An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Peter’s College

Summerhill, Wexford

Roll number: 63650U

 

Date of inspection: 25 September 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 St Peter’s College was undertaken in September 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects (Mathematics, English, Physical Education and French) was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. A previous subject inspection in Science and Physics was conducted during April 2009 and this report forms part of the evidence base for the whole-school evaluation. (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

 

St Peter’s College is a Catholic Diocesan secondary school for boys with a strong academic tradition. Teaching began on the current site in Summerhill in 1819 with part of the campus dedicated as a diocesan seminary. The seminary closed in 1999. The expansive site now includes the Wexford campus of the Institute of Technology Carlow, and the Dioceses’ Christian Media Trust. Boarding for secondary school students was provided until 1997. Through extensive refurbishment and the addition of new buildings with Department of Education and Science funding the school now has state-of-the-art facilities. Enrolments in the school have remained steady and there are currently 670 students. 132 places are provided in first year annually. Seventy-three percent of the current first-year students attended a rural primary school while twenty-seven percent attended a primary school in Wexford town. The vast majority of students live within a twenty-kilometre radius of the school. Approximately ten percent of the school population receive learning support or resource tuition for additional educational needs.

 

The evaluation revealed that the best of the historic traditions are being consolidated with ongoing progressive developments. The senior management team strongly supports the generation of new ideas and there is an evident willingness to embrace change in many areas and to enable the school to move forward. The current dynamic between staff and management is allowing the school to modernise and develop successfully.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

The characteristics of St Peter’s College combine education in academic, sporting and personal development with fundamental Catholic principles. The liturgies are celebrated as important events during the school year. Considerable emphasis is placed on the pursuit of academic excellence through the consistent setting of high expectations and standards. Nonetheless, the education provided is holistic and balanced. Involvement in sport and physical activity is actively encouraged. The school has a proud Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) tradition and both hurling and Gaelic football form part of that key identity in the community. Other activities such as music and debating are also cultivated. Another prominent feature of school life is the annual awards day at which students’ achievements in a range of areas are highlighted and rewarded. Many displays of photographs celebrating a wide range of activities can be seen throughout the corridors and in the school’s website and magazine.

 

High value is placed on respect and trust. These dual values are central to the conduct of every member of the school community and were discernible in many ways during the course of the evaluation. For example, strong emphasis was placed during assembly and class tutor talks on respect for the individual and the rights of others. In addition, students are trusted to spend break times in their groups in base classrooms which contain valuable equipment. They maintained the cleanliness of their environment during break times and took responsibility for this. The charter of human rights is displayed in a key position in the school and respect for the school and wider environment is promoted. Guidelines for teachers encourage them to remind students that “respect for self and respect for the rights of others to learn is paramount and that respect is a two way process”.

 

There is a noticeable sense of community and identity in the school, including pride in the uniform and school colours. There were many examples in the school magazine of goodwill toward the school by past pupils. During the evaluation, all students demonstrated courteousness, diligence and excellent conduct. A strong work ethic was evident. Of particular note was the manner in which students ably and willing displayed to the inspectors their talents in music, speaking and participation in all aspects of their education. Staff of the school proudly act as role models and witnesses to the school ethos and demonstrate generosity in organising activities that characterise St Peter’s. The strong sense of community among staff witnessed at the time of the evaluation helps make this a successful workplace which pays obvious dividends for students.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

The board of management meets at least once per term and is properly composed of nominees of the trustees, teachers and parents. The principal acts as secretary to the board and reports to each meeting. Minutes of meetings are properly recorded. Communication about the outcomes of the work of the board with the school community is through a set of agreed minutes for teaching staff and a verbal report to the parents’ council. Commendably, the board has this year initiated the production of an annual report to the parents’ council. Ongoing consultation takes place between the principal and the chairperson of the board. The trustee, the Bishop of Ferns, ensures the school mission and ethos is maintained through liaison with his nominees on the board of management and through the provision of the services of a chaplain. Funds from the Department and the school’s voluntary contribution scheme are managed by a finance sub-committee which presents regular financial updates to the board. The board ensures that accounts are audited each year.

 

Members of the board demonstrated awareness of legislative matters and a thorough knowledge of the operation of the school, including the curriculum and provision for the academic, spiritual and personal development of students. Matters relating to the quality of teaching and learning and student outcomes are under the direct management of the principal and the board monitors the school’s performance in progressing students to third level. The board strongly supports the principal in staff recruitment and promotion.

 

The board has facilitated the process of school development planning. For example, the board actively considers reports from the school planning committees and reviews and ratifies school policies. The board expressed the view that the school is democratic and encourages the involvement of parents and students in the school planning process. Most of the policies required by legislation are in place including admissions, child protection and safety. A special educational needs (SEN) policy is about to be ratified. The board is urged to put in place the remaining policies required by legislation and to expedite the completion of the draft guidance plan. It is recommended that the board ensure the date of ratification is clearly placed on the front of each policy document published in the various forums.

 

Overseeing the building programme to achieve modern educational facilities for students and staff was a key priority for development and achieving this has brought great pride to the board. As the building is complete, it is recommended that the board next focuses goals for whole-school development in curriculum and educational areas as outlined in section 2 of this report. In addition, there should be greater clarity and involvement of the board in co-operatively setting the school’s developmental priorities in the school plan.

 

The existing board of management is in its final year with a new board about to be formed. It is intended that there will be some continuity of membership. All members of the new board should avail of training provided by the Joint Managerial Body.

 

1.3          In-school management

The principal and deputy principal provide proactive strong leadership and support for effecting improvements in all areas of school life. They manage the school with a very high level of effectiveness and work very well together, displaying thoroughness, incisiveness and great commitment to the school. Each has a very active presence around the school corridors, demonstrating very good rapport with all members of the school community and modelling best practice in their interactions with others. They are very well respected by students for their realistic and effective approach to student issues, and by staff for their progressive approach to issues and their endeavours to manage by consensus. Their substantial contributions are very highly commended.

 

The senior management team undertakes a substantial range of duties. The duties of deputy principal include discipline and attendance matters, the supervision and substitution system and daily internal communications, with much time dedicated to student welfare. The deputy principal has undertaken the role of year head to first, second and third year until the current review of posts of responsibility is completed. The duties of principal include leading the school forward, liaising with parents, monitoring student outcomes, complying with legislation and monitoring the allocation of resources. It is commendable that the principal cited among duties a commitment to motivating staff to achieve their full potential. The principal provides educational leadership by mentoring newly-appointed teachers, visiting lessons, and celebrating and promoting learning. Both members of senior management reflect considerably on the overall progression and development of the school to achieve the best provision for students and staff. While directly involved in school life and holding positions on each committee, they have devolved many duties in line with the principles of distributed leadership. Further delegation would allow them to take time to consider to a greater extent their role as educational leaders and to develop further links with the wider education community and this is recommended. Opportunities to engage with others in senior management positions elsewhere could be enlightening and beneficial.

 

An engaged and empowered middle-management structure has been established and relations between middle and senior management are good. The school has an allocation of eight assistant principal posts and thirteen special duties teacher posts. Posts have a focus on organisational, pastoral and curriculum tasks while providing staff the opportunity to build capacity in management. In particular, the school is commended for the attention it has paid to developing the year head role among the assistant principals over the last number of years. Year heads were established for first, second, third, fifth and sixth year. However, due to retirements, current year head positions in first, second and third year are vacant and these three positions have been affected by the moratorium imposed on recruitment nationally. A timely review of posts is currently taking place and is being conducted in an open and collaborative way by an agreed committee. This is commended. Post-holders recognise that posts must match current school needs. The committee is reappraising and reprioritising all roles, and considers that some roles do not necessitate a full post or multiple posts as they once did. Suggestions such as special duties teachers taking or sharing the role of year head have arisen and seem sensible. The review will support the school to meet its needs from current available resources and should be expedited.

 

A commendable climate of openness and inclusion enables staff members to communicate with each other on key issues to ensure the best possible learning outcomes and care for students. The general practice of the school is to place issues for school development and curriculum planning issues on the agenda of staff meetings and then to debate them among teachers. Senior management honours decisions made as an outcome of these debates and changes are implemented accordingly. The collaborative manner in which decisions are reached is commended. One example of this was the move to increase the school week by one period to facilitate the expanded junior cycle curriculum.

 

Senior management strongly supports and facilitates teacher attendance at professional development courses including in-service, and teacher participation in external courses is funded by the board of management at times. Teachers have attended a range of courses and there was evidence that they share new ideas and resources gained from these. Whole-staff in-service arranged over the past number of years included positive behaviour management, modern information and communication technology (ICT) and the inclusion of students with SEN. Use has been made of in-staff expertise for training in certain areas. Future professional development should focus on the pedagogy of assessment for learning (AfL) to further enhance the already well-developed whole-staff focus on student learning.

 

The admissions policy promotes the principles of equality of access and participation in the school. However, when demand exceeds the number of places priority for enrolment is given in four distinct categories and this includes sons of past pupils. For all other applicants priority is given according to the order of application received from the time of first class in national school. It may be that setting such an early application restricts application by certain parents and application by parents who move to the area. The school is urged to keep this in mind in reviews of the policy. Furthermore, the reference to the possibility of deferring the admission of students with SEN conditional on resources being accessed is not in keeping with the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004 or with reported practice and this section should be amended.

 

The code of behaviour for students reflects positive values. The accompanying school rules unambiguously describe the commitment expected of students while also clearly signalling unacceptable behaviour and the way the school responds to inappropriate conduct, including the use of suspension and expulsion. School rules are published in the student journal, teacher handbook, parents’ handbook and website. Students and parents reported fairness in the implementation of the rules. The code of behaviour has recently undergone review by staff and new additions focus on emphasising positive behaviour characteristics and affirming good behaviour through the implementation of informal and formal awards. This is a very positive development. However, consultation with parents and students on the revised code could be strengthened. The revised code should then be published in place of the school rules in all current forums, especially student journals. Also, the school should proceed as planned to place guidelines on positive behaviour in classrooms.

 

A student council is elected annually and takes a lead role in advancing issues for students. The council has just completed a survey of the views of all year groups. Members of the student council displayed commendable enthusiasm for their role. The student council is to be praised for its preparation for the meeting with inspectors and for its plans to enhance the council’s profile and accessibility. However, the council is not fully representative of all year groups and changes should be made to composition to ensure this is achieved. In addition, the council should be facilitated in becoming more actively engaged in the school development planning process, particularly in the development and review of the school plan and associated policies.

 

The school calendar shows the school achieves the minimum of 167 teaching days for students but with some compromising factors. These include staggered starting dates for class groups at the beginning of the year, selected non-attendance by examination students at the end of May and some loss of tuition due to matches. The school should continue its efforts to safeguard the students’ minimum entitlement of 167 teaching days.

 

While checks made during the evaluation indicated that student attendance was good, the overall number of student absences recorded for 2008/09 is high given the school context and figures may be affected by the reasons listed above. The existing system to record absences involves daily scanning of swipe cards by students. Monitoring activities on those who do not ‘scan in’ are thorough. However, this involves an extensive number of staff: class tutors, three post-holders, year heads and deputy principal. It is recommended that duties be restructured so that the focus of work is redirected from monitoring to tracking patterns, systematic follow-through, and promotional strategies for improving attendance. The school is currently liaising with the National Educational Welfare Board and support could extend to developing a framework-of-response with systematic checks and an early-alert system. The school has just initiated a system of alerting parents of absences by text message and this is commended. It is recommended that the school develop an attendance strategy in accordance with section 22 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.

 

Partnership with parents is central to the work of the principal who facilitates purposeful two-way communication with any parents who approach the school about aspects of school life, including any concerns they may have. Additionally, guidance counsellors, year heads and deputy principal often make contact with individual parents regarding education or welfare and collectively regarding information evenings and school events. Parents reported satisfaction with information regarding their sons’ progress and clarity around procedures for contacting the school. The website is very well developed and provides a wealth of information to the wider community about the ethos and operation of the school. Student journals and parents’ handbook also provide much information. Communication structures with parents are very good and were confirmed throughout the evaluation.

 

Formally, partnership with parents is developed through the work of the parents’ council. The principal attends regular meetings of the council which has approximately seven members. The council sees itself as a positive influence for change and has supported the school in the development of some policies and resources such as the website and canteen. The council is very aware of the operation and policies of the school, particularly the curriculum. The council communicates with other parents through an annual general meeting, through some direct contact and to a small extent in the school newsletter. It is suggested that the council gather the most current views of the diversity of parents through a survey or open forum. It is recommended that the council affiliate with a national body.

 

1.4          Management of resources

Senior management provides excellent leadership in the efficient management of resources including the buildings, teacher allocation, material resources, safety systems and the environment. The principal, together with a post holder and the board of management, successfully drove the changes in infrastructure. Excellent facilities, including many specialist rooms, support the delivery of every subject on the curriculum. Facilities are being utilised to the maximum and observation revealed that they are respected by students. School accommodation and grounds are maintained to a very high standard. Support staff make an effective contribution to the life of the school and their work strongly supports senior management in the running of the school.

 

Significant recent investment by the Department and commendable strategic planning by school management have enabled the school to install a range of ICT facilities. Most rooms have been fitted with a computer and data projector. The school is fully networked and broadband enabled. Computer facilities are available in the staff room to assist in lesson preparation. Two computer rooms and a language laboratory are available. Audio-visual facilities are widely accessible. In addition, interactive white boards and sound systems are available in selected rooms. The principal endeavours to target ICT resources where there is confidence that they will be utilised to good effect and observations indicate this has been successful. An acceptable use policy for ICT is in place and a position of co-ordinator of ICT has been funded by the board of management, separate from the post structure.

 

All teachers have a base classroom or specialist room. Many classrooms were vibrantly enriched with subject-specific posters and in some instances student project work and as the year progresses these will naturally be expanded. For many subject areas, classrooms are located adjacent to each other. Some subject departments have resource areas for central storage and there was evidence of inventories of resources in use. With the new ICT facilities teachers are currently building up sets of shared electronic resources for their subject. The school library is currently being redeveloped and modernised.

 

The school is in compliance with Department regulations regarding tuition time for students. All lessons are forty minutes in duration. There are forty-one periods in the school week. In addition, students have four ten-minute sessions of pastoral care tutoring with their class tutors.

 

The school has an allocation of 42.65 whole-time equivalent (WTE) teachers, including an ex quota principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellors, and learning support teacher. The actual pupil-teacher ratio is 15.78:1. The principal continuously monitors staffing and aims to maximise the effective use of the teacher allocation in deployment. Teachers can decide as a subject department the rotation of higher and ordinary levels from year to year but this is closely monitored by the principal. In most instances, teachers only teach subjects for which they have qualifications. However, in a small number of subject areas, this was not the case and this should be addressed in future recruitment and deployment.

 

The principal exercises particular rigour in the recruitment and selection of new staff. There is an induction programme for teachers joining the staff including mentoring by the principal when emphasis is placed on teachers creating the environment for good learning. Guidelines in the teachers’ handbook outline the expectations of management in many areas including personal attitude, punctuality, managing discipline and modelling of expected behaviour. All staff members are encouraged to make an appropriate and effective contribution to the life of the school beyond their teaching duties. They are given autonomy by senior management to develop roles to a very high standard.

 

Where inter-school matches are held during the week, only team members and the teachers involved are permitted to attend and students are required to complete any homework. However, it is recommended that an appropriate school policy on ‘out-of-school activities’ including inter-school matches be formulated in line with practice in other schools and with a focus on preserving tuition time for all students.

 

There is good provision for health and safety. However, the completion of the extension now makes a full health and safety audit and extensive staff consultation necessary, leading to an update of the health and safety policy. This has been initiated by the board. Some safety recommendations in individual areas are specified in the subject inspection reports and the relevant issues should also be addressed as soon as possible by the board. The school has prioritised its responsibilities with regard to environmental issues by registering for the Green Schools’ Programme and allocating the newest post to this area.

 

Very good provision is made for student needs, particularly those students who have a longer school day with evening study, through the school refectory (canteen), school shop and vending machines which provide healthy choices. Students remain on campus at lunch times and they can take their lunches in their base classrooms with their own groups.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

Good progress has been made since the school fully engaged with school development planning (SDP) in 2005. The active involvement of a co-ordinator and a steering committee has helped achieve many tangible outcomes. SDP has provided a framework for refining many systems in the school. Priorities for staff development are identified through an audit of teacher opinion and most recently this led the whole staff to focus on aspects of the code of behaviour. In addition, a range of working committees is established annually to work on areas of development. Involvement with the School Development Planning Initiative has helped focus progress; for example, there has been a strengthening in subject department planning in the last two years and a development of progressive whole-school changes.

 

The planning process is designed in such a way that all members of the school community are enabled to make suggestions regarding school development in a constructive way. This is highly commended. The parents’ council regularly raises items relating to student provision and the curriculum and they have discussed policies including those on admissions, substance misuse and discipline. Further opportunities should be taken to strengthen the role of the parents’ council in the SDP process and to involve the student council in the development and review of policies.

 

Good work has been done in developing the school plan. Elements in place include an outline of the school profile, resources, curriculum and priorities for development. The school plan is published on the school website. Many important policies are established and these are widely published in student journals, teachers’ handbook, parents’ information pack and website. Further work is intended to introduce other identified policies, including the guidance plan and the SEN policy, drafts of which are near completion. The school is encouraged to continue with these. Policies are reviewed regularly to reflect the experience of implementation and this is commended. Evaluation and review are undertaken in the first instance by the SDP steering committee and recommendations are brought to the staff and other stakeholders. It is suggested that additional members of staff pursue a qualification in SDP and that steering committee members be allocated to drive the set of committees.

 

The school plan outlines the school’s developmental priorities for 2009/10 in four key areas: the building programme, school website, the completion of outstanding policies, and a review of middle management posts. The building and website development have already been achieved and the others are achievable in this school year. This section of the school plan, therefore, is lagging behind development. It is suggested that in setting developmental priorities for coming years, consideration be given to those with a focus on curriculum and education issues, including some medium-term and long-term goals, to meet the developing needs of the school. These could include priorities developed in consultation with the school community while also reflecting the recommendations arising from this evaluation. In addition, teaching and learning should always form part of the set of developmental priorities. It is recommended that more co-ordinated and systematic strategic planning take place between the SDP steering committee and the board of management so that the process can more fully develop into a driver for school development and could also echo and encourage the school’s developing progressive outlook.

 

There is a separate structure in St Peter’s College for curriculum planning and this aspect of provision is undertaken by the board of studies. It is suggested that curriculum planning could fit into the over-arching role of whole-school development planning, as per other committees, and an examination of these structures in the school could be undertaken.

 

Detailed confirmation was provided that in 2005, in compliance with post-primary circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has carefully considered and formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Detailed confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff and board members; and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. In-service on child protection was attended by the whole staff in 2005. The school principal has undertaken the role of designated liaison person (DLP) and the deputy principal as deputy DLP. The pastoral care system ensures that students are happy and safe. Class tutors are assigned to every year group in the school and these key personnel are especially well placed to observe outward signs of difficulties which could cause concern in relation to child protection. It is commendable that a ‘code of conduct for teachers and school personnel working with and in contact with students’ was developed in 2005. The code is prominently displayed in classrooms and school corridors. The names of the DPL and deputy DPL are listed on this code and in the teacher handbook. School policies on sexual harassment, anti-bullying, pastoral care and critical incident are also in place and their development has had a positive impact on the life of the student.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

The school curriculum comprises the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). This is a broad and balanced curriculum to meet with learners’ needs and interests and it reflects the school’s ethos. However, issues relating to class formation, timetabling and access, especially to programmes, were identified during the evaluation.

 

The junior cycle curriculum includes English, Irish, Mathematics, Religion, History, Geography, Science, Business Studies, Physical Education, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Computer Studies as core subjects. French or German is included as a core subject for students in band one. In addition, students choose two optional subjects. Optional subjects are German, French, Art, Music, Technical Graphics and Materials Technology (Wood). Students in band one are therefore studying fifteen subjects while students in band two study fourteen. Given that the school operates a forty-one period week the number of subjects is very considerable and it is recommended that this be kept under regular review and that the rationale for this range of subjects is continually communicated to parents and students. Four lessons per week are provided in English, Irish and Mathematics, whereas one lesson per day would represent optimal provision. Furthermore, access to certain subjects is restricted by banding and this is outlined in Section 3.2. It is imperative that students and parents are made aware of the modern European language requirement for many third level courses.

 

The core curriculum for Leaving Certificate includes English, Irish, Mathematics, all allocated five periods each per week, two periods of Physical Education and three periods of Religion. In addition, one period is provided for Computers in fifth year and for Guidance in sixth year. Students also study four optional subjects from the very wide range of French, German, Art, Applied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Agricultural Science, Accounting, Business, Economics, Music, History, Geography, Construction Studies and Design and Communications Graphics.

 

Class formation in junior cycle is based on a system of banding throughout. Students are placed in one of two bands from the start of first year on the basis of their performance in assessment tests conducted over one day prior to entry to the school. Tests are conducted in English, Irish, Mathematics and students are given a recognised Reasoning Test. Two groups of thirty students are formed in band one and three smaller groups of twenty-four students are formed in band two. In practice, students do not move between bands for the three years of junior cycle. However, regardless of the band, all students have access to higher level in all subjects and this element is praiseworthy. Class formation in junior cycle is kept under ongoing review. This is advisable as banding is an issue for some parents and teachers, mainly because a particular identity for the student can be attached to being in a particular band. Furthermore, educational research has shown that streaming has negative consequences on the outcomes of junior cycle for a large body of students and can affect student self-esteem. Members of staff demonstrated their awareness of this research.

 

Class formation in senior cycle for optional subjects is on the basis of mixed ability. In addition, concurrent timetabling of core subjects, where present, allows students access to appropriate levels. Having a combination of mixed ability and setting in senior cycle has positive outcomes for students and is commended.

 

Curriculum planning is undertaken in the first instance by the school’s board of studies which functions as an advisory body. Membership includes the principal, deputy principal, a guidance counsellor, and four teachers who serve for three years. Other teachers can and do make submissions to the board. Issues discussed recently by the board include schedules for house examinations and the weekly timetable. For these issues the board has been assiduous in examining various options and advising the principal and staff. However, class formation in junior cycle is an area where there was evidence of a division of views between the board of studies and members of the wider staff. The board of studies has not presented points in favour of change as well as against change. It is imperative that the board of studies present the widest perspective possible in relation to this aspect of education provision so that it can give balanced advice. The rationale underpinning the current banding system is not compelling for all members of the school community. Nor is it compelling to the evaluation team. It is strongly recommended that the issue of mixed ability be debated on its own merits and that discussion on it be decoupled from any other logistical issues. It is also recommended that the board gauge the experiences of similar schools in class formation as curriculum decisions should be founded in good educational practice. Suggestions such as delaying banding until second year or even third year, so that more informed decisions can be made at a later stage in student development, and forming mixed-ability groupings for certain subjects, should receive much further exploration. Given the students’ demonstrated educational focus and work ethic, it is recommended that consideration be given to establishing carefully planned mixed-ability groupings in junior cycle. This should be set out in the school plan as a priority for medium-term development.

 

A Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme is provided as part of SPHE at junior cycle. The school should immediately take steps to develop a RSE policy for the school and to put a programme in place for senior cycle students according to circulars M4/95 and M20/96. It is the responsibility of the board to ensure this is made available and they should appoint a committee to facilitate and drive this development. Teacher training, resource materials and policy development support for schools in RSE are all available through the SPHE support service and each of these is recommended. The contribution of parents is vital to provision and it may be useful to organise talks on aspects of RSE.

 

The LCVP is a valuable asset to the curriculum. The programme is very competently co-ordinated, incorporating student self-directed learning. Numbers participating, however, are very low at approximately seven percent. It was reported that due to the combination of optional subjects, only sixteen percent of fifth-years would be eligible for LCVP. Access is restricted as not all students study a modern language for Junior Certificate. To broaden access, it is strongly recommended that the school provide a modern European language programme for LCVP as per circular 13/2009. LCVP is not scheduled on the mainstream timetable and students must come out of lessons in Irish, French and RE to attend link module lessons and complete homework in a lesson which they could not attend. This is an unacceptable erosion of tuition and is disruptive. Provision for LCVP should be reviewed and the link modules should be timetabled on the mainstream curriculum.

 

There is an optional TY programme in the school and in the current year the school provided two TY class groups. However, a significant number of other students were interested in this year’s TY and the school applied a selection process to determine entry. One third of interested students did not gain access to TY and this is a source of concern. It is strongly recommended that future access to the TY programme be expanded so that a greater proportion of those students who will benefit from the programme can participate. Parents indicated their strong support for the expansion of TY. Criteria applied to the selection of students for TY should be stated in the admissions policy.

 

The TY programme is effectively co-ordinated and there is liaison with the guidance service on areas such as the information night and work experience. The President’s Award, Gaisce, provides further experiential learning and social aspects for students. A whole-school approach is taken to TY but more teachers should be encouraged to play an active role in developing the programme. A core team should be established to plan and review TY. The content of TY plans is in the main appropriate and in line with Department guidelines, offering a range of experiences for students. However, it needs to be more comprehensive for some subjects. Each TY plan should be drawn up by the entire subject department and structured in line with guidelines. Consideration could be given to adopting some of the transition units developed by the NCCA. Consideration should also be given to additional whole-staff in-service in TY as it is a number of years since the last opportunity and this would support the strengthening of the written programme.

 

Repeat Leaving Certificate students are facilitated in their chosen subjects in sixth year lessons where possible and otherwise in fifth year lessons. It is praiseworthy that they are at all times kept under the supervision of a teacher.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

The school is commended for providing such a wide choice of subjects at all levels for students in junior and senior cycle. The school offers support and guidance to parents and students when subject and programme choices are being made, particularly through the provision of information evenings but also through individual guidance. All students going into Leaving Certificate meet individually with a guidance counsellor to discuss their subject choices and to ascertain possible future career options. Initial student preferences are surveyed by a guidance counsellor and options blocks are generated annually to best fit these choices. This is commended. It was reported that greater than ninety percent of students get their full four subject choices for Leaving Certificate. There is a need, however, for subject teachers and the school’s guidance service to review and update the existing booklet on subject choice for Leaving Certificate.

 

Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects in junior cycle depend on the band the student is placed in. Band-one students must take a modern European language and choose either French or German or both. In addition, all band-one first years choose between Materials Technology (Wood) and Technical Graphics and between Art and Music. Two-week taster programmes are provided in these subjects. Final access to the subject is based on a combination of student choice and their performance in the subject. All band-two first years are provided with a taster programmes in optional subjects until Christmas when students must then choose two subjects from Material Technology (Wood) or Technical Graphics and Art or Music or French. Similarly, access to the subject is based on a combination of choice and their performance in continuous assessments in the subject. Access to subjects in junior cycle is restricted by banding as band-two students who choose Music or Art have no access to a modern European language. A change to this arrangement should be seriously considered in order to ensure that all students will have equal access to the full range of third-level courses.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

Many co-curricular and extracurricular activities are available for students and participation provides an immensely valuable outlet for their interests and their physical and holistic development. They enrich the learning experience for students and help build confidence. The commitment of school staff to the provision and range of activities is highly praiseworthy. The school has very strong links with the GAA and Gaelic football and hurling are the predominant sports in the school. However, a range of other sporting activities are also organised for students including badminton, handball, golf, athletics and equestrian sports. Students are encouraged by their teachers to take part in co-curricular activities that enhance learning in subjects: quizzes, debating, opera, and competitions such as the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. There is a long tradition of holding a biennial musical, in conjunction with a local girls’ school, and the organisation of two annual school tours: a European trip for seniors and a ski trip for juniors. These events are regarded as highlights by members of the school community.

 

A notice board in the staff room keeps all informed of schedules for activities. A member of staff keeps an extensive set of records of all inter-school matches and this is a valuable archive. Competitions have led to regional, national and international successes for the school. Parents are very supportive and appreciative of school activities. The school magazine Spectrum is produced to a very high standard by TY students annually. It showcases the very best of school life, publicises key events, achievements and activities and incorporates interviews with staff and students. The magazine supports a sense of school ownership and the development of pride. It is commendable that students have the opportunity to have their written work published in the magazine.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1 Planning and Preparation

Formal department planning meetings are convened each term. These meetings are minuted and evidence provided in the course of the evaluation confirms that many relevant issues are discussed at meetings. For example, some department planning meetings are used to communicate information obtained at in-service courses. Teachers also meet informally on an ongoing basis to collaborate on many aspects of subject provision, including common examinations at junior cycle. Co-ordination of subjects is very effective and duties of the co-ordinator include chairing and maintaining minutes of subject meetings, liaising with school management and sourcing teaching resources. This position is rotated for many subjects and it is suggested that this good practice be extended so that all teachers can gain some experience of the responsibilities pertaining to the role.

 

An agreed collaborative plan was made available for all subjects in the course of the evaluation. These plans are in the main comprehensive, wide-ranging and address many aspects of subject provision including methodologies, resources, class organisation and assessment. Plans also outline schemes of work for each year group, linked to relevant sections of the syllabus. In many instances, these schemes detail resources, approaches to teaching and learning and guideline timeframes. Many department plans would benefit from the inclusion of longer term action plans for the subject over coming years. To enhance planning it is recommended that all departments plan for and expand the use of ICT as an additional strategy in the teaching and learning process. To further inform the planning process, consideration could be given to the inclusion of an element of student evaluation of some subject programmes. It is praiseworthy that some planning material and resources for lessons are now shared electronically. Effective preparation in advance of lessons observed led to successful learning outcomes for students. Resources and ICT equipment were ready for use and lessons were well structured and paced.

 

4.2 Teaching and Learning

Learning objectives were shared with students at the outset of some lessons and it is recommended that this good practice be extended. Students were highly motivated to learn throughout most lessons observed with a very good atmosphere for learning and a positive classroom rapport. Concepts were explained with clarity and learning was reinforced by making it relevant to students’ everyday experiences. Affirmation was evident and this consolidated the positive atmosphere and in the main led to high levels of participation. There was a very good balance between teacher input and student work. Learning was purposeful and students were normally actively engaged in the learning process. In many instances, student learning was incrementally built up and continuously reinforced. Tasks set in some lessons were appropriately challenging for students of all abilities and promoted students’ physical and cognitive development. Teachers gave individual and group support to students as necessary and students tackled assigned tasks with confidence and enthusiasm. Students demonstrated a good work ethic. There were some excellent examples of teachers intervening to ensure that students were appropriately placed in groups or positions that optimised their opportunity to make progress. The assignment of differentiated tasks and levels of complexity commensurate with students’ ability, as observed, is very good practice. In some instances, where lessons were predominantly teacher-led, a more student-based approach encouraging student discussion and a greater focus on self-directed learning was recommended.

 

A variety of effective teaching strategies was observed during the evaluation. Methodologies were varied and frequently involved students in active learning. Short clear teacher inputs in many lessons ensured that learning progressed seamlessly. Group work and pair work formed part of some lessons and greater use of these active methodologies is recommended in some instances. In order to progress active and independent learning, students should be afforded the opportunity to engage in at least one student-based activity such as brainstorming, circle time, pair or group tasks. Students’ analytical and critical thinking skills were developed through probing questions posed with the aid of some well-designed ICT presentations. The whiteboard allowed teachers to model best practice in the presentation of their work. Further opportunities for utilising ICT in teaching and learning presented themselves in the course of the evaluation and teachers are encouraged to increase the integration of ICT into lessons, as appropriate. Classroom management was very effective. Student practical investigations formed the core of some lessons evaluated. Whole-class discussion in advance of the practical was very good and groups were encouraged to adopt an investigative approach to activities. The use of the target language as the medium of communication needs to be expanded in some language lessons.

 

Questioning was used effectively in lessons. The use of higher-order questions allowed teachers to probe understanding while challenging students to provide justification for their answers. Best practice was seen when questions were asked of named students. Questioning was used effectively to engage students in some analysis of their performances. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work. During interactions with the inspectors students demonstrated very good knowledge and skills. Academic student achievement is very high.

  

4.3 Assessment

Student progress is assessed in a variety of ways including questioning in class, homework assignments, regular short tests and formal examinations. In addition, there is commendable continuous assessment of students on completion of each section of subject courses. Common assessments are used for formal examinations where appropriate. There is great emphasis in the school on formal examinations. All classes sit examinations at Christmas and summer with mid-term tests in some subjects. Third and sixth year class groups sit pre-examinations in February. TY students complete various class assessments. A range of additional assessment strategies should be developed for some subjects including a system to retain records of students’ work and achievements and to include more formative as opposed to summative assessment strategies in correcting homework. Evaluative comments of students’ engagement, progress and attainment form part of the school’s written reports to parents in some subjects and this should be extended to all subjects. Analysis of results in the state examinations is conducted each year and this is commended. The analysis both at subject level and for each individual student is used as an evaluation mechanism to inform the necessity for review and improvement in subject planning. Students are continually encouraged to strive towards the highest level commensurate with their ability.

 

A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents after each formal examination. Further communication with parents takes place through the school homework journal and information nights. Homework journals examined during the evaluation were in the main well utilised. Parents are encouraged to review journals and to sign them. Some journals had written notes from teachers and some affirmed achievement and engagement. The school is encouraged to develop such practices further to reward students for a range of activities that contribute to their learning. This would support the revised code of behaviour and reflect the school’s positive discipline structure.

 

There is a homework policy in place in which there is clear emphasis on regular homework, class testing and revision. Homework was assigned in many lessons visited. However, for some subjects, the practice of assigning regular written homework should be implemented in line with the established policy. It is also recommended that all work corrected by the teacher be signed and dated and, where appropriate, an informative comment included.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

The mission statement refers to the “promotion and development of a learning environment where students can reach their full potential” and this is realised in the support provided for students with additional educational needs. Students requiring support are identified by assessment tests, information from primary school and parents, previous educational assessments for students with SEN and ongoing referrals from teachers during the year.

 

Provision in this area is a growing one for St Peter’s College. Tuition for students with additional educational needs is currently undertaken by 1.41 WTE resource teaching posts and there is also one qualified ex quota learning support teacher. These teachers work as a team on issues relating to support provision, meeting on several occasions per year. Records of meetings reveal discussions to resolve issues for students and decisions on the allocation of resources. They are supported in their work by senior management and also liaise closely with staff to track the progress of individual students. The learning support teacher speaks at the information evening for incoming first-year parents to inform them of the supports available. Most of the working time of the learning support teacher is given to learning support provision but the learning support teacher also teaches mainstream subjects. There are therefore additional hours for the learning support function and it is recommended that these hours been assigned to other suitable teachers for this purpose.

 

Interventions for learning support mainly focus on students’ English and mathematical needs but support is also provided for individuals according to their prioritised needs in chosen subjects. This is commended. The support is provided in a flexible student-focused manner and the teachers regularly review the nature of provision. The school is commended for the very good practice in retesting students in literacy and numeracy skills. The learning support teacher also liaises with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).

 

Students are supported from first year through to sixth year mainly by withdrawal lessons for additional literacy or numeracy support and help in developing their class work and homework in subjects. If students have an exemption from Irish they are given learning support at this time. Otherwise, they are withdrawn from a range of other subjects in an attempt to minimise disruption. Decisions on withdrawal are made following consultation with the student and their parents. Part of the resource allocation is used to create an additional small sixth group in Mathematics in first, second and third year for students who find the subject challenging. The groups are provided four lessons a week and taught by a qualified learning-support teacher. This represents good use of resources.

 

Other forms of teaching support that have been used previously include team teaching and co-operative teaching. Teachers and school management should investigate the viability and suitability of reintroducing these modes of delivery within the context of individual students’ needs. As these approaches are in-class they would support inclusive practice while also enhancing the learning opportunities for identified students and perhaps a broader range of students as some students do not wish to be withdrawn from lessons.

 

The learning support team keep valuable records of planning and support provision for each student. Accessing some of the currently available training from the Special Education Support Service on the development and use of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) is now recommended and IEPs should be introduced in phases. In addition, the team should endeavour to access a wider range of modern resources including educational software.

 

Behaviour support is also provided by the learning support teacher and this involves setting goals for students in liaison with the class tutor, year head and parent. Support in this area is aided by NEPS. The development of positive strategies in behaviour support is encouraged so that students continue to benefit from their education and it is recommended that this aspect of support provision be included in the SEN policy. Students that have been assessed as academically gifted are given information about national programmes for talented youth and they are encouraged to become involved in the various co-curricular competitions and activities that are organised in the school.

 

The learning support teacher and resource teachers also support mainstream teachers by providing information and suggesting teaching approaches. This is in keeping with Department guidelines. In addition, the team makes short presentations at staff meetings at times on provision in this area. Extension of this is recommended so that they share the most up-to-date methodologies and effective practice can be disseminated. This will enhance the whole-school approach to learning support and behaviour support.

  

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

Appropriate guidance provision has been developed for each year group and programme. Provision is structured in a developmental way from first year to sixth year. All students have access to personal, educational and vocational guidance. Provision includes weekly lessons for sixth, LCVP and TY students. Lessons are provided to fifth years in the third term to advise and prepare them for senior cycle choices and on a monthly basis to second years on issues regarding study skills. Visits to first year classes provide students with an awareness of the guidance services in the school. Students are profiled during first and second year. An external study skills programme is supported by the parents’ council and sixth year students are coached in revision planning, examination technique, interview technique and job-seeking skills. One-to-one guidance counselling and support is available for all students based on referrals made by year heads or their parents. In addition, individual guidance sessions are conducted with third years to discuss their senior cycle choices and with all sixth years to determine their third-level and career choices. Guidance counsellors participate in information sessions arranged for parents and they provide support to parents to assist their sons in making subject and programme choices. It was reported that a very large number of current students are planning to go onto third-level education and that they and their parents have high ambitions for their future paths.

 

The school has a provision of 1.27 WTE for guidance counselling. A qualified full-time ex quota guidance counsellor provides for all class groups from third year to sixth year and a part-time guidance counsellor provides for all first and second years. Guidance counsellors keep weekly records of their work detailing class contact, meetings with students and parental contact. This is good practice and it is recommended that the records be submitted to senior management at the end of each week. The guidance department attended in-service courses, such as guidance planning, and a greater uptake of ongoing and continuous professional development is recommended. Also the guidance plan should be expedited.

 

A very good range of resources to support guidance provision in the school includes a guidance office, meeting rooms and resource room. It is intended to fit the guidance resource room with a careers library and computer resources to allow students to visit relevant third-level college and career websites. The timely completion of this facility is encouraged. The role of ICT in guidance provision should also be developed.

 

Commendably, the guidance counsellors and school chaplain undertake to motivate students and create positive relationships through informal interactions at break times and they liaise with other teachers to check individual progress, particularly in monitoring how first years are settling into the school. Students who may be experiencing difficulty are strongly supported and they may be referred for additional external counselling.

 

The school places high priority on ensuring that effective care systems are in operation for students. Class tutors, year heads and senior management work together to provide support and ongoing pastoral care. The roles of class tutors and year heads are laid out in the pastoral care policy and this has been recently reviewed. Class tutors monitor the progress and attendance of students in particular classes during tutor time and also endeavour to encourage positive relationships and the development of class spirit that is based on respect and tolerance. Year heads consult regularly with class tutors to identify any problems and to ensure each student is developing according to their full potential. Year heads meet with students regularly and contact parents when necessary. The pastoral care team interacts with students in a contextual way and adapts its response accordingly. While expectations regarding behaviour and academic performance are high, each student is seen as an individual and the development of their self-esteem is important to those involved in the care system. This is reflected in the balance achieved between discipline and pastoral care.

 

In further developing the care system it is suggested that training be provided for class tutors to ensure consistent and optimum use is made of the tuition time with their groups. The establishment of a centralised electronic system for keeping individual student files would allow year heads to access records relating to attendance, academic attainment and behaviour. Work on this has been initiated and should continue.

 

The pastoral care programme endeavours to heighten awareness of bullying issues and students are encouraged to report incidents. An anti-bullying policy is established and its implementation is strongly supported by senior management and year heads. The SPHE programme allows students to develop skills and competencies to care for themselves and others and to make informed decisions about their health, lives and social development.  The programme includes a module on personal safety which focuses on the development of personal awareness, skills for self-protection and dealing with unsafe or abusive situations. 

 

Meitheal leaders of impressive calibre and quality provide a genuine and effective mentoring programme for first years. This contributes greatly to their care and to their transition into the school. Meitheal leaders are well trained, have a good profile and undertake effective team building and bonding activities with their groups. They refer any serious issues to a co-ordinating teacher as part of the school’s pastoral care framework. Meitheal leaders undertake the role in order to give something back to the school as they reported having a good experience of the programme when in first year themselves.

 

 

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 senior management and the board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed and a post-evaluation presentation was made to the teaching staff.

 

 

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 Board of Management is extremely pleased with the excellent report received from the Inspectorate following the Whole School Evaluation.

 

The report states that

  1. “Considerable emphasis is placed on the pursuit of academic excellence in learning through the consistent setting of high standards for staff and students”
  2. “The ethos of the school strikes a very good balance between academic education, Catholic principles, extra curricular activities & holistic student development”
  3. “Senior management provides strong leadership, including educational leadership, and support for effecting improvements in all areas of school life” and “an engaged and empowered middle-management structure is established”
  4. The report found that “the school has state-of-the-art facilities to support teaching and learning”

 

The Board of Management was particularly pleased that the Inspectorate found “student behaviour is grounded in trust, responsibility and respect and the school has a positive and fair discipline structure” while “all students demonstrate courteousness, diligence and excellent conduct and willingly and ably use their talents through participation in school life”.

 

The report also found good “two-way communication with parents” and “whole-school planning focuses on improving the organisation and resources of the school and enhancing the student learning experience.

 

Finally the Board of Management is pleased that the report found “the school places high priority on ensuring that effective care and student support systems are in operation”.

 

It noted “the school community exhibits a willingness to embrace change in many areas and for the school to move forward with a developing progressive outlook”.

 

The Board of Management would like to record its appreciation to the Inspectorate for their courteousness, diligence and professionalism during the course of the inspection and congratulates all students, teachers, ancillary staff, management and parents/guardians on this endorsement and affirmation of the good practice and quality of the education provided in St Peter’s College.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

The Board of Management is reviewing the posts of responsibility and the attendance strategy has been reviewed with a texting system put in place to contact parents/guardians. 

 

Since the WSE the Guidance Policy has been ratified by both staff and Board of Management and is now part of our school plan.

 

Special Educational Needs Policy is referred to in paragraph 1.2 of the report. A draft policy document is now completed and will be considered at the next Board of Management meeting.

 

Admissions Policy: The Board of Management notes the comments made in relation to our admissions policy and is actively reviewing this policy. The clause referring to “the possibility of deferring admission of students with SEN conditional on resources being made by the DES” has been removed from the policy in line with recommendations.

 

A draft RSE Policy for Leaving Certificate students has been passed by both staff and Board of Management and a final draft document will be considered at the next meeting in April

 

Transition Year: The report recommends that “future access to TY be expanded”. This has now been agreed by staff and Board of Management. In September there will be three classes in TY which will cater for the increasing demand.

 

The Board is actively reviewing the allocation of subjects in first year, as per the recommendations at the end of paragraph 3.2 and hopes to be in a position to offer a modern language to a greater cohort of first years.

 

The issue of mixed ability teaching in first year as referred to in paragraph 3.1 of the report is now being reviewed by the Board of Management, the Board of Studies and the staff.