An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Saint Michael’s College
Ailesbury Road, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60561G
Date of inspection: 11 April 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St Michael’s College, Ailesbury Road was undertaken in April, 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Michael’s College is a Catholic, fee-paying , voluntary secondary school for boys, located on a spacious campus at Ailesbury Road in Dublin 4. The college was founded in 1944 by the Spiritan Fathers as a Catholic junior school for boys and was extended to include a secondary school in 1968. The first Leaving Certificate class completed the senior cycle in the College in 1976. The main feeder primary school is St Michael’s College junior school which is located on the same campus. Students are also enrolled from primary schools located in the surrounding areas of Sandymount, Mount Merrion, Foxrock and Booterstown.
The infrastructural improvements to the school building carried out in 2000 have increased the college’s capacity for enrolment, and student enrolment has increased steadily from 542 in 2003 to 609 in the current year. A future extension to include enhanced facilities for Music and Construction Studies together with additional general classrooms and sporting facilities is in the planning process.
The college is under the trusteeship of the Spiritan Fathers through the Des Places Educational Association (DEA). The DEA ethos is well maintained by the trustees, in the first place by trustee appointments to the board of management, by the appointment of a non-executive president to the college and by the provision of a Spiritan chaplain. The DEA also provides a supporting network of personnel to support the college’s missionary initiatives. The DEA educational philosophy is committed to a sense of community, high educational standards and personal development; ideals which are being pursued in St Michael’s College.
In line with this DEA philosophy, the mission statement of St Michael’s College is articulated in terms of aims which include: creating an environment which nurtures faith, providing a community environment in which each student can develop his full potential, encouraging each student to live his life as a responsible member of society, preparing each student for the pursuit of an appropriate career, transmitting to the students an appreciation of their cultural heritage and promoting parental collaboration in the educational programme of the college. There was clear evidence in the course of the evaluation and from discussions with members of the school community that this mission statement was being lived out in the many aspects of school life observed.
It is a credit to the characteristic spirit of the college that such strong bonds between the college and past pupils exist. Sport plays an important part in maintaining the college ethos and the college is justifiably proud of its many successes in rugby and other sports. Past students, who have achieved national and international honours, donate one of their representative jerseys to the college. The prominent displays of these and other memorabilia such as photographs, plaques and trophies serve as a reminder to present students of the tradition, standards and pride former students have in their school. The way in which the five Spiritan College Unions gather together to support the Spiritan Development Programme in Africa is another example of the DEA ethos being lived out in practice.
The DEA trust provides a useful support structure to the board of management when appropriate and necessary. The board manages the college on behalf of the trustees and takes on responsibility for the financial administration of the college. The board has prioritised the financial management of the college and has established a finance sub-committee which reports to the board. This is good practice. The board’s priorities have both an educational and infrastructural focus. Examples of educational priorities include a review of the curriculum in terms of subject choices, the development of staff expertise in learning support and the promotion of students as independent learners. These identified priorities have been progressed and have now come to fruition. There has also been a clear emphasis on infrastructure with the planned provision of new campus facilities incorporating a learning support suite, music room, architectural technology suite, further science facilities, a new swimming pool, theatre, sports pitches and general purpose classrooms.
The board has met all legislative requirements regarding policy formation. Further policy development has also been prioritised by school management and the board needs to be proactive in ensuring progress in the development of new policies and updating policies where necessary. An examination of policies developed by the board shows that the board seeks to reflect openness, inclusiveness and respect for the individual in its policy development. The admissions policy, for example, is grounded in the principles of inclusion and diversity and this policy is administered in a fair and equitable way. However, the policy should clearly state the compulsory nature of TY in the college. The board of management should also ensure that the interview clause in the admissions policy is deleted as it no longer reflects current practice.
The board meets every four to six weeks in order to carry out its duties. Minutes of board meetings examined during the whole school evaluation provided good evidence of the board’s commitment to the continued development and success of the college. The board of management members bring a complementary range of experiences and skills to their work. The board consists of four patron nominees, two teaching staff nominees and two parent nominees. The principal, in his role as secretary to the board, reports on school activities and issues to the board. In this context, the board needs to be mindful of its core role in the management of the college. The board’s perception of its role as articulated in the course of the evaluation is that of a support to senior management. It is recommended that the board moves from its perceived role of being a supportive board to that of being a directive board. The role and remit of the board also needs to be clarified to staff and parents. There was evidence that there is a degree of confusion among staff and parents as to the remit of the board. There is currently no effective mechanism of reporting on board activities to the teaching staff or to the parents’ association. Mechanisms should be put in place so that decisions of the board are communicated regularly and transparently. Promoting in-service to its members regarding board roles and responsibilities should contribute to the effective fulfilling of its managerial duties.
The principal and deputy principal display complementary skills and present as a strong senior management team. They have an active on the ground presence in the college. The principal and deputy principal collaboratively manage the college very effectively on a daily basis. The management of change in consultation with the whole school community, the administration of the school discipline system, liaison with board members on matters of school business, the ongoing management of the school finances, communication with parents, as well as the constant management of students and their learning achievements and difficulties are but some of the responsibilities carried out very effectively by senior management on a daily and weekly basis. The principal and deputy principal take on some individual responsibilities, for example the principal takes responsibility for the construction of the school timetable in consultation with the deputy principal, while the deputy principal plays a key role in the duty of care to staff.
Both members of the management team have commendable leadership qualities. The school community has embraced ownership of the shared vision of providing an educational environment in which the highest quality of teaching and learning can take place and of implementing improvements, both educational and infrastructural. Senior management actively promotes the development of a professional learning community and continuous professional development (CPD) is actively encouraged and supported in order to maintain high standards and has been enthusiastically embraced across many subject areas. The leadership of the principal and deputy principal has also contributed to the strong sense of community among the students in the college. Pride of place, respect and courteousness of students were evident throughout the evaluation.
Senior management effectively delegates responsibilities, as necessary. Meaningful roles are distributed to post holders to ensure the effective operation of the college. Posts of responsibility serve the college well and there was evidence that posts are regularly reviewed. All year heads are assistant principals (AP), and the vast majority of year tutors are special duties teachers (SDT) and undertake an important role in the effective management of students in the college. APs who do not carry year head duties have a wide range of responsibilities including study facilitation, planning co-ordination, examinations secretary and production of the school annual. The SDTs carry out a wide and varied range of duties. They contribute to the effective operation of the college by taking on responsibilities such as information technology (IT) co-ordinator, production of the college newsletter, teacher induction and welfare, extra curricular co-ordinator and director of rugby. A substantial portion of posts are sanctioned for funding by the board which allows management to distribute responsibility for certain areas among a wide range of staff. The duties associated with most of these posts are carried out effectively. Some posts carry more weight and responsibility than others, but as post review is ongoing, some further restructuring can be accommodated, so that college needs can continue to be best met whilst ensuring an equitable distribution of responsibilities.
Partnership and collaboration are hallmarks of the school ethos. In discussion with inspectors, some post holders expressed the view that there was a lack of willingness on the part of senior management to consult and communicate with post holders as a middle management structure. This perception should be addressed by senior management. It is recommended therefore that systems of communication and consultation be established, to include regular meetings of post holders with delegated areas of responsibility with the principal and deputy principal. In this way, opportunities will be created for middle management and staff to be consulted regarding whole school issues and ultimately, to partake in a consultative way in the management of the college.
Partnership with parents is also central to the school ethos. Parents endeavour to play an active part in the life of the college and are involved in college activities in many ways, and in particular, through the relatively new and representative parents’ association. The association has established a series of social events and a series of educational talks for parents and students. A member of senior management attends parent association meetings. Parents articulated the need for further clarity regarding school procedures. As mentioned in an earlier section of this report, effective two-way reporting mechanisms for communication between the board and parents should be established. This would help to ensure effective and timely dissemination of relevant information and would also strengthen the role of parents in the life of the college. Parents should be consulted regarding relevant school policies.
The college has a good system of communication with the diversity of parents in relation to student progress and achievement. Individual letters, newsletters and the school website are some of the means of communication and means of celebration of student achievement with parents and the wider community. Well established links have been forged between the college and the community. These links have been particularly developed due to the wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on offer and within the outreach aspects of the TY programme.
The student council is a recent development in the college and is progressively taking on a greater role in decision making and in activities that impact on students’ lives in the college. The council is engaged in areas including the formulation of a policy on changes to the school uniform in consultation with staff and parents and the examination of the health quality of food in the canteen. A special duties post has been assigned to co-ordinate the council. The student council should be delegated a more consultative role especially in relation to policies addressing student issues. Student council members who act as the voice of students should be visibly identifiable as council representatives.
A culture of self-review and self-evaluation is being fostered by the leadership of school management especially through the school development planning process. This is central to the shared vision for the college.
St Michael’s College has a teaching allocation of 36.00 which includes the ex-quota positions of principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor. The college also receives allocations for programme co-ordinator (0.18) and special educational needs (17 hours). The board of management has sanctioned the employment of ten additional teachers. The vast majority of teachers are appropriately qualified and, where this is not the case, school management has taken steps to address the situation. Competencies and experiences of teachers are consolidated by being allocated to subject levels on a rotating basis. Job-sharing opportunities are facilitated by the board, when and where possible. Student learning is promoted through the provision of the study skills programme and through the sanctioning of funding for additional posts by the board, when the need arises.
New teachers including student teachers are well supported through a good induction programme. A teacher’s handbook has been developed for new staff members, and staff play an active part in supporting new teachers in the college. Systems of communication within the college include posting relevant notices on the staff notice board, regular staff meetings throughout the year and constant liaising with subject departments and individual teachers. Staff may input into the agenda of staff meetings. Many staff meetings are also used for planning and for the provision of CPD.
The commitment of the college support staff, including the office staff, librarian, financial controller, caretakers, canteen staff and cleaners is commended. They all make an appropriate and effective contribution to the life of the college and carry out their duties efficiently and effectively.
The school grounds are maintained to a good standard. There are very good facilities to support the delivery of a comprehensive Physical Education programme in the college. The plans for upgrading the existing facilities illustrate the commitment of the college to a culture that recognises and values sport and physical activity. As is evident from earlier sections of this report, school management is fully aware of accommodation needs and has taken proactive measures to plan and provide for new campus facilities in line with the strategic vision for the college and the changing needs of students including curricular needs. Maintenance of the existing building and monitoring of school lockers, litter and such matters require ongoing attention. Students should be encouraged to take more responsibility for litter prevention in the college and this issue requires further attention and monitoring by the school community.
Classrooms are predominantly teacher based and specialist rooms are consistently used for their designated purpose. Teacher-based classrooms promote the development of the room itself as a resource, and there were exemplary instances of this observed. Many classrooms contained lively displays of visual and print materials and examples of students’ recent work. The well stocked and spacious library is a widely utilised resource in the college. The stock is updated regularly and comprises a wide range of publications to facilitate students’ research and reading for pleasure. Students have daily access to the library to browse and borrow books, and stock control and borrowing records are computerised. The librarian offers induction to the library to all first-year class groups. This is highly commended. Temporary measures have been taken to accommodate student needs in Music, Construction Studies and learning support. New facilities for these and other areas will be incorporated into the new development.
Computer facilities in the college have been recently upgraded and are progressively being enhanced. There are two well utilised computer rooms, a mobile technology suite and a number of data-projectors in the college with wireless internet access. A staged expansion of information and communication technology (ICT), specifically laptop computers and data-projectors, has also begun to impact very positively in some of the classrooms. It is commendable that some specialist room facilities now have modern ICT facilities following a previous subject inspection recommendation. An IT co-ordinator has been appointed by the board following a needs analysis by the post review committee. This is commended. The widespread use of ICT in general classrooms, as a tool for teaching and learning, has yet to be firmly embedded in practice. An ICT development plan needs to be drawn up with its main aim to thoroughly integrate ICT into the curriculum. Staff training should form an essential component of this plan. Audiovisual equipment is available in all classrooms and improvements are being made on an ongoing basis. CD and cassette recorders, televisions and DVD players are available in each language-based classroom.
The college has an up-to-date health and safety statement which was drawn up with input from appropriate staff members. This policy is reviewed and updated annually and was being updated at the time of the evaluation to include changes in legislation. It is commendable that a SDT post has been assigned to the position of health and safety officer. A recent audit of health and safety took place with possible hazards identified. For example, students have been informed of the dangers which unattended bags in corridors can present. Due to the small size of the current Construction Studies facilities, there needs to be careful monitoring of student numbers until the planned development comes to fruition. A minimum of one fire drill is held each term. Many staff are trained in the use of first aid and defibrillator equipment. This is highly commended.
The college is engaged in ongoing collaborative whole-school planning. Staff has embraced the process with the majority of teachers led by the shared vision and distributed leadership of senior management. The co-ordination of school planning is carried out expertly and effectively. The school development planning initiative (SDPI) was instrumental in initiating planning in the college and now supports the college in the development of this process. Planning has progressed to become embedded in the life of the college.
The planning process is based on school self-reflection and self-evaluation, and issues raised at staff meetings and in a needs analysis of staff provided the necessary stimulus for further deliberation. It is highly commendable that the majority of staff has taken ownership of this process. The projected outcomes of planning are focused on maintaining and improving the standards of student learning in line with the college ethos. This is very good. Evidence from minutes of staff meetings and board of management minutes demonstrate how clear and achievable priorities have been identified and supported.
Prioritised action planning has resulted in identifiable improvements for the whole school community. A whole-school review of posts of responsibility took place in 2004. Identified school needs were addressed, for example, an IT co-ordinator was appointed, and posts were established to co-ordinate learning support, study skills and student leadership. The timetabling committee recommended the adoption of a forty-two period week which is now in operation. This recommendation was finally adopted in 2006. New discipline procedures were agreed with the provision of year tutors to assist year heads. The subject choice committee considered the inclusion of subjects which are offered outside school hours but are not currently on the timetable. This provision is now in place.
Following an in-depth staff survey administered by the planning co-ordinator in 2007, more recent priorities have been identified and task groups have been set up in key areas including staff involvement in school decision-making, a review of the code of discipline, review of curriculum choices and the promotion of students as independent learners. In addition, two other groups remained in place, the post of responsibility review group and the building development group. It is highly commendable that the college has taken a pro-active role in development planning. The work of planning committees is ongoing and the results of their work are being brought back to senior management and to staff meetings for open discussion. The committee on school decision making is addressing the involvement of staff in decision making. The committee plans to draw up a policy on this issue.
Co-ordinated subject departments are now well established throughout the college and this is one of the many successes of development planning. Planning in subjects is focused and good use is made of the SDPI template for this purpose. Staff has shown commitment to this process and has shown a willingness to move forward. Collaborative planning is emerging as a key strength in this process.
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.
Key developmental priorities have been identified. Many policies including admissions, discipline, substance use, dignity at work and health and safety have been adopted and enacted by the board while some policies are under review or development. The college now needs to focus on bringing the diverse elements of school development planning together into an overarching school plan. A culture of self-review is being developed in all aspects of the college. Future priorities should include the development of new policies in key areas and the review of some existing policies, some of which are underway. All future planning should ensure that the whole staff is kept well informed and consulted in an effort to ensure that ownership of the SDP process is universal across the wider school community.
The curriculum is broad and balanced and is characterised by annual review so that it effectively meets the current needs of students in the college. The college’s curriculum provision seeks to ensure equality of access to subjects, programmes and levels for all students within available resources. School management is commended for its great efforts to broaden the curriculum and to introduce new subjects that will further suit the needs of different students. A wide range of subjects are on offer and those senior cycle subjects in demand that cannot be offered on the mainstream timetable are offered outside school hours. These subjects currently include Architectural Technology, Technical Drawing, Music, Applied Mathematics and Japanese.
Music will be incorporated into the senior mainstream timetable in the next academic year and other subjects will follow suit as numbers and facilities dictate. At junior cycle, German is currently being phased into the curriculum as an optional subject in addition to French and Spanish. This diversity of language provision is very good. The vast majority of students obtain their desired subject choices. The range of programmes includes the Junior Certificate, the TY programme and the established Leaving Certificate. With the broadening of the subject options available, consideration will be given by the board of management to the inclusion of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in future years.
The primary focus of staff deployment and timetabling is to meet students’ needs and to optimise the quality of student learning. Evening study is provided as an additional support to students in their learning. All junior cycle class groups are of mixed ability, and this is commended. Students in fifth and sixth year are generally placed in ability groups.
All teachers are provided with the opportunity to teach all levels in their subject areas. This is good practice as it enables them to build up experience of teaching a full range of classes. It is also good practice that teachers generally retain the same class group from first year through to third year and from fifth year into sixth year. The allocation of time in terms of the number of class periods assigned to subjects is generally good. Subjects should not be timetabled for more than once on the same day.
Students are generally well supported regarding subject choice. Parent information evenings are organised for first-year, third-year and TY students. Subject choices are addressed at these meetings by senior management and relevant subject teachers. It is suggested that first-year students may be given a short taster programme of optional subjects for a limited time in order to help them make more informed choices. School management is commended for its provision for the study of modern European languages. Students have the option of studying French, Spanish or German. While the study of a modern European language is optional all students choose a language and continue it to Leaving Certificate. They also have the possibility of studying more than one language. Physical Education is a core subject on the school’s curriculum for all students. The recent introduction of Physical Education for Leaving Certificate students and the provision of the current timetabling arrangements have resulted in significant improvements in the provision for the subject.
Subject bands for senior cycle are created in such a way that the vast majority of students can study their desired subjects and combinations of subjects. It is of concern that an element of rigidity enters into senior subject choice prior to students completing TY. Therefore, it is recommended that students indicate their subject preferences based on an open choice at the conclusion of TY.
The compulsory TY programme is effectively co-ordinated. The small core team meets regularly to plan and review the programme. A good TY written plan is in place and includes many of the required elements of a good TY programme. Individual plans exist for each subject or module of the programme. However, some key areas of the plan require revision and review. Subject departments need to review their TY subject plans to ensure that they are in line with Department guidelines, as some subjects contain mainly Leaving Certificate material. A common template should be used for all subject or module planning. It is recommended that whole staff CPD be sought regarding TY planning so that a vibrant and innovate programme will be developed into the future.
Subjects are banded into five groups in TY. However, further subject sampling should be introduced as students cannot make an informed choice for Leaving Certificate without sampling a wide range of subjects. Modules in Judo, Sport Science, Sound Engineering and Law form an innovative part of the programme. The college should explore the introduction of further modules in an effort to make TY a more unique experience. During ‘skills week’ students are required to sign up to one of five activities. This is highly commended. Students go on two weeks of work experience. They may opt to participate in community service. Consideration should be given to enabling all students to participate in community service as it fulfils a key aim of personal development in TY.
Support for students in TY is effective with a contract of learning being signed by students and parents. Students maintain a portfolio of their work. Assessment reports are sent to parents on four occasions throughout the year. A parent-teacher meeting should be introduced into TY in order to strengthen communication with parents and to receive feedback from parents on the programme. The school calendar indicates that TY students do not attend school on the first or last week of the school year. This is not in compliance with Department guidelines and circulars M29/95 and M1/00. Circular M1/00 states “It is essential that all TY students complete a full school year”. All TY students must be timetabled for the entire academic year in order to comply with these circulars.
St Michael’s College offers a myriad of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in line with its stated mission of development of students’ cultural heritage and development of their full potential. Positive relationships between students and teachers are developed in this context. The appointment of the post of co-ordinator of extra-curricular activities has had the effect that appropriate provision is given to all new activities. Parents are very supportive of these activities and the valuable links established with the college community. The vast majority of students partake in some form of activity from a wide range on offer in the college. Many co-curricular activities relate to subjects or programmes and impact positively on students’ experiences of the subject.
Sport plays a very important role in the lives of students of St Michael’s College. Rugby is the major sport in the college with the vast majority of students participating in a rugby team at an appropriate level. A director of rugby has been appointed by the board to plan and oversee the development of rugby in the college. Good links with local sports clubs have been established. Many other sports are on offer with new sports including Gaelic football, cricket and sailing all introduced this term. Some students participate in many sports. The advent of new and enhanced facilities on site will benefit the whole-school community. A range of non-sporting extra-curricular activities is also offered to suit all students.
Support for the range of extra-curricular sports and physical activities is exemplary. The achievement of the college in some of these activities is to the highest standard. The monitoring of students’ level of engagement in extra-curricular activities is good practice. It is also commendable that a number of activities are provided at a recreational level as these provide students, who may not be competitively orientated, with ample opportunities to engage in some form of physical activity for its intrinsic value.
Co-curricular activities include regular theatre and film visits, field trips, in-house and inter-schools debating, quizzes, a drama production, and visiting speakers including writers. A significant number of students go to France on exchange trips. Students also have many opportunities to go on a range of educational trips organised by the college. A multitude of other activities enhance student experiences. These activities include debating, chess, drama, music lessons and the European Youth Parliament. TY students take part in the very successful annual fashion show in collaboration with another post-primary school. In addition, many TY students take the Gaisce challenge. The provision of co-curricular activities is commended as it provides students with enjoyable learning experiences and ensures that each subject maintains a high profile in the school.
St Michael’s College is engaged in school development planning, and subject planning forms part of this process. The increasing emphasis on collaborative subject planning in the college is welcomed, as it ensures sustainable and consistent practices and promotes collegiality and good practice. An outline department plan has been developed in all subjects inspected, using the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and more detailed subject plans were also presented in some instances. It is recommended in most subject areas inspected that, in developing a common subject plan, there should be a strong emphasis on identifying common skills and desired learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. Such learning outcomes should then be aligned with the most appropriate teaching and learning strategies and assessment methods. Where this approach was seen, it was highly commended.
Management facilitates at least three meetings for subject planning each year. It is recommended that minutes of these meetings be recorded so that there is an available record of key decisions taken and topics discussed. Such meetings should be an opportunity not only to make decisions on text choices, but also to review existing teaching and learning practices and plan for the introduction of new methods and resources, including the use of information and communication technology (ICT) as an additional strategy in the teaching and learning process. Some subjects have a storage area for resources that is accessible to all teachers which is good practice as would be the practice of developing an inventory of such resources. It is also suggested that a shared electronic folder for each subject be created on the school’s computer network to store useful notes and resources.
Long-term aims for individual subjects have been identified and significant milestones have been achieved through the planning process. A thorough appraisal of where the History department stands in relation to the recommendations of the national ‘Looking at History’ report published by the Inspectorate in 2006 is a very useful self-evaluative blueprint for the future and it is suggested that the English department also conduct such a self-evaluation using the ‘Looking at English’ report to develop their good practice in planning further.
Traditionally in all subject areas, the most senior teacher has acted as head of department, but some subject department are now moving towards a system of rotating co-ordinator. This is to be welcomed as it allows all members of the subject team to experience this role, and is a good means of promoting greater collaboration and co-operative practices. It is also suggested that the role of the co-ordinator be defined. It should be seen not only as administrative but also as facilitating the development and sharing of good practice and helpful resources.
The planned TY programme was, at times, traditional in terms of proposed teaching methodology. In addition, it is recommended that other skills such as oracy be developed during TY in order to fully implement the principles underpinning the TY programme.
Individual teacher planning was generally of a very high quality, incorporating the preparation of helpful resource material.
Inspectors were very complimentary of the quality of teaching and learning in many of the lessons observed. Some of the lessons were described as exceptional in terms of the standard of teaching, and the students were described as impressive in terms of their participation in their lessons and their ability to engage in discussion.
A variety of effective teaching and learning methods was observed in the subjects inspected. The pace and structure of lessons were well managed in almost all cases, ensuring that a satisfactory amount of material was covered. The good practice of stating the lesson objective at the outset was a feature of many lessons, and in some cases it was phrased in terms of the desired learning outcome. This very good practice should be extended to all lessons, as it emphasises from the outset the students’ role in furthering their own learning.
Resources were prepared in advance of lessons and were well used. Some teachers have developed considerable banks of handout materials for use with classes. Good use was often made of visual stimuli in an effort to explain material and engage students simultaneously. Such use of material as a support to learning could be further developed in French to avoid over-reliance on the textbook.
There was a good balance between teacher and student talk, and whole-class discussion and debate were well managed and resulted in often very interesting discussions. Students were very articulate and willing to engage in classroom activities and they demonstrated a good work ethic. Students of all abilities were fully included in the class activities. Lessons observed were, in the main, well managed, and interactions between teachers and students were friendly and respectful. In general, the level of engagement and response from students was high.
A variety of effective questioning strategies was used in all lessons. Best practice was seen when teachers asked named students specific questions to involve them in class discussion and keep them on task. In most subjects, speculative questions were also posed, and best practice was observed where students were encouraged to take time to respond to these. Students themselves posed some challenging questions and these were acknowledged and affirmed in most cases.
The focus on pair work, group work and questioning contributed significantly to student engagement and learning although in a couple of instances it was suggested that teachers should allow students to take more responsibility for their own learning. In some lessons where group or pair work was employed, the lay out of desks was particularly effective for student-student interaction. However, it was suggested in one instance that some change to the conventional classroom seating would increase the level of interaction within each group.
Explanations of specific terms were of a high quality in most subjects inspected. However, a dependence on translation as a methodology was observed in many French lessons and it was recommended that French teachers should promote more student interaction in the target language.
Appropriately high expectations were communicated to students through the level of classroom discussion and the assignments set. Levels of achievement are also very high in the state examinations.
A review of students’ copies and folders revealed a good volume of work in all subject areas. In addition, set work was appropriate and often stimulating and included substantial assignments and extended compositions. The PE assignment in TY was noted as particularly worthy of mention. Some exemplary instances of developmental feedback were noted, comprising affirming comments and suggestions for improvement and such good practice should be adopted by all teachers. In many instances of very good practice, a culture of formal retention of notes and handouts in folders and hardback copies has been developed and students’ work was systematically organised. There is not, as yet, a generic homework policy in place for subjects or across the school. This would be worthwhile in seeking to arrive at a degree of consistency in the assignment and assessment of homework and in the organisation of students’ work. Teachers keep records of students’ progress and there were some examples of excellent recording of this progress.
Class tests are usually given at the end of a chapter or topic and students sit formal examinations at Christmas and in the summer. Third-year and sixth-year students sit ‘mock’ examinations in the second term. Common examinations are set, where appropriate, in French and History and this good practice is recommended in English, in the interests of consistency of assessment and the furthering of collaborative practice. Language students are provided with an opportunity for a ‘warm up’ oral discussion immediately prior to going into take their state examination oral. Such initiatives are highly commended.
Formal written reports containing assessment marks for each subject are sent home to parents every six weeks in addition to Christmas and summer or ‘mock’ examination reports. Contact with parents is also maintained through the student journal and the annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group bar Transition Year.
Learning support has developed in St Michael’s College as a result of focused planning to meet student needs and the successful establishment of the learning support department is a major success of school development planning and is highly commended. The department consists of a small committed team of dedicated teaching staff members who have taken courses to update their knowledge and skills in this area. The way in which school management has supported training and staff development in this important area is commended.
A learning support development plan has been drawn up. This well produced and well researched document will form a sound basis for the development of a policy and it is recommended that a policy for students with additional needs be prioritised for completion, for ratification by the board and for adoption by the whole school community.
There is a good system of communication established between the learning support team and the year heads and tutors. A partnership approach is promoted between mainstream teachers, learning support teachers and parents in planning and implementing teaching programmes. Communication with parents is very good, with the learning support co-ordinator and principal meeting with parents to discuss their sons’ learning needs. Resource teachers visit the main feeder primary school to gather information regarding incoming students. Parents provide a psychological report when the student enters first year in the college. An individual education plan is drawn up for each student receiving learning support after consultation with relevant personnel.
The college has received seventeen resource hours from the Department. An inclusive approach is promoted. Students who are exempt from Irish attend small group classes or receive individual tuition. A designated additional needs room has been established with five computers and appropriate educational software and teaching resources. Good links have been built up with outside referral agencies. In practice, all students, including those with special needs, are encouraged to participate in all college activities so that they are integrated into school life and develop a sense of ownership of the college.
Senior management, the guidance service, year heads, year tutors, teachers and parents all provide guidance and care to students. Examination and study skills form part of many yearly programmes, career evenings are organised by the past pupils union for fifth and sixth-year students, job interview technique preparation takes place for sixth-year students in collaboration with the relevant year head and talks on bullying and substance abuse are organised by the parents association. In this way, students in all year groups receive some support.
Guidance facilities and resources including ICT facilities and a guidance library are available to students. Structured timetabled guidance lessons take place only in TY. In fifth year, guidance is provided in small groups or on an individual basis. In sixth year, guidance is administered during some religion lessons. This provision is unsatisfactory in terms of time allocation and modes of delivery. The guidance provision as it pertains at present for junior and senior cycle should be reviewed. School management does not make full and appropriate use of the ex-quota hours allocated to provide personal, educational and vocational guidance. Senior management is strongly urged to address guidance provision in the college as a matter of urgency.
The completion of the guidance plan needs to be prioritised. The existing draft plan requires considerable elaboration and development. The guidance plan should provide a programme of guidance for each year group from first year onwards and a structured programme of content and delivery. This plan should also include evaluative criteria on the effectiveness of guidance provision in the college and how the guidance service can address personal CPD in guidance and counselling. The board of management should pursue this matter as a priority for immediate attention.
The encouragement and support for positive student behaviour is a key strength of the school’s discipline policy. The code of discipline is implemented in a fair and just way and the graduated discipline system is seen by the whole school community as fair and balanced. There is a well established year head and year tutor system in place. While the role of year head is well defined, that of year tutor is currently under review. Year tutors are effectively deputy year heads and liaise closely with year heads on a daily basis. Responsibility for the pastoral needs of students, monitoring and recording attendance and punctuality, monitoring the personal and academic progress of students, organisation of assemblies and implementing the code of discipline are but some of the duties undertaken by year heads. The roles of year head and year tutor encompass pastoral and discipline responsibilities. They have developed an administrative, discipline and caring role and work with students to maintain a positive school environment. To strengthen this further, a care team should be created to include senior management, year heads, guidance service and chaplaincy. This will also ensure more consistency of practice. Evidence would suggest the need for greater consistency in the organisation of year assemblies and senior management in conjunction with the year heads should ensure that current procedures are reviewed.
A very well organised student support structure is in place in the form of the chaplaincy team. A questionnaire is completed by first-year students and on this basis students are met in small groups. It was reported that instances of bullying are dealt with very effectively. Year heads and class tutors oversee the welfare of students on behalf of the whole school community. The college has developed a caring atmosphere in line with its ethos and mission.
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:
· Subject Inspection of French – 19 January 2008
· Subject Inspection of History – 8 April 2008
· Subject Inspection of Physical Education – 9 April 2008
· Subject Inspection of English– 11 April 2008
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board would like to acknowledge and to commend the Inspectorate on the supportive and professional manner in which the Whole School Evaluation was embarked upon in the school.
The Inspectorate’s acknowledgment and affirmation of the College’s high academic standards as well as exceptional and effective teaching and learning practises are fitting tributes to a very dedicated, committed and hardworking team of teachers and supporting staff.
The commendations to the management team as well as to the trustees, parents and students and past students are warmly welcomed by the Board of Management.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The positive suggestions and recommendations in the reports will be embraced as part of the College’s ongoing whole school development process. The resultant changes will be incorporated into the culture and organisation of the school in the years ahead.