An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa
Carraig na bhFear, County Cork
Roll number: 62130M
Date of inspection: 23 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, Carraig na bhFear, County Cork. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa opened its doors to the first students on 24 September 1950. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart established it as a junior seminary. It is now a co-educational secondary school since the attendance of girls for the first time in September 1987. The boarding element of the school ceased following the 1994-1995 academic year.
The school is situated on a large site adjacent to the village of Carraig na bhFear, approximately eight kilometres from the northern extent of Cork city. Most of the school’s students come from five primary feeder schools, though up to seventeen feeder schools do send students to the school. Students come from a wide catchment area, with many students travelling to the school by bus. The school has an enrolment of 476 students (292 boys and 184 girls) for the school year 2006-2007. The school has experienced a steady growth in enrolment figures over the last nine years and expects to exceed 500 students shortly.
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa has a current teaching staff of 32 members, including the principal, deputy principal and part-time teachers. The school also has four Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) students and a number of substitute teachers for the current academic year. The school offers a comprehensive curriculum, ranging from modern languages to the pure sciences, business and practical subjects and, as such, is well placed to provide for the second level education of the community. It offers Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
The Whole School Evaluation (WSE) process included a focus on the areas of management, planning, curriculum provision and support for students in addition to evaluations of learning and teaching in five subject areas – Music, History, Gaeilge, Guidance and Science and Biology. The evaluation of Guidance was completed in October 2006 and that of Science and Biology in March 2006 prior to the WSE process. In the course of the evaluation, the inspectors were facilitated by meetings with the board of management, parent association representatives, the principal and deputy principal, the teaching staff, representatives of the in-school management teams, student representatives as well as representatives of teachers involved in the varied activities in the school.
The school’s mission statement states: “We aspire to the nurturing and growth of the individual in a pleasant working environment where each student and staff member is involved and individual talents are developed and enhanced, parent and local community involvement is encouraged, true community is fostered through open communication and respect for each other, the strong Gaelic tradition is recognised and encouraged and an atmosphere of spirituality prevails”. This statement is to be found on the wall of the school, in the Dialann Scoile, staff “fáilte” booklet and in the school prospectus for the school community to access.
The board of management stated that the school tries to promote values of respect for the individual, draw out talents from each student, build good relationships and help to develop among students a sense of social responsibility. This, they stated, is reflected in the caring, inclusive atmosphere in the school. The student council stated that they liked the school, that it had a nice atmosphere and that there was a good relationship between teachers and students. The parents’ association described the school as caring for students, personally and academically. Spioraid na Carraige was used throughout the evaluation to describe the school’s characteristic spirit. It is fostered through the whole school community, which endeavours to do the very best for students and support them in a pleasant, happy and positive environment, with high expectations.
The board of management has been properly constituted under the Articles of Management for Voluntary Secondary Schools and operates in accordance with them. The board consists of eight members. There are four nominees of the Trustees, two nominees from the parents and two nominees from the teachers. The principal acts as secretary to the board. The parents’ are invited to nominate representatives to the board following receipt of a letter from the school principal. Two parents are then elected to sit on the school board. The principal informs the parents of the results of the vote. The board has attended AMCSS in-service with members also provided with the AMCSS manual and the role and function of the board dealt with at a board meeting.
The teaching staff members elect their nominees. Currently one of the teacher nominees is also the schools deputy principal. The current board is in year two of a three-year cycle. All the parent and teacher representatives are first time appointees to the board. The trustees’ nominees have served on boards previously. The board members stated that they are aware of their statutory role and responsibilities and also view their role as managing the school on behalf of the trustees and to ensure that the students are given appropriate education. The board stated that they see the day-to-day running of the school as the role of the principal, deputy principal and the teachers, with the board present to encourage and support them and ensure a holistic education.
Listed among the main challenges and priorities facing the school and identified by the board for the future was firstly the continued development and refurbishment of the school building. The board stated that they were very satisfied with the completed work to date and that this work was essential to the school. The board members are kept informed of developments by the principal and have met with the relevant architect on numerous occasions. The board is currently planning for a school for around 500 students. Recent trends should see the school reach this target in the very near future. Possible developments in the school’s catchment area could see the school exceed this enrolment figure into the future. The board stated that this was not a priority currently but would deal with this situation if it arises. It is recommended that the board monitor this situation and make provision in sufficient time to deal with a significant increase in the enrolment to the school in the future. It was acknowledged that an increase in the student population could affect the school ethos, which will have to be addressed through the pastoral care structure. In addition, the board also sees as priorities, the continued promotion of the school ethos, to promote teaching and learning through supporting school planning in relation to subject department planning and continuous professional development (CPD) of staff, to lead the school into the collaborative trusteeship through CEIST (Catholic Education an Irish Schools Trust), to expand the current subjects available and to continue to promote a wide range of extracurricular activities.
The board meets six times a year, starting in September each year. A calendar of meetings is set up in advance with the need for additional meetings discussed between the principal and the chairperson of the board. The board has a financial sub-committee, which comprises the principal and two members of the board. This sub-committee meets prior to the board meeting and reports to the board meeting in relation to the statement of accounts. Minutes of the previous board meeting are disseminated in advance with an agreed statement either orally or written issued to all representative bodies following each meeting. The principal and chairperson construct the agenda for each meeting, which is circulated with the minutes one week prior to the meeting with any relevant documentation also included. The principal makes a report to the board at each meeting, which may also include a report from the guidance counsellor and the chaplain. The board also has a staff development fund which is brought regularly to the attention of the staff for use in their continual professional development (CPD).
The board is involved in the ratification of school policies. If unsatisfied with a draft policy, the board returns it with a request for additional information. The board should continue to be proactive in the domain of policy review and development within the school, with the continued involvement of the whole school community in the process. The inclusion of a review date for each policy at ratification is recommended. The board was involved in the area of curricular review at junior cycle in which they agreed with the parents and the school teaching staff that the number of examination subjects for students would be reduced to ten and that Science and French would remain core subjects. A review of senior cycle is planned for the future with the introduction of a second modern language in the school also under consideration. Both of these should be progressed in conjunction with the schools overall development.
The principal and the deputy principal have been in their current roles for twelve years and four years respectively. Their roles have been defined, with the principal’s duties ranging from the strategic planning for the school, including development planning and the school timetable, to the day-to-day running of the school. The deputy principal’s duties primarily involve aspects of the day-to-day running of the school, for example pastoral care, supervision and substitution and some elements of strategic planning. However, both senior managers stated that there is a significant overlap of roles. Daily communication is maintained by a variety of means including a meeting each morning to discuss what is happening in the school and decide who is best placed to forward particular aims.
The school has currently six assistant principals and ten special duties teachers. This group of post holders forms the schools middle management group. Post-holders interpret their role in terms of a series of specific duties, which facilitates the smooth running of the school. Assistant principal teachers are also aware of the need to act as principal or deputy principal if required, with a number of them engaged in the role of principal previously. Posts were allocated on seniority in the past but the school is now aware of the procedures as set out in Circular PPT 29/02. Duties are allocated following a consultation procedure between the principal and the post holder. A review of post holder responsibilities is ongoing. At present, no formal middle management meetings are scheduled, though meetings when required occur between senior and middle management in relation to specific tasks. It would be important that as a result of the review process the full potential of the resource that is middle management is developed to take a meaningful role in the future planning, development and aims for the school. In addition, the current review of the roles/responsibilities of middle management should reflect the changing needs of the school, address imbalances in the current post structure, raise experience levels of the staff concerned and enhance an understanding of what middle management is in a school. The continued use of outside expertise could be considered when required during the review process, to aid in the establishment of the agreed roles/responsibilities of the school’s middle management. The growth in student enrolment to date and what is expected into the future will facilitate more staff to become post holders and increase the capacity of the school’s middle management. This should also be considered during the current review process and assignment of roles and responsibilities. It is recommended that regular monitoring and review of duties assigned to post holders should also occur in the future. The use of CPD should continue to assist in the building of staff capacity to meet the changing needs of the school. This would reflect the mission statement which supports an aim where each staff member “is involved and individual talents are developed and enhanced”. Affirmation of staff should also remain an area of priority and focus.
Levels of communication with parents within the school are developed, regular, systematic and open, which is to be commended. A parents’ association has been established in the school. The association get reports from both the principal and the board. A newsletter “Nuacht na Carraige” is produced and distributed to parents four times during the school year. The development of a school website would further enhance the communication between school and home. A parent/teacher meeting structure is also present. A new parents’ association is established yearly. The association is affiliated to the national body. The parents’ association is committed and is encouraged to have an active role in the school. A meeting of the officers of the association is held in the school every four to six weeks with either the principal or deputy principal attending each meeting. The association has been involved in fundraising, which recently saw monies raised for the new language room. In addition the association is very supportive and helpful in relation to catering for school events. It also had input into some school policy formulation, most recently the draft homework policy. The association has also organised information evenings and courses for parents, including one entitled: “How to deal with teenagers”. The parents also praised the accessibility of management and staff to meet with them outside of the parent/teacher structure if required. It is important that consultation and collaboration with parents in relation to fundraising, curricular decisions, policy formulation and student progress remains a priority. In addition to the parents, the school has links with the community, with the school used on a limited basis at times for night classes. The local community has also used the school hall and pitches for events. Each year, the guidance counsellor visits the school’s feeder primary schools. The school’s open night for first-year students is another vehicle through which the school is introduced to and opened up to the wider school community.
The students in the school are represented through the student council. The council is made up of two students’ representatives from each year group, one boy and one girl, who are elected by the total year group. A total of twelve students form the school’s student council. It is the first time for all current students’ council members to be part of the school’s student council. The council meets approximately six times yearly. A teacher is assigned to liaise between the students’ council and the staff and management. The teacher also attends all meetings of the students’ council. The council has officers including a chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary and vice-secretary. The student council enacted a constitution for the Coláiste in October 2006. An agenda is drawn up in advance of all meetings. Minutes are recorded and the chairperson and the secretary meet with the principal following each meeting to discuss the points raised by the council. The council members feel that they have a good relationship with both the school management and school staff. The introduction of a school fleece was one previous achievement of the council. Some of the current council’s main achievements to date have been getting repairs done to school toilets, ordering coat hangers for classrooms, the acquisition of lockers for first-year girls and securing permission for sixth-year students to go to the local shop on Fridays. According to minutes of a recent meeting, the council are planning to look at the school’s draft homework policy. The student voice should continue to be developed through the student council into the future with the contribution and involvement of students considered in policy formulation.
The school has an admissions policy, which was approved by the board. A review of this policy is now due. Such a review should only be completed with the involvement and consultation of all the partners. In addition, a review and redrafting of the code of behaviour should also be considered in the future.
A year head, class teacher and care-group structure have been organised in the school. In addition the school has also developed the area of special education with a qualified teacher acting as a co-ordinator. Continued supports in these areas need to be maintained with staff involved in the decision-making. In addition delegation of responsibility through the development of subject departments is important and should be further developed into the future.
In-school management seeks the necessary resources, both material and personnel, to support the work of the school. The school calendar, with respect to the number of teaching days per year and the number of instruction hours per week, complies with department regulations. As is appropriate, teachers are deployed in line with their subject specialisms, with teachers assigned to class and level by the principal with rotation of levels taught within subject departments, which is good practice. In addition, the deployment of staff reflects the pastoral and academic aims of the school.
The school has six auxiliary staff members, either in a full time or part time capacity. These personnel are involved in either maintenance of the school and grounds or dealing with office administration. The well maintained grounds and the efficient office are testament to the good work of all concerned.
As stated previously an extensive school refurbishment is ongoing. The work is progressing in stages, with the bulk of it being completed during the summer months to minimise disruption to the work of the school. The enlargement of some classrooms and the creation of specialist rooms are major components of this process. The work is still in progress with a completion hoped for in the next few years.
The corridors display photographs, awards and art work which pay testament to the many activities the school is engaged in. The school operates student-based classrooms. Inspectors reported some use of visual stimuli within the classroom as part of the evaluation. It is recommended that this area be developed further. The school has some specialist rooms in which subject specific material is displayed, which will enhance the student learning and is to be commended.
The school has three science laboratories, one technical graphics room, one language room, one home economics room, two computer rooms (one old and one new), one art room, one media room, one learning-support room, one music room, one chapel, one school hall, one career guidance office, one chaplaincy office, one gym, one library, and a number of outside pitches. The science laboratories, computer room, technical drawing room and language room also have data projectors, which is to be commended. The subject areas through their planning should be an important influence in the future development of resources in this area for the school.
The school has an information and communication technology (ICT) policy. There are currently fifty-four computers in the school. All computers are networked and have broadband access. Students have timetabled computer classes in first year, second year, TY and at senior cycle. It is recommended that subject departments, in as much as possible, begin the process of planning the integration, application and use of ICT into appropriate areas of teaching and learning. The school has also run computer training courses for teachers, including ICT use in the classroom and Intel teach to the future, which is to be commended. Staff discussion in the future could generate the need for further training in this area, which should be explored by management. The development of the school web site as stated previously should also be considered. In addition, the inspectors reported the presence of overhead projectors, televisions, video and audio equipment for use in the classrooms.
Management inducts new staff members. An information booklet is also available as a source of valuable information for the new teacher to the school. In addition, attendance at, and involvement in in-career development in TY, LCVP and subject-specific areas have been allowed and encouraged by management. They have provided invaluable help to both co-ordinators and teachers in the successful implementation of programmes. Participation in such courses has also broadened the range of teaching methodologies available to teachers. The development of an in-service display board in the staff room, which will allow staff to communicate and disseminate information obtained at in-service to the whole staff, could be considered.
The school in recent years has been allocating specific budgets to subject areas. Utilisation of budgets by subject departments should be done in conjunction with and to complement their planning process. Management also seeks required additional resources for students with special educational needs (SEN).
The school has a Health and Safety policy, which is currently under review. In the production of this document, the school has used external expertise. Management stated that the staff have been consulted in relation to this document as part of the review process.
The process of school development planning (SDP) has been ongoing in the school since December 2003. There is no specific co-ordinator for this area in the school, with senior management taking a lead role in the process. External and internal facilitators have also been used in the process. As part of the current post-holder review process, this area should be considered as a component for a potential post of responsibility for a member of staff. As part of the SDP process to date in the school, the teaching staff have had planning days in which specific areas were discussed including policy development, TY, subject development planning, SEN, review of the internal examination system and in-school management review. To date the school has produced a range of policies relating to many aspects of school life. These include policies on behaviour, admissions, health and safety, child protection and protocol, acceptable ICT use, bullying, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, relationship and sexual education, personal days, career breaks, job sharing, sexual harassment, a smoke free work place, complaints, discipline, grievance, extra-curricular matters and special needs. Both the homework and attendance policies are at draft stage and the safety statement is currently under review. Policies in relation to curricular areas are at different stages of development. It is recommended that this latter area is given time to develop during some of the future planning days. As stated previously, a specific time frame for review of all policies should be assigned at time of ratification by the board. On completion, the board will see all policies developed but stated that they rarely instigate the need for policy development. This, they stated, comes from senior management and the teaching staff.
To date, involvement in the SDP process has been mainly based on volunteering to be part of a planning team, with senior management involved in most policy development from an early stage. The delegation of lead roles among the staff to further the process of all policy development and review among the whole staff needs to be considered. This would allow work to be brought forward and presented in a draft form by different groups to the whole staff and senior management for discussion and comment. Following this stage, the draft document could be circulated to the relevant partners for comment. In the development and review of some policies, it would also be worth considering having representatives of the partners on the team from the start of the process. This is what is currently occurring in relation to the draft homework policy, which is good practice. The parents’ association members stated that they have been asked to contribute their opinion to some policies. In addition, management stated that students, through the students’ council, were also asked for their input on some policies. All partners need to contribute to policy development and review. It is recommended that an inclusive approach to policy development and review be continued with all partners asked to contribute when and where appropriate.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the departmental guidelines. A deputy liaison person has also been appointed in the school.
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa offers a broad curriculum to its students and is very proud of its achievements in this area. The current school timetable is readily accessable to all staff and students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, TY, LCVP and the established Leaving Certificate. The core curriculum at junior cycle consists of Gaeilge, Maths, English, Science, French, History, Geography, Religion, Physical Education, Social Political and Health Education (SPHE) and Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE). The optional subjects at junior cycle are Business, Art, Home Economics, Music and Technical Graphics.
A recent review of the number of subjects at junior cycle has seen the subjects reduced to ten for examination purposes. This was done in consultation with all the partners. A review of senior cycle is planned for the future. The introduction of a second modern language in the school is also being considered and will be welcomed by the students and parents. Some students on the student council expressed an interest in having more technology subjects. This could be considered as part of the future developments in the school and in light of the increasing student population which might welcome this dimension to the school’s curriculum.
At senior cycle, students can firstly enter the optional TY programme. Currently one class of 25 students is engaged in this programme. The TY programme allows students to experience many different curricular and non-curricular areas, with a lot of information on careers delivered during this year. A co-ordinator is in place for this programme. At the time of the evaluation this position was being filled in a temporary capacity. A high standard of organisation and planning is evident from the range of activities the students undertake as part of the programme. There is no specific TY committee currently in the school. Informal communication occurs between the co-ordinator and the relevant teachers and senior management. The establishment of a more formal committee structure could be considered for the future. The TY co-ordinator reviews this programme yearly. Subject teachers review specific subject programmes periodically. In addition, students are also asked to evaluate the programme upon completion, which is very good practice. Following TY, or directly after the Junior Certificate for non-TY participants, students complete the established Leaving Certificate which may include LCVP.
A significant number of students are choosing to study LCVP. This programme has a co-ordinator, which is currently filled on a temporary basis by a non-permanent member of staff. Two members of staff are involved in the delivery of this programme, with students timetabled for two single classes in both year one and year two of Leaving Certificate. Promotion of LCVP to the students is ongoing, which is raising the profile of this senior cycle option in the school and is very positive. In addition, very significant levels of planning and organisation were evident. This planning should be continued. Further promotion and development of both the LCVP and the TY programmes in the school is to be encouraged. There inclusion in the schools curriculum will provide students with choice at senior cycle. In addition, attendance at in-service and cluster meetings for all personnel involved in programme co-ordination and delivery of both the TY and LCVP is encouraged. The relevant staff members stated that they have availed of the opportunities presented. The inclusion of other staff members in these programmes and attendance at training would help develop staff capacity for change into the future and should be considered.
The curriculum at senior cycle consists of both compulsory and optional elements. The core curriculum consists of Gaeilge, English, Maths and French. All other subjects are currently assigned in fixed option blocks from which students make their choices. Students choose one subject from each of the option blocks. Currently, block one consists of Geography, Business or Physics. Block two includes History, Chemistry, Home Economics or Art. Block three includes Accounting, Biology or Technical Drawing. Management stated that student satisfaction ratings with the current option blocks are regularly tested. The establishment of an open choice for students should be considered in the future for the school. Religious Education, Information Technology and Career Guidance are also present on students’ timetables.
The school timetable provides the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and the breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. Following a detailed analysis of the timetable supplied to the evaluation team in advance of the WSE, it was found that the time allocation to subjects in the main was appropriate. However, year one and year two Leaving Certificate students do not have access to weekly timetabled physical education classes. It is recommended that this situation be rectified in the future. The area of learning support is facilitated on the timetable for the benefit of the relevant students. A number of teachers are deployed to varying degrees in this area.
As stated previously in the report an open night is held for new first-year students before entry to the school, following a visit to each of the feeder primary school by the school’s guidance counsellor. A video is shown to the students, the prospectus is disseminated and outlined, and the open night in the school described. The school prospectus contains general information about the school, discipline, the curriculum, programmes and the facilities. The use of the school web-site to disseminate this information should be considered for the future. At the open night at the end of October, application forms and criteria for admission to the school are outlined. Following this, senior school management and the guidance counsellor meet with each student and their parent(s) at which time the student is registered in the school. Each student completes an assessment test, usually in the March preceeding entry to the school. This is used to allocate students to class groups of equal mixed ability. On entry to first year, students are placed in a class group and are assigned a class teacher.
Students have an opportunity to study all subjects in first year. The openness of subject choice provides equal opportunities for students to study subjects without reference to gender, which is to be commended. The current time allocation in some subject areas could make progress difficult, especially in light of many new syllabuses introduced or being introduced. Management and staff should monitor this and ensure recommended syllabus guidelines are incorporated into time allocations for subjects. Discussion should be included in the overall discussion on the curriculum in the school into the future.
Subject choices for Junior Certificate are not made until the end of first year. Students choose two optional subjects from the five subjects mentioned previously, which are currently on offer in the school. To help the decision-making process, first-year students receive information in relation to options from the guidance counsellor. In addition the students’ class teacher and other teachers are other sources of information in relation to subject choices.
As previously stated, students can choose to enter the optional TY programme on completion of their Junior Certificate. An information night is held for third-year students during which they receive information on all the senior cycle options on offer in the school. Programme co-ordinators and the guidance counsellor deliver most of this information. In addition, the guidance counsellor meets with the students in small groups to discuss senior cycle options as well as providing a booklet to students and parents at open nights. The TY programme contains the same core subjects as for the rest of senior cycle. Students usually choose other subjects based on what they think they will do for their Leaving Certificate. The students also complete community education every Wednesday and two weeks of work experience in the spring. There is a balance between academic and non-academic subjects for the students which provides for a more holistic experience for the students. The students also have timetabled guidance classes. The spirit of TY was embraced by the school and reinforced by the range and type of electives ongoing in the school. Media studies, car maintenance, first aid, grooming and coaching courses are some of the range of courses that have been and are still part of the TY programme.
Students entering year one of both the established Leaving Certificate and the LCVP option study the school’s core subjects and three optional subjects from the fixed blocks as stated previously. Students and parents receive information in relation to subject and programme choice through the information night, guidance counsellor, booklets and subject teachers. Parents stated that they would like to see more flexibility in the optional subject choice. This could be achieved as part of the review planned at senior cycle and in light of the current and projected steady increase in the student cohort.
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa offers a rich and varied range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities to the students. There is an unselfish and unstinting commitment by teachers to the ongoing provision of these activities. The board and senior management are very much appreciative of teacher involvement in this area, and hope that it can be maintained into the future, as it has a very positive impact on school life. Co-curricular activities undertaken in the school include competitions, debating, Gaisce awards, visits, project work, quizzes and field trips. A French student exchange programme is also in place. Currently the main extracurricular activities are in the area of sport and music. All these school events have the support of the parents and the local community. The school is also very much committed to fundraising for charities and has made many significant contributions. Links with the wider community are well established and used when and where appropriate. The photographs, certificates, art work and display cabinets highlight and promote these areas of school life. The continued promotion of these areas through displays which are regularly updated to reflect the school is to be recommended. The school has also promoted a healthy eating week with the aid of the student council. At present, there is ongoing work to make the school a “healthy eating school” and also to attain the Green Flag award. These are very worthwhile endevours and are to be commended. The student council has also made many submissions to senior school management on a wide range of issues. To further the development of this area in the school, the council could be used to explore through a survey for example further areas of interest to the student body and work towards the implementation of some of the most popular suggestions. Further promotion of all this endevour could be faciliated through an updated school website.
In all subjects, there was evidence of individual planning and preparation on the part of teachers. Departmental meetings are held regularly on both a formal and an informal basis. In a number of subjects, difficulties have presented with regard to the attendance of all members at formal departmental meetings due to overlapping commitments with other subject groupings. In a number of cases, where subject departments have approached management, the provision of some additional meeting time has been presented as a means of alleviating this difficulty. This is worthwhile. Subject co-ordinators have been appointed in almost all subjects. Minutes have been kept of departmental meetings in almost all cases. This is positive and should form part of planning for all subjects.
There was evidence of collaborative planning in all subjects. Subject plans were at various stages of development. Inspectors commented favourably on different plans where a focus had been established, for example, on the use of ICT by the department or where curricular plans for both junior cycle and senior cycle had been developed. A number of recommendations centred on the further development of subject plans, particularly those in the early stages of development. Here, particular emphasis was placed on the sharing of good practice through the planning process and the use of teaching resources.
A range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities was organised in all subject areas. This is to be praised as it affords students the opportunity of exploring subject areas outside the limited confines of the classroom. Teachers’ commitment to CPD was evident in most subject areas and this is to be commended. Teachers are encouraged to continue to avail of opportunities in this area. Inspectors also reported membership of subject associations, which is good practice.
The atmosphere in the vast majority of classes visited was very positive, with clear and fair codes of behaviour and good teacher-student rapport in evidence. Students worked diligently, with teachers using humour or occasional firm instructions to maintain good control as required. Some reports have commented upon slightly cramped seating arrangements, the awkward location of school bags or cables, or to a need to have more flexibility in terms of such arrangements, while some have recommended that lesson objectives ought to be made clear to students at the outset of lessons. These have been isolated comments within the broadly very positive classroom environments which inspectors visited during the course of the inspections.
In most subjects, teachers made very successful use of a wide range of teaching resources. Several instances of the use of ICT in lesson delivery were applauded, particularly through PowerPoint or similar presentations via a data projector, with some other resources such as handouts, worksheets and overhead transparencies also proving successful. Some inspection reports have highlighted the importance of using such resources to emphasise visually what students may be studying verbally in the main. This can be particularly valuable in mixed-ability contexts. In some subjects, a slight over-concentration on the reading of textbooks or on assigning unmonitored writing tasks has been recommended for review.
In some lessons, good opportunities for engaging students in their own learning were explored, using practical scientific tasks, having students working at personal computers and examining historical sources, participating in choral work or in the singing of a language-related song being praised. In some instances, a more active involvement has been encouraged, with the potential of ICT in music learning and the value of developing all forms of communication skills in language teaching deserving greater emphasis. Some very good instances of small-group learning have also been applauded, with the recommendation that mixed-ability classes can benefit greatly from the deployment of active strategies like pair work and role-play.
Some recommendations have related to dealing with mixed-ability groupings to an optimum level. In general, through variation of questioning and repetition of key learning targets, teachers effectively ensured that students learned at a pace appropriate to their individual ability. Occasional recommendations have been offered around the need to avoid chorus answering and ensure that working with one grouping within a class does not mean that others are left to their own devices for any significant time.
Subject inspections have noted a fine focus on quality learning within classrooms, with teacher collaboration in both preparation and occasional delivery of lessons. Also commended have been teachers’ attention to detail, the drawing of student-relevant analogies where practicable and a focus on the correct understanding of the technical or subject-specific terminology which students needed. It has also been evident that students in the main have been learning material, which is wholly relevant to the syllabuses they are studying and, in almost all cases, have been well up to the point they should be at in seeking to ensure coverage of such syllabuses in ample time.
Formal house examinations are held in November and summer of each year for non-examination classes. Examinations are also organised in November for those students who will be participating in the state examinations. Mock examinations are organised for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students in the spring of their examination year. Formal reports regarding students’ progress are sent to parents following these examinations. In one subject area, the development of a more common approach to end-of-term or end-of-year examinations has been recommended.
In a majority of subjects, informal class tests were held at the end of particular topics. In one instance it was suggested that the number of informal tests to be held during the year might be agreed upon by teachers in the subject department. Parent-teacher meetings are held for all classes on an annual basis.
Homework was assigned regularly in classes. Good practice was observed where homework was regularly monitored. In senior classes, where marks were awarded for students’ work, it provided the students with a clear appreciation of the standard expected in the State examinations. In one report the utilisation of practical assessments, similar to those encountered in the state examinations, was commended. The potential benefit of the adoption of some elements of this approach in other subject departments was pointed out in a number of reports. In another subject the creation of projects by students using PowerPoint presentations was highlighted as an example of good practice. The inclusion of oral skills as an element in senior cycle house examinations was praised in one report and the potential for the extension of this practice to junior cycle and TY classes was pointed out. The careful monitoring of student materials, particularly in junior cycle classes, was recommended in one instance.
Aside from homework, assessment was also conducted through oral monitoring, correction and questioning in classes. In one subject, the inspector suggested the questioning of named students in order to prevent chorus answering and to ensure that assessment of all students occurs.
The schools allocation from the department for this area is 0.5 of a remedial ex-quota whole time equivalent (WTE) post, 2.17 part-time WTE for special needs and 0.63 part-time WTE for a special needs assistant (SNA). Currently the school does have an assigned national educational psychological service (NEPS) psychologist, who has given the whole teaching staff in-service in December 2005 on the area of mediated learning. The school has also engaged the services of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) on a number of occasions. The school should continue to liaise with relevant outside agencies to get support and guidance in this area when required.
The school has a special educational needs policy document, which is to be commended. This current policy was adopted by the board in 2004 and is timetabled for review during 2007/2008. It is important that this occurs in light of changes since the implementation date. The interface between the learning support team and class teachers should also be included in the review, to ensure subject teachers are informed of the learning needs of students. In addition, the current draft homework policy has an appendix which deals with the area of students with special educational needs, which is good practice.
The school operates a policy of inclusion of students with special educational needs in all activities within the school. This area has been developing in the school during the last four years. All students are tested on entry in first year with additional testing organised if and when required. All students in receipt of learning support in the school are allocated such supports on the basis of psychological reports. Some students receive learning support upon entry to school while other students receive it when it becomes evident they require the intervention.
A resource teaching team is currently in place, comprising five members of staff. The majority of the staff involved are currently non-permanent members of staff, which does result in team changes yearly. All teachers demonstrated a strong commitment to and interest in their students, and their interest in implementing best practice in learning support provision is to be commended. Also acknowledged is the commitment of individual teachers involved in this area in trying to give students positive learning experiences. One teacher has qualifications in this area and is acting as co-ordinator. It is recommended that training of personnel involved in this area needs to be a priority, with the development of a stable core learning support team which will lead the development in the special needs area of the school. The role of co-ordinator is very important to the continued development and integration of this area into the school and needs continued support by school management. Meetings of the resource teaching team have been organised but the establishment of formal regular meetings should be considered. This would also help in the review of the special needs policy. Discussion and review of student progress and their individual education plans (IEPs) could also occur with guidance on specific teaching and learning approaches discussed and relevant resources provided. The special education co-ordinator is also provided with time at staff meetings for whole-staff dissemination of information. The co-ordinator is also part of the school’s care team. A specific learning support room is available, with ICT and an impressive array of other resources present. Individual and small group teaching can occur in this welcoming space. In addition, very detailed and comprehensive IEPs and two week planning for the relevant students have been developed and implemented, which is very good practice. Communication between school and home is well established with progress reports sent to the parents each term.
The current education support model in the school is based on withdrawal of students from some subjects. This occurs mainly from Irish if the student has an exemption, otherwise from English and French in the junior classes. It would be important to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by withdrawal from subjects they must sit for examination purposes. To continue the promotion of the school’s inclusion model, the use of team teaching could be explored in some instances to aid students with special educational needs in a mixed-ability setting. This would maintain whole-staff involvement together with the development of a core team in this area.
The school is currently allocated 0.18 WTE post for students with English as an additional language. On arrival to the school, students are assigned to a class group with a class teacher and year head. It would be worth considering assigning a student from the same class group to help with the new students’ initial integration into the school. These new students are also supported and encouraged to participate in the life of the school, which further illustrates the school ethos of inclusion. All necessary additional resources are put in place by the school and these include the provision of English-language support, the involvement of social workers and securing of psychological reports when required. The continuation of this practice is to be encouraged. Parental involvement is also vital.
The school needs to consider the possibility that the number of overseas students could increase and plan for how best to deal with the issues involved. This might involve some professional development in teaching and learning strategies, which would support the classroom learning of these students. The school is referred to Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) as a support for students that are acquiring English as a second language. In addition, it is important that the teaching staff are kept informed of any development with any of these students which could affect them in school.
Guidance is an established part of school life. The school has an ex-quota allocation of 0.77 WTE post for the guidance counsellor. The guidance counsellor is working part time currently, with the allocation of the remaining time currently being utilised for the school chaplain. It is somewhat unclear as to how this allocation is being used for guidance by the chaplain and it is recommended that this be clarified in the context of whole-school guidance planning and the allocation utilised in accordance with circular PPT12/05. A draft guidance plan has been developed by the guidance counsellor. The plan has been well thought through, with a huge commitment to the guidance role in evidence. Currently the guidance counsellor has an important role in the school’s enrolment process, open night, subject choices for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate, CAO applications and visits to colleges. The guidance plan outlines the guidance role with each year group throughout the school. It illustrates links, for example, with the chaplain, religious education, SPHE, CSPE, the resources available (either personnel, material and facilities), links with outside agencies and organisations, areas for development and input to various policies being developed in the school. The inclusion of indicative time requirments to complete the various parts of the plan should also be considered for inclusion. This would highlight the resources required for the implementation of this plan and ensure that all aspects can be faciliated under the current and future arrangements for this important area in the school.
The guidance counsellor’s involvement with students begins at primary school. The guidance counsellor laises with the primary schools and has a key role in the open night for new students. In addition the guidance counsellor is involved in the enrolment process for the school. First year students and their parents also receive input on the implications of subject choice before the end of first year and again in third year. The student council stated that the guidance counsellor is the main teacher to ask about subjects. Formal guidance is not timetabled for junior classes. In third year, SPHE time or non-examination classes are used to discuss subject choice with students. Students are also met with in small groups of three to four students. SPHE is allocated one single class weekly for the delivery of its programmes. This time needs to be preserved and an alternative solution to the delivery of guidance to the junior classes explored. TY students and Leaving Certificate students have timetabled classes which facilitate this area of the students’ education. In addition to formal guidance, students are encouraged to contact the guidance counsellor as required.
There are good links established with the learning support team. The guidance counsellor is also a member of the school’s care team which provides the main link to the guidance counsellor with the students in second year. The guidance counsellor is allocated an office/resource room. The ICT room is also used for classes with students who are encouraged to use ICT to source information. The location of some additional computers within the school which would allow student access to specific sites of interest in relation to subject choice and careers could be considered and included in the guidance plan. It could also be incorporated into the current refurbishment of the school. The guidance counsellor also attends the relevant guidance cluster meetings, which are important for continuing professional development.
The pastoral care system is very positive and meets with the approval of the staff, students and parents. A sense of caring for the students was in evidence, with the student as a person and not just the curriculum being a concern of the school. There is a formal care team established in the school, which holds formal monthly meetings. A pastoral care policy is established. The inclusion of a ratification and review date should be included in this document. The school’s discipline policy has also a reference to “positive respect” which contributes to a healthy pastoral system. In addition, the pastoral care system is being supported by the development of other policies such as SPHE, guidance and countering bullying which contribute and are linked to this area of school life.
The school’s class teacher and year head framework are central to the pastoral care structure. The role of both the class teacher and that of the year head have been documented and are clear to those involved. A voluntary and non-voluntary situation is present in the school in relation to these roles. Some staff members undertake these roles as part of their middle management post of responsibility duties with other staff members carrying out these duties in a voluntary capacity. This current situation needs to be discussed and explored by the whole staff. Year head teachers view the area of pastoral care as an important part of their role. The appropriateness of using higher diploma students’ as class teachers should also be reviewed at this time. Consideration as to how this pastoral system will operate in light of the steady growth in the student cohort will also be required.
In addition to the formal structures, teachers in the school act in a pastoral capacity as well as in an academic one. Much of the work takes place informally and with the generous co-operation of all concerned. The students’ council were also viewed by management as being an active voice for the students in the school. The parent’s association sees the pastoral care system as being a very supportive structure. To maintain success in this area the school must continue to consult and collaborate with parents and students.
A “Buddy Programme” was previously in place in the school. Its re-establishment should be considered and incorporated into the planning of the school. As part of the school’s awards system, the positive contributions of students are recognised, which is to be commended.
The school has a lay chaplain. At the time of the evaluation, a temporary chaplain was in place. The chaplain has been allocated an office/resource room. As stated, links between the guidance counsellor and the chaplain have been established. The chaplain is also available for meetings and discussions with the students and supports them on their journey through the school.
SPHE is timetabled in the school. A number of teachers are involved in the delivery of this programme throughout the school. This programme contributes to the overall pastoral care system in the school. An SPHE policy has been developed which concentrates mainly on defining the school philosophy and on the aims and objectives of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) module of this programme. SPHE is allocated one period a week at junior cycle as per the syllabus guidelines. However, as stated previously some of this time is being utilised for guidance. This situation needs to be re-addressed and the time preserved for use for the delivery of SPHE programme.
Child protection guidelines have been outlined to the staff with a designated liaison officer and deputy having been assigned. Teaching staff involved with various programmes have attended some in-service courses to support their work.
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.
Subject inspection reports on History, Music, Gaeilge, Guidance and Science and Biology are appended to this report.