An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Saint Augustine’s College
Roll number: 64890W
Date of inspection: 29 February 2008
A whole-school evaluation of
This mission statement has been encapsulated into
three words Unitas, Veritas,
Caritas – Unity, Truth, Love and an emblem designed around these three words
has been adopted not only by the school but also the Augustinians world wide.
This triangle is central to
This emblem appears on all school publications and is part of the floor covering at the entrance of the school. The college endeavours to live these values on a day to day basis. Its aim is to provide a balanced education for the students in the hope of producing well rounded young adults who will be valued members of society. The trustees contribute by allowing the presence of four Augustinians at the school. These men are working full time at the school and are all unsalaried. The chairperson of the board is also an Augustinian and this further strengthens the commitment to providing a Catholic education.
The board of management, which has been properly constituted under the Articles of Management for Voluntary Secondary Schools, is only in its second term with little personnel change from the original committee. It is currently in its third year of this term. The board consists of two teacher representatives elected by the staff, two parent representatives elected by the parents, four members nominated by the trustees and the principal in the role of secretary. It was stated that the trustee nominees have a direct link with the school and were carefully chosen on the basis of the school having to be seen in a much more professional way. Two are local business people and parents of past pupils, while one is a past pupil. The chairperson, as well as being an Augustinian, is also a former teacher at the school and two years ago was elected provincial of the Augustinian Order. The support of the chairperson is very important in the role of the board in maintaining the Augustinian ethos. The board sees itself as very proactive and shows a high level of commitment to the operation of the school, evidenced by the full attendance at most board meetings.
The board meets monthly and all matters pertaining to school activities are discussed. An agenda is circulated prior to each meeting and minutes are taken at all meetings, which are then circulated to all members. All have an input into the agendas for meetings. The chairperson and the principal meet approximately every two weeks to prepare for upcoming meetings. There is regular telephone contact between board members and the principal and chairperson as needed. The two parent representatives are not on the Parents’ Association but in the event that it might want issues discussed at board level, the Parents’ Association liaises directly with the principal who attends all its meetings. Members come to a consensus on most issues and it was reported that an issue rarely goes to a vote. An agreed report issues from each board meeting, which is circulated to staff and parents.
The board has heard appeals to disciplinary procedures and participates in the formation of interview panels to fill vacancies that may arise from time to time. All board members have undergone appropriate training and are fully aware of their statutory obligations. The board has also taken a keen interest in school accounts and budgeting with considerable expertise being available from within the membership. The ending of the summer works scheme was identified as a retrograde step and members of the board asked that their views in this regard be noted in the report. It was pointed out that when supports, such as the social employment scheme are discontinued the burden of necessary funding, such as the provision of grounds staff and caretaking, falls more heavily on the school community. The board supports all the extracurricular activities in the college. Members of the board expressed themselves conscious of the importance of affirming what is being done well. An example quoted was the financial provision for the annual musical which costs in the region of €22,000. Even though there is a risk attached, the board sees the value to the students and makes the required funds available. It was also stated however, that the musical has never lost money.
The current main priority of the board has been the redevelopment and refurbishment of the school which was in serious need of repair. The re-wiring of the school was identified as a priority on health and safety grounds. Funding has not been secured for this work but the board has prioritised the seeking of funds from DES and the school’s own fundraising to continue with these works. The completion of the general reconstruction and refurbishment work on the school is a priority and the board made the point that any future amalgamation would most likely occur on the site of the Friary given its size and location. Thus investment would not be wasted.
The board is aware of the expansion of its responsibility over time especially in relation to the legal responsibilities. The drawing up of “a policy for everything” was mentioned as an indication of the changed circumstances. It was said that there was a danger of being “knotted up” by bureaucracy, the case of foreign excursions being given as an example. To balance this, it was stated that an advantage was that developed policies give very good guidance. The view was expressed that some of the enacted legislation caused difficulty, the requirement for individual education plans (IEP) introduced in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act (2004) being cited. Problems were also seen with the Education (Welfare) Act (2000) and responsibilities arising from health and safety legislation, the view being expressed that the onus of responsibility has been transferred to the schools in the latter case.
There has also been an emphasis on the development of the school plan. All board members have the interest of the school at heart and have taken an active role in policy development and school planning in general. The board has encouraged policy development and has made valuable contributions to the final documents which now have been accepted as school policy. Draft policies are always circulated well in advance and, where appropriate, the board has sought and received clarification of legal matters. It is recommended that the board continue to be pro-active in the area of policy review and development and in its support of the involvement of the whole school community in the process.
In order to maintain effective systems of communication with school partners, the board is also advised to consider publishing and circulating ‘a report on the operation and performance of the school ...with particular reference to the achievement of objectives as set out in the school plan …’ (Section 20, Education Act, 1998). In addition, the board should publish an annual attendance report in line with the Education Welfare Act (section 21): “The board of management of a recognised school shall, not later than six weeks after the end of each school year, submit a report to … the parents’ association of the recognised school concerned … on the levels of attendance at that school during the immediately preceding school year.”
The current principal and deputy principal both took up their respective appointments in the academic year 2005-06. To date, the main priorities have been the reconstruction and refurbishment of the school and school development planning (SDP) as outlined in section 2 below. While some senior management roles are clearly defined, others are mutually supportive. The principal deals with staffing and department returns, liaison with community groups and is secretary to the board, thus ensuring that the school is acting in accordance with its characteristic spirit. The deputy principal deals with substitution and supervision and the student council and takes over as necessary when the principal is away. Both deal with timetabling and all staff days are presented and managed as a team. The Board of Discipline (BOD) deals with disciplinary matters but reports back to either the principal or deputy at all times. Despite this clear division of key management duties, there is a strong sense of partnership and a shared vision for the Friary. Communication is managed through a variety of means. There is no schedule of formal meetings as such but daily communication is managed through meetings first thing in the morning and every evening at the end of the school day.
The current schedule of middle management positions comprises eight assistant principals and sixteen special duties posts. Senior management inherited this post of responsibility structure. Responsibility for clearly defined duties, for example examinations, attendance, lockers, uniform, newsletter and so on, is delegated to this middle management team. These duties are carried out professionally, and the team shows a high level of commitment to the school. This schedule was last reviewed in detail by a staff committee and sub committee during the time when structures changed from A and B posts to assistant principal and special duties posts. There is an awareness that a review is imminent and management admitted to an unevenness in terms of the allocation of duties. Some posts by their very nature are concentrated into a short space of time while others are extremely busy throughout the year. There is no year head structure other than a year head for first year and the class tutor role is voluntary. In light of probable future staffing changes, it is recommended that management and staff avail of any opportunities to review the roles and responsibilities of middle management, to reflect the changing needs of the school and broaden the range of experience of existing staff members. This may highlight the need to tailor the posts to ensure these outcomes and to address any imbalances in the current post structure. It is hoped that this type of review would bring more structure and cohesion to the whole area of middle management and continue to reflect the changing needs of the school.
Good systems of communication exist between management and staff. At the beginning of the school year, and then every couple of weeks, memos are circulated which disseminate pertinent information to all staff. The staff room is a friendly place where staff interact openly with one another. There are plenty of display boards on the walls and these are used to good effect, ensuring that teachers are kept up-to-date and have some input into developments in many facets of school life. One notice board in the staff room is used for day-to-day information. All of these methods promoting good internal communication are highly commended.
admissions policy reflects the characteristic spirit of
The code of conduct is clear and reasonable, is fully disseminated among all partners and is accepted by students. Parents must accept this published code of conduct as a condition of the enrolment of their child. The Friary’s code of discipline has been devised in line with the Department of Education and Science’s Circular letter M33/91, is printed in the student journal and is also available to all members of the school community. The college runs a merit and demerit system and has an eight step discipline strategy culminating in a referral to the aforementioned BOD known as ‘the board’ to the students. In keeping with the characteristic spirit of care and concern for all, every encouragement is used to keep students away from the BOD. Currently, work on ways to enhance the merit system has been undertaken by the BOD and senior management. This involves a stronger emphasis on expectations of positive behaviour rather than sanctions. This is commendable.
council was set up three years ago in
Strategies have been put in place to maximise student attendance which is commendable. At the time of the evaluation the college had recently installed Truancy Call, an automatic notification system. This system automatically calls, texts or emails parents of students who are absent without an explanation until a response is received. Once a response is received, any further calls that day are stopped automatically. Although the system is still relatively new to the school, and there have been a few teething problems, management is confident that it will do much to improve student attendance and ease the administrative burden that is inherent in the daily monitoring of attendance.
Partnership with parents is a stated value. A parents’ association was set up ten years ago and, as there was no board of management at that time, for the first three years it more or less functioned as a board. A new committee is elected every November although members are encouraged to remain for a minimum of two years. The committee comprises parents from each year group with a mix across the geographical catchment area. There is always a guest speaker at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Last year a member of the Garda Drugs Squad spoke about Drugs Awareness, for example.
The parents’ association oversees the considerable fundraising projects in the school and has organised some very successful events such as a recent Dogs’ Night. It is currently working on a memorial for past students as well as a bus shelter for students waiting for buses outside the school grounds. The association has set up a ‘Special Resource Fund’ in order to assist and enhance the teaching, sports and special educational needs resources. To date there has been a huge investment in information and communications technology (ICT) and the aforementioned Truancy Call was funded by the parents’ association. Along with fundraising, the parents’ association assists with other events in the school such as the annual musical, the careers nights and a fashion show run in conjunction with a local shopping centre.
As well as parent-teacher meetings the school arranges many information evenings for parents. This is commendable practice. Parents are welcome also to come to the school at any time, with interaction and co-operation between school and the parent body viewed as a two-way process. Parents are encouraged to involve themselves in the life of the school just as much as the school is encouraged to facilitate and encourage parents’ involvement. Parents are encouraged to become aware of their own capacities to enhance their children’s educational achievements and to assist them in developing relevant skills. The unique home-school-community liaison (HSCL) system in the college is admirable. One of the Augustinians has undertaken this role and has made it his own. Such is his commitment to home school communication that every household has a minimum of two visits a year, with all first year families seen by the October mid-term. A system is in place whereby, by appointment, the relevant students are met in the morning and their homes visited in the afternoon. This process is valued highly by all members of the school community and was mentioned at most meetings in the course of the evaluation.
maintains well-developed links with the local community. Local businesses
demonstrate a high level of good will towards the school, as evidenced by their
co-operation in the organisation of work experience for transition year,
sponsorship for the annual musical and the forty pages of adverts in the Dogs’
Night booklet. A recent ‘Waterford Breakfast’ organised by a second year
Business Studies class used produce from local companies, such as porridge, apple
juice, bread and honey. The college actively encourages associations with the
community, looks for key note speakers from local businesses, and is involved
at present in a ‘Build a Bank’ project.
St. Augustine’s College has a total allocation for the school year 2007-2008 of thirty-five permanent and 6.47 part-time teachers and three special needs assistants (SNA) from the Department of Education and Science. Teaching staff and support staff are, in the main, appropriately deployed in order to ensure that students reach their full potential. The time allocated to subjects is mostly appropriate and generally in line with syllabus recommendations.
has a mix of thirty-five and forty minute lessons which gives a weekly
timetable of twenty-eight hours. School starts at 9:05 on Mondays and at 9:10
on other days. The first class on Mondays is forty-five minutes with the rest a
mixture of forty and thirty-five minute classes. The possibility of having nine
forty-minute periods was suggested but the inspection team was informed that a
number of templates have been presented over the years but the college has not
found a workable one yet. With this distribution of time it seems on the
surface that the Friary complies with Circular Letter M29/95 (Time in School),
with students having access to a minimum twenty-eight class contact hours. On
close examination of the timetables however, it was found that all year groups
are timetabled for a double period of games. At junior cycle this is in
addition to Physical Education. Games, whilst being a core element of Physical Education, is not a curricular subject in itself and
therefore games cannot be timetabled as part of the twenty-eight hour week. By
taking out games from the timetables of each year group, students are not
receiving a minimum of twenty-eight hours of instruction time as per the above
circular. Junior cycle students are in effect receiving twenty-six hours and
forty-five minutes while senior cycle students receive twenty-six hours and
fifty minutes. Many of these periods are supported by study periods for those
students not wishing to partake in any of the games offered at this time. Fifth
and sixth years also have an additional study period on their timetable. While
the school’s support of the maxim mens
The age profile of staff members has implications for the future staffing of the school and for its curriculum, and needs to be taken into account in resource planning, in order to ensure that staffing continues to meet the curricular and other requirements of the school. At present the issue of acquiring qualified English teachers was raised as the college has had some difficulty with this. Teacher in-career development will also have a major role to play in this regard. Management promotes and encourages participation in appropriate professional development as much as possible, which is commendable and will be vital in order to build staff capacity to meet the changing needs of the school.
The non-teaching staff is welcoming and supportive of staff, students and visitors, as was witnessed during the evaluation. The school environs are well maintained and cared for, and reflect the hard work of caretaking and management staff. The college, situated on an impressive forty-three acre site has a range of facilities of varying quality. The current refurbishment project, re-wiring, and alteration of the dormitories are of ongoing concern as discussed in section 1.2 above. Nevertheless the school is commended on the progress it has made with these issues to date. A range of new facilities has been completed such as three fully equipped science laboratories, computer room and a design and communication graphics room with high quality ICT equipment. There is also a canteen, study hall, music block, arts and crafts block, chapel, and a range of classrooms. Along with the sports hall, St. Augustine’s has an impressive range of sporting facilities – six GAA pitches, soccer pitch, all-weather hockey pitch, a range of athletic facilities, two squash courts, two handball alleys and several outdoor basketball courts. It is recommended that the school works with the current facilities and refurbishment as much as is feasible and continues to explore ways to develop its physical resources. Given the pride the students have in their school and the welcoming environment that is portrayed, it may also be worth exploring the possibility of acquiring a green flag. Further information is available from www.greenschoolsireland.org.
School management is committed to further increasing the provision and use of ICT across all aspects of school life and to this end development is ongoing. The recent substantial investment in ICT has been described as a phenomenal success, and many teachers now feel at ease in the computer room and they recognise the potential of this resource to introduce new ways of learning. Gradual integration of ICT into all subject areas is a matter to be further developed in curriculum planning. The key issues identified by the school in relation to ICT are integrating the use of ICT into whole-class teaching, increasing the number of staff involved centrally in this area, identifying the future role of ICT in the school, and planning to achieve that role on a short, medium and long-term basis. It is recommended that an ICT policy be drafted with these issues in mind. The school website, www.staugustines.ie is still a work in progress and would benefit from being updated and upgraded and carefully proof-read.
The school’s health and safety statement was completed fairly recently by an independent company with a free review for a year. This is now being done professionally every three months or so. It is recommended that, in line with best practice, the contents of this statement be revisited by management on regular occasions and appropriate actions be taken to ensure the maintenance of a secure, safe and healthy working environment
School development planning (SDP) began in 2000 when
the mission statement of
As previously stated, the Friary has recently invested heavily in ICT. Despite having an acceptable use policy, there is no definitive plan for ICT as such. It would be timely if such a plan was drafted. The establishment of a task group to work on the future development of ICT across all subject departments is recommended in order to help the school to maximise the benefits of its considerable investment in this area.
progress has been made in the area of subject planning and at the time of the
evaluation plans for all subject areas were almost completed. This work has
involved a high degree of collegiality and collaboration. Senior school
management is committed to building on this good work by using the subject
planning process to help optimise students’ learning which is commendable.
Parents are consulted through the parents’ association on the content of some policy documents, in that they are given material to read through, and due regard is given to their input. Students are consulted through the Student Council on the content of relevant policies and their opinions are duly considered. Involvement at a meaningful level of all those in the school community should always be sought, encouraged and facilitated, and to this end there should continue to be consultation between management, staff, parents and students.
On examination of the documentation presented in the course of the evaluation, it was clear that some policies and draft plans were defined and prepared but inconsistencies in the recording of this work means that the tracking of SDP is difficult. While some policies do include details and dates, it is recommended that each should contain, as standard entries, a reference to the parties consulted in the development of the policy, the date of approval by the board and consideration at the time of ratification to specifying the planned review date.
Staff and management are to be commended on what has been achieved in the area of school planning to date. Taking cognisance of time factors and with tangible targets in mind, it is recommended that the school continues to develop and update all its policies and engage all school partners in the process without placing too many demands on goodwill. This type of collaborative and consultative practice, which is embedded in the SDP process, would contribute to a genuine sense of ownership and empowerment for the entire school community.
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.
previously stated, the school operates on a mixture of thirty-five and
forty-five minute lessons which seems unusual and could be inequitable
depending on the distribution of time to subjects, especially as all lessons
are conducted in base classrooms and so students travel to each class. Class
groups are organized alphabetically and students remain in these groupings
throughout their time in
There is a
good range of subjects available to students in
The TY programme, co-ordinated by a postholder, is well documented and is evaluated by parents, teachers and students each year which is commendable. Formal evaluations of students’ work experience are also conducted by their employers. The TY team has also embarked on a new type of assessment process for students. It is hoped that what is learned from this trial will impact on the assessment procedures used in all years. Currently the manner in which school reports are issued is seen to require some review and so careful consideration of these procedures is recommended.
Students and their parents are provided with appropriate information and support when making their subject choices. There is extensive information available, especially for the TY programme and Leaving Certificate, and a commendable level of support and advice at all information evenings. The guidance counsellor has significant input in this process also.
First-year students sample each of five practical subjects in September and October. These subjects comprise Music, Art, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technical Graphics and students choose one of these subjects for Junior Certificate. They must also choose between French and German having sampled these languages for a similar time-span. Although it is commendable that all students experience different subjects before they make their choices, the time is quite short and it is dubious whether informed choices are being made. As Science and Business Studies are compulsory, students are limited to one practical subject for their Junior Certificate. Investigating the possibility of providing a longer taster system and facilitating the uptake of more than one practical subject at junior cycle is recommended.
Students make their Leaving Certificate choices in third year or TY as applicable. Senior cycle students choose from fixed blocks with a degree of flexibility if numbers warrant an alternative combination and teaching resources exist to meet it. Subjects in these blocks have been shuffled from year to year until a satisfactory arrangement was achieved. Currently students are obliged to take the three core subjects English, Irish and Mathematics and then choose one from each of the following blocks: (i) French, German or Geography (ii) Chemistry, Social and Scientific, Biology, Business or History (iii) Agricultural Science, Biology, Technical Drawing, Economics or Music (iv) Physics, Accounting, Art, Geography or Construction Studies. At present this seems to suit the student cohort. It is recommended that the school continues to adapt existing arrangements and introduce new procedures to meet any changing needs which may occur in the future.
Senior cycle students have the option of participating in games for a double period per week. While it is acknowledged that provision of a wide range of games by the school does support many students in remaining physically active, the fact that students have the option of a study period at these times in sixth year means it may not be achieving this worthy aspiration. In supporting the physical activity of all students it is recommended that the school address the matter by providing Physical Education during students’ fifth and sixth years. It should be regarded as essential that all students are guaranteed timetabled provision in Physical Education each week and that all are encouraged to participate. The high drop-out rates from physical activity nationally, particularly among students in their late teens, commented on in reports such as the National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active” – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board 2004, and School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005, make it important that all schools provide appropriate levels of Physical Education for students and that there is no reduction in this as students progress from junior to senior cycle. Some useful advice and reference may be found in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.
The level of both co-curricular and extracurricular provision at the school is significant. An emphasis on the development of the whole person is evident in the range of activities, which supports the academic curriculum of the school as well as providing experiences of a cultural, social, sporting and spiritual nature. This is in keeping with the school’s ethos and mission statement and is commendable.
activities encompass a wide range and all students are encouraged to participate.
Many outdoor experiences and field trips are organised by the school,
especially for TY, and are considered to be particularly successful. Such is
the number of these experiences that an excursions policy was deemed necessary.
Many trips are abroad and are for students of all year groups –
opportunities are equally numerous. The school has an excellent record in
sports and numerous teams represent the school with distinction in a number of
sports, enjoying success in regional, national and international levels. The
excellent sports facilities contribute in no small way to providing these
opportunities for all students. The main activities include athletics,
handball, squash, hurling, football, soccer, hockey, basketball and the school
has recently introduced rugby. The school has also been involved in Superschools for a number of years, has hosted it in
1993 and will do so again in 2008. This international multi-event competition
between European schools involves events in a variety of sports including
athletics, basketball, soccer, swimming and table tennis.
A significant feature of the school is the very high level of voluntary participation by staff in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Particular mention has to be made of the input from the Augustinian brothers whose dedication and commitment was continually spoken about in the course of the evaluation. Teachers’ participation in supporting students in pursuing extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is acknowledged and commended. Without the generous goodwill of teachers the fabric of school life and the extent of its co-curricular and extra-curricular provision would be markedly different. It is noted that school management is highly appreciative of the excellent work done and the high level of commitment shown by teachers in supporting students’ participation in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. The school is to be congratulated for its commitment to providing a range of activities which offers opportunities for participation by a good number of students and also involves the wider community in a multiplicity of ways. It is recommended that the ongoing liaison with interested parties, particularly parents and local agencies, be continued. Management and staff are also encouraged to continue to develop and sustain this range of activities, continue to explore all areas of interest to the student body, and aim to involve the student council as much as possible.
The school has engaged in the subject planning process with assistance from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Subject departments have been organised. In almost all cases subject co-ordinators have been appointed on a rotational basis. This is commended and, in the one department where this is not the case, it is recommended that the role of co-ordinator should rotate among members of the subject team, perhaps on an annual basis. In another instance, current coordination is largely informal. Here, it is recommended that some formalisation of procedures should be achieved through the planning process. In one subject area, the subject-department planning structure currently advocated by the SDPI is recommended as a useful vehicle to support the implementation of a task group’s plan on a whole-school basis.
There are a number of formal planning meetings organised for subject departments over the course of the year. These are facilitated by senior management. Records and documentation connected to these meetings are kept by subject departments. In a number of cases, inspectors noted that informal meetings of subject teachers are also organised at different times. All of this is commendable. In one instance, the difficulty of all members of a subject department attending formal planning meetings is noted. This occurs as all subject meetings are organised simultaneously and most members of the subject team teach another subject. To alleviate this concern, it is suggested that two rounds of meetings, in series, could be held during planning days.
Considerable work has been done in the area of subject planning. Subject departments were praised for the significant work which has been achieved to date. In a number of subject departments, the creation of common programmes of work was noted and the continuation of this approach was encouraged by inspectors. A number of recommendations regarding subject department planning emphasised the potential for a focus to be brought to bear on teaching and learning strategies. In this area, the possibility of investigating additional in-class supports for students’ literacy, the effective use of ICT and the compilation of resources were mentioned as worthy of investigation by some subject inspectors. Planning on the part of individual teachers was evident in all subject areas. The creation of subject-specific programmes for TY was noted positively in a number of reports. In one instance a need for greater cohesion with regard to TY across the subject department was noted. It was recommended that the subject department should review the TY plan to ensure a clear distinction between Leaving Certificate material and the TY programme.
The differentiation of work in a natural and inclusive manner was noted in one report, while the focus on suiting texts to students’ interests and experiences was highlighted in another subject. The continued development of differentiated methodologies as a means of aiding students to access subject content was recommended in this latter subject. A good level of preparation for use of classroom resources was noted by inspectors. Planning of a very high standard for the effective use of ICT in teaching and learning was highlighted in one subject and the teaching team was commended for this. Provision for health and safety in the subject area of Materials Technology (Wood) was noted as good and a number of recommendations in this area can be examined in the subject inspection report appended to this WSE report.
The teaching methodologies observed were appropriate to the abilities, needs and interests of students. The use of differentiation, in particular through the application of pair work, is commended and its expansion is encouraged. In most of the lessons observed, the purpose was made clear from the outset. Clarity of purpose was achieved in a variety of ways, often by being explicitly stated, which is commended, in particular as a means of supporting assessment for learning. In some cases lessons began with a correction of homework which led naturally to a statement of the purpose of the current lesson. In a number of instances, where the purpose of the lesson was not so explicit, it is recommended that it become so, thus providing opportunities for students to monitor their own progress, in this way becoming more autonomous in their learning.
While the precise structure of lessons varied depending on the subject and the material being addressed, lessons were coherently structured throughout. Lesson structure was often supported by classroom routines, such as roll call, the revision of previous work and plenary recall of the work covered in a lesson. Lessons were suitably paced.
A wide range of teaching strategies was in use. Pair work and group work were appropriately and effectively deployed in a commendable number of lessons in most subjects. Where such good practice was seen in the application of these and other active methodologies it is commended. It is recommended that such active methodologies be developed further, or introduced, as appropriate to each subject. It is recommended, specifically in some of the lessons observed, that care be taken to ensure that the tasks set for pair work are suitably challenging and have a real communicative purpose, perhaps best achieved by the integration of a phase involving reporting back to the class or to another group. The assignment of specific roles within group work activity, together with the development of signals for control of the work and strategies to support the acquisition of listening skills are variously recommended as a means of improving the good practice seen in many lessons. In lessons where the approach taken was more teacher-led, the teaching was effective within this traditional style. It is recommended, however, in these circumstances, that a wider range of teaching methodologies be explored, developed and integrated into the purposeful lessons observed, to take advantage of students’ diverse learning styles and to engage them more fully in their own learning.
The effective use of questioning was often noted in the lessons observed. Most effective was the practice of asking higher-order questions, which demanded that students support their answers with relevant evidence. Such questioning was, on occasion, commendably used to develop links between previously known and new material. The continued use and further development of the use of suitably probing questioning is encouraged. The readiness of students to ask questions, which often displayed their engagement with the subject and their developing knowledge, was noted in many of the lessons visited. While students were quite often engaged in collaborative and independent learning in many of the lessons, this was not always the case. In some instances, particularly where questioning was mainly teacher directed, it is recommended that the questioning be more varied and that students be given greater opportunity to become involved in discussion through pair and group work. This would give teachers more time to monitor students’ progress and assist students as needed and also allow students to become more active learners.
There was evidence of continuity with lessons that preceded those visited and often this was further enhanced by the setting and checking of relevant homework. A particularly wide range of teaching resources was in use in some of the lessons observed, including equipment and aids to learning such as the whiteboard, textbooks, photocopied materials, worksheets, computer-generated, visual and concrete prompts, together with overhead projectors and data projectors. In some cases very appropriate materials had been prepared by the teachers concerned and, where a range of resources was in evidence, the students’ learning was greatly enhanced. It is recommended that the very good practice observed regarding this range of teaching resources be extended to all lessons and, where appropriate, enhanced by increasing the use of visual resources and concrete artefacts. The use of such resources can, in particular, increase the engagement of students who may be less motivated by purely verbal or written presentations.
The classrooms visited were well managed. Discipline and good behaviour were intrinsic to the students’ approach to their work and to their interactions with their teachers and among themselves. Teachers attended to the needs of students, particularly those whose needs were greatest, and suitably challenging work was, in most cases, presented in a clear manner. Students duly responded to their teachers’ expectations with care and application. The atmosphere observed was relaxed and work-orientated, facilitated by the mutual respect evident between teachers and students. Students were secure and happy. Interactions observed were consistent with very good relationships between teachers and students. In some instances humour or personal anecdotes played a commendable role in engaging students’ interest. Teachers were at all times affirming of students’ efforts as they moved round the classrooms monitoring students’ work and assisting as needed. The atmosphere was, in all cases, conducive to learning. The learning environments in classrooms had been enhanced by means of materials appropriate to the respective subjects. The materials included commercially produced posters, locally printed materials and examples of students’ own work all of which helped to develop subject-specific print-rich, visually engaging learning surroundings. Teachers are commended for this.
Students were generally attentive and engaged purposefully with their work. This was particularly noticeable when they worked in pairs or groups undertaking specific tasks. Students showed high degrees of understanding and knowledge of the respective subjects, relative to their ages and abilities. The understanding and knowledge of the subjects gained by students were seen in the course of lessons and in their interactions with the subject inspectors.
A range of
assessment modes is used by teachers to monitor students’ progress in
Assessment of student learning is carried out on an ongoing basis by the teachers through daily questioning and encouragement in class and through the setting and monitoring of homework. There is an agreed homework policy in the school and procedures for homework are laid out in the different subject department plans. Homework is assigned and corrected on a regular basis and the inclusion of formative, comment-based correction follows good practice. The inclusion of a list of genres in English is commended as a positive step with suggestions made for the use of writing frames as an aid to differentiation. Also of note was the use of peer assessment in English as part of an approach based on assessment for learning (AfL) and this should be further explored. An additional suggestion was the adoption of a student portfolio for students of English in Transition Year which would serve as a “centre of excellence” for their written work.
The careful and systematic maintaining of records of students’ attainment in teachers’ diaries is commended and it is also noted with particular reference to the area of Guidance where the use of standardised tests is part of the programme. These records of student progress form the basis of the reports sent out twice yearly to parents and guardians. Parents have an opportunity to consult with staff at parent-teacher meetings held for each year group and at the information evenings hosted by the school. The student diary is also used for communication between the school and home.
The school has a Learning Support Department Plan which includes a special educational needs policy drafted by the learning support team. This policy outlines its objectives and guiding principles, the roles and responsibilities of those involved, identification and assessment procedures, liaison with other subject departments, parents and management, and record keeping. The policy highlights as one of its aims that it endeavours to ‘provide a learning environment that is stigma free’.
All first years are tested on entry to the school in September but prior contact with the primary schools in March and April allows the learning support teachers to identify students in need of support. In the past this was done through oral feedback from the schools but from next year on, it is hoped to put a procedure in place whereby parents will sign a release form to allow all pertinent information to be transferred to the Friary. This is deemed to be a very important improvement in the screening process as it will allow the special educational needs officer (SENO) to process requests in May and facilitate immediate support in September.
When the students are tested in September, additional needs are often identified. The tests used are the Group Reading Test (GRT), Non-reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) and the Wide-range Achievement Test (WRAT). The students are set out alphabetically and the list of students seen to be in need of additional support is discussed with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist to see if all students requiring support are included. Additional resources are sought where necessary and other students others are identified for learning support and continued monitoring. All students in receipt of learning support are reassessed at the end of first year using a parallel GRT. This provides an indication of student’s progress, and can aid the reviewing of an individual education plan (IEP) where relevant.
Learning support and resource teaching is provided by a core team of two teachers, one of whom co-ordinates the learning support department. The co-ordinator begins the year with a blank timetable allowing flexibility in providing support, the level of which can fluctuate considerably throughout the school year. Where possible students with SEN are expected to attend regular class but are withdrawn for specific help as determined by the Learning Support Department. Withdrawal is usually from Irish, RE, SPHE or French/German if the student has an exemption. Students are usually placed in small groups of three or four. Their reading ages often provide initial guidelines as to which students to group together. After Christmas, these learning support groups are examined and possibly reorganised according to their exam results on their reports. An exception is made however, where due to a particular difficulty a student may need one to one attention. Three special needs assistants (SNAs) are currently assigned to the school and provide significant assistance to a number of students as they actively participate in learning activities. In some cases these SNAs are deployed to class with the students to facilitate integration. Some IEPs have been put in place and are drafted in collaboration with parents, teachers, the learning support team, pastoral care team and management.
At present the learning support department has two rooms in which at least one member of the team is present at all times. These rooms are well-resourced, having been developed over time, and funding from the parents’ association has allowed staff to upgrade ICT hardware and software. Part of the college’s refurbishment plan is to develop a ‘Learning Support Suite’ in the former dormitories of the boarding school. This is largely due to the recognition that SEN is a lot broader than it was in the past and also that there is a noticeable increase in the number and type of needs that students are presenting that the school is expected to meet. It is hoped that this development would allow for further support for all students in the school which is commendable.
The learning support teachers meet formally on a weekly basis at a designated time and informally on a daily basis with each other and the SNAs. The co-ordinator meets with the principal on a weekly basis to keep management informed of any developments. A slot is awarded to the learning support department in staff meetings when required. Subject teachers liaise with learning support and vice versa to develop strategies for the continued inclusion of SEN students. Some meetings are held throughout the year to discuss SEN students and advise on effective teaching methodologies. An explanatory sheet containing teaching strategies has been developed by the learning support department in order to provide additional help to teachers with SEN students in mainstream classes. In the staff room there is a list of students who have had psychological assessments with accompanying codes to ensure confidentiality.
This section outlines aspects of whole-school Guidance provision. Further details may be found by referring to the report Subject Inspection of Guidance which forms part of this whole-school evaluation.
Work has begun on a guidance plan for the college. A task group comprising relevant personnel in the school has compiled this plan which also outlines a six-week programme for fifth-year and sixth-year students. This task group consists of the principal, guidance counsellor, deputy principal, part-time school counsellor, RE/SPHE co-ordinator, learning support co-ordinator, HSCL officer, TY co-ordinator, first year head and TY work experience co-ordinator. This task group airs and shares ideas on students and highlights students at risk or in need of help. Once these concerns are raised and discussed, a decision or referral to NEPS or the counsellor is made. The ultimate aim of the guidance plan is ‘to help students make informed decisions now and in the future’. It also states that the guidance team ‘nourishes academic and career information, emotional, spiritual, physical and health education’. All concerned are encouraged to continue with the good work that has been initiated in relation to the preparation of this plan. The work done on the guidance plan to date is commended. It is recommended that the whole-school community be consulted in the formation of the plan. Input from all stakeholders and from representatives from the local business community into the planning process is important. This approach would, undoubtedly, lead to an enhanced guidance provision in the school and a greater whole-staff awareness regarding guidance. It would also be important to build in a review process and develop strategies for issues which may arise as result of increased enrolment and subsequent increased guidance allocation.
The care system exhibited in the Friary is seen to be one of its most significant strengths. A whole-school approach is implicit and, in keeping with the Augustinian ethos, is accepted as part of the responsibility of every member of the teaching and non-teaching staff. This genuinely whole-school approach to the welfare of students was clearly evident throughout the whole school evaluation. There is regular informal contact and collaboration between all of the staff in the school, who all feel that they are responsible for student support and care. In keeping with the school’s holistic care of and concern for its students, the school has a strong commitment to caring for their needs and best interests, with this duty of care shared across the entire school community. This is highly commended.
While it is accepted that all members of the school community feed into this system of care and support, it is also recognised that certain personnel, namely the class tutors, first year head, BOD, the principal and deputy principal, guidance counsellor, RE teachers, learning support department and the HSCL officer all feed into what could be loosely described as a ‘care team’. The role of class tutor is a voluntary position and the commitment of staff who have assumed the role is commendable. These class tutors deliver a written comment twice a year in the school reports and also meet parents at parent/teacher meetings.
The work of the HSCL officer, who is also the chaplain, is seen to be extremely important. Such is the frequency of the interaction between the HSCL officer and home (a minimum of two visits per year) that it is often considered by parents to be less intimidating than making an appointment to see the principal, and is thus viewed as an essential link in the communication chain. The Augustinian presence also plays a pivotal role in terms of communication, support, and the preservation of the college’s ethos. In keeping with this ethos of the school, a strong spiritual focus is also evident. To this end, religious feasts are observed and liturgical services are held in the school. The chapel is also used as a place of meditation and reflection. Mention was also made in the course of the evaluation of the huge support provided by the ancillary staff both in the office and canteen. The Friary has a fulltime ‘matron’ a legacy from the boarding school days. This role is valued and it is hoped to be preserved for as long as possible as it provides a great deal of care and support for students, often in very subtle ways.
There is no
doubt that support for students is a vital component but it was acknowledged in
the course of the evaluation that the pastoral care system in
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.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published, October 2008
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· An EAL Department has been established and is drawing up a policy along with records of teaching hours.
· In the current time-table all staff have at least 18 hours.
· Policies are being dated and some are under review.
· Middle management review has commenced.
· Working group has been appointed to examine.
(i) Timetable structure
(ii) Curriculum provision
· Training on Whole School Guidance has begun with SDPI.