An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Boyne Community School

Trim, County Meath

Roll number: 91508C

 

Date of inspection: October 2008

 

  

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

  

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

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

 

 

Introduction

 

Boyne Community School was founded in 2001 as a result of an amalgamation of St Michael’s Diocesan School and Trim Vocational School. The amalgamation followed many years of planning and was not without difficulty in part due to building project issues and the challenge of amalgamating two separate staffs.

 

The school is situated in Trim on the site formerly occupied by St Michael’s Diocesan School where existing buildings have been renovated and extended. It has a very large catchment area including the town of Trim and its hinterland. Students enrol at Boyne Community School from over sixteen feeder primary schools and currently enrolment stands at 477 boys and 108 girls. In addition, eighteen students attend a Post-Leaving Certificate course in Business Studies. The school reported that the development of Trim as a commuter town has resulted in a significant increase in the number of students seeking enrolment during the school year and this has posed challenges for the school.

 

The board, the parents’ representatives who met the inspectorate team and the staff of the school expressed their pride in the achievements of the school during its first seven years. Among the challenges that had to be faced during that time were the completion of the building and remediation of structural problems, the need to establish student ownership of the code of behaviour and building the image of the school in the community. Clearly, significant progress has been made and the school pointed to its steadily increasing enrolment and the close links it has established with the local community as indications of the very positive reputation the school now enjoys.

 

The school is included in the School Support Programme of the Department of Education and Science action plan for educational inclusion – Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) – and it offers the fullest possible range of post-primary programmes. Currently, it provides the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) programmes and year two of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). In the academic year 2008/09 the Transition Year (TY) programme and the LCA were offered to students entering senior cycle but no class groups were formed. The school has also developed a very successful adult education programme, which has helped to build the profile of the school in the community.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

Co-educational and multi-denominational, the school has inherited the traditions of both former schools and from these has forged its own student-centred ethos. The original mission statement devised in 2001 has been reviewed following extensive staff reflection on the school’s culture. The resulting mission statement is positive, focussed and succinct and centres on the care of students. The evaluation team considered that the mission statement accurately reflects the beliefs, activities and aspirations of the school community in that it found care of students to be the over-riding value that influences the functioning of the school. Evidence for this was observed in many of the policies and strategies developed by the school including the anti-bullying procedures and the monitoring of student welfare. Reports from student support personnel, including the Home Community School Liaison (HCSL) co-ordinator, the School Completion Programme (SCP) co-ordinator and the care team, as well as other members of the school community, further reinforced the finding that concern for students’ welfare is to the fore in all aspects of the school’s operation.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management is properly constituted; meetings are held at least eight times during the school year and more often as necessary. Agendas are agreed in advance and minutes of all meetings are maintained. An agreed report on the business of each board meeting is provided to parents and teachers by their representatives. The principal attends all board of management meetings and the principal’s report is an item on all agendas, whilst the deputy principal is the recording secretary on the board.

 

The board acknowledged that as yet there is no formal school plan, although a number of policies have been approved by the board following thorough consideration. It was not clear from the documentation presented which of the policies were ratified and which were not. To ensure clarity and consistency, it is recommended that clear procedures be put in place for the ratification of policies, including the dating and signing of all ratified policies.

 

The school has just emerged from what was described by many members of the school community as a developmental phase. It is now timely for the development of a medium-term plan to outline the future direction of the school. It is recommended that the board takes a leadership role in this. The board has already identified some priorities for development. These include the need to plan for demographic developments in the area. It is important that the concern expressed by the board that teaching and learning should take place in optimal conditions should inform the development plan for the school.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Senior management comprises the principal and deputy principal who work well together and who describe their working relationship as mutually supportive. They have very distinct areas of responsibilities and each is fully aware of the work of the other. Regular meetings before school and during the day ensure that there is ongoing, open and effective communication at senior management level.

 

The principal reported that senior management is very well supported by the board and can call on the skills of individual members as necessary. Effective procedures have been put in place to facilitate good communication between the board and senior management.

 

The principal and the deputy principal share a common vision for the school and they have provided very good leadership through its developmental phase. Continuing professional development (CPD) programmes were carefully chosen to address the issues and challenges which staff faced in that period. In addition to staff meetings which are held twice per year in accordance with Department’s guidelines, short staff meetings are held each week. These allow senior management to ensure that all members of teaching staff are kept informed of developments in the school. These meetings also provide an opportunity for staff teams to work together to address current issues.

 

Good communication structures have been established in the school. In addition to the weekly meetings, a daily notice board is used for immediate communication. The principal is available by appointment to meet any member of staff and pigeonholes are available in the staff room to ensure that staff members are appropriately and adequately informed.

 

The assistant principals (AP), the special duties teachers and the post-holder with responsibility for the co-ordination of programmes comprise the middle management team of the school. Based on its student enrolment figures, the school has an entitlement to nine AP posts and thirteen special duties posts. As a consequence of amalgamation, the school currently benefits from an additional AP post. Clear responsibilities have been assigned to these post-holders and they execute their duties in an effective and professional manner. Whilst there is no procedure for the formal evaluation of their duties, post-holders review their own work and provide an annual report to the principal. APs meet as a team on an annual basis. In addition, the principal meets with those APs who are year heads each week. This provides an opportunity to involve five APs in discussion on the day-to-day management of students. The principal also meets some of the other APs individually, as their post duties require. These arrangements have given rise to a perception amongst some members of staff that certain APs have privileged access to decision-making in the school. Currently, there are few opportunities for all of the APs to work together and to contribute as a group to the development of the school. This limits their potential to function with optimal effect within the middle management team. It is recommended that more frequent opportunities for all APs to meet as a team should be considered. This would help develop middle management potential and correct the perception referred to above.

 

The schedule of responsibilities assigned to APs and special duties post-holders in the school has not been reviewed since the formation of the school. Many post-holders retain the duties assigned to them at that time. There has been very limited change to the schedule, only that necessitated by the appointment of new post-holders and that resulting from the willingness of a small group of special duties post-holder to rotate responsibilities. This latter and recent development is acknowledged as very helpful as it offers staff the opportunity to broaden their experience and diversify their skills; it also provides some flexibility for the post structures to adapt to the school’s needs.

 

While the current post structure has served the school well, it is recommended that an audit of school needs should be conducted as part of a comprehensive review of the schedule of post. The aim of this should be to ensure that the needs of the school in its next phase of development can be met. A firm focus on the future direction of the school is now appropriate, and the content of Circular Letter 23/98 regarding possible post duties should be taken into consideration in this process.

 

The school’s admission/enrolment policy is in draft form. It reflects the inclusive ethos of the school and its commitment to providing for the needs of all students. This document should be revised following appropriate consultation with all sections of the school community and ratified by the board as a priority. Attention was drawn in the school to particular areas of the policy which need to be reviewed. These include ensuring that the criteria determining an offer of a place are prioritised, that the catchment area of the school is appropriately defined and that its content regarding resourcing is clarified.

 

During the evaluation, the school’s code of behaviour was described as ‘evolving’. It is clear that an incremental approach has been adopted by school management and staff to improving behaviour and academic standards at the school. A key concern in the first phase of the school’s development was the need to establish clarity regarding what is, and what is not, acceptable student behaviour. The current policy document has been quite successful in achieving this clarity. The school considers that good progress has been made in the implementation of the code of behaviour, supported by the student care structures in the school. The year heads and representatives of the student council reported that discipline has improved in the school.

 

In the academic year 2007/08 the school had a significant number of student suspensions. Some of these suspensions involved students being absent from school for over one week. The code of behaviour outlines a set of ‘straight to suspension’ offences; for example, smoking on the premises and leaving the school grounds without permission. Whilst these can be serious incidents, suspension should always be a proportionate response to the behaviour concerned. Therefore, consideration should be given to the implementation of alternative sanctions for initial offences. Also, it is important to ensure that suspension is perceived by the whole school community as a most grave sanction.

 

The school has recognised the need to introduce a more positive perspective to behaviour management and some work has already begun on this. A team has successfully redesigned the school’s student journal to improve the level and quality of communication between home and school. Also, student effort and behaviour is recognised through a students’ awards system. This would provide a good foundation for the development of a more positive code of behaviour. To build on the good work done by the school since 2001, it is recommended that the code of behaviour be fully reviewed in light of the guidelines published by the National Educational Welfare Board (Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools – May 2008) , paying particular attention to the legal and procedural requirements around suspension outlined in chapter 10.

 

A student council has been established and it is supported by a post-holder who acts as liaison officer. There is an acknowledgement in the school of the potential of the student council to contribute further to school life. In terms of strengthening the council, it is recommended that the current election arrangements should be revisited to allow for continuity of membership so that each council can benefit from the experience and knowledge of prior councils. The council has identified a number of areas within the school where it can contribute. These include charitable work, the development of a school newsletter and involvement in the Green Schools Programme; work has just begun in progressing each of these.

 

Student attendance is given significant attention by the school. This is reflected in the school’s employment of an attendance officer whose core responsibility is to monitor students’ attendance in the morning and afternoon. It was reported by all parties that the attendance officer has a very good professional knowledge of students and that her work has been a key factor in improving attendance rates. Effective systems are in place to address both poor attendance and punctuality where they occur and it is reported that these systems have had a very positive influence on students.

 

The Parents’ Association (PA) is in place since the establishment of the school and is affiliated to the Parents' Associations of Community and Comprehensive Schools. The PA provides very good support to Boyne Community School. In addition to fundraising, the PA has played an active role in the organisation of school events such as the ‘mock’ interviews and the school’s talent competition.

 

A number of strong links have been made with the local community. These include collaboration with the Trim Initiative for Development and Enterprise and the South Meath Area Response to Teenagers and links with employers in the area and the local Juvenile Liaison Officer. In a spirit of partnership, the school also offers its facilities to the community. This has enabled a very successful programme of evening classes and the use of the gym and school fields by local sporting organisations. The school also communicates directly with the local community by publishing newsletters and pamphlets and through the local press.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

In addition to the principal and deputy principal, 49.11 whole-time teacher equivalent posts are allocated by the Department to the school. The deployment of teachers is consistent with their qualifications and experience and the learning needs of the students. Good supports are provided for teachers joining the school’s staff. An induction programme is provided which includes an introductory day prior to the opening of the school year when the deputy principal introduces new teachers to the layout and procedures of the school. A staff handbook is also available which provides very useful information on school policies and procedures. New teachers are paired with staff mentors to ensure continuing support during their first year in the school. A similar arrangement could be developed to support substitute teachers.

 

Ancillary staff make an effective contribution to the life of the school. The evaluation team noted the high standard of cleanliness of the school building and the attention given to maintaining the grounds as an attractive and safe environment.

 

The administrative staff have clearly designated areas of responsibility and teachers and senior management commented on the important work that they do. The administrative office is also the reception area for students who are ill.

 

The school building was developed on the site of the original St Michael’s Christian Brothers’ School, part of which is a listed building. The renovation and extension of the school building was a difficult experience for the school and management of the building structure continues to be a priority for the school’s board and senior management. While a very attractive cut-stone sign is erected at the gate there is a need for additional signage to reinforce the identity of the school and draw attention to the school’s main entrance. It was reported that the school has made plans to have this done.

 

Student circulation areas are bright, airy and enhanced by displays of students’ work. Lockers are provided for students in designated areas so that, for example, all first year lockers are located in one area. It is recommended that lockers should not be located in toilet blocks and that alternative locations be found.

 

The school has sufficient general and specialist classrooms and timetabling is managed to ensure that optimum use is made of specialist facilities. At times teachers and students use specialist rooms for non-specialist activities. This should be avoided where possible.

 

Students and teachers have access to three computer rooms in addition to a language laboratory. All classrooms are broadband-enabled and plans have been developed to provide the necessary hardware in every classroom. The school has allocated a post of responsibility to the co-ordination of ICT, a reflection of the board’s concern to providing appropriate support and resources for teaching and learning.

 

A number of office spaces have been allocated to those staff members whose duties require them. These include office space for the HSCL co-ordinator, chaplain, and year heads amongst others. A review of office accommodation has begun and senior management reported that as a result some staff will be re-accommodated. It is suggested that as part of this review the accommodation facilities for administration staff should be reviewed. Procedures and parameters regarding teachers’ and students’ access to the administrative office and facilities should be clarified.

 

A number of teachers in posts necessitating telephone contact with parents and with the local community expressed a concern that all calls are routed through the administrative office. This can interrupt administrative work and for some teachers raises issues around confidentiality. It is recommended that an audit be carried out to establish where telephones with a direct outside line are required and to install them as opportunities arise.

 

The school has access to eight acres on which a full-size football pitch is being developed. In addition to a large fully-equipped gymnasium, the school has also developed two handball alleys. These facilities are made available to the local community and are in use regularly throughout the school year.

 

The school has assigned a post of responsibility to health and safety. The safety officer has conducted an initial audit of the needs of the school with regard to updating and implementing the policy and installing and replacing health and safety items such as first aid equipment. This is good work and should be given priority. The school’s health and safety policy requires review, updating and ratification. Procedures should be put in place to ensure appropriate regular review of health and safety issues. A safety review should also be conducted for each of the classrooms in the school including specialist rooms. It is suggested that some members of staff be given training in first aid as the opportunity presents. This should include members of the administrative team who are ideally placed to help students.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

The planning process was established with the foundation of the school. A record of engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) was available in the school at the time of the evaluation. There has been a strong focus on developing subject department planning from the outset and subject departments have been established. Records of department meetings held in all curriculum areas provided evidence of collaborative planning. To date very good progress has been made in collating subject plans which describe the organisation and operation of the various departments. There is scope for a stronger curriculum focus in these documents. This is discussed in greater detail in section 4.1 of this report.

 

A number of whole-school policies have been developed. In the initial stages of planning, committees to develop specific plans and policies were created and staff members were asked to volunteer to help. Where specialist expertise was required, members of staff with this expertise were invited to join the relevant committees. Draft policies were presented by each committee to the teaching staff for comment before being forwarded to the board. There has been limited involvement of parents and students in the development of policy documents. Members of the parents’ association who met the inspectorate team expressed a wish to contribute in a more meaningful manner to this aspect of school life. The recent formation of a student council provides a very good opportunity to involve students in policy development. It is recommended that management should engage with both groups when reviewing and developing policies.

 

The potential for the school to reap maximum benefits from the willingness of staff, students and parents to contribute to planning is limited by the fact that there is no formal co-ordination of planning. Currently planning is driven by senior management and the momentum varies depending on other demands on the time of these key staff members. It is recommended that responsibility for co-ordination of school development planning should be devolved to middle management, perhaps in the context of a review of the schedule of posts. As a first step, the co-ordinator should collate all policy documents in a single location.

 

A particular strength of planning to date in Boyne Community School has been a focus on the setting and achievement of annual development targets, identified by senior management in response to emerging school needs. This approach forms the nucleus of a pro-active school plan, but requires some expansion in order to meet the requirements of the developmental section of the school plan. The changing demographic of the school’s catchment area and the projected full enrolment of the school within the coming years requires the school to establish clear development priorities for the next three to five years. Work has already begun in identifying some long-term targets, for example, the improvement of academic achievement. While action plans have not been formalised, some strategies have been put in place such as using progress reports with students who are not achieving to their potential. This work along with the commitment to the achievement of annual development targets which is evident in the school augurs well for the success of longer-term planning.

 

The initial leadership for developing the school plan should properly come from the board and the whole school community should be involved in its development. In keeping with section 20 of the Education Act 1998, the board should establish procedures for informing parents on the school’s operation and performance in each school year; an annual report would be one way in which this could be achieved.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, teaching staff and parents, that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all teachers (including all new teachers) and that management has ensured that all teachers are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. However, these guidelines have not been brought to the attention of the ancillary staff of the school. It is recommended that the Child Protection Guidelines should be brought to the attention of the ancillary staff and revisited by the full staff at the outset of each school year. It is also recommended that new staff should be given a fuller introduction to the guidelines and that a summary of the guidelines should be included in the teacher’s handbook provided by the school.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The curriculum offered by the school is comprehensive and seeks to provide for the needs of all its students. The following programmes are currently available in the school: the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) programme. In addition the Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA) are also offered. However, the school reported that, due to choices made by students, the TY and LCA year one are not running this year. To ensure their future availability, it is recommended that the school reviews the strategies used to promote and encourage participation in these programmes.

 

The school offers a full-time Post-Leaving Certificate course in Business Studies accredited by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). In addition to this, the school provides the local community with an extensive and most successful adult education programme. This provision plays an important role in helping the school to establish itself as an integral part of its local community.

 

Within the post-primary programmes in the school, students are offered an appropriate set of core subjects. Students also have the opportunity to choose subjects from a wide range of optional subjects at both junior and senior cycles. Boyne Community School is concerned that every student enrolled should be furnished with opportunities to develop their ICT literacy, so junior cycle students follow a well-developed programme in ICT.

 

All fifth-year and sixth-year students are timetabled for a double period of games each week. It was reported by both teachers and students that participation in games was considered optional by some students. Where students do not present with the appropriate sport wear, they may choose to attend supervised study during the PE lesson. The school has endeavoured to improve student participation in physical activity by providing attractive options for students at this time such as kayaking. Whilst the school’s moves to encourage students to participate in physical activity are noted, games as stand-alone activities do not comprise a curricular subject and should not be included on the school timetable. To achieve a more rounded and comprehensive education in this area, the school’s physical education programme for senior students should be developed as outlined in Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. This should be part of the core curriculum in senior cycle and should provide opportunities for students to participate in as broad a range of activities as possible. Senior students could be consulted about the activities to be provided in this programme thus encouraging them to take more responsibility for decisions that affect their own health and fitness.

 

All students at the school are timetabled for a thirty-minute period of supervised study each week. This time is used by school staff for planning meetings as outlined in section 1.3 of this report. Some senior cycle students are timetabled for two further study periods per week, whilst their peers take Applied Mathematics and Enterprise studies. Fifth-year students may take Drama for one of these periods. This timetabling arrangement does not encroach on the requirement to provide twenty-eight hours of tuition per week. While it is acknowledged that some of these study periods are used by the guidance counsellor to deliver the guidance programme to individual senior cycle students, consideration should be given to using this time to provide guidance lessons for class groups in fifth year and sixth year. This recommendation is made in the separate report on guidance and it would enable the schools to better fulfil its obligation regarding the provision of appropriate guidance as outlined in section 9(c) of the Education Act, 1998.

 

In senior cycle, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is currently taught as part of Religious Education. It is recommended that the senior cycle RSE programme should be further developed in a similar style to the junior cycle RSE programme by agreeing and documenting the intended learning outcomes for each topic. The senior cycle programme should build on the work in junior cycle to ensure that there is a coherent and developmental approach to the planning and implementation of RSE from first year upwards. It is suggested that the support materials and the policy template for RSE that are available on the Department’s website (www.education.ie) might be useful in this regard. The school arranges for students to be given permission to attend presentations delivered by outside speakers by requesting permission slips to be signed by parents. In addition to this, it is recommended that a brief summary of the content of the RSE programme be sent to parents periodically to ensure that they are fully aware of its content.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

A subject sampling programme of approximately four weeks is organised for first-year students to facilitate experience of the optional subjects. This sampling programme is commended as a good way of helping first-year students to make informed subject choice decisions. As resources present, consideration could be given to a short extension of the sampling programme in order to ensure that all students have an opportunity to sample all of the subjects on offer before the subject choices are made. Option bands based on students’ preferences are subsequently generated and students make their final choices from these; this is good practice.

 

The subject choice process for fifth-year students involves collecting students’ preferences and banding the subject options accordingly. This aims to give students the best match of subjects with their choices.

 

The school provides JCSP students with a set curriculum which includes Science. It was reported by school management that this arrangement was established as a result of trends in students’ preferences over time. It is recommended that this arrangement should be reviewed regularly to ensure that each group of students taking the JCSP is provided with the range of subjects that best meets their needs and interests.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

A very wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is provided for students. These include events and activities with sporting, charitable and cultural dimensions. These take place during the school day, evenings and weekends. Providing this very good programme encourages students to pursue their own educational interests which, in turn, enriches their experience of learning and of school. Some of these events and activities attract a wide audience and in so doing promotes students’ achievements and helps to build student confidence. The generosity of the school’s staff in facilitating these opportunities is testament to the caring ethos of the school.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

From the planning documentation received during the evaluation, it was clear that subject development planning has been a priority for the school for some time. Subject departments meet formally and records of meetings are retained as part of subject department documentation. Reports are made to the senior management team on subject-related issues when necessary following these meetings. Formal meetings are supplemented by frequent informal meetings throughout the year.

 

Organisational and procedural matters relating to the smooth operating of subject departments have been addressed effectively to date. It is now time to focus on the curricular elements of subject planning in each of the subject departments. Particular emphasis should be placed on the development of expected learning outcomes for students in subject areas by year group. Curricular planning should be regularly reviewed and refined so that it accurately reflects the practicalities for teaching and learning of subjects in the school during any given school year. It is also recommended that documentation from the SDPI should be used to assist the planning process.

 

An extensive range of resources has been developed and is used by teachers to support teaching and learning. This work is highly commended. Subject departments do not have individual budgets; instead, requests are made to senior management for materials, equipment and additional resources as required. It is reported by staff that this system works well.

 

Teachers liaise with the learning support team when planning for students in their classes who have special educational needs. This is good practice. Special needs assistants (SNA) accompany students to some lessons and, in the classes visited during the whole-school evaluation, this was considered to be working well.

 

As part of the planning process, some subject teachers analyse students' outcomes in certificate examinations and compare these to the national averages each year. This analysis informs their planning for the following year. This good work should be extended to form a department wide analysis of students’ outcomes in all subjects to inform planning.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

There was good evidence of careful short-term planning, including the preparation of resources for the lessons observed. Lessons had clear aims, were generally well structured, purposeful and in most instances presented at a pace suited to the abilities of the students. The good practice of sharing the planned learning outcomes was evident in some classes and where this occurred it provided a clear focus for student attention. This good practice should be extended to all lessons.

 

Good links were established with prior learning at the beginning of lessons by reviewing homework, recapping on previous material and by questioning students to check understanding. In the classes visited, these strategies provided a suitable context for the introduction of new material.

 

A range of teaching styles and strategies helped to stimulate and maintain student interest and there were some very good examples of the effective use of active learning methods. In most cases, the methods used were successful in engaging students in the learning process. Teachers were not over-reliant on textbooks. In some instances there is scope to encourage students to take more responsibility for their own learning and raise their expectations. It is acknowledged that teachers are putting strategies in place to address this issue.

 

There were some good examples of the use of higher-order questions in lessons. This style of questioning is commended as it helps students develop critical thinking skills. Greater use of higher-order questions in both oral and written work is encouraged. There were some good examples of the use of ICT in teaching and learning. There is scope to plan for the further integration of ICT in teaching and learning.

 

Overall, classroom management was effective. Teaching and learning took place in a supportive environment, characterised by mutual respect and positive working relations. Students were encouraged for their efforts and when good work was completed it was appropriately affirmed.

 

Students generally exhibited levels of knowledge and skills consistent with their abilities in the various subject areas. In some subjects, students communicated effectively using the relevant subject specific terminology. The overall quality of students’ work in some subject areas was good.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Student achievement and progress are monitored and assessed by teachers using a range of assessment modes. Student-teacher interaction in class and oral questioning were used in lessons to check on learning. While questions asked were generally specific, relevant and matched to students’ abilities, in some lessons observed, lower order questions dominated.

 

Assessment is also conducted by means of written assignments, class tests and end-of-topic or end-of-unit tests. In practical subjects, students’ project, drawing and theory class work was regularly assessed. However, the inclusion of practical work in Christmas and end-of-year examinations varied between subjects. In some, a percentage of the marks is allocated for the completion of project work and homework. It is recommended that all formal tests should include the assessment of all the main components of a course, for example, oral proficiency in languages and practical work in relevant subjects.

 

The school has a homework policy and homework was planned and assigned in all the subject areas evaluated. In one subject, however, there was evidence to suggest that students are not always motivated to attempt or complete homework assignments. In another, very few homework copies were available for inspection. Subject department planning should include strategies to address this where it occurs. In general, while there was some evidence of marking and the provision of feedback to students on homework and tests, there is scope to incorporate the principles of assessment for learning into the assessment of students’ work. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (www.afl.ncca.ie) is a helpful source of information in this regard. It is recommended that, in addition to the provision of oral feedback, teachers should also provide written feedback on the quality of students' work. Also, where relevant, the maintenance of students' personal learning materials, note copies and portfolios, should receive recognition.

 

Formal mid-term, Christmas and end-of-year examinations are held each year and certificate examination students sit mock examinations in the second term. Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are administered to fifth-year students. It is recommended that the timing of the administration of these should be reviewed, as the information obtained from undertaking these tests should be used to assist students in making subject choices for the Leaving Certificate and in making choices for higher or further education or training. Parents are regularly informed of the nature of students’ progress through school reports, comments written in the students’ journals together and annual parent-teacher meetings.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The school’s admission policy espouses the principles of inclusiveness and equality. Both principles were very evident in the range of supports offered to students with additional education needs so that they would have maximum access to the school curriculum and participate fully in the life of the school.

 

The school has an allocation of eleven hours for learning support and a further 7.36 whole-time teacher equivalents for resource teaching. These hours are used effectively to provide support to students so that they can access the school curriculum to their potential. A register of students who need learning support was available in the school and this indicated that 143 students, including thirty-nine students with identified special educational needs (SEN), receive support. In addition, three students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are supported in a dedicated unit. In developing this register, it is recommended that, in addition to the names of students in receipt of support and a note on their learning needs, the level of detail should be extended to include the amount of additional hours allocated to them by the Department; the manner in which these hours are used; the teaching and non-teaching staff involved and a note on the progress made by students.

 

The school offers a range of supports to students, from withdrawal in small groups for extra help to in-class support. A significant number of teachers are involved in the withdrawal programme and they work with students to provide learning support in English, Mathematics or other subject areas. As currently organised, an individual student could have more than one teacher involved in the delivery of his or her support programme during the week. This has the potential to make continuity difficult particularly as the current arrangements rely heavily on informal communication between support teachers. In the 2007-08 year, the English support team and the mathematics support team had a formal meeting with the co-ordinator in an attempt to address this potential problem. It is recommended that, as a minimum, the same arrangement should be made each year. To achieve this, consideration should also be given to the establishment of a smaller team of support teachers. By maintaining the flexibility to invite other teachers to join the support team from time to time, the school can extend its expertise in this area and build its capacity to address the needs of all students.

 

The provision of in-class supports for students has many advantages. As a mode of delivering support, it promotes the inclusion of all students while also enhancing the learning opportunities for identified students. Overall, team-teaching allows support to be delivered in a very effective and discreet manner. The school’s commitment to the ongoing development of this very good practice is noted. Other forms of support include social skills training and advocacy. This latter form of support involves the allocation of a teacher as friend and advocate to a small cohort of students who have been identified as needing particular support. Weekly meetings between the student and his or her advocate are intended to support the student’s behaviour and academic efforts. It was reported in the school that this support has been particularly effective in meeting the needs of this group of students. The school is commended on its proactive approach to supporting these students.

 

Work began on the development of a learning support policy some time ago but was interrupted when the ASD unit was established. It is recommended that this should now be progressed. The draft policy should be reviewed to ensure it complies with the advice and guidance set out in the Department’s publication, Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (2007).

 

The work of the learning support team is co-ordinated by a senior post-holder with a specialist qualification in this area. The core team includes two resource teachers, one of whom is engaged full time in the ASD unit and is currently undertaking specialist training. All three teachers have clearly defined and distinct roles and they work collaboratively and effectively with one another. Formal planning time is provided for the three core members of the special educational needs support team who meet on a weekly basis. The eight special needs assistants meet with the co-ordinator regularly, though informally, and their work supporting students’ access to the curriculum is acknowledged.

 

There is good liaison between the special education needs department and the rest of the staff. All teachers are provided with a list of students in their classes who need learning support. A booklet is also provided by the co-ordinator which contains information on strategies and methodologies to be used with students with special needs. Where necessary, subject teachers can discuss learning strategies for individual students with the co-ordinator and this level of collaboration is good practice. This collegial and collaborative approach to determining how best to support students is evident again in the close working relationships established between the learning support and resource teachers, the school completion programme (SCP) co-ordinator, the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, guidance counsellor, year heads and class tutors.

 

A small number of students who do not have English as their first language are enrolled in Boyne Community School. Twelve students are receiving English language support and a comprehensive and up-to-date English language support plan, including programmes of work for individual students, is in place in the school. Currently, students’ proficiency in English is assessed using a combination of interviews, written assignment and consultation with mainstream class teachers. The provision of a very easy-to-use teacher feedback form for completion during the initial assessment phase is noted as good practice. The attention of the English language support teachers is brought to Circular Letter 0053/2007 which provides guidance on how assessment should be conducted. Currently, the assessment process occurs across a three-week period at the beginning of the first term, so that support classes do not begin until late September. It is recommended that assessments should be completed earlier so that support classes begin at the earliest opportunity.

 

Records in the school suggest that the majority of students have achieved pre-intermediate and intermediate stages of proficiency, although one student has been assessed at elementary level. Support classes are timetabled against Irish, from which English as an Additional Language (EAL) students have exemptions. This is a good use of their time in school, ensuring minimal disruption of their studies. However, it can mean that language support is provided to students in a one-to-one setting in some instances. Care should be taken to ensure language support classes comprise sufficient students to facilitate a communicative approach to teaching and learning, so that students can experience the language in an authentic way.

 

The school is committed to developing and maintaining a welcoming and respectful environment for all newcomer students and EAL teachers assist significantly in the integration of newcomer students in the school. At the time of the evaluation the school had put plans in place to hold an intercultural week to help all students celebrate their individual cultures. This is good practice and will help both students’ confidence and their integration in the school.

 

The school has a small population of Traveller students. These students benefit from the supports available to all students in the school.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Guidance is an integral part of the student support system in Boyne Community School and includes the provision of counselling services, which are funded in-part by the School Completion Programme. The Department provides an ex-quota allocation for Guidance of twenty-seven hours and thirty-five minutes. Fifteen hours and thirty-five minutes of this time is allocated to a qualified guidance counsellor who delivers the educational and careers elements of the guidance programme. A qualified counsellor and the chaplain use the balance of this time to deliver the personal counselling elements of the guidance programme.

 

There are no weekly timetabled classes for Guidance except for PLC students. Classes and small groups are taken for Guidance using various arrangements. It was reported by school management that students taking Applied Mathematics in senior cycle had no access to guidance lessons. The guidance counsellor is available to these students by appointment only. It is recommended that provision be made so that these students have access to guidance classes. Many of the topics dealt with and activities undertaken in guidance classes provide students with essential information regarding application procedures for CAO, colleges of further education and training; application for grants; and assist in the development of self-management skills required in later life. It is further recommended that some of the time referred to in section 3.1 be used to create opportunities for timetabled class contact in Guidance.

 

The school’s guidance plan was commenced in 2005 and currently includes the guidance policy of the school, the guidance programme for each year, details of the activities to be undertaken and the personnel involved in the delivery. It is recommended that the plan now be developed further in collaboration with the various partners using the templates available from the Department. On completion, the plan should be submitted to the board for ratification.

 

The school’s mission of care for students is reflected in its approach to providing supports for students and their parents for all aspects of students’ lives. The school offers parents opportunities to attend specific seminars on such issues as substance use to help support their children. Helpful educational packs are prepared for and distributed to parents at significant times during their children’s education. This work is highly commended.

 

As well as the formal care team structures in place, discussions with staff provided the evaluation team with a sense of students’ welfare being embedded in all of their interactions with students. An example of how school management promotes student care is echoed in the approach to class management outlined in the teacher’s handbook. A care policy has been developed but has not been ratified yet. It is recommended that this policy should be developed as necessary and ratified as soon as is possible.

 

Excellent care structures are in place. A very effective care team is established comprising the HSCL co-ordinator, chaplain, and School Completion Programme co-ordinator as core members. The care team also includes input from the guidance counsellor, deputy principal and the SEN co-ordinator as needs require. All other members of staff are encouraged to join the meetings if they wish, including the school’s counsellor and attendance officer. Communication between the various members of the team is reported to be good and formal meetings are held on a weekly basis at which minutes are recorded. Appropriate information from these meetings is communicated to staff as necessary.

 

The school’s counsellor is employed part-time in the school. An appropriate referral system is in place so that students can avail of this support with the permission of their parents. To help students in difficulty, links have been made with a large number of external bodies including the Visiting Teacher Services, Health Service Executive, and National Educational Psychological Service amongst others.

 

The school’s chaplain makes a very positive input into the educational experiences of students in the school. The role of the chaplain in Boyne Community School is described as nurturing a spiritual presence and awareness. The chaplain visits all class groups and organises a programme of religious celebrations during the school year. All students returning to the school following suspension are met by the chaplain to help them progress positively. This is a good strategy. Together with five other teachers, the chaplain co-ordinates the Rainbows programme in the school. The chaplain also visits the student council on a regular basis to promote charitable work.

 

A critical incident response team is in place which includes the guidance counsellor, the HSCL co-ordinator and the chaplain. A plan has been prepared by the team which details the procedures to be followed in the event of a critical incident. This good work should be concluded and sent to the board for ratification.

 

The school has put in place a number of strategies to celebrate and promote students’ achievements, including a breakfast club, a homework club and an arts club. Students who are financially disadvantaged are sensitively helped by the school using funds obtained through DEIS.

 

To implement an anti-bullying ethos amongst students, all first-year students are taught about anti-bullying issues. The school’s counsellor trains senior students in personal development and leadership so that, as mentors, they may help first-year students develop socially during their first year in the school. An Anti-bullying Awareness Week is held during the school year to help students remain aware of the issue and the school has also introduced the ‘Cool School’ programme. Staff reported that these strategies were successfully keeping bullying to a minimum. The school has prepared an anti-bullying policy which was sent to the student council for comment. It is recommended that priority be given to its conclusion and ratification.

 

It was reported by the school that a number of students join the school late during the school year. The year head and tutor systems are available to help support these students as they settle into school. In addition, a sixth-year student is assigned specifically to mentor and support these students. To further this good work, it is suggested that the task of integrating these new students into the student population should be assigned as part of a post of responsibility.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The school has made significant progress since its establishment in 2001. Enrolment is steadily increasing and it has established close links with the local community.

·         Care of students is the core value of the school and it informs the beliefs, activities and aspirations of the school community. An excellent care system is in place to support students.

·         School planning, which includes goal setting and the achievement of annual targets, is on-going.

·         Classroom management was observed to be effective and took place in a supportive environment characterised by mutual respect and positive working relations.

·         A very wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities and events is available to students.

·         The school offers a wide range of supports for students with additional learning needs including a variety of in-class supports, social skills training and advocacy.

·         Students generally exhibited levels of knowledge and skills consistent with their abilities in the various subject areas evaluated and the overall quality of students’ work in some of these subject areas was good.

 

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

 

·         The board should develop a medium-term plan to progress the development priorities it has identified and to outline the future direction of the school.

·         A comprehensive review of the schedule of posts of responsibility should be undertaken. This should be informed by an audit of the school’s needs.

·         Responsibility for co-ordinating school development planning should be devolved to middle management. The planning process should be reviewed to include more input from parents and students. Policies currently under development should be concluded and presented to the board for ratification.  

·         The code of behaviour should be reviewed and redrafted in light of the guidelines issued by the National Educational Welfare Board.

·         The Child Protection Guidelines should be brought to the attention of the ancillary staff and revisited with the full staff at the outset of each school year. It is also recommended that new staff should be given a fuller introduction to the guidelines and that a summary of the guidelines should be included in the teacher’s handbook provided by the school.

 

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

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of English – 17 October 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Guidance – 22 October 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Home Economics – 21 October 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies – 21 October 2008

 

 

  

 

Published November 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

                                                                                                                                 School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

  

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

·         The report was found to be comprehensive, factual, and endorsed much of the on-going good practices in the school.

 

·         The report has already proved valuable in providing guidelines regarding the format of future development.

 

·         Observations and recommendations are made in an assistive manner  and demonstrate an awareness of issues facing teachers and management in the day to day running of the school.

 

·         The Board of Management would like to thank the inspection team for the professional manner in which the review was carried out.

 

 

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

 

·         The Code of Behaviour has been reviewed and redrafted as recommended

 

·         An audit of the school’s needs was undertaken with the help of a member of the SDPI team. A review of the schedule of posts of responsibility was then completed by a representative team of teachers. The recommendations of this team were implemented at the outset of the current school year.

 

·         A new post with responsibility for the co-ordination of school development planning has been put in place.

 

·         Work has begun on the formulation of a medium-term plan to progress identified development priorities and to establish a structure to implement future plans. Teams are presently working in five main areas – management, teaching and learning, curriculum, pastoral care, and planning.

 

·         The Child Protection Guidelines have been circulated to all ancillary staff and to all new teachers. All teachers were reminded of their obligations in this regard at the outset of the school year.