An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Christian Brothers Secondary School

Thurles, County Tipperary

Roll number: 65450W

 

Date of inspection: 25 November 2009

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Christian Brothers School, Thurles, Co Tipperary was undertaken in November 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects 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.

 

 

Introduction

 

The Christian Brothers established their school in Thurles in 1816 and began a long tradition of providing education for boys in the town. The hinterland of the school now stretches widely into the surrounding rural areas and eastwards into county Kilkenny, attracting students from Urlingford, Galmoy and Johnstown. The school has been growing steadily in recent years and 592 boys are currently enrolled.

 

The traditions, community and heritage of the school are grounded in the ethos of Blessed Edmund Rice and this is now continued under the trusteeship of the Edmund Rice Schools’ Trust (ERST). It is noteworthy that many of the staff are past pupils and have invested in the heritage and traditions of the school. Many of these staff members have a clear view of how the school has evolved over time

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

All aspects of the work of the school are grounded in its mission statement that is based on inclusive Christian values in a safe environment where students are challenged to reach their full potential. This mission statement is framed within the ERST charter. A very accessible document; Student Guide to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust Charter, outlines key elements of the charter based around nurturing faith, promoting partnership, excelling in teaching and learning, creating a caring school community and inspiring transformational leadership. It is clear that the vision arising from both the mission statement and charter is reflected in the lived experience of students in the school. These documents also inform the school’s partnership approach with its community of students, parents, staff and trustees.

 

The vision for the school is one of inclusion, where all students are encouraged to reach their full potential in a safe and caring environment. This vision is clearly reflected in the daily activities, routines and timetable of the school. It informs school planning, staff duties and activities, teaching and learning, extracurricular activies, and the care and mutual respect that is evident throughout the school. The vision for an inclusive school, where all are valued, is also reflected in the quality, respect and care for the physical buildings, classrooms and facilities of the school. The character of the school community is particularly reflected in the refreshing and bright school yearbook. All aspects of student life are portrayed, and allowing students to have their own voice in the publication is testament to the school’s confidence in its own work and achievements.

  

1.2          School ownership and management

The board of management is engaged actively in its work with the school community and is appropriately constituted, with representatives of the trustees, parent body and teaching staff. The board meets on up to eight occasions in the school year and is engaged with, and appropriately aware of, all aspects of the life of the school. All appropriate structures are in place to assist the board in its functioning. Agendas, minutes, agreed reports to parents, staff and the trustees are clear, timely and well structured. Communication systems are well established and effective. The parent representatives are also members of the parents’ council, which facilitates direct communication and linkage between the board and the parent body. Training has been provided for board members by the individual representative bodies.

 

The board has taken an active and appropriate role in school development planning and has focused in recent years on developing and improving teaching, learning and achievement at the levels of subject, programme and cycle. The board has engaged with working groups combining teachers, parents and students in relation to policy development. Much care and attention was focused on developing a shared mission statement and building from this, the board has contributed to the development of a range of policy documents that are ratified, dated and reviewed as appropriate. It is recommended that the board review the wording of some aspects of the admissions policy to fully reflect the current open enrolment practices and procedures that are in place, and also in the event of increased enrolment in the future.

 

Building on the impressive progress already achieved, the board has articulated clear developmental priorities for the future of the school. The ongoing development of the physical infrastructure of the school is among these priorities. The board has already initiated major refurbishment work since 2002 and has overseen the development of a second woodwork room and an impressive Physical Education (PE) hall. A further two new classrooms are now nearing completion. The ongoing review of the curriculum and the development and enhancement of the pastoral-care structure in the school are also equally important priorities for the board. The board encourages and supports professional learning in the school through the facilitation of continuing professional development (CPD) for senior management and teachers. The development of the information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure has been, and is, a further development priority for the school. This is not only enhancing the quality of teaching and learning but also the administrative systems in the school. The board is to be commended for the investment in the ICT infrastructure and for the financial support provided to teachers in purchasing laptop computers.

 

The current board and previous boards have presided over and managed a school in a process of evolution and change. These changes are manifest in the growth in enrolment, the provision of new and upgraded facilities, and a focus on student care in parallel with academic achievement. These changes are enveloped in an ethos of inclusion within a learning community guided by the clear vision of senior management. The board and senior management are to be highly commended for its work in guiding the school through this ongoing process of change and improvement.

  

1.3          In-school management

The school has excellent leadership. This leadership is informed by the mission statement and ERST charter and is shared at senior-management and middle-management level, and among members of the teaching staff at subject department and classroom level. The principal leads learning, leads change and leads the staff in a very effective manner. This leadership is informed by a clear personal vision for the school that is shared by the deputy principal and the staff. The role of the principal has been one of transformational leadership that is clearly visible in significant areas of the work of the school. This transformation has been structural and cultural. Structural changes include the upgrading of the physical infrastructure, the ICT infrastructure and the management of increasing enrolment. Changes to the timetable have facilitated the extension of curricular provision and subject choices for students. The roles of class tutor and year head have enhanced the development of a pastoral-care structure. These structural changes have also facilitated cultural changes by placing a clear focus on the improvement of learning outcomes for students. This is being achieved through the enhancement of teaching and learning strategies in the classroom. A culture of care for students, linked with the achievement of their full potential, is also central to the work of the school community. Such changes have had a visible and tangible positive impact on the quality of the work of the school. The progressing of these strategies and changes is encouraged, and achievements to date are highly commended.

 

The leadership qualities of the principal are informed by vision, strategy, communication, collaboration and reflection. A determination to change and improve is linked with an awareness of the need to review and evaluate. The deputy principal shares and supports this vision and strategy for change and improvement. The teamwork and collegiality of the senior-management team ensures that strategic change operates in parallel with the daily operation of the school. The deputy principal also has clearly defined duties, involving a key position in the pastoral-care system and on the ladder of referral for student behaviour. In combination with these defined roles the deputy principal has a visible presence on the corridors, meeting students and teachers and liaising with year heads and class tutors. It is clear that the principal and deputy principal are a very effective team, with good open communication, and that they share a common purpose in leading the school community.

 

Leadership is distributed to two key groups at middle-management level. The group of assistant principals and special-duties teachers has a range of appropriate duties assigned to their posts and the delegation and performance of these duties makes a significant contribution to the overall management of the school. These duties and their performance have been the subject of a whole-school review. The principal discusses the performance of these duties with the individual post-holder on an annual basis. It is noteworthy that the duties of the school-planning co-ordinator and that of the special educational needs co-ordinator are assigned to two assistant-principal posts, illustrating the importance of these roles in the overall work of the school. A further team of year heads plays a pivotal role in the operation of the pastoral-care system. The role of year head is clearly defined within the care structure and a reduction in class-contact time of up to four hours per week is provided for the performance of these duties. While there is some overlap in personnel, this role is not connected to the schedule of post duties, and year heads are invited to take up the role on a voluntary basis. Year heads liaise directly with a team of class tutors. These tutors then work directly with their appointed class groups in relation to student care and well-being, homework and the progress of learning. It is clear that both groups are very important and effective in the operation of the school. The establishment of the pastoral-care structure has been a very positive and relatively recent development in the school. It has clearly linked the ethos of care, student support and discipline, with academic achievement, in line with the school’s mission statement.

 

Communication is of a high quality in the school. From the viewpoint of the student, communication is based on direct contact with teachers. Communication is also assisted by a strong emphasis on the use of the students’ journal to record homework, to convey messages to parents and to provide pertinent information. Tutors and year heads communicate on an ongoing and informal basis as issues arise. Year heads have a formal timetabled weekly meeting with the principal to focus on discipline, care and the progress of students. Year heads also visit the class groups in their year group during the timetabled pastoral-care period. At this time, the tutors monitor students’ journals and discuss events and issues with the class groups. Issues arising are communicated to the year head and onwards on a ladder of referral, as appropriate. The year heads also provide a period of time during the week for parent appointments although they make themselves available to meet parents at other times as required.

 

Communication at staff level is both formal and informal. Formal communication from senior management is based on meetings with individuals or teams and whole-staff meetings. Staff days are organised as appropriate. It is clear that, within the very cordial and collegial atmosphere of the school, much informal communication takes place in the staffroom and on the corridors. The principal and deputy principal are accessible to staff and communicate as required within the normal daily interactions that characterise life in this vibrant school. It is also clear that the warm and courteous atmosphere of the school facilitates continuous communication between students and their teachers.

 

Professional learning is valued and facilitated in the school. It is clear from the minutes of meetings, and from planning documentation, that CPD for teachers and school management has been facilitated. Subject-specific CPD is ongoing and visiting speakers are regularly facilitated. The integration of ICT into teaching and learning has also been a focus for CPD. The school is also engaged with the Learning and Teaching for the 21st Century project. This is very positive as it provides a research focus to improve the quality of learning and teaching in the participant schools.

 

Student management is very well organised and is of very good quality. Students make the transfer from their primary school within a structured and well-established enrolment process. An induction day, meetings with parents and regular communication between school and home characterise this transfer process. A clear and well-structured timetable and active pastoral-care system allows students to become familiar with the school and its routines. Due attention is paid to attendance and retention of students in all year groups. A homework club and after-school study also assist and support students in their learning.  The impressive students’ journal provides a range of necessary information and becomes central to communication with home, the recording of homework, absences, and to the discipline and pastoral-care system. The school’s code of behaviour outlines expectations for students and a summary of the code is included in the journal, as are a range of communication slips and details of other procedures. It is timely and appropriate that the school community plans to review the code of behaviour in light of the revised guidelines provided by the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). 

 

Students’ progress is continuously monitored by subject teachers and by the tutor and year head. Feedback on progress is provided through comments in students’ notebooks, through the journal and directly to the students themselves. The outcome of class assessments and term and end-of-year tests are communicated to parents in school reports and at parent-teacher meetings. Commendably, school management has implemented a monthly ‘effort and commitment’ report for students in third, fifth and sixth year. This represents very good practice as it moves beyond the limited boundaries of test results, affirming both the effort and commitment of students and pointing to areas for improvement.

 

The students’ council provides the formal voice for students in the school. The council has a visible presence and has had an impact on particular areas, including the quality of food provided in the school’s canteen. The council is representative of the student body, is democratically elected and meets regularly. In the past, the council has had significant inputs into the drafting of the anti-bullying policy and the mission statement. The planned review of the code of behaviour should also facilitate significant involvement by the students’ council.  The current council plans to engage with environmental issues in pursuit of the green flag award for the school. This initiative is commendable and should be used to generate whole-school support for environmental education and stewardship.

 

The parents’ council provides the voice for the parent body in the school. The council is actively engaged within its role and makes a very valuable contribution in supporting the work of the school. The council is represented at board of management level by two parent nominees and there is clear and regular communication between the board and the council. Parents have also been engaged in policy development with members of the board and are regularly consulted in relation to appropriate school development planning matters. The principal and the deputy principal attend parents’ council meetings and facilitate open discussion on issues that concern parents. The commitment of parents in supporting the school through the parents’ council is both acknowledged and commended.

 

The development of the school in recent years has been characterised by reflection, review and informal school self-evaluation. This process has resulted in the structural changes already outlined and is setting a framework for future developments and improvements. Timetable changes have improved access to the curriculum for students and have assisted in the development of the pastoral-care structure. Leadership is visible in the work of the subject teacher, class tutor, year head and post-holder. Strategies to improve students’ learning and achievement are being implemented and further developments are planned. There is a tangible pride among the staff in what has been achieved so far. To build on these very impressive developments, it is recommended that senior management should frame future plans in the area of learning and teaching as specific goals or priorities to be achieved in a set timeframe. These goals should be articulated through school self-evaluation as tangible outcomes and their achievement should be delegated to teams or subject groups in the staff. 

  

1.4          Management of resources

Staff is appropriately deployed within the curricular plan and this is framed in a very well-constructed timetable. The school complies with Department of Education and Science Circular Letter M29/95 in providing a minimum of 28 hours of instruction per week for students on the school timetable. The school calendar illustrates the planned provision of 167 instruction days in the current school year. Teachers are allocated the appropriate level of class-contact time within the staffing allocation to the school. Additional staffing allocations have also been provided through the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and to support students with additional educational needs, including students for whom English is an additional language and students from minority groups. These allocations are used appropriately to support these students.

 

The ancillary staff, including the school secretaries, caretaker and cleaners, make a very significant contribution to the smooth operation of the school. This contribution is clear from the very positive interactions between all members of the school community and the school office and the very clean and well-maintained condition of the classrooms and grounds.

 

The school is a compact building set within a rectangular structure, allowing for ease of movement and circulation for students. The school has a schedule of accommodation that includes sixteen general classrooms, two science rooms, a demonstration room, two woodwork rooms, two computer rooms, an art room and a music room. Two further general classrooms are now nearing completion. The assembly hall in the centre of the rectangle also acts as a school canteen and dining area as only the sixth-year students are given permission to leave the school grounds at lunchtime. Partitioned classrooms are also used to accommodate large gatherings and examinations. Substantial lockers have been provided for all students to store books and personal belongings. Collapsible tables and seating provide additional capacity for students at break times. An office is provided for Guidance and another for use by year heads to meet students and parents and to store files. An impressive asset record and audit system has been developed to manage and monitor equipment in each area of the school. The school grounds consist of a very large hard-surfaced yard and car park. The PE hall is located in a free-standing position in the yard. A playing field is located some distance from the school. School management and all members of the school community, including the trustees, are congratulated for the provision and high standard of maintenance of all these school facilities.

 

ICT equipment has been significantly upgraded in the school. The school has two computer rooms and a networked desktop computer and digital project have been installed in all classrooms. Integration of ICT into teaching and learning has been progressed in subject areas. ICT has a high profile in the Transition year (TY) programme and as a support for students with special educational needs. School administration has also benefitted from the recent installation of the e-Portal system. The board and school community are to be commended for building on the support provided by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), in enhancing ICT provision in the school and for the progress in its integration into teaching and learning in classrooms and subjects, and in the administration of the school.

 

The school’s commitment to the sustainable use of energy is evidenced in the improvements to the school building in terms of energy-efficient lighting, sensors to automatically turn off lights in each room and improved insulation. These very good developments will be further complemented by the planned achievement of the green flag award for the school by the students’ council.

 

Safety has received ongoing attention particularly in day-to-day school activities and in classroom practice. Teachers in specialist classrooms and in practical subjects deal with safety issues as part of their normal teaching role. A safety audit was completed in the school in the 2005 and a safety statement was produced. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) carried out a health and safety inspection in September 2009. The school should review its existing safety statement in parallel with its implementation of the recommendations of the HSA inspection report.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

The school has a very well-embedded school development planning process that reflects the evolution and change agenda in the school in recent years. Progress in planning has been directed by the aim of school improvement and is informed by the mission statement and the school ethos. A planning co-ordinator, under the leadership of the principal, guides school planning. Collaboration and teamwork characterise the process, with appropriate inputs from the board, parents, and students. The whole-school planning is primarily progressed by staff working groups or at whole-staff meetings. Draft plans and policies are prepared and presented for comment by senior management, staff, parents and the board. Following consultation, these documents are amended and presented to the board for ratification. The co-ordination of this process is characterised by reflection and attention to detail and is of very good quality.

 

A range of policies required by statute, circular and guidelines has been developed and ratified and some policies are now in need of review. Staff is currently working on the homework policy. This policy is already in place for first-year and second-year students and is in the process of being extended to all year groups. An ICT policy and an acceptable-use policy were developed following the enhancement of the school’s ICT infrastructure. The impact of these policies is reflected in the structural changes already in place in the school and in the planned strategies to enhance teaching and learning. A review of the code of behaviour is planned and it is recommended that work should begin on drafting an inclusion policy to reflect the practice, provision and planning for all students, including those with additional educational needs, those for whom English is an additional language, and students from minority groups.

 

Curricular planning is advanced in subject areas and has been progressed in parallel with the development of subject departments and the creation of subject facilitators. Common programmes of work and agreed assessment strategies have been developed. Planning for Guidance and the TY programme is also well advanced. Planning and reflection to improve the quality of teaching and learning is also developing, with the aim of improving learning outcomes for students. These developments are commendable and are encouraged.  Strategies should also focus on an ongoing basis on improving students’ participation and engagement in lessons, in parallel with the goal of improving outcomes. The desired impact on achievement should then emerge from these strategies and from a process of review and self-evaluation by the subject departments. 

 

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 is 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.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

The school offers students a wide-ranging and comprehensive curriculum. In the context of a traditional boys’ school, the range of subjects is impressive and includes Music and Art to higher level at senior cycle. The timetable is very well constructed and provision for individual subjects is very good. Appropriate provision is made on the timetable for the TY programme, LCVP, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE). The construction of the timetable by the principal is based on available teaching resources, but also commendably includes consultation with individual teachers in advance of final drafting. Reflection and review have also characterised curricular planning in the school. A reduction in the time allocation to class periods generally from forty minutes to thirty-five minutes has allowed for greater provision of class-contact time for subjects. Other changes include the reduction of lunch time to forty-five minutes from one hour and a change in the position of the morning break. These changes have contributed to the provision of a curricular plan that provides a very good allocation of time to subjects, greater equity between subjects and a good distribution of single and double class periods throughout the week. A further decision to reduce the number of examination subjects by one in junior cycle also reflects a further concern for students within curriculum planning.

 

Students are organised into mixed-ability class groups following enrolment and are provided with access to all subjects in first year. Towards the end of first year, students are asked to select subjects for study in second year and up to Junior Certificate. Following teachers’ observations and testing in reading and in Mathematics, the class groups are reorganised into streamed groups for English, Gaeilge and Mathematics. Students remain with their mixed-ability base-class groups for all other subjects. While there is flexibility within this system, the process should be kept under review to ensure it meets the changing needs and learning styles of students. A banded structure or a combination of banding and streaming in English, Gaeilge and Mathematics is also worthy of consideration. 

 

A very good quality TY programme is offered as an option to students on completion of junior cycle. Uptake of the programme is strong and the planning and co-ordination of the programme is of a high standard. Planned programmes of work reflect the philosophy of TY and the timetable for the students mirrors the full school timetable in its balance and access to stimulating subjects and modules. The programme offers a number of activities outside of school, with a good balance between extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Social and community activities also facilitate links with community organisations and engagement with the Young Social Innovators programme. Students are assessed within each aspect of the programme using a credits system and they are encouraged to achieve an Edmund Rice Award through volunteer work in a local health facility. A celebration and awards night completes the programme. To build on the impressive achievements to date, consideration should be given to a structured evaluation of the programme to include the voices of students and their parents. This will ensure that the programme continues to meet the needs of students and remains an important element of the school’s curriculum.

 

Senior cycle students also have access to LCVP. A large cohort of students undertakes and completes the programme. Provision for the programme and achievement by students is good and all aspects are appropriately timetabled. Vocational guidance is also available to students within the overall guidance provision in the school. It is commendable that the school fulfils the requirement to provide a modern-language module for those students who have not continued with their study of a modern language. A programme co-ordinator has been appointed within the schedule of assistant-principal posts and a core team of teachers has regular meetings on both a formal and informal basis. It is of importance that school management and the core team ensure that the programme continues to meet the needs of students in an ever-changing economic environment.  

  

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

The subject-choice process is well organised, fair and equitable. Students have the opportunity to study all subjects in first year in advance of the choice process as they move into second year. Students study a core curriculum of Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science, CSPE, SPHE, PE and RE in junior cycle. As they advance into second year, students must choose three subjects from Materials Technology Wood (MTW), Technical Graphics, Business Studies, Music, Art, French and German. An open choice of subjects is offered to maximise individual preferences. This is very good practice. A limited curriculum is offered to some students with additional educational needs following consultation with parents, school management and the special educational needs team. All students have access to ICT classes in junior cycle.

 

Students engaging in the TY programme experience a range of subjects offered as ten-week modules. TY students then complete another open-choice process similar to that in junior cycle as they advance into fifth year. Senior cycle students study a core curriculum of Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, PE, RE and ICT. All other subjects are optional and students choose four of these subjects within the open-choice process. This is also very good practice as it allows students the maximum freedom to choose subjects with the realistic limits of available resources. The outcome of the process also facilitates the option of uptake of LCVP for students. An appropriate level of vocational and educational guidance is provided to students to support these subject-choice processes and transitions between cycles and programmes. Communication with students and parents is of very good quality to support these decisions.

 

Two issues of concern arise from the subject-choice process. One concerns the study of modern languages. Students can progress from the end of first year to Leaving Certificate without continuing to study a modern language. A significant number of students in the school do not continue with their study of either French or German. While it is accepted that students have an open choice, are provided with guidance, and parents are informed, this aspect of the process should be reviewed to ensure that students’ progression into third-level education or employment is not limited by decisions made at such a young age.

 

Qualification for LCVP is a further issue. At national level, pre-set combinations of subjects determine qualification for the programme. Students in the school are not currently provided with these qualifying combinations in advance of the subject-choice process for senior cycle. They are informed of their qualification once the subject-choice process is completed and, if studying the relevant subjects, can then follow and complete the programme. Students should be given the full suite of qualifying subject combinations in advance of the process so as to be fully informed of all programme options available to them.

  

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

The school offers an impressive and varied range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities that significantly enhances students’ experiences in the school. Co-curricular activities include participation in a development project in Zambia in co-operation with ERST. Students and teachers from the school raise funds for and visit this project in Zambia. Students are also encouraged to become involved in youth-leadership programmes and have made significant progress in the Young Social Innovators programme linking with local social and community organisations. Students have had significant success at national level in debating competitions and are supported in this activity through their English lessons. The school musical and associated concert performances link Art, Music and Construction Studies in TY and also provide opportunities for students from all year groups to become involved in these popular productions. Teachers are to be commended for their commitment in supporting these valuable aspects of school life.

 

Sport has a high profile in the school and, while hurling has a long tradition, Gaelic football, athletics and basketball also feature prominently. The school is synonymous with a hurling tradition and reflects the depth of this tradition and enthusiasm for Gaelic games in the county as a whole. This tradition reached a particular pinnacle in 2009 when the school won the Dr Harty (Munster Senior A) hurling cup, the Dr Croke (all-Ireland Senior A) hurling cup and the Dean Ryan (Munster U161/2) hurling cup. The school has four athletics teams and competes regularly in national competitions with recent success in cross-country running at national level. Basketball, although a relatively new sport for students in the school, is in a growth stage and has achieved recognition at regional and national levels. The inclusive nature of these sports and the commitment and enthusiasm of teachers and school management for their promotion is highly commended. 

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

Subject planning is operating as an ongoing process and is of very good quality in almost all subjects evaluated. In all these subject areas there was an identifiable subject department where teachers collaborate and discuss common issues and tasks both formally and informally. Clearly, teamwork is a feature of subject departments and a collaborative approach to the planning and organisation of the subjects in the school was evident. There was evidence of significant teacher commitment to planning and preparation. Subject co-ordinators were operating in all the subject areas evaluated, although this role varied from a voluntary position to one appointed by the principal. It is suggested that the good co-ordination practice observed should be formalised in a concise statement covering areas such as the rotation of the role of co-ordinator, the timing and recording of meetings and the planning, teaching and curricular links between subjects, all of which could then be included in the subject-department plan.

 

Good progress has been made in developing subject-department plans in the school. These plans are seen as a tangible outcome of the subject-planning process and have impacted on classroom practice. However, in some subject areas, it is recommended that details of suitable teaching methodologies should be included in the subject plans, together with the expected educational outcomes for students. It is also important to plan for appropriate differentiation of content and assessment modes. In one subject area it was recommended that some elements of the TY plan be refined. In planning a programme for TY it is important to ensure that there is a balance between non-curricular material, prior learning and some elements of the Leaving Certificate programme. Ideally the plan should reflect the possible use of innovative teaching methodologies, project work, assessment by portfolio and the introduction of non-curriculum material. Teachers are also encouraged to enhance the level of subject planning by moving to a process of review and evaluation on the impact of the plan on an ongoing basis.

 

Individual teacher planning and preparation was of a high quality. This planning ensured coherent lessons that followed the agreed programmes of work. The required materials, equipment and resources were well prepared and easily accessible to students. The use of ICT in the planning and delivery of lessons was highly commended. Planning for co-curricular and cross-curricular activities and for the inclusion of students with additional educational needs was also commended. Teachers are to be both commended and encouraged to develop their engagement in individual planning for lessons towards the improvement of students’ learning.

  

4.2          Learning and teaching

The quality of teaching and learning was very good in almost all of the subjects evaluated. Students were engaged and active in their learning within well-structured lessons. All lessons were characterised by clearly planned aims that were presented to students from the outset. These aims were consistent with subject syllabus requirements and had an important focus on literacy and numeracy in many cases. Very good practice was observed when lesson aims were presented in terms of planned learning outcomes to be achieved during the lesson. These aims were then revisited and the learning was reviewed as the lesson closed. High expectations by teachers for their students also characterised the lessons observed. It was clear that good-quality learning was taking place and this is also reflected in the significant levels of achievement in state examinations.

 

Teachers engaged students using a balance of methodologies, including teacher exposition, discussion, questioning, homework review and the use of audio-visual resources. Questioning was of very good quality in lessons where higher-order and lower-order questions were mixed appropriately. In some lessons, significant questioning from students clearly illustrated participation and engagement. This significant level of dialogue also contributed to effective learning. Students in all lessons were confident and assertive as they responded to the topics for study and to the presentation by the teacher.  Differentiated teaching and learning strategies were also in evidence in terms of questioning, tasks and stimulus materials. These strategies were complemented by clear instructions from the teacher to draw together the lesson structure towards the planned outcome. The further development of differentiated strategies is encouraged. In a small number of lessons where  students were passive and lessons were characterised by an over-reliance on teacher input, recommendations were made that teachers should make efforts to ensure that students are more actively engaged in the lesson and in their learning.

 

The resources used to assist teaching and learning included the whiteboard, the textbook, visual stimulus materials, and materials generated using ICT. All of these resources contributed to the effectiveness of the lessons and to students’ learning. The impressive investment in the school’s ICT infrastructure has had an important impact in classroom practice. ICT was used to engage students and to illustrate and develop learning points in many lessons where the use of such resources was appropriate. This very good practice contributed significantly to the success of lessons and the continued integration of ICT is encouraged. The use of ICT and software programmes to support students with additional educational needs was seen to be effective. Teachers supporting these students are encouraged to track the impact of software programmes on learning as these students engage with the school curriculum and with specific subjects in mainstream lessons.

 

In all lessons, classroom management was positive, with a warm and engaging atmosphere. Students were polite, courteous and well mannered. Students were also assertive, confident and willing to engage in discussion of topics for study when prompted by the teacher or inspector. Lessons were well organised and purposeful.

  

4.3          Assessment

Whole-school support for assessment is very good. Mid-term, Christmas and summer tests reflect standard practices, as do pre-examinations for classes due to sit certificate examinations in a given year. An interesting support to continuous assessment is the monthly effort and commitment report for each student. Parents are sent a group text message to alert them to the issuing of this report. General progress reports after formal examinations, annual parent-teacher meetings and daily contacts through the students’ journal are additional supports to communication between school and home on progress and other issues.

 

In individual subject areas, very good formal assessment practice was observed. Subject departments have developed common end-of-term examinations. A recommendation has been made in one subject area that all aspects of assessment used in certificate examinations be adapted to the school’s own assessment instruments where practicable. The generic homework policy has been made more subject-specific in some cases, while subject departments engage in annual monitoring and discussion of students’ performance in certificate examinations, which is very good practice. A very impressive desire to learn from, and build on, the outcomes of this annual monitoring has also been noted.

 

Some good examples of varied assessment practices were noted in some sets of copybooks and this is recommended for expansion wherever possible. A range of cloze tests, word-search games and visual tasks were deployed in many lessons, and the use of such varied methods of assessment is commended, particularly where they seek to provide for the different learning styles and ability range of students. Some good examples of peer assessment and of older students assisting younger students to learn from assessment outcomes are commended. Some very good assessment for learning (AfL) practices were observed in different lessons, ranging from the identification of learning outcomes and of anticipated homework early in lessons, to good, supportive formative assessment of students’ work.

 

The school has drawn up a homework policy for junior classes as part of its school planning activities, and work on an assessment policy is ongoing. It is recommended that differentiation strategies be written into this policy. Overall, a very good commitment to homework assignment and monitoring has been evident in the subjects evaluated.

  

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

In line with its ethos and mission statement, the school endeavours to be inclusive and to attend to the needs of students with additional educational needs, including those students identified with special educational needs. Under the leadership of the principal, the school correctly seeks to promote inclusive practices that benefit all students. Good-quality structures and resources are in place to support students with special educational needs. These supports also extend to students for whom English is an additional language and to students from minority groups. To best meet the needs of students with for whom English is an additional language, it is recommended that the school remain open to using a range of supports that may, when deemed appropriate, include the formation of small classes that are specifically devoted to promoting the acquisition of English for these students.

 

CPD is encouraged and supported by school management. Collaborative practices among teachers and other staff members, including special needs assistants, is the norm and the central role of the mainstream teacher is acknowledged and supported. The school values its interaction with parents and external agencies in supporting students’ learning. In the course of this evaluation, the external agencies contacted spoke highly of the school’s efforts to promote inclusive practices for the benefit of all.

 

In seeking to further improve upon existing good practices, it is recommended that the school formulate a written special educational needs policy. The school’s desire to meet the needs of each individual student, and therefore those with identified additional needs, is commendable and in this regard the school may wish to consider incorporating the documented special educational needs policy into an overarching inclusion policy.

 

An electronic register of students in receipt of resources is also recommended and the school’s impressive ICT use may assist with initiating and sustaining such a register. This should assist in assessing the impact of these resources upon students’ learning. The responsible and flexible approach to meeting individual needs is a feature of the school and consideration should be given to supporting learning through other delivery modes such as team-teaching.

 

An accompanying report, specific to an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in the provision for special educational needs is appended to this report.

  

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

Guidance forms an important element of student support and care in the school and is of good quality in its organisation and delivery. The school has one guidance counsellor and a well-equipped guidance office. This facility is well organised, with ready access to relevant documents and careers information, and is placed in a central and visible location in the school.

 

A good-quality plan traces the place of Guidance throughout the work of the school with documentation relating to enrolment, subject choice and transition to senior cycle. Significant inputs are also made for the transition of students from post-primary to further education courses or to employment. The guidance plan clearly outlines timetabling arrangements for whole-class inputs. At other times, Guidance is provided on an individual basis to students. Individual counselling is also provided on a referral basis and appropriate contacts have been made with student-support services external to the school.

 

It is clear that good-quality vocational, educational and personal guidance is provided in the school. Guidance planning prioritises vocational and educational guidance and, by its nature, personal guidance is less visible due to its confidential nature. However, Guidance, in the sphere of personal support for students, should have a more formal and structured presence within the pastoral-care system.

 

As already outlined in section 1.3 above, pastoral care and student support are very well embedded in the school and are characterised by clear procedures and good communication. Guidance should have a more formalised input into this process and structure within the sphere of personal guidance for students. It is therefore recommended that the position of Guidance be strengthened within the pastoral-care structure. This could be achieved by formalising the provision of personal guidance and by the development of a whole-school guidance plan. Attendance by the guidance counsellor at some pastoral-care meetings, and more formalised communication, advice and inputs in relation to personal guidance to year heads, would further enhance the quality of pastoral care and give Guidance a whole-school visibility.

 

SPHE is also an element of student care within the curriculum. This programme is well provided for on the timetable and is delivered to students in accordance with recommended guidelines. The SPHE teachers and co-ordinator have received ongoing CPD relating to the programme. The place of SPHE within the pastoral-care structure in the school could be enhanced if it was integrated under the umbrella of student support. This could be achieved by the interaction of the SPHE team with the pastoral-care team on a more formal basis. Issues of a whole-school nature could then become the focus of SPHE lessons when appropriate. The RE teachers could also interact more formally with the pastoral-care team on a similar basis. These inputs could be formalised within the recommended development of a whole-school guidance plan. This strategy could assist the year heads and the tutors in addressing some appropriate issues of student care within the SPHE and RE programmes. This, in combination with the recommended formalising of personal guidance, could further enhance student care in the school. 

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The mission statement and vision are clearly reflected in the daily activities, routines and timetable of the school.

·         The board of management is engaged actively in its work with the school community.

·         The school has excellent leadership.

·         Communication is of high quality in the school.

·         Professional learning is valued and facilitated in the school.

·         Student management and care is very well organised and is of good quality.

·         Parents and students have a voice in the school through the parents’ association and the students’ council.

·         The development of the school has been characterised by reflection, review and informal school self-evaluation.

·         ICT has been significantly upgraded and has been integrated into teaching and learning.

·         School development planning is very well established.

·         Curricular planning is advanced in subject areas.

·         A wide-ranging and comprehensive curriculum is offered to students.

·         The subject-choice process is fair and equitable, and is well organised.

·         An impressive and varied range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities is available to students.

·         The quality of teaching and learning is very good in almost all subjects evaluated.

·         Inclusive practices are promoted to benefit all students, including those with additional educational needs.

·         Guidance forms an important element of student support and care, and is of good quality in its organisation and delivery.

 

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

 

·         The board of management should review the wording of some aspects of the admissions policy to fully reflect the current open enrolment practices and procedures.

·         Senior management should frame future plans in the area of learning and teaching as specific goals or priorities to be achieved in a specific timeframe.

·         Senior management and teachers should progress the drafting of an inclusion policy that includes a policy to support students with special educational needs.

·         The position of Guidance should be strengthened within the pastoral-care structure in the context of the development of a whole-school guidance plan.

 

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:

·         Subject Inspection of Special Educational Needs – 25 November 2009

·         Subject Inspection of History – 26 November 2009

·         Subject Inspection of Construction and Materials Technology (Wood) – 30 November 2009

·         Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 30 November 2009

 

 

 

Published May 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 Appendix

 

8.         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 of Thurles C.B.S. welcomes this positive report and we accept the recommendations as part of the reflective approach existing within the school.   The Board also wishes to acknowledge the professionalism and commitment of the Principal, the Management team and the staff reflected in this report and also the huge involvement in extra-curricular activities that do not come within the remit of this evaluation.

 

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

 

Recommendations have become part of the school planning.