An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Coláiste Ghobnatan

Baile Mhic Íre, County Cork

Roll number: 70920O

 

Date of inspection: 30 November 2007

 

 

 

 

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 Coláiste Ghobnatan was undertaken in November 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. 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 the 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 to this report.

 

Introduction

 

The history of Coláiste Ghobnatan dates back to 1950 when the school was established in a one-room building in Baile Mhic Íre, in order to meet the needs of the boys of the area. The demand for places in the school grew rapidly and soon a hall was rented and girls were enrolled. The buildings and curriculum of the school were added to down through the years up to 1989, when it was amalgamated with Coláiste Íosagáin as a community college under the patronage of County Cork Vocational Education Committee and the Catholic diocese of Cloyne.

 

Coláiste Ghobnatan is located in the Gaeltacht area of West Cork, Múscraí Fhloinn. The school serves the needs of the students of Bhaile Mhic Íre, Baile Bhúirne and surrounding areas who wish to receive their education through the medium of Irish. While Coláiste Ghobnatan welcomes every student who makes an application, the school management and community are determined that Irish remains the language of the school. 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

As is clear from its mission statement, the vision of the school is to provide an Irish, Christian education for its students, as a group and as individuals, so as to foster in them self-confidence, responsibility and maturity, in a friendly, safe and fair environment. Its motto ‘go buaic do chumais  (‘to the pinnacle of your powers’) refers to the philosophy which is central to the college, that is to provide an education which is appropriate to each student as an individual. It is the aim of the entire school community that every student will succeed in achieving to the maximum of his/her ability in all aspects of life, spiritual, academic, practical and social. The patrons, the Cork County Vocational Education Committee and the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne, lend their full support to this vision and are active in bringing it to fruition.

 

It is clear from the policies published by the college that close attention is paid to the full realisation of its vision. This emphasis is apparent in all the policies, but particularly in the policies on student care, learning support and guidance. The board and all the members of the school community are committed, willing and active in continuing with the writing of policies, based on the good practice which exists informally already.

 

It was demonstrated during the evaluation that the vision espoused by the college was perceptible in the daily activities and the rapport between management, teachers, students and all members of the school community. It was obvious that this spirit, comprehensible to everybody, pervades all that happens.

 

 

 

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of Coláiste Ghobnatan is active and energetic, with an excellent understanding of the circumstances of the school and of the challenges which it faces. There are three board members representing the Catholic diocese of Cloyne and a representative of the Church of Ireland, as well as three representatives of the Vocational Education Committee, two members of the teaching staff and two parents. The balance in this representation is commendable. At present, the board members representing the teaching staff are both male. According to the regulations, a male and a female should be appointed as staff representatives and it is recommended that this situation should be rectified as soon as possible.

 

The Chief Executive and the County Cork Vocational Education Committee are strongly supportive of the school and board of management, which is a sub-committee of the Vocational Education Committee as is usual in a community college. The Vocational Education Committee is aware of the particular challenges faced by Coláiste Ghobnatan as a Gaeltacht school in a rural area. The management of Coláiste Ghobnatan is gratified that the Vocational Education Committee is fully committed to providing education through Irish in the Gaeltacht and, arising from this commitment, the Committee enhances the capacity of the school to make available a comprehensive educational service of the highest quality. All matters having a bearing on the success of the school are closely monitored and resources, equipment and support are furnished as required. This is commendable.  

 

The Diocese of Cloyne is fully active as co-patron with the Vocational Education Committee. The Diocese has long been closely involved in providing education for the people of the area and this good work continues through its co-patronage.

 

The board of management holds at least four meetings per year, and more if required. While the board had been newly appointed at the time of the evaluation, the members had a clear understanding of their legislative obligations as a board, they agreed that training was required and  such was in the process of being arranged at an early date with the Vocational Education Committee (VEC). It was clear from the minutes and from communication with the board that it is well informed on its work and that it is highly organised.

 

The board plays an active role in developing and adopting school policies. A copy of each new policy is put before the board in draft form and subjected to detailed analysis. Amendments are recommended as appropriate and the board adopts the policy at the end of the process, after consultation with all the relevant parties, teaching staff, parents, in-school management and, as appropriate, the students. With a view to improving further this commendable process, it is recommended that a space should be set aside at the bottom of each policy document for the signature of the chairperson of the board, confirming its adoption at a meeting on a particular date.  This extra formality will contribute to enhancing further the excellent system already in place.

 

The board members are unanimous as regards the priorities for development and are aware of the actions and strategies in hand to address them. The main priorities are to extend the building to include a sports’ hall and to add the two subjects, Music and Art, to the curriculum as optional subjects, as requested by the parents. The school also wishes to make Physical Education available as an examination subject, but this is dependent on a sports’ hall being built as part of the extension of the school building. Other priorities mentioned by the board are the maintenance of the college teaching staff, specifically teacher allocation and recruitment of teachers who are capable of teaching through Irish, the equipment of the college, in particular equipment for learning support, preserving Irish as the language of communication of the school and district, and the provision of teaching aids in Irish, being mindful of the present dearth of these, especially in the local dialect.

 

The board is in negotiation with the Department concerning the extension of the school building and they appreciate the importance of this for the future of the school. The board and college are very pleased and grateful for the availability of the facilities of the Ionad Cultúrtha (Cultural Centre) for music classes after school, but they would greatly prefer to give the students the opportunity of studying music as a subject within the school day and as an examination subject. The board has made significant progress in the attainment of its aims, including the new roof put on the school building shortly before the evaluation.

 

The quality of communication between the board and the VEC is good. As well as having VEC representatives on the board, each meeting is reported on and an annual report is furnished to the Vocational Education Committee which is published. The teachers on the board report orally to their colleagues.

 

At present parents are communicated with, as are the teachers, through the representatives. With a view to further enhancing communication with parents and teachers, it is recommended that a report should be agreed at the end of each meeting and that this should be brought back to the parents and teachers. This agreed report would be short, thereby not adding greatly to the work of the secretary, but would give certainty to the representatives in reporting. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that informal communication takes place also and the strong links preserved between the board of management  and the community in general is commendable.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The senior management functions excellently as a team, giving leadership and direction to teachers, students, parents and the wider school community. Co-operation lies at the heart of the approach of senior management. While the Deputy Principal has only recently been appointed, it is clear that he participates fully with the Principal in the management of the college.

 

The vision of the college, based on its mission statement, pervades management at all levels of the college. The vision is clearly understood and is accepted by the whole management. This vision has an influence on all aspects of the work of management.

 

As applies in the close co-operation to be seen among the senior management, middle management also functions as a unified team and gives leadership towards bringing about the realisation of the mission of the college.  A beginning has been made on holding weekly meetings of the assistant principals with the Principal and Deputy Principal, so as to plan and to discuss the progress of the college. These meetings are laudable, as they will provide additional opportunities for middle management to participate even more fully in leadership in the college. 

 

There are three assistant principals on staff and four special duties teachers. Post-of-responsibility duties are assigned to teachers in accordance with their talents. The duties they fulfil as post holders are suited to them, of benefit to the school and made clear to the staff. By means in particular of this middle management structure in the college, the management of the college is delegated and each member of staff has a part to play. This good organisation is commended.

 

Regular and effective communication takes place between the members of management. Meetings of special-duties teachers are held as required in order to discuss specific issues, although communication generally occurs on a more informal basis, an approach which is appropriate to a small staff who co-operate well together. The weekly meeting will further enhance communication between the Assistant Principals and senior management.   

 

The management appreciates the importance of continuing professional development and staff members are given every encouragement and support to avail of it. The good practice of the college in this respect is praiseworthy, particularly the efforts made by teachers in undertaking longer journeys in order to participate in sessions presented through the medium of Irish, when required. 

 

The management of students in the college takes full account of the principles of the mission statement. Management is effective and gives priority to the welfare of students. Management is based on mutual respect among the whole school community. Rules for students are kept to a minimum and these are willingly respected. The students understand that their welfare is the main objective of the college authorities.

 

There is a comprehensive enrolment policy in the college which makes clear that education in the school is provided for all students through the medium of Irish. The main cause stated for this policy is that it sets out an effective, honest, transparent system of enrolment, making every effort to discharge the legislative obligations of the college, and this is commended. A detailed description is given of the enrolment process followed and of the criteria implemented when the number of applicants exceeds the number of places available in the college. While accepting this much of the policy, it is essential that the last part of it, in which five conditions are listed whereby the board of management retains rights to refuse registration, would be reviewed. Some or all of these conditions could transgress the rights of applicants and they must either be deleted or amended. In a situation where a student with special educational needs applies for registration, the application must be accepted and appropriate resources sought from the National Council on Special Education through the local organiser.   

 

The college has disciplinary structures and a policy in place, which are clear, fair, graded and effective. This policy is implemented prudently and positively, in order to encourage students to work and to participate fully in all aspects of school life. The disciplinary system and the related sanctions applying in the college are clear and fair. The process is initiated as soon as soon as a need to do so is identified and, because of this, problems are usually resolved without delay and only rarely is the college obliged to go past the initial steps.

 

The students’ council is active and participates fully in the life of the college. Elections are held in September and two students are chosen as representatives from each year group, a boy and a girl. Meetings are held at lunchtime once a week. A wide range of issues proposed by the college students is debated. The secretary of the council records the minutes. Resolutions are put forward from time to time through the principal and these are considered and frequently adopted. The students’ council provides a platform whereby particular difficulties can be raised with college management. It also creates an opportunity for students to have an influence on college policies and activities.

 

There is an effective policy and practice in place for monitoring the attendance of students.

Roll books are closely scrutinised so as to identify students who are absent, have a poor attendance or are frequently late. The roll is marked twice a day and students are required to supply an explanatory note if they are late, absent or leaving the school early. Students are obliged to sign the book when they arrive late or depart early. The rules pertaining to attendance are included in the school journal, together with all the rules of the college. The attendance rate at the college is significantly higher than the national average. The good practice followed as regards the attendance of students is praiseworthy.

 

As the college is an integral element of the local community, frequent contact with parents is maintained. It is the aim of the parents’ council that two representatives would be chosen from each parish in the catchment area of the college. Reference was made by the Parents Council to how unified the community as a whole is and that the parents and the college were parties to that unity. The parents’ council is active in the life of the college. Regular meetings are held and a wide range of issues are discussed relating to education, the students’ lives and the college. The Principal attends every meeting and frequently information comes to light at meetings which is material to the students’ welfare. While the council is active in fund raising - school buses have been purchased and an extra room built as a result of their endeavours to collect money - their role is much more wide-ranging and more important than that. It is through the council that parents are given an opportunity to discuss their views and to bring them forward to management and to the overall school community.

 

Council members are chosen annually at the end-of-year meeting. It is customary that some members would continue on from year to year, giving continuity to the committee. The parents of the college are kept informed effectively of the council’s proceedings and of their part in the life of the college. An annual letter and report are sent to parents. At the college fashion show, which is attended by the majority of parents, a report is presented on the activities of the council. A strong tradition has been established of the teachers’ own children being sent to the college and often, for this reason, a member of the teaching staff can also be an active member of the parents’ council, a situation which can be of great assistance in maintaining communication between these sectors of the school community. The communication between the college and all the parents of the area is effective.

 

In addition to parent-teacher meetings, information evenings for parents are held five times a year. In addition, the school implements an open-door policy for parents. This practice contributes to setting up and fostering specific contacts between the school staff, including management, and the parents. Some of the teachers have gone so far as to give parents their personal telephone numbers, in order to facilitate contact. Every effort is made to foster excellent communication between parents and the college and this is commended.

 

Coláiste Ghobnatan is part of the community and the management is aware of its importance as a public facility. The college and the local community are closely linked and there are many ties between the management and the community in every aspect of their lives, including culture, music and art in the Ionad Cultúrtha. The college, the principal of the day and the Vocational Education Committee participated fully in the development of the Ionad Cultúrtha and ever since they have been strongly linked together. The college assists in the preparation of the Sunday newsletter. This keeps the community informed on events in the area and it is generally known that the college is central to its compilation.

 

There are specific links between the management and external agencies, including the business people of the area, the National Council for Special Education through the local organiser, the National Education Welfare Board, the primary schools of the catchment area and a range of sporting and cultural bodies.

 

The college has undergone significant development over the years and the management is aware of this from regular reviews of the progress of the college. The progress made is outlined yearly in a report sent to the board of management and the Vocational Education Committee.  A further indication of this prevailing culture of self-evaluation is the understanding of management that it is important to satisfy the demand for Music and Art in the college. This emphasis on self-evaluation is commendable. 

 

A balance is maintained between assuring the care of students and keeping the standard of their achievements in appropriate focus. It is laudable that a policy in respect of academic levels is in force and, in particular, that it states that students will be given every assistance to attain to the highest level appropriate to their abilities. An assistant principal is responsible for keeping academic levels on a healthy footing and for improving them further. A positive approach to promoting the use of Irish among students is implemented and it is accepted that this has a bearing on the achievements of students, particularly in a Gaeltacht school. Competitions are organised and prizes are awarded three times a year to the class which best promotes Irish.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

There is an appropriate allocation of time for teaching, in accordance with the rules of the Department. The college timetable is proper and fair from the point of view of subjects and teachers. The teaching staff are suitable as regards training and qualifications and the support of the Vocational Education Committee in bringing this about is acknowledged, particularly as regards supplying teachers of optional subjects shared with another Gaeltacht school.

 

The college recognises a problem with recruiting teachers with sufficient Irish, particularly as substitutes. In this context management expressed its satisfaction with the teaching staff. They are resolved to be on the alert in order to avail of every opportunity of consolidating the skills of the staff, so as to continue providing an excellent education into the future.

 

A learning support team of five is recognised in the college. The co-ordinator of the team holds a specialist qualification. This team co-operates well in supplying learning support to the students under its care.

 

The management, caretaker, cleaners, the entire school staff and the students are to be congratulated on the neatness, cleanliness and general condition of the college building. With the backing of the Department and the application of the college, a substantial amount of work has been completed with a view to improving resources and facilities, including a complete renovation of the roof and new equipment for the Metalwork room. Particular praise is merited for the room full of new computers, which are the product of running a course on computer assembly for Transition Year. This was an excellent project which enhanced the skills of students and their knowledge of computer hardware and software. At the same time, the project made additional resources available for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the college.

 

The college is under pressure as regards space for meeting student needs and, in particular, there is a shortage of classrooms and of specialist-subject rooms. It is a priority of the college, especially of management, to extend the accommodation and the board of management has long been active in moving this forward. Over the years, architects’ plans for the expansion of the buildings have been drawn up, but the project has been subject to delays. The management is to be congratulated on its determination and it is recommended that they should persist in collaboration with the board of management until their goals have been realised.

 

As already outlined, the provision for ICT in the computer room has undergone significant expansion and, in addition, appropriate resources have been made available in the drawing room, so as to facilitate the teaching of the new Design and Communication Graphics syllabus. A laptop computer has been supplied for each teacher and every effort is made to present in-service courses in the college from time to time. Multi-media projectors have been installed in the majority of classrooms and it is intended that all rooms will have them in the near future. The integrated use of ICT in teaching and learning is progressing well. It is hoped to set up an E-Portal system at an early date, as a support for reporting on all aspects of college life, including attendance and absences.  Good progress is being made with the college ICT infrastructure.

 

There is an impressive library in the college, which used to function as a public facility but is now a valuable resource for the college. It is recommended that this resource should continue to be preserved, and that every effort should be made to augment the number of books, particularly in Irish, in order to achieve a balance in the reading material available in both languages for students.

 

An assistant principal has particular responsibility for Health and Safety in the college. The safety statement is unambiguous, based on the VEC’s statement, and is comprehensive as regards the responsibilities of all the staff of the college in respect of safety. The development of the statement is progressing correctly, and it is recommended that specific statements on rooms and other areas should be included as necessary. The college grounds are maintained to a high standard.

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1 The School Plan

 

Substantial progress has been made by Coláiste Ghobnatan in the planning process. A range of policies has been agreed by the overall college community and ratified by the board of management. These policies deal with all aspects of the college’s responsibilities. A teacher has been designated as co-ordinator of the planning work. Ideas are put forward by the teaching staff and by both senior and middle management. Then a committee or small planning group is generally appointed in order to examine issues and draft a policy or amendments to a policy. This work is undertaken voluntarily, with interested teachers  taking it in turns to work in the respective planning group. The drafts are submitted to school management, to the board of management, to the teaching staff, to the parents’ council, and when appropriate, to the students’ council. All parties are given the opportunity of proposing amendments and the draft policy is redrafted as a result. When all parties have reached agreement, the draft is submitted to the board of management for its ratification. By means of this process, all the policies and planning are methodically completed with the co-operation of all parties. It is the position of the board of management that a draft has not been finalised until the staff is in agreement, which demonstrates co-operation of a high order.  

 

In order to bring the vision of the college to realisation, targets are identified which give direction to the planning. One objective mentioned is to prepare students for life and to motivate them to achieve to the peak of their abilities in all aspects of their lives, spiritual, moral and intellectual. It is intended to create an environment in which each student is protected and cherished equally in order that the stated objectives are attained. It is further intended to create an atmosphere of thoroughness in learning, encouraging the students to aspire to excellence. There is a focus on placing a positive emphasis on the opportunities available to all and on advocating flexibility in response to a continually changing world. It is an aim of the college to foster mutual respect among people.

 

Each written policy is in accordance with the vision of Coláiste Ghobnatan as set down in the mission statement. Apart from this, it is evident that the college vision is fundamental to planning. It is unreservedly accepted in the college that school planning is helpful and necessary, and that it is hardly ever possible to say that a policy has been brought to completion, but is always under scrutiny so that whatever improvement can be made may be made. The teachers who participate in the planning work function as an active team. The approach to planning in the college is highly commended and, in order to enhance it further, it is recommended that the chairpersons of the various planning groups should come together from time to time, so as to function formally as a central planning group. This would be of great assistance to the planning co-ordinator.

 

The planning process is progressing well in the college. At the time of the assessment, the emphasis was on subject department planning and the whole staff was engaged in this project. Some of the other planning priorities identified for action are a review of  the first year system, a review of the policy on Irish, including a scheme for promoting spoken Irish, and development work on the health and safety statement.  

 

The permanent section of the plan incorporates the policies ratified by the board of management. This documentation is clear and covers a wide range of activity and the philosophy of the college on many issues, including health and safety, the enrolment and induction of students, academic levels, bullying, discipline and a code of behaviour and drug abuse.

 

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) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

The management team are aware that the publication of a plan in a folder is not the complete aim of planning. They, and the whole school community, are also cognisant of the importance of the process itself and see it as an on-going cycle. The approach of the college and management to planning is praiseworthy.

 

Planning in the college is effective in attaining the appropriate results for students. The annual report refers to the competition for students held to advance and improve the use of Irish. How this event increased the confidence of students in their Irish is mentioned. This initiative supported the policy of preserving Irish as the usual language of communication of the college. This progress shows that planning was effective in promoting the language aim of the school.

 

Planning in the college is in a healthy state and everyone understands its importance, especially the importance of review as an integral element of the system. Detailed annual review is carried out of planned achievement for that year. The annual report is forwarded to the Vocational Education Committee. This represents a strength of the reporting system of the Vocational Education Committee, but from the interest shown in planning in the college, it is clear that this good practice would be implemented in any case. The planning cycle is a core element of the life of the college, which is laudable.

 

Management appreciates that the main concern of planning work is the on-going renewal of the school, now and in the future. The college also has an eye to other aspects of planning which will be necessary in future years. Substantial planning will be required in order to accommodate building work, if it is decided to proceed with extending the building. A plan for this is under consideration by the Department and the Vocational Education Committee at present. The delaying of this building project constitutes a barrier to the development of the college. There is a danger that the community has lost hope, as some years ago it was believed that this work was about to begin but then the planned project was not proceeded with. It is certain that the college management would be fully capable of and prepared for facing up to the challenge.

 

The college management has as an overall aim the preparation of students for life, in order that they will be capable of being leaders and responsible citizens in the future. This is commended.    

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The Junior Certificate programme, the Transition Year programme and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are offered.

 

Despite being a small school, Coláiste Ghobnatan makes a range of subjects available to its students. In the junior cycle, in addition to the core subjects including Science, French, Social, Personal and Health Education, Civic, Social and Political Education, Computing, Religion and Physical Education, three optional subjects are on offer drawn from Business Studies, Home Economics, Technical Graphics, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork, Geography and History, while Art and Enterprise are available in the evenings outside of the school day. The choice of subjects is even wider in senior cycle, with four science subjects and three technology subjects on the curriculum. The range and balance of subjects in the college curriculum is commended, as are the actions of management, the management board and Vocational Education Committee in providing them.

 

LCVP is well developed in the college and has been available for the past twelve years. The co-ordinator of the programme is very knowledgeable about it and fully active in its co-ordination. The programme’s teaching staff is well informed and cognisant of its aims and objectives. This programme is integrated into the life of the college and is a valuable element of the education provided in the senior cycle. Almost all senior cycle students participate in the LCVP. Two class periods per week are allotted to the link modules in fifth year and sixth year. Issues relating to LCVP are discussed at staff meetings, as necessary. The programme is reviewed as part of the annual review. The established Leaving Certificate programme is available to the very small number of students who do not participate in the LCVP.

 

The Transition Year programme, in which about half the students participate, is optional in Coláiste Ghobnatan. It is a well organised programme which offers students a taste of the range of subjects available in senior cycle and of much besides, with a view to imparting a wide range of academic, technical, enterprise and life skills to the students. The programme is properly planned, based on the basic principles governing Transition Year. At the time of the evaluation, the staff were debating the most effective strategies for progressing cross-curricular work. Activity teaching methods are utilised, including group work and research work. It is an objective of the programme that students’ preferences would have a significant bearing on the course and modules provided. A meeting with parents is held at the beginning of the year in order to discuss these choices. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the work experience of students and they themselves usually find their work placements. While teachers do not go out to visit students on work placements, this possibility is under discussion. It is recommended that it would be done, as the students would find it highly supportive. A new co-ordinator of Transition Year has been appointed recently, so that now would be a fitting time to review the written programme. This is recommended. The opportunity should be grasped for specifying in the programme the teaching methods and strategies best suited to each subject.

 

The college offers equal opportunities as regards access to subjects and programmes. An open choice of subjects and programmes is offered to students, without reference to gender or to ability, and every effort is made to honour their preferred first choices.

 

Management and staff play a full part in planning and reviewing the college curriculum. As a result of this activity, objectives have been identified and steps taken to forward these objectives.  Music and Art are available but outside of the school day at present. The provision of a sports’ hall is under discussion at the moment with the Vocational Education Committee and the Department, so as to facilitate the possibility of offering Physical Education as an examination subject. The college would like to make the Leaving Certificate Applied programme available for those suited to it. It is clear that the curriculum is reviewed regularly and that its development is monitored. 

 

The planning of the college timetable has been precise and detailed, with a view to allocating the appropriate amount of time to each subject and programme. At the time of the evaluation, it was found to be of great assistance that the full detail of the college timetable was available on one small page, including the allocation of periods to subjects, to teachers and to classes, the subjects taught by each teacher, the provision for learning support and a host of other data. The resourcefulness of management is commended on having generated an additional period on Mondays, period forty-six, in order that a full teaching programme might be provided for the students. This is an indication of the commitment of the college, including management and staff, to its ethos.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

When students are making choices between subjects and programmes, it is the practice of the college to offer an open choice. In junior cycle, all students study the entire range of subjects in first year.  When making their choices in second year, students select their three preferred subjects from the complete list and the subjects are grouped in order to facilitate the choice of each student insofar as possible, within the constraints  imposed by staff allocations and the timetable. In preparing for the senior cycle, the students are again offered an open choice, both students who opt for Transition Year and third year students who have decided to proceed directly into fifth year. The grouping of the fifth year subjects is determined by the choices made. The college is to be complimented on adhering to the first choices of students in the design of subject options. The system of selecting levels is carefully planned and one of the ratified policies pertains to this planning. The aim of that policy, the college’s academic levels policy, is that every student will attain a standard appropriate to the pinnacle of his/her powers, in accordance with the motto and the characteristic spirit of the college. Such consistency is laudable.

 

The parents of the college and their children are afforded excellent advice when making decisions on subjects and programmes. In the light of the quality of communication in the wider community and the participation of parents in the life of the college, it is accepted that a wealth of information is shared informally on the choices to be made by students.  Formally, the choices are explained to parents at information meetings convened on appropriate evenings. It is customary to hold a meeting for parents of students of first year during the second term in mid February, and for parents of students of third year and fourth year in mid April. At these meetings, all information is shared with the parents and this practice perfects their participation in the system for selecting subjects and programmes.

 

All students attend classes with a guidance counsellor and the class teacher, at which they are advised at the appropriate time on the subject and programme choices to be made by them. All teachers play a part in this advisory process. In addition to advice, it is usual that all students have experience of all the subjects in the optional subject groupings. They are given this experience in first year and Transition Year. This experience is of great assistance to them in making the choices which best suit them.      

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

As is to be expected in a college which is integrated into the life and culture of the community in which it is situated, there are many activities in which the students, both boys and girls, and the staff of Coláiste Ghobnatan participate. These include football, athletics, basketball, table tennis, singing groups, quizzes, a drama group and many others. The Ionad Cultúrtha (Cultural Centre) is a great facility for motivating students to participate in a wealth of activities and it is widely used. The staff and management are aware of the importance of the Gaeltacht culture and of their obligations to preserve it and, for this reason, singing classes aimed at fostering and developing the old traditions of the area have been offered. Additional information on this and on the college itself may be accessed on the website http://www.colaisteghobnatan.ie. It is recommended that the information on the site should be expanded, in order to inform the people of the locality, of other Gaeltacht communities and of the country as a whole of the good work of the school.   

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

The size of the school facilitates communication among staff in Coláiste Ghobnatan and they enjoy good relations with one another. This healthy relationship facilitates co-operation between teachers so as to progress subject department planning, frequently at informal meetings. In addition, formal meetings are held a number of times per year and time is devoted to subject planning. In certain instances, the outcomes of these meetings are recorded and this good practice is commended. There was evidence of significant planning apparent in each subject department in respect of the development of work programmes. It was also clear that the teachers were committed to on-going professional development and it is recommended, in some cases, that more extensive use should be made of the Second Level Support Service. It is recommended that greater formality should be introduced into the planning for subject departments, even in departments with a small number of teachers, as necessary. The progress made in respect of ICT in the college as a whole is praiseworthy and at times effective use is made of it in order to record subject plans and to keep a record. With a view to enhancing further the process of subject planning, reports on the outcomes of meetings should be recorded in standard form. Substantial progress has been made in school development planning and there is a formal system in place for this purpose. The initial steps in the development of college policies having been implemented, the emphasis is now being placed on subject department planning. A co-ordinator should be appointed on a rotational basis in each department in order to distribute the load, to share information, practice and skills with all the members and also to ensure continuity from year to year. The priorities recommended for planning in the various subject departments include the introduction of common teaching programmes, a perusal of learning and teaching and an exploration of innovative teaching methods, including the possibilities for co-operative teaching and peer teaching.

 

It is recommended, while planning is in hand in the subject departments, that there should be collaboration with the special educational needs department and that actions should be identified for meeting all the needs of students as part of every subject plan. Planning for gifted students of high ability should form part of this. It is recommended that there should be co-operation with the Guidance department also.

 

The lack of textbooks and of other teaching resources in Irish has long been a problem for Gaeltacht and All-Irish schools. The situation has improved somewhat in recent years but the problem has not yet been fully resolved. During the evaluation, it was apparent that the teachers in Coláiste Ghobnatan are confronting the problem posed by the lack of availability of suitable texts in Irish and they are to be complimented on this. Particularly as ICT is so highly developed in the college, it is recommended that the use of an intranet should be explored, in order that resources and teaching and planning materials might be shared.        

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Reference is made in all the subject inspection reports to the good standard of teaching and learning observed. The lessons were well ordered and planned. The objectives of each lesson were made clear from the outset, and this is commended especially where they were made clear by means of an opening statement. Reference is made to the types of strategies employed in order to begin the lessons and these are frequently praised. Among the strategies mentioned were questioning conducted by the teacher, visual stimulation, the checking of homework or summarising work previously completed and short reading exercises.

 

A wide range of teaching methodologies was employed and generally sufficiently differentiated to match the differing strengths and learning styles of the students. Good use was made of questioning. The questions were appropriate and sufficiently varied, so as to afford the majority of students an opportunity of answering. The students were fully prepared to answer aloud and occasionally they put questions themselves.  Both high-level and low-level questions were appropriately utilised in order to stimulate the students and the quality of questioning was effective. Group work and paired work were well exploited in some of the lessons observed and the approach was productive. It is recommended, in some instances, that these types of approaches should be employed more widely. It is further recommended that the benefits accruing from peer teaching should be explored. This exploration and development should be undertaken as part of subject department planning.     

 

Very effective use was made of ICT and broadband in every subject observed during the evaluation. Highly effective use was also made of a wide range of teaching resources, pictures, photocopied materials, television, DVDs and a film in one instance. This good practice is commended. In English, it is a matter for commendation that a class was given homework on the use of the dictionary and it is recommended that use should be made of the dictionary and the thesaurus in every English class. In History, with reference to textbooks as a resource, it is stated that the texts used are in English but that the lessons continued on seamlessly in Irish as soon as the reading from a book had been completed. The teachers are well aware of the problems arising from the lack of suitable texts in Irish and they are to be congratulated on confronting the problem in the interim, until sufficient resources become available in Irish.

 

A high level of management and organisation was evident in every class observed. Discipline was an integral element of lessons and it was clear that it was based on mutual respect and an easy relationship between teachers and students. A settled atmosphere prevailed in the classes. The daily contact between the class teacher and the support teacher is praised. The use of individual education plans is also commended when appropriate, in order to monitor the work in hand of particular students and to discuss and achieve learning objectives.      

 

The classrooms were bright and welcoming. Reference is made in the subject reports to the printed materials on display, which created a suitable environment for the teaching of English. It is suggested that the English department should adopt the creation and retention of such a subject environment in print as a high level objective in the subject plan for English, being always mindful and respectful of the ethos of the college.

 

The students displayed good understanding of the subject matter of the lessons observed, which was made clear when they were questioned by the inspectors. The emphasis was often on the development of understanding in the lessons and this is commended. The progress of the learners was consistent with their abilities.  

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Reference was made several times in the subject reports to the high quality of informal assessment carried out in the classroom. In various reports, oral questioning of a high order, regular assessment and monitoring of written work and the administration of tests on specific topics were commended. Generally speaking, it was clear that there was a very satisfactory commitment to the setting and correction of homework, with a proper emphasis on strategies for formative evaluation.  Some recommendations were made as regards varying somewhat the types of homework given, in order to facilitate the assessment of mixed-ability groups. It was also recommended that consideration should be given to the possibilities of enabling the students themselves to publish their own work. Perhaps this work could be put on display. Where continuous assessment forms an intrinsic part of certain subjects in Transition Year, the structured approach to the research project of the students is mentioned and praised. Where the project work is an integral part of the syllabus, it was clear that there was a strong commitment to keeping record books. It is recommended that consideration should be given to including the marks earned for such work as part of continuous assessment.

 

Literacy and numeracy are comprehensively assessed as part of the first formal evaluation. This is followed by an induction process incorporating an evaluation of general abilities and reading attainment. The guidance department and the special educational needs department collaborate in carrying this out. While students are generally assigned to mixed-ability classes, this form of assessment and on-going monitoring are used to identify students who could be in need of additional diagnostic assessment in literacy and numeracy. It is recommended that the instruments being used for this assessment should be up-dated and that re-assessment should be done at a later date in order to measure the progress of students. Good provision has been made to ensure that students who are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the certificate examinations are given the opportunity of availing of such supports. It is recommended that much of the good practice observed would benefit from being incorporated into a specific policy dealing with homework, assessment and the welfare of gifted students. It is a matter for commendation also that even when students have left the college, a type of assessment continues in the form of information on their progress gathered informally in the community. This is proof that Coláiste Ghobnatan is truly of its community.

 

In general, it is reported that a system of regular assessment is implemented at whole-college level. All classes have examinations at Christmas, those classes due to sit the state examinations are given preliminary examinations in spring every year, and all other groups are given formal examinations in summer. About mid-term, it is customary for teachers to administer informal tests to students. Good contact is maintained with parents by means of the students’ journals. Teachers keep on-going records of the attainments of their students. Meetings between parents and teachers of first year and sixth year are held around Halloween, and for the classes due to sit the state examinations immediately following the preliminary examinations, and a second meeting for sixth year and for the other years immediately after Christmas. In certain instances, where a team of teachers are teaching a subject in the same year, it was noted that collaborative assessment was employed, whether solely or as an element of the assessment, in a formal context. This procedure receives high praise.    

 

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

As pertains throughout the college as a whole, the welfare of students with special educational needs is a priority for this college. This school is reflective and flexible and total support for every student is given by every teacher. The co-ordinator holds a special duties post and is well organised and qualified. With the assistance and guidance of senior management, it is ensured that the most extensive and effective benefits accrue from the resources available. The school maintains contact with other schools and with external agencies. The school has made an impressive beginning on Individual Education Plans (IEP) for students with special educational needs. The quality of learning and teaching in the classes observed was of a high order and the progress of students is in keeping with their abilities. It is clear that the students are appreciative of the support available and that it enhances their learning in general. It was also noted that they played a full part in the life of the school.

 

In order to further augment the good practice observed, it is recommended that the advantages associated with team teaching should be explored. The provision of internal and external in-service development on the topic of special educational needs for every teacher should continue, so that the whole-school approach might be extended. It is recommended that the progress of students should be re-assessed by various means, including standardised tests.

 

Although there are no students in the college not having either Irish or English as a first language, the management is aware of the possibility of this happening in the future. It is recommended that this issue should be examined and that a policy should be formulated on fulfilling the needs of such students, while retaining the characteristic spirit of the school.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The college is well aware of how important guidance is. Guidance and student care are central to its mission. The college is in agreement with the National Forum on Guidance which defines guidance as a process which facilitates students or groups in developing their capacity for self-management in life, whether personal, social, educational, training or professional, and in making life choices, in order that their development mirrors their talents, thereby enhancing the growth of a better society. The college’s approach to guidance is true to this definition and to the characteristic spirit of the college. All staff members have their parts to play, including the secretary and caretaker. That this function is initiated even while the students are still in sixth class in primary school prior to attending Coláiste Ghobnatan, is a clear indication of the close links that exist between the college and the community. They are invited to visit the college in order to become familiar with the building, the subjects, the teachers and their future peers. Also, as part of Transition Year, the college students collaborate with the pupils of sixth class in sport and they are given work experience in the primary school. These ties help to ease the transition to second level.

 

The time allocation for guidance is properly utilised. There are two qualified guidance counsellors on staff, one of whom is shared with another school. The care of girls in the college is part of a special duties post, the girls’ counsellor. Nine teachers have been designated as class counsellors. The provision of guidance for students is an intrinsic element of the work of the college. The whole staff understands that all staff members have an obligation to offer guidance to the students as part of the care system of the college. The student care structure is transparent and effective. It is the subject teachers who are most frequently in contact with the students and they are aware of their responsibilities in respect of student care. Each class has a class counsellor who meets with the students a number of times per week. The class counsellors retain responsibility for the same groups throughout the junior cycle and this is commendable. Central roles are played by the guidance counsellor, the principal, the learning support teacher and the girls’ counsellor. Having a full-time ex-quota chaplain on staff, who plays a central role in the care system, is of great benefit to the college. Class periods with the guidance counsellor are timetabled for every class, as well as periods of Social, Political and Health Education with the class counsellor. The work of these periods is integrated into the guidance programme. Every student has access to educational, personal and career guidance.

 

The facilities provided for guidance are of a high standard. The guidance office is centrally located and suitable for the work of the guidance counsellor, having furniture and equipment designed for office work, storage and the displaying of materials. There is a small library of materials relating to guidance available to students in this office. There is extensive provision for ITC, including a wireless network and internet with broadband throughout the college. Each class has one session per week in the computer room and additional time is readily available, if required. There are data projectors in most classrooms and the teachers have laptop computers so as to get the greatest benefit from these ITC facilities.

 

The opinions of parents are sought and recently a questionnaire was circulated affording them an opportunity of sending their ideas back to the guidance department. Some questionnaires were returned containing recommendations and others which indicated that they were satisfied with the college. The guidance team frequently participates in meetings with parents and these opportunities are availed of to discuss guidance. Every effort is made to attend them.

 

A guidance policy and plan have been formulated for the college which are comprehensive and precise. This documentation is commendable. It is recommended that the regular review of the plan should continue and, as part of the next revision, that a job description should be drawn up for every function in the care system. It is also recommended that the distinction between the function of the guidance counsellor and the function of another teacher who participates in the guidance system should be clarified. In order to avoid any deficit of understanding or confusion, it is recommended that the title counsellor should be used carefully and sparingly, perhaps, for example, using the term teacher  when it is a class teacher who is in question. 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The characteristic spirit of the college, which is defined in the mission statement, is alive and palpable in every policy and every action, and it is understood by the whole college community.
  • The college is proud of being an integral part of its community.
  • The board of management, which is energetic and active and fully participative in the life and management of the college, is informed as to its responsibilities and cognisant of the work and the priorities which it has set itself. 
  • The enrolment policy is comprehensive and makes it clear that education is provided in the college through the medium of Irish, and gives as its main undertaking the provision of an effective, fair, open entrance system, while making every effort to fulfil the legislative obligations of the college.
  • Good communication exists among the various college partners, the management board, parents, teachers and students and their daily activities are in accordance with the characteristic spirit, based on co-operation and mutual respect, infused with a healthy informality.
  • The approach of the college and the management to planning is praiseworthy, as is their understanding that the on-going renewal of the college is a core element of planning work into the future.
  • The collaboration of management and staff is evident in the effective system in place for developing policies which stimulate active planning and generate unity among the stakeholders.
  • The open choice of subjects on offer to students is commended and prevents gender discrimination, affording a taste of every subject in first year and in Transition Year, with an appropriate grouping of subjects in the other years in order to facilitate the subject choice of every student, respecting their first choices.
  • Effective guidance is available to students and their parents in respect of choosing programmes and subjects.
  • There is an extensive and balanced curriculum available, with highly effective co-ordination in the programmes and timetables which are fair to students, subjects and teachers. 
  • The standard of learning and teaching is good and the relationship between teachers and students is easy, with appropriate resources at hand and in use, including information and communications technology.
  • The standard of planning for learning and teaching is good with teachers addressing the challenges posed by the lack of suitable texts in Irish.
  • The college is reflective and flexible, putting the welfare of students first in the arrangements for meeting special educational needs and throughout the college in general.
  • As stated in the college policy, all students are accepted and every support is given to students with no Irish or with little Irish.
  • The guidance and care of students is central to the characteristic spirit of the college, with formal planning being undertaken in regard to it and everybody on the staff participating in its delivery, including the secretary and caretaker.

 

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

 

  • According to regulations, a female and a male from among the staff should be appointed as members of the board of management and it is recommended that this should be done as soon as possible.
  • It is the normal practice of the college to accept applications from all the students who apply places, and to fulfil its obligations to these. It is therefore necessary to review the written policy so as to bring it into line with this good practice.
  • Especially as information and communication technology has been developed to such a high level in the college, it is recommended that the use of an intranet should be explored, so that resources and teaching and planning materials might be shared.
  • Among the planning priorities recommended for the various subject departments are the initiation of common teaching programmes, looking at learning and teaching and examining innovative teaching methods, including the possibilities offered by team teaching and peer teaching.
  • It is recommended that the instruments used in the assessment of literacy and numeracy should be up-dated, and that re-assessments should be done at a later date in order to evaluate the progress of students.
  • It is recommended, when the provision for special educational needs is being reviewed, that consideration should be given to the advantages which could be gained from supporting students with special needs within the mainstream classroom through team teaching, when such is indicated.
  • The title ‘counsellor’ should be used carefully and its use reserved for qualified counsellors.
  • It is recommended that a clear job description should be formulated for everyone who participates in the care of students as part of the guidance policy, when it is being revised.

 

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 – 29 November 2007
  • Subject Inspection of Guidance – 26 November 2007
  • Subject Inspection of History – 30 November 2007
  • Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs – 28 and 29 November 2007

  

 

 

 

 Published, November 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

 

Cuireann an Bord Bainistíochta, mar aon le foireann agus pobal uile Choláiste Ghobnatan, fáilte roimh na tuairiscí seo agus, go deimhin, fáiltítear i gcoitinne roimh na moltaí a dhéantar iontu.

 

Ba mhór leis an mBord freagraí dá gcuid féin a chur i dteannta na dtuairiscí seo agus táthar buíoch as an tairiscint chun é seo a dhéanamh.

 

Ar an gcéad dul síos, tacaíonn an Bord leis an moladh atá sa tuaraisc d’foireann uile an Choláiste, an foireann teagaisc, foireann riaracháin, foireann tacaíochta agus foireann bainistíochta as a ndíograis, a saothar agus a ngairmiúlacht, a choimeádann sain spiorad an Choláiste agus, go deimhin, mana an Choláiste “Go Buaic do Chumais” chun tosaigh i gcónaí.  Is iad foireann an Choláiste a chruthaíonn atmaisféar fáilteach tacúil d’ógánaigh na dúiche agus a chruthaíonn muinín i measc an phobail, go bhfuil sláinte, sábháilteacht agus oideachas a leanaí mar phríomh aidhm dóibh anseo sa Choláiste agus is maith go n’aithnítear é seo sa tuairisc.

 

Cuireann sé an áthas ar an mBord go bhfuil aitheantas tugtha sna Tuairiscí do chneastacht agus do mhacántacht scoláirí an Choláiste.  Tacaíonn na dea thréithe seo go mór leis an dea chaidreamh atá luaite sna tuairiscí mar cheann de saintréithe an Choláiste.

 

Tuigtear don Bhord agus aithníonn an Bord an sár thacaíocht ó thuismitheoirí uile an cheantair agus is le togha na comhoibre sin a thugaimid faoi na dúshláin a bhíonn romhainn an uile lá, fáiltíonn an Bord roimh an aitheantas a tugtar do thacaíocht na tuismitheoirí sa tuairisc seo.

 

 

Táimíd thar a bheith buíoch don fhoireann measúnaithe.  Do dheineadar a gcuid gnó go proifisiúnta, cúramach agus táimíd buíoch dá gcuid ama, dá gcuid machnaimh, dá gcuid sain mholtaí agus dá gcuid tacaíochta.

 

 

 

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

 

Leanfaidh foireann agus Bord Bainistíochta an Choláiste ar aghaidh leis na beartais pleanála atá i bhfeidhm sa Choláiste le fada. Feictear don Bhord go mbeidh na tuairimí agus na moltaí atá nochtaithe sna Tuairiscí  iniataithe i bpolasaithe agus córais an Choláiste, go luath, tré phleanáil agus idirbheartaíocht len ár bpáirtithe go léir.