An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ School
Fairview, Dublin 3
Roll number: 60390F
Date of inspection: 26 November 2007
A whole-school evaluation of St Joseph’s Christian Brothers’ School (CBS) was undertaken in November 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The quality of teaching and learning in three subjects was evaluated in detail during the evaluation and one subject was evaluated prior to the evaluation. Separate reports are available on all these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Joseph’s CBS was founded in 1888 by the Christian Brothers as an all-boys voluntary secondary school in the Edmund Rice tradition. The school has a long and proud history and has been the alma mater of generations of students who in adulthood have contributed greatly in many areas of endeavour including politics, religion, law and business. In recent years the school has enrolled a small number of girls who wish to repeat their Leaving Certificate examination.
The school is located in Fairview on what was originally Lord Charlemont’s estate on the periphery of the city. Part of the school is housed in the original school building of 1888, adding to the strong sense of heritage and history which permeates the school. As the city developed St Joseph’s CBS became surrounded by development and building expansion. Changing demographic patterns in more recent times have resulted in a decline in the numbers of students attending the school. The school reports an enrolment spanning a wide ability spectrum and commendably, shows concern for the academic progress of all students whilst simultaneously endeavouring to provide them with a holistic education that will prepare them well for adult life. The school now enrols 237 students.
The school shares its campus with the St Joseph’s’ Primary School with which it has an excellent working relationship. Many of the school’s students come from St Joseph’s Primary School, clearly benefiting from the close connections between the two schools.
In 2007 St Joseph’s CBS was included in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), the initiative of the Department of Education and Science to combat educational disadvantage. This has enabled the school to avail of the services of a home-school-community liaison co-ordinator (HSCL) as well as other resources. This HSCL post is shared with St Joseph’s Primary School and this has further strengthened the links between the two schools.
The characteristic spirit of the school is based on the ethos of the Christian Brothers of Ireland who are the school’s trustees. The board, parents, teachers and students positively remarked upon the caring approach with which all activities are conducted in the school. Further to these reports, the evaluation team was able to witness at first hand how this caring approach is implemented on a daily basis and how students reciprocate with respect and cordiality. Ultimately, this has resulted in a whole-school atmosphere which, as well as delivering formal education, is also very much concerned with helping students to become ‘fine upstanding young men’.
The school’s positive and caring mission statement informs all of the work of the school and is included in some of the school’s documentation such as the school’s development plan. To reflect the very high level of awareness of the mission statement and how it is lived out in the life of the school, it is suggested that the school’s mission statement should be included in the students’ journal, the school’s prospectus and in the information given to new staff at the school.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly. Copies of the minutes of recent board meetings were made available to the evaluation team. Members of the board described the relationship between the board and senior management of the school as ‘excellent and amiable’. The board is justifiably proud of the ethos of mutual respect existing in the school amongst staff and students. In recent times, a number of tragic events which impacted greatly on students and on staff have received lot of the board’s attention. Board members commented most favourably on the manner in which in-school management handled these events.
The board has received training from the Joint Managerial Body for Secondary Schools/Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools and the Marino Institute for Education which it finds very useful in the carrying out of its functions. It is regularly involved in the following activities: school planning, ratification of policies and the recruitment of staff. The board plans to explore and develop the Edmund Rice Schools Trust Charter in the school in the near future. Decisions are made by the board on the basis of consensus following discussion and relevant information from board meetings is passed by word of mouth to the various constituencies by their representatives. Communications are sent to parents via the school newsletter which is published twice yearly and through the principal when appropriate.
The board has identified a number of priorities for the school, many of which have been significantly progressed, or achieved, in recent times. These include: improvements in the buildings plant, provision of continuing professional development support and investment in information communication technology (ICT). It is recommended that in the coming year the board should compile a new list of priorities. This should include an exploration of additional curricular programmes, such as the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) now that the school is participating in DEIS and, in time, one of the two programmes which are available as alternatives to the established Leaving Certificate.
The school is partly situated in a building which has been recently placed on the Dublin City Council’s List of Protected Structures. The other main school building was constructed in 1958 and is in some need of improvements and refurbishments. Commendably, the board has facilitated improvements in the physical structure of the school to date; however, there is scope for more upgrading of facilities. Therefore, it is recommended that the board should include in its list of priorities further exploration of ways to improve the school building.
Senior management comprises the principal and deputy principal who work in close collaboration with each other and have established clear and mutually supportive roles. In accordance with the size of the school the deputy principal has a teaching allocation of 10.6 hours. In addition to general duties, the principal’s role includes drawing up the timetable, dealing with all staffing matters, and liaising with primary schools, whilst the deputy principal attends to supervision and substitution, the National Educational Welfare Board returns, compiling the timetable into the Facility programme and classroom resources.
Commendably, senior management is a visible presence in the school and is readily available to teachers, parents and students. This presence is central to encouraging punctuality, discipline and positive relationships and is a further testament to the school’s commitment to the mission statement which supports a caring school. Senior management feels very well supported by the staff of the school and believes that the staff is hard- working, co-operative and proactive in implementing new initiatives.
The principal and deputy principal describe their working relationship as respectful and complementary. They meet on a daily basis to address day-to-day issues and both are satisfied that communication is open and forthright. The principal and deputy principal are very mindful of the issues and challenges facing the school and of the longer-term requirements of an educational environment. Senior management, working very closely with the board, has been successful to date in achieving some of these shared long term goals such as improving the school’s facilities and progressing planning. Commendably, the principal and deputy principal hold long-term planning meetings each week.
Middle management comprises assistant principals and special duties teachers. Meetings of the assistant principals are held every five-to-six weeks. There are no formal meetings for special duties teachers. However, informal meetings are held by senior management to guide and inform staff when necessary. It is recommended that action plans be developed where appropriate to help middle management progress their designated responsibilities.
The middle management of the school has much to offer in terms of assuming responsibility for instructional leadership, curriculum development, the management of staff and their development, and the academic and pastoral development of the school in line with Circular 05/98. In addition to fulfilling roles assigned to posts, it is recommended that the school’s senior management develop a greater sense of middle management among the post holders so as to support and develop the long term vision for the school. Sharing the responsibility for developing this collective vision for the school amongst middle management would support senior management and would help the effective progression of the school.
Communication in St Joseph’s CBS is reported to be good by all parties. Due to the small size of the school a lot of information is passed on informally and this is reported to work well. Notice boards are also used to keep staff up to date with daily activities. However, as the school is divided between the two buildings on campus, it is suggested that the installation of an intercom system be considered as funding presents. Commendably, a school newsletter is used to communicate to parents, staff and students.
The school has provided continuing professional development opportunities for all teachers in a range of areas such as Asperger’s syndrome and school development planning. Guest speakers are also invited to the school. Where longer-term courses will benefit the school, teachers are facilitated in attending such courses. This is good practice.
School management believes that the key to successful student progress is the teacher-student relationship and this ethos is echoed and reflected by staff. Teachers reported that students’ behaviour was good and that the school’s code of behaviour was effective. Students remarked that discipline was fair and implemented reasonably. As a further method of encouraging positive behaviour, students are awarded prizes for positive achievements at the end of the school year. This is commendable. It is suggested that a specific regular short-term award system be designed for junior cycle students to encourage positive behaviour. This could include targeting specific behaviours—punctuality, attendance, completion of homework, for example—in order to celebrate positive performance.
A student council is in place and is well supported by school management. The council is properly constituted, well organised and meets regularly. The council continues to contribute to a number of developments in the school including policy formation. The student council reported very favourably on their experiences in the school and expressed gratitude for the attention and support for both the academic and out-of-classroom activities provided by teachers.
Commendably, the school has put in place strategies which have substantially reduced the number of students’ absences. A system is in place to record students’ attendance in the morning and afternoon which also tracks absences and latecomers. The small numbers of students who continue to have difficulty with attendance are monitored and individual strategies are being developed and used to encourage their regular presence at school. The school places considerable emphasis on retaining students and those at risk of early leaving are monitored and supported carefully. It is reported that the school’s strategies in this area including the pastoral care system and the nature of the student/teacher relationships in place can make a great difference to the students who may be considering leaving school without completing their education.
The parents’ council was established in 1970. The principal attends council meetings which are held regularly. The parents’ council is reported to be an effective fundraising body and in addition to this is a valuable support to the school in terms of assistance at school occasions and events. A good example of this collaboration is the support given by parents during ‘mock’ interviews for students. Parents describe the school as very caring and as catering for all students. As in many schools, the availability of some parents to be involved in the council can be limited. It is suggested that the council should consider ways to involve more parents in their activities such as providing support evenings for parents.
The school has a proud history in terms of its students’ achievements and, as a reflection of this, the school has a very active and supportive past pupils’ union. Support from the union takes the form of generous financial help and providing students with opportunities to engage in extra-curricular and co-curricular learning activities. Such a past pupils’ union is an excellent resource for the school and is a most positive influence on students by providing scholarships, by funding extra tuition for students who need it and by showing, through example, how past pupils have personally gained from education since leaving the school.
Communication between home and school is excellent. The recent addition of a home–school-community liaison co-ordinator has added to the frequency and quality of parent-school communications. An ‘open door’ policy is in operation as the school recognises the need for parents to support their children’s education. Letters home to parents and regular communications using phone calls and the hard-backed student journal all contribute to ensuring that parents are regularly informed of their children’s activities. Two reports are sent home per year and a parent-teacher meeting is held per year group for all non-examination class groups. Commendably, parents of students sitting for certificate examinations have opportunities to attend parent-teacher meetings twice per year. This is very good practice.
The school is proactive in terms of fund raising and exploring routes to enhance its provision. Well-established links have been made with a variety of businesses, community initiatives, higher education colleges and colleges of further education, training bodies and a large number of support services. The school makes very good use of this network and such activity is very positive.
The range of activities and experiences provided and supported through the school’s links with the community are invaluable and of enormous benefit to the students of the school. The activities and experiences provided cover a wide range of disciplines from charity work to academic study. Working with these agencies the students can experience a deeper level of involvement than would otherwise be possible. These links include working with the principal from St Joseph’s Primary School who is a key figure in the organising and carrying out of charity work in Africa. Whilst all of the students of the school have the opportunity to become aware of the needs of others and of their personal ability to make a difference, a number of students from St Joseph’s CBS have the opportunity to train as volunteer helpers and to visit Africa as part of their charitable work. It was reported by parents, students and teachers that although hard work, this was a most positive and rewarding experience for students. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority also works with the school to support the school’s IT African Project, an initiative which involves the collection, recycling and refurbishment of computers to ship out to Zambian schools and colleges.
The TY plan contained some very innovative links with outside agencies which provided a broad and deep ranging experience of various topics. This included participation in the Transition Year Physics Experience and involvement in the mentoring programme at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. These experiences gave those students attending opportunities to engage with weighty subject matter in exciting, innovative and creative ways and also the chance to be challenged and stretched. Commendably, connections with a doctorate programme in Dublin City University have resulted in some very good work in designing and implementing teaching methodologies in Science for students with special educational needs across all levels of ability.
The school currently has a teaching allocation of just over twenty-three whole time teacher equivalents with 0.5 guidance hours. The school day at St Joseph’s CBS is divided in to nine forty minute-long lessons. Currently Wednesday afternoons are used to provide designated time for sporting fixtures and also used by members of staff for planning. The school is in line with circular M29/95 which requires twenty-eight hours of instruction time per week.
Induction of new staff is carried out by the principal. Interviews with staff found that teachers were well informed and supported and that there was a very good team ethos. Particularly, newer teachers reported that they were welcomed and supported by all of the staff of the school. It is recommended that a handbook of ratified policies and useful information be compiled and distributed to all members of staff. It is further recommended that particular attention be given to the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools in this document.
School management is supported by a loyal secretary who operates the school’s office effectively. The caretaker, along with the cleaning staff, makes an important and valued contribution to the school’s daily routine.
The school is housed in two main buildings built in 1888 and in 1958 respectively. Part of the school is a listed building and the school is commended in its efforts to maintain the original structures of the school. During the evaluation the school received news that it had been successful in obtaining funding to restore and replace original windows from Dublin City Council. As well as maintaining the original building, the school continually looks to how the facilities can be upgraded and enhanced. This is laudable. Over time the school has enhanced provision for teaching and learning and for the introduction of new subjects. In recent times the science laboratories were refurbished and a new library was installed; all of these improvements of great benefit to students. The school also has a number of well-established specialist rooms including a computer room, learning support area, music and art room. A significant volume of furnishings and other material resources has accumulated over the years and, as this material has fallen into disuse, it has been stored in a number of locations around the school. It is suggested that school management should organise an audit of this stored material in order to establish its usefulness. Where it is found to be obsolete, arrangements should be made for its disposal.
Signs are in place to indicate the offices of the principal, deputy principal and the administrative staff. It is suggested that the school should now install some signage outside of the school building to clearly indicate the reception/office area.
The school is situated on a site which has limited outdoor recreation space and there are no sports facilities on-site. However, the school has commendably established a number of links with sporting and recreational facilities in the immediate area to provide a very full range of activities for all of the students in the school.
The school has recently been accepted into the DEIS programme. A book rental scheme has been put into operation this year as a result. Other developments as part of DEIS include gaining a HSCL co-ordinator, funding for a very successful breakfast/lunch club and support from a School Completion Programme co-ordinator.
Commendably an ICT co-ordinator has been appointed, the school has recently invested in ICT equipment and plans have been made to integrate ICT into the general teaching environment. A good deal of work has taken place regarding the filtering of software, links with the National Centre for Technology in Education and the provision of wireless access to the internet for teachers. Commendably, an acceptable internet usage policy has been developed. There are computers in some classrooms and it is intended that ICT would be available in all classrooms in the future. The ICT co-ordinator is qualified and willing to provide some in-house training to teachers who request it and this is a real benefit to the school. A school website has been developed which has the potential to be a very useful asset to the school.
Commendably, school management has had the school professionally audited for health and safety. The report from this audit was presented to the evaluation team. A number of issues requiring active investigation around health and safety were reported. The most important of these were wiring in the new building and sanitation in certain areas of the school. It is recommended as a matter of urgency that management should engage the appropriate services to examine and deal with these problems.
Commendably, the school has in place a students’ environmental committee which is guided by a teacher. This committee has been pro-active in enhancing the school environment and in promoting environmental care in the school such that it has been awarded the ‘Green Flag’. Window boxes and plants around the grounds, organised and maintained by students, augment the school environment very significantly.
Considerable progress in planning has been made in the last three years. Commendably, planning is an ongoing process. The principal and teaching staff, in consultation with the other parties that constitute the school community, play an active role in the development of draft plans. This collaborative approach is good practice. A policy co-ordinator has been established as part of a post of responsibility and a steering committee has been established to prioritise and develop plans. Management of the school is commended on delegating this role and distributing this responsibility amongst staff as shared ownership of the work aids the identification, creation and implementation of policies and plans.
Planning has been strategically approached. Firstly mandatory policies were developed. Then, other priorities were developed as issues arose in the school. This work has culminated in a collection of policies which have been ratified. The school recognises the need to revise some of its policies and to develop others in the near future. It is recommended that the steering committee should prioritise the order of these reviews and set out an action plan. It is also recommended that the enrolment/admissions policy and other relevant policies be reviewed so as to ensure that all existing legislation is taken fully into account. It is further recommended that the anti-bullying policy be reviewed and that the critical incident policy and a substance use policy be given urgent attention.
To further advance the long-term planning already taking place it is recommended that specific time be put aside to address the vision for the school and its future needs. Areas that may need particular consideration are the provision for English for speakers of other languages and the broadening of the curriculum.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with post-primary Circulars M45/05 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. As part of planning for each school year it is recommended that information regarding child protection guidelines be revisited as part of a whole school meeting each year to ensure that all staff members are aware of their responsibilities in this area. It is also recommended that particular attention would be given to dispersing this information amongst new staff including special needs assistants (SNAs), substitute teachers and ancillary staff working in the school.
It is recommended that the board takes steps to ensure that the school’s ratified policies are assembled into a cohesive set and as outlined in Section 21(4) of the Education Act 1998 made available to the patron, parents, teachers and other staff of the school. It is suggested that the policies should be uploaded onto the school’s website for ease of access and updating. Some appropriate policies could be published in the student journal.
Commendably, time for subject department planning meetings is formally provided on Wednesday afternoons and minutes of these meeting were presented to the evaluation team. Issues discussed to date at these meetings were generally procedural and included common texts and examination papers in addition to resources and obtaining materials. Some of the subject development plans made available during the evaluation were very comprehensive whilst others were in a very early stage of development. It is recommended that the time provided should be used to agree on curriculum content, learning outcomes, teaching methodologies, resources and assessment in line with the various syllabuses.
TY is compulsory in the school. The TY plan contained some comprehensive material including plans for some very good educational experiences. The school has developed its TY programme consisting of three layers, including a core layer, a subject sampling layer and what is described as a TY specific layer which includes work experience, community placement, outdoor pursuits, drama and special projects such as film-making and editing and spending a week in Dublin City University (DCU) completing a web design course. Of particular note the potential for learning in ‘Urban Studies’ which is a combination of History, Geography, Music and Art has great learning potential. However, it is recommended that some of the subject plans be reviewed to consider how the educational value of some topics can be reinforced and expanded upon. It is further recommended that some subject departments should use this opportunity to explore the use of alternative teaching and learning methodologies. Support for this review will be provided by referring to the document ‘Writing the Transition Year Programme’ and by accessing the Transition Year Support Service website at www.ty.slss.ie .
The school offers the Junior Certificate programme, the Established Leaving Certificate (LC) and a compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. It is recommended that the introduction of the JCSP be considered and, in time, an alternative to the established Leaving Certificate—the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP)—as further ways to enhance students’ potential for success. It was noted at the time of the evaluation that there were teachers in the school who were interested in providing these options for students.
First year students typically take fifteen subjects. The optional subjects of Art, Music and Business Studies are timetabled concurrently and students are provided with eleven-week modules in which to experience each subject at first hand. This taster approach is a very good way of informing student choice. An open choice at the end of first year and a subsequent banding of subjects tries to ensure that all students are accommodated in their choice of subject.
Junior Certificate students normally take thirteen subjects, within which Mathematics, English, Irish, Science, History, Geography and Physical Education (PE) form a core. After first year they choose French or Spanish and two subjects from Music, Art and Business Studies. Religious Education (RE) and Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) are taught to all junior classes.
The TY programme at St Joseph’s is compulsory although exceptions can be made in the case of older students. It is described as providing a bridge to enable students to make the transition from junior in to senior cycle. Students study a programme of subjects including the core subjects of Gaeilge, English and Mathematics as well as the full spectrum of subjects available at Leaving Certificate level. As well as the special projects provided, students also attend a RE/Life Skills programme. The school considers the TY ‘Arts Week’ to be a high point in the programme. The TY year was reported by parents, teachers and students to be a very successful experience for students.
Senior cycle students study the core subjects of Mathematics, English and Irish. They choose four subjects from History, Geography, French, Spanish, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Music, Art, Accountancy, Business Organisation and Economics. In some very few circumstances subjects may not be available due to very small numbers of students wishing to study them despite substantial efforts made by the school.
To add to the range of subjects available to students it is recommended that the school explores the possibility of introducing Technology as a way of introducing another practical subject to the existing range of junior cycle subjects. It is reported that a module of Home Economics has been a very successful experience for students in the past. This arrangement was made with a cookery school in the local area. To broaden the experiences offered to students such as the TY group it is suggested that the possibility of providing Home Economics again be explored.
The timetable is well planned; efforts are made to ensure that subjects are spread over the week. Commendably, PE is provided for on the timetable for all students. Provision is made in the timetable for SPHE and CSPE for one class per week in line with Department of Education and Science requirements. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided for each year group. In the spirit of the mission of the school all class groups have access to RE.
Six members of staff take responsibility for sport and are very dedicated to the provision of training and matches for students. Commendably, the majority of fixtures and training take place on Wednesday afternoon, which avoids the need to take students out of class.
Commendably, all TY and all second year students have the opportunity to study computers. An up-to-date computer science department plan was available during the evaluation outlining the topics and methodologies to be used. It is suggested that the computer science department should explore how planning for the integration of ICT in teaching and learning across the curriculum can be progressed.
Teachers and some students from St Joseph’s visit all of the feeder primary schools. At parent-teacher meetings, teachers advise parents and incoming students about their subject choices and the guidance counsellor is on hand to provide advice on subject choice and its implications in the final term for individual students. Commendably, a further meeting for parents is held in September after admission to offer parents time to address particular issues and to confirm that students are content and settled in the school. General school policies and procedures are also clarified at this time.
First year students are generally grouped into mixed ability classes. This year, however, a decision was taken to divide the groups into three distinct groups for Mathematics following a period of observation and assessment. It is suggested that this be kept under constant review and that students are facilitated in moving between groups in accordance with their learning needs.
There is one timetabled class of Guidance per week for TY which is good practice. Special emphasis is put on subject choice and its implications for careers throughout the TY year. Students do not have to choose subjects for the Leaving Certificate until the end of TY. This is commendable as it provides students with opportunities to experience the full range of subjects offered by the school for Leaving Certificate and thus, enables them to make more informed decisions. Subject teachers also help students to make accurate subject choice decisions.
The school is commended for providing a very wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for students. The quantity and quality of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities available is a further testament to the dedication and commitment of teachers to the students in their care and to taking every opportunity to broaden students’ educational experience. They are also an excellent way to achieve integration for all students. These extra activities take the form of sporting, academic and cultural pursuits. Commendably, students with special educational needs are encouraged to participate in mainstream activities. These students are also provided with a range of suitable alternative opportunities to meet their individual needs. Sporting activities offered in the school include: Gaelic football, hurling and soccer, squash, gym, swimming, golf, basketball, athletics, tennis and pitch and putt. The school also holds an annual sports day to promote sport and pride in the school. Supervised board games are held at lunch times to encourage participation by those students who are not involved in sporting or other activities.
A debating team is organised by the school in addition to other extra academic activities. A school year book is created by students with the guidance of teachers and each year a school tour is organised. Destinations that have been visited in the past include Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon as well as a host of European countries. The school also organises participation in the Business in the Community initiative which helps students to understand enterprise in their locality. The ‘A day in the Life’ project helps students to understand the world outside of post-primary school with a talk given by a guest speaker who is normally a past-pupil of St Joseph’s. Students are also encouraged to participate in the President’s Gaisce Awards and the Edmund Rice Awards for community service.
The school’s mission statement is given further expression by engaging in fundraising and charitable acts during the school year some of which are mentioned in Section 1.3 of this report. Students also host a party for the elderly each Christmas and the TY students benefit from working in community care for a week as part of their programme. Charitable activities permeate the regular life of the school and the participation of all of the school community is encouraged. The effectiveness of these endeavours is all the more commendable when considering the size of the school.
The school is satisfied with the wide range of activities available for students and reports that participation rates of students are high. Students’ levels of engagement with the various initiatives are monitored regularly and there is provision for new activities to be introduced and existing ones altered when students’ needs change.
Formal time for subject department planning is provided by school management, usually in association with staff meetings which are generally held monthly. It was also reported that teachers meet informally on an ongoing basis to discuss their respective subjects. The good practice of keeping minutes of subject department meetings is established and these are provided to senior management as a means of keeping them informed of developments at subject department level. A subject co-ordinator, working collaboratively with the other members of the subject department, has further facilitated planning for individual subjects. Teachers have demonstrated commitment to ongoing improvement by carrying out the recommendations of previous subject inspections. This is acknowledged and commended.
Good progress has been made in relation to subject department planning for the subjects evaluated. However, planning for a number of other subjects is still at an early stage of development and needs to be further progressed. Subject plans generally were written in line with the template provided under the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The very best of those available for inspection included programmes of work which, in addition to outlining the topics to be explored, the resources needed and the assessment methodologies planned, included notes on the progress of students being taught and their levels of ability. It is recommended that the focus for future subject planning be on differentiated teaching and learning methodologies and their implementation. It was also noted that planning for the subjects within the TY has taken place and documentation in relation to this was provided during the evaluation process.
Planning at subject department level is supported by the plans made by individual teachers for each of their class groups. Individual lessons had clear aims and the good practice of sharing these with the students was observed. Student learning, in a number of lessons, was supported by the provision of teacher-generated worksheets and this is commended.
Planning was also evident in the provision of supports for students. The feeder primary schools complete a transfer form for each student enrolling at St Joseph’s and those students requiring academic or other supports are identified. The care team and the resource service plan how these supports will be provided. This is highly commended. It is also noted that there is careful planning for the development of students’ study skills throughout the various years and that the role of the past pupils’ union in supporting this and other activities was acknowledged and appreciated by the school community.
Short-term lesson planning and preparation were good in the majority of lessons observed. The resources used in class were relevant to the lessons being taught and the abilities of the students and notes and handouts were well chosen to support the learning objectives. Practical activities were well organised and teacher-led discussions were clear and effective in aiding students’ understanding of the concepts under study.
Questioning was the most frequently used strategy to both check and reinforce students’ learning. It was most effective when it was directed towards individual students and when there was a balanced mix of higher-order and lower-order question types. All teachers are encouraged to ensure that questioning strategies reflect these principles. Teacher-led discussion, instruction, and explanation were used frequently in all lessons and these approaches were clear and helpful in aiding students’ learning. Students benefited from a good level of support from their teachers when they circulated among them as they worked, advising and guiding when needed. The methodologies used in many of the lessons evaluated were varied and student interest was maintained in most instances. Varying the learning activity within a lesson is considered good practice as it helps to keep students on task. Teachers should take greater advantage of small class sizes to incorporate pair work, group work or role-play, for example, into their class plans.
In some subjects, teachers used ICT as a teaching tool and to promote students’ research skills; for example, students were given lists of web sites to enable them to research the topics being studied. This is commended. All teachers should encourage students to use ICT in their studies, perhaps by accessing information online during lessons where possible and by using the available equipment in school to display, research and analyse the results of their work, as appropriate.
Students were provided with plenty of opportunity to develop and practise skills and the level of student participation in the majority of classes visited is to be commended. Students generally had good levels of knowledge and understanding of the topics being taught relative to their abilities.
Management of the classes observed was excellent. Teacher expectations regarding student behaviour and learning were clearly evident and students responded accordingly. It is evident that a mutually respectful relationship exists between the students and teachers of St Joseph’s CBS. This is commended as it has created an atmosphere of great warmth in the school and ensured the prevalence of good behaviour throughout the student body.
Some teachers have made good use of student-generated work and commercial posters to enhance their physical environment. This is commended as it provides visual stimulation and gives students a sense of pride in their classrooms.
Assessment forms a core element of teachers’ work at St Joseph’s in supporting teaching and learning in the subjects evaluated. Students’ first introduction to assessment at the school is house-set tests in English, Gaeilge and Mathematics in first year. Students in TY undertake interest inventories to assist them in career investigation. It is planned to administer the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) in the future.
In the subjects evaluated, teachers used a variety of methods to assess students’ progress. These included focused questioning during lessons, the holding of tests on the completion of sections of the teaching programme and, where appropriate, the assessment of students’ practical skills, thus addressing the recommendations of previous subject evaluations. This constructive response to recommendations from previous subject inspection reports is a very positive development and is highly commended. In addition, where appropriate, the teachers moved around the room to support students working in pairs or small groups, thus picking up on areas of difficulty and addressing them immediately. This good practice is commended as it provides a personalized support to students. Records of the grades achieved are maintained and these are used to monitor student progress and as a basis for reporting to parents at parent-teacher meetings. Communication between school and home is also maintained by the use of students’ journals and telephone contact when required.
Christmas tests are held for all classes and the non-examination year groups also have formal summer examinations. Third and sixth years are assessed by pre-certificate examinations in the second term. Reports issue to parents after each assessment. Analysis of students’ achievements in the certificate examinations is carried out by the principal and communicated to teachers.
It was evident from examination of student copybooks that homework is regularly set and promptly corrected by teachers. In the majority of samples, this monitoring was mainly tick-based. However, in a number of copybooks, there was evidence of formative, comment-based feedback to students on their work. This is good practice as it encourages a positive attitude amongst students by encouraging them to take responsibility for improving their learning. It is recommended that there should be more extensive use of comment-based marking.
Provision for students with special educational needs (SEN) is effectively organised by a co-ordinator who holds a qualification in the area. The SEN co-ordinator compiles the timetable for classes and groups and the use of the resources available is commended. The SEN department has created a detailed policy document, which it has identified as needing review in the future. Notwithstanding this, the planning documentation available for the department consisted of a very detailed programme of work. This includes an inventory of external agencies established to provide added support to students which is very good practice. The guidance department has a defined role with regard to students with SEN. This is good practice
The SEN department is situated in a bright well-decorated space with lockable storage units and significant and successful efforts have been made to create a stimulating and welcoming learning environment.
In recent years St Joseph’s CBS has developed a special education unit, funded by the Department, to address the needs of students with Asperger’s syndrome. This unit offers students with Asperger’s syndrome an opportunity to complete their second level education and complements the designated provision for students with Asperger’s syndrome in St Joseph’s Primary School. Commendably, a transfer programme is in place for students with Asperger’s syndrome to the school in partnership with St Joseph’s Primary School. This is reported to be very useful support for students.
All students have access to all subjects and programmes, except for students who have exemptions from Irish. Consideration is being given to reducing the timetable for students with SEN after consultation with the SEN co-ordinator, the principal and parents. It is recommended that the introduction of the JCSP programme be considered for these students, as they would benefit from the supports that this programme has to offer. Team teaching is used in some classes. It is suggested that the use of this teaching methodology should be extended as good practice.
All students with SEN are mainstreamed and learning support is provided by withdrawal and the provision of smaller class groups for reading and Mathematics. A special outreach unit is also available to students in the Asperger’s Unit should they need it. Commendably, structured support is provided for students who need to develop their social skills.
Subject teachers assess the progress of students with SEN and these students are particularly praised for effort. Literacy is regularly monitored and tests are held in the resource room. The results of these tests were made available to the evaluation team. Plans for individual students are written for those students with Asperger’s syndrome.
Commendably, meetings are held at the beginning of each year to support teachers who will be teaching students with SEN. It is recommended that this good work be supported by providing teachers with a handbook and encouraging teachers to plan for differentiation and SEN to support their teaching during the year. Commendably, in-service in the SEN area is on-going and in the next term teachers will receive further in-service on providing for students with Asperger’s syndrome.
Meetings are held with the special needs assistants (SNAs) on a weekly basis to share appropriate information about students. As a further method of recording and passing on relevant information, SNAs keep a journal. This is good practice. Informal meetings are also held to share information with teachers and other parties.
There are a number of newcomer students enrolled at the school. It was reported that these students are welcome and participate in all areas of school activity. It was further reported that the majority of these students have no problems in using the English language. Where a student has an English language difficulty, a buddy system is put in place to help the student integrate. This is good practice. An arrangement is also made whereby support in English language is provided in St Joseph’s Primary School. It is recommended, however, that a formal strategy be put in place to assess the level of English of all newcomer students and that plans be developed to ensure that all students are receiving appropriate English language support provision.
Applications on behalf of students are made to the State Examinations Commission for reasonable accommodations in the certificate examinations. A systematic approach is adopted for this.
There is a commitment to the provision of Guidance for all students throughout their second level education in St Joseph’s and a whole school approach to the delivery of Guidance is evident in the school. The aims and objectives of the guidance programme are linked to the school’s mission statement and to the values espoused by the school. Collaboration and cross curriculum input in the planning and delivery of the guidance programme is commended. Guidance is a feature of the development of all of the year groups in the school and the guidance department is available to advise parents, teachers and students during all of the transitionary periods of the student’s education. Study skills seminars are provided for parents and students and these seminars are subsidised by the school and the past pupils’ union. The overall guidance programme in St Joseph’s is an example of good practice.
The school has been allocated eleven ex-quota hours for the provision of Guidance. An additional 1 hour 40 minutes per week is provided from the school’s other allocations. The facilities for Guidance are reasonably good, with an office which is well equipped with a laptop computer, access to the internet, ample shelving and secure storage. The guidance counsellor uses the laptop in classes as well as for office purposes. There are two display boards for guidance-related notices and guidance materials are available on stands on the landing outside the guidance office.
A draft guidance plan has been developed and presented to the board. It is suggested that this good work should be formalised and ratified as soon as is practicable.
Care of students is considered by all parties interviewed to be one of the most important and successful areas of the school provision. The professional and caring relationships maintained by teachers and students were noted during the evaluation. The care team has been established and meets formally every week. The team includes the principal, the SEN co-ordinator, and the HSCL co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor who chairs the meetings. Year heads attend the meetings on a rotation basis so that each year group is focussed on regularly. This is good practice.
The pastoral care structure in the school consists of a class tutor for each group of students and a year head. Due to the nature of the teacher/student relationships and the number of students enrolled at the school teachers have a very in-depth knowledge of each student’s academic, social and personal strengths and weaknesses. The class teachers and year head communicate with each other on a regular basis to transfer relevant information, which is then acted upon. It is recommended that this positive practice should be documented in a care policy plan. Members of the care team, subject teachers, class tutors, year heads and parents refer students to the guidance counsellor when appropriate. Students may also self-refer. The guidance counsellor provides short-term personal counselling and, in cases where longer term counselling may be needed, refers to the appropriate outside agencies. The Rainbows programme operates in the school and the guidance counsellor and two other teachers are qualified to deliver the programme. The school also participates in the ‘Cool School’ anti bullying programme.
Commendably, students who are experiencing financial difficulty are identified and supported in a discreet fashion. Students are not precluded from any school activity because of monetary concerns.
The school does not have a designated chaplain. However, it is reported that ordained past pupils and priests who have close connections to the school as well as local curates are very supportive of the work of the school and are available for liturgical events.
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 September 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
We wholeheartedly welcome this report and see it as an affirmation of the excellent work carried out by a committed team.
We appreciate the recognition of the unique atmosphere of the school and how well it was captured by the WSE inspectors.
It is a source of great pride that St. Joseph’s has been described as having “an atmosphere of great warmth and as having a mutually respectful relationship between students and teachers.”
Furthermore, we appreciate the recognition of “the prevalence of good behaviour throughout the student body.”
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
We acknowledge the recommendations in the report and we look forward to addressing these in the fullness of time.