standard.

 

Subject departments are generally well resourced. In some departments it was noted that excellent work has been done in the collating and cataloguing of resources for teaching and learning. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all departments. School management has prioritised resources in information and communication technology (ICT) in the school mainly through the provision of three well-equipped computer rooms and good infrastructure in the classrooms, the guidance office and the staff room. Means of ensuring that ICT is used on a widespread basis for teaching and learning should be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

 

A school health and safety statement has been prepared. It is recommended that the statement be reviewed with particular reference to the Department of Education and Science publication: Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post Primary Schools (2005). The school health and safety statement should be developed further to include separate statements for particular areas of the school such as workshops, laboratories and classrooms. Schedules and records of procedures for fire drills and equipment maintenance could usefully be included. Report form templates, including accident report forms, and also procedures for allowing staff input regarding the identification of risks should be included.

 

In 2007 the school obtained a green flag and was the first post-primary school in the area to achieve this award. The students and staff are to be very highly commended for their excellent work in contributing to the protection of the environment. Students spoke enthusiastically of their involvement in the green schools project and were clearly benefiting from their involvement in the initiative.

 

 

2. Quality of school planning

 

2.1     The school plan

There has always been a strong culture of school development planning in Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School. There is good collaboration between members of staff regarding planning and this is to be highly commended. As the main contributors to the planning process are the teaching staff, senior and middle management, it is recommended that ways be sought to make the planning process more collaborative. Members of the school community including the board of management, the student council and the parents should engage with school development planning to ensure a partnership approach. A more structured and co-ordinated approach to development planning should now be adopted and if possible a school development planning co-ordinator should be appointed. This would enable the development of the good work already done and support the planning process in the school. Ideally the co-ordinator would work with a number of staff members, each of whom would lead a planning sub-group. A whole-school approach to planning is recommended.

 

A review of developmental priorities in 2005 led to the establishment of new priorities and these have been collated in a document entitled “Vision 2020”. The six areas considered to be developmental priorities are curriculum, student focus, staff professional development, external relations, resources and the physical environment. Members of the middle management team in the school presently work on these six major priorities. Specific targets have been set in each area and excellent progress has been made regarding the achievement of certain targets including the establishment of a teachers’ resource centre in the library, the acquisition of new resources for teaching and learning and improvements in the physical environment of the school. Management and staff are to be commended for their commitment to realising these targets. It is recommended that when drawing up action plans, specific time frames be established. This will ensure that focus on achieving targets is maintained.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. However, during the evaluation, in the course of interviews with members of staff, it was evident that not all members of staff were in fact familiar with the guidelines. It is recommended that the guidelines be brought to the attention of all staff members again. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

There has been a good culture of self review in the past in the school. However, there is a clear need now to evaluate the priorities set for future planning and to set shorter time frames for self review. For example where goals have been set but have not been achieved, it is recommended that review take place. In establishing developmental priorities, there is an urgent need to give more consideration at a whole-school level to falling enrolment, issues related to poor student attendance and high rates of student suspension, cultural diversity and improving literacy and numeracy levels among students. In dealing with developmental priorities, it is recommended that specific, detailed targets be documented within agreed timeframes and with names of people who will carry out the tasks necessary to achieve the targets. The templates available on the website of the school development planning initiative at http://www.sdpi.ie/ will be most useful in this work.

 

 

3. Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1      Curriculum planning and organisation

The school is to be commended for offering a very good range of programmes. The Junior Certificate (JC), the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate (LC), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are all offered in the school. Previously, the Transition Year (TY) was also offered. However, due to low uptake this programme was discontinued. It is suggested that this be reviewed in the future.

 

The JCSP is offered in two classes in each of the three years of the junior cycle. Students are assigned to JCSP classes in first year based on low academic achievement in entrance assessments. The criteria for assigning students to the programme should be reviewed as the programme is not designed specifically for the academically weakest students. The JCSP should target students who are at risk of early school leaving. Students following the JCSP programme are offered a restricted curriculum. This should be reviewed as it is not in line with best practice.

 

It was noted at the time of the evaluation that students following the JCSP had all of Friday afternoon allocated for activities under the School Completion Programme (SCP). The main activity that takes place is swimming. This is commendable. Due to the very large numbers of students involved, not all students can be accommodated in this activity. The remaining students stay in the school and complete worksheets in Mathematics or English for the entire afternoon. While it was stated that other activities such as arts and crafts would be organised, the situation that was evident at the time of the evaluation is counterproductive. This should be reviewed immediately. In addition, the ever increasing numbers and criteria by which students are assigned to the EOP should also be reviewed.

  

In the context of the LCA, very good work is undertaken to improve student retention. A special programme with a strong emphasis on work preparation, acquisition of relevant vocational skills, certification in basic safety programmes, and an increase in awareness of further education opportunities has been developed. LCA students have the opportunity to attend courses such as safe pass, car maintenance, first aid, manual handling and a basic course for learner drivers. In addition, students have visited the FÁS training centre and attended taster courses at colleges of Further Education in the local community. While the school strives to promote retention, it is noted that usually there are two LCA classes in fifth year but only one in sixth year, as a number of students, mainly boys, leave in the summer after fifth year. It is recommended that the school review its strategy on retention regularly and in particular use statistics to keep up-to-date, reliable information on student retention.

 

Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School offers students the opportunity to follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The programme is managed by the LCVP co-ordinator with assistance from the guidance and ICT departments. Due to the fact that Link Modules classes are timetabled outside the normal school timetable, there are difficulties with access for students. Numbers taking the programme tend to be small and the LCVP is seen more as an add-on, rather than an integrated programme. Planning for the programme is very basic and the co-ordinator does not teach Link Modules classes.

 

It is recommended that the school review its provision and implementation of LCVP. The LCVP syllabus document available at http://lcvp.slss.ie/supportmaterials.html should be studied in detail and particular attention paid to the implementation guidelines. On the basis of a fuller understanding of the guidelines, the school should then re-structure its programme and plan for and implement a more comprehensive programme.  It is also recommended that the school avail of support provided by the LCVP Support Service.

 

Incoming first year students sit an entrance examination in the spring of the year prior to entry to Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School. Some students with special educational needs do not sit such an entrance examination, and are assessed by members of the learning support department of Blakestown CS. The entire procedures and practices surrounding this entrance examination should be reviewed. On the basis of the entrance examination students are streamed into class groups according to academic ability. Due to the fact that different class groups are offered different subject options, there is little or no possibility for movement between class groups. Therefore once streamed into the weakest group there is no reasonable possibility of transfer upwards. It is recommended that this be reviewed.

 

All students are not afforded equal access to the broad range of subjects and this is a cause for concern. Students, who on the basis of academic ability are assigned to the weakest class in each year of the junior cycle, do not have the option of studying Irish. The majority of students in this class emanate from a special class in one of the main primary feeder schools where they have been granted exemptions from Irish. In the two weakest classes in all years of the junior cycle, students do not study a modern language or business studies. In line with equality legislation this restriction of access to subjects should be reviewed. In addition, the information letter given to parents of incoming first-year students states that each student will study Irish and a modern language (French or German). This is inaccurate. It is recommended that care be taken to ensure that school documentation reflects the reality of the options. In the weakest class, students who take Materials Technology Wood (MTW) do not take the state examination in the subject. In line with the recommendations in the subject inspection report attached this should also be reviewed.

 

In light of the organisation of the curriculum and restricted access to subjects for some students, it is recommended that the board, the senior management team and all teaching staff consider a move to mixed-ability classes in first year. This would allow for greater flexibility in subject choice and would avoid a situation where students are streamed at a very young age. Consideration should also be given to providing a short taster programme in first year so that students can make an informed choice regarding subject options. It is strongly recommended that curriculum planning be a central focus for school development planning in the future.

  

An appropriate amount of time is allocated to subjects in line with syllabus requirements. This is praiseworthy. In general, the distribution of lessons is good and allows for regular contact with subjects. In a limited number of instances, the distribution of lessons is a cause of concern and should be reviewed. In first year, MTW, Home Economics and Business are scheduled for two double periods on Monday and Tuesday. This distribution is not optimal as students have almost a week between lessons. In the lowest stream in first year students have three lessons of English on Thursday and none on Wednesday. While six periods in total have been allocated to English for this class group it is preferable to distribute lessons evenly throughout the week.

 

Timetabling for options in fifth year should be reviewed. Music and Geography are scheduled for two double periods on Monday and Tuesday thus not allowing for optimal distribution. Physics/Chemistry, Art, Biology and Business are all timetabled for a double period on Tuesday and a triple period on Friday. This uneven distribution militates against effective delivery of the syllabus in all these subjects. The allocation of a double and a single period should replace the triple period.

 

In allocating teachers to classes, good efforts are made to ensure that teachers teach their subject specialism. However, in the course of subject inspections it was noted that this is not always the case. Every effort should be made to ensure that teachers teach subjects they are qualified to teach. If this is not possible, teachers should avail of all opportunities for professional development, in particular through the use of the websites of the support service appropriate to the subject area or programme. Given that the board of management funds membership of subject association, it is recommended that all subject departments avail of this.  There was evidence to suggest, in some subject areas, that new teachers were allocated to the more challenging classes. This practice should be reviewed by senior management with whom the responsibility lies for assigning teachers to class groups.

 

3.2      Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

The school is to be highly commended for offering a very broad range of subjects with a good balance between the practical and academic. In junior cycle, all students study English, Maths, History, Geography, History, Science, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Music, Physical Education, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Religion. First-year students are offered a choice of taking two subjects from Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork, Technical Graphics, Home Economics, Business Studies and Art. In senior cycle, students opting for the Leaving Certificate can choose from French, German, History, Geography, Art, Home Economics, Business, Accounting, Biology, Physics/Chemistry, Engineering, Construction Studies and Technical Drawing. This is a laudable choice and represents an impressive balance between the practical and academic subjects.

 

Guidance is given to parents regarding subject and programme choice. A comprehensive information booklet for the parents of incoming first-year students has been produced. This comprises general information as well as information about specific subjects. Good effort has been made to make the booklet attractive with small computer graphics inserted next to each subject. The school is to be commended for providing comprehensive information on the subjects. When this booklet is being reviewed the new information regarding subject options on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at  http://www.ncca.ie/ should be consulted. In addition it is suggested that information about the JCSP could usefully be included in this booklet, given its prominence in junior cycle.

 

Comprehensive and timely information is given to parents and students regarding subject and programme options in senior cycle. Guidance personnel visit classes in third year and inform students about educational options. Individual appointments can also be made with the guidance department. An information meeting is organised for parents where presentations about programme and subject options are given by members of staff. This is good practice. It is noted that the time of this meeting is in the mid-afternoon for thirty minutes. As this is such an important meeting, it is suggested that the time of the meeting and its length be reviewed to facilitate the attendance of parents who are working and to provide sufficient time to explain programme options and allow for questions. It is recommended that a booklet which covers senior cycle options be developed similar to the one available for first-year students.

 

3.3    Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

The provision of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in the school is very good. A variety of sporting activities is made available to all students. The main sports on offer are soccer, basketball, rugby and GAA. There is a good level of participation in various sports by both boys and girls. Students get opportunities to represent their school in competitions and also in friendly matches against neighbouring schools. Members of staff have also taken groups of students on hikes and walking trips. For students who are not interested in participating in team sports, fitness programmes and dance classes are provided. All members of staff who train and coach the students in a variety of physical pursuits are to be highly commended for giving generously of their time.

 

There are many other extra-curricular activities available to students in the school. There has been a long tradition of debating and students have benefited greatly from the skills they have acquired through this activity. There is an annual trip to Taizé in France where students can witness at first hand the spiritual lives of the monks there and share in prayer with people from all over the world. Such outings and trips, within Ireland and abroad, are of huge educational and personal benefit to the students.

 

Staff and students are actively engaged in worthwhile fundraising activities. A hospice coffee morning, jersey day for GOAL, and the annual table quiz are some examples of this commendable work.

 

Music, Arts and culture also feature on the school calendar of extra-curricular activities. Students are brought on trips to the theatre and to the cinema, on occasion to see German language films. There is a school choir and, as in many of the other activities mentioned, newcomer students are well represented. In the past, variety shows were organised in the school and students were given the opportunity to showcase their talents. The provision of extra-curricular activities in the school is to be highly commended as it gives students the opportunity to develop interests and hobbies which they may not otherwise get. In addition, it provides the possibility of integration among students who emanate from different cultures and backgrounds. The work of teachers and the participation of students in all these activities is lauded.

 

 

4. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1   Planning and preparation

A collaborative ethos is evident in the work of all the subject departments evaluated. Management facilitates the process of collaborative planning through the provision of formal meeting time on a regular basis throughout the school year. In almost all instances this takes the form of a subject department meeting. It is commendable that the outcomes of all formal meetings are retained to facilitate continuity between meetings. In order to support the continued development and evaluation of collaborative programme planning, it is recommended that management provides formal meeting time for all subject departments as well as opportunities that would facilitate collaborative planning among the teachers of all the technologies.

 

In almost all instances a subject co-ordinator is appointed to facilitate the sharing of resources. This is good practice, which should be extended to all subject areas.  In the case of the subjects evaluated, it is commendable that the role of co-ordinator is defined to include administrative and support duties. The position of subject co-ordinator is assigned to a post of responsibility. In some instances the subject co-ordinator is currently not teaching the subject. It is desirable that the co-ordinator be teaching the subject. As part of the school’s engagement with school development planning, it is recommended that consideration be given to rotating the role of subject co-ordinator among the teaching team. This would distribute responsibility and leadership for the continued development of each subject area. When beginning the first rotation due account should be taken of the relevant experience of the teachers involved. In the case of the technology subjects, the appointment of a rotating subject co-ordinator of the technologies should be considered.

 

Good progress is evident in the development of subject department plans although there was some variation in the level of progress made in the development of collaborative curricular plans. Very good practice was evident in instances where time bound collaborative plans were developed in line with syllabus requirements and where some information was provided in relation to students’ expected learning outcomes and suitable resource material. Over time and on a phased basis, all curriculum plans should be developed further to include an outline of desired students’ learning outcomes,  teaching strategies that are linked to specific content or lessons, suitable resources and assessment strategies.  It is recommended that particular attention be given to planning for differentiation across all subject departments.

 

There was very good quality individual teacher planning apparent in some of the subjects evaluated. Best practice was evident in instances where long-term curricular plans were individually tailored to meet the needs of specific classes. Exceptionally good practice was evident in instances where learning outcomes, clearly defined learning objectives and additional information on resources and teaching strategies, was included in the planning documentation.

 

Subject departments are well resourced. Management is supportive of requests made for additional resources. It is recommended that ICT be fully integrated into planning for teaching and learning in all subject areas.

 

4.2  Learning and teaching

The curricular areas inspected were English, French, SPHE and Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood). Specific findings and recommendations in relation to each of these areas are included in the subject inspection reports, which form appendices to this report. The following are the general findings on teaching and learning.

 

The learning intention in many lessons was shared with students at the beginning of the lesson period. This is good practice. It is important that the targets presented are clear, concise and achievable, in order that students can monitor their own progress and feel a sense of achievement on reaching them. Best practice was seen where the learning objectives were stated in terms of what the students were expected to know, or be able do, by the end of the lesson. Such learning intentions were also used in some cases as the basis of a review at the close of the lesson, when student learning was assessed. This level of follow through is excellent. It is recommended that all teachers adopt the procedure of stating the learning objectives at the beginning and revisiting them again at the end of the lesson.

 

Continuity from previous lessons was good in many cases. In a few lessons, however, this continuity was lacking and material already learned was not used as a basis for further learning. It is important that all new learning is based on existing knowledge. The use of questioning, to establish the level of this existing knowledge, provides a very convenient means of assessing learning of previous topics and of introducing new material in an integrated manner. Lesson content was in line with syllabus requirements in all cases. Lesson structure was generally good and most lessons were appropriately paced. Lessons were well planned and had a clear focus.

 

The methodologies used were mostly appropriate to lesson content. However, some more traditional practice was also apparent at times when a more imaginative approach may have improved student engagement. A greater degree of differentiation was needed in a number of lessons in order to accommodate different learning styles and to provide support for those in greater need of assistance. This differentiation could be provided in a number of ways, for example by facilitating more varied activities in some areas and the use of a broader range of resources. The best lessons observed were those with the greatest variety.

 

Classroom management was good, on the whole. Teachers had clear expectations of students and good routines were apparent. Most students engaged well in the learning process. High standards of behaviour were demanded in many classes and disciplined environments that were conducive to learning, with good student behaviour, were evident. Teachers generally had a good rapport with students, mutual respect was evident, and a pleasant atmosphere was created. However, some challenging behaviour, by a minority of disruptive students, was noted, in a small number of classes. Teachers should plan various strategies to deal with such disruption, including engaging with appropriate methodologies and, where necessary, invoking the school’s code of behaviour. Providing appropriate variety and differentiation in the teaching process will assist good classroom management by reducing or preventing disengagement by some students and through providing a greater challenge for others, thus maintaining interest and engagement and reducing instances of misbehaviour.

 

Students showed a good level of understanding and knowledge when questioned in class and during interaction with inspectors. The level of achievement was good on the whole, and a good standard of learning was evident.

 

4.3       Assessment

There is some evidence of the development of assessment policies by subject departments in line with the assessment policy of the school. It is recommended that these subject assessment policies be developed further, making specific reference to assessment for learning where this is not already the case. In particular instances, good practice in the use of assessment outcomes to inform further subject development is commended. An example of such practice is the allocation of time for students to review a completed module of work within the common programme of work in SPHE.

 

A variety of assessment modes is used in the monitoring and assessment of students’ progress ranging from homework and project assignments to class tests, continuous assessment and formal school-based examinations, including mock examinations in state examination years. To improve further on assessment procedures, recommendations are made to aggregate student design project marks with in-school examination marks in MTW and Construction Studies (CS), to introduce or increase oral assessment in French and to extend the practice of setting common examination papers in English.  

 

While the assessment modes in use are generally consistent with those current in state examinations, it is recommended, where necessary, that subject departments review their practice to ensure that the full range of assessment modes in use in the school mirror those in use in the state examinations. This will provide students with appropriate experience prior to taking the state examinations.

 

In some instances very good practice is evident in the monitoring of students’ homework and in the provision of appropriate feedback. The value of such constructive and informative feedback as an aid to students’ learning is stressed. It is recommended that such practice be adopted on a whole-school basis, to ensure consistently within and across subject department. Where assessment practice is consistent and effective, the quality of presentation of students’ work is very good. The development of a cross-curricular element in the assessment of SPHE is commended and its further development is urged.

 

Students are encouraged and affirmed through positive feedback in the course of lessons. This is good practice. Students’ progress is communicated to parents by means of annual parent-teacher meetings, school reports, notes in students’ journals and by telephone as necessary. Parents are also informed of students’ progress by means of first-year parent-tutor meetings. Communication with parents is generally good.  

 

Students’ attendance is carefully monitored and recorded. In general, records of students’ attainment are also maintained. Very good practice, seen in the course of a subject inspection, is the recording and regular updating of students’ achievement across a range of skills and behaviours. It is recommended that good records of assessment be maintained across all subject departments and that good practice in this regard be shared. In some cases detailed records are kept of work completed with individual class groups. These records are used to evaluation programmes of work in the subjects and to inform approaches to teaching.  This is very good practice.

 

 

5.      Quality of support for students

 

5.1    Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

There is very good support to aid the full inclusion of students with special educational needs in the school. In the course of the evaluation, the school’s learning-support policy was presented. This is a comprehensive document and is to be commended. In order to build on the existing good practice, it is recommended that a whole-school literacy and numeracy policy be developed as soon as possible. Excellent support materials to assist in the development of such policies are available at www.sdpi.ie under the section on DEIS planning.

 

The learning support department comprises a core team and many other members of staff. It was evident that a number of the teachers involved in the provision of learning support have previously been, or are currently, engaged in continuous professional development. This is laudable. A number of members of staff were newly timetabled for learning support this year. At the time of the evaluation, additional hours for learning support were still being added to staff members’ timetable. This meant that by the end of September, students who should have been in receipt of additional learning support were not. It is recommended that senior management ensure that sufficient planning take place in advance to ensure a fully operational timetable for these students at the commencement of the school year.

 

The main form of learning support offered to students is withdrawal from lessons. It is recommended that team teaching be considered. This would enable students to remain in their class group while still gaining additional support which they require. Very good work is done on the identification of students’ needs prior to entry in to Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School. The core learning support department works closely with primary schools in advance of enrolment in the school. The work of the learning support department in this regard is very highly commended.

 

There are good resources, including ICT, to support the learning and teaching for students with special educational needs. The school has acquired some good software. It is recommended that, resources permitting, laptops be purchased which would be a very useful aid to teaching and learning. There is very good communication between the learning-support department and subject departments. The learning-support department has prepared an information pack for all subject departments. It is recommended that further opportunities be created, perhaps at staff meetings, to encourage peer learning among staff on issues relating to the provision for students with special educational needs.

 

The school has a very strong team of six full-time and two part-time special needs assistants (SNAs). They form a very valuable resource in the school and carry out their work with great dedication and commitment. The current arrangements whereby all SNAs carry out yard supervision duties at the same time leading to their absence for part of the lessons after the break should be reviewed by management.

 

There are a high percentage of newcomer students in the school who are in need of English as an additional language (EAL) support.  A number of issues regarding the provision of EAL in the school are a cause for concern and need to be addressed as a matter of priority by the school management. The Department of Education and Science has allocated two full-time EAL teaching positions to the school. This is a total allocation of forty-four class contact hours per week. However, this is not used to maximum effect. It is recommended that this resource be maximised for the benefit of the students in question.

 

Students are tested to assess their English language proficiency. However, there were no clear criteria as to how the information gained from such tests was used, for example in the formation of class groups. A post of responsibility has been assigned to the area of EAL provision. However, no formal job description has been drawn up by the school management and there was little evidence to suggest that this post is being carried out. It is strongly recommended that the board of management draw up a specification of duties for this post as soon as possible as the students in question are a particularly vulnerable group and poor linguistic skill is impeding their access to the whole-school curriculum.

 

It is commendable that a list of resources to support the teaching and learning of EAL is available and that some resources have been acquired. However there is no plan for the teaching of EAL which documents learning outcomes, details of lesson content and forms of assessment. This issue should be addressed urgently. It is recommended that the plan contains a whole-school dimension, that would outline the involvement of other subject departments clearly. The practice of preparing a pack for all teachers, such as that prepared for the learning-support setting, should be replicated by the EAL department. Such initiatives should be led and overseen by the senior management in the school.

 

In order to communicate with parents of newcomer students, the school has translated some documents into French and Romanian. The production of school documentation in languages other than English is most laudable. On occasion, the students themselves act as interpreters for their parents.  However there are no clear processes for communicating with parents of students for whom English is an additional language. In light of the fact that there are a significant number of newcomer students in the school, ways should be sought to communicate more effectively with parents of these students. For example, members of staff who speak languages other than English may be able to assist in communicating with the diversity of parents.

 

5.2   Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

The school is in receipt of .5 of a whole time equivalent (WTE) allocation for guidance and, under the guidance enhancement initiative (GEI), another .5 of a whole time equivalent post for guidance has also been allocated. This allocation is being used appropriately to provide educational, personal and vocational guidance. Two guidance counsellors deliver the guidance programme in the school. One guidance counsellor takes responsibility for guidance in junior cycle and the other for senior cycle.

 

A guidance plan is in place and members of staff involved in the development of this are to be commended for the good work done to date. It is recommended that, in order to build on this, the plan be reviewed to include the school’s mission statement at the beginning and an outline programme of the provision for guidance in each year group and each educational programme such as the JCSP, the LCA and the LCVP. The plan should also clearly state a time line for each activity planned in each programme, with learning targets and outcomes stated. It is recommended that the board of management of the school oversee this process and ratify the plan. The school guidance plan should be an integral part of the whole-school plan.

 

Under the GEI, a guidance allocation of eleven hours per week is specifically to be used for junior cycle provision. It is suggested that some of this time be used for visits to local primary schools and to facilitate increased guidance input into how incoming students make subject choices for first year. At present, no class periods are allocated to Guidance in junior cycle and the majority of this allocation is being used for one to one counselling. While it is recognised that this is an important provision for students, it is recommended that some guidance lessons be allocated in second and third year. Increased class contact time with these students will enhance the educational and vocational guidance provision and ensure greater emphasis is put on raising students’ awareness about levels at which subjects are being taken and about raising academic expectations.

 

The facilities for Guidance are good. An office with ICT is available for each guidance counsellor. Recently, access for students to ICT for guidance purposes has improved and students are able to search relevant websites on line. This is to be commended. In addition, a career’s library is now available to students. This is praiseworthy.

 

The guidance team are involved in tracking students after they leave school and it is reported that many students continue on to third-level and further education. It is recommended that guidance personnel, in conjunction with other members of staff, consider having a display showing the destination of past-pupils. As some past-pupils have been successful in many areas, academic and non-academic, it would be useful to have photographs and information on display. The success of past students would serve as a motivating influence for present students.

 

The student support system in the school is very good. The transfer policy for incoming first-year students is a very good example of student support. Great care is taken to ensure that students settle in and that positive relationships with school staff are developed. Prospective students are invited to the school to take a tour and visit all the facilities in the November of the year prior to entry to first year. An induction day is held on the first day of term for the new first-year students to help them to settle in. In October, parents are invited to a parent-tutor meeting to review how the first year students are getting on with this very important transition. The home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, the SCP personnel and the deputy principal, as well as the guidance team, all play an important role in this very important transition. These practices are to be highly commended.

 

Strong support for students is evident throughout the school. All classes have individual tutors. Each year group has a year head and an assistant year head assigned to them. Tutors, year heads and assistant year heads are all involved in monitoring the students’ academic progress, their well being, and in student discipline. Tutors and year heads are assigned to the one group for their five years in the school. This allows for great continuity and ensures that tutors and year heads get to know their classes or year groups very well. A weekly meeting is held between the year head, assistant year head and tutors of each year group to review students’ progress and discuss issues in the classes. This is very effective practice. Staff involved are to be highly commended for their huge contribution to the student support system in the school.

 

The HSCL co-ordinator provides very important support for students and parents. The work of the HSCL co-ordinator involves home visits to parents whose children may be experiencing difficulty in school. The HSCL co-ordinator encourages links with parents by organising classes, for example in ICT, in the school. The HSCL co-ordinator organises activities in the higher education initiative in the school, liaises with many members of staff, the staff of the SCP and outside agencies in order to ensure a high level of support for the students. This is highly commendable.

 

Through the SCP, a wide variety of supports are organised for the students. Breakfast and homework clubs are made available to students in need of support. Mentoring and one-to-one teaching programmes are also organised. This is most laudable. Through the higher education initiative in the school, activities such as Easter revision courses, supervised study, trips to the Gaeltacht and visits to third-level institutions are organised. This is good practice.

 

A care team, comprising a member of the senior management team, the guidance counsellors, the HSCL co-ordinator, year heads, and representatives from the BMYI and the EOP, is in place. When appropriate, representatives from the NEWB and other outside agencies attend meetings of the care team. The care team meets once a week to review students’ progress and to identify and refer students to appropriate agencies or services. Meetings are well structured and good minutes are kept. The referral systems are very well structured and there are good procedures for communicating with parents. The care team is to be highly commended for its professional approach to supporting students in an effective manner. It is recommended that a formal care policy be collated to incorporate the documentation relating to the student support system in the school.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The school is inclusive and accepts students of all abilities and nationalities.

·         There is a strong culture of distributed leadership at middle management level. Post holders are encouraged to show initiative and to lead projects in the school.

·         A number of excellent strategies have been established to encourage positive behaviour.

·         There are good links with the community which are used effectively for the benefit of the students. Staff and management have demonstrated commitment in working

      closely with local and state agencies, for the benefit of students.

·         Effective use is made of the accommodation and school management ensures that the learning environment is maintained to a high standard.

·         The students and staff have done excellent work in contributing to the protection of the environment and have been awarded a Green Flag.

·         The school offers a very good range of programmes and a broad and balanced curriculum.

·         The provision of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in the school is very good.

·         A collaborative approach to subject department planning is evident.

·         The student support structure in the school is excellent.

 

 

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

 

·     The board of management of the school should seek training for its role to enable it to fulfil its statutory obligations.

·     It is recommended that a full review of posts of responsibility take place.

·     A plan for inclusion should be drawn up with the aid of the publication by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Intercultural Education in the

    Post-Primary School: Guidelines for schools

·     In order to enhance a partnership approach, it is recommended that renewed efforts be made to form a parents’ association in the school.

·     It is recommended that a full review of the code of behaviour take place. In doing this a comprehensive partnership approach should be taken involving students,

    parents, staff and the board.

·     It is recommended that comprehensive data in the form of statistics be collected regarding attendance and retention. This will enable the school to ascertain the

    success of its policies and to review its initiatives in this regard.

·     A number of teachers in receipt of a permanent incremental salary are not teaching the required minimum eighteen hours in accordance with the rules for the payment

    of the incremental salary. This matter should be addressed immediately by the board of management with whom the ultimate responsibility lies.

·     A school plan containing a permanent section and a developmental section should be drawn up. The priorities for future development should be informed by the

    recommendations in this report.

·     In light of the organisation of the curriculum, and restricted access to subjects for the students who have been streamed into the weakest class groups, it is

    recommended that the board, the senior management team and all staff consider a move to mixed-ability classes in first year, whereby all students could be offered

    access to the full range of subjects on available.

·     Whole-school literacy and numeracy policies should be developed.

·     The allocation given by the Department of Education and Science to provide for the teaching of English as an additional language (EAL) to newcomer students should be

    used in full. A plan for the teaching of EAL and an emphasis on a whole-school approach to EAL within subjects should be developed immediately.

 

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

 

 

7.  Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of SPHE – 24 September 2008

·         Subject Inspection of English – 23 September 2008

·         Subject Inspection of French – 22 September 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Materials Technology Wood and Construction Studies – 23 September 2008

 

 

Published, October 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

                                                                                             Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Area 1.   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management notes and welcomes the WSE report. The Board is pleased that the report affirms the excellent work done by management and staff and that the report acknowledges the caring and inclusive ethos of the school. Blakestown Community School takes pride in its well-developed and effective pastoral care system and the Board is happy that the strengths of this system are highlighted in the report. The comments of the Inspectorate on the excellent work being done in the various subject departments are also welcomed.

 

  

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 WSE report makes a number of very positive recommendations and work has already started in implementing these recommendations.