An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Gorey Community School
Esmonde Street, Gorey, County Wexford
Roll number: 91492N
Date of inspection: 27 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Gorey 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 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.
Gorey Community School opened in 1993, as a result of the amalgamation of the three second-level schools in the town: Loreto Abbey; Christian Brothers School (CBS); and the Vocational College. From the outset, the school had a large number of students, starting in 1993 with 1297, and growing to a current total of 1537 students, comprising 728 boys and 809 girls. This figure includes 120 Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) students. The staff currently comprises: 119 teachers; 9 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs); one full-time chaplain; two full-time and five part-time administrative and secretarial staff; two full-time and one part-time caretaking and maintenance staff; and one supervisor and eleven part-time cleaning staff. The school has a principal and two deputy principals. The trustees comprise the Loreto Sisters, the Christian Brothers and the County Wexford Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The school also provides adult education four days a week (three evenings and Saturday morning), at present attended by over 1200 students.
The school is located on Esmonde Street in Gorey, on a twenty-two acre site comprising three large inter-connecting buildings, three grass sports pitches, a set of hard courts, an oratory and a suite of changing rooms. It also uses an art room in the old Loreto secondary school, beside the community school. To the front of the school the area adjoining the street is being altered to create pay-parking spaces and a set-down area for students.
The school’s catchment area, based on those of the schools which it replaced, is large and currently comprises sixteen primary feeder schools. There have been differences between the school’s board of management and the Department of Education and Science concerning the extent of the catchment area and the number of schools it comprises. The number of schools was reduced by the Department two years ago from twenty to fifteen (latterly sixteen with the addition of a new school in the town). The reason given was that the numbers in the school were too high partly because the school had been taking students from schools not strictly in its catchment area. The school disputes this. Subsequently, students whose parents wished them to attend Gorey Community School, and who were attending schools removed from the catchment area, appealed under Section 29 of the Education Act (1998) and the Department directed that those children be accepted, on the basis that that would not recur. The situation led to difficulties for the board and reportedly occupied a great deal of the board’s time: local feelings were said to run high at the time. The situation has been partially resolved: an imminent extension to the school and the announcement of an additional second level school to be built for the town of Gorey is expected by the Department to resolve the issue concerning high numbers in the school. The board is unconvinced that this will solve their problems in the intervening years. It is expected by management, which has completed an audit of numbers of students attending local primary feeder schools, that the numbers of incoming sixth-class students from those feeder primary schools in the years following 2007 will stretch the school’s facilities to a critical point, notwithstanding the classrooms being built over the next few months. The principal is continuing to maintain contact with the Planning and Building Section of the Department over the matter. On examining the figures, both from the school and from the planning and building section, it is clear that without the completion of the second second-level school in the town, Gorey Community School will face further overcrowding difficulties in the next couple of years. It is recommended that the board and the principal keep in close touch with the Department’s Planning and Building Section in the interim.
The school, as it is currently the only second-level school in the town of Gorey and its environs, represents a cross-section of the community it serves, both urban and rural. Its rapidly increasing numbers led to extensions to the school being constructed, and the imminent building of six new classrooms reflects the further increases in numbers over the past few years. A feature of the Gorey area has been the influx of people from the greater Dublin area and from abroad. This has lent a broader aspect to the school community, but has also led to students, already in their teens, seeking places in the school on the arrival of their families in the town. Gorey Community School has also set about making provision for students with special needs and has given much attention and support to students with special educational and other needs. Its enrolment policy and mission statement emphasise the philosophy of the school in welcoming all students in its area, whatever their needs, and providing them with appropriate education and support.
The fact that the school has close links to many community organisations and ventures, hosts the School Completion Programme (SCP) committee for the area, has assisted in developing the Gorey Art School, and has an extensive adult night class programme exemplify the role and work of the school in its local community. It effectively serves all sectors, all ages, and all available programmes in second level education in the town of Gorey and its surroundings. The school’s exchange programmes with four European countries, and its continuing voluntary educational programme with communities in the Gambia, epitomise its vision of a further and broader aspect to its educational commitment. As a community school, there is an inclusive approach to students from different faith groups, and this is apparent in the ecumenical nature of many religious events and ceremonies in the school. This is to be commended
The characteristic spirit of the school, as described in school documentation, is ‘one of openness and inclusiveness, where students are cherished equally, regardless of ability, gender, creed, class or ethnic background’. This was found to be the pervading ethos of the school, where all integrated in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect for one another. The mission statement of the school, written some years ago, and still adhered to as an accurate and challenging vision, takes the form of fifteen sentences each of which states the school’s mission on an aspect of school life and work. It was drawn up collaboratively as a project of school planning, and can be summarised as follows: the mission of the school is to provide a comprehensive programme of post-primary education to all the children of the Gorey area. Combining instruction in academic and practical subjects, the school aims to contribute to the academic, practical, spiritual, moral, physical, social and cultural development of the students. Offering a comprehensive programme of adult education, the school also aims to work in collaboration and cooperation with the local community. There is also a very strong pastoral ethos and a close collaborative relationship with the parents of the students.
There are an openness and an atmosphere of equality about the policies, planning and operation of the school. It is apparent that consultation applies to everything from the timetable and staff deployment to school rules and policies affecting students. Collaboration between management, in various forms, and the teaching staff, students and parents is a positive feature of the school. Policies seek to maximise educational benefits while promoting sound values and practices among the school community. There is a collaborative and courteous atmosphere within the school which manifests itself in the classroom, around the school building and grounds, in the staffroom and in all school activities observed during the course of the evaluation. This is to be commended, and reflects the cooperative attitude of the school community which makes the school work well, despite its large scale and constant activity.
The school mission statement can be observed in the curriculum, school planning, the many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, and the projects which bring students out into the wider community and welcome students from abroad into the school. A great deal of voluntary work by students and by teachers was in evidence, and this contributes strongly to many facets of the school’s vision.
There is a very strong pastoral ethic in the school which runs not only from teachers to students but between students, through mentoring and positive projects, for instance, the green school committee and its work. Students strive to do well at very many levels and are supported in their efforts by management, teachers and parents. This reinforces the school’s mission and builds community. There is an openness of communications which is a strong characteristic of the school, and this was experienced at many junctures during the evaluation. It is a strength of the school and is to be commended.
The board of management of Gorey Community School is comprised of six trustee representatives, two teacher representatives and two parent representatives, with the principal as secretary to the board, and the two deputies attending by invitation but without voting rights. A clerical officer acts as recording secretary. The board’s chairperson is elected on an annual basis with the post rotating between trustee, teacher and parent nominees. The current chairperson is a parent representative. The term of office of the board is three years, and the teacher and parent representatives are elected by their respective bodies at that time. There is continuity through trustee representatives and the board is currently just embarking on the first year of its three-year cycle. It meets monthly during the year with an exception in summer, so that its annual meetings number ten or eleven in the calendar year.
Minutes are recorded, circulated, discussed and agreed upon, with matters arising following in the agenda. While there is no formal principal’s report as such, there is a major contribution made to each board meeting by the principal at relevant points in the agenda. By this means, the principal is able to keep the board fully aware of relevant school matters.
The board is aware of its role, duties and statutory obligations, and board members are offered inservice training each year by the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS). Members are briefed by their nominating bodies, provided with further information by the board secretary, and are supplied with a copy of the ACCS document Tagairt, which is a handbook of management guidelines.
The board of management has a permanent finance sub-committee which reports to the board on a regular basis. The finances of such a large institution, managed and audited in different ways according to the various regulations and practices in force, represent a huge responsibility. It is the belief of the board that there is a serious need for an overall bursar for such schools. Other sub-committees tend to be ad hoc and are dissolved after their job is complete. The board spends much of its time on plans and policies, ongoing projects, applications for the use of premises by other organisations, support for teachers’ Continuous Professional Development (CPD) where it supports teachers’ attendance at courses and encourages their participation in official inservice sessions. The board supports financially teachers who wish to take approved courses, and encourages their membership of subject associations but cannot pay their annual subscriptions as the total would be very high.
There is good interaction between the members of the board, with each group of members contributing, and interacting with their nominee body. It is reported that there are very good communications with the parents’ association committee, which supports the school in many ways. Agreed reports of board meetings are made available to the staff and to the parents’ association committee, and board members often attend major school functions.
The board spends time in considering applications for teacher career breaks, job-sharing, release to work for the examinations commission (and consequent substitution which has been resolved at an agreed number), and in dealing with student issues. No lengthy suspensions occur without the board being informed. In the more serious instances, the student and parents will meet with the board regarding the situation.
There has been a series of new or amended policies brought before the board over the past few years. The board scrutinises these, and when satisfied that they comply with the required conditions and/or legislation, ratify the policies for implementation in the school. In the past year, for example, the board of management has ratified policies on: special educational needs; a pilot policy on substance use; bereavement policy; amended code of behaviour; anti-bullying policy; and the school’s enrolment policy. These policies are in line with such policies throughout the country, and are constantly amended and updated as circumstances dictate. They are generally well thought-out and constructed after consultation with relevant parties, and the overall staff.
In relation to school development planning, the board has been involved and supportive of the various projects undertaken by the school and has worked with the principal and the planning team in looking at new directions for the school. It is, for example, most supportive of the current phase of school planning which focuses for the most part on teaching and learning, and development of skills and expertise in this area.
While the board becomes involved in supporting planning for the future and in the initiating and ratification of school policies and codes, it finds itself at present, and for some years, much pre-occupied with issues concerning the size of the school, accommodation for the students, and the enrolment/admissions policy of the school. The board has been actively involved in planning and applying for increased space and facilities for the school, which always seems to be restricted in what it can do with the space and facilities currently available. While the board strongly supports the current plan to build six classrooms to augment the school’s teaching facilities, it is most concerned that the Department’s declared intention to build a new school in the town has been delayed to the extent that there will be a serious shortfall in facilities before the new school can be completed. There has been an ongoing difference between the board of management and the Department over the school’s admission policy, which the board feels strongly is connected with the whole question of the school’s catchment area, lack of sufficient facilities in the school for the numbers presenting to be enrolled, and the delay in constructing the new school to alleviate the pressure on Gorey Community School. The amount of time, over a number of years, taken up with these areas, is reported to have impacted seriously on board time for other matters, and the board of management has declared the hope that this situation will shortly be resolved and give the board more time to consider other core areas of school management and development.
Aside from this, the board has been supportive in several projects which have brought to fruition, for example, the freestanding oratory building and the suite of changing rooms, both completed in recent years. The board, with the support of the trustees who are providing the finance by agreement with the Department, is proceeding to build a Special Educational Needs (SEN) facility for the school, at the same time as the six new classrooms are being constructed. This is a positive project which is to be commended.
It is clear that the board has every confidence in its senior management team of principal and deputy principals, with whom it has open and beneficial communication. There is also great support from the board for the in-school management team and the classroom teachers, as well as the extensive programme of extra-curricular activities carried on in the school. Interaction with parents is strong, and the support shown by the parents for the school, in ideas and debate as much as running events or fund-raising, has much to do with the support of the board for the parents’ association. A strong sense of community was thus in evidence in the school, both in its operation and its activities.
The senior management team in the school comprises the principal and the two deputy principals, who divide the major elements of management between them while each retains general management and personnel duties in the school. The division of the tasks is done so that each has a distinct responsibility area while needing to keep in contact with the others to ensure a consistency of approach to management and policy. This, for instance, means that, while the principal undertakes the main timetabling role, the deputies deal respectively with subject choice and liaison with students, and with the logistics of room allocation and maintenance of the fabric of the school. It is also a positive practice that, each year, teachers are asked to return their ‘deployment’ forms, listing their qualifications, current commitments, preferences, and new ideas for the coming year concerning their subject areas. This both informs the management team of the needs for the coming year and assists in liaising with each teacher on the staff. This positive policy and practice is to be commended.
There is an example from the top in the school whereby senior management team members maintain a high visibility around the premises, deal with the day’s concerns as they meet them, liaise with teachers and students, and keep up to date with events and needs in the school. Their expertise in dealing with people was apparent during the evaluation, and they are all approachable to other members of staff. Major tasks during the day include supervision and substitution, making areas available for special events or activities, ensuring all classrooms are operating as they should, and dealing with problems, both physical and personal, as they arise. These areas are covered by the principal and the deputies, often with assistance from the administration staff, year heads, class teachers, and maintenance staff. The logistics of ensuring that the timetable, and the many events occurring in a school day, take place as planned, are complicated by the size and scale of the school, yet the management and organisation of the whole operation are smooth, effective, and achieved in a pleasant manner. This is very good practice and is to be commended.
The staff is most cooperative and undertakes many tasks to ensure that the school day runs well, quite apart from their own classroom and subject responsibilities. There is a collegiality about the running of the school and the principal and deputies, in circulating through the day, assist in this process.
The senior management team meets frequently, either informally or formally, throughout the school day and week, keeping each other abreast of the day’s plans and progress. The delegation of duties concerning students to the year heads, assistant year heads and class tutors means that specific student issues do not generally come before the senior management team. At the same time, the management style in the school is not hierarchical, but rather consultative and collaborative, with each person knowing their role and their part in teams. From observation of the school in operation during the period of the evaluation, and from discussions with teachers’ and students’ groups during the week, delegation of duties and management in general clearly work effectively and well.
While instructional leadership as a concept was regarded by the senior management team as rather formal, it was clear that a great deal of leadership in this regard was given by those leading the school, whether in planning for the future, discussing current projects, or meeting with various groups in the school. The leadership of the management team also has an informality to it, when appropriate, so that many roles can be delegated successfully, for example, the chairmanship of the staff meetings. In a school with over 1500 students operating in seven different curricular programmes, it is essential to delegate judiciously and confidently, and this has been the case in Gorey Community School. The teachers in charge of the various areas, the programme coordinators, the year heads, the convenors and subject coordinators, all play a vital role in maintaining a successful and effective management system in the school, and they are to be applauded for the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities. The breadth of consultation is a feature of the running of the school and is undoubtedly one of its strengths.
Given that the senior management team also have to manage dealings with the Department, educational and outside agencies, parents and the myriad public contacts that characterise a school day, theirs is a heavy load, but one which they undertake with success and good humour. Central to that achievement is the contribution of the in-school management team.
The school has, at present, fourteen assistant principals and twenty-seven special duties teachers, six year heads, twelve assistant year heads, and sixty-seven class tutors. With such numbers, meetings and liaison have to be undertaken with great care and efficiency to avoid overlap and yet to utilise the talents of each teacher to the full in the running of the school.
Year heads, some of whom are assistant principals and some of whom are special duties teachers, undertake their duties for a particular year group, therefore the duration of the post lasts for six years, in most cases. After this cycle, there is a gap of one year during which the teacher undertakes other duties before starting another six-year cycle as year head. Given the importance of the role of year head, where there are well over 200 students in most year groups, the circulation policy is a good one, and is appreciated by the teachers, who may take on another area of responsibility after the six years. The year heads meet as a group, with the principal, once a month at least, to discuss major issues with their years and their students. With the scale of the year head’s job, it is essential that these meetings cover pastoral, academic, administrative, disciplinary, planning and future needs of students. The feed-back to the senior management team is vital, so that the running of all years can be collated and considered regularly.
Year heads, supported by their assistant year heads, are responsible for the discipline of their students, liaison with parents and pastoral care of their students. In this, they are assisted by class tutors, guidance counsellors, chaplain, SEN team, School Completion Programme (SCP) coordinator, and Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) teacher. Year heads have small offices where they can keep records and meet students and parents. They are particularly busy at break and lunch times and find that the work required to meet the needs of an entire year group is considerable. Nevertheless, year heads have expressed an interest in this area of responsibility from the outset and express themselves positively about their job and their role in the successful running of the school. It is clear that the functioning of the school depends greatly on the success of this system. Assistant year heads as the title suggests, help year heads in the areas outlined, and also act as liaison between class tutors and year heads.
The class tutors, who do the work voluntarily, are responsible for the daily class register and the attendance and punctuality of their students. They also have an important pastoral role, liaising with parents and year heads. On Friday mornings, there is a tutorial class during which all students have their student journals checked, and all attendance records, absence excuses, and any other outstanding matters are dealt with by the tutor. This is good practice which establishes a regular weekly check for each student and a class audit for the tutor and year head. Assemblies are held, by year group, from time to time for announcements, important year business, forthcoming events and organisation of the year group.
The discipline referral system starts with the class teacher, and proceeds via the tutor, the assistant year head and year head, to the deputy principal or principal as the seriousness of the behaviour or breach of rules indicates. Detentions, during the day at lunch and break times, internal suspension and external suspension are among the sanctions which are used when required. Any suspension lasting more than one day must be brought to the attention of the principal who must in any case sign all external suspension letters to parents. Positive aspects of student behaviour are stressed in the code which brings a balance to the system. Such positive student behaviour is affirmed by teachers, tutors and year heads. The school’s policy of inclusion also applies to retention of students. There is a small number of students who leave the school before completing their courses, but the majority of those are reported to be moving to apprenticeships or to the workplace. The school has a policy of avoiding expulsion of students, and in such an instance the board becomes involved in the final decision. The School Completion Programme (SCP) and the HSCL teacher, working in collaboration with the year heads and the senior management team, assist in minimising early leaving of school. This is to be commended.
Students are well managed in the school in several ways. The re-mapping and re-numbering of blocks, corridors and rooms in recent times has assisted the location and arrival at appropriate points for classes and activities. There is a one-way system in operation which helps the large numbers of students and teachers to keep moving reasonably efficiently between classes. Students are encouraged to move efficiently from place to place during the day, ensuring the timetable operates well. The fact that less time than might have been anticipated is spent moving between classes is a tribute to the organisation and cooperation that takes place in managing large numbers of people within the building.
Other areas of in-school management vary widely from coordination jobs to management of examinations both internal and external, school planning, extra-curricular activity organisation, Public Relations Officer (PRO) including school newsletter, running the book grants scheme, coordinating visual arts, SEN organisation, awards ceremonies, and the running of adult education night classes which, while separate from the day school, carries posts of responsibility to which teachers in the day school are appointed. ICT and Health and Safety (H & S) are examples of other important areas where much time and expertise are required and delivered. This list is not exhaustive and could not be with the number of responsibilities which must be undertaken in a school of this size. There is some overlap of roles and responsibilities in the school, but these are inevitable in the scale of the operation. The very high level of volunteerism adds substantially and valuably to the quality of the education received by the students and the sense of collegiality which exists in the school community. The school, and its management, are to be greatly commended for the commitment of teachers both inside and outside the classroom and within and outside their official responsibilities.
There is a high level of communication between the school and the parents of its students. The Parents’ Association meets regularly, elects a committee at an annual general meeting, and appoints officers to run the organisation. It is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. The committee meets monthly and is always attended, where possible, by the principal. There is good communication between the parents and the board through their representatives and the reports received. The students’ council has also sent representatives to meet with the parents’ committee and this communication and discussion of ideas is also to be commended. The parents’ association discusses matters of importance to the school from a parental viewpoint, and assists with many school functions. It also has a fund-raising element but it regards its support and discussion of ideas as being its principal role.
The parents’ association has sub-committees to deal with issues or events as they occur, and also assists in end-of-year school functions. The parents report that they are very pleased with the range and variety of subjects and activities available in the school, and where they may have concerns they raise these with the principal. While they appreciate, for example, the inservice training of teachers and their participation in Department courses and the state examinations system, there is concern over the number of teachers who may be away from the school attending to these commitments. The board has a policy of limiting numbers in these areas, of which the parents are aware, but they still regard this as an issue, and raise it with the principal. The fact that they have the channels of communication to voice their opinions is in itself a credit to the school and its communication system.
The parents’ association is also very concerned about the numbers in the school, the need for increased accommodation and greater facilities, the delays in the construction of the planned new school in the town, and the changes and controversy over the school’s catchment area and enrolment/admissions policy. This has occupied much of their time and discussion in recent years, and they eagerly await resolution of these issues. Their support for, and communication with, the school over this time has been much appreciated, and there is a good rapport between the parents and the school.
While there is no school prospectus as such, and the website is in the process of being updated, there is a constant flow of information to parents from the school concerning subject choice, programmes, events, parent-teacher meetings and student exchanges and visits. There is also the school newsletter which issues about three times a year, and which updates parents and the community on school news and events. It would greatly enhance this established channel of communication if the newsletter could be upgraded by the use of ICT, particularly by digital photography, and could be available on the school website as well as in hard copy format.
The parents’ association advertises its events in the local press and around the town, and there is good collaboration between local media and the school. Events are often covered by local journalists and appear in the local newspapers. This adds to the community interaction which the school regards as essential to its mission, and is to be applauded. The principal, teachers, and the school as a whole, keep in close contact with the Gorey community, through local schools, other educational organisations, churches, businesses and social support organisations. This facilitates programmes such as Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), in many ways, and particularly with regard to work experience and entrepreneurial activities and competitions. There is a great cultural connection between the school, its students and teachers, and various organisations in the area, and this is to be greatly encouraged and commended. All of these activities and contacts greatly strengthen the school as a major element in the community of Gorey and its environs. The work done throughout the year by HSCL also forges strong links in the community and is to be commended.
The school has, from the outset, planned carefully for the future and has reviewed its progress in this area. Staff meetings, committees, planning meetings and staff days have strengthened this aspect of school life. Recently the school has altered its overall planning direction to concentrate on subject departments, plans, teaching and learning: this is an example of best practice and is commended. There is an atmosphere of renewal and of constantly seeking initiatives to improve and broaden the educational experience provided by the school. Proposals to improve facilities, courses, equipment and methodology are in evidence in the school. The senior management team encourages renewal, review and self-evaluation, and the staff is encouraged to become involved in all such processes. This is to be commended as a positive way forward for the school.
There is a large teaching staff in Gorey Community School. The wide curriculum and many options available to students mean that the teachers have to be deployed with care and with a constant concern for the working of the timetable. This balance has been achieved in the school by various means.
Firstly, student choice is carefully organised and much support is offered by guidance, HSCL, class teachers, tutors and year heads, to enable a workable individual curriculum to be achieved.
Secondly, all teachers are asked, each year, to fill in a preference and information form for the forthcoming school year. This enables the timetabler to deploy the staff efficiently, in line with their qualifications, skills, the needs of the school and their own wishes. It also facilitates the creation of teams of teachers for each subject. Some obviously create themselves because of specialisms and qualifications, others, as in the core subjects, are much wider and diverse. The outcome is very large teams of teachers for the commonly-taken subjects, and within that team a number of teachers who will teach more than one subject. While the breadth of experience in teams is good, and the numbers involved allow for efficient banding and setting of subjects where this is required, the disadvantage is that in some instances, teachers teach only one class group in a subject. This can lead to difficulties in managing and planning for a subject across the school, and also to a diversity of qualifications, or lack of same in a few instances. A workable medium has to be found, but the conclusions of some of the subject inspectors would point to a need for review in this area in some cases.
Thirdly, the variety of programmes on offer in the school means that students can opt for different directions, and teachers are allocated to these areas depending on experience, interest, and particular areas of expertise. Coordinators manage these programmes from within and keep in touch with the senior management team regarding upcoming requirements and changes.
Fourthly, the general mixed-ability policy across most subjects makes timetabling in these areas more flexible and enables students to move between ‘sets’ as their progress and abilities indicate. This also is a cause of the larger teams referred to above, but the system works well in the school. Most teachers are content with the deployment, while others would like to be timetabled to enable them to utilise their subject specialisms more fully. It is also important that all students, throughout this system, continue to be encouraged to take their subjects at the highest level appropriate to their abilities, thus maintaining and increasing levels of academic excellence and achievement.
Teachers are encouraged to engage in Continuous Professional Development (CPD) at all stages of their careers. This is important both on a personal achievement and fulfilment level, as well as increasing the abilities, skills and experience of the staff across all subjects and methodologies. The board supports teachers in their CPD, and funds are made available where possible for such courses. While teachers are encouraged to join and participate in the activities of their subject associations, and many do, it is not financially possible to pay the annual subscriptions of teachers to these organisations: the board explained that the scale of such payments, given the number on the teaching staff, would not be financially possible within their budget. Staff do involve themselves in Department-run courses, especially for new syllabuses in their subjects, and the school tries to keep a balance between attendance at such inservice sessions and the teaching requirements of the school on any one given day. Teachers have also taken courses provided in the Wexford Education Centre, especially in the area of ICT. The attitude of the staff and the policy of the school towards CPD are healthy and successful. A constant review is necessary to maintain the correct balance, but the board, the senior management team and the staff appear to be satisfied with the current situation.
New teachers to the school, whose numbers can vary during a school year because of the need to effect necessary substitutions as they arise, are assisted and supported in several ways on their arrival in the school. There is a meeting with the principal, introduction to the subject team or teams, a helpful and informative handbook on the school and how it works, and a general mentoring of new teachers by a teacher in their subject area. At the start of the year, during the Staff Day, newly-arrived teachers are introduced to their relevant subject team, the year heads, guidance counsellors, and other teachers involved in pastoral work with students. They are taken on a tour of the school. They report that they are very happy with their induction to the school, regard it as very necessary because of the size of the school, and state that they are impressed by the child-centred approach of the school. After two weeks there is a second meeting to review progress and to discuss any issues which may have arisen. Their verdict on the induction process is that real areas of solid advice and assistance in settling in the school are provided, and that they find the teachers very helpful. Their initial view is that the school’s structure appears hierarchical, but that they grow familiar with the scale of the school and its systems very quickly. The school is to be commended on the manner in which it introduces and supports new teachers to the staff.
The administrative staff, both full-and part-time have specific duties and are on the premises from an early hour in some instances. The reception area is busy all day long and provides a pleasant, efficient and friendly service for teachers, students, parents and various visitors to the school. The staff in the administration office deals with finance and accounts, student records, attendance, SCP, the Department of Education and Science, and other educational bodies and agencies. The administrative staff is dedicated, supports the school in many vital ways, and works the year around, arranging rotas for holidays. Their relationship with the management team, the teaching staff, parents and students is reported to be excellent, and the work they do for the school is greatly appreciated.
The caretaking and maintenance staff, which consists of two full-time and one part-time employees, are on the premises, in an organised roster, from very early until the last activity finishes on the premises. Their duties, apart from opening, locking up and securing the alarm system, include routine maintenance, the keeping of the sports grounds and the site in general, calling in experts for specific repairs and problems and ensuring coverage of the campus at all times that it is open. They communicate regularly with the senior management team, maintain the plant in an efficient manner and are committed to their job. They report that they like their work and also enjoy working in a people-centred environment.
The cleaning staff work in rotas so that the school is kept clean from the morning until the school closes. This includes having responsibility for the night school areas. Major areas that require attention include litter, graffiti, chewing gum, smoking and its consequences, and the effect on the school of wet weather. Their work is evident in the sense that few of the foregoing list were in evidence during the day, and there is constant attention to detail in their work. The persistence of smoking in toilet areas, now also illegal, is a concern to the cleaning staff, and remedies are being discussed with management. This is essential, and is an area for the school to resolve as a priority. All inspectors remarked on the cleanliness of the building and the diligence with which the cleaning staff carry out their duties. Their relationship with teaching staff, students and management is good, and they deserve commendation for their success in keeping a large and complex plant clean, making it a pleasant working environment.
The school complex has to house and facilitate a total of nearly three thousand people during the course of a school week, including second-level students, teachers and other staff, adult night school students and their teachers. While it is generally adequate for its task, the premises has clearly had to be expanded and adapted over the years to incorporate greater numbers, new courses and ever-increasing need for office space and meeting rooms. The general classrooms are adequate for their task, but a large number of thirty-student classes puts pressure on space in some instances. The specialist areas are generally good, well-equipped and well maintained, with attention being paid to health and safety matters. The question of the number of science laboratories for the current student enrolment is an area which requires urgent attention in order to facilitate science students’ required time in laboratories for practical work, to provide laboratory time for all science teachers, and to give a reasonable spread of laboratory availability across all years in the school.
The practice of having to timetable other subjects for classes in specialist areas has been noted: it is not desirable and in some instances begs health and safety questions. It was pointed out to the inspectors that this practice had been forced upon the school due to lack of general room space, and pressure of numbers, and was not regarded as satisfactory within the school. The school library had to be used for subject lessons and only in recent times, as the result of a recommendation in an earlier subject inspection report, has there been an attempt to restore the library. However, that area is still unsatisfactory in that it serves multiple functions, and is a facility which the school needs to treat as a priority for students’ study and research and for teacher preparation. Increasing numbers of syllabi now require work of a research nature in their courses and this matter needs resolution. Other specialist areas are very good and have been well developed. Again, pressure of space is an issue in some areas, as is the general use of the rooms at non-specialist teaching times.
It is noted that the success within the school community in building an oratory, a changing-room block for sports, and the collaboration with the Gorey Art School, makes these facilities available for students and is to be applauded for its local support and vision.
The administration and maintenance facilities are good and well maintained, though still with inadequate space in some instances. Office space has been a recurrent problem for the school management, which has created space in stair-wells, on corridors, in the backs of classrooms and in other small spaces, to facilitate and accommodate year heads, SCP, and some programme coordinators. It is very difficult for teachers with considerable responsibilities in the areas of administration and management to carry out their functions without access to appropriate facilities, and it is recommended that further space be sought to provide these necessary facilities, including, where necessary, phones and computers.
ICT is a major area in the school: while there are five computer rooms in the school, it is the policy to spread the 320 computers in the school to areas where they are most effective for teaching and learning. This has been done in some instances. The school has, for the last six years, employed ICT administration personnel. This provides assistance with work on systems, maintenance, repairs and development of ICT in the school. There is as yet a limited supply of data projectors, some of which are now fixed to the ceilings of specialist rooms. Others are available in the staff resource room. Teachers have been assisted in purchasing laptop computers in the last few years and approximately seventy laptops are now in operation. The spread of the use of ICT in teaching and learning is a declared objective of the school and is in evidence in some subject areas. However, the difficulty in accessing, setting up and using data projectors in classrooms is an inhibiting factor, according to teachers, in their use of the facilities. There are the additional demands of the provision and organisation of European Computer Driving License (ECDL) courses in TY and computer work with the PLC courses in ICT. Rooms have internet broadband connection and two rooms now have inter-active whiteboards in place and in use. ICT is described as being in a ‘transitional phase’ in the school at present, and the school’s ambition is to move it forward. The ICT budget allows a certain amount of progress, but small budgets for subjects somewhat impact on this progress. It is clear that much work has been done in supplying and maintaining ICT in the school, and that many teachers use the ICT rooms, when available, for their classes.
It is now time for all subjects to move forward in the development and use of their methodologies including the various uses and applications of ICT, for the improvement and expansion of learning experiences for students. The school is to be applauded for the work done so far, and the progress made by the staff involved, and it is recommended that the policy to spread and use ICT to a greater extent throughout the school be pursued as a matter of priority.
Health and safety are rightly given prominence in a campus of this size with so many people on site. Those in charge of health and safety have produced a comprehensive book laying out the policy and its required actions throughout the school. There is frequent maintenance of the safety equipment and consultation with the fire authorities in the town. There has been a complete renumbering of all rooms and corridors in the premises to make access and movement clearer, and assembly stations have been established a safe distance from the school buildings, in the case of fire or other emergency. While the preferred location of one assembly station by the authorities has been noted, it is argued by the school that several assembly points in a school this size are essential to ensure speed and safety of evacuation and checking. The school is to be commended for its attention to such detail and for the seriousness and commitment given to the whole area of health and safety. The safety statement book is updated frequently, the current edition is dated 2007, and correctly identifies the person in charge of each area in the school for health and safety responsibilities. Outside expertise has been brought to bear in this area and the school is to be commended for its approach and good practice in regard to health and safety. In some instances, prominence and accuracy of safety notices within the school could be attended to, to make safety procedures immediately clear to all teachers and students in every area of the school.
While the principal and the deputy principals take overall responsibility for planning in the school, there is a coordinator for school development planning, and, in the current phase, the assistant principals have taken on joint leadership of planning.
The school, created from amalgamation of three schools in 1993, inevitably had a major initial planning job. This phase, referred to within the school as the dynamic phase, saw the school come into existence and plan for a single school from the three traditions in the amalgamation. From the outset, planning involved trying to maximise existing space and acquiring further facilities to house and educate the increasing numbers of students attending the school. From 1997, the school was involved in school development planning with the support of the board of management. In this period, prior to the enactment of the education act 1998, the school undertook a review of planning literature, sought the support of a facilitator, and carried out audits of staff, students and parents.
This led to four action group teams being established, concentrating respectively on: performance; staff morale; pride and responsibility; and size and population. By 1999, the planning teams had produced a school planning statement, including aims for the school. This developed into a full mission statement which was refined and implemented as a result. Parents were involved in the initial planning stages, although this was to change later. A steering group was set up which worked further on identified planning objectives and which reported, fully and in writing, in 2002. During this time, three members of staff took diplomas in school development planning, which clearly assisted the process and strengthened its status in the school.
Eight priority areas were identified for the next phase of school planning: discipline; the parental role; pastoral care; curriculum development; student development; co-curricular activities; community involvement; and staff development. Sub-committees were set up to work on these areas. Many meetings, consultations and a great deal of work brought together statements and plans in these eight areas, summarised in the next planning report, presented in 2006.
During this period, work had also taken place on school policies, all brought before the board of management, as detailed above, for ratification and, when ready, for implementation in the school. Throughout the process, the school had support and facilitation from School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). It is clear that, while much debate and discussion marked this phase of planning, it did involve the main stakeholders and produced many viable ways forward for the school. It was also apparent by this time that planning was concentrating more and more on accommodation, space, facilities, and the immediate problems arising in the school from pressure of numbers. While revision of some policies and creation of new ones, where required, took place and occupied the attention of planning committee, senior management, and board of management, it was clear that a new direction was needed for phase three of planning in the school. This was agreed upon as subject planning and the whole area of teaching and learning.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management 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, 1999, updated issue May 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 of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. The adoption of the guidelines by the board of management took place in October 2005, followed in November of that year by inservice training for staff on the guidelines. The principal was appointed as the designated liaison person at the time of the adoption of the Child Protection Guidelines.
The third, and current, phase of school planning has changed the major focus of planning to the core business of the school, which is teaching and learning of all the curricular areas. This has led to the strengthening of, or establishment of, subject teams and departments, all working on agreed lines to create plans and methodologies, and ways forward for their subjects in the school. Two afternoon meetings per term are being provided for this process, which is being led by the assistant principals. There has been some difficulty in accommodating teachers whose subjects overlap, but second meetings, and, in some instances, separate meetings, are being organised to overcome such difficulties, and this is to be commended. One such area is Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), where a solution is currently being worked out to accommodate all of its teachers.
This process, which started in 2006, is growing and producing some early results. Subjects previously had subject committees for some years, but these have been developed into planning vehicles in the past year or so. Each subject area keeps a separate subject planning folder detailing progress and records of meetings and ideas. These folders are held by the principal, and used at, and between, meetings, to move this work forward while keeping a record of subject planning on a broad front. Clearly some subjects have moved further than others, but this is a long process, and the work being done should have a permanent effect on planning and work in the school. These meetings, led by subject coordinators, also provide not only an audit of what subject areas have, in terms of resources, ideas and syllabus progress and development, but also what is needed for the future. Staff meetings deal with items which arise from subject planning meetings.
Teachers are reported to feel empowered by this process, which enables them to compare problems and ideas, and to approach management about areas which they believe will advantage their students. One major advantage of this phase of school planning is that whereas maybe one-third of staff had been involved in the process heretofore, all teachers have become involved because all subjects are covered in the current system. Reviews are due to take place in 2007, and this is to be commended as good practice.
In the recent phase of planning, committees have reported on timetabling, curriculum, destination tracking of students who have left the school, conducted largely by guidance counsellors, policies, for example, the ‘respect’ programme, student discipline and the re-numbering and identifying of all the different areas in the school. The various activities which have been, and are continuing to, contribute to planning, have been based on priorities, as has school planning since the inception of the school. The school and its management are to be applauded for the active and systematic way in which they have approached school planning, and it is recommended that this phase develop to produce clear plans and methodologies for teaching and learning in all subject areas.
While it is apparent that, from the outset, the community school struggled with numbers, facilities, logistics and associated problems, there has been in the last two years a determined effort to move planning away from a focus on these problems. While the board and the management teams are constantly concerned about numbers, facilities, catchment area and enrolment policy, the construction of the promised new school, and the future directions and facilities for Gorey Community School, the planning departure of 2006 has been a welcome and sensible focus on the core business of the school, whatever the physical and demographic exigencies. The initial work on this new direction has been successful, and should be persisted with whatever the other outcomes concerning second-level schooling in Gorey.
Given the size of Gorey Community School, it has the opportunity to offer the maximum range of subjects, programmes and courses in second-level education. From the outset the school has offered a wide variety of curricular options, and as it has progressed, the whole range of curricular programmes and a very wide selection of subjects has developed, with guidance from management, guidance counsellors, year heads and coordinators. The second aspect of the school’s curriculum provision concerns the courses, syllabus and support provided for students with Special Educational Needs (SEN), newcomer students with specific linguistic support requirements, students from ethnic minorities, and traveller children. Particular attention has been paid to all students’ needs, and staff with specific qualifications and skills have been engaged for this purpose.
All second-level programmes are provided in the school; Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) which started in the school in 2005 and has been developing since then; Junior Certificate, which is catered for in mixed-ability class groups with two, smaller, class groups created in each year for students with various educational needs; Transition Year (TY), which is optional and is taken by approximately half the student cohort of fourth year with interviews conducted where necessary if numbers require it. After TY, there are three options for the Leaving Certificate: Leaving Certificate Established, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The majority of students take Leaving Certificate Established or LCVP, with a smaller cohort opting for LCA. Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses are provided in a selection of areas and currently consist of 120 students attend four separate PLC courses. All programmes are adequately staffed and well coordinated. A coordinator of programmes oversees the range of programmes offered by the school.
Students’ needs are addressed carefully and conscientiously in the school, both in terms of curricular, extra-curricular and pastoral needs. Many members of staff attend inservice courses to prepare them for their work in programme, subject and other curricular needs and skills: a total of fourteen teachers attended such courses in the first term of this academic year, which is to be applauded. The school supports attendance at such courses, debating beforehand how many teachers can be released at any one time in order to balance everyday needs of the school and the CPD needs of teachers. This is commended as a realistic and open policy of the school, which benefits as many subject and curricular areas as possible at any one time.
The requirements of the Department of Education and Science regarding time in school, instruction time for students, breadth and balance of subjects, and regulations for programmes are adhered to in the school. The complex school timetable is well constructed and balanced, with teachers having the requisite number of teaching hours, and students receiving the required number of class periods in subjects, with a balance for the various core subjects. Decisions have obviously been made where the optimum solution was not always available, but most subjects, with one or two exceptions, are satisfied with their allocation. The overall mixed-ability philosophy works well, and there are one or two examples where mixed-ability teaching might successfully be employed right across subjects. The smaller classes in junior cycle are a good idea and serve their purpose well, although the allocation of JCSP students to such classes should be reviewed, as such placements are not always entirely appropriate to the needs of individual students.
The deployment of staff is undertaken in a scientific and yet human way across a teaching force of more than one hundred. All teachers are asked to fill in a form concerning their deployment for the upcoming year, entering such data as qualifications, experience, subject abilities and preferences. The senior management team endeavours to address the requirements of teachers while at the same time providing a good, balanced teaching team for each subject and each programme on the curriculum. Discussions take place where there are particular requirements or difficulties in deploying staff, and it is the aim of the management to achieve a workable balance each year. This is good practice and is to be commended. One or two issues arise in this area, however, which need to be reviewed. Very large teams of teachers, while needed especially for the major or core subjects, sometimes include teachers whose qualifications are not entirely appropriate to the subject and level being taught, and in other cases, teachers might only have one class group in a subject. While the latter need not impact on teaching and learning, it does create very large teams, spread over several subjects, and whose planning across several subject are made all the more difficult for this diversity. An attempt to create and work with tighter smaller teams would be preferable, although it is recognised that the number of parallel classes in some subjects makes this difficult. The allocation of teachers to the school is well deployed, although the diversity of subjects offered, and the number of parallel classes created often puts pressures on numbers both of teachers and students. The use of small class groups, while laudable, logically results in some very large classes, which is not optimal, but reflects the spread of subjects, levels and numbers of teachers available. This area should be kept under review.
There is constant review of subjects available in the curriculum, and the addition of specific subjects in the last year is to be applauded as a means to providing for the curricular needs of all students. The recent additions of Technology, Design and Communication Graphics and Japanese at Leaving Certificate level are examples of this. At present there is a total of over thirty subjects available at senior cycle including examination and non-examination subjects. The total provided in junior cycle is twenty-six, of which twenty are examination subjects. This represents a broad and varied curriculum across the school, and the constant review of this area is to be commended.
Across the curriculum, and in all ‘choice years’, the school pays close attention and provides good support to students and their families in approaching the selection of subjects for the various programmes available. Initially, all students coming to the school are met by the team involved in Home School Community Liaison, and all students attend basic diagnostic tests before entering the school, to identify needs and supports for each individual as they enter the school. Parents are kept informed at all stages of the students’ careers, through letters, booklets, newsletters and meetings in the school to inform everyone of the options and requirements of each programme.
Before entering the school, an open day is held for upcoming first years, during which there is information, orientation and introduction to the school. A handbook is issued to all students before entering first year, which explains all subjects available in the year, and certain aspects of the school and its projects. This is to be commended as good practice, which should be continued. All students in junior cycle take SPHE, which includes Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and currently includes the introduction of the ‘Respect’ programme, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive (HSE). A great deal of planning, training and coordination is devoted to the SPHE programme and this is to be commended. Again Home School Community Liaison plays a large part in the process of induction and settling students into the school.
At the end of first year, students have to select subjects, and are assisted in this process by the principal, guidance counsellors, year head and tutors. While not all subjects are therefore carried forward to Junior Certificate, it is understood that the number of students and options available makes this virtually inevitable. It is an area, however, that needs to kept under review, as to what subjects should be retained as core and which as optional.
In third year, and again in fourth year for those taking TY, great attention is paid to choices for the senior cycle. Firstly, the choice as to whether to opt for TY or to move on to fifth year has to be considered. At present, about half the students move on to fifth year and the various Leaving Certificate programmes, while the other half chooses TY. In most instances, students are accepted into TY if they select it, though there are interviews for students who are not certain, or whose suitability or attendance, for example, might need consideration. The interviews are carried out by the TY team. There are no academic or economic restrictions put on entry to TY, and funds can be provided for students whose circumstances might make participation difficult. This is to be commended.
The TY programme has been developing over several years, and the current year, 2006-2007, is fully explained in a comprehensive book of over seventy pages. The core team explains the TY programme and outlines all the various elements of the year in the book. There are six compulsory and seventeen optional subjects, while there are five compulsory and seventeen optional modules. While these span the whole curriculum and encourage many extra-curricular activities also, there is a rather narrow compulsory core to the programme, for example there is no continental European language or scientific discipline in the core of the year, despite the programme’s involvement with European exchanges, Young Scientist competition, etc. This area is worthy of review.
There are very good organisational aspects to the programme, and assessment and certification are carefully tailored to the students’ participation, progress and their achievements. There is a strong pastoral base to the year, and a major commitment of staff, with over fifty staff teaching the courses in the year, seven teachers in the core team and seven class tutors. This commitment is commendable. It is also a stated objective of the TY programme to become involved with the community which the school serves, particularly as it is community school. Many of activities laid out in the programme underline this objective, which is commendable. These include, for example, Enterprise Education, Young Entrepreneurs competition, work experience, the Gambia project, which originated within the town’s community, History and Geography, local and field studies, Horticulture, Media Studies, among others. There is also a compulsory community awareness activity, in which every TY student must undertake one hour’s community work per week. This is good practice and realises the objectives laid down for the year in this respect. There are many good and developing ideas in the TY, and interesting additions to the programme are made quite frequently.
Across all subjects, however, there needs to be a policy of looking forward, actively involving the students in their own learning and in the use of modern technologies. There is an opportunity here for the current phase of school planning, specifically dedicated to the teaching and learning of curricular subjects, to be applied to the subject areas of the TY. There should also be concentration in this subject planning of moving forward with students’ learning and experience while keeping away from the specifics of, for example, Leaving Certificate syllabus material.
On entering fifth year, students participate in one of the three options; the established Leaving Certificate, the LCVP, or the LCA. The latter two are each led by a coordinator who plans and organises the curriculum with other teachers in the programme each year. The selection process for programmes and subjects in senior cycle is thorough and well-handled by the staff involved. Again, everyone from senior management to guidance, SCP coordinator to class teachers, and tutors to year heads, are involved in the process. Parents are invited to information meetings, students are fully informed, and a handbook is issued to explain all available subjects for the Leaving Certificate. All students have an ‘open’ choice of subjects initially. Generally well over ninety percent of students’ choices can be allocated, and where there are difficulties, the principal arranges interviews with students to work out the best solution. This has not generally been a problem, and this year it is reported that virtually 100% satisfaction has been reached in subject selection. This reflects much committed work on the part of all concerned and is to be commended as very good practice.
While both LCA and LCVP have been very well planned and have been successful in the main, there are one or two points that will need continuing attention. The number of students leaving LCA before the completion of their course seems quite high, but it is reported that most of those students have entered into apprenticeships, gone on to other training or employment, or have joined Youthreach. While the movement out of LCA can be explained in this way, it is important that monitoring of this situation continues, with the cooperation of the SCP team.
Students choosing to take LCVP currently represent about forty per cent of the school’s senior cycle cohort. Some of these students do not complete the LCVP course, in most cases reportedly reverting to the Leaving Certificate established, for their sixth year. Whatever their motivation for doing this, it is not an ideal situation for many reasons, not least the resources made available to the school specifically for LCVP. It is possible that elements in the printed long-term plan for LCVP will rectify this trend. There is good thinking and planning in evidence in this document which, when implemented and developed, should lead to a higher completion rate of students entering the programme. It is recommended that this area be kept under review by coordinator and team, by guidance counsellors and by school management.
For the Leaving Certificate programme, students are placed in class groups which reflect their ability, record and request for subjects and levels. The setting of major subjects allows for students to move as appropriate to their ability and progress. Students are encouraged to take subjects at the highest level appropriate to their abilities as the school aims to achieve excellence in academic studies. Attainment in most subjects reflects this, and provision of all levels in subjects will continue to yield positive student outcomes, if pursued consistently.
Currently one hundred and twenty students take Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses in the school. The provision of courses varies depending on demand and available teachers. Currently four courses are on offer and are well subscribed. The limitation of physical amenities tends to govern the size and range of PLC courses, and it is reported that many more students could be accommodated, if facilities and space were available. This is kept under review, and this is good practice. There is good collaboration between PLC and Gorey Art School, whose qualifications can lead on to further achievement. The Art School facilities are adjacent to the Gorey Community School campus.
The Adult Education section of the school provides a very substantial programme of courses. It is run by a team from the community school, headed by an acting director of adult education supported by an acting assistant director, both of whom hold assistant principal posts, and teach in the ‘day’ community school. They are assisted by a team of teachers and administrators, advertise their courses throughout the town and its environs, and attract a large number of students each year. Over sixty courses are organised each term and the current uptake reflects the fact that Gorey Community School is the largest Adult Education provider of the county. In terms of hours of tuition provided, the upward curve of statistics over the past four years rises from around 1400 hours in 2003 to around 1600 in 2007. This is a major operation, for which efficient administrative systems and effective monitoring of courses have been developed, as well as providing the necessary financial and self-funding dimensions to the operation. It is a vital part of the community school’s service to Gorey and contributes strongly to the overall community philosophy of the organisation.
Gorey Community School has a strong tradition and wide diversity in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Its programmes stretch from entry to the school to sixth year for students, and a very large number of members of staff are involved in participating in these programmes, which is to be greatly commended.
There is a very wide range of sporting activities available to students and a large number of students avail of the opportunities afforded to them in, for instance, soccer, hurling, Gaelic football for both boys and girls, rugby, basketball and equestrian sports. High standards are achieved in many areas, and awards have been gained each year in various sports. This is highly commended, as is the input of teachers and the organisation of facilities both on and off campus.
There are several exchanges organised by the school, including Comenius schemes, and currently four exchanges are taking place. This is of great value to the students, both from a cultural and a social point of view, as well as linguistic development in some cases.
The school has achieved many awards in the Texaco art competition for many years, and again this year while the WSE was taking place. Art, both in curricular and in extra-curricular modes, is a strong point of the school, as is evidenced by the many works of art, stretching back over many years, displayed at key points in the school buildings. There is involvement in debating, Young Scientist Competition, Young Entrepreneurs, until recently Form and Fusion, and in community work in the area. There is a great deal of work done for charity in the school through various ventures.
The school has been very involved in the Green School programme, and has achieved Green Flag status for the school on several occasions. The Green School committee is very active and is to be applauded on its work, and its guidance by teachers. There is also the Meitheal programme which assists in the mentoring of first year students.
Among the highlights of the year involving students in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are the Gambia project, where students raise money to assist education and community projects in the Gambia in west Africa. A group of students travels each year to help with and the witness the progress with the projects. This is a major experience and undertaking by the school and is to be applauded.
The annual Bene Merenti concert takes place in the local theatre in Gorey and reaches great heights of talent, performance and involvement by the participating students. The idea behind the event is that it is the culmination of a year’s or indeed of several years’ work in a branch of the performing arts. Hundreds of students participate and compete, with only the best in each branch of their art making it to the final. Certificates are awarded on the night of the concert, which is a high-point of the school year, involving students, staff, parents, board of management and many supporters. The standard achieved bears witness to the value of committed extra-curricular activities in the school and deserves great commendation as a major whole-school activity and public event.
Through much of the school’s extra-curricular programme, and also through many of the activities in the various school subjects and options, there is a high level of contact and cooperation between the school and the local community in Gorey. This varies from work experience programmes, to social and community work, to the Bene Merenti event, and to sporting and cultural involvement. This can also be seen in the development of the Gorey Art School and its close connections with the community school. Many other schools are involved in sporting and other activities which enables the school to be a centre of activity in its community, which realises one of its principal aims, to be a community school. Its success in this area is to be applauded.
The recent focus of the School Development Planning process in Gorey Community School on teaching and learning in the school has clearly progressed collaborative planning across subject areas. The regular department meetings, facilitated by school management, provide teachers with the opportunity to discuss subject related issues. Meetings take place formally around school planning activities and informally outside timetabled hours. A collaborative approach to planning is adopted and a high level of cooperation and peer group support was in evidence. Subject departments are coordinated on a rotating basis which is good practice. The English department due to its size has a coordinator for junior and for senior cycle. Agendas for meeting are set, minutes of meetings are recorded and relayed to senior management.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is an area of focus across the subject plans, which is commendable. Plans include a record of CPD courses attended by teachers and information on in-service is disseminated at department meetings. It is suggested that agendas for team meetings be expanded to include a time for sharing feedback from continuous professional development courses attended. It is also recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) should be addressed by school management at subject level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects.
Subject departments have made considerable and commendable progress in the preparation of their department plans, which include, for example, aims and objectives for mathematics education within the school, a mission statement for the Science provision, along with details of supports available or planned for students, and agreed programmes of work for each year group and level. The schemes of work and long term planning documents made available at the time of the inspection contained many of the required elements for good planning, outlining themes and topics to be covered; planning for the systematic integration of structures and concepts: preparation for examination related tasks; deployment of a range of resources and of sources of appropriate material. Programmes of work were in line with curricular requirements and with the aims and objectives for the delivery of programmes.
Inspectors commended in particular that the Science plan focused on department self-evaluation and contained many action plans for the way forward in Science. Planning was also commended where it contained a record of what students should have achieved for each year and reflected a clear progression in their learning, as articulated in the English planning documentation. References to timing of lessons, the methodologies to be employed, resources required for the delivery of programmes of work and the provision for students with SEN were commended in the planning for Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, indeed planning for the provision and support for students with SEN was commended in relation to all subjects. Collaborating on the teaching of parallel class groups and the sharing of materials and resources were commended in German In the case of some subjects, it was recommended that planning documents should be expanded to include assessment of the learning objectives. A re- evaluation of the TY plan was also recommended in some subjects to accurately reflect current practice, to agree common learning outcomes for TY students and to expand on the range of active methodologies.
Teaching and learning were generally of a high quality. Teachers’ excellent level of competence and skill in the subjects was reflected in some of the teaching observed, with some excellent examples of enthusiastic teaching. Effective methodologies were used in most lessons observed, introducing appropriate variety to enhance student learning. Lesson timelines recorded in the course of observation of language lessons, for example, demonstrated the commendable frequency with which activities and learning focus changed. Tasks and activities were appropriate, allowed for differentiation and students in the main applied themselves with diligence. In the practical subjects, many lessons were based on investigative practical activities. Students were given clear instructions on how to structure their work and good scaffolding techniques were in evidence. In some subjects, it was recommended that a wider range of teaching methodologies be explored and developed acknowledging students’ different preferred learning styles, as well as providing students with sufficient opportunities to actively participate in lesson content.
Most lessons observed adhered to syllabus objectives, lesson content was in line with syllabus requirements and agreed programmes of work. A purposeful learning environment was effectively created and sustained and classroom management was for the most part relaxed and effective. When lessons were well planned, they were most successful and most lessons had a clear purpose which was communicated to students. In order to ensure that the goal of the lesson is clear at all times, it is suggested that teachers explicitly share the lesson objectives with students. Lessons in Materials technology (Wood) for example, had coherent content, had clear learning intentions and were well structured to ensure continuity and progression through content. Good practice commended in the mathematics area included clarity of worked examples, affirming student effort and closing the lesson with a review of work covered. Integrations of language and literature and the seamless integration of grammar and vocabulary acquisition into lesson content were commended in English lessons.
Effective use was made of questioning. Many teachers used questions to stimulate interest and motivation in the class material. Students were both challenged and supported in their learning, teachers in the language classroom requiring students to use full sentences and to focus on accuracy as well as fluency. The accurate use of mathematical terminology was also being developed. Teachers used questioning to extend students’ understanding and encourage the expression of mathematical ideas. The terminology associated with Materials Technology (Wood) was used continually and students communicated effectively using this terminology. There was good consistent use of the target language as the main language of instruction and communication in the language classroom. Global and directed questions were used effectively to revise material covered in previous lessons.
There were some commendable examples of teachers having high expectations of students’ capabilities and students responded to this. Students were capable in accurately answering questions and demonstrated a sound understanding of previously covered topics. In English lessons, for example, skilful questioning, challenging and open ended in nature, led to good discussion and student engagement. Where there was a good balance between looking for knowledge and asking for specific views and opinions, it was most effective. In German lessons observed, teacher questioning required students to use the target language in a simple and structured way. Teachers demonstrated a very good rapport with their students, were inclusive in their questioning and demonstrated sensitivity in the correction of incorrect answering.
Teachers employed appropriate methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. Lessons took account of the differentiated needs of students.
The wood and construction technology principles demonstrated during practical and theory lessons were presented incrementally, and teachers supported student development in the topics covered during lessons. Students were expertly guided through the design and make process. Individual students were well supported and their work was constantly affirmed. Teachers circulated in the classroom to give help and support to individuals and to check on student understanding and attention. During the course of pair work observed, teachers were effective in interacting individually with students and students were affirmed yet encouraged to apply themselves to their work. It was clear that students were accustomed to pair and group work.
The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions and in the competencies exhibited in the course of practical work. In Science lessons, students demonstrated very good laboratory skills. In German, students showed good understanding of the grammatical patterns and student ability to analyse language and to reproduce correct response was praiseworthy. In the practical subjects, student outcomes in terms of knowledge, attitude and skills were very good. There was a good example observed of the development, in a small way, the idea of learner autonomy. Students were referred to an internet website to access further information, independent from teacher support, which is commendable. Revision of selected experiments by students was effectively facilitated. These lessons were well structured providing opportunities for theory to be discussed and revision was found to be highly effective.
The range of assessment modes used to monitor student progress in the school includes questioning in class, regular class tests, formal school examinations and homework. Students’ outcomes in these assessments are used to monitor student attainment and to inform teacher planning. In Science good records of practical assignments were kept by most students. However, the mandatory investigations and experiments in Science were recorded to a variable standard and teachers need to ensure that annotated feedback is provided to all students. Good use of formative assessment was in evidence in many classes, in English for example, where students not only received a grade but also a comment which instructed them on areas where they needed to improve. It was also recommended across the subjects that a portion of marks allocated in school examinations be given to practical records and activities completed.
The results of student achievement are communicated to parents by means of school reports. Examinations are held for first, second and fifth year students at Christmas and in summer. First years have common examinations and marking schemes, which is commendable. Examination results and school reports are available to all teachers on-line through the school’s e-portal. This is commendable. The school analyses Certificate examination statistics, compares them to national norms and supplies them to the subject department. This brings an element of self-evaluation and review to the work of the subject departments, which is commendable.
Parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organized each year and regular contact between teachers and parents using the student journal or through school systems is encouraged. There was thorough and systematic checking of homework and the noting of vocabulary into notebooks. Assigned homework was noted in student journals and it was noteworthy that student journals were signed and used effectively by parents and students. The school provides homework support for students with SEN and supervised study for all students from second year. There is an overall homework policy in the school. Some subject departments have devised their own subject specific homework policy which is commendable.
The school has a well-developed policy and plan for students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The SEN team is well-coordinated and supported by staff in the school; there are at present nine Special Needs Assistants and six teachers whose speciality is teaching students with SEN in English and Maths. From before the entry of students to the school to the day they leave, it is the aim of the SEN team to provide their students with every support and assistance in their educational and other needs.
In their work the SEN team are strongly supported by the SCP one of whose projects is the lunchtime club, which is often attended by the SNAs and provides a base for assisting and talking to students. In a school the size of Gorey Community School, there are many students with varying needs right across the spectrum and every effort is made to meet the individual needs of each student. The school premises is wheelchair-friendly, laptop computers are provided in some cases to assist with teaching and learning, and various individual supports are provided for students. The SNA team meets weekly, each Monday, to discuss needs, progress and plans for their students: there is in evidence great flexibility, commitment and teamwork among the SEN teachers, which is good practice and is greatly commended. The principal and the management of the school are most supportive of the SEN team, and are kept up to date concerning developments and problems.
The placing of students in smaller class groups from the outset is good practice, and care is taken to ensure that sufficient assessment has taken place to ensure correct placement of students. Where withdrawal of students from classes to provide learning support is needed, it is carefully coordinated and discussed in meetings of the team. Small class groups, team-teaching and withdrawal of students are all practised in supporting the learning of students and this is very good practice and minimises disruption while maximising the learning benefit for the students.
While the efforts put into assisting students with SEN are most commendable, the teachers with responsibility for this area are under-resourced in many respects, particularly in not having dedicated office and storage space from which to run their service. The current plan to construct a special needs suite of rooms will address these difficulties and will develop the services and facilities available to students with SEN. These developments are welcome and the trustees are commended for their contribution to these improvements. It is planned to have this facility complete before the end of 2007.
Gorey Community School takes the whole area of SEN very seriously, keeps in contact with its Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO) in Wexford, and has a progressive and supportive attitude to what it believes to be one of its principal missions as a community school. It is the belief of the school management and the SEN team that the school needs a greater proportion of resources, particularly SNAs, to deal with the number of students requiring support in this area. They regularly apply for greater resources to their SENO.
Several teachers have received inservice in the area of SEN, and are constantly looking for ways to improve the service they provide for the students. There are frequent meetings with the guidance service in the school and there is generally very good coordination to maximise the time and facilities available. While being concerned about resources being made available, the SEN team, and teachers throughout the school, do a great deal to collaborate and to assist students to the best of their ability and the time available.
Increasingly there is the need to provide assistance to newcomer students where Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) is an essential requisite. Care is taken to withdraw students only from appropriate classes and to maximise their exposure to core subjects.
With the aid of HSCL, there is very good home-school contact and support. School Completion Programme assists with many students, and all aspects of support for students with various needs are dealt with in a regular meeting with senior management, which is good practice.
It is clear from the documentation and planning for SEN in the school that the team is well organised, committed, and follows a very busy agenda in coordinating all aspects of its task in the school. Its programme for the current academic year is very busy, with the initial phases for identifying and supporting students for 2007-2008 already under way. Meetings currently taking place include going to feeder primary schools with guidance counsellors, meeting with SENO re next year’s intake of students, meetings with visiting teachers for the visually impaired and for traveller children, and continuing with their team’s weekly meetings through the period to monitor current progress and to plan for next year. The sourcing and study of psychological reports is also an important and ongoing part of the preparatory work of the team each school year. The dedicated and committed work of the SEN team and its partners on the care committee are a tribute to the school’s philosophy and practice in the area of special educational needs and are to be greatly commended.
It is also a feature of the way in which the school approaches the inclusion of all students that the whole staff is kept informed of needs, progress, cooperation and future plans. There is a careful policy of confidentiality concerning students, yet the staff is adequately informed of current work on a need-to-know basis. Year heads and the senior management team are kept informed of work, requirements and progress in the SEN area. Regular meetings are held, particularly as the new school year approaches and needs become apparent. This is good practice which ensures that there is a combined and informed approach to SEN in the school.
It is a strong element in the inclusion policy of the school that all students are afforded equal status and are supported to ensure that this takes place in the various aspects of school life. The School Completion Programme (SCP) for the area meets in Gorey Community School regularly during the year and has its office in the school. While the school does not have disadvantaged status, and is not at present receiving support from the Behaviour Support Service (BSS), it does derive great support from the SCP. This covers a wide range of supports including an overall retention plan which is updated each year, and a variety of practical elements such as the breakfast, lunchtime and homework clubs, assistance with learning support, and close collaboration with the Home School Community Liaison team. The SCP for the area is strong, well organised and gives very valuable support through involvement with students and its activities.
An evaluation carried out by the SCP staff meeting in January 2007 showed great support for the work currently being carried out by SCP, appreciated the amount of interaction which was generated in the school and established a list of requirements, ideas and possible direction for the future. This is valuable practice and lays down possible developments of the programme as it develops. It has already been in existence for five years and has grown substantially since its inception.
The SCP in conjunction with Gorey Youth Needs provides practical supports for Traveller students including canteen lunch vouchers, assistance with uniforms, books, lockers and help with understanding subject choice and the timetable. The local Gammon Cant Club, through Gorey Youth Needs, helps with meetings, outings, and visiting speakers, and these are funded by the SCP.
In a review in 2006, the staff of Gorey Community School expressed great satisfaction with the SCP and in their interventions to assist students, and parents, in many diverse ways. It was acknowledged that assistance with anti-bullying, teen pregnancy counselling, parenting course, and the whole area of student retention had been most successful. It is clear that the SCP is well and strongly led in the area, and, in particular in this instance, in Gorey Community School. Its work in assisting the SEN department was recognised particularly in the review and in meetings with teachers by the WSE team.
The HSCL programme ensures that parents are kept in touch with the school and are supported in many ways. Attendance at school and various problems encountered by students and families are dealt with rapidly and the service keeps in touch with management, guidance, SCP and other support agencies within the school. Attendance and punctuality are also attended to in this programme, and the recording and follow-up of attendance/absence through tutors, year heads , post-holders and the administration staff, and are well documented. The current system is part computerised and part manual, developing towards full computerisation, and returns, while they are made regularly, have been found to be difficult in some respects through problems with software. Nonetheless, the follow-up on absenteeism is rapid, and is reported to be effective in most cases.
The guidance system in the school comprises a guidance service to all six years, testing for students on entry to the school, advice for students regarding subject and programme choice, advice on further directions after school, advising students re CAO application forms, meeting with students and parents, facilitating attendance at options and open days for colleges, and running an annual locally-based careers and options day. The guidance counsellors divide up the years and class groups between them and take responsibility for their allocated group.
The guidance team consists of two guidance counsellors, one further guidance counsellor through the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI), and a fourth guidance teacher provided from within the teaching quota. This team meets weekly on a Monday to discuss their work and progress, plans and events. One teacher is allocated to each year until sixth year when the work is divided out between all counsellors. Much one-to-one counselling is required both with sixth year students and with newcomer students from all years. They assist with organising TESL and helping students acclimatise to the Irish education system. There is also close liaison with HSCL which is good practice and coordination.
The guidance team also liaises with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and arranges ‘special’ centres for the state examinations where these are required as ‘reasonable accommodation’. There are over twenty such centres required in most years for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations.
A booklet is produced each year to assist students with their choices for senior cycle, and the guidance team liaises with year heads concerning choices, advice and student decisions concerning their programmes and future directions in the school and afterwards. They also run the DATS tests in third year and provide study skills sessions for students in junior cycle years. In third year the guidance team, as part of the SPHE programme, teach a module on guidance, which includes skills, selection of options, motivation and future directions within the school. They also meet regularly with class tutors and year heads in first year to impart information and support the students in their first year in the school.
The guidance plan, which has been developed and updated over time, is comprehensive, well thought-out and put together, establishing priorities, timetables, links with teachers, year heads and coordinators and SEN, parents, NEPS, employers and outside agencies. This is a very thorough plan which is well woven into the timetable and curriculum of the school. Guidance is an integral part of the school’s programme and service for students and their families, and is to be commended as being well planned, organised, and implemented. All guidance counsellors have received training and attend conferences, expanding their continuous professional development (CPD). This is very good, and continuing, practice.
Pastoral care in the school is regarded as the duty of all, and starts with the class tutor. Communication between class tutors and their year heads and assistant year heads, as well as with the guidance counsellors, HSCL coordinator, SEN team, SCP team, chaplain, and on to deputy principals and principal, is the vital thread which provides the continuum of pastoral care in the school. All of the foregoing teams and individuals meet together either in planned meetings or as informal contacts, and this builds up an effective pastoral care system. The staff room notice board is also utilised, though not in confidential matters. A further item which greatly supports pastoral and academic care is the weekly tutorial meeting at which students’ journals are inspected and messages can be completed or returned to and from school and home.
Support measures in the school are well coordinated and start with the care and attention given to the incoming cohort of new students each year. Those requiring particular kinds of support are identified and assisted from the outset and the situation is reviewed through the year. Home School Community Liaison is a vital and continuing link for the students throughout their school career, and this process has developed over years, and is provided from within the teaching quota by decision of the board of management. There is a sense of support and community in the school which can only emanate from the positive and continuing pastoral care afforded to the students from their entry to the school onwards. This is a vital element in the inclusive policy and the community spirit engendered in the school, and is to be greatly commended.
The code of student behaviour, which has been referred to earlier in the report, is a document which has developed over time and which has been given much consideration by the education partners. There are very positive aspects to the approach to the code and to the code itself, which all students and their parents/guardians must sign and accept on entry to the school. Where breaches of the code occur, a system of sanctions and referrals exists, which is well understood by all parties. Detentions, in-school suspension and then suspension out of school form the main elements in the sanction system. Any suspension of more than a day, and anything more serious, goes to the principal and if necessary, to the board of management. The code of behaviour is accepted and abided by in the vast majority of cases, and breaches are understood by students to bring consequences, often in the form of sanctions. It is not the policy of the school to expel students, and virtually all situations can be resolved within the present code.
Apart from the annual parent-teacher meeting organised for each year group, there is good parent-school contact at several levels, many of which are detailed above. The parents’ committee declared itself very satisfied with the level of parental contact and the welcome which was extended by the school to parents who sought meetings or tried to solve particular problems. This contact started with senior management and extended to all teachers and teams in the school. This reflects very good practice and is to be commended.
The work of the chaplaincy is broad and reaches into many school activities and support structures, as well as being directly involved in the Gambia project, and in organising liturgical services, frequently of an ecumenical character, and retreats and masses on a regular basis. It is also a vital aspect of the chaplaincy work that it is a mainstay in the welfare system of the school, as well as reaching students through the Gaisce/President’s Award scheme.
The student council, which has been in existence since the year of the school’s inception, has gone through several phases. The present practice is for members of the council to receive training and to use the skills thus gained to build up the council as an integral part of the school. Currently, there has been a lull in interest and in the election process, but there is a determination on the part of the officers to remedy this and to establish the council on a firmer footing. It has recently organised new and conspicuous notice boards, and worked on priority issues brought before it by students. It meets, usually weekly, at lunchtimes, and discusses items on an agenda drawn up by chairperson and secretary. It has also become involved in Dáil na nÓg, and has participated in the preliminary rounds of the European Youth Parliament process. These activities are to be commended and encouraged as they make students aware of their responsibilities as well as sharing with students from other schools. It is hoped to formalise the council with school elections and greater participation rates in the new school year and this is to be affirmed as a proper way forward to develop and utilise the students’ council to the full.
Students are involved in mentoring through the ‘Meitheal’ programme: at present, fifth year students are selected, trained, and allocated to a first year class, to provide a mentoring service to students in their first year in the school. It appears that the enthusiasm to become part of the mentoring system is not at present reflected in the attitude in the school to the students’ council. The present incumbents have some good ideas, and a positive way forward should be sought to build on their work in the future of the council. Whatever the current situation, there is evidence at various points, of students wishing to become involved in the pastoral side of school life, and this is to be commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The characteristic spirit of the school, stated to be one of openness and inclusivity, where students are cherished equally, regardless of ability, gender, creed, class or ethnic background, was found to be the pervading ethos of the school, where all are integrated in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect for one another.
· The school’s mission statement, ‘to provide a comprehensive programme of post-primary education to all the children in the Gorey area’ , was observed in the curriculum, school planning, many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and many projects, exchanges and voluntary activities, all of which contributed strongly to many facets of the school’s vision.
· The board of management, representing the main educational stakeholders in the school, meets frequently and works hard to give direction to the school and to collaborate with the parents’ association, the teaching staff and the community of the town and its environs.
· The board discharges its duties conscientiously, participates in inservice training provided by the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), and has from the outset seen to the needs of the expanding school community and has ably represented these needs to the Department of Education and Science.
· The Trustees in conjunction with the board of management have undertaken to finance and build a Special Educational Needs facility for the school in the coming months, which is to be commended.
· The board expressed great confidence in its senior management team of principal and two deputy principals, with whom it has open and beneficial communication. There is also strong board support for in-school management and for the teaching staff as a whole, in whom they expressed great confidence.
· The senior management team runs the school in partnership with middle management groups, with whom they interact continually. The principal and deputies have clearly divided out the major areas of their responsibility, and deal effectively and conscientiously with these, while meeting frequently to ensure that all areas have been covered. There is good managerial practice in evidence in the school.
· Assistant principals, year heads and assistant year heads, special duties teachers and programme coordinators carry out their duties well and conscientiously, and interact so that senior management is aware of progress and future plans. The principal meets frequently with the year heads and so a strong element of cooperation and coordination is in evidence.
· Staff meetings are chaired by teachers in rotation and have a planning and developmental role in the school which is to be applauded.
· New teachers to the school are well mentored, inducted and assisted in adjusting to the school, and this support is to be commended.
· Maintenance, cleaning, clerical, secretarial, financial and administrative duties are carried out to a high standard, and staff involved in these areas liaise, cooperate and support the teaching staff in many ways. This is a significant strength in the school.
· School planning , which has been a major feature of the school since its inception, has developed through many stages and now focuses on teaching, learning, and subject department planning. This is developing well and is to be commended and encouraged.
· The school curriculum encompasses all the programmes available to second-level schools: Junior Certificate, JCSP, TY, Leaving Certificate, LCVP, LCA and PLC. The programmes are well planned, managed and run, with excellent documentation and a high level of coordination and cooperation. The School Completion Programme (SCP) is also a major contributor to the success and retention levels experienced in the senior cycle.
· Extra-curricular activities are a major strength of the school, and range widely over many areas, achieving major awards in some instances, participating with the community in others, and involving students to a very large extent in activities where they can contribute and develop their own skills.
· Adult Education is a major element in the school and a very large number of students attend these courses. It is well organised and managed with a well thought-out programme of courses and skills.
· Subject departments have made considerable and commendable progress in the preparation of their department plans. The schemes of work and long term planning documents contained many of the required elements for good planning.
· Teaching and learning were generally of a high quality. Most lessons observed adhered to syllabus objectives, lesson content was in line with syllabus requirements and a purposeful learning environment was effectively created and sustained.
· The pastoral care system in the school is in evidence from before students enter the school until they leave at the completion of their studies. From the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) service, to the chaplaincy, from class tutors and year heads to SCP and the guidance and SPHE services, supported at all stages by management and teachers, pastoral care is a major strength of the school and is well coordinated throughout.
· The Meitheal programme, mentoring of junior students, green school committee and the students’ council, all contribute to the pastoral care which students provide for one another, under the committed assistance given by members of staff.
· Special Educational Needs (SEN) are dealt with by an exceptional team devoted to assisting students in numerous ways, including reduced class sizes, one-to-one assistance, help for newcomer students needing language support, and various degrees of learning support through the school. The school is to be commended for its approach to SEN and its work in this area, particularly as it embarks on building its new dedicated facility.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· ICT, while it is well provided for in the school, needs further applications and development in the classroom and in teaching and learning. There is also a great opportunity through the website which is currently being updated, to include the school newsletter and therefore to expand the PR aspect of school activities. Drawing together and developing the use of ICT should be a priority for the school.
· School planning has moved into a very important area in recent times and is developing well: it is recommended that, as subject planning grows, the records and ideas of each subject department should be recorded electronically and made available across the disciplines to promote progress in this area on a broad whole-school front.
· The Students’ Council, although operating, is in something of a hiatus, and needs to focus its attention on the democratisation of the students’ representative body, to involve all years in the school and to devise a positive programme for the future.
· The school library, recently re-established, needs further development and should be brought into the planning process through subject departments as they move forward. The library as a resource should be central to that process.
· The focus on academic excellence and achievement should be continued, with support for students to the highest level of which they are capable, in all their disciplines.
· It is recommended that the provision of suitable training in ICT as part of teachers’ continuous professional development (CPD) should be addressed by school management at subject level or indeed at whole school level in the context of development planning for subjects.
· It is recommended across the subjects that a portion of marks allocated in school examinations be given to practical records and activities completed.
· The LCVP is working well, but the drift of students at the end of their fifth year to the Leaving Certificate established from LCVP should be reviewed if the LCVP is to continue to its fullest potential.
· The Transition Year, while an excellent programme well run by the TY team, needs to review some of its subject areas towards curricular innovation, initiative and further use of ICT in class methodology,
· The HSCL service is an excellent support for students in the school, but needs to establish more formal diary records and a ‘paper trail’ to improve its efficiency as it develops.
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.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
· Subject Inspection of English – 22 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of German – -- February 2007
· Subject Inspection of Materials Technology Wood and Construction Studies – 22 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 27 March 2007
· Subject Inspection of Science, Biology and Physics – 26 March 2007
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management welcomes the very positive outcome of Whole School Evaluation. The feedback from all stakeholders in the school in relation to their experience of the process and the approach used by the Inspectors indicates that the evaluation was carried out very thoroughly and with a high degree of professionalism. The board wishes to thank the Inspectorate accordingly.
Introduction to the Report
The context in which the school operates is described very accurately. The board welcomes the fact that there is objective recognition of the difficulties faced by it in complying with directives from the Department of Education and Science regarding admission of students to the school. The Report acknowledges that, both from school and the Planning and Building Section of DES, it is clear that, without the completion of the second-level school in the town, Gorey Community School will face further overcrowding difficulties in the next couple of years.
Part 2 The Quality of School Management
This section of the Report applauds the fact that there is clear evidence that the school operates in accordance with the statement of its characteristic spirit. The pervading ethos is described as ‘open and inclusive where students are cherished equally, regardless of ability, gender, creed, class or ethnic background’.
The ‘close, collaborative relationship with parents’ is acknowledged as is ‘the collaborative and courteous atmosphere within the school’. Congruence between policies, practices and procedures emerges as one of the outstanding characteristics of the school. Openness of communication is also highlighted in the Report.
The mutual confidence between the board of management and senior management (Principal and Deputy Principals) is highlighted and the Board is perceived as supporting senior and in-school management and classroom teachers in the exercise of their role. The day-to-day management and organisation of the school are perceived as ‘smooth, effective and achieved in a pleasant manner characterised by a consultative and collaborative style of leadership’ – a description with which the board whole-heartedly concurs.
Maintenance, cleaning, clerical, secretarial, financial and administrative staff are described in the report as carrying out their duties to a high standard, and staff involved in these areas are seen by the Inspectors as liaising, co-operating with and supporting the teaching staff in many ways. The board also considers this as a significant strength in the school
Part 3 The Quality of School Planning
The whole school community is affirmed in relation to the active and systematic way in which it has approached school planning. The board agrees with the view that the current focus on teaching and learning as the core business of the school is the ideal context for school development planning. With this in mind, the board commits itself to supporting the planning process into the future while also initiating and participating in it from its own perspective.
Part 4 Quality of Curriculum Provision
Students’ needs are perceived as central to the whole concept of curriculum provision and the Board is pleased to note the reference to the fact that these needs are ‘addressed carefully and conscientiously in the school, both in terms of curricular, extra-curricular and pastoral needs’. The availability of over thirty subjects at senior cycle, including examination and non-examination subjects, and the provision of twenty six at junior cycle, of which twenty are examination subjects, represents a broad and varied curriculum. The board concurs with the commendation regarding constant review of this area.
The board is kept well-informed in relation to the very successful Adult Education Programme in the school and is pleased to note that the Report describes the school as well-organised and managed with a well thought-out programme of courses and skills in accordance with one of the core aims and objectives of a Community School.
The level of participation and standards achieved in the co-curricular and extra-curricular areas is a tribute to the level of teacher involvement and the excellent rapport which exists between the school and the local community in Gorey.
Part 5 Quality of Learning and Teaching in Subjects
The board welcomes the in-depth treatment of this all-important area in the Report. The purposeful learning environment created by teachers in Gorey Community School is seen to be sustained by a ‘relaxed and effective approach to classroom management’. The Inspectors perceived the students as being ‘challenged and supported in their learning’ and the board of management shares the view of the Inspectorate. The board’s philosophy in relation to the encouragement of ‘learner autonomy’ is reflected in the reality described in the Report.
The board looks forward to the enhanced use of ICT in the classroom, as recommended in the Report, in anticipation of the necessary resources which, clearly, need to be made available by DES to facilitate such a development.
Part 6 Quality of Support for Students
The school is applauded for its well-developed policy re Special Educational Needs and for the efforts of all involved in addressing those needs. The board, with the support of the trustees who are providing the finance by agreement with the Department, is proceeding to build a Special Educational Needs facility for the school. The report describes this project as very positive and the board is happy to be associated with such a worthwhile development. Management and teaching staff are described as having a ‘progressive and supportive attitude combined with an informed approach’ to Special Educational Needs.
The School Completion Programme, the Home School Liaison system, the Guidance system, the Chaplain, Year heads, Class Tutors and the entire staff’s approach to pastoral care are all described as support measures that are well-co-ordinated. The result is reflected in a tangible sense of support and community in the school of which the Inspectors became very aware and which the board of management values as an expression of the inclusive character of Gorey Community School.
The board welcomes the recommendation in the Report that, building on its success to date, the Students’ Council moves towards involving all years in the school and towards devising a positive programme for the future.
The school is affirmed for its emphasis on parent-school contact, an aspect of the school with which the parents’ committee declared itself very satisfied. The board agrees with the view of the Inspectors that this contact starts with the Principal and Deputy Principals and extends to all teachers and teams in the school. The board also acknowledges the major contribution which parents make towards the success of Gorey Community School by virtue of their active engagement with every aspect of school life.