An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School
Granard, County Longford
Roll number: 63730S
Date of inspection: 28 September 2007
A whole-school evaluation of Cnoc Mhuire was undertaken in September 2007. 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 and in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects/programmes. (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.
The Sisters of Mercy opened Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School for girls in 1947. In 1959, the school enrolled boys for the first time, and was among the first co-educational voluntary secondary schools in Ireland. Boarding of students has been phased out.
Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School is one of two second level schools in Granard, a small town on the Longford-Westmeath border. The school’s catchment area is wide, serving rural Longford, Westmeath and Cavan. There are five main feeder schools, and pupils from up to 13 other primary schools attend the school. Some new residential development is taking place in the town and may impact on student numbers in the future. The school’s current enrolment is 437.
The school’s buildings have undergone a considerable number of expansions since it opened. To accommodate an increased student population after the introduction of national free education, a single storey classroom wing was added in 1972, and in 1982, a large two-storey extension was built. During the 2006/2007 academic year an adjoining building, supplied to the school by the trustees was refurbished to provide a two-classroom construction studies workshop. This refurbishment has facilitated the expansion of the school’s curriculum. The school offers a range of courses, as follows: Junior and Leaving Certificate, Transition Year, and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.
Cnoc Mhuire’s mission statement is strongly influenced by the ethos of the trustees, formerly the Sisters of Mercy, now CEIST (Catholic Education – an Irish Schools Trust). It focuses on the moral, spiritual and intellectual development of students. This type of ethos provided a structure for the delivery of educational services for the period of the Mercy community’s full and active involvement in Cnoc Mhuire, and has continued to be influential since the advent of the lay principal-managed school of the recent past. The mission statement, valuable though it has been, now needs to be revised and updated to reflect the changing needs of the school’s student intake and to keep pace with societal changes in Ireland. This should be completed as a support and touchstone for the whole-school planning process. A vision of the future shape and style of education delivery in Cnoc Mhuire should emerge when a reviewed and updated mission statement and a comprehensive school plan are in place.
The link with the trustees is a strong one, and they have an influential presence on the Board of Management. The trustees are kept informed about the running of the school through this involvement, and also by senior management, who provide a financial statement of costs each year.
The staff and management now feel that they have ownership of the school. Their dedication and focus has a basis in this consciousness of ownership. The management and trustees share a common vision of the school.
The mission statement incorporates a caring ethos for the school. This avowed attention to students’ well-being has a whole-school focus, with wide involvement of staff in its implementation. Individual staff members contribute immeasurably to the care and concern for students. There is a level of focus and professionalism apparent in the delivery of curricula that emphasises success in state examinations. There is an emphasis on intellectual and moral development. Although changes and modifications have been made to the school’s curriculum in recent years, there is still scope in this regard to focus more on the current needs and interests of students and the opportunities that the educational system now can offer. The school’s mission statement should be updated to facilitate a whole-school approach to the school’s current priorities.
The characteristic spirit of a caring, Catholic environment, as written into the mission statement, should inform practice in the following areas: the comfort of the school environment, provision of food and drink in school at lunchtime, better Guidance provision, more inclusiveness of parents and students in the governance of the school, better timetabling and wider, and more balanced subject options. The emphasis on intellectual development needs to be balanced and take more cognisance of the multiple intelligences. Cultural and aesthetic education should be more emphasis, both in policy and in day-to-day activities, as part of provision for the holistic development of the students.
The board of management has been properly constituted with representatives from various sections of the school community serving on it: trustees, parents, teachers and school management. The board has a good gender balance of male and female participants. Many of those serving on the current board have been on previous boards, and the chairperson has served consecutively for the last twelve years. The principal acts as secretary to the board.
The board meets monthly and has good attendance at meetings. Records are kept of business conducted and decisions taken. There is good co-operation between the members in the work processes they employ in undertaking their duties. The principal and teachers advise the board on a range of issues. The influence of the trustees is strong.
In the last few years the board has been heavily engaged with several activities. A proposed amalgamation of the school with the local vocational school was a focus of activity for some years, which, because of the stance of the trustees and the VEC, necessitated much attention from the board. The amalgamation scenario proved time-hungry in relation to the board’s attention, and thus had an impact on their engagement with other school needs, issues and duties. More recently board members’ time has been occupied by the inclusion of new subjects in the curriculum and in the upgrading of the school environment, indoors and out.
Although dedicated and having the school’s best interests at heart, it is now necessary for the board to work in the formalized framework of post-legislation practices. The implications of recently introduced legislation on the work of boards need be recognized by the board. The key role of the board in developing policy, being proactive in enhancing the educational effectiveness of the school, in developing an evolving vision for the future and in fulfilling its statutory obligations need to be recognised. The board should become proactive in instigating, developing and managing the planning process in the school to fulfil its statuary obligations as outlined in Section 21, Education Act, 1998. Thus the board should prioritise the work it must do to comply with statutory responsibilities. It is recommended therefore, that the board’s capacity be channelled into policy development and school-development planning. The board’s wealth of experience should be an invaluable support to the planning and policy making now necessary, and in developing a future focus for the school.
The various members of the school community have representation on the board. These delegates communicate with their particular communities on matters that concern them. Staff and trustees are consulted and kept well informed about the work of the board. Parents are consulted, as the students have been, only on occasion, in relation to ratification of policies. The parents and students statutory role in the running and governance of the school should be addressed in the life of the current board. Parents’ representatives communicate with the parents’ council. Feedback from board to parents should be elaborated so that it reaches more parents. The board should evaluate its own communication processes with the whole-school community on an ongoing basis. As part of its review, it is recommended that development of the school’s web-site be used to provide information for parents and teachers. A well-developed and managed web site would ensure that an additional, alternative and convenient line of communication is available to the community served by the school. Strategies should also be developed to raise consciousness of the statutory rights of parents as key players in the school community
The board needs to develop a stronger leadership role in developing the school plan for Cnoc Mhuire so that all the needs of students preparing for adulthood in the 21st century can be met. With the help and support of middle management, the senior management team should work to advance the board’s vision for the school, define and select future priorities, and provide active leadership to achieve set goals. A school plan was drafted in 2000 and this should provide a starting point for the board in the initial conceptualising of the new plan. The board and senior management should collectively now provide pro-active leadership to enable the school to go forward and progress in an appropriate manner, educationally, socially and culturally.
The school functions efficiently and is well administered by senior management. Senior management is well regarded by staff for this effective running of the school, and for their interest and care for students. The working life of senior management is, to a large extent, occupied by the minutiae of the day-to-day running and administration of the school. While the management role has been effective, thought and action should now be invested in the leadership element; in planning and policy making; in the development and enrichment of current programmes and subject; in access to and further provision of ICT; and in developing an updated, progressive educational vision.
Though there is much to be admired and complemented in Cnoc Mhuire, in particular the excellent and committed staff, the inspection found that the school is somewhat underdeveloped in relation to the changes that have taken place nationally in education during the last decade. There is under-engagement with outside agencies. Good practice elsewhere, particularly in other Mercy Schools in the region, should be taken into account by management and the board to help bring about improvement in the educational, organizational and cultural domains at Cnoc Mhuire. A strategy for accessing more outside support should now be developed. Support of this nature is provided through the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) network www.slss.ie, and the National Curriculum Council Agency (NCCA) www.ncca.ie and Integrate Ireland Language and Teaching (IILT) www.iilt.ie. Management should engage more fully with ICT, explore its potential use in the school, and provide more training in basic competences for teachers. E-mail and the Internet should be fully exploited as ways of accessing information and easy communication both inside the school and with outside agencies.
In order to build on existing good practice, it is recommended that a culture of review and evaluation related to progress on specific priorities and action plans should be established at senior management level. Cnoc Mhuire has many positive elements on which this culture could be built: a dedicated and hard-working staff of well-experienced and new members, good subject delivery, a caring and personal approach to students, extensive grounds, capacious school buildings, an experienced board, a pro-social student majority and a parents’ council eager to contribute.
Both the principal and deputy principal have a very visible presence in the school. They report that this enables them to stay in touch with all aspects of the daily life of the school, and to get to know all the students individually. This has notable benefits associated with it, for students particularly. However it reduces the planning, policy and leadership dimensions of their roles. The deputy principal has a strong role in student welfare. Parents, students and staff pay tribute to this work. It is suggested that management explore ways to balance the good work they are now doing with other dimensions of their roles, which are underdeveloped and underemphasized in their habitual activities. It is also recommended that the board and management become more conscious of the need for joint leadership in fulfilling their vision for the school. To support a comprehensive development of leadership skills it is recommended that the senior management team should consider engaging with the Leadership Development for Schools programme www.ldss.ie.
The principal and deputy principal work well together as a team, and communicate effectively and constantly on all aspects of the school’s daily needs. They are ably supported in their roles by assistant principals and special-duties post holders. They are also supported by dedicated and efficient office and other support staff. Communication is good between all sections of the post holders and management through formal and informal meetings. A staffroom white-board is continuously updated and break-times are used by management to speak with staff on current matters. Very frequent use is made of the in-classroom public address system. However, it is suggested that announcements be limited to specific time slots that do not interrupt lessons unduly.
At the time of the evaluation there were six assistant principals. There are high levels of dedication and enthusiasm amongst post holders and this is a huge asset to the school, to subject departments, and to management. These assistant principals must be commended on the way they carry out their role as year heads with ancillary duties. The year-head role is the principal function they have, and this is centrally important in the management of students in association with the class teachers. They are the primary element in the behaviour-monitoring structure of the school, in liaison with the class teachers and senior management. During the evaluation it was announced that two additional assistant principal posts will be assigned to Cnoc Mhuire, and in line with this information it is recommended that all the posts be reviewed to reflect the current needs of school and students. In order to be reflective of the school in its current developmental state it would be valuable to rigorously assess issues and needs, as part of a new outlook on the deployment of posts and the particulars of the job descriptions for these. Elements such as programme and subject development, planning for pastoral care and special educational needs (SEN) should be considered in this regard. Programme co-ordination for LCVP and TY is the responsibility of a job-sharing member of staff. Separate and full-time responsibility for TY and LCVP co-ordination should now be considered to enable on-going updating of these programmes.
Nine other teachers take responsibility for a range of special duties, and the contribution they make to the life of the school is to be highly commended. These post-holders facilitate many processes and activities, in general supporting management and students, and carrying out their duties with commitment, energy, enthusiasm and flair. Indeed many other staff members, who do not hold posts of responsibility, contribute to the school in a similar way. Staff members in general are very hard working and dedicated, and are the school’s strongest resource.
The board and senior management should now examine how it can use the school’s resources to make a bigger difference in the educational life of the students. A pro-active approach to new ideas, alternatives, additions, and elaborations of what is currently on offer in Cnoc Mhuire is strongly recommended. The school provides a basic programme for students and this is a good basis on which to develop strategies that will maximize educational opportunities. It is to the schools credit that ICT, additional subjects and improvements to the grounds and premises have recently been given attention, but levels of environmental comfort and enhanced cultural and personal supports should be upgraded and developed.
A fully developed sense of being a middle-management team has yet to be established. Assistant principals and special duties teachers accept that this is desirable and useful. An updated vision and school plan should provide the impetus to develop a sense of shared whole-school management by the team. The nurturing of this aspect of their collective roles should be emphasized in future, and should be developed gradually over time.
The admissions policy at Cnoc Mhuire is well constructed and fair, and has no clauses that might prevent access to students on any grounds whatsoever. The school is justly proud of this and sees it as a reflection of its mission statement. The school has over the years accommodated students with quite extreme special needs, supporting them right through to state examination candidature. This is a commendable track record. Currently few newcomer students are enrolled in Cnoc Mhuire, though it is reported that numbers are set to increase as the feeder national schools have enrolled higher numbers of newcomers. This will present a major challenge for the school and pro-active planning for this should take place. This advance preparation should include contact with schools that have been successful in dealing with large numbers of newcomer students from other countries. It should also include contact with IILT. Inclusion of this aspect of student welfare is work appropriate to a post of responsibility. Guidance and counselling should also plan to take into account diverse cultural and other needs. Students should also be included in the process of integrating newcomers, particularly students’ council members and prefects as part of an overall effort to ensure inclusion. Traveller students are fully integrated into the school.
The management of the school has a large part to play in the pastoral care of students. The school has no formalised pastoral care policy but this aspect of care for students is treated well informally as a whole-school issue into which all staff has an input and a responsibility. Some chaplaincy services are available and this is an important part of the school’s care of students, is an intrinsic part of faith formation, and ensures contact with agents and sources of spiritual and religious support. The strong pastoral care system is operated throughout the school for all students, which allows students to establish good contacts with year heads and tutors. These teachers play a crucial role in assisting students with personal and educational issues. The school’s secretariat also plays a valuable role in contacting parents when students are ill. It is reported that staff in the school collaborate very effectively to deliver all necessary educational supports where they are required. The outcome of the pastoral care process in the school, allied to the approachability of the staff, is that students are not inhibited in communication with teachers. It is a tribute to the students that they can be at ease with staff but still respectful, and this typifies the pro-social culture the school has developed, where there is a focus on praise and encouragement. There is a discipline book in which issues around the behaviour of students are recorded; this is to aid tracking and follow up. Regular assemblies are held. The school is to be commended on the small number of school exclusions that have arisen. Those that have arisen have come before the board for consideration and have been dealt with appropriately. Retention in the school is very high with most students staying on in school to complete their leaving certificate.
Senior management, particularly the deputy principal, has developed strong links with students. The principal and deputy constantly patrol the school. However, in the light of best use of management time the informal care of students should be reviewed and a formal plan put in place. SPHE needs to be integrated into the plan.
The school has a students’ council. Students are the primary users in education: therefore more openness to listen to the voice of the student’s council and derive direction from messages inherent in their efforts to communicate with management and board is recommended. Training for leadership could be useful in expanding the role students have in contributing to the schools well-being during the working day. Various programmes are on offer, such as Meitheal provided by the Joint Managerial Body (JMB). This could be a useful developmental opportunity for students in TY setting up a foundation for social and personal responsibility which will enhance life for fellow students in Cnoc Mhuire. More use could be made of a prefect and class-leader type of student leadership and student leaders could be called upon to assist staff with lunch room supervision. Students’ council members discussed the issue of cold classrooms, and suggested that fleece jackets could be an addition to the school uniform. This should be considered
The parents’ council has long been active in Cnoc Mhuire. Generally, its role is one of fund-raising and of supporting the school’s management. The current council members, newly appointed this year, are keen to contribute in whatever way necessary to improve the school for the students. The parents’ council, in association with a post-holder, recently took action in improving the school uniform. Commendably and usefully, the parents’ council supports a range of activities including the provision of ‘mock’ interviews for students. Parents praised the courtesy extended by management when they visited the school and the speed with which all issues with students are addressed. Information nights for parents who wish to send children to the school and for prospective TY, LCVP, and fifth year students are an important means of communication. The school issues a newsletter twice annually which parents find useful, and an end of year magazine is also produced. Nonetheless parents would like to be better informed about how funds which they have raised are used, and how future plans for the school are decided. Major development issues and future projects have not been discussed directly with the parents’ council. They further requested the development of better literature about subject options and the costs involved in participating in the TY programme. The development of the school’s website would address some of these issues. The parent’s council voiced their concerns in relation to the following: the school’s guidance service, the lack of breadth in subject options including the lack of an opportunity to study Art, poor maintenance of parts of the school, the lack of satisfactory arrangements for students at lunch times, the lack of clarity about the cost of TY and the lack of support at transition points. It was felt that there was little on offer in Cnoc Mhuire for non-academic students. It is recommended that ways should be explored to expand the involvement of this committed group to enrich life in school for Cnoc Mhuire students.
Parents reported that they would like better lunch facilities for students to be made available in the school. Parents would also like to see healthy eating options further promoted. The school has a gym which is used extensively for a wide variety of sports and activities. In the main school building there is a former gym which is now used for assemblies and other events. This area was proposed by parents as a possible location for a lunchroom. The parents’ council offers its strong support to the board to develop this facility for students. Currently, many students depart the school premises to go into town at lunchtime. Management gives students permission to leave if parents provide written permission. It was apparent to the inspectors during the WSE visit, as it is to the students themselves and to the officers of the parents’ council, that this practice has serious safety issues inherent to it. Cnoc Mhuire’s one entrance gate opens on to a busy road, which is the main route out of Granard towards Cavan. To management’s credit it has worked with Longford County Council to have pedestrian crossings on the Cavan and Abbeylara roads installed about twenty yards from the school entrance. Nonetheless, the large numbers of students and the intensity of the road usage make the current lunchtime arrangements unacceptable in relation to the safety of students. It is recommended that the board and the school management develop alternative strategies to address these issues. Furthermore it is recommended that food and drinks be provided in the school, of a nature that would make staying in school for lunch more attractive than at present. Only in very exceptional circumstances should students be allowed to leave the school during lunchtime. An added advantage of keeping students on campus for lunch is that a variety of extracurricular activities, library or computer use, and games could be further promoted at this time.
Regular parent-teacher meetings are held and are well attended. Reports of student progress, based on the results of examinations and assessments are sent home to parents and guardians twice a year.
Teachers are deployed largely in line with regulations. Staff members work effectively to support the delivery of education and make a very valuable contribution to the school by volunteering for extra duties. There is a strong sense of collegiality among staff. Staff at present benefit from in-service days throughout the school year, and the continuation of this practice is recommended. Support staff are well deployed and play an effective role in supporting the life of the school. As part of an on-going review of needs, it is recommended that management consider the possible introduction of new subjects when recruiting new staff members. The school has a chaplain who provides a range of personal and spiritual supports for students. In line with the school ethos, faith formation and religious studies are a part of the students’ educational programme.
The school building is maintained to a reasonably good standard, and there are high standards of cleaning evident. Classroom space is adequate. The school is fortunate that it has several small rooms which are used to some extent for counselling, learning support, subject department meetings and storage and one which is used for vesting before school Masses. The use of these rooms should be audited and further use should be made of them for example for ICT. The main staffroom is a congenial place but is overcrowded and difficult to work in. Relocation or alternative arrangements should be considered to bring about improvement in this regard. It was not possible for management to give inspectors access to the school library during their tour of the school. It is recommended that library use be reviewed by the school community and developed as resources become available. Prospective students get a tour of the school building. Parents’ council members reported that this tour can be somewhat selective and sometimes omits the less presentable parts of the premises. During the inspection some rooms with missing ceiling tiles and exposed fibre glass insulation were witnessed by the inspectors. As there are health and safety issues associated with exposed fibre glass, steps should immediately be taken to remedy the situation in this regard. The escape of heat due to damaged ceilings is not compatible with the school’s Green Flag status.
There is a good range of well-equipped classrooms and specialist rooms in the school. A programme of refurbishment and up-dating is in train at present and the home economics, materials technology woodwork and science rooms have been refitted in the last year. Efforts have recently been made to provide up-to-date technology, and whiteboards and computers are available in considerable numbers. It is now necessary for the board and management to ensure that training in the use of these resources is ongoing so that expenditures involved in providing them will enhance learning. There was only one instance of the use of supporting technology observed during the whole-school evaluation.
The school has earned a Green Flag for its work in the Green Schools campaign and great effort has been expended in the development of a system of recycling and energy-use awareness. A very effective system has been developed for recycling waste and the school has allotted space and personnel resources to making Cnoc Mhuire a Green School. A large engraved stone at the school entrance testifies to the pride the school feels for its important achievements and success within the scheme. This work is to be commended.
A documented school plan exists, which is dated 2000. It is understood that this plan had been updated every two years prior to 2000. Because of the issues related to the possible amalgamation it is reported that the future of the school became clouded and unforeseeable. The school plan was not updated over that period. This has resulted in a hiatus effecting whole-school planning. However there has been good work done recently in subject-department planning and a number of policies have been developed. Existing documentation, however, has not been furthered to the extent which is now required. It is therefore recommended that the board and management should prioritise the drafting of a school plan to encompass the policies that have been already developed and to identify the policy areas that need development. This plan should set short-term and long-term priorities, provide directions for planning and serve as a blue print for the future development of Cnoc Mhuire in a whole-school context. When drafted the plan should be shared with the whole-school community, including parents. Some subject departments have been planning as units, developing long-term and short-term strategies for teaching and learning. It is recommended that the subject departments continue these planning activities. A half-day course in SDP was conducted in the school with an outside facilitator in 2006.
At present, there are several policy documents in place. These are: a code of discipline; admissions; homework, relationships and sexuality education, safety statement; dignity at work charter and anti-bullying policies; Child Protection Guidelines; IT policy; internet and e-mail use policy, policy statement on Transition Year, and procedures in the event of bereavement. In general these policy documents are slight and need to be more fully articulated. They should be made complete and comprehensive, with updating, extending and clarifying necessary to bring them up to standard. There is no fully developed guidance plan, but the existing one is a usable, basic draft. Particular attention should be paid to the document on Transition Year which needs extensive work, linked to a review and appraisal of the programme as currently offered. The safety statement needs to be customized for each subject, particularly the practical and scientific subjects. A health and safety audit should be considered.
A proactive, effective and productive planning schedule is now necessary. Both the permanent and developmental parts of the plan should be attended to by the board and the process should be initiated immediately. Structures should be developed to include staff, parents and students in the decision-making procedures of school development planning. Priorities pertinent to the ongoing development of the school should be identified and developed in line with the educational needs of students in the future. This will enable the board to have a clearer view of what the educational and other priorities are for the school, particularly in the areas of maximizing the use of current physical and personnel resources, enhancing the Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) and TY programmes, improving the comfort and safety of students at lunchtime, and developing the cultural and personal development opportunities of students. To help with the management of the induction of new and part-time staff, a staff handbook should be developed outlining the school policies and procedures and identifying key post holders, and including a school map and other information pertinent to working as a teacher in Cnoc Mhuire. A culture of review and evaluation related to progress on specific priorities and action plans should be established
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
All junior cycle students follow the Junior Certificate Programme. At senior cycle the Leaving Certificate Established and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme are provided. Transition Year (TY) is also offered. At junior cycle, students have access to a broad curriculum. Mixed ability is the organisational method by which first year classes are formed: thereafter streaming in Irish, Maths and English is applied up to Leaving Certificate.
As a rule, teachers are assigned to subjects based on their qualifications and level of experience. The school is committed to the promotion of studying subjects to higher level at both junior and senior cycles. The approach to teaching is very focussed on examinations and it would be an enhancement of the good work being done in teaching and learning if more recognition were given to the role of the multiple intelligences. Differentiated teaching techniques need to be further promoted in order to accommodate the aptitudes and abilities of all the class groups. The NCCA website provides information about differentiated learning techniques.
The curriculum provided in Cnoc Mhuire meets the needs of most students and is delivered by a dedicated and professional staff. Efforts have been made to introduce new subjects such as wood technology and this is commended. However, some subjects such as German are becoming less popular and consideration may need to be given to ensuring that it does not disappear from the options students have. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of another European language in the future. Art is not offered in the current year and this restricts many students from developing their aptitudes and interests in art, design and visual culture.
Some areas of the curriculum’s planning and provision need to be reviewed. TY provides a unique opportunity to develop skills and attitudes which contribute to effective learning and intellectual, social and personal growth. This programme provides a forum for acquiring a range of skills not necessarily emphasized by the examination-driven nature of Irish education. The WSE inspection activities revealed that, though the TY programme has good points, it should be furthered developed as an educational resource for students. The website, www.transitionyear.ie should be consulted as part of this development. TY pedagogy and materials should develop general skills that enhance the students’ learning capacity and intellectual efficacy, which in turn strengthen performance at leaving certificate. Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute has documented the advantages that the TY programme can provide for students. This research should be used in informing prospective TY students and their parents about TY. If the demonstrated advantages of the programme were disseminated, participation might rise. Enriching the programme and diversifying the content and approaches used would also help increase enrolments in the long term. Management should now take steps in this regard. Although many of the ingredients of the TY programme are good, planning, review and development lack cohesion. A TY course plan should be devised, with adequate aims and objectives outlined and learning outcomes delineated. A strong student-centred approach to the content and structure of the programme is recommended, with the true principles of TY as presented in Department documentation enshrined in practice. The breadth and balance of activities offered to students should now be carefully considered. The TY programme should be designed to incorporate inter-disciplinary work, theme-focused activities and student-focused learning.
TY students spend time each year assembling a photomontage based on pictures of the year’s activities. These are displayed around the school. Some of those seen during the WSE date back to the mid-1990s, and would have little relevance for the current students. While group work is an important part of TY, the educational outcomes of the photomontage activity are limited. The computer programme for TY is excellent and the introduction of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is under consideration for students. It would appear that the costs of ECDL, recently researched by post holders with responsibility for ICT, though not inconsiderable, are nonetheless affordable. Allowing students to progress skills and gain accreditation in this way is valuable because such skills are useful in adult life.
An evaluation of LCVP was carried out in April 2007. It found that the programme was functioning well. However some lack of compliance was apparent. The recommendations made in the report should now be applied, and the board should oversee their implementation. It is noted that, on the school timetable, the co-ordinator now has class contact time with LCVP, as was recommended. This is commendable. It was also recommended that LCVP Link Modules should be fully integrated into the timetable. This should be implemented as a matter of urgency, to ensure that teaching hours are allocated according to Department guidelines.
Subject planning has progressed recently and is developing along approved lines. Acceptance of the collaboration within some subject departments should be extended to all subject departments. The good professional standards in teaching and course delivery will no doubt be further enhanced as a result. As the department planning is in its infancy in Cnoc Mhuire, it is recommended that good practice and outside help be used to inform the process.
Equality of access to subjects and programmes is apparent to some extent in the fact that both genders study wood technology, music and home economics. However, timetabling and the lack of guidance provision leads to traditional biases with regard to gender specificity of some subjects not being challenged in practice. It is recommended that timetabling options be reviewed in general, and in particular the equality-of-access dimension of timetabling of subjects be attended to as part of a root and branch review. In order to maximise the potential of the subjects that it is possible to deliver in the timetable, and the subject option selections that it is possible to devise from these, it is recommended that a curriculum and timetabling advisory group be set up to provide consultation and expertise, ideas and strategies for curriculum and timetable improvement. With regard to the timetabling process itself, it is recommended that more use of ICT be employed in drafting the school timetable. Gender imbalance in LCVP and the low uptake of TY should be considered as part of the review of the timetable.
Students make subject choices before entering first year by placing, in order of preference, three subjects from French, German, Business Studies and Music with a view to studying two of these. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme includes a music module, which the students follow for the entire year, and the ‘best fit’ approach is employed when students choose their subjects for Leaving Certificate. At present Music is in a block with Physics and Biology in fifth year and with Physics, Chemistry and Geography in sixth year. Materials Technology (Wood) is now available as a subject, supported by a refurbished and re-equipped two-classroom workshop. A choir option is available to students not doing Materials Technology (Wood). Students may choose between Choir, Physical Education and Computers for one period per week in each of the three years in junior cycle. Two programmes are offered, Transition Year and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. There is a strong emphasis on the sciences in Cnoc Mhuire, though it is not always possible to offer Chemistry at leaving certificate, a point of contention for the parents of students who may need it for a career.
On the basis of the WSE inspections, the subject options presented to students were found to be limited and gender biased. It is the opinion of the inspectors that French should be a core subject. Although it is presented as mandatory in the documentation, this is not always the case in practice. German as a subject has been allowed to wane and this is not to the advantage of students with an interest in languages. Art is not available as a subject, though some small increment of recreational craft/applied art may be available from time to time in TY. There is a low uptake of Music by boys, partly due to timetabling, though the proportion of boys to girls improves for Music at senior cycle.
Parents reported some dissatisfaction with the current subject choice arrangements in first year. Some form of taster programme was requested to assist parents and students to be more informed when making subject choices. They would like more detailed written information about the intrinsic quality of subjects and the use of these for particular vocational pathways at a later stage. As so much depends on having the right subjects for particular careers, these are not unreasonable demands and management should collaborate with the Guidance counsellor and the subject departments to develop such information for current and prospective parents and students. This information could also be provided on the school’s website.
Guidance counsellors should play a more effective role in disseminating detailed information about subject options. Advising parents of the possible future career implications of subject selection needs to be prioritised. The school is striving to maximise the number of students who enter third-level education. Guidance personnel should work with parents to raise expectations for success. Parents should also be included in the process of consultation in relation to subjects and options. A subject taster programme should be available to new first years in Cnoc Mhuire. It is recommended that the school devises such a programme and implement it next September. Parents should be provided with information about subjects, choices and options in booklet form. Subject related information should also be posted on the school website. Parents should be referred to the Qualifax website www.qualifax.ie
Teaching staff of Cnoc Mhuire are notably generous with their time and energy in promoting a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Through their dedication and expertise over the years, school teams have prospered. New activities have been established and consequently the schools self-image and the pupils’ experience of school have been enhanced. All this is to be strongly lauded. Quizzes, self-defence, table tennis, Christmas concert, Gaelic football and soccer sports day, music and debates are some examples of the school’s extra-curricular activities. Many sports activities take place at lunchtime, and are often seasonally determined. The parents’ council praised the range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, but regarded the demise of the musical production as being unfortunate. They noted that sporting activities needed to be expanded and new areas of interest for students developed.
There is a big emphasis on school teams and these have been successful over the years in the field sports and in equestrian events. This competitive emphasis is to be commended. A lot of resources go towards maintaining a presence in competition and the school should now review the situation about provision for extra-curricular activities for students who are not on competitive teams, or interested in the mainstream sports activities. This review should look at spreading the expense of extra-curricular activities over the whole student body and ensuring that levels of participation are maximized. Any sports or leisure equipment available in the school should be used for the benefit of students. The student council suggested that small groups of students should be facilitated, at least for a period during the school year to be given a chance to try out a sport of their choice. Where enthusiasm for sports or activities which are not at present offered exists amongst the student body – as rugby does, for example – every consideration should be given by management and staff to making such sports or activity available, for its educational and personal developmental value, rather than its competitive value to the schools status or self-image. This would reflect the diverse tastes and current needs of the present student body.
There are outdoor playing fields, basketball and tennis courts, and a modern gymnasium equipped with ancillary sport and activities equipment available. It is reported that the quality of the playing fields is not suited to competitive matches so the school teams must always play ‘away’ matches. The gym is not of competition dimensions and similarly there are no home fixtures. Nonetheless Cnoc Mhuire has a proud track record in competitions and leagues. PE provision is good, and the physical education department teachers are the main, though not exclusive, organisers of sporting activities. They are assisted by a large number of other staff members that selflessly give their time to providing support for these activities. They offer training to students, accompany teams to outside events and provide extra coaching. New teachers who have joined the staff in the last number of years are now effectively assisting in the whole extra-curricular area. Many have sporting skills and enthusiasms that in the future may be developed as new activities for the students. This provides scope for developing as many activities as possible and for ensuring that all the gym equipment available to the school is used during the school year.
The organizers of extra-curricular activities are commended for offering activites to all students. However, in some instances uptake is balanced in favour of one gender only. Activities such as chess should be more actively promoted for both girls and boys. Where there is a gender issue in an activity that need not be intrinsically gender influenced, a set of steps should be ordained and implemented to address the issue.
The addition of more cultural activities and events to the extra-curricular and co-curricular profile of Cnoc Mhuire is recommended as this aspect of education, though not entirely absent, needs to be strengthened, developed and promoted, as cultural learning has personal, social and academic benefits for the student. A literary or arts week, writing and art competitions, a film club, art or photographic society, could be incorporated into the life of the school. The long lunchtime might facilitate some cultural activities.
Co-curricular activities have included trips to see plays, field studies, outdoor pursuits and CSPE related activities. Formerly TY made an annual trip to France but this has not been continued. There was also a recent trip to Poland. It is recommended that in the review of TY the educational advantages of well-run trips, should be considered when planning the modules on offer to students. Information about the cost of such trips and other activities should be made available to parents and students in advance.
Both formal and informal subject department planning is taking place in many subject areas in Cnoc Mhuire. Good progress has been achieved in the departments that have co-operated actively in planning. Staff is now keen to build on the spirit of collegiality and collaboration that has resulted from engagement in this process.
A review of the planning documentation presented during the evaluation demonstrated that subject plans were at different stages of advancement. Some subject departments had developed effective structures and documented quite detailed plans, designed to guide and inform the teaching and learning of all year groups. Collaborative planning documents used in a particular year group would serve as a good model for planning for all other year groups in the future. Subject plans should be reviewed and updated regularly and should address matters of skills acquisition and learning outcomes in addition to referring to syllabus content.
As scheduled formal subject planning meetings are essential to support the development of subject department strategies and the sharing of available resources and expertise, it is recommended that management facilitate the scheduling of these meetings on a number of occasions throughout the academic year. The nomination of a subject co-ordinator for each subject is recommended. Ideally this co-ordination role should be rotated between colleagues on an annual basis. All subject teachers should receive a copy of the relevant subject plan or have ready access to it electronically. It is recommended that, in seeking to further the planning process, the various subject departments obtain advice and support from the SDPI. Information on the assistance offered by this body may be accessed, in the first instance, at www.sdpi.ie. It is worth noting that the subject-specific support services that form part of the Second Level Support Service and the professional teacher associations may also prove useful points of contact for subject departments.
A high level of individual short-term planning and preparation was in evidence in all subject areas evaluated. However, each teacher and all departments need to be mindful of the school’s health and safety policy, consider how it applies to each specific subject area and discuss ways to link safety statements with subject planning and delivery. The planning of ICT to support learning outcomes should also be a consideration for each subject department. As the school is making big strides in supplying electronic white boards, data projectors and computers, each department should plan for the full exploitation of these new resources. Each department should also consider identifying short-term and longer-term objectives to be integrated into the subject plan. This would inform and support whole-school planning.
The good classroom management observed during the course of the inspections created a supportive learning environment for students. Seating plans were generally in place and the rooms themselves and the interactions taking place within them were well ordered and pleasant. Communication between teachers and students was open and positive, and students benefited from good feedback and regular affirmation of their work.
Teaching and learning resources were generally used well. These included the classroom itself, the board, electronic-white boards, collages of visuals, musical instruments and audio-visual equipment. However, little use was made of available overhead projectors or of data projectors in classrooms. Resource materials that had been prepared for specific learning activities were well planned and prepared, and in a number of instances were notably imaginative and stimulating. The good practice observed in this area is to be commended, and sharing and extending the use of such materials should be seen as an important aim of collaborative subject planning.
Most lessons were well structured and were presented in a coherent way, with objectives for learning established clearly at the outset of most sessions. In some instances, the lesson objectives were expressed as learning outcomes so that students were made aware of what they were expected to be able to do by the end of the lesson. This is a very helpful practice as it gives an immediate sense of structure to the lesson and encourages students to work purposefully towards a goal, and it should be universally followed. Pacing was generally good and this ensured that a considerable amount of material was covered in each lesson. However, in some instances too many diverse topics were introduced in sessions and this reflected poor planning of concise learning objectives.
A range of teaching and learning methods was observed during the course of the inspections. Effective methods to motivate students and promote active learning were observed in a number of instances. These methods are of particular benefit to students, in that they not only engage students with the specific topics being covered but also make them more conscious of how they learn. Students demonstrated a willingness to co-operate and engage effectively with learning to achieve good outcomes. The commendable practice observed of using paired learning to allow students to practise language skills should be extended to all language lessons. In most instances, a good level of class discussion took place, with an appropriate balance between teacher and student talk. Good use was made of brainstorming. Questioning of students was generally effective in checking understanding and recall, and in the area of higher-order questioning, leading students towards more complex perceptions and a clearer expression of their ideas. However, over reliance on the use of textbooks in some instances resulted in some students losing concentration and this should be avoided. Lessons should be planned to ensure that students remain focused. In addition, good use of target languages for instruction, affirmation and classroom management was noted during the inspections. It is therefore recommended that this approach be adopted in all language teaching.
Differentiation strategies were observed in some lessons to accommodate the different pace at which students learn and the different styles of learning. This is excellent practice and could profitably be the focus of subject-department planning in the future. The need to challenge able students by giving them greater responsibility for their own learning and opportunities for more self-directed learning should be very much borne in mind in developing differentiated teaching and learning practices. Newcomer students who are not yet proficient in English need to be considered when lessons are being planned. The use of ICT to help them acquire appropriate vocabularies for each subject should be considered as part of subject-department planning.
In the classes observed during the evaluation, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to an acceptable standard. Student folders and written work showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance.
The teachers use a combination of questioning in class, the assignment and correction of homework, regular class tests and formal school examinations to assess the progress of their students.
The homework policy is consistently applied and homework assignments are set and monitored regularly. Helpful feedback, both written and oral is supplied to students. During classes, questioning was used to good effect to establish the current state of students’ knowledge and their understanding of course materials. In these instances, feedback was also provided for individuals and class groups. The use of these approaches to provide assessment for learning is in line with best practice.
Formal examinations are a feature of the assessment policy of the school. All students sit examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays. Junior and Leaving Certificate students take mock examinations during the spring term and these are outsourced and marked externally. Good records are kept of all tests and examinations, and the results of these are communicated to parents and guardians on a regular basis. Student attainment rates in the state examinations are reviewed annually.
One of the principles underlying the use of assessment for learning is that students should understand the basis on which their work will be judged; the criteria for assessment. In this way, they can review their own work and check if they have done all that was required. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website has a section on assessment for learning www.ncca.ie. A short and helpful document, Assessment advice for students, can also be found on the English section of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website www.slss.ie . Information about Junior and Leaving Certificate marking schemes is available on the State Examination Commission’s (SEC) website www.examination.ie. It is recommended that teachers make students fully aware of the assessment criteria that are being applied to their work in this context.
As a general principle, criteria for assessment and suitable marking schemes should be discussed, agreed and shared with the students so as to assist their preparation and improve their skills to answer questions.
It is reported that an increasing number of students who require additional educational supports for learning are now enrolled in the school. At present, there is a special-needs teacher who provides a timetabled service for individuals and small groups and a small number of other staff who assist in this work. However, the number of teachers involved in this type of work will have to increase to meet emerging needs. It is recommended that a SEN team be formed to plan and deliver this increased SEN support. It is suggested that the selection of methodologies such as team teaching could be considered to allow students to get support in class and group settings, and that learning support for newcomers be prioritised. The management of the education support service needs to be well documented, and written individual education plans are a desirable intrinsic element in this documentation. These should build on assessments already completed, provide accountability about how the time and personnel resources are being used, and promote an overall culture of assessment and review of individuals’ education needs in the school. It is recommended that a policy to support the development of all additional educational needs be given immediate attention by management and staff.
Students are assessed in the light of possible special educational needs and a range of supports is available for these students. Withdrawal for one-to-one tuition or group work is practised. Appropriate teaching techniques are employed. Recent CPD for the whole staff has highlighted differentiated learning techniques and this has raised awareness generally of how to support the learning of students with SEN. The school has a good track record in enabling students with SEN to develop their learning potential, and its caring approach to students is notable. One special needs assistant is currently employed in the school. The board has provided funds for psychological and other assessments of students on occasions when it was not possible for NEPS to carry out such work.
On enrolment students with SEN complete a supplementary enrolment form detailing their needs and the support that they have been receiving in primary school. Parents then furnish the school with copies of any educational psychological assessments that have been carried out. These assessments are used to allocate resource or learning-support teaching hours. Learning-support teaching is given to students in small groups, and resource hours are used on a on-to-one basis. Students receiving resource-teaching hours are usually exempted from the study of Irish and sometimes from French. The time made available from these exemptions is then used for resource teaching.
Financial assistance is available to any disadvantaged student for schoolbooks, educational tours, or for other reasons.
The school has an allocation of seventeen ex-quota hours for Guidance. The school should endeavour to make full use of this allocation for Guidance with whole-school support.
A guidance plan has been drafted that will shortly be presented to management, staff, parents and students for consultation. Once this consultation process has been completed the guidance plan should be forwarded to the board of management as a planning document. This plan should be evaluated and updated annually to meet students’ changing needs. The delivery of Guidance across all year groups and programmes is outlined. However, there is an imbalance in the provision of guidance in favour of students in transition year and in senior cycle over those in junior cycle. To address this imbalance it is recommended that a fresh look be taken by the school at how to create guidance programmes to meet all students’ needs. Guidance in second level schools includes personal, educational and vocational supports and is intended for all students throughout their time in second level. In conjunction with the pastoral care system, Social Personal Health Education (SPHE), TY, LCVP and subject departments, new ways should be explored by management and staff to deliver a wider range of guidance supports to students from the time they enter the school in first year. Linkages with all school programmes should be outlined in the draft plan and indications about the scheduling of inputs should be included. In addition, all linkages with relevant external agencies and bodies, activities such as trips to third level colleges, a list of invited outside speakers and dates for mock interview sessions should also be documented. Information about whole-school guidance planning is available in two documents; Planning a School Guidance Programme (NCGE 2004) and Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the implications of 9c of the Education Act 1998, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance ( DES 2005). In addition, in line with the school’s mission, policy and the pastoral care structure, the creation of a student support team could advance the planning and provision of targeted support for individual students.
The guidance plan needs attention to become the ultimate support for the students’ academic progression and vocational direction. It should be prioritised immediately by senior management as well as guidance personnel. This should link directly with the school’s pastoral structure, with subject department and programme planning, and with outside providers for vocational support.
Guidance is delivered in Cnoc Mhuire using a variety of methodologies. These include one-to-one interviews and group sessions. In order to increase contact with Guidance for all students, it is recommended that more timetabled sessions with senior and junior classes be arranged on a modular basis. Guidance inputs for junior cycle students should be facilitated in co-operation with the SPHE programme and with subjects that support developmental education. In TY and in senior cycle, a heavier emphasis should be placed on encouraging the exploration of options and independent research by students of career and third level education choices using ICT. This would enable students to acquire the skills necessary to manage career paths when they leave school. The TY programme should create more possibilities for students to marry research of a range of career interests with subject choices for senior cycle. Final choices for Leaving Certificate subjects should not be decided until towards the end of this programme. Parents receive presentations and information about subject options at parents’ events held in the school. However they also require some detailed information about the possible career or other implications for their children of choosing or dropping certain subjects. It is recommended that the school develop some information materials linking subject options with career choices. This information should also be placed on the school’s website for easy access by all the education community and should be updated annually.
Establishing a student support team or care team would ensure that current real and genuine concern for students’ welfare among staff and senior management would be further augmented and made more effective than at present. Serious consideration should be given to the provision of home-school-community co-ordination as a post of responsibility. At present, since the retirement of the Mercy Sister who formerly did home visits, this support to students has not formally existed other than as senior management’s efforts in this regard.
Senior management has developed a role in keeping in touch with students and the deputy principal particularly supports students who experience difficulties. However, in the light of the appropriate use of management time, the informal care of students should be reviewed and a formal plan should be put in place. Writing up arrangements as they are at present would be a good starting point for this review, and for the initiation of work on a formal plan for the pastoral care of students. SPHE should be integrated into the plan.
Cnoc Mhuire prides itself on being a caring school and one that reaches out to meet the needs of all students. As the school now caters for students who come from a range of ethnic backgrounds and whose first language is not English, it is recommended that a policy on language support be developed and integrated into subject department planning. Assistance can be sought at www.iilt.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The board is properly constituted with long-serving and experienced members. It meets regularly and is very supportive of the school.
· The principal and deputy work well as a team and administer the school effectively. They emphasise the caring and personal aspect of their roles daily, and have a good standing with staff, students and parents.
· There is a dedicated and professional team of teachers who support management and provide the backbone of a good delivery of subjects and programmes.
· Teachers contribute generously and consistently to extra-curricular and co-curricular provision in the school. Sport and concerts have notable profiles among the extra-curricular activities for students.
· The school has recently acquired modern woodwork, science and home economics facilities.
· The school is enhancing its ICT profile and is beginning to integrate this resource into teaching and learning.
· The school has developed a strong profile as a Green School.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the board develop a school plan to include a mission statement, a vision for the future, school policies, and priorities to be addressed within a given timeframe.
· Members of the board of management should access training, and up-to-date information about how it could support school development planning.
· It is recommended that the principal and deputy principal adopt clearer and more focused leadership roles for themselves in order to advance the school’s development and to provide leadership for the middle management team.
· It is recommended that posts of responsibility be reviewed and expanded in line with agreed priorities for the development of the school and its current requirements.
· In line with the school’s mission statement, and with health and safety concerns, it is recommended that school management urgently review arrangements for students at lunch-time.
· It is recommended that students needs in curriculum, subject choice, comfort and safety determine educational policy and practice in the school, and that timetabling and subject choice and options be reviewed.
· It is recommended that the TY programme be thoroughly reviewed in relation to programme content, teaching methods and co-ordination arrangements, and that external advice and reference to national and regional good practice be made. The recommendations made in the evaluation of LCVP should be implemented immediately.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Subject Inspection of French - 24 September 2007
Subject Inspection of Gaeilge - 28 September 2007
Subject Inspection of Guidance - 27 September 2007
Programme Evaluation of LCVP - 4 April 2007
Subject Inspection of Music - 28 September 2007
Published June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The report recognises and commends the areas which we believe lie at the core of any successful school. It found that the school had ‘a dedicated and professional team of teachers who support management and provide a good delivery of subjects and programmes’. It also commented on the generosity of teachers in contributing to the provision of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in the school.
Cnoc Mhuire hopes to maintain and build on these positive observations in the future.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
In response to the findings and recommendations of the inspection, the following plans are being implemented in Cnoc Mhuire:
- Since Easter 2008, a professional caterer has been contacted to supply food to the students. 1st, 2nd and 3rd Year students are no longer allowed out of the school grounds at lunchtime. The catering facility was organised by the Student Council with the backing of school management and the Parents’ Council and had been in the planning stage since September 2007. This initiative has been very successful and we would like to commend the Student Council and, particularly, its Chairperson, for their initiative, diligence and delivery;
- Art is being introduced for incoming 1st Years in September 2008. The intake has been so good that we will have two art classes in 1st year;
- Spanish was offered to incoming 1st Years but the uptake was so low that it was not possible to introduce it. However, it will be offered again next year and we are quite confident that enough students will choose it so as to form a class.
So, Art and Spanish will add to the list of new subjects introduced in Cnoc Mhuire in the last fifteen year – Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing (now Design and Communication Graphics), LCVP, Materials Technology (Wood), Building Construction.
Agricultural Science will be introduced at Leaving Certificate level in September 2008.
- Our School Plan, which had become moribund because of the question of amalgamation, now also moribund, is being worked on at the moment.
- Class Assemblies will be held every morning commencing September 2008, to improve communication between teachers and students, to monitor absenteeism and to improve on our already high retention rate.