An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Coláiste Na Toirbhirte
Roll number: 62061T
Date of inspection: 2 May 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Coláiste na Toirbhirte was undertaken in May, 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Coláiste na Toirbhirte, Ấrd Aoibhinn is an all-girls second-level school, currently under the trusteeship of the Presentation Sisters. The Presentation Sisters have had a long-standing commitment to education in Bandon and its environs, with a convent having been first established in 1829. Initially, this education took place on a five-acre site at Coolfadda, north of the river. In 1991, the second-level school moved to its current site at Árd Aoibhinn.
The school building at Árd Aoibhinn is impressive. It is a physical expression of the open and welcoming atmosphere which pervades Coláiste na Toirbhirte. Central to this sense of openness is the organisation of the building around the ‘street’, a wide central hallway which is bright and comfortable and is at the centre of social activities during lunchtimes and other breaks.
The student population is drawn from a range of national schools in Bandon and its environs. A creditable feature of the school is its openness to the enrolment of students from diverse backgrounds and its focus on supporting all students in achieving their potential. The school offers the following curricular programmes: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme (which is optional), the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.
The whole-school evaluation process focused on school management, school planning, curriculum provision, learning and teaching and support for students. Five curricular areas were evaluated: English, Gaeilge, Physical Education, History and Home Economics. Meetings were held with staff members, senior management, the board of management, parents’ representatives and the student council.
The mission statement of Coláiste na Toirbhirte highlights the Catholic nature of the school, along with its connection to the traditions of the Presentation Sisters and their founder, Nano Nagle. The mission statement notes that ‘our community is seeking to develop the full potential of each student – intellectual, spiritual, emotional and social.’ During the evaluation, it was apparent that the school strives to successfully fulfil its mission statement in all respects.
Inspectors commented on the warm and co-operative atmosphere in subject classrooms and on the good relationships between teachers and students which were evident during the evaluation. When interviewed, the student council highlighted the ‘friendly and open’ nature of the school and that there was ‘opportunity for every student.’ Parents described the school as a ‘caring, happy place’ where students were ‘included’ in activities. The vibrant and inclusive nature of the ‘street’ was also apparent during the evaluation. Senior management, teaching staff, ancillary staff and students are to be praised for the creation of this environment.
The school is at a pivotal moment in its relationship with its trustees. While the ethos of the Presentation Sisters is still very evident in the school community, the role of trustee is to be taken over by Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust (CEIST) in the very near future. Information about this change has been provided to the board of management, parents and teachers through meetings and a variety of documents. It is anticipated that the vibrant and positive ethos developed through the school’s historical association with the Presentation Sisters will continue to be maintained and consolidated with the aid of its new trustees, CEIST.
The board of management has been properly constituted. It comprises four members nominated by the trustees, two members elected by parents and two members elected by teachers. The principal serves as secretary to the board. The current board was established at the beginning of the current school year. A number of members of the board also served on the previous board.
The board meets approximately once per month and board members have accessed training with regard to their role. All members, in so far as has been practicable, have participated in this training. It is recommended, where it has not yet been possible for board members to access training, that this should be done as soon as is practicable. Board members have also accessed financial training provided by the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) and the Association of Management in Catholic Secondary Schools (AMCSS). This is positive.
Minutes of board meetings are sent to the trustees. There are also regular communications from the trustees to the school. In addition, an agreed report is read to staff at a short meeting in the days following a board meeting. This report is placed on a notice board in the staffroom for teachers to examine. The agreed report is also communicated to the parents’ association. There is good communication between the board and the various education partners in the school community. To further enhance the good practice already in place, it is suggested that the board publish an annual report on the operation and performance of the school. This report should include particular reference to the achievement of objectives set out in the school plan, as is set down in Section 20 of the Education Act (1998). The report could, perhaps, be issued by means of the excellent school website.
The board has been supportive of the school development planning process. A number of priorities for the further development of the school have been identified. These include researching the possibility of developing an all-weather pitch, furthering policy development and the ongoing refurbishment of the school building. The development of a whole-school system for positive discipline and the adoption of an assessment for learning approach in the classroom were also highlighted during the meeting between inspectors and the board. The board’s overall involvement in the development, ratification and review of school policies is to be praised. In addition, the board’s support for various initiatives to improve the general infrastructure of the school is to be commended. It is recommended that, where this has not already occurred, all policy documents should include the date of ratification by the board, along with an anticipated review date.
There is a highly effective senior management team. This senior management team has a clear educational vision and is successfully implementing this vision. The principal and the deputy principal have a good working relationship. It was evident during the evaluation that the senior management team maintains a strong and very visible presence around the school – at breaktimes, on the corridor and through regular information sessions for staff. This is commendable, as it ensures a high degree of accessibility to senior management for staff, students and parents.
The middle-management team consists of nine assistant principals and fourteen special duties teachers. It is clear that the schedule of duties for these posts is in need of review. This was acknowledged by post-holders and senior management throughout the evaluation. The school has recognised this fact and, in the last school year, a process of review has been initiated. This is commendable. This process has included outside facilitation from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), along with extensive consultation with staff. This consultation focused on the current needs of the school. A special sub-committee was established to further advance the process. Recommendations of the sub-committee regarding a new schedule of duties were then brought to a staff meeting and feedback was sought. This feedback then informed additional work on the part of the sub-committee. At the time of the whole-school evaluation, some discussions on this topic were still ongoing. Given the extensive consultation which has been undertaken, it is recommended that the review of the schedule of duties attached to posts should be expedited and completed early in the next school year. This should involve the determination by the board of management of the duties which need to be performed for the effective internal management of the school, followed by the division of these duties among the available in-school management post-holders. This determination should be based on the extensive consultation which has already taken place, in accordance with Department of Education and Science (DES) circular 29/02. The new schedule of posts, along with the post-holders assigned to these duties should be included in the staff handbook which the school plans to develop. This should be done in order to ensure that all members of staff are aware of the different areas of responsibility of each post-holder. It is further recommended that, at the end of each year, post-holders should give a brief, written outline of the duties they completed during the year, what worked well and what challenges they encountered in the performance of their duties. This strategy will serve to further inform the development of the post structure over the coming years.
The current process of review should be seen as part of a continuing pattern of development with regard to the post structure. Such an approach will serve to ensure that assigned middle-management positions continue to reflect the changing needs of the school. The opportunity such an ongoing evolution will offer in terms of professional development for staff members, through gaining experience of different areas of school life, could prove to be a key element in developing the leadership base within the staff. A small number of posts currently include the role of subject co-ordinator. This arrangement should be reviewed and adjusted to reflect the more widespread practice in the school where subject co-ordinator’s duties are not attached to post duties.
Many worthwhile communication structures are in place. Weekly staff meetings take place every Tuesday. These support the subject-planning process, along with other developments in the school. Once per term, longer staff meetings are also organised. Beyond this, various weekly meetings of staff groups such as the year heads and the school development planning committee are in place. A Monday information session is also undertaken during the early morning break. This is led by different members of the teaching staff and senior management to highlight key events during the coming week. Again, this is a commendable practice. Various noticeboards for staff and students also facilitate communication, while an LCD screen at the entrance to the school notes upcoming events and achievements for the whole community. There are very good communication systems in place.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). This is evident through regular staff training sessions which have been facilitated by the SDPI and the release of teachers for in-service training courses. The engagement of a number of teachers in postgraduate study has been supported in the past and teachers’ subscriptions to their subject associations are funded by the school. A post-holder has been assigned to mentor new and student teachers. The school is to be praised for its support of teachers’ CPD.
The school operates an open and welcoming admissions practice. There is a written admissions policy. However, this admissions policy is not consistent with the school’s current admissions practice. A number of areas should be addressed with this in mind. The policy’s statements on the circumstances surrounding refusal to enrol, or to accept the transfer of a student, should be adjusted so that the criteria involved in making such decisions are clear and transparent. The policy should also be revisited in light of implications relating to the deferral or refusal to enrol students with special educational needs. The current policy suggests that this may be done on the basis of the school’s view of whether it is in a position to meet the needs of a student with special educational needs and on the basis of the allocation of resources by the Department of Education and Science (DES). It also suggests that admission will be predicated on the nature and degree of the special educational needs of the student involved. Again, clarity with regard to the criteria utilised in enrolling all students should be consistently applied throughout the admissions policy. It is therefore recommended that the admissions policy be adjusted to fully reflect the open and welcoming admissions practice of the school and to ensure compliance with the Education Act (1998) and the Equal Status Act (2000). It is also recommended that statements regarding the provision of voluntary contributions by parents should be decoupled from all enrolment documentation. Requests for information regarding a student’s nationality and their parents’ occupations should also be removed from enrolment documentation. Such information might be more appropriately accessed, if necessary, at a later stage in the student’s association with the school.
The school has prepared a documented code of behaviour. The management of student behaviour is very good and inspectors universally commented favourably on this feature of school life. The code of behaviour is communicated to students through the school prospectus and the student journal. It is clearly laid out and accessible to all students. A central feature of the current code is the awarding of demerit points and merit points for aspects of student behaviour. A focus for the current phase of school development planning has been the further development of the merit and awards system as a means of encouraging positive behaviour. This reflective thinking regarding the encouragement of good behaviour, which found great favour with a number of student groups who were interviewed during the evaluation, is to be praised. An anti-bullying policy which has been recently reviewed by staff is similarly included in the journal and the prospectus. The anti-bullying policy includes references to cyber-bullying and, is a well thought-out document. When interviewed, the students’ council highlighted its role in the review of the anti-bullying policy.
A students’ council has been in existence in the school for more than six years and a constitution has been formulated. The council is elected on the basis of class representatives. In addition, a prefect team is elected to represent each year group. The council is elected each September. The council’s officers are also elected at the beginning of the year. The council meets every second week and members are notified through the LCD screen on the ‘street’. A post-holder undertakes the role of teacher liaison with the council which is regularly consulted regarding the development of school policies. The students’ council is to be commended for an impressive list of achievements over the past number of years. These include the organisation of various raffles, contact with the County Council regarding the school’s environs, involvement with the ‘People in Need’ telethon and the organising of a memorial garden and bench – a project in which the entire school community was involved. The involvement of the council in the Green School Initiative, which will be dealt with later in this report, is to be praised. An area of the school website has been assigned to the students’ council. This is worthwhile. It is suggested that the area should continue to be developed as a further means of communicating the council’s activities to the student population and the wider community. It is suggested that the current arrangements regarding the organisation of the council should be proofed against the council’s constitution and, where some inconsistencies occur, these should be rectified. The students’ council is a very positive feature of school life in Coláiste na Toirbhirte.
The school has a comprehensive attendance strategy in place. The strategy provides for the involvement of subject teachers, class tutors, year heads, the school care team, the guidance counsellor, the special educational needs co-ordinator and the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator (HSCL) in monitoring and addressing students’ attendance. Contact is maintained with the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) as well as the local Education Welfare Officer (EWO) with regard to poor attenders. The school has been proactive in seeking to continually improve its ability to monitor attendance and intervene if necessary. Over the last year a daily absence record has been placed in the staffroom and distributed to year heads, improved notes in the student journal have facilitated the collection of more accurate information regarding student absences and a form for groups of students leaving school on various activities has been developed. There have been some difficulties in ensuring accurate reporting of attendance, but these have been addressed. It is recommended that the potential for increased use of information and communication technology (ICT) as an aid to year heads and senior management in monitoring attendance should be investigated. ICT could also facilitate the combining of attendance information concerning particular students with other information pertinent to their achievement in school, such as examination results, late arrivals, disciplinary record and so on. This recommendation is made, while taking into account the possible limitations of available resources.
The parents’ association has been in existence for approximately twenty years and a constitution has been formulated. The parents’ association meets every four to six weeks. The annual general meeting is held in September or October of each year. A parents’ committee is elected at the annual general meeting to organise the affairs of the association during the coming year. The association is affiliated to the National Congress of Catholic Schools Parents’ Associations (CSPA). The association has been heavily involved in various aspects of school life. Of particular note are its recent fundraising activities which resulted in a significant upgrading of the school’s heating system. The association has also provided input on a range of issues pertinent to students’ experiences in the school, including the updating of the school uniform, the homework policy, the development of the merit awards and the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy. In addition, the association has made a number of successful submissions to senior management in recent years. These have included the need for the subject-choice system in first year to be reorganised and the inclusion of the European Computer Driver Licence (ECDL) on the curriculum. The active and appropriate participation of the parents’ association in the life of the school is to be praised.
The school newsletter includes an article on the work of the parents’ association each term. In addition, the association has an area in the recently revamped school website. This latter development is most positive and it is suggested that this area on the website should continue to be expanded. Communication between the school and parents is managed through a variety of means. These include the student journal, letters to parents, information meetings on different topics, reports on students’ progress and special meetings by appointment. There are also regular parent-teacher meetings for all year groups apart from TY. Parents of TY students participate in the TY graduation night and there is an opportunity to speak with teachers at this event. Notwithstanding these facts, it is recommended that a formal TY parent-teacher meeting be organised to ensure effective communication with parents regarding students’ achievement. As a means of acknowledging the unique nature of the programme, the potential for this meeting to include student participation could be explored. Overall, there is effective communication between the school and parents.
There are numerous links between the school and the local community, along with a number of external agencies. The UCC Plus programme has links with the school and these are dealt with more extensively later in this report. Students taking the TY programme and those opting for the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme participate in work experience during the year and are supported by local businesses in this endeavour. The school also liaises with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the NEWB (as has been previously mentioned) and a number of other local organisations.
With the exception of Tuesdays, teaching commences in Coláiste na Toirbhirte at 9.15am and finishes at 15.55pm. A staff meeting is held at 15.20pm on Tuesdays. This staff meeting is of great benefit and should be retained, if at all practicable. Taking into account morning and lunch breaks, the teaching week consists of twenty-seven hours and fifty minutes. As these current timetabling arrangements, fall short of the twenty-eight class-contact hours required in Circular M29/95 (Time in School),, it is recommended that this situation be remedied.
Timetables provided to the inspection team during the whole-school evaluation period indicated that a small number of permanent whole-time (PWT) teachers were timetabled for marginally less than the required minimum eighteen hours’ class-contact time. It is important to note that this arrangement was due to these teachers’ commitment to middle-management meetings. In addition, the school has a generous and appropriate policy of granting additional time to year heads to perform their duties. Nevertheless, it is recommended that all PWT teachers be timetabled for a minimum of eighteen hours’ class-contact time. This should be done, not least, to protect the incremental salary entitlements of all members of staff. Beyond this small number of instances, teaching resources are timetabled effectively in the school.
The teaching staff is generally deployed appropriately. Where some adjustment or development is needed in this regard, details are outlined in appended subject inspection reports. The time allocated to subjects is generally appropriate and in line with syllabus recommendations. In the instance of Physical Education, the school has been encouraged to re-examine its allocation to the subject. Further details in this area may be garnered from the Physical Education subject inspection report which is appended to this whole-school evaluation report. A current issue for the school is the impact of teacher retirements and slight fluctuations in student numbers. This has made the school dependent on some curricular concessions and part-time teachers in a limited number of subject areas.
There are seven Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in the school who have participated in continuing professional development (CPD) with the support of senior management. It is suggested that, as an element in the further development of the special educational needs policy, a brief induction process for SNAs might be included, along with a description of their role in the school. Such work should be informed by Circular Letter 12/05 and the contract of employment of SNAs which is set out in this letter. Further information on this can be garnered from the DES Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (pp.83-85). The school also employs a number of secretaries, caretakers and cleaning staff. The important role played by each of these groups in the life of the school was observed during the evaluation.
The school is well-maintained and laid out. The facilities include twenty-four general subject classrooms, a well-stocked library, three science laboratories, a geography room, a computer room, a demonstration room, a language laboratory, a religious education room, two music rooms, a chapel, two art rooms, an assembly hall, two home economics rooms and a gymnasium. It is recommended that the potential for baserooms to be assigned to specific subjects should be explored as a means of further facilitating the sharing of resources and the creation of acquisition-rich environments by subject departments.
A computer usage policy has been developed, along with an ICT document dealing with anticipated developments in this area. The computer usage policy includes reference to the appropriate use of the internet by students, along with the requirement that students will treat others with respect and not undertake actions that could cause hurt to other students. This is appropriate practice. The school has significant ICT resources, including a range of computers installed in various subject classrooms and an ICT room which has been very recently updated with twenty-six new computers and a server. In addition, the special educational needs department and the library have benefited from newly installed computers and broadband internet access is available in all classrooms. A post-holder has been appointed to the position of ICT co-ordinator. At present, the availability of data projectors and ICT in classrooms is being expanded. Senior management plan to provide subject rooms, equipped with a data projector, in the future. This will be a very positive development. All year groups are provided with a number of ICT lessons. In September of this year the ECDL was launched as an element in TY. The school’s website has also been recently revamped. This is most worthwhile. The co-ordinator plans to organise an in-house ICT course to promote the use of ICT in the classroom. This is commendable.
A school safety statement has been prepared. This was completed by an external agency with input from the teaching staff. A post-holder has been given the duty of co-ordinating health and safety measures. It is suggested that a safety officer should be specifically identified in the safety statement. A full health and safety audit of the school has been conducted in the last school year. The involvement of teaching staff in the audit is to be commended.
particular note during the course of the whole-school evaluation was the impact
of the school’s involvement in the Green School Initiative. The school registered
with the initiative in December 2007. A
Coláiste na Toirbhirte is a reflective school with a culture of self-evaluation and review. The school has had a long-standing commitment to the school development planning process. Support in this endeavour has been accessed through the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A school development planning committee has been formed to co-ordinate policy development and planning. This committee consists of representatives from senior management, assistant principals, special duties teachers and non-post-holders. Membership of the committee rotates every two years. This is positive, facilitating the development of an understanding of the process throughout the staff. The committee meets regularly during the school year. Minutes of committee meetings are recorded electronically and a progress report on the work of the committee over the two-year period to 2007 has been created. Policies developed by the committee are provided to the whole staff for comments and adapted in light of this feedback. These are then either referred to the staff and the board of management, or to the staff, the students’ council, the parents’ association and then to the board, for ratification. This is sound practice, ensuring that the voices of these education partners can be heard during the planning process. It is suggested that the potential involvement of the students’ council in the creation and development of policies should form an especially important element in the process. This will serve to further develop a sense of citizenship and participation among the student body.
As previously mentioned, the school’s anti-bullying policy has recently been reviewed. The committee has now moved to work on the further development of the school’s positive discipline strategies. In addition, key priorities identified for the coming year include the completion of the post-review process (dealt with in the previous section of this report), the collation of a staff handbook and a very positive focus on the use of assessment for learning in the teaching and learning process. The latter move towards a teaching and learning focus in connection with the school development planning process is to be strongly commended. It is recommended that the current focus on assessment for learning be extended so that subject departments focus on fully embedding the development of this area of their teaching practice prior to moving on to another area for development in teaching and learning. The school’s current approach, where inputs are accessed from the support services and are then incorporated into practice and discussed by the subject departments involved, as well as by the whole staff, is very good practice. Further development in this area could be accessed through a ‘teaching and learning’ CPD day involving the Second Level Support Service (SLSS).
The permanent section of the school plan is well developed. Considerable work has gone into the creation of a range of school policies. These include policies regarding extra-curricular activities, students’ behaviour, dignity at work, anti-bullying, critical incidents, pastoral care, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), attendance, admissions and special educational needs. A guidance department plan is also in the process of being developed. Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. A very comprehensive child protection policy has been developed by the school. It is recommended that this policy should include reference to the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004) and the fact that these have been adopted by the board as the policy of the school. Some policies have been published on the school website and it is anticipated that other parts of the school plan will also be placed on the website. This is positive.
Significant work has been done in the area of subject planning. The allocation of time for departmental planning at the school’s regular Tuesday staff meetings has been particularly useful in this regard and the work done is to be strongly praised. It is recommended that the analysis of uptake levels and achievement in the certificate examinations be used to inform planning in all subject departments in the future.
The curriculum offered by Coláiste na Toirbhirte is wide and varied, seeking to cater to the needs of the school’s diverse student population. The school offers a range of curricular programmes, including the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate (Established), the TY programme (which is optional) and the LCA programme. The school does not currently offer the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). It is recommended that the potential for the inclusion of the LCVP in senior cycle should be investigated. This should be done in order to further extend the already wide range of programme options currently available to cater for different students’ aptitudes and interests.
Students in first year study a wide range of subjects. These include Art, Business Studies, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Computer Studies, English, French, Geography, German, History, Home Economics, Irish, Mathematics, Physical Education, Religious Education, Science, Music and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). A number of these subjects are offered in modular form so that students study one subject until Christmas and another subject for the rest of the year. This arrangement is appropriate, allowing first-year students to sample subjects prior to making their subject choices at the end of first year.The provision of two modern languages for students is most worthwhile and to be commended. The fact that students may choose to study both French and German in junior cycle is most positive.
Classes are of mixed ability in most subjects in first year, apart from a number of the core subjects where a small class group is formed to support students with additional educational needs. A limited number of students are placed on a reduced junior cycle curriculum where the school, in consultation with their parents, deems that this is more appropriate to their needs. It is recommended that the current arrangements with parents, which are currently verbal in nature, should be formalised in writing. In second year, classes are of mixed ability, apart from Irish, English and Mathematics. The system utilised in Irish is currently under review and comments on this area may be found in the appended Irish subject inspection report. A system of setting is used in English, while classes in Mathematics are streamed. A very positive feature of the current timetabling arrangements is the concurrent timetabling of English, Irish and Mathematics in second year, third year, fifth year and sixth year. This facilitates ease of student movement between levels and classes where necessary and is to be commended in light of the current arrangements with regard to class organisation.
Time allocated for subjects in junior cycle and in senior cycle is generally satisfactory. Both CSPE and SPHE are timetabled once per week, as is required in the relevant circular letters.
In senior cycle there are three programmes offered to students. These include the TY programme, the Leaving Certificate programme and the LCA programme. As previously mentioned, the TY programme is optional in Coláiste na Toirbhirte. The programme is well planned and organised by a committed and effective TY co-ordinator. A wide range of subjects is studied throughout the year and a number of other subjects are taught in modular form. Some of these include or have included Japanese, Horticulture, Rules of the Road and Tourism. Beyond this, students are invited to participate in the Gaisce awards, the credit union bank, public speaking, debating, Young Social Innovators (YSI) and a self-taught module entitled ‘Step into marketing’. Work experience and a number of educational trips are also included in the year’s activities.
The TY co-ordinator meets with the year group’s class tutors twice weekly in a timetabled meeting. The co-ordinator also meets with the principal regarding timetabling needs in TY. A meeting with all staff is also held at the beginning of the school year. Staffroom noticeboards and the Monday morning break are used to disseminate information to staff throughout the school year. These arrangements are commendable. A particularly positive feature of the TY programme is the fact that new TY students are inducted into the programme through a full morning session upon their return to school following the summer holidays. Subject-specific plans for the TY programme were presented during the course of the whole school evaluation. A TY review has been planned, with facilitation from the SLSS. It is recommended that, as part of the TY review, the current subject plans should be adjusted to incorporate a specific focus on learning goals. Useful support in this endeavour can be accessed by subject departments from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie, which now includes a number of transition units which could be used as models for this work. A range of assessment activities are organised for TY students, including a portfolio of work which students add to over the course of the year, formal tests, an employer’s report, performance appraisal and work presented at the end of each module. An interview with their class tutor forms a key element in the assessment of students’ achievement at the end of the year. The class tutor and co-ordinator also meet with all teachers who had contact with the student during the year to further inform the assessment process. It is suggested that the formalisation of parents’ evaluations of the programme which has been undertaken this year could also be usefully extended to students. The TY programme is well-organised and imaginative.
In fifth year and sixth year, students study the core subjects, Irish, English and Mathematics, as well as Religion, ICT, Physical Education and Guidance. In addition they choose four other subjects from a choice which includes French, German, History, Geography, Home Economics, Music, Art, Business Studies, Economics, Accounting, Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
The inclusion of the LCA programme on the school’s curriculum is to be commended. There is a committed and effective LCA co-ordinator and a very good LCA programme has been organised. The co-ordinator is involved in making a presentation to third-year and TY students regarding the LCA programme. Meetings with parents may also be organised to explain the purpose of the programme, and students applying for participation in the LCA are interviewed prior to acceptance in April of each year. Input from teachers regarding students who may benefit from participation in the programme is also sought. The co-ordinator monitors attendance and the completion of tasks by students, along with the storage of key assignments. There are regular LCA meetings consisting of the LCA co-ordinator, the HSCL co-ordinator, the Guidance counsellor and senior management, along with other members of the LCA team, where possible. Minutes of meetings are made available for those teachers who cannot attend. All of this is commendable.
Induction or ‘welcome’ packs have been organised for students new to the LCA and a new work-experience pack is also prepared for students. Parents of LCA students are invited to a coffee morning as part of LCA students’ induction into the programme. The co-ordinator liaises with senior management about the programme and is involved in the timetabling process. This has resulted in moves to revise the current timetable to allow for a tutorial class between the co-ordinator and the LCA class next year. The whole staff is involved in a formal review of the programme each year, as are students who have participated in the LCA. A key priority identified through this system of review is the promotion of the LCA programme among the student body. This is being accomplished through an LCA display in the ‘street’ which informs students of the many and varied activities in which LCA students are involved. LCA achievements are also highlighted in the library. LCA students make a presentation to first-year students regarding their experiences at the open night and the school newsletter and TY magazine also highlight LCA events. Moves towards greater inclusion of the LCA class with mainstream senior cycle classes are also being considered. This is very worthwhile and is another indication of the reflective approach which is regularly adopted by the school..
As outlined above, students in Coláiste na Toirbhirte are offered a wide range of subject and programme choices. Their choices are provided for through an open choice system. This is good practice.
The guidance counsellor meets with the entire first-year group in March of each year and provides a presentation on subject choice. This is followed by further discussions with individual class groups. Particular students or parents may meet for further discussions with the guidance counsellor if they so wish. Students continue to study core subjects which include English, Irish, Mathematics, History, Geography, Religious Education, Physical Education, ICT, SPHE and CSPE. They choose four subjects from French, German, Business Studies, Home Economics, Science, Music and Art. Students are encouraged to maintain their study of a modern language, which is positive. The school facilitates students’ subject choices if at all possible. Arrangements for subject choice are well managed in junior cycle.
The TY co-ordinator, LCA co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor give presentations to third-year students regarding their choice of programme in March. Both the TY co-ordinator and the LCA co-ordinator give full presentations on their programmes, while a brief description of the Leaving Certificate is provided by the guidance counsellor. Third-year students who wish to move directly into fifth year are invited to attend a presentation on the Leaving Certificate (Established) later in the month. This presentation is followed by an opportunity for students to ask the guidance counsellor questions and they may also make individual appointments. Further meetings between the guidance counsellor and students are organised as the subject choice process is advanced. Parents of third-year and TY students are invited to a presentation on the options available to students in senior cycle prior to the presentations given to students. Again, the open choice system used and the support for students in opting for different subjects in senior cycle is very good.
A wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities is provided by the school. A number of sports are catered for and these are organised by a post-holder. The post-holder engages external coaches when necessary and is centrally involved in the arrangements for a variety of sports including orienteering, junior football, soccer, basketball, camogie, hockey and, in the summer term, tennis. This role is most worthwhile. The provision of all of these sports by the school is to be highly commended.
In addition, a number of other activities are organised, including public speaking, debating and choral activities. A particular highlight of each year in Coláiste na Toirbhirte is the school musical. Musicals in the past number of years have included South Pacific, Cinderella and Calamity Jane. A particularly impressive feature of the school musical is the extent to which the inclusion of as wide a variety of students as possible is encouraged, including TY, fifth-year and second-year students. The musical is also utilised as an important element in first-year induction. The involvement of the entire school community is seen as vital to the endeavour, with staff, parents and, to some extent, the wider community in Bandon all playing important parts. This is commendable. The commitment of staff and senior management, in particular, in organising all of these activities and others, must simply be applauded.
Extensive planning activities have taken place in the school with the support of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Comprehensive subject department plans have been compiled, or are in the process of compilation, for all subject departments in the school. Programmes of work have been devised for each year group and these programmes are in line with syllabus requirements and are appropriate to students’ ability levels in all cases. The quality of planning in evidence is very good, facilitated by time being made available by management for subject departments to formally meet on a regular basis. Management is commended for providing this time. The very good practice of maintaining an outline record of issues discussed at subject planning meetings has also been noted and applauded.
Subject co-ordinators are in place in all subject areas and, in some cases, this role is part of the duties of a post of responsibility held by a particular person. Where not already being done, it is recommended that the role of subject co-ordinator should rotate among all members of the subject department team so that the work load is shared equally among staff and so that all members of staff have the opportunity to gain from the professional development opportunities associated with carrying out this role.
An extensive range of syllabus, reference and other resource material has been compiled in all subject areas and these materials are being effectively utilised in teaching and learning. Subject departments also have access to a range of ICT equipment, including computers, printers, DVD players, VCRs and cameras and purposeful planning has taken place as to the use of these materials in various subject areas. All departments are commended for this work and are encouraged to investigate the further use of ICT in enhancing the teaching and learning experience, especially as all classrooms are now networked and have broadband access.
Planning for the increased use of assessment for learning (AfL) is taking place at whole-school level and this is already positively impacting on practices in the classroom in some subject areas. Further work on incorporating AfL into teaching and learning to include the use of ‘rich tasks’ has been suggested and the incorporation of AfL into the assessment and homework policies of some subjects has also been recommended. To complement the whole-school work that is taking place regarding the use of AfL, it is suggested that a section reviewing the impact of teaching and learning methodologies employed and their effectiveness in achieving the learning outcomes be included in all subject planning folders.
Good individual planning was seen by teachers in the subjects inspected as part of this whole-school evaluation and teachers’ diligence in this regard was praised by inspectors who noted that individual lesson plans were made available in many instances. Teachers in most subject departments are involved in organising a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities and some inter-subject collaborative planning has taken place around such activities. This is highly commended as it can help students to make connections between learning in various subject areas and to understand how learning in one area can complement learning in another. It is suggested that time might be profitably dedicated to planning for such cross-curricular activities at future subject planning meetings.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was very good. Lesson objectives were clear, and this was especially the case where teachers explicitly stated these objectives at the beginning of lessons and ensured students had a clear idea of the material that was to be covered and the desired learning outcomes. The practice of revisiting learning outcomes at the end, which was a feature of many lessons, helped to remind students of the material covered, consolidate learning and gain maximum benefit from the very high standard of teaching observed.
Evidence of planning was presented in all lessons. In the majority of lessons the quality of this planning was noted as very good. Where a clear progression in difficulty with the tasks set by the teacher was observed, this allowed all students to achieve success in performing the more basic tasks while challenging the more able students to carry out more advanced work. This structured approach to lesson delivery is commended.
Teachers are also commended on the successful adoption of a wide range of resources as an aid to the teaching and learning process and one of the cornerstones of subject teaching was the effective use of these resources. Included among these were the blackboard, the whiteboard, television and DVD, photocopies, photographs, compact-disc player, overhead projector, pre-prepared acetates, posters, worksheets, and question sheets. In some lessons, these resources were complemented by photographs and teacher-generated handouts to stimulate the imagination of students and, commendably, to assist them in the examination of the topics being studied. Teachers are encouraged to continue to expand the use of such resources and to explore ways in which ICT can be integrated more into teaching and learning.
Students worked diligently during lessons. In the majority of lessons the methodologies employed were student-centred, calling on the active participation of each student in the class. Opportunities which were provided in lessons for students to work in pairs were particularly impressive in engaging students and their enthusiasm for their work was particularly evident during group-work or pair-work sessions.. The use of group work served to aid differentiation between students in a number of instances. The wider use of these strategies was recommended in some instances.
A significant feature of the good teaching observed during the evaluation was the time and effort which went into making learning more accessible to students. The instruction provided took account of students’ levels and, in combination with the methodologies adopted, sought to provide for the range of students’ abilities. The emphasis overall on ensuring students’ retention of learning was also very good.
Classrooms have been well decorated with materials that support syllabus content and also, in several instances, with examples of students’ projects, thus providing students with good support in their learning. All efforts in this regard are acknowledged and praised. It is suggested that the creation and maintenance of a stimulating environment should be set down as a key aspiration in all subject planning.
In all lessons students were attentive and well behaved. There was a good relationship between teachers and students in all classes. Classroom management was good. Interactions between teachers and students were warm and relaxed. Students appeared very comfortable both in the asking or answering of questions and in the contribution of comment or opinion. Their input was encouraged, welcomed and appropriately affirmed and students responded well to this by making an excellent effort.
A high level of teacher-student interaction obtained in all lessons and a commendable emphasis was placed by teachers on questioning to engage students and as a lesson-development strategy. Questions were addressed to both the whole class and to individually named students. Where used effectively this mixing of open and directed questions gave rise to a very good dynamic in the classroom and to high levels of student participation. While lower-order, factual questions were commonly asked, so too were more interpretative ones, especially with older students.
Where appropriate, efforts were made in lessons to highlight and emphasise concepts or topics that might have a cross-curricular relevance. As an approach to teaching, and as a means of fostering general student comprehension and learning, this is highly commended. Opportunities for the continued and expanded use of such an approach should be fully availed of.
Whole-school approaches to formal assessment are very satisfactory. Formal examinations are held for all classes except TY at Christmas, and in summer for first-year, second-year and fifth-year classes. State examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring. TY assessment is based on project work, in-class examinations and informal assessment by teachers. Classes generally have appropriate reporting structures in place, with parent-teacher meetings annually for all year groups except TY and reports being sent home at Christmas and summer, including reports on non-examination subjects.
A fine commitment within subjects to common assessment across year groups where practicable has also been applauded. Such collaboration in assessment not only allows teachers to compare students’ performance across year-group norms but can also lessen the workload on individual teachers. A good focus on continuous assessment has been applauded in TY particularly, while it has also been suggested that the oral correction of any significant errors in language work can be best effected within the lesson itself. In some instances, it has been recommended that ways of formally assessing students’ learning in practical activities once a year also be investigated, and that a combination of marks in practical or oral competencies and theoretical components be used to arrive at overall grades for students in end-of-year reports. It has further been suggested that students in receipt of literacy support be assessed periodically, in addition to the formal school examinations.
In most subject areas, a good commitment to the assignment of homework and to the formative assessment of such work has been applauded. In one subject, significant recommendations have been made in an effort to encourage and support such work and have included the need for monitoring and correction of homework, the maintenance of records and retention by students of corrected tests and assignments on an ongoing basis. In some subjects, teachers’ constructive use of State Examination Commission (SEC) guidelines and marking schemes to promote improvement through assessment has been very important. In applauding the regularity and quality of homework assignment generally, some imaginative uses of video, questionnaires, poetry-writing, student presentations and other varied assessment methods have also been commended in different contexts. Good cognisance by teachers of the benefits of assessment as a vehicle for promoting learning has been evident in most subject areas, while the use of oral questioning in classes also contributed significantly to ongoing informal assessment.
The school has prepared a special educational needs policy. A commendable aspect of the policy is the recognition that ‘every member of staff is directly responsible for meeting the needs of all students, by working in co-operation with the special needs co-ordinator, pupil and parents.’ The policy also deals with the role of other partners in the school community and sets out the aims of the special educational needs department, the school’s practice with regard to assessment and identification of special educational needs, the kinds of intervention undertaken to support students and the school’s practice with regard to record keeping. All of this is positive. It is important that a review date should be attached to this policy and it is recommended that a review of the special educational needs policy should be undertaken in the medium term. Such a review should detail practice with regard to the retesting of students’ achievement after they have joined the school, formalised communication procedures with mainstream teachers and the manner in which information regarding students’ needs is shared with mainstream teachers. Praise is due to the special educational needs department for the manner in which information is already shared with mainstream teachers through staff meetings and meetings with teachers of particular year groups, in addition to more informal modes of communication. The core team has begun to utilise ICT to record information regarding particular students. This is very worthwhile and, ultimately, could lead to the creation of an electronic register detailing the supports students are availing of, the support teacher involved and the progress made, thus further increasing the potential for mainstream teachers to access appropriate levels of information. Guidance in the further development of the special educational needs policy can be accessed through the Department of Education and Science (DES) Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines.
There is a committed special educational needs department. The core education-support team meets on a weekly basis. A number of members of staff have learning-support qualifications and the education-support team has shown considerable commitment to pursuing further professional development opportunities in the area of special educational needs. As previously mentioned, the school has a number of special needs assistants. As suggested earlier in this report, an area which might usefully be delineated in the current special educational needs policy is the role of SNAs in the school.
At present, the core education-support team is mainly involved in the delivery of support for students. In addition, a significant number of other teachers are also involved in providing resource hours for students. While recognising the admirable work done on the part of these teachers, it is recommended that consideration be given to reducing the number of teachers involved in the delivery of resource hours and learning support. This should be done as a means of facilitating communication within the education-support team and between resource teachers and mainstream teachers. Such an approach would also support the further development of what is already a very strong skills base in the education-support team. Further advice on the organisation of learning support and resource hours is set out in the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (p.74).
The special educational needs co-ordinator organises the resources allocated for education support each September, in particular through the organisation of teacher and student timetables, and meets with SNAs at the beginning of the year. All of this is positive. The co-ordinator visits primary schools regarding the needs of incoming students each year and the school also administers entrance assessments to aid in identifying students who may be in need of additional support. Where it is deemed necessary, a psychological assessment may be accessed through NEPS. The school currently has an allocation of 91.52 hours for resource teaching and 22 hours for learning support. In addition, support rooms have been provided to aid students with additional educational needs. Significant resources have been collected by the education-support team and the rooms have been equipped with ICT equipment and programs to aid students progress. This is most worthwhile. Support for students is organised on the basis of individual or small-group withdrawal and the creation of smaller class groups in English, Irish and Mathematics. A commendable development in the recent past has been the delay of the formation of these smaller groups in first year until students have had an opportunity to adapt to their new school community. It is recommended that the potential to expand the current modes of provision to include co-operative teaching, where appropriate, should be explored.
There has been whole-staff training in the area of special educational needs. This is positive. In addition, the school has encouraged inclusion and reverse inclusion measures which are very praiseworthy features of current provision in this area. Students who are availing of reasonable accommodations in the certificate examinations (RACE) are similarly catered for in mock examinations and some house examinations. Some formal individual education plans (IEPs) have been developed and the process involved should be useful in informing future practice. The school’s trustees, senior management, teaching staff and ancillary staff are deserving of great praise for striving towards the creation of an inclusive environment for students which is consistent with the school’s ethos.
There is a committed home-school-community liaison co-ordinator who has been in the position for two years. The co-ordinator takes part in meetings of the school care team and is involved in organising a wide range of activities involving parents and students. Input regarding the scheme is regularly included at staff meetings. The co-ordinator is involved in the enrolment of incoming first-year students, along with the principal and the deputy principal. Initiatives currently underway include a homework club, English for fun and Maths for fun, both of which include parental support for students and coffee mornings for parents. The co-ordinator makes regular home visits to parents and attends a variety of cluster meetings with other co-ordinators. Besides this, the school’s involvement in the Bandon Youth Project through the HSCL co-ordinator is to be praised. A guide to the HSCL scheme is distributed to parents when students enrol. All of this is positive and the co-ordinator is viewed as a key element in the school’s care structures. A further initiative underway to benefit students who might not progress to third-level education is the UCC Plus programme. A post-holder has been appointed to co-ordinate this programme and summer camps, an Easter school and supplementary teaching hours for students are all utilised as elements to support students’ progression to third level. The school also has an allocation for traveller education which is used for support in the areas of numeracy and literacy.
The school has a small number of students with English as an Additional Language (EAL) needs. The school has accessed material from Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). It is recommended that the school maintain a vigilant stance with regard to the English language needs of EAL students. A clear distinction between the English language proficiency needs of students and their cognitive abilities and needs should be included in the special educational needs policy or, ultimately, in an overarching inclusion policy. The Language Proficiency Benchmarks developed by IILT should be utilised to assess students’ progress. The IILT publication A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools (2007) also contains considerable useful material to support the English language support programme in the school. Finally, the recent NCCA publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School which is available at www.ncca.ie could prove to be of some value.
The current allocation for guidance amounts to 1.09 whole-time teacher equivalents. There is a qualified guidance counsellor who works in the school on a full-time basis along with another qualified guidance counsellor who works on a part-time basis. The guidance counsellor has an office which is equipped with ICT, while there is also a careers section in the main library. Students are also facilitated in accessing career information through the internet.
Lessons for guidance are timetabled for LCA, TY and sixth-year students. In addition, inputs are organised for first-year, third-year and TY students through presentations to parents and students. The guidance counsellors are also involved in the delivery of the SPHE programme in first year. Individual interviews are conducted with students in third year to aid their understanding of the choices they are making for senior cycle. Interviews are also organised for sixth-year students, along with follow-up appointments, should they be needed. Students may also make individual appointments to meet with a guidance counsellor throughout the week and a system is in place to manage this process. Beyond these efforts, students are aided in their choices for senior cycle through the administration of Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS) in TY. Students are also facilitated in creating career interest inventories in senior cycle.
Of particular note during the evaluation was the significant work which had been undertaken by the guidance department in creating a guidance department plan. The highlighting of the whole-school nature of guidance in the plan is to be particularly commended. This was evidenced through the use of a questionnaire to canvas the views of staff and students as a means of informing the current stage of the guidance department plan. The guidance department plan outlines a clear balance with regard to attending to students’ personal, educational and career guidance needs.
Alongside the guidance department plan, a range of other policy documents have been prepared which are relevant to the area of guidance and care. These include a pastoral care policy, an anti-bullying policy and a critical incidents policy. It is recommended that, as a means of consolidating the very good work done in the area of guidance and care, the guidance department plan which has been produced should be further developed as the overarching whole-school policy in this area. This could be achieved through the incorporation and development of the current document through the normal consultative processes of school development planning in the school. Given the significant work already achieved, it should not be necessary for this process to be overly burdensome. This development of the guidance department plan should be viewed as an opportunity to locate all policies linked to guidance and care in one document. This document would then underpin the whole-school approach to guidance and care, which is already in place, as a whole-school guidance plan.
A care-team meeting is organised on a weekly basis. This meeting is attended by senior management, the HSCL co-ordinator, the guidance counsellors and a representative from the education-support team. Year heads may also attend the meeting. This is good practice. Year heads also meet regularly every week. Minutes of these meetings are kept diligently. The role of year heads is currently under review and it is suggested that, when this review has been completed, a description of the role should be included in the whole-school guidance plan and in the teachers’ handbook. Draft descriptions of the role have already been prepared in some instances and this should extend to all cases. Year heads are strongly supported by senior management through the allocation of time in which to perform some of their duties. Year heads organise regular assemblies with students and meet regularly with class tutors. Both year heads and class tutors help to administer the code of behaviour and, in particular, the merits and demerits system. The role of class tutors is set out in the current teachers’ pack. Class tutors are involved in administering a study-skills programme for each year group. Both class tutors and year heads play an important role in monitoring students’ attendance and their overall welfare. These formal roles and the communication channels which have been established in the area of guidance and care are to be greatly praised.
The Religion department has organised a Meitheal team. This is a very worthwhile endeavour, through which fifth-year students are involved in the induction of new first-year students. Training has been accessed for the Meitheal team. A noticeboard facilitates communication between the team and first-year students. When interviewed, students were very positive about the Meitheal programme. The school also organises an opening Mass, Christmas service and a number of retreats during the year. In addition, speakers on various pastoral and religious topics are invited.
Provision for guidance and care is very good. Congratulations must be extended to the school community on the range of structures, outlined above, which support this provision. The school adopts a reflective and well-organised approach to this area, as can be said with regard to so many other areas which have been detailed in this report.
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, January 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management of Colaiste na Toirbhirte welcomes the report from the Inspectorate on the Whole School Evaluation May 2008.
The Report strongly affirms management, teachers, staff, pupils, parents, special needs assistants, secretaries, caretakers and cleaning staff.
The Board of Management is particularly pleased that the findings clearly identified
· That the impressive Coláiste na Toibhirte building is a physical expression of the welcoming atmosphere, which pervades Coláiste na Toibhirte
· That the ethos of the Presentation Sisters is very evident in the school community
· That there is a highly effective senior management team in place, well supported by middle management
· That worthwhile communicative structures are in place
· That Continuous Professional Development for teachers is on going and well supported
· That the work of the Students Council is
impressive especially in
· That there is active involvement of Parents’ Association
· That Coláiste na Toirbhirte is a reflective School, supported by SDPI and an in school steering committee
· That excellent Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Applied, Home School Community Liaison, Care, Year Head, and Meitheal teams are all in place
· That a Wide range of excellent extra curricular and co-curricular activities is supported
· That Coláiste na Toirbhirte is a self-evaluating school with a very good quality of teaching and learning where students work diligently
· That the whole school approach to formal assessment is very satisfactory
· That the needs of students with special needs are very well catered for
· That the provision for the guidance and care of students is very good
The Board of Management wishes to thank the Inspectorate for the professional way in which all areas of the evaluation were carried out.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. Board of Management training for one new member has taken place
2. POR review – in-service in January and report to Board of Management will follow
3. Admissions Policy the discrepancy between good practice and policy will be addressed
4. the 10 minutes we are short as per circular M29/95 will be addressed 2009/10
5. The Board of Management note that each week 40 minutes of time after school is spent on school planning and staff meetings
6. Awards system is ready for May 2009
7. Attendance ICT – being investigated
8. Transition Year - parent teacher meeting will take place in February
9. PE time for sixth year is being investigated
10. Base rooms for most subjects already in place
11. We will continue to involve the Student Council in policy formation
The Board of Management acknowledges the recommendations made in the report and commits itself to their implementation within the limits of its resources.