An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole-School Evaluation



Saint Joseph’s Secondary School,

Foxford County Mayo

Roll number: 64640W


    Date of inspection: 25 September 2008





Whole-school evaluation


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. Joseph’s Secondary School, Foxford, County Mayo was undertaken in September, 2008. 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 was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management 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.





St. Joseph’s is a co-educational, Catholic voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the Bishop of Achonry. The school was founded by the Sisters of Charity to provide a Catholic education for local boys and girls, who were forced to leave the area at the time in order to obtain post-primary education. It was a welcome addition to the renowned Music Schools and Secretarial School built earlier by the Sisters. While the Sisters of Charity are no longer the trustees, their contribution in providing education and employment will always be part and parcel of the history of Foxford. St. Joseph's Secondary School is as an example of their foresight and exemplary work. Since then there has been much success, expansion and change. St. Joseph's outgrew its capacity and has been extended twice since it opened. Today the school caters for nearly 350 students and has a teaching staff of 27.


St. Joseph’s is located in the heart of Foxford town and has always been an integral part of the community. It is an inclusive shool and is serving a predominately rural population. It is the only post-primary school in the town and the school’s intake from its feeder schools spans all academic and socio-economic groupings in the town and its environs. The good quality of the learning and teaching, and care for students’ well being is evident in many ways.


The school operates an inclusive, non-selective, open-door enrolment policy, which results in a diverse range of academic abilities among students currently attending the school. Traditional expectations of high academic achievement are prominent and students experience success in proceeding onto third level and sucessful careers. This provides a challenge to the school in ensuring the appropriateness of its curricular provision as well as providing support for the diverse range of learning needs of students. The school is aware of the challenges presented by these developments.


During the whole-school evaluation (WSE) process the board of management, parents, senior management and staff cited the lack of adequate accommodation and facilities as a significant issue and expressed frustration with the delay in processing an application for an extension to the Department of Education and Science. The school indicated that this issue poses a significant challenge to the school particularly in light of projected increases in enrolment in the future.  


The particular strengths of the school which will aid its future development are: the committed support of the parents; the supportive board of management; the highly effective senior management team and the loyalty, experience and commitment of the whole staff to the school and its students.



1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school


The characteristic spirit of St. Joseph’s Secondary School derives from the religious and educational philosophy of the founders, the Sisters of Charity and is outlined in the school’s mission statement: “St. Joseph's Secondary School is a Christian community committed to educate students at secondary level in a caring atmosphere of honesty, sincerity, justice and mutual respect and tolerance in partnership with the Board of Management, Staff, Parents and members of the wider community in the area”. The school strives to give every pupil the opportunity to develop his/her unique and special talents. The school’s educational philosophy also emphasises the importance of service to students, guided by the Christian ideal of Charity and recognises the importance of each student reaching his or her full potential. The school’s crest features the school motto “Caritas Christi urget nos” meaning “the charity of Christ inspires us”. Evidence from the evaluation suggests that the various pledges and values inherent in the mission statement are strongly embedded in the culture and practices of the school.


The characteristic spirit is reflected in school policies and is lived out in the day-to-day life of the school and pervades the support, care and encouragement given to students, and the wide curriculum, academic supports and activities provided for them. A particular feature of St. Joseph’s is the great awareness amongst the whole-school community of the school’s ethos and the strong sense of a shared vision for the school. This is a key factor determining the long-term success of the school. The principal, deputy principal and staff display loyalty, dedication and commitment to and concern for students, and through their actions embody the ethos of the school. The school affords a central place to religious education and religious practices. St. Joseph’s admits students of other faiths and it endeavours, where possible to accommodate their faith needs.


The school population is relatively small therefore, teachers know all students. An atmosphere of caring and a strong sense of pride and camaraderie among staff and students were evident during the evaluation. Students presented as happy, courteous, well-behaved and confident young people and reported on the friendly and respectful atmosphere between staff and students. Excellent rapport among staff and students was evident throughout the evaluation. The school can pride itself on the strong emphasis it places on the pastoral care it offers its students. A noteworthy sense of community and partnership is evident in many aspects of the school among parents, students, staff and the board of management. These bodies work hard, separately and collectively to promote the ethos of the school.


There is a very high level of engagement by many teachers in voluntary activities including the class tutor role, and a wide range of extracurricular activities catering for all age levels in the school. A pleasant student-centred visual environment has been created throughout the school. Photographic displays, trophies and displays of students’ work adorn the hallways and celebrate the successes and achievements of students in a range of activities. The school hosts an annual sports’ day followed by an end-of-year awards’ evening. A comprehensive range of school projects are displayed to celebrate the participation, successes and achievements of the students in a range of activities. The school Annals have been maintained at the school, since 1961 and these provide a pictorial and colourful record of school activities and students’ achievements. 


1.2          School ownership and management


The board of management which has been appropriately constituted is in its second year of operation. The board meets regularly and operates appropriately, having formal agenda and recorded minutes. Some board members have a long association with and an understanding of the school and some have previously served on the board. It is through this continuity, sharing of expertise and training for new members that the board is aware of its role and responsibilities. Board members demonstrate a complementary range of skills, experience and expertise, have strong links with the local community and their collective wisdom supports the school very well.


The board of management is professional in its approach and demonstrates a strong commitment to the school and to upholding its Catholic ethos. Board members have a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the school and are committed to fulfilling their role, responsibilities and statutory obligations. Consultation and partnership are clearly evident at board level. Decision-making procedures are open, clear and taken with regard to the best interests of the school community and with regard to the ethos of the school. The main communication conduit between the principal and the board of management is a most comprehensive principal’s report, which is an account of current school issues. The board communicates with the wider-school community through its agreed report. The agreed report is made available to all staff members and the principal as secretary to the board communicates with parents through the parents’ association. In this regard parents reported being well informed regarding school matters. In order to further enhance communication, the board is advised to produce an annual report on the operation and performance of the school, with particular reference to the achievement of objectives of the school as set out in the school plan. This report should be made available to the wider-school community.


With the support of the school’s senior-management team, the board actively encourages, supports and facilitates staff to participate in appropriate continuing professional development. Support is also provided towards teachers’ annual subscriptions to the various subject and professional associations. A well-established finance sub-committee deals with the finances of the school and accounts are audited annually.


The board has devolved responsibility for the development of the school plan to staff members and has actively engaged in the school planning process through policy initiation, development and ratification. The board in collaboration with the school community has identified a number of developmental priorities. The immediate concern of the board is the school’s current accommodation limitations and the capacity and necessary resources to deal with the expected increase in applications for school places. Other priorities for the board are the progression of school development planning, and maintaining high quality educational provision and services to support students at the school. The board is aware of the challenges it faces in the years ahead given the current accommodation limitations. Both the board and the parents’ association expressed full confidence in the senior management team’s direction and management of the school.


1.3          In-school management


The in-school management team consists of the principal and deputy principal as well as the middle-management team of six assistant principals and eight special-duties teachers. There is also one programme co-ordinator at special duties level.


The principal and deputy principal provide excellent leadership to the entire school community. While they have defined areas of responsibility they have adopted a partnership approach to school leadership and management and there is a very good level of communication and collaboration on issues as they arise. The principal and deputy principal have a shared vision for the school, and work extremely well together and form a cohesive, highly efficient and inspirational management team. Their individual talents and abilities are complementary and their management style is open, collaborative and consultative. They are hard-working, dedicated and are committed to providing a caring, supportive learning environment, supporting students with additional educational needs and maintaining good academic standards. They make and review decisions together and share the day-to-day management of the school. In addition to meeting before the official starting time to prepare for the day’s activities, senior management also meet throughout the day and in the afternoon to review the day’s progress and to identify issues for follow-up, in line with best practice. The visible presence of the principal and deputy principal on the corridors and in the staff room and their open door policy ensures that they are accessible to staff and students, while at the same time maintaining good order, punctuality and positive relationships. Their professionalism, courtesy and good humour were acknowledged by the staff as major contributing factors to the spirit of the school. They are also committed to working in co-operation and consultation with the board of management, staff, parents and students.


The excellent leadership qualities of senior management are such that, staff, students, parents and members of the board of management feel valued and are empowered through the delegation of tasks and responsibilities. The openness and willingness of the principal and deputy principal to listen to and engage with others permeate all interactions throughout the school. This has helped to achieve a very positive working environment for staff and is central to all recent positive developments in the school. It is praiseworthy that they both have participated in the Leadership Development for Schools management course.


A root and branch review of the posts of responsibility was undertaken recently. This process was conducted in an open and consultative manner and included the involvement of all staff. A sub-committee was established consisting of two assistant principals, two special duties teachers and two non-post holders who liaised with small groups of staff to ascertain the needs of the school. Following this useful process a schedule of posts was drawn up and there are clearly defined duties assigned to post holders in accordance with agreed procedures. It is evident that the current schedule of posts of responsibility is meeting the needs of the school and is a further expression of the professional and caring approach of the school personnel.


Leadership roles are well distributed at middle management level. Normally five of the assistant principals act as year heads. The year heads are appointed for the specific year groups and have both a pastoral and disciplinary role. They liaise as necessary with parents, principal, deputy principal and other members of staff regarding student behaviour, welfare and academic progress. The remaining assistant principals carry out the duties of in-house examinations’ secretary and programme co-ordination (outside of the schedule of posts). The eight special duties teachers have a broad range of responsibilities including the co-ordination of special educational needs, pastoral care, Transition Year (TY), information and communication technologies (ICT), mentoring programme, environmental awareness, the school book rental scheme and liaison officer for the students’ council . Two further posts are to be allocated to the school in the near future. The desire to progressively review and adapt the schedule of posts is evidence of the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of the students in its care. Job descriptions specifying the duties assigned to each of the middle-management posts exist and post-holders indicated that they maintain ongoing communication with the senior management team, which provides support and advice when issues arise. There is a significant level of capacity building by the senior management through the empowerment of the middle management team and teaching staff.


The school is very well managed and there are very good structures and procedures in place to ensure that the school is an effective learning community. The principal and deputy principal are effectively leading a process of continual school improvement. They have both been particularly effective in developing a culture of self-review and evaluation among the school community. Staff is constantly urged to monitor school policies and procedures with a view to making changes to support school improvement. Such practices are highly commendable.


The school is to be commended for the ongoing focus on providing for the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff. Numerous guest speakers, seminars and workshops have been organised over the years as part of school staff and planning days. Furthermore, staff is facilitated to participate in CPD, including, attendance at support-service courses and membership of subject associations is encouraged by management. Teachers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with ICT and are facilitated to attend courses. The school management is commended for the way in which it utilises its own in-house expertise to develop the capacity of its staff. The completion of post graduate studies by some staff members has led to increased expertise in some areas of provision in the school. This has a positive impact in enhancing the quality of school planning, support for students and ultimately teaching and learning in the school. Senior management actively and effectively promotes collaboration with teaching and support staff, ongoing consultation is evident and ideas are encouraged. Such inclusive and collaborative approaches are commendable.


Excellent communication structures in the school are varied and clearly work along well-established lines. Communication and relationships within the school community are characterised by openness, recognition, respect and concern as was evident in meetings held during the evaluation. Staff members are aware of the various lines of communication in relation to all aspects of the work of the school. Senior management and teaching staff have developed a system of communication involving, for example, the staff room notice boards, informal announcements at mid-morning break, staff meetings, school website and the school newsletter. A number of staff meetings are held each year; these are minuted and usually include a planning element. The fact that staff members are invited to add items to the agenda in advance of meetings illustrates the inclusive and open approach of management. Staff meetings tend to be varied in their structure. This ensures that groups such as year heads, the pastoral care team, the guidance counsellor and learning support/special needs teachers have an opportunity to report to the whole staff regarding ongoing business. Individuals can also report to the whole staff regarding progress on designated tasks. It is positive that suggestions for improvement to the school timetable and curriculum are sought annually. The approaches employed by senior management as outlined in the above section reflect many of the principles of best practice.


There is great collegiality amongst staff members and numerous teams operate in the school comprising both post-holders and non-post-holders. It was indicated that support and affirmation was provided by senior management to staff in the performance of teaching duties, post of responsibility duties and voluntary activities.


The management of students is facilitated through a positive code of behaviour. Management is committed to fostering co-operation and interdependence across the whole-school community, reinforcing positive student behaviour and supporting staff in the implementation of the code of behaviour. Ultimate responsibility in matters of discipline rests with the principal and he is assisted in this task by the deputy principal, the year heads and the subject teachers. Serious breaches of the code of behaviour may be referred to the board of management. The school views issues in relation to discipline as a relevant part of pastoral care. Therefore a review of the code of behaviour is planned, in line with the recent guidelines from the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), in order to ensure an effective and streamlined approach to discipline as part of the pastoral care structure. Albeit students commented on the caring approach adopted by staff in administering the code of behaviour, consistency in the application of points is an ongoing issue for the school community. During the planned review of the code of behaviour this issue should be addressed.


The admissions policy and enrolment procedure of the school are revised regularly and reflect the mission statement of the school and are grounded in principles of equality and inclusion. The school endeavours to include the diversity of students in all curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Attendance and retention of students are systematically monitored and students are required to produce a note of explanation when absent from school. Generally there is good attendance by students. Management and staff strive to identify any issues and in conjunction with outside agencies provide support to individual students as early as possible and deal with such matters in a sensitive and discreet fashion. The school had developed its own book rental scheme and this ensures that text books are affordable and accessible to all students. Management of students is supported by various policies that have been developed in the school, including policies on behaviour, pastoral care, guidance, child protection, substance use, critical incidents, homework and anti-bullying.


The students’ council established in 1995 is elected by and representative of the entire student body and provides an invaluable means of communication among students, teachers and management. It allows students to become involved in school activities and decision making through partnership. The head boy and head girl are honorary members of the students’ council. A sense of belonging and community are evident in the students’ council and students involved displayed a high level of care, maturity, commitment, co-operation and leadership skills. Issues from the students’ council are communicated to management via the teacher representative and the principal is invited to address the students’ council on occasion. Overall, evidence suggests that students are proud of their school and feel that they have a real voice, responding positively to changes that have been implemented recently. Management and staff are commended for supporting the development of the student voice. Looking forward, a students’ council constitution should be developed, should then be discussed at a whole-school level and then presented to the board of management for ratification.


Parental involvement in the school is significant and effective and the school community is greatly appreciative of the work of the parents’ association. The parents’ association continues to be a key supporter of the school and has been involved in many projects over the years and provides an effective communication link between the school and parents. Some of the projects parents have been involved in recently include: scheduling of guest speakers for parents evenings, fundraising, promoting healthy eating, promoting environmental awareness, involvement with school open evenings and prize giving. There are strong, collaborative links among the parents’ association, the board and senior school management. In turn, the parents’ association communicates with the general parent body through letters home via the school. The parents’ association expressed satisfaction with regard to how the school operated and were particularly appreciative of the interest taken in and support provided to each student. They spoke warmly of the good education their children were receiving and commented on the positive atmosphere in the school. They expressed the view that communication within the school community is very good and that senior management is very approachable and supportive. They also stated that they were very satisfied that their suggestions are listened to and that action is subsequently taken on foot of them. The parents’ association has a definite consultative role, for example it is consulted around the development of policies and school events. Parents and guardians are encouraged to become members and to be involved in the school’s social events and fundraising.


The school has developed effective systems of communication with the diversity of parents. The main channels used for school-parent communication are letters from the principal; the school newsletter; the school website, parent-teacher meetings; the student journal; school reports; telephone calls; attendance at open and option nights and the principal’s attendance at parents’ association meetings. Individual parents may also contact the school to set up an appointment. Formal parent-teacher meetings and mechanisms for reporting to parents are organised in line with agreed procedures. In addition individual meetings can occur either requested by parents or where parents are invited to the school to discuss a student’s progress.


The openness and willingness of the school management to communicate and consult with the local community and outside agencies to support school activities are commended. The school maintains well-developed links with a variety of businesses, agencies, other educational institutions, training bodies, organisations and support services in the local community. Consequently the school is held in high regard by the community and is supported in several ways including sponsorship of school events, accommodating work experience and meeting the personal, cultural, and sporting needs of the students. The school is conscious of its role within the community and it strives to provide a comprehensive system of post-primary education. Continuing education through adult education night classes are also provided to the local community.


The school has a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher who works very effectively with the families of students who are experiencing difficulties. He also organises regular meetings with a local cluster committee and this supports the school well. Finally, the well-structured and effective communication that takes place with the school’s feeder primary schools (particularly in relation to the needs of students who received learning or resource support in primary school) underpins how the school strives to aid students’ transition to post-primary education.


1.4          Management of resources


In-school management actively seeks all necessary resources, both material and personnel to support the work of the school. By far the most important resource available to the school is its teaching and support staff. The school is fortunate to have such a dedicated and committed staff. Most teachers in the school are permanent whole time, some have contracts of indefinite duration, others are part-time and some are job sharing. In the context of meeting students’ needs, members of the teaching staff and supporting personnel are deployed in line with their qualifications, subject expertise, experience and school requirements. School management analyses the current and future staffing needs of the school, on an ongoing basis and proactively seeks additional resources, so as to ensure that the future staffing of the school continues to meet students’ and curricular needs. The school is dependent on some concessionary hours to maintain the present level of curriculum provision. Additional designated teaching hours are being utilised effectively for their intended purpose. From discussions with management it was clear that they were acutely aware of the future needs of the school in terms of teaching expertise and that strategies to secure such requirements were being actively developed.


The school organises induction for new, substitute teachers or student teachers. Each new teacher is assigned a mentor and they reported on the high level of support they received from more experienced colleagues and management. A comprehensive staff handbook has been developed which serves as a great aid to new teachers. This provides background information of the organisation of the school and its key policies.


The secretarial, caretaking, cleaning staff, canteen supervisors and special needs assistants make an important and valued contribution to the smooth administration of the school’s daily routine, in caretaking and maintenance areas and in caring for staff and students. The work of these personnel is highly valued and appreciated within the school community. They are highly commended for their efforts.


Up to the current school year the school has had disadvantaged status and the fulltime services of a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) coordinator. Due to the fact that the school has been so successful in recent years in terms of retention of students and having very good State examination results, it has not been included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme. The school has been notified that it will in future lose its HSCL co-ordinator. School management expressed its concern at failing to qualify for DEIS and the impending loss of its disadvantaged status. Over time the two disadvantaged posts and a series of interventions which currently support student welfare are to be phased out. The school reported that it will expect this to have a negative impact on the current subsidised service to needy students with regard to healthy lunches, school books, school outings and other provisions. This is a significant contextual challenge as the school plans for the future.


The school building is in very good condition and as the school population expanded in size various extensions were added. A new canteen area has been developed and this space is well utilised by students. The school facilities are made available to the local community and the school has an arrangement with the adjacent Foxford Sports and Leisure Centre for students to access those facilities, at certain expense to the school itself. The school also has access to playing pitches. A number of the specialist rooms were refurbished in recent years and these are well utilised for their designated purpose. The corridors display photographs, awards and art work which pay testament to the many activities the school is engaged in. Classrooms are generally teacher-based and this facilitates the display of subject-specific work in classrooms. The work done by teachers and students in this regard is commendable.


The school buildings and surroundings are maintained to a very high standard and this helps to create a positive teaching and learning environment. The cleanliness of classrooms and the school environment in general was praiseworthy. Regular cleaning, good care taking, including regular painting, have extended the life of school buildings. The absence of litter was a noticeable feature and in this regard the work of the Green Schools’ committee is commended. The school has obtained the Green Flag for waste management and the Green Schools’ committee is currently focusing on energy saving and conservation throughout the school community. The awarding of the Green Flag is reflective not only of the hard work and dedication of the caretaker, cleaning staff and Green Schools’ committee, but of the school community as a whole.


The provision of adequate and suitable accommodation is a matter of grave concern to the entire school community. During the WSE process, all members of the school community expressed particular concern about the lack of the following: essential classroom space, administrative space, school library facilities, adequate canteen facilities, a school assembly area, adequate storage space, and the lack of Physical Education (PE)/sport and recreation facilities for the school itself. This issue is compounded by the fact that this school is currently operating on three sites i.e. the main school building, the old music school or “top school”, and the local community leisure centre where PE lessons are delivered. This involves student and staff movement and the movement of teaching materials across the three sites. In order to access “the top school” it is necessary to cross Providence Road, which is a busy public road. There is a dangerous corner outside the “top school”, which presents a health and safety risk for the school community. Time is lost also in transit though students and teachers make an enormous effort to overcome this problem. In addition, the roof and the heating system in the “top school”, need urgent attention. Consequently the school community has identified the current arrangement of operating on three sites as unsatisfactory with regard to health and safety issues and the loss of teaching time incurred due to movement within the three sites. In addition, there are inadequate mechanisms for communication across the three sites. 


The significant increase in enrolment in recent years has placed a strain on accommodation, which in turn may compromise the school’s ability to cater for the multi-disciplinary needs of students with additional educational needs. The school’s capacity to accommodate Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) and Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses is currently compromised such is the dearth of accommodation. If present enrolment trends continue, the number of students attending the school will increase by approximately fifteen percent in the next three years. An application for an urgently required extension to the school and refurbishment of the existing main building was submitted to the Department of Education and Science in 2005 and is currently at Band 2.4 of the planning process. It is anticipated that the accommodation issues identified will be resolved over time through the provision of additional accommodation and refurbishment of the existing accommodation. Given the projected increased enrolment and the current accommodation difficulties, the school will continue to be proactive in addressing the issue of inadequate accommodation as it is currently impeding development at the school. The school is of the strong view that the building of a new extension to the rear of the main school would alleviate the current accommodation issues.


In the meantime, school management is commended for incrementally addressing maintenance and upkeep issues. A number of general and specialist classrooms have been refurbished. Furthermore, the installation of CCTV, the upgrading of electrical and lighting works and the upgrading of the gas and heating system are some of the maintenance tasks that have been successfully completed in recent years. Much recognition is due to the insight and skills of senior management in conjunction with caretaking personnel, significant expenditure from the school’s own resources, from parents’ fundraising activities and funding from Department of Education and Science Summer Works Schemes.


The school has an effective system for keeping stock of existing resources and for identifying and acquiring new resources. Annual budgets exist for the different subject areas, additional resources are generally allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and provision is reported to be equitable. In order to ensure that all teachers are aware of the available teaching resources relevant to their subject area, it is recommended that such resources be catalogued annually by subject departments. The school has been very resourceful and innovative with regard to getting the best use out of the resources allocated to the school to meet the needs of the students.


The school is very well resourced with ICT and school management has been proactive in supplying such resources as TVs, DVD players, audio equipment and computers in classrooms throughout the school. A number of laptop computers and data projectors are available for teachers to share. In addition to the computer room, some classrooms have a computer and data projector and one has an interactive white board and teachers share these. This level of provision does much to ensure that teaching and learning are at their most efficient in the school and is commended. An acceptable use policy outlines the use of the school’s internet resources. The school is a recognised test centre for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) examination and students are encouraged to complete the ECDL. While Design and Communication Graphics and the other technology subjects have priority, teachers of other subjects can pre-book the computer rooms for classes. ICT is also well utilised in school administration, in monitoring attendance, in Guidance and student support. These developments are to be encouraged and commended.


A comprehensive ICT policy has been developed and a post holder is appointed as ICT co-ordinator. The main focus to date has been in the development of the ICT infrastructure and training for teachers. The next area of focus for the school is the effective integration of ICT into learning and teaching albeit that some subjects are well advanced in their use of ICT. In this regard it is recommended that each subject department identify an ICT liaison person and develop an ICT action plan within their own subject department. Where teachers have good access to ICT they use it extensively and many teachers expressed a great desire to incorporate more ICT into teaching and learning. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work. The school has recently initiated a lunch-time computer club as a means of increasing student access to and the use of computers. Management is very committed to supporting the continued improvement of ICT to enhance teaching and learning, as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time. It is envisaged that the provision of shared laptop computers and data projectors for each subject department will soon be a reality. There is also commitment to supporting the training and upskilling of staff as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and into school administration. The sharing of valuable in-school expertise in ICT should continue to be explored in this regard. The clear vision for the development of ICT at the school has taken cognisance of the Department of Education and Science recent publication ICT in schools and this is highly commended. 


The school has a comprehensive health and safety statement, which was recently reviewed to ensure compliance with current legislation. It was drawn up by a health and safety adviser in consultation with staff and the principal who is the school’s safety officer. Regular risk assessment is carried out by individual subject departments and findings are communicated to the school’s safety officer. A number of staff members are trained in first aid and use of the defibrillator. The contract cleaners engaged in the school are formally trained in health and safety and clear procedures are in place to report hazards or safety concerns. There is evidence of very good practice in relation to health and safety matters including clear signage for fire exits, serviced fire extinguishers, regular fire drills, first aid kits in rooms as well as a procedure for recording accidents and incidents. 



2.         Quality of school planning


2.1          The school plan


The school-planning process is very well established, ongoing and involves all members of the school community. The school has set a very high priority on school planning which is grounded in the mission statement of the school and aims to improve outcomes for students and the wider school community. The leadership and vision of senior management facilitate the process very well. The process is based on ongoing systemic review and evaluation leading to the identification of areas for development and action planning and this approach is highly commended. The planning process involves the establishment of small task groups to work on development priorities. All members of the school community are appropriately enabled to contribute ideas, express concerns and make recommendations at various stages of the process in an open and constructive way. Time is dedicated to school planning during staff meetings and much of teachers’ own personal time has been devoted to planning. Through consultation and partnership clear and achievable development priorities have been identified, within the context of the school. Realistic timeframes for the achievement of these priorities are in place as are procedures for the implementation, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of all elements of the school plan. The level of record-keeping associated with the planning process is impressive and is a tribute to the dedication of the co-ordinator who is the deputy principal. In addition the engagement of senior management and staff members in further study in the area of school planning has contributed significantly to the high quality of school planning.


The school planning documentation is comprehensive, has distinct permanent and developmental sections and is a testament to the priority that senior management has placed on school development planning over the last number of years. The school has made excellent progress in developing and agreeing individual policies and procedures that reflect and describe practices across all aspects of the school’s functioning. A substantial number of school planning folders have been developed. The permanent section of the school plan presents general information about the school, the school’s staff handbook and a wide range of ratified statements, policies and procedures which are in line with statutory requirements and Department of Education and Science circulars or other guidelines on best practice. All policies required by legislation have been developed and adopted. The TY plan, the emerging guidance plan and subject department plans, which are at varying stages of development, are other valuable elements of collaborative school planning. Much of the planning for the school is documented and circulated to staff in the schools’ handbook. The production of such a comprehensive handbook, balancing logistical information and pastoral and professional advice is commendable. Within the context of school development planning, programme and subject plans for all areas of the school's curriculum have also been developed. These various plans constitute works in progress and, are subject to continual review. With regard to a small number of subjects more detailed planning is required. This could include such items as the desired learning outcomes, the resources to be utilised, the use of ICT, assessment modes and methodologies including differentiation strategies to be employed to achieve these outcomes. Strategies for the inclusion of students with additional educational needs should also be documented. A mechanism for review, in order to evaluate progress, should also be included where necessary. In order to ensure that subject planning will continue to have a positive impact on teaching and learning, it is recommended that their further development is regularly monitored by programme co-ordinators, subject departments and the senior management team as appropriate.


Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.


The developmental section of the school plan is focused on school improvement and on improving the learning outcomes for all students in the school. Agreed developmental priorities have been identified. Action plans, including timeframes have been devised and these plans are focused on achieving key developmental priorities, in the context of available resources. Clearly, action plans will be valuable tools in helping the school to identify and work toward achieving its goals.


Due to the wide range of supplementary materials included in the school plan it is not an easily accessible or readable document as it is currently presented. This has been identified as an area of focus and it is a stated intention of senior management to make the school plan more easily accessible to the whole-school community. It is suggested as a starting point to use existing documents and shorten the school plan by developing a permanent section that outlines the vision and mission of the school, a list of the policies developed and ratified by the board, a description of the planning process in the school and a description of the system for school self-review, evaluation, and monitoring of the school plan. The developmental section could include those priorities identified by the school community to maintain and enhance students’ learning for each school year. A short summary of the action plan, a timeframe for implementation and the assignment of responsibility could be included for each priority. A separate file could be held in the school which would contain all of the school policies and action plans. These could subsequently be made available to any member of the school community who wished to view them.


There is a strong sense of responsibility for the implementation of the school plan and a clear understanding of the impact school planning is having on outcomes for students. The implementation of action plans over the years has resulted in considerable school improvement. The focus of ongoing planning and review is on the improvement of curricular provision, teaching and learning and student support strategies. The school planning process involves an ongoing cycle of review and monitoring of progress in achieving targets. The outcomes of the review and monitoring processes are used to inform future planning. The school-planning co-ordinator, the principal and the teachers are to be highly commended for their ongoing commitment to self-improvement and their effective engagement in whole-school planning.


The collaborative and consultative practice embedded in the school planning process ensures a genuine sense of ownership and empowerment for the entire school community. Responsibility for the implementation of the various elements of the plan rests collectively with all members of the school community but in particular with teachers and school management. The teaching staff has developed a culture for review especially through staff meetings. The challenge for the future is to balance the continuance of their philosophy with the need to meet the requirements of both legislation and educational developments, in addition to economic, social and curricular challenges. Therefore, it is recommended that the board of management considers how best to do this in conjunction with the staff, parents and students.



3.         Quality of curriculum provision


3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation


The school is fully compliant with regard to time in school circular letter M29/95. The school is commended for the broad and balanced curriculum provided at both junior and senior cycle to cater for the educational needs of all its students. Currently the school offers the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate, Transition Year (TY), and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). TY is optional and has consistently been a highlight of the school’s senior cycle curriculum. These programmes are delivered in line with the programme requirements and guidelines.


The school is mindful of its role within the community and it strives to provide continuing education through adult education night classes. PLC courses were provided in the past and the school is a registered FETAC centre and seeks to retain this provision as an important aspect of community education. There is continual consultation to determine community needs, including the use of the local media in circulating information on the various courses. The development of possible future courses is a focus for personnel involved.


Coordinators for TY and LCVP are in place and programme plans for both TY and LCVP have been developed and are reviewed regularly. Best practice is evident in the use of end-of year evaluations by teachers, students and co-coordinators variously of each of these programmes. The school is proactive in promoting such programmes to the extent that there is usually a class group of twenty in TY annually and approximately half of the senior students currently participate in the LCVP. The school should continue to highlight the broad educational value of these programmes to all students and their parents. It is recommended that greater sampling of senior cycle subjects be made available in TY and the school should continue to review the TY curriculum on a regular basis. Work experience is a highly valued part of these programmes and consideration should be given to the inclusion of formal evaluations of students’ work experiences by employers. The school should ensure that it adheres to Department of Education and Science guidelines with regard to the duration of students’ work experience. Cross-curricular links with a range of subjects including Guidance is evident. Strong community links are fostered in order to make experiences meaningful for students. Teachers regularly attend courses to update their knowledge and skills. These approaches demonstrate best practice.


The school offers access to the widest possible range of subjects and levels to accommodate the needs, interests and abilities of all students. There is a long and proud tradition of music in the locality and in order to satisfy the demand for Music it is offered after school to a number of students. All partners of the school community expressed a desire to have Music as part of the in-school curriculum. In the context of future review of the curriculum and in light of increasing enrolment it is recommended that the provision of a music teacher should continue to be explored by school management in consultation with Teacher Allocation section of the Department of Education and Science. While the school’s curriculum provision endeavours to provide equality of access to programmes, subjects and levels, within the limits of available resources, for all students, the school should continue to be mindful of ensuring gender equality in relation to subject choice.


Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by management. Curricular issues, subject and programme choices are regularly reviewed and discussed at staff meetings as part of the school planning process and outcomes revert to the principal and deputy principal for further action. Parents, students, management and teachers collaborate in a spirit of partnership in this review process and in determining the needs and interests of students. Management is very aware of its duty to ensure that the range of programmes and subject choices on offer continues to meet the needs, aptitudes and ambitions of all students. Interviews held with various members of the school community revealed much satisfaction with curricular provision in the school; for example German has recently been reintroduced.


Deployment of staff and timetabling take into consideration the needs and choices of students, the need to enhance their learning experiences and the need to support students in their learning. The skills, qualifications and interests of teachers are also taken into account. Subjects are taught in mixed-ability classes as much as possible throughout the school with a variation in the case of some subjects for example, Irish, English and Mathematics, where concurrent timetabling of these subjects permits the formation of classes corresponding to the respective levels offered in these subjects. This facilitates student choice and movement. Management’s commitment to smaller than average class sizes, where possible, is a positive feature of the school. Much credit is due for providing supervised after school study for students who wish to avail of it.


There is very good whole school provision for each subject evaluated and the time allocated to subjects is appropriate and in line with Department of Education and Science regulations and syllabus recommendations. Timetable arrangements for PE were recently reviewed to ensure that all students participate in some level of PE in school in line with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and to ensure health and fitness.


The constraint of having to operate on three sites impinges on the timetabling process currently operating and the consequent loss of instruction time is a real concern for the school in this regard. Currently Monday is a nine period day and all other days have just eight periods. In order to facilitate future curricular developments and possible expansion, the school should explore the advantages and disadvantages of moving from an eight-period to a nine-period day. In addition, the advantages and disadvantages of designating some classrooms as student based should be explored.


3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes


Students and their parents are well informed of the programmes and subjects on offer for junior and senior cycle. The involvement of parents at key stages, such as the transition from primary to post-primary, and from junior into senior cycle is actively encouraged by the school. Open night and a number of information evenings are very well organised and attract a large number of parents and prospective students. In line with best practice the principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, some parents, some teachers and students attend and present information to parents and students at the various information evenings.


The school offers an impressive array of subjects at junior cycle and at senior cycle. The school is commended for the student-centred approach to subject choice in both junior and senior cycle, where subject option groupings are created every year based on students’ initial open choice. They are then structured in such a way as to enable the vast majority of students to obtain their preferred subject choice and are dependent on available teaching resources and the organisational needs of the school.


Students are well supported in arrangements for subject choices and levels within subjects at junior and senior cycle through a combination of visits to the feeder primary schools, aptitude testing, and meetings with the guidance counsellor, programme co-ordinators, year heads, subject teachers and peer advice. The school hosts an information evening for parents of incoming first years and there is a comprehensive and well-established induction programme for first-year students.


The choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate examinations is made in spring of third year. This process is well facilitated by staff members and through effective use of guidance resources, linked to teacher advice and communication with parents. Several information evenings and individual guidance and counselling are provided at key stages as necessary to students and parents to assist them in choosing programmes, subjects and levels within subjects and there is appropriate provision for students to alter their choice of subject or level. The students’ council and parents interviewed indicated their approval of the subject choice system, the quality of communication and advice offered in choosing subjects and of the change-of-option arrangements.




3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision


The school is entitled to pride itself on the level of involvement and exceptionally wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities available. Students are actively encouraged to strike a work/life balance and become involved in such activities as sports and artistic, cultural, spiritual and social activities, which support and enhance learning and help them to develop personally and socially. The level of uptake in co-curricular and extracurricular activities at the school is very significant and is part of the characteristic spirit of the school. The teachers involved spoke of the value they place on students’ involvement in such activities and the benefit that accrues from these activities in enhancing students’ personal and social development. Staff members (teaching and non-teaching) are highly commended for their dedication to the provision of a holistic and well-rounded education for students.


The wide range of sporting activities available to students includes athletics, Gaelic football, basketball, golf and soccer. The school has enjoyed much success at local, provincial and national levels. In addition students undertake outdoor pursuits. Good links are maintained with local sports clubs. Staff members volunteer to take charge of the school’s many teams and frequently surrender their lunch break and other personal time to train them. This generous and diligent commitment is particularly meritorious.


The students’ cultural, artistic, spiritual and social development is facilitated through a myriad co-curricular activities such as the annual drama, school excursions, field trips, educational competitions, quizzes, Maths week, school publications, debating and public speaking, the computer club at lunchtime, the Young Scientist and Technology Competition, Scifest, the Green Schools’ Committee, Seachtain na Gaeilge, Gaisce awards, retreats, fund raising for charity and the organisation of church celebrations. Various types of music are represented at school events, including traditional, classical and rock. The school ensures that there is provision for both the less academic and the exceptionally talented to excel in many of these areas.


The school promotes and celebrates achievement by students in many aspects of school life in the local newspaper, the school newsletter and school notice boards. The many framed photographs of events throughout the school are testimony to the support for the school’s proud tradition in these activities. This helps to promote a positive school spirit, positive behaviour and achievement, and demonstrates a greater awareness of the school as a community. The board of management supports activities in line with the school’s ethos. During the course of the evaluation, students, parents, senior management and the board of management expressed deep appreciation for the voluntary contributions being made by staff (teaching and non-teaching) to students’ lives through their organisation of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. The management, staff and students of the school are highly commended on the time and energy they commit to these activities.



4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects


4.1          Planning and preparation


School management facilitates subject planning through the provision of time for formal meetings each term. Records of meetings are retained in subject department documentation and this supports continuity in the planning process. Reports are made to the senior management team on subject-related issues when necessary following these meetings. There is also ongoing informal liaison and contact between the teachers in relation to subjects. New teachers reported favourably on the support and guidance they receive from their colleagues in the departments. This spirit of collegiality is commended. A co-ordinator is in place for each subject department; this position is rotated among teachers at agreed intervals in line with best practice.


Comprehensive subject planning documentation has been developed collaboratively by the departments evaluated and their work to date is commended. In building on the good work achieved to date, it is recommended that this documentation be regularly reviewed and refined and cognisance be taken of the recommendations made in the individual subject inspection reports.


A range of resource materials has been developed and is used by teachers to support teaching and learning. There was evidence of effective planning and preparation in advance of lessons observed. This work is commended.


4.2          Learning and teaching


Good quality, effective teaching was observed over the course of the evaluation. Lessons were structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses. The content of lessons was appropriate and most were focused on achieving a particular learning outcome. Very good practice was observed when the intended outcome was shared with learners at the outset of a lesson. This helped students connect new learning with previous work and also invited them to share responsibility for the lesson.


A range of appropriate methodologies was used during lessons observed and students' learning was incrementally built up and continuously reinforced. Individual and group support was provided as necessary. Active learning strategies, differentiation and a wide variety of teaching resources were used in many of the lessons observed and this led to effective student learning. Opportunities for independent and collaborative learning were included as appropriate. Teachers’ instructions and explanations were precise and accurate. There was appropriate focus on subject-specific terminology. Questioning was an integral part of lessons and the good use of higher order questions encouraged students to analyse, synthesise and evaluate information. Good use was made of the board and in some lessons ICT was utilised and this consolidated student learning.


Classrooms were very well organised and planned activities were well managed. Ordered learning environments were created and classroom routines were evident during lessons evaluated. In most classes observed, teachers had made efforts to create motivational print-rich and visually-rich environments to support their teaching and students’ learning. Students demonstrated exemplary behaviour and excellent rapport between teachers and students was evident in classrooms visited. Teachers set high expectations for students and affirmation of students’ efforts was a consistent feature of the lessons evaluated.


Students’ learning was evaluated through examination of their copybooks, questioning, students’ questions, the ability of students to communicate orally their ideas and knowledge, and their completion of tasks in the subject areas. It was found that achievement was fostered by formative feedback being provided by teachers on students’ work. Homework was a feature of all lessons. Students were engaged in their learning and displayed a very good level of knowledge, understanding and skills of the subjects evaluated, relative to their abilities.


4.3          Assessment


It was evident during the inspections that students' work in St. Joseph's Secondary School is regularly assessed. Homework linked to lesson content is regularly set, recorded in students' journals and corrected. The practices adopted by subject teachers are informed by the school's formal homework policy. There are plans to further develop this into a homework and assessment policy. In addition to regular class tests, students sit formal Christmas and end-of-year examinations and Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students also sit mock examinations during the second term. The results of assessments are recorded systematically and used to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform future teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners.


It was clear from lesson observation and subject planning documentation that ongoing informal assessment of students is also being carried out. Teacher questioning was a significant element of all lessons and was used as a means of ascertaining students’ knowledge and encouraging them to reflect on issues and concepts.


Students' practical and project work, portfolios, class and homework copybooks contained work appropriately related to the syllabuses and teachers provided written developmental comments and corrections on the quality of this work. The continued application of assessment for learning principles is encouraged in all subject areas across all year groups. In addition, it is recommended that end-of-term progress grades assigned to students should take cognisance of a range of factors in addition to the written examination. These should include for example, participation and co-operation in lessons, completion of project work and organisation of personal learning materials.


Parents are regularly informed of the nature of students’ progress. Comments written on homework, in the student's journal and regular school reports are used for this purpose. Parents also have the opportunity to discuss students’ progress at annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group, with sixth-year students having a second parent-teacher meeting in Spring.


The school undertakes a detailed analysis of students’ achievements in the State examinations and results, including a comparison with national norms, are discussed among subject departments in the autumn. This good practice should inform future planning. This process could usefully be extended to comparing the proportion of its students taking subjects at the various levels in State examinations with the national norms.



5.         Quality of support for students


5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs


The school has developed its admission and enrolment policy for students with special educational needs and is currently in the process of revising its learning support policy to include special educational needs. In line with current best practice this review takes cognisance of the advice and guidance set out in the Department of Education and Science publication “Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines”, and the school is eager to ensure compliance with statutory requirements. There is evidence that ongoing review is central to provision of support for students with additional educational needs. It is commendable that in reviewing policy the support personnel themselves identified various recommendations for improvement in provision. This bears testimony to the reflective practice and commitment to inclusion of students with additional needs.


It is clearly evident that the school welcomes all students and adopts a whole-school approach to educational and social inclusion. Leadership at board and senior management level promotes inclusive strategies and the inclusion of all students is reflected in the school’s ethos. The school is committed to helping all students to reach their potential and is continually active in seeking material and personnel resources for all students, including those with learning-support needs, language-support needs, a disability, and special educational needs or from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. Additional resources allocated to the school to support students are being used in an appropriate manner. However, school management reported that the school needs additional resources, to deal with the increasing number of students requiring various forms of support and intervention.


The school has a significant learning support and resource allocation. The co-ordinator of special educational needs, who is qualified in this area, works effectively with senior management and had established formal links with guidance, pastoral care, the HSCL teacher, special needs assistants, the learning-support teachers, the resource teachers and other key personnel. The special educational needs’ support team meets on a regular basis to discuss individual student’s needs, timetabling, policy development, implementation and review, the sourcing of resources and general progress with various initiatives. Individual students’ progress is monitored and planned learning outcomes are assessed within a culture of review and evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions. Following meetings of the special educational needs support team staff members are briefed with regard to the nature of students’ learning difficulties. Good two-way communication was evident in that teachers also approach the learning support personnel for advice and guidance in supporting students with additional education needs. School management has identified a small core group of teachers to deliver all learning and resource support. This allows the co-ordinator of special educational needs to strategically plan for the individual educational needs of all students in receipt of additional support. This also provides the opportunity for school management to build the professional expertise of a core group of staff in the area of special educational needs. The work of the special needs assistants was acknowledged during the course of the evaluation and they are commended for their contribution to a range of school activities.


The school’s student-centred approach to supporting students is caring and wholeheartedly embraces diversity. Strengths of the school’s learning-support and resource service for students include effective identification procedures, flexibility of provision, experienced staff, very good communication and collaboration with parents, subject teachers, feeder primary schools and outside agencies. There is very good informal communication among year heads, special needs assistants, the HSCL teacher, mainstream subject teachers and the other learning-support and resource teachers in order to monitor students needs, attendance, welfare and progress. Students’ learning difficulties are identified in a co-ordinated process and supplementary support is then organised for students through small groups or by the creation of additional small classes for students requiring more individual attention or inclusion in the mainstream class setting. This arrangement makes the maximum use of the school’s available resources. The main criteria employed in allocating resources to support students with additional needs included the school’s policy for inclusion, results of testing, psychological reports and identification of students by teachers. The criteria used to create smaller class groups in specific subject areas should be continually re-examined in the context of students needs. The school has experimented with team teaching and reported positively on its benefits. It is suggested that the school continue to examine various models of delivery and other interventions in line with best practice guidelines.


The school has a well-established individual education planning process for all students in receipt of additional support, and this is commendable. All students are profiled at the beginning of the academic year and this leads to the development of individual education plans as the year progresses. The school has purchased relevant software to assist with this process. It was evident from a review of a sample of individual education plans that these are individually tailored to meet students’ particular needs. This good practice is highly commended and reflects the commitment of the personnel involved. The school endeavours to ensure that students in need make an application for reasonable accommodation for State examinations as necessary.


The school has a dedicated room for learning support. This room has an appropriate learning environment which is bright, colourful and print-rich. The teaching resources used are very well organised and the room has appropriate storage. It is also equipped with ICT facilities which include a number of computers. The effective use of ICT in supporting students with additional educational needs was evident from the student work on display. Two other small rooms are used in the delivery of learning support and it is suggested that these be further developed into stimulating learning environments over time. The students could play an active part in this development.   


The school has had a variety of professional development seminars in such areas as literacy, numeracy, differentiation and specific learning difficulties. Some subject departments have undertaken practical steps to further support planning and provision for students with special needs in their subjects and this is encouraged across all departments. School management is also very supportive and encouraging with regard to the future upskilling of further members of staff in this area. The continued training of staff should take place both at a specialist level, where individual members of staff could attend the relevant courses to qualify as learning support, language support and resource teachers and at a whole-school level with further opportunities for in-house learning in specific areas of special education. The school has identified the need for greater interface between subject departments and the learning support team as one of their planning priorities for this year. In the context of subject planning this is fully encouraged as an essential element of supporting students with additional educational needs.


The school has accessed the appropriate resources and available supports to aid the inclusion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, minority groups and those for whom English is an additional language. Currently there is only one student in the school for whom English is a second language and the school has provided the necessary supports for the full integration of this student. With regard to supporting the full integration of students from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds there are many discreet measures put in place by the school some of which include provision of lunch, school books and funding for trips. Additional assistance is also provided as necessary, in a sensitive manner to students experiencing difficulties. Ongoing communication is maintained with all parents to ensure the full participation of all students in school activities. The school commended on its committed efforts to meet the needs of students with additional educational needs.


The importance of a strong home and school partnership is recognised as vital. Therefore, parents of all students are welcome to visit the school and meet with school management or teachers to discuss students’ progress or family circumstances. Parents are made aware of procedures for contacting and meeting members of staff. Teachers involved in support provision to students with additional needs communicate regularly with and are available to meet parents of all students at parent-teacher meetings or by individual appointment. The school maintains a sharp focus on the attendance and retention of all students. The school is well entitled to be proud of the number of its students who proceed successfully onto third-level courses. The school has also engaged effectively with access programmes to facilitate the transfer of students to third-level institutions.


Very good links with outside agencies such as the school’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Educational Psychologist, the Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO), psychiatrists, the Education Welfare Officer, the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMS) and appropriate Health Service Executive staff (Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and Clinical Psychologist) have been built up by the school. It was reported that such links have a positive effect with regard to inclusion of students.



5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context


There is a very good level of provision and whole-school support for guidance and counselling and students have access to a well-established and effective guidance and counselling service. Personnel involved are highly experienced, innovative, conscientious, responsive and committed to continuing improvement in the service. The guidance counsellor is fully trained and has an impressive record of continuing professional development.


The school is making full and appropriate use of its allocation for Guidance and this provision is generally managed through a combination of one-to-one or class group sessions. It is suggested that a timetable schedule be created so that students can pre-book one-to-one sessions. Teachers co-operate well with the guidance service to make class periods available for Guidance at junior cycle and in arranging student referrals. Timetabled provision for guidance is mainly in the senior cycle where students are allocated one class period per week. In third year the guidance counsellor borrows classes from colleagues to provide guidance on study skills, programme and subject choice. Impressive record keeping is a commendable feature of the guidance service and profiles are maintained for all senior cycle students and it is the stated intention of guidance personnel to develop a guidance profile for all students from second year onwards.


The guidance and counselling service provides personal, educational and career guidance to junior cycle and senior cycle students based on comprehensive plans for each year group. These plans provide a good balance between individual and group guidance in line with best practice. Other facets of the guidance programme include: supporting transition of students from primary school; supporting pastoral care; assessment and testing; organisation of visits to college open days; organisation of careers’ speakers; tracking the progression of students to third level and or the workforce; information nights for parents and building links with parents and the local community. Guidance and counselling are fundamental to the learning support and pastoral care structures currently in place and students are assisted on an individual basis. Students can self-refer to meet with the guidance counsellor or they can approach a year head or class tutor if they need to discuss personal or other issues. There is ongoing and effective communication among the guidance personnel and the HSCL teacher, subject departments, programme co-ordinators and senior management. The guidance personnel liaise effectively with parents and provide information and support for parents to assist them in helping their child to make subject and programme choices and to make successful transitions. Personal counselling support is also provided for students. Referrals internal to the school are made in the context of day-to-day communication with relevant staff and when deemed necessary after consultation with parents, and in conjunction with the principal to relevant outside agencies for the provision of counselling or psychological interventions. A small number of referrals are made to external agencies for counselling or psychological interventions in collaboration with parents. In addition student referrals to the guidance counsellor come from senior management, subject teachers and parents frequently via the HSCL teacher. 


The guidance facilities available in the school are very good and include a dedicated guidance counsellor’s office with a computer. Personnel also have access to a guidance classroom with a lap-top and fixed data projector and facilities for storage and display of careers information. Access to the school’s computer room can be pre-arranged subject to availability. Students are encouraged to use ICT and each student has his or her own electronic folder on the school IT system. There is a guidance display stand and three careers notice board in total, one on the corridor and two in the guidance classroom and these contain information about college open-days and other career events and they are regularly updated.


A whole-school approach to guidance planning and provision was evident during the evaluation and is highly commended. A comprehensive whole-school policy on guidance which outlines the roles and responsibilities of the partners involved has been developed. Considerable work has been undertaken to date on the development of a Guidance plan and very good use is being made of the Department of Education and Science policy template for the development of the guidance plan. Guidance planning is currently undertaken mainly by the guidance counsellor and programmes of work have been drawn up for each year group involved. This emerging guidance plan also contains a number of policies in relation to guidance provision. It was reported that an analysis of current provision is to be conducted in the near future to ascertain the needs of students. This should further inform future guidance planning. The quality of planning for Guidance reflects the high level of commitment and dedication to providing high quality guidance services to students. In the context of ongoing review and future planning, the collaborative further development of the emerging guidance plan is recommended. The documents Planning the School Guidance Programme–National Centre for Guidance in education, 2004 and Guidelines for Second-Level Schools on the implications of Section 9(c)of the Education Act (1998), relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance – Inspectorate of the Department of Education and science, 2005 should be a useful reference in developing the guidance plan. Upon its completion the guidance plan should be circulated to management and staff for further review and then to the wider education partners and the board of management for ratification. Mechanisms for review and evaluation of the guidance service should also be further developed.


The school sets a high priority on the pastoral care of its students. The school has a well-established and comprehensive student support structure that involves all staff. It is praiseworthy that care is provided through a variety of policies, monitoring structures, curricular programmes, co-curricular activities, student-support facilities and resources and through the work of the school’s teaching and support staff.


A pastoral care co-ordinator has been appointed and a pastoral care team is in place that comprises management personnel, the guidance counsellor, year heads, class tutors, the HSCL teacher, SPHE co-ordinator, and learning-support personnel. The pastoral care team meets regularly and has responsibility for supporting and co-ordinating the pastoral care programme. This team also has responsibility for responding to critical incidents at the school and accordingly has developed a comprehensive critical incidents response plan. There is effective ongoing communication among members of the care team and mainstream teachers and parents with regard to students’ progress and welfare. Year heads monitor the personal development, academic progress and attendance of students in their care and communicate with other staff members and parents as appropriate. The class tutor system emphasises the pastoral role of teachers and students’ need for work/life balance. Individual class teachers take charge, on a voluntary basis, of a class group and tutors provide support to students with regard to personal or social issues affecting that student.


The school is fortunate to have the services of a voluntary chaplain, appointed by the Bishop. Chaplaincy plays an integral part in the school’s support system, contributes greatly to student welfare and the school chaplain is effective in focusing on the care of the whole-school community. The chaplain fulfils the roles of providing spiritual and faith guidance to the school community and celebrates liturgical ceremonies.


The dedicated and committed work of the pastoral care team is a tribute to the school’s ethos and practice in the area of pastoral care and is to be commended. The school has developed a detailed policy in such areas as pastoral care, critical incidents and home-school-community liaison. Practice in the school underlines the fact that care and support of students are core values in the school and teachers act in a pastoral, as well as an academic capacity. Membership of the Irish Association for Pastoral Care in Education (IAPCE) at Marino Institute of Education should support the school’s practice in relation to pastoral care.


The HSCL teacher plays a pivotal role in addressing students’ needs through regular liaison with families. The aim is to encourage parents to become more actively involved in their child’s education and to encourage co-operation among students, teachers, parents and the wider community. The HSCL teacher is engaged in such activities as home visits, networking with voluntary and statutory agencies, and organising classes for parents as well as supporting students and teachers in school. A review of the work of the HSCL teacher clearly indicates the continued and sustained efforts that are made to achieve this goal.


A programme for SPHE forms a core part of the pastoral care programme in the school and the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme is provided as an integral part of this. In addition year heads, and class tutors play a key role in supporting students. A first-year mentoring programme effectively involves students in pastoral care in that it supports students in the transfer process from primary school and assists in integration. The school is to be highly commended for the way in which it supports all students in the school.



6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:



Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.



7.         Related subject inspection reports


The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:





Published  February 2009






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 acknowledges and commends the Inspectorate on its positive and affirming approach to the Whole School Evaluation in St. Joseph’s Secondary School.

·         The Board appreciates the professionalism, supportive manner and courtesy with which the Evaluation Team engaged with all the education partners in our school.

·         The acknowledgement and commendation of the school’s high academic standards, its effective teaching and learning processes, the excellent leadership provided by management and the highly supportive role played by the education partners reflect the contributions of a dedicated, committed staff and school community.

·         The commendations received in the Report in regard to the pastoral care of students and school development planning are warmly welcomed by the Board of Management.

·         Finally, St. Joseph’s has emerged from the Whole School Evaluation process with high morale, affirmed in its work and unified in its approach to the education of its students.





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 positive suggestions and recommendations in the reports are being examined closely as part of the school’s ongoing commitment to whole school development planning.

·         Required changes will be made and incorporated into the culture and organisation of the school in the years ahead.