An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Tobar Mhaigh Dor, Trá Lí, Contae Chiarraí
Roll number: 70560K
Date of inspection: 1 April 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí was undertaken in March – April 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí developed from an all-Irish unit (Aonad Lán-Ghaeilge) established in 1984 at the request of the board of management of Scoil Mhic Easmainn, in Tralee Community College. The formation of the Aonad Lán-Ghaeilge was a response to the need to provide continuity of educational provision for children who had completed their primary education through the medium of Irish in Gaelscoileanna in and around Tralee, and in other primary schools. The unit was granted independent status by the Department of Education and Science in 1989. In 1989, the Aonad Lán-Ghaeilge transferred to the present building with a cohort of about 50 students and a staff of six teachers, and became Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí, a school in the scheme of the Kerry Education Service (KES), then known as the Town of Tralee Vocational Education Committee (VEC). There is a strong feeling among the members of the board of management that the autonomy created for the board by re-structuring the school as a community school would enhance its capacity to fulfil its responsibility to guide the ethos of the school, particularly in the appointment of staff.
The naming of the school signifies its broader catchment, currently serving students from areas within a radius of about 35 kilometres. The school is inclusive of all students whose parents have expressed a desire that they be educated through Irish and who have applied for entry to the school. In support of this, it was reported by senior management that a significant number of students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the number of applications from the parents of pupils attending primary schools in which the main language of communication is English.
The school is growing. The current enrolment of 255 students is projected by KES to reach 350 in the medium term. Provision for this number is recommended as a planning issue by the Commission on School Accommodation in its Area Development Plan for North Kerry 2006-2011. The building in Moyderwell, close to the centre of Tralee, was constructed between 1913 and 1914 to accommodate the Central Technical School, originally opened in 1903. In later years, in the ownership of the VEC, it served various educational functions as the need for space arose in, for example, the Institute of Technology. It still houses the VEC’s administrative office for adult and continuing education. The building is of two storeys and, for a building of its age, is bright, well maintained and well decorated. The provision of a new school has been under active consideration by the board of management in consultation with the KES. A number of potential sites have been identified although none of these has received the full approval of the board. A separate building on the site of the school has been refurbished to a high standard as a small auditorium. This is available to students and to the general public for cultural events and is a major enhancement of the school’s facilities. In addition, the school has established a cultural centre that was officially inaugurated in 1994.
The school has a clear mission. It aims to provide an education of high quality through the medium of Irish in a pleasant environment. It also aims to foster in students an appreciation and a love of the Irish language and of Irish culture in a spirit of openness to other cultures. There is a strong sense at all levels in the school that it has a major role to play in the promotion of a positive attitude in the community to the Irish language and culture. It is clear that these aims continue to be powerful motivators for staff and management. The inspection team was impressed by the warm welcome received, and by the active interest of staff and senior management in the potential for improvement afforded by the outcomes of the whole-school evaluation. In this regard, management is commended for having acted on the recommendations of a previous inspection report.
Irish is the language of teaching and of communication in the school. Its documentation, although limited, reflects well the stated policy of the board in relation to the language. The inclusion of the mission statement in, for example, the student handbook and the admission policy is good practice and reiterates the clearly-held values of the school. The staff, both teachers and ancillary staff, is confident and competent in its roles in relation to the mission of the school. Relationships among staff, between staff and students, and with parents are good. Communication is largely informal, befitting a school of its current size. Interactions between senior management and parents were observed to be cordial. Similarly, at various times during the whole-school evaluation, staff members were observed in the management of student activities, such as a table quiz, and in preparations for the awards evening. Interactions on those occasions were respectful, collaborative and good-natured. It was clear that some of the business of the school is conducted effectively at this level, adding to the importance of the solid relationships that have been established with its local partners in education.
The implementation by the KES of its Education Plan 2006 – 2010 adds significantly to the potential for development of Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí by providing a structure upon which strategic planning may progress and by providing an advisory service to guide the process. Initiatives and aspirations of the KES that may be utilised in the interests of the school and, ultimately, in the interests of students include the recently established forum for parents, the commitment to the development of boards of management and to the promotion of the Irish language and culture. To these ends, much negotiation has taken place between the board and KES to advance plans related to accommodation and to the development of formal structures in the school.
The board of management is a sub-committee of the KES and is properly constituted. The board consists of twelve members; two nominees each of the parents’ association and of the school staff, four nominees of the KES, one nominee of each of the two gaelscoileanna, Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn and Gaelscoil Aogáin, that were instrumental in the establishment of the school, one nominee of the Churches and one nominee of the district committee (Coiste Dúiche) of Conradh na Gaeilge. Communication with the partners in the school is mainly achieved through the relevant members of the board. Members of the parents’ association expressed satisfaction with the level and means of communication. There is a tacit agreement that issues confidential to the board are discussed only at board meetings. It is recommended that a more formal agreement be reached prior to the conclusion of board meetings regarding the reporting of issues discussed in the course of the meeting to the nominating bodies. It is also recommended that an annual report on the activities of the board be supplied to parents in compliance with the requirements of the Education Act 1998.
The meetings of the board are structured and the minutes show that they are conducted in keeping with good practice. Important issues, referred to below, regarding the development of the school were among the agenda items of recent meetings. In addition, and in common with other boards of management in the scheme of the KES, and in the VEC sector in general, the board has assumed greater responsibility for the financial management and general maintenance of the school. It is noted that, in the year prior to this evaluation, three meetings of the board had taken place. It is recommended that, in the normal course of events, the board should meet more frequently. At times of more intense planning, such as that envisaged in this report, it is suggested that planning and policy issues, either initiated by the board itself or initiated by, for example, the staff of the school, should provide sufficient material to warrant the arrangement of additional meetings to allow discussion prior to decisions of the board. The context of such meetings should include not only the school’s aims and values but also that proposed by, for example, the KES in its Education Plan 2006-2010.
A number of other events have had implications for the advancement of these processes. These include the appointment of a new deputy principal in 2008, the school’s engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), and the increase in enrolment. The positive view of the ongoing engagement with the KES through its Education Officer was noted on a number of occasions during the whole-school evaluation. This was the case among parents, for example, who viewed the Parents’ Forum initiated by the KES, in a most positive light and had, as one outcome, a commendable collaboration by parents and staff in the arrangement of a parent-teacher meeting prior to the mid-term break. It is noted that opportunities to share experiences have been provided by KES for administrators in its scheme and that these opportunities have been welcomed by staff in the school. It is recommended that the current momentum of these positive elements be exploited to advance plans for the development of the school, both in physical terms by the identification of an acceptable site, and in the advancement of the school plan through the SDPI.
The informality that characterises communication in the school also characterises its approach to the development of policies and procedures. Documentation of policies and procedures, essentially the foundations of the school plan, has been ongoing, although the emphasis has been on the practical implementation of such policies and procedures. The student diary, for example, contains relevant documentation of the school’s code of behaviour and school calendar.
The principal and deputy principal collaborate effectively in the management of the school. Both are staff members of long standing, having been among the six who formed the original staff. It is clear that senior management members have adapted well to their developing professional relationship. Both share a commitment to the values of the school and have been successful in achieving a smooth transition in their changing and complementary roles. It is also clear from initiatives outlined elsewhere in this report that the school-development process is being managed in collaboration with the board of management and with the staff. The relationship between senior management and the staff is cordial and mainly informal. Communication is ongoing and effective in this context. The needs of the school as it expands have been generally anticipated and the need for some formality has been recognised. This move towards more formal structures and processes is commended.
The advantages of good relationships at Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí should not be underestimated in planning the development of the school. This is particularly the case where the talents and amenability of staff members will continue to be major factors in the development of, for example, a more formal middle-management structure, in the development and review of policies, in the identification of the needs of the school, and by their participation in the management of the school through posts of responsibility. Similarly, the positive relationships and favourable channels of communication between senior management, parents and with the board nominees have been an important factor in the involvement of the partners in the school in the planning process. The advantages of more formal structures (such as the documentation of processes and procedures) also, should not be underrated. Such formalities are a feature of those judged systemically effective.
Responsibilities associated with posts of responsibility at Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí include planning, public relations, examinations, the use of Irish in the school, and programme co-ordination. Three assistant principals and three special duties teachers share these responsibilities. Most staff members monitor the well-being and guidance of particular class groups by assuming the roles of class teacher in addition to their subject-teaching duties. This is a commendable element of whole-school guidance. In the interest of continuity, it is suggested that, inasmuch as possible, a class teacher should continue in that role with a specific class. The planning process will reveal other tasks and responsibilities that should be devolved to staff. In order that all staff may experience a variety of responsibilities, it is recommended that responsibilities be reviewed regularly and rotated among staff. Such a system should ensure continuity and an upgrading of the skills and experience of all staff; in keeping with the aims proposed by the KES in its 2008 draft document Developing Schools and Enriching Learning Project. For the same reasons it is recommended that other roles should be rotated also. These include the co-ordination of subject departments and programmes such as the Transition Year (TY), the teaching of subjects at higher, ordinary or foundation level, and nominees to the board of management. It is good practice to notify these changes to staff through the regular posting of the identified and agreed duties, and of the staff members who have assumed responsibility for them.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and facilitated by senior management. At the time of whole-school evaluation, for example, two staff members were engaged in studies for part-time master’s degrees and a number of staff had been enabled to participate as examiners of oral languages and vocational preparation in certificate examinations. Some staff members also act as mentors to newly appointed teachers and the mathematics department is participating in the piloting of the Project Maths initiative.
There was some feeling among staff members that their achievements have been overshadowed by the effort involved in bringing initiatives to fruition. Staff should consider means by which these efforts in all spheres of interest might be celebrated. The affirmation of effort and work well done in all areas is an integral element of the life of the school and warrants collective celebration.
Students are courteous and well behaved. The code of behaviour is published in the student journal, a copy of which is in the possession of each student. A meeting with the students’ council confirmed that, in general, students perceive the school in a positive light, a finding affirmed by parents and, by inference, by the high rates of attendance and retention of students. It is clear that the students’ council thrives in the positive atmosphere of the school. Issues of substance continue to be addressed during its well-organised meetings. Among these is the school’s participation in the Green-Schools programme. Students have conducted a review of the school’s environmental strengths as one of the initial steps in the attainment of Green Flag status.
It is evident that the staff has been successful in the creation of an environment that encourages responsible behaviour. Suggestions by the students’ council regarding, for example, the toilet facilities, the decoration of the building and the provision of suitable dining furniture have been favourably received and acted upon by management in collaboration with, and with funding provided by the parents’ association. Similarly, students’ request that Home Economics be added to the curriculum has been considered and brought to board of management level. Details of a resource pack for students’ councils and information regarding the inclusion of a module on students’ councils in Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) in second-level schools are available at www.studentcouncil.ie and should be brought to the attention of all council members. In line with comments made elsewhere in this report, the maintenance of such a positive atmosphere should be a fundamental value in all planned change.
The school is inclusive, accepting all students who apply for admission. References in the school’s admissions policy to admission based on the availability of resources should be amended or deleted, in line with current, inclusive practice. The admission process is open and consultative. An information evening is organised annually and parents of prospective students are encouraged to discuss with senior management the benefits of the school, particularly regarding its provision of education through the Irish language. It is noted that the proportion of students whose primary education has been through the medium of English is increasing annually. Inspectors’ comments regarding the standard of Irish observed reveal that the school has successfully integrated such students by raising their competence in Irish to the required standard. This is highly commended. It has been estimated by staff that most students have reached that standard by the end of first year. A factor in this process is the range of cultural, sporting and intellectual activities, organised by staff, in which students are encouraged to participate.
The paragraph in the formal letter to the parents of first-year students, dated 20 May 2008 and part of the admission process, regarding the payment of a subscription to the school to cover the costs of photocopying and other expenses is ambiguous and should be re-written. In its present form, it may be read to imply that the subscription is compulsory.
The parents’ association is active, well structured, and supportive of the school. Representatives of the association attend events organised by the National Parents’ Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (NPAVSCC), to which the association is affiliated, and the parents’ forum organised by the KES. Two parents are nominated by the association to the board of management. Such participation has clear advantages both for the school and for parents, encouraging collaboration in support of the school through the generation of ideas for development and through fund-raising activities and cultural events. Examples include an annual table quiz, a sports day and an evening of Irish entertainment (oiche shiamsaíochta) and support for a fund for families in need. An issue regarding the application of rules about the use of Irish in the school was raised by the parents’ association in the past year and stimulated productive discussions between parents and management. The outcomes of the discussions included the formation of Bord na Gaeilge, a committee to oversee the maintenance of the school’s all-Irish ethos and a commitment to the review of procedures in the light of experience. A current aim of the association is to provide an interactive whiteboard for classroom use. It is suggested by staff that such laudable initiatives should be integrated into the planning process so that proposals for the disposal of funds should be considered in the context of the prioritised needs identified through that process. This suggestion is in keeping with existing collaborative practice and is supported. It is pleasing to note that feedback to parents from their children attending the school confirms the positive findings in this report about the supportive social, personal and academic ethos of the school.
Communication with parents and with the wider community is achieved through newsletters, news items in local and national newspapers and through the social network of staff and management. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group and are considered by parents to be a satisfactory part of the communication process in addition to reports following school examinations and any communication through the students’ diary. An annual awards ceremony in organised by the KES, in addition to a variety of events for parents and students organised by staff. A comprehensive scrapbook of newspaper clippings and other items related to the school has been compiled by a staff member on a continuous basis since the formation of the school. This shows clearly that the items, which represent a wide range of events, are more than mere reports, but show the results of considerable ongoing efforts on the part of staff and students. Included in these efforts are the arrangement of visits to the school by representatives of educational and community agencies that provide inputs into lessons across the range of subjects. Similarly, prominent past-students are regularly invited to participate in school events and are featured in school brochures showing their current status. Their willingness to provide such support is an additional indication of the positive regard in which the school is held.
School review is an ongoing component of communication in the school. Adjustments are made to the curriculum, to the responsibilities assigned to staff and to plans regarding the school building when appropriate and following consultation with staff. Some recommendations regarding the formalising of the process are made elsewhere in this report.
The total allocation of teaching staff for 2008 – 2009 by the Department of Education and Science was 18.6 posts. Seventeen whole-time and three part-time teachers fill these posts. In addition, allocation was granted for two special-needs assistants. A secretary, a caretaker and a part-time cleaner complete the staff. These resources have been well administered by the senior management. The collaboration of staff in maximising the use of the allocation is commended.
Although the school building is of some architectural merit, it has been beset by problems associated with its flat roofed construction. Funding was provided by the Department in 2006 for work on the replacement and repair of roof structures. The remediation of these problems continues to be an issue for the board. The electrical system was upgraded to a high standard in the past year and work on the replacement of window frames is ongoing. The board of management is also conscious of the desirability of making the upper storey more accessible to those of limited mobility. The board has engaged in negotiations with the KES and the Department of Education and Science with a view to improving such access. A number of options, including the installation of a lift, have been presented. The issue has been complicated by the 2006 recommendation by the Commission on School Accommodation that a technical assessment should be conducted to determine whether its existing accommodation could be successfully extended and refurbished or whether a new school should be provided. In light of the constraints inherent in the current building, especially in the light of growing enrolment, the board’s preference is that a new school be provided. A number of sites have been proposed by the KES, the most recent of which has been judged unsuitable due to its location on a site of archaeological interest close to a proposed road traffic roundabout.
Effective use is made of information and communication technology (ICT) both in the administration of the school, especially in the running of an efficient school office, and in the planning and implementation of lessons. The provision and maintenance of ICT facilities are a priority for senior management in accordance with its ICT plan and policies, and this is well supported by the KES. Students have access to filtered broadband internet in a computer room equipped with twenty-five workstations.
It is clear from its minutes, from the work already carried out, and from its plans for the future, that school management is conscious of its responsibilities in compliance with health and safety regulations. Despite its age, the building is well maintained and cleaned daily. Safety checks have been carried out by independent safety consultants at the request of the board, in 2007 for example, and actions have been taken in response to their recommendations. The school’s safety statement (Ráiteas Sábháltachta Ghaelcholáiste Chiarraí) was ratified by the board in 2001. It is recommended that a planning task-group be formed as soon as possible to review and update the safety statement in the light of legislation, such as the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, and guidelines available from the Health and Safety Authority.
The primary mission of the school, to provide a high quality education through the medium of Irish, is understood by staff, parents and students. Plans to date have reflected these aims and have been directed towards the maintenance of the school’s ethos in the context of growth and of the policy implications of the Education Act 1998. It is anticipated that these will continue to exercise the board. The appointment in 2008 of a school-development planning co-ordinator is indicative of the intention of senior management to engage in a more structured way with formal planning and to encourage the involvement of staff in school development. The decision to engage more formally with the SDPI follows the perception by senior management of the benefits of such engagement in formalising processes by using the structures and resources available through the SDPI. It is recommended that this process be advanced by the formation of a small co-ordinating team, as envisaged in SDPI documents, whose functions would include the initial planning review and the monitoring of time-limited task groups responsible for the development and implementation of prioritised elements of the plan.
The board has been involved in the consideration and ratification of plans presented to it by staff, parents and the KES, through senior management. Much of the board’s planning work in recent years has related to the development of the physical structure of the school, as outlined above. Such work is likely to continue for some time. Similarly, matters related to the constitution of the school as a centre for the provision of an all-Irish education have been the focus of some of the board’s meetings. While these are crucial to the stated aims of the school, it is noted that the provision of a good education is also part of the school’s mission. It is timely that learning and teaching are major current themes in whole-school planning at a national level. In this context, it is also timely that staff members take an active role in the development of planning proposals and in the formation of the school plan. It is recommended that learning and teaching be identified as issues for planning, both at a subject-department level and at a whole-school level. This process should be guided by senior management and advanced by the small co-ordinating group. Much of the existing documentation has been prepared by senior management. The involvement of staff should serve to ensure continuity in a changing environment, the documentation of the planning process, and a sense of ownership by staff of decisions made and of the policies formed and reviewed.
Subject-department planning has been ongoing and most subjects have some formalised structures. It is recommended that this formalisation be extended to all subjects, including those with minimal staffing, such that subject-department short-term and long-term plans may be integrated more fully into the whole-school plan. Attention may then be focused on teachers’ professional development in the areas of learning and teaching, as already recommended.
It is also timely that the school’s more formal engagement with the SDPI planning process should coincide with the major drive by the KES to enrich the experiences of all in education through a focus on processes and relationships.
The compilation of the school plan itself is at an embryonic stage. Although policy development has been ongoing and policies have been documented, the plan, as it stands, lacks some cohesion. The required policies have been ratified, or are in the process of ratification by the board of management. These include the admissions policy, recently ratified by the board, the code of behaviour, and the health and safety policy (Polasaí Sláinte agus Slandála). The board has been guided in the development of some of these by the KES. It is noted that the KES Education Plan 2006-2010 is clearly positive in its support for the Irish language and for education through Irish. Policies currently in draft form should be ratified as soon as is practicable. Three or four staff meetings are arranged each year. Approximately fifty percent of the agenda of these meetings is devoted to planning issues.
Some policy documents seen in the course of the whole-school evaluation are due for review. The critical incident management plan (Plean Bainistíochta Eachtra Chriticiúil), for example, is currently under review by a group of staff in keeping with the document’s own recommendation that it be reviewed annually. While the plan outlines clearly the actions to be taken in such circumstances, particularly by the designated liaison person (DLP) and the deputy DLP, it is suggested that the responsibilities of other staff members in times of crisis should be included also. In the case of other documents, it is recommended that the support of the partners in the school, including that of students, be included to add to the substance of the documents and to participate in the prioritised programme of review. It is also recommended that the implications of commitments, such as to an annual review, given in some policy documents be examined and the documents be made more specific and manageable. The involvement of parents in the development of the relationship and sexuality education (RSE) document might be made more explicit, for example, and processes mentioned in the health and safety statement, such as how an issue might be dealt with or how a review might be carried out, could be described in more detail. It is also suggested that the inclusion in policy documents of their dates of ratification and their proposed review dates is a useful aid to determining the priorities for review.
The school development planning process is a useful vehicle by means of which the needs of the school, including the professional needs of staff, may be elucidated. The process should include a structured forum by means of which the opinions of staff regarding the needs of the school may be expressed, prioritised and advanced. To date these issues have been dealt with by staff and management on an ad hoc basis. The installation of a defibrillator and a briefing session for staff regarding its use exemplifies the process and commendably illustrates the close relationship between any planned initiative and CPD or in-service training. An obvious disadvantage of an ad hoc system is that the urgent may be mistaken for the important.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP), the principal, and a deputy (DLP), the deputy principal, have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
The curriculum, for a school of its size, is broad, well balanced and comprehensive. Teaching hours are maximised in the construction of the timetable and subject inspectors commented favourably on the generally even distribution of lessons throughout the week. Conscious of increasing enrolment, senior management and staff continually monitor the range of subjects and other educational experiences available to students and make provision accordingly. This is very good practice. In addition to the mandatory subjects outlined in the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, junior-cycle students study Business Studies, French, German, Materials Technology (Wood), Science, Technical Graphics and Art. Music is also available as a subject additional to the timetable. This is a positive reflection of the versatility and commitment of staff to providing a broad education, and to the principle of informed choice when Junior Certificate examination subjects are chosen at the end of first year.
The Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and TY programmes are available to students. TY is optional. The high proportion of the cohort of third-year students who opt for the programme is indicative of its attractiveness both to students and to parents.
Art is also available as an optional subject and, with Home Economics and Physical Education (PE) is a priority of school management for permanent inclusion on the curriculum. Its concurrent timetabling with PE should be reconsidered in the light of recent reports on the health of young people in Ireland, the mandatory requirement that PE be provided for all students and the school's commendable desire to facilitate students' access to Art. The development of PE is complicated by the small site footprint of the school that precludes the development of PE facilities. Despite this constraint, the timetable has been constructed to enable students to walk to the facilities of another school. The arrangement involves some administrative effort on the part of management, and some flexibility on the part of staff. Both are commended.
Classes are of mixed ability, although concurrent timetabling of Gaeilge, English and Mathematics, in years other than first year, facilitates some grouping of students in accordance with aptitudes for those subjects.
Optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate examination are chosen by students at the end of third year or fourth year. Subjects are arranged for timetabling purposes following a process of consultation that includes considerations of students’ preferences, the availability of staff and the maximisation of the number of available subjects. This is commended, as is the flexibility allowed to students early in the autumn term to reconsider their chosen subjects. Students are encouraged to engage with subjects at the highest level appropriate to their abilities. The attached subject inspection reports indicate that staff members have been successful in their assessment of students’ abilities in collaboration with parents and in aiding students’ performance in certificate examinations. The inputs of staff who provide ongoing advice and support to students in the process of making decisions is acknowledged by parents and senior management to be a valuable factor in their positive achievements in these examinations.
In the current year, thirty-seven students were enrolled in the TY programme, necessitating the formation of two class groups. The programme is reviewed annually by staff and modified according to the perceived needs and interests of staff and students. TY is well balanced educationally. It includes two fortnights of work experience and modules of all available Leaving Certificate subjects, facilitating informed choice prior to entry to fifth year.
The commitment of staff to providing a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular experiences to students is highly commended. This achievement is more noteworthy given the constraints of space and facilities, and demonstrates the creativity of staff in overcoming these impediments. There was universal approval by parents, students, management and staff of the broad range and high quality of provision. This includes activities in the spheres of sport, culture, entertainment, and education that are tailored annually to the needs and interests of students. Students have participated recently in events as diverse as the Young Scientist Exhibition, inter-schools debating in English and in Irish, dancing and rock, traditional and operatic music events. In addition to football and hurling, students participate in orienteering, swimming, cross-country running, handball and basketball. The determination of students is exemplified by permission given by the GAA that the school may participate in Cork schools’ hurling competitions in the absence of such a structure in Kerry. Other student involvements include the compilation if the school’s yearbook, mathematical and essay competitions, and in open events, such as college open days. The involvement of parents in the arrangement and management of some of these events is additional evidence of collaborative practice already noted.
It is symbolic of a well-established value of equality in the school that its literature displays participation by a variety of students in curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
Inspectors note a favourable environment of collaboration and co-operation among subject teachers. At a more formal level, subject departments have been established and almost all have a designated co-ordinator. Such structures are seen by inspectors to be an efficient means to manage planning work, especially where planning templates are used. Where this is not the case, it is recommended that a co-ordinator be appointed and that the position be rotated regularly as a means of enhancing the leadership and organisational skills of all department members.
Both formal and informal departmental meetings take place throughout the school year. Typically, the school year begins with a formal planning meeting and concludes with a formal review meeting. Other informal meetings take place during the year. Practices observed in some subject departments, such as minute-keeping that add structure to meetings and, by extension, facilitate clarity, transparency and continuity, are recommended for extension across all departments.
The minutes of the meetings of some subject departments record the discussion of classroom issues, such as effective teaching and learning strategies. This commendable practice is worthy of consideration, not only by all subject departments, but also across subjects that share similar classroom practices. Discussion of strategies that enhance the learning experience of students with special educational needs would be an ideal focus for all departments. Indeed, staff members recognise the need for ongoing professional development in this area as they are eager to respond effectively to the needs of these students. Such a whole-school initiative would have the added benefit of acknowledging the knowledge and skills that various staff members possess in this area. Similarly, the practice of rotating responsibility for teaching subjects at the higher and ordinary levels, and at foundation level, where provided, is recommended as an enhancement of teachers’ experience, skills and professional responsibilities.
All departments observed are engaged in the subject development-planning process. Documentation included in subject plans includes overarching aims, subject-specific objectives, schemes of work, lists of resources, syllabuses as well as organisational details. In some instances yearly schemes of work are accompanied by common assessment plans. This is good practice. In the case of individual subjects evaluated, it was found that the weekly time allocation was appropriate and well-balanced in each case. Positive mention is made of the appropriate and balanced choice of content in the TY plan. Individual subject-inspection reports make reference to specific areas that individual departments should address as a means of furthering the subject development-planning process. One recommendation common to a number of subject areas is the development of schemes of work to include reference to methodologies, differentiation strategies and assessment modes. It is also suggested that, insofar as possible, a subject should be taught by the same teacher for the duration of a programme.
Individual planning of lessons was found to be good throughout. Teachers had identified desired learning outcomes for lessons observed and had given due consideration to the appropriate methodologies required to achieve these. Effective use was also made of teaching and learning aids such as worksheets, handouts and PowerPoint presentations. The work done by one department in sourcing suitable texts and in developing glossary material for students studying through the medium of Irish is highly commended.
The quality of learning and teaching was good or very good, and was positively influenced by good teacher organisation across the range of subject areas evaluated. Support materials were prepared for use as required. Equipment, such as overhead or data projectors, was ready in advance of lessons and good consideration was given to appropriate seating arrangements for different lessons and different class sizes. Some classrooms, particularly where these were essentially subject base-rooms, had good visual displays enhancing the learning atmosphere and the learning opportunities of students. Some good outlines of lesson aims and objectives were noted and, as further supports to students’ learning, recommended for wider use where possible. In all subject areas observed, the material presented was fully appropriate to relevant syllabuses, programmes and student levels.
The teaching observed showed a commendably high degree of understanding of the varied abilities and aptitudes of students. While the language of instruction in all lessons was Irish, teachers were never slow to explain terms in simpler Irish or occasionally in English, as students’ understanding required. Keywords and scaffolded board work, for example, were used productively in a number of lessons. Differentiation was also evident in teachers’ awareness of the preferred learning styles, and sometimes of the personal interests, of students, with lesson content well tailored to such interests. Innovative card games and role playing, group work and practical work, for example, are praised in different subject-inspection reports for their support of students’ varied learning styles. In some instances, recommendations are made that further variety be added to lesson delivery, by increasing, for example, the focus on visual stimuli like images, maps or diagrams in lessons, and by the wider use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool.
Inspectors commented favourably on the positive rapport and interaction between teachers and students throughout lessons in every subject area observed. Questioning of students by teachers was an important feature of lesson development in all instances. In general, questions were well spread around the class, and sometimes included innovative ideas like asking a student to act as a quasi quizmaster to help review previous learning, or asking students to complete missing words or numerical challenges. In some subject areas, inspectors recommend that questioning styles be varied, particularly by the inclusion of more higher-order questioning, to stimulate students’ reflection and autonomous learning.
Whether through questioning, board work or discussion, teachers are commended for the supportive manner in which students’ learning is being enhanced. Slightly more emphasis on students' note making and on whole-class discussion is recommended in some instances, as a means of further boosting student retention and engagement. Overall, however, it is reaffirmed that effective teaching and learning is the norm across the range of classes and subjects inspected. Existing expertise and good practice in subject departments are valuable resources within the school. These could be used profitably to exemplify and affirm such good practice for the benefit of all staff, particularly when whole-school planning is focused on learning and teaching. Teachers are commended for being clearly open to such a path.
Students’ ongoing progress is assessed through observation during class, through questioning and through the assignment and correction of class work and homework. More formally, regular class tests and in-house examinations are used to assess students’ progress. Non-state examination class groups sit for examinations at Christmas and summer. State examination classes sit for pre-examinations in the spring. Results are communicated to parents twice yearly in school reports. Parents may also avail of the opportunity to meet teachers on request in addition to annual and, for some year groups, twice-yearly parent-teacher meetings. The students’ journal is also used as a means of two-way communication by teachers and parents. Reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations (RACE) are addressed by the school, and managed, particularly, by the special educational-needs department. Staff members are mindful of the need to provide students with the opportunity to become attuned to the accommodations before the State examinations.
Written and learning homework was set in many of the lessons observed, in order to consolidate students’ learning. This is good practice, as it provides an opportunity for students to develop their skills, and reinforces understanding. Good monitoring of students’ homework, including teacher commentary, is noted in some instances. In other cases, inspectors advise that consideration could be given to the implementation of the desirable practice of teacher-based comments, which reflects the principles of assessment for learning (AfL). Greater use of self-assessment by students of their own written work is also recommended. By doing so, teachers supportively delegate to students the responsibility for the identification of areas for self-improvement. Students should be encouraged regularly to monitor and correct their own work. Good oral questioning of students was found to be a feature of many lessons.
Teachers record and retain results of students’ achievement and progress in assessments, as well as their attendance. This is commended. It is suggested that the subject departments compile a written analysis of the school’s achievement in State examinations and that this analysis be provided to management.
The school has good structures in place which attend to the needs of all its students, including students identified with special educational needs. Two qualified and dedicated post-holders work effectively with each other and with other staff, including special-needs assistants, to ensure a supportive learning environment is nurtured and sustained. The special educational-needs department’s own commendable self-evaluation process and planning documentation reveal its commitment to ensuring high quality learning environments for all students. The dedication and commitment of those involved in supporting students identified with special educational needs ensures that recommendations made in the course of the inspection are well within the school’s remit and will positively affect the quality of learning for all students in the school.
The school works closely with parents, and where necessary with external agencies. A systematic approach to enrolment and appropriate assessment is adopted with identification of needs undertaken in a sensitive manner and in a way that allows teacher observations to inform decisions and frame supports. There are good lines of communication among staff with recognition of the key role played by subject teachers in determining the quality of learning and support made available. This good work would be further assisted by assigning all known additional resource hours to teachers when the main school timetable is being devised. Such practice will provide opportunities for continued and consistent support, and for engagement with other modes of support such as team-teaching. It is suggested that identified roles and responsibilities, as well as documented plans and policies should be incorporated into a staff handbook. Planned engagement with individual education plans (IEPs) could also be advanced via such a publication, as could an outline of effective teaching and learning practices currently being adopted by teachers in their classrooms. Sharing assessment data from testing and retesting of students is recommended as is the use of individual case studies to highlight progress.
The provision of a pleasant environment is a core value of the school. Good relationships among staff, with students and with parents are among the positive findings of this report and are a fundamental factor in the high quality of support for students. As is appropriate for a school of its size, much of this support is informal and granted freely by staff. Responsibility for personal and social guidance, for example, has been dispersed among all staff by senior management and it underlies effective communication based on good relationships and in keeping with the school’s mission. The ex-quota allocation by the Department to the school for Guidance is eleven hours. To date, this has been largely devoted to the provision to students of a personalised service of career guidance of high quality. Guidance is currently in a transitional phase following the retirement in 2008 of the deputy principal who was largely responsible for career guidance and whose services in this regard have been retained, pending the appointment of a guidance counsellor. Proposals, already in train among senior management, that a qualified guidance counsellor be appointed to make full use of the allocated hours for Guidance are strongly endorsed. The school’s growing enrolment, the increasing complexity of the role of the guidance counsellor and the need, expressed in the Education Act 1998, to ensure that all students have access to appropriate Guidance make such an appointment a priority. It is recommended that a qualified guidance counsellor be appointed as soon as is practicable and that accommodation suited to the provision of guidance and the practice of counselling be identified.
It is particularly recommended that, in order that the school plan may evolve holistically, the whole-school planning of supports for students, be prioritised as an issue for management in collaboration with staff. Resources for such planning are available on the websites of the Department of Education and Science, the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE), and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). It may be found useful to substitute the term student support for guidance as more descriptive of the collaborative nature of whole-school guidance planning. Such planning should ensure the full use for Guidance of the allocated ex-quota hours. It should also include the identification of the roles and responsibilities of all staff, particularly those with formal student-support roles, such as the guidance counsellor, special educational-needs co-ordinator, chaplaincy and staff with student-management responsibilities. The plan should also identify staff involved in the delivery of the curricular components of the guidance programme, in keeping with the NCCA proposals in its 2007 document A Curricular Framework for Guidance in Post-primary Education. It is important in the early stages of planning that the support needs of students be identified and prioritised. It is also important to reiterate that such supports are an essential factor in the school’s successes in the sphere of teaching and learning. The initiation of whole-school guidance planning provides a good opportunity to enhance the role of the students’ council and of parents by their involvement in the process.
The formation of a small student-support team is recommended. Such a team, with responsibility for day-to-day responses to the needs of students, is seen to be good practice in Looking at Guidance, published by the Inspectorate in 2009 and available on the Department’s website. It is generally found that the members of such a team are also core members of the whole-school-guidance planning task group.
The close social, personal and educational links of staff with the wider community facilitate the arrangement of inputs by external agencies not only in support of students personally but also in support of the curricular elements of the general guidance programme. These include the arrangement of visits by speakers on topics related to subjects such as Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE), and also on topics such as career and course choice. The arrangement of work experience for TY students is assisted by the positive regard in which the school is held by employers. Referrals to agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Health Service Executive (HSE) and to counselling services are co-ordinated by senior management in collaboration with staff. It is noted that these services are held in high regard by senior management and staff.
The size of the school enables the participation of staff in whole-school support of students, both academically and personally. In addition to their subject-teaching duties, most staff members have a supportive role as class teachers. Similarly, and in keeping with the aims of the school, the senior management team is active in its support for students and staff, and in the identification of external support services when warranted.
The inclusion in the students’ diary of colourful sections of relevance to Guidance is commended. These include the addresses of agencies providing supports for students, study skills, and advice for the prevention of bullying.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published, April 2010