An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet, County Cork
Roll number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 23 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
2. Quality of School Management
2.1 Characteristic spirit of the school
2.2 School ownership and management
2.3 In-school management
2.4 Management of resources
3. Quality of School Planning
4. Quality of Curriculum Provision
4.1 Curriculum planning and organisation
4.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes
4.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision
5. Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects
5.1 Planning and preparation
5.2 Teaching and Learning
6. Quality of Support for Students
6.1 Students with special educational needs
6.2 Other supports for students:(Disadvantage, minority and other groups)
6.4 Pastoral care
7. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development
8. Appended subject inspection reports
Material Technology Wood and Construction Studies
This Whole School Evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Millstreet Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. 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.
Millstreet Community School is a co-educational community school. It resulted from an amalgamation of the Presentation Convent Secondary School, Coláiste Padraig Secondary School and the Vocational Education Committee’s Technical School. It was first opened in 1973 and since then has been providing education to the local area. The school is situated on a large site adjacent to the town of Millstreet. Most of the school’s students come from nine primary feeder schools. The school has an enrolment of 294 students (139 boys and 155 girls) for the school year 2006-2007. It is projected that the enrolment figure will remain static for the near future following a steady decline in numbers in recent years.
Millstreet Community School has a current teaching staff of 28 members, including the principal, deputy principal and part-time teachers. The school offers a comprehensive curriculum ranging from modern languages to the pure sciences to business and practical subjects and, as such, is well placed to provide for the second level education of the community. The school offers Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
The Whole School Evaluation (WSE) process included the areas of management, planning, curriculum provision and support for students in addition to evaluations of learning and teaching in five subject areas–Gaeilge, Materials Technology Wood and Construction Studies, French, Geography and Physical Education. The evaluation of Gaeilge was completed in May 2006 prior to the WSE process. In the course of the evaluation, the inspectors were facilitated by meetings with the board of management, parent representatives, the principal and deputy principal, the teaching staff, representatives of the in-school management teams, student representatives as well as representatives of teachers involved in the varied activities in the school.
The school’s mission statement states that: “Millstreet Community School strives to promote all aspects of the growth and development of each student in a caring environment”. The values and principles expressed in this statement are lived out to the full in the day-to-day running of the school. It was evident to all inspectors that student care as stated in the mission statement above is very important in the school. Classroom atmosphere, as experienced by the inspectors, mirrors the whole-school values inherent in this mission statement. The parents’ council described the school as having a positive atmosphere where everyone is very approachable and listens to what they have to contribute and say. Representatives of the student body through the student council described the school as having a “good collaborative atmosphere”, with mutual trust and respect.
Academic education is important in the school but there is also an important emphasis on the holistic education of the students. The board of management believes every student leaves the school with a better understanding of life. This is reinforced through the curriculum and extra-curricular activities provided in the school. Many activities are carried out on a voluntary basis by the staff. The students interviewed appreciate this and it adds to the sense of inclusiveness and community within the school. There is a sense of openness and approachability within the school, according to the staff, some of whom added: “We are a small school in which everybody knows everybody else”. Parents also reinforced this, praising the pastoral care system in operation in the school and how accessible the school was to them.
The board of management has been properly constituted under the Articles of Management for Community and Comprehensive Schools and operates in accordance with them. The board members are aware of their statutory role and responsibilities and also view their role as being to ensure that the school lives up to the expectations of the community, spiritually, morally, academically and practically. In addition, they also support the senior management within the school and are involved in the ratification of policies. The board was aware that all of these policies were part of the school development planning initiative (SDP). If unsatisfied with a draft policy, the board returns it with a request for additional information. The board should continue to be pro-active in the domain of policy review and development within the school, with the continued involvement of the whole-school community in the process. The inclusion of a review date for each policy at ratification is recommended.
The board consists of ten members. There are two nominees by the Bishop of Kerry, one nominee by the Presentation Sisters, three nominees from Cork County Vocational Educational Committee, two nominees from the parents and two nominees from the teachers. The principal acts as secretary to the board. The parents’ representatives are nominated and elected in a process open to the parents of all students in the school through the parents’ council. The teaching staff members elect their nominees. The current board is in year two of a three-year cycle. Many board members have served on this board and other boards of management. All members of the board were availing of training in the weeks preceding the WSE. All stakeholders represented on the board and present for the meeting expressed satisfaction with the school.
The board schedules four meeting in each academic year. It was stated that additional meetings could be organised when required. The chairperson can also liaise with the school principal in the event of an issue requiring urgent attention. A work plan for the board was presented which outlined the main areas of work for the year, which is good practice and should continue. The board has a financial subcommittee, which meets at least four times per year and reports back to the full board. Minutes of meetings are circulated in advance of all meetings. A standard approach to reporting back to each nominating body after each meeting should be explored and implemented by the board.
The main challenges and priorities facing the school and stated by the board for the future will be how to maintain the current breadth and balance of the curriculum. The projected school enrolment and staff retirements will make maintaining the current subject choice difficult. Strategies need to be explored at board level and with the school community to overcome these problems and move forward, ensuring that the school ethos is maintained. The board also stated that there could be an increase in students with English as an additional language attending the school. The school is coping very well with the current small but steady number of these students. However, the likelihood of increased numbers needs to be explored by the board and the school in order to be prepared if this does occur.
The principal and deputy principal have central roles within the in-school management structure. They have both been in their current roles since 1999. They demonstrate clear and open communication and engage in regular, daily consultation, both formally and informally. They are very committed to their roles, with each having some specific duties. The principal for example takes a lead role in the formulation of the timetable with the deputy principal taking a lead role in substitution and discipline. However, they feel that they run the school together demonstrating very much a team approach. They are also very aware of the challenges facing the school going forward.
The middle-management team within the school consists of seven assistant principals and ten special duties teachers. All post have been advertised and candidates interviewed. All post are now allocated in accordance with Circular PPT 29/02, with duties decided after appointment following consultation between the principal and the relevant post holder.
All posts have identifiable duties, and it is clear that the team makes a significant contribution to the effective organisation of the school through the fulfilment of these duties. In addition, the willingness of post holders and the level of dedication in terms of time and personal commitment were very much in evidence. At present the duties are mainly administrative or pastoral in nature, which facilitate both the smooth running of the school and support the principal and deputy principal. Assistant principal teachers are also aware of the need to act as principal or deputy principal if required.
Staff members are aware of the management structure of the school and the schedule of duties assigned to the management team. A review of the post duties is ongoing in the school. Timely completion of this review is recommeded. A crucial challenge is to continue to meet the needs of the school into the future through the delegation of responsibility among post-holders. The current student enrolment will not faciliate the retention of the same number of posts as is currently provided for. This may leave duties unassigned and needs to be considered during the current review process. For example, the principal at the time of the WSE was acting as examination secretary, a job which was previously done by a retired post holder. The smooth running of the school could be affected if senior school management has to take on more duties that were previously undertaken by middle management. This should also be considered during the review process.
This year has seen the introduction of meetings between the assistant principals and senior management every three weeks. All participants expressed their satisfaction with this new venture as it has provided an important discussion forum for school initiatives. This collaborative decision-making should continue with the inclusion of special duties teachers more into this process. Currently special duties teachers have an opportunity to have a formal meeting with management three times yearly before whole-staff meetings. Delegation of the role of chair of staff meetings among assistant principals, with a special duty teacher or another staff member acting as secretary, has been developed in the school and is good practice.
Levels of communication with parents are well developed, regular, systematic and open, which is to be commended. The school has a very committed parents’ council which is encouraged to have an active role. Each month a meeting is held between two members of the parents’ council and senior school management. This has created a great link between the parents’ council and the school and has resulted in very few issues needing to be brought forward to the board. The parents interviewed during the WSE were satisfied with the level of supports for students, especially those available through the tutorial system, chaplain and guidance counsellor. The parent/teacher meeting structure is also well organised in the school with regular reports sent home. Parents were very complimentary in relation to the manner in which enquiries to the school were dealt with by staff. The availability of both management and staff to meet with parents outside of the parent/teacher structure if required was also praised. The school has had a long tradition of having a parents’ council, with the first one established very soon after opening in 1973. A new parent’s council is established yearly. An annual general meeting is held with regular monthly meeting of the officers. All meetings are held in the school. All parents are also welcome to attend any of the meetings with details of times of meetings stated in the student journal.
Students also play their part in the representative and management aspects of the school. A students’ council was first established in March 2002. The council is made up of students from each of the tutorial groups in the school with each member elected by their respective tutorial group. A teacher with a post of responsibility is assigned to liase between the students’ council and the staff and management. The teacher also attends all meetings of the students’ council. The council has officers including a chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary and vice-secretary. The council has also developed a draft constitution. The student body views the students’ council as making a difference and having a voice for the students, which is seen as a positive step in the school. The council meets once a month, with other meetings organised if required. An agenda is drawn up in advance of the meetings. Items and issues for discussion by the council are given to members through the tutorial system. The council feels that school management listens to their point of view. One of the council’s main achievements has been changing the school canteen to healthy eating. They have also organised an indoor soccer league for first-year students to help them integrate into school life. They have progressed the provision of mirrors in the toilets, new soccer posts, new hurling and football posts, a re-design of the girls’ trousers, a new set of jerseys and fresh drinking water in the canteen. The council has also formed a subcommittee to help in the organisation of the school’s Christmas traditional concert (Coirmceol na Nollag). The provision of nets for the school pitch is a current project with the council. The students’ council could become involved in policy formulation. They should have some role in the bullying policy, which is to be revisited in the school in the future.
Each year, the guidance counsellor visits the school’s nine feeder primary schools. The school’s registration night for first-year students is another vehicle through which the school is introduced to and opened up to the wider school community. A tour of the school is provided and teachers are available to answer any questions. An information pack is also available to all students and parents/guardians.
The student journal provides not only the facility of a homework journal for students, but is also a source of essential information, a record of tasks to complete, a means of effective communication between parent and school, and also contains absence forms, punctuality record and forms which record notes from parents/guardians of the students. This book also contains the code of behaviour and discipline. It forms an essential student record, information and communication vehicle for students and parents/guardians, while at the same time greatly assisting with record keeping and management in the school. The inclusion of the school’s mission statement could be considered in future student journals. In addition, reference to the school web site should also be included, which will direct the school community to further information in relation to the school.
In-school management actively seeks all necessary resources, both material and personnel, to support the work of the school. They have sought to maximise the resources available to the school from the Department of Education and Science. The school calendar, with respect to the number of teaching days per year and the number of instruction hours per week, complies with department regulations. As is appropriate, teachers are deployed in line with their subject specialisms. The school has two caretakers and one full time office administrator. The well maintained grounds and the efficient office are testament to the good work of all concerned. In addition, the deployment of staff reflects the pastoral and academic aims of school. Future staffing needs of the school are a concern to school management. It would be important that both in-school management and the board discuss this in order to safeguard the school’s ability to provide appropriately for students’ needs in the future.
The school building is in good condition due to a recent refurbishment. General classrooms, the social areas and corridors are very well maintained and are clean and tidy. Teachers had made great efforts in creating and maintaining an attractive and stimulating learning environment. Inspectors mentioned the use of posters, visual displays, and different media for the presentation of materials in the classroom lessons observed as part of the evaluation. The display of student artwork along all the corridors contributed to the real sense of pride evident in the school. In addition, the photographs, awards, student projects and certificates, pay testament to the many diverse activities the school is engaged in. Most teachers had their own base rooms while students move from room to room for their timetabled subjects. Some of the teaching staff have to share facilities with colleagues. Having subject-specific base rooms has allowed the display of materials in these rooms, which will enhance student learning and is to be commended. The school has three science laboratories, technology rooms for Materials Technology Wood and Materials Technology Metal, one home economics room, two computer rooms, an art room, a learning-support room, a career guidance office, a chaplaincy office, a meditation room, a gym, a library, general purpose area and an outside pitch.
The school has an internet access policy and a software use policy. There are approximately 70 computers in the school divided between classrooms and two specific information and communications technology (ICT) rooms. There is broadband access in most rooms. Management is to be commended on the provision of such facilities. It is recommended that subject departments in as much as possible begin the process of planning the integration, application and use of ICT into appropriate areas of teaching and learning. The school has run IT training courses for teachers. It is a Microsoft Academy and will offer IC3 to Transition Year students. In addition, the inspectors reported the presence of overhead projectors, televisions, video and audio equipment for use in the classrooms. An ICT role could be formally developed, which would help to co-ordinate this area and aid in the further development and maintenance of the school web site.
Nominees of the board are involved in the selection of new teachers to the school. Management inducts new staff members. An information booklet is also available as a source of valuable information for the new teacher. In addition, attendance at, and involvement in in-career development in Social Political and Health Education (SPHE), Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and subject-specific areas have been allowed and encouraged by management. They have provided invaluable help to both co-ordinators and teachers in the successful implementation of programmes. Participation in such courses has also broadened the range of teaching methodologies available to teachers. The development of an in-service display board in the staff room, which will allow staff to communicate information obtained at in-service, is being discussed. This will allow material to be disseminated to the whole staff and it is recommended that this good idea should be realised.
The school does not allocate specific budgets to subject areas. Requests for resources are made by each department and are rarely refused. This practice is currently operating successfully in the school. Management also seeks required additional resources for students with special educational needs.
The school has a Health and Safety policy. This was produced in consultation with external expertise. Issues in relation to dust extraction in the technologies were highlighted during the WSE. These need to be addressed and funding for the relevant works pursued with the Department. The board should continue to be very pro-active in this health and safety matter.
The process of school development planning (SDP) is ongoing in the school. The mission statement is widely available and visibly in action in the school. The school has had four separate SDP days recently and has received presentations by the SDPI team. There is no specific planning co-ordinator. The assistant principals have taken a lead role in the process with the participation of all staff in the planning role. Policies on guidance and health and safety have been drafted. Outside expertise has been used when required for example in the development of the draft health and safety policy. Policies have been developed in areas such as admissions, attendance strategy, critical incident, computer software use, the environment, data protection, internet access and acceptable use and a policy on recording and transmission equipment have all been adopted by the board. As stated previously, a specific time frame for review of all policies should be assigned at time of ratification by the board. The board stated that they have asked for further information before ratifying some of the policies. Policies in relation to curricular areas are at different stages of development. It is recommended that this area is given time to develop during some of the future SDP days. The school has also provided seminars on special needs inclusion and child protection guidelines to all staff members.
The inclusion of the wider school community has been part of the SDP process in the school. The parents’ council members have been asked to contribute their opinion but feel they are not asked to contribute to all policies. Management stated that students through the students’ council are asked for their input on some policies. All partners need to contribute to policy development and review. It is recommended that this inclusive approach should continued with all partners asked to contribute when and where appropriate.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the departmental guidelines. A deputy liaison person has also been appointed in the school.
The school has identified priority areas for future planning. The bullying policy and attendance strategy are to be reviewed. The current school prospectus is also to be reviewed. Time to discuss discipline and further develop subject planning will be afforded. Middle management role is currently being reviewed. In addition, seminars and presentations are also being planned for the staff, including one on the role of the tutor. This proactive approach is to be commended and should be sustained going forward.
Millstreet Community School offers a broad curriculum to its students and is very proud in their achievements in this area. There is continued support within the school for such a subject range although the breadth and balance of the current curriculum may be difficult to maintain into the future. As stated previouly, the board members are happy with the range of subjects, though they have concerns around maintaining the current spread of subjects, especially at senior cycle.
The current school timetable is readily accessable to all staff and students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, TY, LCVP and Leaving Certificate. With the exception of Music, all mainstream subjects are offered. The core curriculum at junior cycle consists of Gaeilge, Maths, English, History, Geography, Science, Religion, Physical Education, SPHE and Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE). The optional range of subjects at junior cycle includes Technical Graphics, French, German, Materials Technology Wood (MTW), Materials Technology Metalwork (MTM), Art, Business and Home Economics. The inclusion of formal timetabled guidance time in both first year and third year will need to be considered as part of future planning.
At senior cycle, students can enter the now-optional TY Programme. After lenghty consultation and review with all partners, it was decided to change TY from being compulsory to optional in this currrent academic year (2006-2007). This decision-making process illustrates the collaborative spirit and partnership in the school, which is to be commended. The majority of students opted to enter TY this year. It will be important to maintain this popularity. If numbers doing TY decline, it will have an effect on the overall enrolment in the school, which will contribute to the difficulties in relation to the maintainence of the breadth and balance of the curriculum. TY allows students to experience many different curricular and non-curricular areas with a lot of information on careers delivered during TY. Senior management, the TY co-ordination team and the chaplain review this programme yearly, which is very good practice.
Following TY, or directly after the Junior Certificate for non-TY participants, students complete the established Leaving Certificate, with or without LCVP. The majority of students in the school currently choose to study LCVP. Because of the requirement for a modern lanuage, LCVP students without a modern language are provided with a language module during the course of their studies. The curriculum at senior cycle is also broad and balanced. The core curriculum at senior cycle consists of Gaeilge, English and Maths. The optional subjects currently available in the school are Accounting, Agricultural Science, Art and Design, Biology, French, German, Geography, Technical Drawing, Business, Chemistry, Physics, Construction Studies, Engineering, History and Home Economics. Religious Education and Career Guidance are also present on students timetables.
The school timetable provides the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and the breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. Following a detailed analysis of the timetable supplied to the evaluation team in advance of the WSE, it was found that the time allocation to subjects in the main was appropriate. The area of Learning Support is facilaited on the timetable for the benefit of the relevant students. Many teachers are deployed to varying degrees in this area. Year-one and year-two Leaving Certificate students do not have access to weekly timetabled Physical Education classes. It is recommended that this situation be rectified in the future. In addition, the school responds quickly and deploys staff to help students with English as an additional language when and where appropriate.
An information evening is held for new first year students before entry to the school. Students and parents receive a tour of the school and have an opportunity to meet and ask questions of teachers and school management. A school prospectus is also given to all students, which contains general information about the school, discipline, the curriculum, facilities, TY and what to expect in first year. The use of the school web-site to dessiminate this information should be considered for the future. On entry to first-year, students are allocated to a tutorial group based on mixed ability, gender and feeder schools. The school operates a taster system with core subjects studied for the full year. The optional subjects are either studied for half the year or for the full year on reduced time. Both the parents’ and students’ councils consider this to be very positive and good about the school. In addition, the openness of subject choice provides equal opportunities for students to study subjects without reference to gender, which is to be commended. The current time allocation in some subject areas could make progress difficult, especially in light of many new syllabuses introduced or being introduced in recent times. The maintenance of this current arrangement may need to be included in the overall discussion in relation to the curriculum in the school into the future.
Subject decisions for Junior Certificate are not made until the end of first-year. To help the decision-making process, first-year students receive some information in relation to option choices at the end of first-year. In addition, the guidance councillor meets with each of the students throughout the year, either individually or within tutorial groups. The students’ tutor and other teachers are other sources of information in relation to subject choices for the students. A data sheet is distributed in which students have an open choice in relation to the optional subjects. On analysis of this, option groupings are designed and a best fit model applied.
On completion of Junior Certificate, students can choose to enter TY. A TY information night is provided to help students with the decision. During this year students study a range of academic subjects and additional subjects. The programme has a core of Gaeilge, English, Maths, a modern language and Religious Education. The rest of the programme is divided between optional sample subjects and electives, which can be changed yearly. Students have an open choice for the remainder of the optional sample subjects and can even choose subjects that they did not study for Junior Certificate. A co-ordinator for TY is in place, with good management of this programme evident. The spirit of TY was very much embraced by the school and reinforced by the range and type of electives currently ongoing in the school. The ‘Living Scenes project, LTV2, judo, grooming, coaching course, first aid, law and drive for life are some of the range of course that have been part and still part of the TY programme. The students also get an opportunity to partake in some work experience. Students are encouraged to choose experiences that will help to inform themselves in relation to career choices for the future. This is reinforced through timetabled career guidance classes during TY.
Students at Leaving Certificate are again given an open choice. After consultation, option groups are created and a best-fit model applied. Tutors, the guidance counsellor and other teachers are called upon for their guidance when required. The majority of students get what they want and the parents’ council also expressed satisfaction with the efforts made by the school to accommodate students’ choices as much as possible. However, projected enrolment decline in the future could result in subject choice contracting, which was a major concern voiced by all partners in the school. The LCVP programme has a co-ordinated approach with four staff members taking a lead role in its organisation and implementation. All team members have their own specific roles and are facilitated by management in having formal meeting times during the year. Attendance at in-service and cluster meetings for all personnel involved in programme co-ordination and delivery (of both the TY and LCVP) is encouraged by management with all members concerned stating that they have availed of the opportunities presented. The inclusion of other staff members in these programmes and attendance at training would help develop staff capacity for change into the future and should be considered.
The school has established procedures that a student must follow in order to change a subject level. The student must discuss this with the relevant teachers, the guidance counsellor, parents/guardian and principal. Only then will a student be allowed to move from one level to another. The school tries to encourage all students to aim for as high a level as is possible for themselves, which is an example of the mission statement in action in the school.
Millstreet Community School offers a rich and varied range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities to the students. There is an unselfish and unstinting commitment by teachers to the ongoing provision of these activities. The board and senior management were very much appreciative of teacher involvement in this area, and hoped that it could be maintained into the future. It was stated that it has a very positive impact on school life and there is a balance of activities available. Much of the very positive comment about the school from the perspective of the students interviewed during the WSE concerned the access to and enjoyment of these activities. Co-curricular activities undertaken in the school include visits, project work, tours (both foreign and local) and field trips. Sport, drama, a school concert, fashion show, charity work and involvement with local televsion are some of the wide range of extra-curricular activities currently occuring in the school. Links with the wider community are well established and used when and where appropriate. New opportunities to develop the range provided are constantly being examined with both a multicultural week and multifaith week planned.
The student body through the student council are also active in this area of school life. They have made submissions in relation to the provision of nets for the pitches and have organised soccer leagues for students. To further the development of this area in the school, this council could be used to explore further other areas of interest to the student body.
The school walls and corridors are filled with an array of photographs, certificates and artwork which further demonstrates the commitment to this area of school life. Promotion of these areas through regularly updated display is recommended as it will contine to develop and sustain this important part of school life.
Graduation nights for both TY and Leaving Certificate students are held in the school. These are worthwhile endevours. This could be expanded to include the whole school community. This award scheme should include both junior and senior classes and offer a wider range of awards to affirm and support positive student engagement, contribution to the school community and academic achievement. A holistic approach should be adopted which celebrates all that happens in the school. Promotion of all this work could be faciliated through an updated school website as well as the school and TY “SMART” newsletters.
The community have availed of the school facilities to hold an art exhibition in the last year. This was a very successful endeavour. In addition, some adult night courses have been held in the school. This opening of the school to the community is to be encouraged and should be explored for the future.
Planning for teaching and learning at both individual and collaborative levels is of a very high quality in the subjects evaluated during the WSE. Individual planning and preparation was in evidence in all lessons observed. The range of methodologies used also testified to the engagement of the teachers in both planning and preparation for individual lessons. In all mixed-ability settings there was evidence of a variety of planned teaching strategies to engage all the students. Where there was planned differentiation of both methodology and assessment, it was highly effective and commendable. Planning for differentiated methodologies should be considered at a whole-school level, in line with the school’s progress in school development planning. Inputs to this process from the expertise in the learning support and resource teaching areas would be effective in some subject areas.
Collaborative planning for teaching, learning and the development of resources is equally advanced and of a high quality. There is clear evidence of working and dynamic subject departments and documented subject planning is in place. All subject areas have embraced a culture of collaboration. Subject co-ordinators are in place and subject group meetings take place. Subject plans are emerging from this process. In Geography, an excellent departmental structure provides the focus for the development of common teaching plans and shared resources. In Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies a subject department preparing for the forthcoming challenge of syllabus change was in evidence. In Physical Education, a very high quality formal physical education plan is in place, as are documented practical and theoretical lessons for all year groups. In French, language policy documents have been developed, as have yearly plans and schemes of work. Teachers of Gaeilge have successfully advanced collaborative subject department planning including a focus on teaching, homework and assessment. In all cases these developments are to be commended. Suggested developments to build on this good work include a further focus on differentiated teaching in French, the drawing together of the various strands of Geography planning into a formal subject plan in the subject and planning for the advancement in the integration of ICT in light of forthcoming syllabus change in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies.
A very good quality of teaching and learning was observed in this school during the evaluation. The teaching methodologies adopted in the classes visited were appropriate to the needs of the students and, even though there was considerable variation in the methodologies used, there was an obvious familiarity with these methodologies on the part of students. The target language was appropriately used in language lessons and student learning was assisted by a very good quality of teacher demonstration and instruction in all lessons. Opportunities to expand the use of active learning methodologies in particular should be exploited in all subject areas. Where this was in evidence, it had a very positive impact on student learning and engagement. Opportunities for student-led practice and for reflective practice in line with assessment-for-learning methodologies could also be expanded to all subject areas as this can be highly motivational for students and can help to increase their sense of ownership of the learning process. All lessons benefited from the effective use of prepared class materials. The visually stimulating classroom environments, which contained many examples of materials created by both teachers and students, together with the challenging and interesting nature of many of the tasks set, also helped to maintain student interest levels throughout lessons.
Skilled questioning was common, both general and individually directed, and teachers employed a combination of higher and lower order questions with students of differing abilities where required. It was obvious that learning was viewed developmentally and that teachers were, at all times, mindful of the knowledge and experience of their students. This enabled each student to learn at his or her own pace and helped to minimise the risk of student frustration through failure to achieve set tasks. Student self esteem and confidence was supported in all classes by the praise and affirmation delivered whenever possible by their teachers and all lessons took place in a friendly atmosphere of mutual respect between teacher and student. The effect of this was that students came to lessons ready to co-operate and willing to learn. Student questioning was dealt with in a sensitive and appropriate manner and this had a positive effect on student confidence levels, with student questions often being used as a stimulus for further discussion and debate.
Continuity from lesson to lesson was excellent in many of the lessons observed. In these lessons, students benefited from the teacher sharing learning goals at the start of the lesson and recapping at the end of the lesson to reinforce learning. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons as it helps students to contextualise learning that has taken place in individual lessons.
There is a well-organised approach to assessment in this school. Formal assessments are held for all classes at mid-term in the first and second terms as well as at the end of the school year. Students preparing for the state examinations sit the pre-examinations early in the second term. Three reports are issued to parents during the year and parents may also receive feedback on students’ progress at parent-teacher meetings.
Student learning is assessed informally through classroom observation and questioning, mini-tests and the setting of group tasks as appropriate. The commendable use of common assessment is noted in Gaeilge. In MTW and Construction Studies, marks are assigned on completion of a project and the average mark received is aggregated with the students’ examination mark. This is commended as good practice and it is suggested that greater consistency in the procedures for continuous assessment would help to further increase student motivation.
Assessment is noted as being consistent with the objectives of the syllabus in several subjects, including MTW and French. The assessment of creative design work is praised while the inclusion of an assessment of aural skills and oral proficiency at all levels is commended in French. The assessment and celebration of spoken language is encouraged as an area for future development in Gaeilge.
The outcomes of all assessments both formal and informal are carefully and systematically recorded and are used to help track students’ progress. Geography teachers are encouraged to build on this good practice by looking at the Assessment for Learning (AfL) methodologies which may be accessed through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website. In the area of Physical Education, the inclusion in school reports of a comment on students’ achievement, effort and attitude is commended as a way of providing students with an opportunity to reflect on their learning.
Homework is regularly assigned and an examination of copybooks showed that exercises are corrected and marked by the teachers. A homework policy has been developed in French, which outlines the approach to be taken by the department, and makes provision for the setting of differentiated work. Preparation of a similar policy is also being undertaken at present by the Gaeilge department.
The school had an allocation of two learning support ex-quota posts and 1.7 whole-time teacher equivalent (WTE) for special needs. The school does not currently have an assigned NEPS psychologist and uses private psychologists when required. The school has also engaged the services of their assigned Special Education Needs Officer (SENO) on a number of occasions. The school should continue to liaise with outside agencies to get support and guidance in this area when required.
The school has a special educational needs policy document, which is to be commended. This document has four parts. Firstly it outlines the school’s responsibility to educate persons under the 2003 Disabilities Bill. Secondly it outlines the admission policy for this area. Thirdly it contains the screening and testing procedures undertaken. Finally it includes the area of record keeping. Further development of this policy should also include a description of the roles and responsibilities of teachers in the school with a clear statement about the interface between the learning support team and class teachers. Regular review of this policy is to be recommended into the future.
Currently there is a total of sixteen staff members working with twenty students and one part time special needs assistant (SNA) working with one student in English, Irish, Maths, Science, History and PE. One teacher has a qualification in learning support education and has acted as co-ordinator for this area. The learning support team can change yearly. All teachers demonstrated a strong commitment to and interest in their students, and their interest in implementing best practice in learning support provision is to be commended. Also acknowledged is the commitment of individual teachers involved in this area in trying to give students a positive experience. A specific learning-support room is available, with ICT and other resources present; however the majority of teachers conduct their learning support in their own base room. Not withstanding the schools culture of integration and acceptance of all students, it is recommended that training of personnel involved in this area needs to be a priority with the development of a smaller core team which will deal specifically with this area in the school.
All students are tested on entry to first year with additional testing if required on individual students. The learning-support co-ordinator administers relevant tests and applies for the relevant extra supports for the student. All students in receipt of learning support in the school are allocated such supports on the basis of psychological reports. Some students receive learning support upon entry to school while other students receive it when it becomes evident they require the intervention. The students in receipt of learning support are mainly from first, second and third year and are, in the main, withdrawn from French. There is parental involvement and discussion before extra supports are put in place by the school for each student. Tuition can be on an individual basis or could comprise of a group of up to a maximum of four students. At present, an individual student could have more than one teacher involved in the delivery of his or her support programme during the week. This could make continuity difficult unless very good communication is established.
Individual education plans (IEPs) were presented for twenty students. These are available for the teachers involved in this area to follow; however the very specific and specialised information may not be completely understood without specialised training. Resources in this area are made available by management but there is uncertainty, which training could solve, as to what is appropriate to purchase and use. In addition, all IEPs were given the same review date. This should be looked at and adjusted according to the progress of the individual students. The current team have no formal planning time in which to meet. However, they meet informally to discuss issues. The development of a smaller core teaching group would facilitate the holding of regular formal planning meetings. This would also help in the progress and review of the special needs policy. Discussion and review of student progress and their IEPs could also occur with guidance on specific teaching and learning approaches discussed and relevant resources provide.
Information has been provided to all staff on specific learning needs in the form of a “Special Education Resource Pack for Teachers”. This was compiled by the learning-support co-ordinator and is a very valuable resource for the teaching staff. It is recommended that staff be informed of the learning needs of students through updating the relevant resource pack and through oral delivery when required. In addition, an in-service day on inclusion was recently provided to the staff. To continue the promotion of the school’s inclusion model, the use of team teaching could be explored in some instances to aid students with special educational needs in a mixed-ability setting. This would maintain whole-staff involvement at the same time as the development of a core team in this area.
The school is currently allocated 0.36 WTE for students with English as an additional language. There are four such students currently in the school. The school is in close proximity to a centre for asylum seekers and has had students from eastern European countries, Africa and Iran in the past number of years. On arrival to the school, students are assigned to a tutor group with one student from that tutor group individually assigned to the student to help the new student integrate into the school. This pastoral element is working very successfully in the school and should be maintained. These new students are supported and encouraged to participate in the life of the school, which further illustrates the school ethos of inclusion and acceptance of all. All necessary additional resources are put in place by the school, which include the provision of English-language support or the involvement of social workers when required. The continuation of this practice is to be encouraged. Parental involvement is also encouraged. However, the lack of English as a first language by the parent has provided the school with difficulties. The school has mainly depended on the students to translate between the school and their parents.
The school needs to consider the possibility that the number of overseas students could increase and plan for how best to deal with the issues involved. This might involve some professional development in teaching and learning strategies, which would support the classroom learning of these students. In addition, it is important that the teaching staff are kept informed of any development with any of these students which could affect them in school.
Guidance has been in place in the school over a long period. The school is allocated an ex-quota guidance-counsellor post. A draft guidance plan has been developed by the guidance counsellor. This outlines the guidance programme for each year group throughout the school. It illustrates links for example with SPHE, the chaplain and religious education, the resources available (either personnel, material and facilities), links with outside agencies and organisations, areas for development and also states who has had input to date and those inputs that are pending. The completion of the consultation and subsequequent ratification of the completed policy by the board is recommended.
The guidance counsellor is allocated an office/resource room. During first year, individual guidance sessions are organised for each student. Students are encouraged to contact the guidance counsellor when required. There is currently no formal guidance time allocated to junior classes. The tutorial time is used on occasion. However, it is important that tutorial time is not eroded and to ensure that the pastoral role of the tutorial system is preserved. The SPHE programme, chaplain, religious education and tutor are all woven into the guidance and counselling plan for the students. This provides students with many avenues to source information within the school. In addition, all teachers and management feel they have a role in the guidance of the students in the school. There is more formal guidance in TY with classes timetabled, speakers, career exhibitions and work experience organised. Leaving Certificate students also benefit from timetabled classes in both year one and year two of Leaving Certificate. The ICT rooms are used on ocassion for guidance classes. However access to them is restricted at break times. Students are encouraged to use ICT to source information and if a number of computers could be set up in the library this would allow student access to specific sites of interest in relation to subject choice and careers.
The guidance counsellor’s invlovement with students begins at primary school. Summer camps have been organised for students from the local catchment area which gets them familiar with the school and facilities. In addition, the computer and science rooms have been offered to classes in the local primary schools. Student enrolment and learning support are also important areas in which the guidance counsellor has an important role in the school. TY students receive a lot of information in relation to subject choice for Leaving Certificate. Now that TY is optional, not all students will benefit from this programme. It will be important that third-year students and their parents receive information to allow them make informed decisions in relation to TY, Leaving Certificate and subject choices. The addition of some timetabled classes in third year is recommended. Similiarly, first-year students will also need some guidance on completion of the taster programme. Implications of subject choice need to be outlined to both the students and their parents. Some formal guidance in addition to the individual student sessions could be considered before subject choices are decided by the students.
The pastoral care system is very positive, with a sense of caring for the students across all levels in evidence within the school. The school’s concern with the student as a person and not just the curriculum is a reflection of the ethos and characteristic spirit of school. Past students are not forgotten, with Christmas cards sent to the previous Leaving Certificate class each year by the school, thus extending their pastoral care beyond the students’ time in school.
Every teacher in the school acts in a pastoral care capacity as well as in an academic one. Much of the work takes place informally and with the generous co-operation of all concerned. There are currently fourteen tutors in the school with the role of tutor rotated among most staff members. The role of a tutor is very important, as it is central to the pastoral care structure within the school. The members of a tutor group in the main retain the same tutor throughout their time in school. However, with TY now optional, students who do not do TY will be assigned a new tutor. This is the first year that this has occurred. The students’ council did not see this as a major problem and felt that they could go to their previous tutor if required. Students were very positive about the tutor system and felt that they could go to the tutor if they had a problem. The council were also viewed by management as an active voice for the students in the school. The parents’ council sees the tutor system as being a very supportive structure within the school and members felt that the tutor would be the first person they would contact in relation to any issue.
The school has also been assigned a lay chaplain. The role of the chaplain has been defined and the incumbent has been allocated an office/resource room. As stated, strong links between the guidance counsellor and the chaplain have been established. Peer mentoring of first-year students by fifth-year students has recently been established. The “Rainbow” programme is being developed in the school. There is also a very successful “Living Scenes” project in TY, which has created strong links between the school and the older members of the community. The chaplain is also available for meetings and discussions with the students and supports them on their journey through the school.
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is allocated one period a week at junior cycle. A teacher is involved in the delivery of this programme throughout the school and also acts as co-ordinator. This programme contributes to the overall pastoral care system in the school. An SPHE policy has been developed which concentrates mainly on the school philosophy definition and aims and objectives of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) module of this programme.
The school has been developing many policies for example critical illness, SPHE, guidance, chaplaincy and anti-bullying which all contribute to the overall pastoral care within the school. Some cross linkages have been created between the various policies. The establishment of a more formal care team within the school, which could draw the many stands of the pastoral care system together, should be considered. This work would be an invaluable resource to the school. It would help all new members of the school community to understand this very dynamic area and could also be disseminated through the use of the school web site. The inclusion of some students within the care team structure could also be considered especially when dealing with issues like bullying.
Child protection guidelines have been outlined to the staff with a designated liaison officer and deputy having been assigned. Teaching staff involved with various programmes have attended some in-service courses to support their work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Subject inspection reports on Material Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, French, Gaeilge, Physical Education and Geography are appended to this report.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board is pleased that the WSE Report confirms its view that the educational provision by the school is of the highest quality.
The Board wishes to thank and commend the Inspectorate for their courtesy, accuracy and professionalism.
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 in going forward, views the WSE Report, coupled with the school’s own self-
evaluation and taking cognisance of available DES resources, as forming essential parts of the
platform for the future development of the school.