An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School

Doneraile, County Cork

Roll number: 62210K

 

Date of inspection: 1 May 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Nagle Rice Secondary School was undertaken in April 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in three subjects and in the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects and programme. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School is a small voluntary secondary school in the town of Doneraile in County Cork. As the name implies, it is an amalgamation of Presentation Sisters’ and Christian Brothers’ schools, two orders with a long tradition of education in the county. The Presentation Sisters came to the town in 1850 in order to provide a secondary education for girls and the Christian Brothers arrived in 1870. For the next century the two schools educated many hundreds of young people. However by the 1980s the buildings of both schools had deteriorated and new facilities were required. The trustees of the Orders approached the Department of Education with a proposal to build a new co-educational post-primary school on a green field site on the edge of the town. This mixed school was opened in 1992 when it replaced the two schools which had provided education to young people in the area for almost 150 years.

 

The school was one of the first amalgamations to take place at second level and the new Nagle Rice Secondary School was officially opened in September 1993. The school building is a single storey building surrounded by extensive lawns and sports facilities and very close to the grounds of Doneraile Park. As well as serving the population of Doneraile, the school also caters for students from a rural catchment area which stretches from the river Blackwater in the south to the Ballyhoura Mountains in the north and includes the primary schools of a number of townlands. The area is primarily agricultural. Doneraile is unusual in that the area has not benefited from the construction boom of the last decade and the population has fallen in recent years as people have moved away. Many of the primary schools in the catchment area have disadvantaged status.

 

A member of the Christian Brothers was the principal until 1995 when the school appointed its first lay principal. The present principal is the school’s second lay principal and has been in the position for three years. The Christian Brothers remained as trustees until 2008 when the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) was established.

 

The school has seen a change in its enrolment patterns in recent years due to demographic changes and falling numbers in its local feeder schools. The current enrolment of post-primary students stands at 245. During the whole-school evaluation, some concerns were raised with the inspection team concerning student demographics in the area and the challenge that this poses, in particular for the retention of the current broad curriculum in the school. As the rollout of a satisfactory broadband service in the area has proved problematic, access to information and communication technology (ICT) was also highlighted as an issue of concern.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School is a mixed Catholic voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST). It sees itself as a welcoming, caring and Christian school community striving to create a supportive yet challenging environment in which teaching, learning and friendships flourish. The mission statement describes the school as seeking to provide a comprehensive curriculum to nurture the talents and abilities of students while taking into account each individual’s various needs. It aims to generate a sense of ownership and spirit through partnership between the school and the wider community.

 

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust is very supportive of the school. The trustees are the owners of both the land and buildings which comprise the school, and their role is to ensure that the school is run and managed in accordance with the ethos and traditions of Edmund Rice and the Christian Brothers. ERST is involved in the school in a number of ways, notably by its nomination of representatives to the board of management and through the provision of advice from its education office. Yearly accounts are also approved by the trustees. It is commendable that new teachers in schools under their trusteeship are offered induction training at a regional level in order to give them an understanding of the ethos of ERST schools. Support is provided to principals through the formation of cluster groups of principals which meet regularly.

 

The school is proud of its heritage and its founding traditions. Its commitment to promoting the spiritual and holistic development of its students is very evident. The school year is framed by its Catholic ethos and religious events are part of the school calendar from the opening school Mass to the daily prayer service during the State examinations. Some of the religious services such as the November Youth Hour and the Christmas Carol service are open to the community. The school foyer is decorated to reflect the liturgical seasons and the attractive displays help to create a welcoming environment. There is a clear recognition of the importance of the school as part of the community and this is demonstrated by the opening of the doors of the school to people in the local community through its adult education classes and by the many ways in which the students contribute to the life of the community through their charitable efforts and cultural endeavours. When interviewed, parents described the school as a place where “students are cared for and minded”. This was evident in the positive relationships among teachers and students. The students interviewed were vocal in their praise for the school. There was a strong sense during the whole-school evaluation that the school’s day-to-day activities reflect its mission and ethos.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School has a properly constituted board of management. The current board is in the final year of its term of office and some of the members are in their second term on the board. This is seen as beneficial as it ensures a balance of new and experienced members as well as continuity in the board’s management of issues. All members of the current board have received appropriate training to assist them in carrying out their responsibilities. It is commendable that ERST provides training for all new board members. Members have also received training from the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) in areas such as Section 29 of the Education Act (1998) and finance. The chairperson is in regular contact with the school principal who acts as secretary to the board. A finance sub-committee is in place and a financial management evaluation for voluntary secondary schools was carried out in 2008. Meetings are scheduled monthly and draft minutes are circulated to each member prior to the meetings. An oral report is communicated to staff and to the parents’ association by the principal following the meetings. All of this is consistent with good practice. A report is forwarded to the education officer of ERST after every meeting and regular contact is maintained with the education officer. A meeting with a representative of ERST was organised as part of the whole-school evaluation process at which many of the draft findings made in this report were discussed.

 

The board has a very good understanding of the operation of the school and of the issues of concern to senior management and to the school staff. It is aware of its statutory obligations as described in the Education Act (1998). All existing policies have been discussed and ratified by the board in accordance with those obligations. The board plays a key role in school development planning and endorses the school’s development needs. An important element of its support has been its proactive response to emerging trends and issues. During the school year 2007-2008, senior management with the approval of the board and the trustees initiated a review programme to address the issue of the decline in student enrolment. This was carried out through a series of consultative meetings with all the relevant stakeholders including staff, students and parents. The information gathered was collated by an external facilitator who presented the findings to staff and prepared a report for the board. This led to the introduction of a number of changes in the school with the support of the board of management including a renewed commitment to a focus on academic achievement. The board’s involvement in this process of evaluation is to be praised. A number of other priorities for the improvement and enhancement of the school infrastructure have also been identified including the provision of lunch-time seating, the creation of a prayer room and the recent invitation to the local fire officers to carry out a review. Their report is now with the Department of Education and Science as an initial step in the implementation of the officers’ recommendations. The board’s support for these initiatives is to be commended.

 

The school acknowledges the role of parents in educating their children and promotes communication and partnership with them. The parents’ association is well established and the members actively support the work of the school. The board meets informally with the parents’ association twice a year and attends the annual student prize-giving. Regular newsletters are also issued. As a means of further developing the very good communication between the board and parents, and in line with Section 20 of the Education Act (1998), it is recommended that an annual report on the operations and performance of the school be published each year. This could be incorporated into an issue of the newsletter or made available on the planned school website.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

There is a very effective senior-management team in place with a clear educational vision for the school. The principal and deputy principal demonstrate a great loyalty and commitment to the school where they were members of the staff prior to their appointment to senior management. They have a very good working relationship and meet regularly during the day. While there is a clear division of duties between them, they work very much in partnership and promote a collaborative “open” management style involving all the stakeholders in policy development. This practice is highly commended. As well as dealing with day to day issues, they are also concerned with planning ahead. Management’s proactive approach regarding the long-term prospects for the school is to be applauded, in particular for the way all partners were involved in the recent review, and for the introduction of new systems to address the issues raised. The principal and deputy principal have recognised the importance of improving academic performance as a key factor in increasing student enrolment and have focused on teaching and learning as a priority in achieving this aim.

 

It was evident during the evaluation week that senior management maintain a visible presence around the school especially before and after school and during break times. This is to be commended as it ensures a high level of communication with staff and students and helps to facilitate informal contact with management for parents and students. It also enables management to get to know students and the personal knowledge of each individual and concern for his or her welfare was very evident.

 

The middle-management team consists of six assistant principals, one A Post equivalent and ten special-duties teachers. These teachers make a significant contribution to the life of the school through the carrying out of their management tasks in a variety of areas including pastoral, disciplinary, administrative and curricular duties. The schedule of duties for the posts of responsibility was reviewed during the 2006-2007 school year following extensive consultation with staff and with the assistance of an external facilitator. The invitation to a facilitator to oversee this process is commended as an effective way of revamping the schedule and ensuring that the posts are based on the current needs of the school. It also helps to foster a collaborative approach in which all members of staff have an opportunity to express their views. This review led to the introduction of year heads as part of the posts of responsibility. The combination of the year-head and class-tutor structure is used to manage and support students on a daily basis. In addition to the work carried out by middle management, there is a significant amount of work undertaken on a voluntary basis by teachers who are not post-holders. Their contribution to the effective day-to-day running of the school is commendable.

 

Communication between senior management and staff is good. Regular formal staff meetings take place during the year. The morning coffee break or the lunch break is sometimes used for informal communication with staff and the relatively small size of the school allows for this system of communication to be effective. Notice boards in the staff room facilitate communication and help to keep staff informed. Senior management also attends the weekly meetings of core teams such as the year-head meetings.

 

The school has an open admissions policy which is in keeping with its mission statement. There is very good contact and communication with the local feeder primary schools through the visits by senior management and the home-school liaison teacher. Information is also made available to parents and primary-school pupils by means of the open day and information evenings. The emphasis with each first-year cohort is on getting to know the students and on giving them every opportunity to settle down. This is particularly important with relation to students with special educational needs where every effort is made to integrate them fully into the everyday life of the school.

 

The code of behaviour is currently under review. This redrafting is ongoing and is spearheaded by the year-head team who have prioritised it at their weekly meetings and have consulted widely with staff, the students’ council and the parents’ association in redrafting the policy. The recent publication Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools (2008) from the National Education Welfare Board is being used to inform the review. A feature of the review is the emphasis placed on reinforcing and rewarding positive student behaviour and to this end, the traditional system of comments in the student journal and letters to parents is now also used to acknowledge positive behaviour. This promotion of good behaviour was praised by the parents during the evaluation who very much appreciated the letters of merit affirming the students’ positive efforts and service to the school. Students’ achievements are also recognised in a more formal way at the annual Awards Day.

 

The students’ council is made up of eighteen democratically-elected members representing all year groups within the school. A teacher acts as staff-liaison person with the council. The council meets on a weekly basis and the members are consulted on policy issues such as the review of the code of behaviour. Communication between management and students is good and the council’s role in school matters has been developed. The students are invited to offer suggestions to improve the school’s facilities and have contributed to discussions on a range of issues. They publicise their work through their notice board and through presentations to the student body. The students interviewed displayed a pride in their school and a strong sense of responsibility for the welfare of other students. They were articulate and confident in discussing their role. The council members are to be commended for their work for the school and for their achievements which include a fine record in fundraising for charity.

 

The school has been proactive in putting strategies in place to monitor attendance. Year heads monitor attendance on a daily basis and this ongoing monitoring is augmented by an electronic swipe card system (ANSEO) which has been introduced for all students. If any individual is absent without the school having been notified, parents can be informed by text message of the absence. The text message system can also be used to send a reminder to parents of upcoming events such as parent teacher meetings, and to forward reports to the relevant agencies.

 

A parents’ association has been in operation since the school started. The members are elected at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) which is usually held at the beginning of the school year. Currently members are elected to represent each year group in the school. The association is affiliated to the Christian Brothers’ National Council which is in turn affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. It has a constitution and meets regularly throughout the year. As well as representing the views of parents, the association organises events such as seminars on topics of interest and sponsors the annual award for the Leaving Certificate Student of the year. The principal and deputy principal attend all meetings and this facilitates consultation and communication with the board of management. The association is consulted with regard to policy development in the school and was involved in the recent review of the junior cycle curriculum. The association meets twice yearly with the board of management on an informal basis. Parents are very supportive of the school. They are involved in fundraising and also help out when required with regard to accompanying teachers and students on outings or at sports events. This parental support is appreciated as it complements the work of staff and ensures that good structures are in place regarding the organisation of outings.

 

It is commendable that the school operates an open-door policy in its efforts to maintain easy and effective communication with parents and the community. Parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have any concerns and are given an appointment to meet with management at the earliest opportunity. Individual teachers are available for meetings by appointment. Letters are sent out to parents to inform them of school events such as information evenings on subject choices or the parents’ association AGM. The introduction of the telephone text-messaging system has allowed for swift contact with parents in the event of a student’s absence or to send a reminder of an upcoming event. Parents have found this innovation very helpful. The parent-teacher meetings arranged for each year group also provide an opportunity for regular contact with the teaching staff while the recently introduced monthly reports on students’ academic progress allow for close monitoring of individual learning.

 

There are numerous links between the school and the community which it serves and these links help to support the school’s and the community’s activities. The school has an extensive adult education programme and a long tradition of providing classes for people in the locality, including computer classes during the day, and numerous evening classes. A teacher on the staff is responsible for the adult education programme and organises a wide range of courses related to the needs and interests of the community. This commitment to the promotion of lifelong learning is commendable. The school offers Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses under the Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) scheme for adults and has agreed a quality assurance scheme with FETAC. The sports facilities are used by many local groups including primary schools, especially during the winter when the gymnasium is booked for sports, and the school building is made available for meetings of interested groups. Students participating in the Transition Year (TY) programme engage in work experience as do those involved in Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the school depends on the good will of local businesses for their work placements. The school also liaises with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) and local organisations.

 

There is a strong culture of self evaluation and review evident in the operation of Nagle Rice Secondary School and the school community is to be highly praised for the openness and honesty with which it has engaged in a review of its work in recent years. This has resulted in a clear vision for the future of the school and the identification of specific areas for development. The collaboration which has been an integral element of this process has helped to strengthen the school and has allowed for a process of ongoing development to be put in place, always with the aim of improving the students’ experience and learning.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The weekly tuition time in Nagle Rice Secondary School complies with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science circular letter M29/95 – Time in School. The school has a staff allocation of twenty-six permanent whole-time teaching positions and currently has a number of staff members over the teacher allocation quota. While the school endeavours to keep within its allocation and has made adjustments to its programmes, due to the popularity of certain practical subjects, it has been necessary for the school to request concessionary hours in order to make provision for these subjects into the future. New appointments to the teaching staff are made with the current and future needs of the school in mind. Teachers are allocated to programmes, subjects and class groups in a manner intended to maximise the benefits to students. The recent rotation of teachers among levels is very positive as it enables teachers to gain experience of all levels and years and this is encouraged for all subjects. In addition to teaching staff, the school employs two special-needs assistants who have integrated very well both in classrooms and in the school as a whole.

 

The school employs the services of a full-time and a part-time caretaker and three cleaners and they are to be commended for the way they ensure a very high level of maintenance and cleanliness throughout the school. A wide range of administrative duties is carried out by the two permanent part-time secretaries. Their office is centrally located and it was obvious during the evaluation week that the secretaries have an excellent knowledge of and relationship with the students.

 

Even though the building is less than twenty years old, the school continues to update its facilities. A current project is the creation of a prayer room and work is underway on the choice of furnishings for the room. Some of the furniture will be contributed by the students themselves as the materials technology wood department has undertaken to provide the benches for the room. In addition to the enhancement of the building, the gardens and grounds have also offered opportunities for students to add to the attractiveness of the school. It is commendable that successive cohorts of Transition Year students have left their mark on the school through their efforts as part of their horticulture module. As a result, the grounds have been enhanced by the planting of an impressive beech hedge and by the creation of an award-winning wild garden which contains specimens of native trees and hedgerows as well as specially designed circular stone beds devoted to herbs used for a variety of purposes including culinary, aromatic and medicinal use.

 

The school building is well maintained. The use of a central courtyard helps to ensure that corridors are bright and airy. Teachers are generally classroom based which helps them to create an appropriate learning environment for the various subjects. The photographs on the walls of the corridors as well as the displays highlighting and commemorating special events create the sense of a vibrant school community which seeks to celebrate and affirm students’ achievement in every domain.

 

The school has a range of fully equipped specialist rooms including an art room, music room, two home economics rooms, three laboratories with a central preparation area and a demonstration room, and a suite of rooms for practical subjects such as Construction Studies, Materials Technology Wood and Technical Drawing with their own computers, printers and Autocad. The availability of these rooms as well as the general classrooms has facilitated the provision of designated teacher-based classrooms. The sports facilities include a full size gymnasium as well as a playing pitch and outdoor courts.

 

All classrooms in the school are networked for internet access and there is a well-equipped computer room. This room is sometimes used for the FETAC adult-education classes run under BTEI. A separate computer network has been installed for Design and Communication Graphics in the technical graphics room. Students have access to these facilities when supervised by teachers. However, the local satellite broadband service is not satisfactory and in an effort to improve its ICT access, the school has paid for broadband access through Eircom over the last two years. The school’s ongoing efforts to ensure the best possible system through the investment of considerable resources are recognised. However, access to a speedy internet service remains problematic and this is currently limiting the use of ICT in teaching and learning. It is recommended that the school continue to look to improve its ICT system in particular areas of the school such as the careers’ room as a matter of urgency. In order to ensure the safety and confidentiality of its records, a separate server for office administration was set up in 2008 which is funded by the school. The secretarial staff and senior management use ICT for general administration purposes, to track students’ attendance and to prepare the timetable and subject options.

 

A health and safety report has recently been completed by the local fire officers. This report was examined by the board of management, following which a submission was made to the Department of Education and Science. The co-ordination of health and safety is the responsibility of a post-holder. A draft school safety statement has been prepared and each practical subject department has drawn up its own policy. These individual safety statements are very comprehensive and in the areas of Metalwork and Technology include an external health and safety assessment. As the preparation of a policy for practical areas requires some specialised knowledge, it is recommended that a health and safety committee be established in order to formulate the health and safety practices and procedures in the school. Membership should include the post-holder, the school caretaker, representatives of practical subject departments and of senior management. The publication Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post Primary Schools should be used to inform the work of the committee.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan.

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School has been engaged in school development planning since 1999. The deputy principal was appointed planning co-ordinator in 2005 and leads the development of the planning process. Significant progress has been made in this area in recent years and a school plan is in place as well as a number of statutory plans and policies including the admissions policy, and policies on substance abuse and anti-bullying, Religious Education and games. These have been adopted by the board of management and are being implemented. Evidence of the planning process is documented in the minutes of meetings. It is commendable that this work involved consultation with the board of management, staff and in some instances, with parents and students. A number of draft policies are also at various stages of completion and will be brought to the whole staff for consideration before being presented to the board for ratification. Year-head meetings have been used as a forum for the review of the code of behaviour. In order to formalise a cyclical review process, it is recommended that a planned review date be specified on all policies.

 

The aim of school planning as described in documentation provided by the school is twofold: to improve the quality of learning and teaching in the school and to improve the quality of service provided to students. One of the priorities highlighted by management during the whole-school evaluation was the need to focus on teaching and learning, with a view to maximising student achievement. Some of the subject inspections which form part of the evaluation have likewise noted the importance of focusing on teaching strategies as well as learning outcomes for students. As the subject-planning process is already well established in the school, it could become a useful vehicle for subject teams to examine ways in which different teaching methodologies could be incorporated into classroom practice in order to encourage students’ participation and engagement and to improve students’ achievement. Subject department planning allows for the sharing of good practice and the pooling of resources. With these aims in mind, it is recommended that subject planning should focus on specific teaching and learning strategies. As some subject departments are small, it is suggested that a whole-staff approach be taken initially, with input and assistance from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) on teaching and learning methodologies. Follow-up on this could then be facilitated by providing designated time for subject groups to work together to share ideas and methodologies, implement them in the classroom and then feed back on how these have worked to the other members of staff. The formation of a small core team of teachers or action group to look specifically at recent research on teaching and learning is also recommended. It would be important to specify time frames and action plans for this work.

 

Staff planning days have been used to further develop the planning process. For planning purposes, the school year is divided into two six-month periods with a full day devoted to planning at the start of the year and a second meeting six months later. Action plans have been established on agreed development needs and the format of the meetings includes progress reports on these plans. This is good practice. The action plans and report summaries are then inserted into the developmental section of the school plan. As policies are approved by the board of management, they are included in the permanent section of the plan. Good collaborative approaches have been taken to planning in areas such as the review of the first-year curriculum and the code of behaviour. The time given to planning, the formation of task groups and the highlighting of priorities are highly commendable.

 

Subject and programme planning documentation has been prepared by teachers in the various subject departments. The subject plans form work in progress and are at different stages of development. The subject templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative have been used for the planning and noting of specific targets such as ways of improving delivery of a subject area. In some subjects where inspections have taken place in recent years, it is commendable that the suggestions and recommendations in the inspection reports have been used to further advance the plans. This type of detailed planning is very positive as it focuses attention on the improvement of teaching and learning. Subject folders containing the plans are kept in the staffroom which makes for easy access.

 

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 and that management has ensured that all members of 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 and both persons have attended the appropriate training. It is suggested that management ensures that all new staff, including student teachers are informed of the procedures as part of their induction programme and provided with a copy of the guidelines, and that information on the guidelines be provided to all parents.

 

The school engaged in an extensive review of its work in 2008 when an outside facilitator was involved. The review involved the completion of questionnaires by staff, parents and students, the results of which were then collated into a comprehensive report. The school’s willingness to engage in this reflection is to be commended as it underlines its commitment to engaging in a process of ongoing improvement. This in turn has had an impact on school planning.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School offers a number of curricular programmes to cater for the needs of students: the Junior Certificate (JC), an optional Transition Year (TY), the Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). These programmes are delivered in line with programme requirements. The school is very proud of the wide range of subjects provided at both junior and senior cycle. The choice of subjects available in junior cycle is particularly impressive as students have an opportunity to study two modern languages, French and German as well as History, Geography, Art, Music, Science, Business Studies, Materials Technology Wood and Technical Graphics. This is to be commended especially given the size of the school. Subjects governed by Department of Education and Science circulars, including Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) are allocated the required time on the timetable. The availability of specialist rooms and classrooms is an advantage in the delivery of the well-organised and broad curriculum. Teacher-based classrooms are a support for subject teaching and many rooms have been enhanced with displays of posters and charts and samples of students’ work. Subject budgets are in place for a number of practical subjects with teachers of other subjects encouraged to apply for funding where a need exists.

 

The school’s decision to allow first-year students to take all subjects for a full year before choosing their options was the result of a comprehensive review of the junior cycle curriculum carried out in 2007-2008 when all the partners were consulted. While there are undoubted advantages to this scheme in that it allows students to have a year’s experience of a subject before making their informed choice, it has implications for timetabling and leads to a reduced number of weekly lesson periods per subject. This may in turn have a negative impact on the choice of level for Junior Certificate and, ultimately, students’ achievement. The first-year programme should therefore be carefully monitored and kept under review in particular with regard to how it impacts on the teaching of the syllabus for Junior Certificate.

 

At the end of first year, students continue with six core subjects and choose four subjects from a list of nine options for study in junior cycle. While students are taught in mixed ability classes in first year, banding and streaming are introduced in a number of subjects at the beginning of second year including Irish, English, Mathematics, History and Geography. The division into higher and ordinary level classes is seen by the school as a way of helping students to achieve their potential in the Junior Certificate and is based on performance in class, in assessments and end-of-term tests. Classes are timetabled concurrently to facilitate students in changing level if necessary. It is recommended that this policy be reviewed as the selection of higher or ordinary level in a subject at the start of second year may be premature and may lead to a lowering of expectations for those students who choose to take ordinary level. Decisions regarding this should be informed by a review of national examination statistics regarding the uptake of subjects at higher and ordinary levels.

 

In senior cycle, there are three programmes on offer: Transition Year, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied programmes.

 

The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional and students are admitted to the programme following an interview. A TY co-ordinator is in place and a weekly team meeting is held. The programme for the year is varied and challenging and the staff endeavours to accommodate the interests of the students involved. The programme is constructed around a number of layers and students are given a subject overview as well as an opportunity to experience some specific TY modules such as work experience, environmental studies, drama, karate, photography, as well as field trips and outings to the Burren, Kilcolman Bog, the Cappanlea Outdoor Education Centre and a two-day Gaisce trek in the Nagle Mountains. These outings are spread throughout the school year so as to ensure a balanced programme.

 

The choice of subjects offered at senior cycle is very broad and all subjects are offered at higher and ordinary level. Students have access to core subjects and may choose their options from a range including two modern languages, three business subjects, three science subjects, three technical subjects, Art and Music. This is to be commended especially given the size of the school. However, retaining this broad curriculum may present a challenge in the future.  Of particular note at senior cycle is the possibility for senior students to study two supplementary subjects, Applied Mathematics and Agricultural Science after school. Timetabling of subjects for Leaving Certificate is generally good with an appropriate number of class periods offered to each examination subject. However, at senior cycle, Physical Education (PE) and Choir are timetabled concurrently. This is in order to cater for students’ interests but it results in some students not having PE in senior cycle which is not in line with the recommendations contained in the Rules and Programmes for Schools that all students should be timetabled for PE and so should be reviewed.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

There is a wide range of subjects on offer to students in the school and it is commendable that students are given an open choice of programmes and subjects where possible. In first year, students are able to take the full range of nineteen subjects. This allows students to experience a taster programme and helps to promote gender equality in the subject choice process. At the end of first year, all students continue with six examination subjects and choose an additional four subjects from a further nine options. These options are then placed in bands reflecting in as far as possible the preferences of the student.

 

At senior cycle, students who choose to do the optional Transition Year do not have to select their subjects for Leaving Certificate in advance but are able to wait until the end of the year. This is commendable as it allows students to sample a range of subjects and to broaden their understanding in a variety of non-curricular areas such as work experience and life skills.

 

With regard to subject selection for senior cycle, students are offered an open choice initially and their preferences are placed into four option bands from which they make their final selection. In this way the school endeavours to cater for the preferences of the majority of students and this is recognised as good practice.

 

Assistance and support is offered to students as they prepare to select subjects or programmes such as Transition Year or the Leaving Certificate Applied. The school organises information evenings for students and their parents on subject options and programme selection at the end of first year and again at the end of third year. A further information evening is arranged for parents and students in their final year regarding the Central Applications Office (CAO) options for third level. Comprehensive advice on the implications of subject choices is provided by the subject teachers, year heads and in particular by the guidance counsellor who meets with students in class groups and also individually as necessary. It is highly commendable that the support for students continues well after they leave the school with contact maintained with LCA students in particular through their programme co-ordinator.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

A wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities is offered to students. A number of team sports are catered for including basketball, hurling and football and teams have competed successfully at county, regional and national level in these sports. Orienteering which is practised in the nearby Doneraile Park is a particular strength and students are also taken on hillwalking trips. The provision of these sports by the school is highly commended.

 

The opportunity to participate in a variety of activities is provided as part of the TY programme each year. The teachers are to be commended for the efforts put into identifying the students’ skills and talents and furthering those interests with specific elements of the programme each year. Golf, horse-riding, an activities trip to Cappanlea Outdoor Pursuits Centre, a walk in the Galtee Mountains to identify glacier formation, a trip to the Burren and city visits have all formed part of the programme in recent years.

 

In addition, students are encouraged to participate in other activities including the Rotary Leadership Competition, mini-company, debating, drama, and quizzes. Students have experienced considerable success in drama especially for their participation in competitions for one-act plays. Music permeates the school with rehearsals and practices for the choir taking place at lunchtime and after school. During the week of the evaluation, the Youth Choir participated in the Teen SpiriT concert in the INEC auditorium in Killarney. The preparations for the concert generated much excitement while the high standard reached was testimony to the enthusiasm and hard work of both the students and teachers. The busloads of supporters who travelled to the concert underlined the sense of school spirit and support for each other evident among the student body. The commitment shown by students and staff to such activities is to be applauded.

 

A wide range of opportunities in the area of spiritual and social development is provided. As well as traditional school tours, groups of students have visited India with the Christian Brothers’ Developing World Immersion Programme. This is an initiative that encourages schools to connect with Christian Brother communities and projects in the developing world through providing students with structured opportunities to engage with the local host communities and to come to an understanding of poverty and oppression. The students have carried out fundraising in preparation for their visits. Closer to home, the school has strong links with voluntary organisations. The students engage in the Christmas “turf run” so called for the turf that was originally provided to elderly people in need in the Doneraile area and which is now offered in the form of Christmas gifts. Students visit the local Heatherside Hospital for old people, prepare a meal for the elderly for their Christmas party and help out with the local Special Olympics group. Transition Year students are active in fundraising activities for Daffodil Day and other charities.

 

Many of the school’s teachers are directly involved in coaching, encouraging and facilitating students’ involvement in these activities. The importance of their contribution is acknowledged by all concerned including the board, senior management and the students themselves. The commitment that they show to their students is highly commendable.  

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

The establishment of subject departments is indicative of an overall commitment to collaborative planning. Subject-department planning has been ongoing for some time and is supported by management through the provision for two formal subject-department meetings per year. Subject-planning documentation was reviewed by individual inspectors. In some instances plans were comprehensive and considered to be of high quality, while other plans require significant development.

 

There is a co-ordinator of all subject departments and, in some instances, the position is rotated. The practice of rotation is worthwhile and it is recommended that it be adopted by all departments as it provides all teachers with an opportunity to develop the required organisational and leadership skills to fulfil this role. It is also suggested that the duties of the co-ordinator, as well as any additional subject-related responsibilities held by individual department members, be listed in subject plans.

 

Minutes of subject-department meetings are kept, and this is a commendable practice. The documentation that was made available gave an indication of items typically discussed at meetings.

 

The commitment of some departments to the subject-development planning process is evident from the frequency of meetings held and the detail of their subject plans. These departments, in particular, place due emphasis on collaboratively developing subject programmes that meet the needs and interests of students. In one area the highly beneficial practice of formally reviewing the implementation of programmes of work was commended. Other departments indicated their intention to review their existing programmes of work and individual subject-inspection reports cite specific areas that need to be addressed as a matter of priority. A recommendation common to a number of reports is the development of common syllabus-based schemes of work for each year group - including TY and LCA - that clearly identify desired learning outcomes, that focus on the acquisition of subject-specific skills and that look to incorporate appropriate modes of assessment that evaluate the knowledge, skills and attitude that have been fostered. Furthermore, as the subject-development planning process advances, teachers are encouraged to compile a shared resource bank that would contain a variety of materials relating to different topics. These resources should then be stored in a location accessible to all department members. Additionally, it would be worthwhile to include a catalogue of these materials in the subject-department file and to make reference to them, as appropriate, in the schemes of work.

 

The benefit of cross-curricular collaboration is recognised by a number of subject departments and in these instances, various initiatives are accounted for in the yearly schemes of work. All departments are urged to look at the potential for introducing cross-curricular activities within their subject area. Not only does the increased variety in content serve to stimulate students’ interest, thus encouraging greater student participation but, students are also afforded opportunities to practice a wider range of skills. Furthermore, the promotion of cross-curricular collaboration while exploring and sharing teaching and learning strategies is strongly recommended as a means of enabling all teachers to access an even greater pool of expertise.

 

Individual planning was good when teachers took a student-centred approach to devising the stages of lesson delivery. These teachers set a variety of tasks that engaged students throughout the lessons observed. Such tasks drew on a range of resources and enabled students to practise different skills, thus adding an element of diversity to lesson content.

 

4.2         Learning and teaching

 

The quality of teaching and learning observed ranged from good to fair. The good practice of sharing the aims and expected learning outcomes at the outset of the lesson with the students is commended and further development of this is encouraged. The good practice of beginning the lesson with a review of previous learning, and the reinforcement of lesson content at the end of lessons merited particular mention. The importance of identifying the specific learning outcomes of each lesson was highlighted in some subject areas. In some instances it was noted that teachers appropriately varied the pace of the lesson to suit students’ needs, with teachers showing an awareness of individual students’ progress. In other instances, teachers were encouraged to consider the differentiated needs of students and to plan lesson tasks and delivery to suit these needs. 

 

In many lessons, due emphasis was placed on active-learning methodologies, such as pair and small-group work, which were used to good effect. Where lessons were predominantly teacher-led, recommendations were made that more opportunities for structured, interactive student tasks be introduced into lessons, and that these should focus on developing specific student skills. Recommendations were made that specific training on active-learning methodologies and differentiated-teaching strategies be made available to teachers.

 

In several instances, topics and resources used related to the experiences and interests of students and this was noted as positive. A range of resources was effectively utilised in many lessons, with some visually stimulating posters and pictures supporting students’ learning. Where limited use was made of resources, recommendations were made for a greater range of multi-media and visual resources to add further variety and interest to lessons. It was also recommended that the creation of stimulating learning environments through the display of subject-related wall charts, posters, students’ work and key-word lists could further enhance students’ learning. 

 

Questioning was used in all lessons, both for checking understanding and for increasing students’ involvement in the lesson. While there was some evidence of a good range of questioning techniques, teachers were encouraged in some subject areas to use a greater variety of styles of questioning to seek to develop higher-order thinking skills in students. Teachers were also urged to look at strategies that would develop students’ note-making skills.

 

While in most subject areas, a high standard of learning was taking place and appropriate skills and competencies were demonstrated by students, concern was expressed that, in some lessons, students displayed a limited understanding. The importance of focusing on students’ learning outcomes and skills was highlighted and subject-specific recommendations made for prioritising this.

 

In all practical lessons there was evidence of very good and thorough monitoring of student activity, with support and assistance being provided to individuals as required. In all subject areas, students’ efforts were appropriately affirmed and encouraged, and teacher-student interactions were positive and conducive to learning. 

 

4.3 Assessment

 

The range of formal assessment modes in use includes in-school examinations at Christmas and in summer and mock examinations for examination classes. Formal assessment is further supported by a whole-school policy which adds commendable structure to assessment practice. Monthly class-based tests are administered and the test results are collated and sent home. This practice provides a common framework for continuous assessment in subjects. It is recommended that teachers collaborate within their subject departments in deciding the modes of assessment most suitable to their subjects, where this is not already being done. The range of assessment modes adopted should ensure that the full range of students’ work is tested. Subject-specific aspects of formal assessment in senior cycle to which teachers’ attention is drawn include provision for assessment of oral language competency in Irish and fifth-year students’ journal work in Home Economics. Subject departments are urged to take complete advantage of the opportunities presented by planning meetings to share individual approaches and to consider establishing common assessment practices, where these are not already in place.

 

Ongoing assessment of students’ progress is commonly provided by means of questioning in class and monitoring of homework and other assignments completed by students. This is good practice. The development of consistency in subject-department approaches to homework leading perhaps to the framing of a subject homework policy, while suggested in one report, has value for all subject departments. Practice with regard to the monitoring of students’ work is varied and includes some excellent practice. Regular and consistent monitoring of students’ work and the provision of feedback to support them in improving their work is strongly recommended, taking full account of the benefits of Assessment for Learning (Afl) strategies. Subject departments are encouraged to extend continuous assessment practice to include, in a less formal way, a wider range of students’ work such as their use of the target language in class, the quality of their homework and project work. This is promoted as a means of developing a variety of abilities including analytical, literacy and higher-order thinking skills. Where assessment takes account of all examinable components of the syllabus being taught, this is commended. The use of aggregated marks at Christmas and in summer, affirming students’ achievement recognised by continuous assessment, is commended.

 

The guidance and special-educational-needs departments collaborate in the effective assessment of incoming students. It is suggested that pre-entry assessment be considered as a means of ensuring the formation of classes of mixed ability. The use of more recently standardised psychometric tests for the assessment of students’ general ability is recommended.

 

Communication with parents is good regarding students’ achievement. Regular reporting of the outcomes of the monthly tests and the issuing of Christmas and summer reports supports this communication. Further information on achievement is provided at annual parent-teacher meetings held for all classes. Session results in the LCA programme are celebrated in the school and relayed to parents together with appropriate explanations of their meaning and significance. This is good practice. Very strong record-keeping practice is reported in one report and the practice is generally good. Sensitive records are securely held as appropriate. Well-organised filing systems are commended in one report, used to store work associated with key-assignment completion in LCA. Enhancement of recording procedures for key assignments is suggested, perhaps by including a tick box with each student’s work. The addition of lines for the signatures of the student and course teacher and the date of completion of the key assignments would further enhance verification of work completed. 

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School has an open enrolment policy and makes every effort to facilitate the inclusion of all students, including students with special educational needs into the school. The special educational needs policy is currently at draft stage and the members of staff involved are making progress on various aspects of the policy. The regular planning meetings of the team help to facilitate work on it. While commending the positive work undertaken to date, it is recommended that this draft policy be advanced to the stage where it can be circulated to staff in order to ensure that the very good practice in place at present is reflected in the policy document. 

 

There is a well-established set of procedures in place to assist new students to the school and to identify students with special educational needs. In addition to the contact with and visits to the primary schools carried out by the principal and deputy principal, the member of staff with responsibility for home-school liaison also visits the feeder schools. There is a strong emphasis on building links with students’ families and in particular with those families where a child is attending Nagle Rice Secondary School for the first time. To this end and as an initial step, the home-school liaison teacher arranges to meet with the parents of new students prior to their arrival in first year. The time and commitment involved in building positive relationships with families in this way is highly commended and praise is due to senior management for their recognition of the importance of this work. Management also facilitates visits by individual students with special educational needs to the school during the holidays in order for them to become accustomed to the building.

 

The school has an effective and dedicated co-ordinator of educational support and this role has been formalised as a post of responsibility in the recent review of posts. The members of staff involved on the core team are experienced and enthusiastic and they work collaboratively with the whole staff to provide a high quality of education for the students in their care. The team comes together for a planning meeting each week, and is currently working on profiles and individual education plans for the students. The co-ordinator has learning-support qualifications and it is indicative of the team’s interest and commitment to their work that they attend professional development courses in their own time. This core team is supplemented by other members of staff who are invited to become involved in the delivery of resource hours. In recent years the number of teachers involved in the delivery of resource hours has been reduced and this is seen as a positive development as it strengthens the work of the department and facilitates communication between the team and mainstream teachers. In order to facilitate the organisation of the special-educational-needs programme, it is suggested that timetabling for teachers involved in the delivery of resource hours be factored into the general timetable at an early stage in the process. Liaison between the core team and subject teachers is strong and the team offers help and support on the use of appropriate teaching methodologies. While the co-ordinator has provided information to staff on a variety of topics such as testing, there has as yet been no whole-staff professional development in the area of special educational needs. It is therefore recommended that whole-staff in-service with a focus on differentiation and teaching and learning be considered as a key topic for a future staff day.

 

The allocation for additional resources for students with special educational needs is used appropriately by the school, primarily for individual and small group withdrawal. Students’ progress is monitored on an ongoing basis and although students have access to the full curriculum, where it is considered advisable, some students may have a reduced timetable and at junior cycle they are likely to be withdrawn from classes. As is established good practice, parents are involved in any decisions made regarding their child’s programme and are asked to give written confirmation of their agreement for a reduced timetable.

 

A range of methodologies is employed to ensure that appropriate supports are put in place for students. The core team is involved with timetabled small groups. Team-teaching takes place with small groups especially at first-year level where the students’ needs may be very varied. Although the co-ordinator is not formally involved with the pastoral care team, there is frequent informal contact with the year heads.

 

The special educational needs department is well resourced and has two well-equipped rooms which provide a pleasant learning environment. Some students have individual laptops and students have access to computers during lessons. Assistive technology, for example the electronic scanning of books is used where it is considered beneficial, and as this involves a considerable expenditure of time, the commitment of the staff involved is commendable. Two special-needs assistants (SNAs) are employed in the school and are valued members of the support team.

 

Good links are maintained with the local feeder schools and this contact facilitates a smooth transfer of students to post-primary level. There is good communication between senior management and the principal providers of support for students with additional educational needs such as NEPS, the special educational needs organiser (SENO), the Visiting Teacher for Travellers service (VTT), the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and other agencies.


In line with its ethos, the school extends its caring approach to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and to those from minority and other groups. A very small number of students in need of English language support are currently enrolled, while there are no students at present from the Traveller community. Supports are in place to ensure that these students are cared for and included in school activities, and praise is due to management and staff for the emphasis on the creation of a caring, inclusive environment for all.

 

After-school and Saturday morning supervised study is organised for students during the year and this is funded by a contribution from the parents of the students involved.

 

5.2 Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Students are well supported in the school. In addition to staff with formal student-support roles, such as the guidance counsellor, special-educational-needs co-ordinator, home-school liaison co-ordinator, and the system of year heads and class tutors, a network of informal supports exists among staff. The size of the school facilitates ongoing informal communication and this is used effectively in the identification of students’ immediate needs, and in dealing with them. The guidance department and senior management relate effectively in this process and, with the collaboration of parents and students, most of the support needs of students are dealt with efficiently and unobtrusively.

 

The school has an ex-quota allocation for Guidance of eleven hours from the Department of Education and Science. The school’s approach to Guidance is holistic and in keeping with the view that Guidance encompasses the personal, educational and vocational dimensions of students’ lives. Formal guidance provision is well balanced among these elements. The facilities for Guidance are generally good. An office, which is suited to the practice of counselling, is well equipped and central and, although a recommendation is made regarding the improvement of broadband internet access in the guidance office, the ICT facilities are reported to be generally good. This is an important resource in enabling students’ access to up-to-date information while making decisions.

 

Helpful relationships in the school facilitate ongoing informal communication. Guidance contributions to curricular and other discussions among staff and management are made in this context. Similarly, effective relationships enable the operation of a system of referrals to and from the guidance department that is collaborative and transparent. Referrals to external agencies are arranged by senior management in collaboration with the guidance and special-educational-needs departments and are reported by the school to be effective and make extensive use of the middle-management system of year heads supported by class teachers. Records in this regard, and concerning referrals internally in the school, are well maintained. Links with parents are enhanced by the appointment of a teacher with home-school liaison responsibilities and the support of the local parish authorities in this endeavour is indicative of the close links between the school and the community.

 

A number of recommendations are made in the attached guidance report. These deal, largely, with the formalisation of supports for students in the context of whole-school guidance planning. It is generally recommended that, although current provision on a whole-school level is very satisfactory, the clarification of roles and responsibilities, the establishment of clear collaborative links among departments, not only in the provision of supports but also in the integration of the curricular elements of the whole-school guidance programme, and the documentation of the plan, should be initiated. The integration of the whole-school guidance plan into the school plan should be ongoing and developmental. A number of the school’s existing documents, such as the procedures for the management of critical incidents and the guidance-department plan provide some foundation for the initiation of these tasks. Such a course of action would ensure that the support of students is a core element of the education of students, in accordance with the school’s mission, that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that continuity in the provision of supports is guaranteed.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

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.

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Published, April 2010

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The BOM of Nagle Rice Secondary School welcomes the report from the Inspectorate on the Whole School Evaluation April 2009. The BOM views this report as an agenda from which Nagle Rice will further develop and continue to improve the service it provides.

 

The BOM is particularly pleased with the following findings:

 

·         That the day to day activities reflect the school’s mission and ethos.

·         That the Board has a very good understanding of the operation of the school and the issues of concern to senior management and to the school staff.

·         That the balance of new and experienced people on the Board is beneficial.

·         That the Board’s involvement in the recent review and evaluation is praised.

·         That in relation to senior management the report highlights the clear division of duties between Principal and Deputy Principal and their very good working relationship. It also commended the open management style. The report also notes that the Principal and Deputy Principal have focused on teaching and learning as a priority.  The report also commends the visible presence of senior management around the school especially before and after school and during school breaks.

·         That the middle-management team make a significant contribution to the life of the school.

·         That the role of the Students’ Council is acknowledged and commended.

·         That the Parents’ Council are very supportive of the school and that they are consulted with regard to policy development in the school. The report also praises the open-door policy of the school with regard to communication with parents’ and the community.

·         That there is a strong culture of self-evaluation and review in operation in the school.

·         That the time given to planning, the formation of task groups and the highlighting of priorities are highly commendable.

·         That “in most subject areas, a high standard of learning was taking place and appropriate skills and competencies were demonstrated by students, concerns was expressed that, in some lessons students displayed a limited understanding”.

·         It was also stated “in most subject areas, a high standard of learning was taking place and appropriate skills and competencies were demonstrated by students”.

·         That the commitment shown by staff to students involved in extra curricular and co-curricular activities is highly commendable.

·         That the SEN department has an effective and dedicated co-ordinator. The department provides a high quality of education for students and that the department is well resourced,

·         That students are well supported in the school and that the school acknowledges the positive behaviour of students.

·         That the work of Home-School Liaison teacher in Nagle Rice is commended.

·         That there is a high level of communication evident between the school, its stakeholders and the local community.

·         That the support staff are commended for the high level of maintenance, cleanliness and administrative duties carried out.

·         That the importance of the school as part of the local community is highlighted.

 

 

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

 

·         ICT- there has been ongoing communication with the NCTE re-broadband provision for the school

·         Significant work has been done on the area of teaching and learning. The Principal and the Deputy Principal met with representatives from the SLSS to put a plan in place. This resulted in two days of whole staff development in the area of teaching and learning, followed by a review day in November. Further whole-staff development is planned in this area. Teaching and Learning has become a major focus of subject planning. Team teaching has also been introduced on a pilot basis. Active teaching methodologies are the subject of ongoing monitoring. Also we are currently working on completing a homework policy.

·         The recommendation that school policies be provided with a date for review has been adhered to.

·         A whole-staff in-service on Child Protection Guidelines has been undertaken. Representatives from the BOM also attended In-service on Child Protection in February 2010.

·         We plan to review the following at the end of its three year cycle-May 2011:

(a)     the system of first years taking all subjects for a full year

(b)     the banding system in second year

 

·         The SEN co-ordinator was involved with senior management in timetabling for 09/10 as recommended.

·         The development of further policies such as the SEN and the Whole-School Guidance plan will be worked on.