An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Balbriggan Community College
Pineridge, County Dublin
Roll number: 70010V
Date of inspection: 27 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Balbriggan Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. 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.
Balbriggan Community College is a multi-national, co-educational school administered by Dublin County Vocational Educational Committee. The school is located on a site at the heart of Balbriggan town. The original Balbriggan Vocational School was opened in 1932 and moved to newly appointed buildings in Drogheda Street in 1952. Balbriggan Community College was opened in 1984 on the same site and the facility built for the school in 1952 is still used by the school today.
The town and its hinterland have undergone very radical transformations in recent years, resulting in a changing of the general profile of students at the school. The population of the area has increased significantly due to the town’s proximity to Dublin and as a result there has been extensive development of the locality. The population has also increased due to the arrival of a large number of newcomers who are living in the town and in nearby areas. These newcomers come from many different countries and this is reflected in the school population, which now enrols a significant number of students from twenty-five different nations.
The school reported that the number of students presenting with special educational needs has increased in recent years. It was also reported that a large percentage of the newcomer students have English language difficulties, a factor which makes the delivery of the various syllabuses and programmes very difficult. This has significant implications in terms of the need for additional support from class teachers for students. Commendably, the school shows concern for these issues; it has built up considerable expertise in some of these areas and is making some good progress in meeting the needs of students in these respects.
The Community College is one of two post-primary schools in the town. The high number of boys enrolling at the school may be in part accounted for by the fact that there is a girls-only secondary school in close proximity.
It was reported that the perception of the school in the locale in the recent past has included the school’s pre-history as Balbriggan Vocational School with the associated emphasis on vocational training and the application of practical skills. As Balbriggan Community College has developed, it has endeavoured to challenge and amend this perception and is now reported to enjoy a reputation of being a welcoming institution that aims to meet the needs of all of the students enrolled in the school.
The school has been approved as part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme. The funding and structures for this were not in place at the time of the evaluation so the effects of this initiative have not been felt to date. However, plans are already being made to utilise the resources in due course.
The characteristic spirit of Balbriggan Community College is inclusive, caring and supportive and its primary aim is to provide a high quality second level education for students of all abilities and levels, social and cultural backgrounds. This is clearly outlined in the school’s mission statement which aims to ‘develop fully the moral, intellectual and physical potential of each student in an atmosphere of mutual respect in a safe and supportive environment so as to facilitate the development of confident, competent individuals prepared for the demands of and ready to contribute to society’. This ethos can be observed in the daily interactions and practices of the school in teaching and learning as well as in other extra-curricular and co-curricular activities and supports. The attention given to areas such as provision for special needs students and students in need of language and other academic supports is indicative of how the mission statement is lived out in caring for the academic needs of the weaker student at the school.
The caring atmosphere of the school is strongly supported by management and staff and is widely reported to be one of the strengths of the school. The school is very diligent in providing in-depth information and support to students on entering first year and has introduced a very successful mentoring programme. Newcomer students have access to a designated liaison teacher, and all students have very good support from a very well trained student council. Parents have also commented favourably on the caring and welcoming ethos and atmosphere of the school. However, there is no pastoral care team in the school and no pastoral care policy in place. This runs contrary both to the mission statement and the good practice operating otherwise in the school.
Evidence from the admissions policy indicates that the school operates an inclusive, non-selective “open door” enrolment policy that welcomes all students. A further indication of the school’s regard for the importance of dealing with enrolments in a fair and open way is the recent appointment of an enrolments officer as a post of responsibility to oversee the administration of the admissions policy and to give assistance to parents and students. This is most commendable as the number of students applying for admission to the school from the catchment area is increasing at a significant rate and there are issues around processing of information due to English language difficulties.
Examination of the written policies shows that significant efforts have been made to create policies which are of benefit to the school. However, these policies are not always sufficiently developed to reflect accurately the ethos of the mission statement as it is currently lived out in the school. The practices and procedures taking place daily are by and large positive and should be reflected in the written documentation. In addition to this, the rapidly changing needs of the school population necessitate a high degree of problem solving and require that planning and policy making should be a priority, as the rate of change will require short term, interim and longer term solutions to issues. Therefore, it is recommended that a full review of the planning practices and processes be undertaken to accurately reflect the activities and interactions of the school and to put in place strategies to ensure that the planning process can adequately meet the school’s rapidly changing requirements.
Discussions with the board, parents, staff and students during the evaluation process provided evidence of an awareness of the ethos of the school. Students described the school as a caring and warm place to be, whilst parents praised the open door policy of both management and teachers. Both management and staff were praised for their openness, good communication skills and generosity.
The school is owned by the Dublin County Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) and is managed by a board of management, which is a sub-committee of the VEC. Dublin County VEC was reported to be very supportive and understanding of the challenges and achievements of the school to date. The chief executive officer (CEO) praised the work of the school and in particular praised the vision and management style of the principal. The CEO outlined four priority areas for the school:
· provision for English for speakers of other languages (ESL)
· improvement of the school building
· growth of subject networks
· improving the profile of the school in the town.
The board comprises four VEC representatives, two parents’ representatives, two staff representatives and the principal who is secretary to the board. Board decisions are ratified by the VEC itself and the position of chair is by election. The current board of management was established at the end of 2004 and first met formally in early 2005. Some of the members of the current board, including the chairperson, have considerable experience in serving on boards and as a result have an insight into the board’s purpose and function. Some of these members have also received valuable training in the operations of a board of management from the VEC. Three members of the board are new and have expressed the need for training. It was reported at the time of the evaluation that the VEC intends to provide training for board members; such training is welcome and will enhance levels of functioning. The board meets usually five times per year with additional meetings organised as need arises. The board is kept informed of the school’s activities on an on-going basis by the principal.
In interview, members of the board were somewhat unclear of their role and identified the formulation of policies as their primary concern. However, some members were unaware of the policies already in place. It is suggested that this type of information would be made available to new members of the board in a preliminary session on their introduction to the board. In interview the members of the board stated that its priorities were to:
It is recommended that, subsequent to further training, future board meetings would pay particular attention to the role of the board in developing a vision for the school.
Generally, the board feels very strongly supported by the VEC especially since the recent reorganisation of County Dublin VEC which introduced two education officers to share the workload of the CEO. This has led to a very welcome devolvement of power to the education officers who help to ensure that the needs of the schools are being met. It was reported that the education officer appointed to this school attends at least one board of management meeting per year. The education officer also visits the school, and in particular the principal, on a regular basis. However, members of the general staff body are not aware of this. It is suggested that the education officer might meet with the general staff body to both familiarise staff with the operations of and support offered by the VEC.
Copies of the minutes of recent board meetings were made available to the evaluation team. Members of the board agree that decisions are reached in an open and transparent manner. To date, the various representatives report back to their own constituents regarding relevant issues. It is recommended that an agreed report be used as the main instrument of giving feedback from meetings in the future.
The board is very supportive of senior management and the teaching staff. In particular, the board praised the style of open communication used by the principal.
The parents’ association was established in 1984 and the present association has been active since October 2005. Some of the parents have been involved in the parents’ association for the duration of their child’s education, ensuring that there is continuity of membership. It is reported that meetings are held once per month and that attendance is good. The parents’ association has been very successful in fundraising for the school. It was noted by the evaluation team that currently there is no representative of parents for the significant number of newcomer students enrolled in the school. It was reported that the parents’ association experienced difficulties in recruiting members from this area of the school community. It is recommended that the newcomer coordinator, who is in a position to have good knowledge of this community, be approached to see if a representative is forthcoming. Parents praised the work of the school and in particular the open and supportive approach taken by both management and staff. Parents also reported that they were very happy with the teaching and progress of students generally and were especially complimentary of the work done to support the weaker student. Parents confirmed that they were made very well aware of the various structures within the school and that there are effective and open lines of communication between the school and home. Parents also praised the generosity of teachers in providing the levels of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities available in the school.
The in-school management team consists of senior management, comprising the principal and deputy principal, as well as the middle management team of nine assistant principals and eleven special duties teachers. Due to the size of the school the deputy principal has three hours and twenty-five minutes of class contact time.
It was reported that the school has an evolving approach to management and that the management structure is being reviewed in a purposeful manner. The current senior management team was established in 2002 and has had profound effect on the organisation of the school. This management team has brought a certain vibrancy and vigour to the school’s approach to the changing climate of education in general and to the particular developments within the school. A good team spirit is evident with a friendly staff where good relationships encourage generosity and support generally.
The principal and deputy principal are very mindful of the issues and challenges facing the school and are very much aware of the influence of the school’s history on all aspects of its functioning. The principal is highly commended on his sensitive efforts to balance the needs of the school in a changing educational and demographic climate with the motivations and interests of the staff.
The principal has overall responsibility for the day-to-day management of the school involving a very comprehensive range of managerial, administrative and pastoral duties. In addition, the principal carefully organises his time so that he is visible to both students and staff during the day. To ensure this presence the principal processes the administrative side of his role after school, so that he can be present for daily issues. In addition to the usual administrative duties of the role, the principal takes responsibility for other high priority duties such as planning at all levels and liaising with the majority of agents and boards which influence the school. Involvement in these and other duties mean that, in practice, the principal is limited in terms of opportunity to reflect and shape a future vision for the school. The role of the principal at present is overloaded and would benefit from additional delegation of responsibilities. It is recommended that some of the tasks and responsibilities be reviewed and entrusted to other senior members of staff within the post of responsibility system.
The deputy principal is the organisational manager of the school and ensures that the day-to-day functions of the school are operating effectively. This entails daily engagement with substitution, absence cover, supervision and substitution rosters and also involves the large and involved responsibility for timetabling the curriculum of the school. The deputy principal is also responsible for the planning and scheduling of all house examination administration and the organisation of all extra-curricular and co-curricular activities as well as a number of other functions.
The roles of the principal and deputy principal have evolved over time and as a team, senior management has established a workable arrangement in which both principal and deputy principal work to their individual strengths. It was reported that meetings are informal but frequent and occur as is necessary. It was also reported that it was difficult to plan formal meetings between senior management due to organisational and time constraints. However, it is suggested that there is scope for more formal communication channels in the future and it is recommended that consideration be given to ways in which this process could be developed to facilitate reflection, thus furthering the planning and development of the school.
A number of posts of responsibility have been filled in the school. These posts take on some of the managerial tasks of the school in line with Circular 20/98. However, it was noted that some post duties and responsibilities are heavily loaded whilst other post duties have little input to in-school management and the ‘central tasks of the school’. This inequality puts burdens on particular teachers and senior management and runs contrary to the aims of shared school management. It is recommended that the list of duties associated with posts of responsibility be reviewed using a whole school consultative process, to better share the management of the school and to divide the duties more equally. It is further recommended that training be given to holders of these posts to enhance their opportunities for development in instructional leadership, curriculum, management and development of staff, and the academic and pastoral work of the school in keeping with Circular 20/98.
Meetings for assistant principals and senior management are held once per month. To benefit fully from these meetings and to facilitate management, it is recommended that the assistant principals would provide an account of the month’s work at these meetings and use this time to shape the progress of middle management and develop a yearly plan for the school. It is also recommended that special duties teachers would meet on an ongoing and regular basis and also provide an account of the progress made in their post work. These reports should be used to inform planning and review of posts and duties in the future.
In light of the pace of change at Balbriggan Community College, it is essential that time is made available for reflection and planning in order to best meet the needs of the students within the available resources of the school. This can only occur if staff is aware of, and responsible for, their own contribution to the management and administration of the school.
As part of senior management’s consultative approach, ideas and suggestions are brought to staff for comment and input. Staff Council meetings are held during staff days and on other occasions throughout the year. Commendably, staff members have the opportunity to add items on to agendas prior to staff meetings. It was raised by some teachers during the evaluation that little action is taken after discussion at staff meetings. It is suggested that action plans be drawn up where relevant and that progress be communicated on issues at future staff meetings.
It was reported that communication amongst staff and between staff and management is honest, open and largely informal. However, it was also reported that information can be lost due to this informal system of communication and the school’s busy environment. A notice board system is used in the staffroom and is updated daily; this is a very useful way of disseminating information. Announcements are delivered using an intercom system and commendably efforts are made to ensure that disruption is minimised. The production of a staff bulletin is recommended to communicate important issues to the teaching staff. Since information on post holders’ duties and activities is not always made known to staff, it is recommended that a structure be put in place to facilitate such communication, to enhance understanding of the middle management structure and of teachers’ roles outside of the classroom.
As part of a special duties post a public relations officer has been recently appointed who has begun to publish a school newsletter. Evidence provided shows that this newsletter is a very positive way to communicate relevant aspects of school life to students, teachers and parents. It is suggested that the effectiveness of the newsletter be monitored regularly to ensure that the relevant messages are reaching their target audiences.
At the time of the evaluation, a high quality draft of the school’s website was observed. It is intended that this would be published on-line in the near future. This is an excellent way to promote the school and provide information to the wider school community.
A year head system is in place for every year group in the school and assistant principals take on the administrative, disciplinary and pastoral requirements of this role. The year heads play an important role in the implementation of the school’s code of behaviour. Tutors are also in place to complement the year head system and to add to the provision of pastoral care in the school. However, year heads do not meet formally as a group and year heads do not formally meet tutors. The guidance counsellor also does not meet tutors. Some teachers were unclear about the roles of year heads and tutors and it was reported that work practices amongst year heads and tutors vary. It is recommended that all of these roles be examined to ensure that roles are defined, structures are clearly identified and that practice is consistent.
There are also some issues around student behaviour both in the classroom and on the corridors. Both students and teachers stated that individuals’ expectations and the implementation of the code of behaviour vary between teachers. It is recommended to staff to review both the code of behaviour and the implementation of sanctions together with the way these are communicated by teachers.
An annual awards system involving end-of-year recognition of good work and behaviour has been in place for a number of years in the school. This approach to positive performance is highly commended. It is suggested that this award system be expanded to include awards for good behaviour and effort on a very regular basis so that even the most challenging students can see that there is potential for reward in the short term. It is recommended that this award structure be integrated into the code of behaviour to enhance the potential for positive effort.
The documentation shows that there were a significant number of recorded suspensions from the school in the recent past. It was reported by management that there are a small minority of repeat offenders who are continually receiving sanctions. It is suggested that an exploration of the reasons for these suspensions and a review of the processes involved, as part of the review of the code of behaviour, may help to reduce the levels of indiscipline and thus the levels of suspension from the school. It was also reported that in-school suspension is used in appropriate cases. This approach is commended.
Parents and teachers commented favourably on the levels of communication with parents and of information available to them. The school is complimented in its proactive approach to preparing and issuing thorough and informative documentation to parents. Particularly, the level of communication and information offered to parents on students’ transition to the school is commended. Regular contact is made with parents during the school year using the student journal. Contact is also made via text messages regarding student absences. Information regarding student progress is communicated using twice-yearly reports and parent-teacher meetings. The school is particularly commended for its approach to encouraging parents and guardians to be active in their role as supportive and important partners in their children’s education.
Commendably, the school building is made available to the local community. A Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) operates out of one of the school buildings, an adult education programme is administered by the school and local groups have the use of the climbing wall. Some other good links have been made with the community, including provision for English for speakers of other languages (ESL) and second chance education in keeping with the needs of the community. Commendably, the school’s collaboration with the local authority has resulted in plans for the new gym to be used by the community.
New teachers in the school are presented with a school-generated Teacher’s Handbook to increase awareness of the school’s mission, policies and structures. They also have access to the VEC induction programme ‘Training the Trainers’. Participants in this programme have reported that this training is ongoing and helpful. Higher Diploma teaching students also reported a high level of support from staff and management and felt very welcome in the school. The school’s policy regarding student teachers clearly outlines the role and responsibilities both of the class teacher and student teacher which will help alleviate potential class management problems. A designated liaison person has been appointed to work with new staff and it is reported that this has been very useful. A set of guidelines has also been drawn up to define and clarify the role and responsibilities of the special needs assistant (SNA).
The VEC and the board of management continue to be supportive of teachers’ pursuit of continuous professional development (CPD). Financial support has been given to teachers who attend courses of direct benefit to the school. Of particular note is the fact that some teachers from the school have availed of ESOL training which is of specific benefit to the present needs of the school. Teaching staff have also been offered support by the VEC around teachers’ networks. Such support for teachers is commended.
In general, the maintenance of the school buildings even those which are in very poor condition and the cleanliness of the environment are a tribute to the school. This reflects the diligence of both the cleaning and the teaching staff and also indicates a sense of responsibility on the part of the student body. Despite dampness and other difficulties in some rooms, all classrooms are maintained to the best level possible and in some cases there are excellent displays of subject-related material.
The school buildings were constructed in 1952 and 1984 respectively. The older building poses a range of serious concerns for all members of the school community and was raised by the board, VEC and staff of the school as a priority issue.
This older building was designed for the delivery of practical subjects – Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood), Materials Technology Metal and Engineering – and it is still being used for these subjects. However, these workspaces are inadequate and unacceptable. The walls in this building are damp and, in some rooms, water on the surface makes it very difficult to display subject-related exemplars and students’ work. Tiling on the floor in some areas is cracked and broken, there is very little appropriate storage space and space in general is limited. Windows have been boarded up to prevent noise from the street and the original skylights have also been boarded up as they were leaking, all of which make rooms dark, unattractive and far from ideal educational environments.
Presently in the materials technology (wood) room, it was reported that there is no room for seating, so students must read and take notes while they are sitting on work benches. In addition to this, some of the fixtures and fittings for particular subject areas are out of date. A serious health and safety concern is posed by the fact that there is no extractor fan in the materials technology (wood) room to remove atmospheric pollution.
It was reported by all of the parties that this building which faces on to the main street is still the most prominent image the town has of the school and as it is in such a state of disrepair it reflects very negatively on the good work and the positive image the school has worked hard to achieve.
Teachers and students are highly commended for their resilience and dedication to teaching and learning in such facilities. Both management and staff are commended for their maintenance of morale in the face of such adversity on a daily basis.
There are also some issues with the main building. Presently the school is waiting on work to be completed on the roof of the school and in the interim must postpone the introduction of broadband access. The rapid increase in the numbers of students enrolled at the school has meant that the accommodation for students is also a problem. To this end four new prefabricated classrooms have been installed this year to deal with the accommodation issue.
The school has been approved for a new gym, which will be built in partnership with Fingal County Council. The school will have exclusive use of the facility during the day and the local community will have access in the evening. As part of this development a new car park is planned for, which will alleviate the current car parking problem in the school. Such foresight and planning is commended.
Specialist rooms are provided for and equipped to the best ability of the school. This provision however, is hampered in some cases due to the restrictions outlined above. Consumable resources for subject areas are obtained from an adequate school budget and it is reported that administration of funding is efficient. It was also reported that management endeavours to support subject departments in obtaining specific resources to aid teaching and learning when possible. To add to this teachers are invited to input into a ‘wish list’ of additional resources during the year. It was reported by staff that they were satisfied with resource provision in this area.
Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are available to all students in designated computer rooms as well as in specialist rooms. A detailed acceptable internet use policy has been created by the school to maximise the learning potential of ICT whilst protecting the student and school from undesirable activity. Commendably, internet permission forms have been designed by the school to be signed by students, as well as a letter describing the use of the internet for parents. A detailed ICT plan has been created outlining future plans for the use of both hardware and software and a list of objectives and goals. Examination of the document showed that it is due for review. It is suggested that an evaluation of this plan be carried out in the future to establish the current status of ICT in the school and to look at how it might proceed in the future.
Presently there is no dedicated library in the school and space restrictions in the past have ensured that any plans to create a library could not have been implemented. It was reported by senior management that there were plans to create a library under the JCSP scheme and the free space opened up by the new gym would provide the necessary space. This would be a very welcome addition to school facilities.
The school has in place a health and safety statement which has been adopted from the County Dublin VEC to comply with the Safety, health and Welfare at Work Act 1989. The appointment of a special duties teacher with responsibility for maintaining first aid boxes and for structuring the evacuation procedure in the event of fire and organising fire drills shows the seriousness with which the school views the importance of a safe environment for all. As the school has a number of areas which pose serious health and safety concerns, it is suggested that the present document be expanded and tailored to suit the particular needs of the school. It was also noted that drinking water is only available to students in the gym and from the staff room. It is suggested that the health and safety officer in consultation with the relevant parties might seek to expand this provision.
The school is commended for having engaged with school development planning and a calendar of planning activities was provided to the evaluation team. Much work has already begun on the development and ratification of school policies. The file presented detailed a number of policies and plans dealing with issues such as; the code of discipline, relationship and sexuality education, child protection guidelines, acceptable internet use, health and safety statement, critical incident policy, special needs, and inclusion. There were also policies and plans referring to drugs, picture phones, out of school activities, admissions, anti-bullying, attendance and punctuality, smoke free workplace, subject choice and timetabling, special-needs assistants, homework and involvement in sport and extra-curricular activities.
The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) guidelines recommend that the school plan is designed using two major components: ‘An overview of the relatively permanent features of the school, including its mission, vision and aims, context factors, curriculum, and organisational policies’ and ‘a development section specifying the school’s current development targets and outlining action plans for their attainment’. Presently, the school plan is loosely arranged in this format; however, the majority of policies were not dated, no records of the planning process were provided and there was little evidence of the operation of a policy review strategy. However, documents in sections labelled ‘for consideration’, ‘review and evaluation’ and ‘developmental priorities’ in the school planning file show that there is an awareness of the importance of review. It was reported that planning involves some collaboration with various partners but there was no written record of this. There is also little distinction between policies which are in draft form and policies which are ratified. As a result the status of some of the policies is unclear.
In light of the accelerated pace of change presently occurring in the school, it is vital that time be provided to reflect and plan for the school’s future needs. It was voiced by many parties during the evaluation that the predicted changes in the catchment area in the long term will be of major significance to the school. Therefore it is essential that the planning process as the agent of development in the school is given the resources and infrastructure to meet these changing needs in a considered and deliberate fashion.
Presently, there is no member of staff with specific responsibility for school development planning. Senior management, in addition to all of the other duties undertaken, is largely responsible for coordinating and conducting planning activities. Senior management has very important contributions to make to planning; however, opportunity for strategising and organising planning is limited due to the other tasks and duties presenting. To alleviate this problem it is recommended that a planning coordinator be appointed who, in collaboration with the support of school staff and relevant parties, would strategise, prioritise and coordinate the planning process. This appointment should take place as a matter of urgency. It is also recommended that all policies in place be reviewed and that this process would include all the relevant parties such as the parents’ association and student council being involved in policy formation and from the outset. It is then suggested that the permanent section of the plan can be formally adopted and that the developmental section of the plan can be advanced using action plans and timeframes. A five year education plan provided by the Dublin County Council VEC has been made available to the evaluation team. This additional information should help to progress the planning process in the school. On completion of sections of the plan it is suggested that these would be communicated to the various constituents and members of the school community. It is also suggested that the school website may be a useful channel for this information.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the departmental guidelines
Balbriggan Community College is commended on the wide range of programmes and subjects provided for and offered to students; Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). The school is also involved with the VEC in providing adult education. In junior cycle a total of twenty-one subjects is offered to students with English, Irish, Mathematics, History, Geography, Civil Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education, Physical Education and computers as core. At Leaving Certificate level the number of subjects offered is twenty-four. The recent addition of Music to the repertoire of subject available is commended, as is the school’s involvement in the Festival of Music.
Subject departments have been established and some voluntary subject department co-ordinators have been appointed. As part of the evaluation, the school’s subject department documentation was reviewed. Subject plans were presented for all subjects to Junior Certificate and it was reported that senior cycle is the next priority. It was obvious from this review that there was excellent progress in some departments whilst progress in others was very limited. In light of the fact that formal subject department planning time is provided for all teachers each week on the school’s timetable, it is expected that teachers would use this time for the purpose intended. It is recommended that this time be used by all of the teaching staff to create comprehensive department plans to enhance teaching and learning in line with Circular M20/99.
At present, the Transition Year Programme (TYP) is not available in Balbriggan Community College. The introduction of the TYP was suggested by a number of parties as a possible way of enhancing the educational experiences offered to students in the school. It is suggested that, as opportunity presents, this programme would be explored as a further curricular option.
Since 1998, four JCSP groups have completed their Junior Certificate. The school has prepared a very well established set of requirements for entry into this class group and the school is keen to emphasise that this is not a class group for students with behaviour difficulties. Most students from the JCSP go on to participate in the LCA. A dedicated core group of teachers has been formed to focus on the needs of the JCSP students in the school and are facilitated in having meetings during time provided by the allocation for the programme. A very comprehensive set of planning documents was presented during the evaluation which reflect the high level of enthusiastic commitment group of students receive in the school.
The number of students taking the LCA is significant and this has been very successful in helping to encourage those who otherwise would have been at risk of leaving education. School management and the teachers involved are commended for addressing the needs of these students and illustrate the implementation of the school’s mission in relation to the needs of all students. A very substantial plan for the LCA includes a rationale for the subject, and topics such as student selection procedures, the role of the coordinator, list of duties, information for parents, and progress reports. The LCA involves an element of work experience and this is planned and coordinated by the LCA coordinator who is also a member of the County Dublin VEC LCA Coordinators’ Network. Every effort is made to facilitate student interest in work experience and students’ progress is monitored during the placements. A variety of work environments is provided for students and efforts made in this regard are highly commended as they reflect a high degree of professional and personal commitment by the coordinator. Planning time is facilitated by management and takes place during the programme’s time allocation.
It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. The school indicated that it would be addressing this matter and making adjustment to the timetable for future years or, alternatively, would seek additional resources to address the matter if this adjustment would compromise essential course provision.
Presently the school operates an eight period day, in which every effort is made to ensure that the time allocated to students is in line with syllabus recommendations. However the restricted number of class periods makes it difficult to ensure that appropriate time allocation is offered to the subjects provided. It is recommended that the school would consider the introduction of a nine period day to better facilitate class contact time and to facilitate subjects such as Physical Education (PE) which is difficult to deliver in the present timetabling scheme.
The school makes commendable efforts to provide for students’ choice of subjects and programmes. Students are given an open menu of subjects at both junior and senior cycle from which a timetable is formed. This ensures that students are given the widest choice of subjects available and also the best possibility of those choices being satisfied. Class groups are then based on the numbers of students choosing subject areas. It was reported that most students could be accommodated in their choice of subjects. Concurrent timetabling of subjects enables a degree of flexibility in terms of students pursuing studies at a level appropriate to their individual abilities. The school’s efforts to provide access to a broad range of subjects and to inform and advise students and parents on subject choice are commended. Senior management reported a desire to be accommodating to students who wish to change subject or level within a reasonable time frame and is commended in this regard.
A variety of information sessions and open days is provided for parents with information and consequences for subject and programme choice, at both junior and senior cycle, in addition to subject choice information sent home in the post. Teachers are available to meet parents on an individual basis. Parents of potential first year students, and the students themselves, are invited to an information evening in the spring before enrolment to discuss subject choice. Potential first year students are also invited into the school to experience some of the range of subjects on offer to help them make accurate decisions. Visits are made by school staff and students to the various feeder primary schools, to further familiarise students with relevant information. Commendably, parents of first year students are invited into the school in September for a general information session and have the opportunity to meet year heads, tutors, principal and deputy principal, parents’ council and the student council.
At senior level Junior Certificate students and their parents are invited to the school at Easter time to discuss programme selection and programme choice. Teachers of particular subject areas, the third year head, the LCA coordinator and the guidance counsellor are available to help and inform both students and parents. During this open night a PowerPoint presentation is used to describe and explain the subject and programme options open to students. Parents at all levels of student development report that the information provided is very useful. It is also noted that the effort made to communicate this information in various ways and at different stages of the student’s progression through the school is very good practice.
Students with English language difficulties are specifically catered for by the newcomer coordinator who ensures that students and parents have access to all the information that they need and that they are in possession of sufficient knowledge to make accurate subject choice decisions.
First year classes are of mixed ability and, commendably, the school is examining models of delivery for special needs provision to ensure that the best methods are used. To help students reach their potential and to encourage awareness of the requirements of successful learning, the school, in a highly commendable strategy, also offers night study and study skills seminars to assist examination students.
All junior cycle class groups are provided with one class period per week in SPHE, provision that is in line with Circular M11/03.
The staff at Balbriggan Community College is commended in providing an array of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in a range of sporting and non-sporting disciplines for students. All parties express satisfaction with the levels of activity on offer and teachers are praised for generously giving of their free time to benefit students. A wide range of students benefits from these activities and there is awareness that such involvement makes an active contribution to student retention. It was also noted during the evaluation that extra-curricular and co-curricular activity is a very good way of integrating all students regardless of origin or native language and that the range of activities available means that there is an opportunity for most students to develop an interest in at least one of the activities offered.
The array of sporting activities offered includes basketball and soccer for boys and for girls, Gaelic sports, golf, rugby and climbing. There is also an end of year sports day. Commendably, it is reported that there are a good number of girls involved in sport at the school, and that girls were especially successful in basketball in the recent past. Good working relationships were reported with the sporting agencies in the area and many students are involved in clubs outside of school. It was voiced that in some very few cases students are perhaps involved in too many sporting activities. It is suggested in such cases that students are made aware of the need to balance such involvement with relaxation for their well-being, so that they are not affected adversely.
The school has its own climbing wall which has proven very popular with students. Commendably, proficient climbers from the school are brought to other more challenging walls by school staff to improve their performance. The addition of the new gym to school facilities will be of great benefit to the sporting provision at the school and will help to develop students further.
The cultural activities offered include chess, public speaking, debating, quizzes, music, drama, variety shows, adventure weekends, class trips and foreign tours. Staff report favourably on the relationships created through these types of activity, the positive learning experiences of the students and the positive effects on students’ attitudes and behaviours. These out-of-school learning experiences are open to all except examination students. Commendably, students who are in need of financial assistance are supported. The school is also dedicated to promoting learning through drama and involves large numbers of students in both cast and crew to create a major production each year. It was reported that a number of students involved in drama in the school went on to study drama at third level. Scripts are often concerned with particular issues pertaining to the school and the locality and the efforts of teachers and students to create these pieces are applauded. It was reported that all of the staff of the school are very willing to help and support such work. It was also reported by many parties that the holistic development of students is a very important part of the work of the school.
Students are also involved on an annual basis with a ‘nest box’ scheme where students build an array of nest boxes which are brought out to an island sanctuary off the coast of Balbriggan. Speakers are then brought into the school to talk about developments on the island.
Commendably, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities also include the opportunity to engage in more theoretical and academic pursuits for those students who would like an extra challenge. To this end the school has supported student involvement in the Young Scientist Exhibition in recent years. The school has had much success to date in this competition, thus promoting an awareness of the potential of science as a subject and raising the profile of the school in terms of academic achievement.
Further development of the extra-curricular policy would now be useful and could include, for example, guidelines regarding the submission of class work and homework when students are absent from regular classes to engage in such activities.
The school facilitates collaborative subject planning through the provision of meeting times on a weekly basis. Subject departments can schedule meetings on Friday mornings as often as required. Planning documentation was provided for all subjects observed although the level of subject department planning varied. In some cases, department planning was excellent and indicated that a high level of collaboration had occurred to formulate comprehensive subject department plans. These included, for example, agreed schemes of work for all year groups, weekly plans which included resources to be used and methodologies for the delivery of topics, and assessment procedures. Such excellent practice should now extend to all subject departments. To support this work, it is recommended that the templates available at www.sdpi.ie for this purpose should now be used to inform all subject department plans.
Individual planning in some cases was very good. Some teachers had annual schemes of work which contained topics to be covered with specific timeframes, assignment worksheets and assessments. Individual lessons were also well planned and commendably, handouts, worksheets, acetates, and other student-centred learning resources were prepared and integrated into lessons.
The reports of the associated subject inspections deal comprehensively with teaching and learning matters. Many lessons began with a clear statement of learning objectives. This is good practice as it provides students with a clear focus for the duration of the lesson and a sense of purpose when the objective has been attained. In some cases, material from previous lessons was reviewed and linked to the topic at hand. Pacing of lessons was most effective when careful thought was given to both the number and appropriateness of teaching and learning activities being used. In mixed ability settings, pacing was very good when lessons took due regard of the abilities of all students and account was taken of their needs through differentiation. In particular, classes with lower ability students were most successful when short, achievable targets were set, and once completed by the students, were affirmed by the teachers. It should be noted that lessons which praised the efforts of students led to a warm and stimulating learning environment.
Overall, discipline in lessons was effectively maintained. Teacher expectations regarding student behaviour were generally high and such good practice should be borne in mind for all classrooms.
A variety of teaching methodologies was evident across subject departments. These included traditional didactic style, brainstorming, group and pair work, mind maps, discussion and reflection. In some cases, content of the lesson was summarised by the students themselves and written up independently of the teacher. This is good practice as it ensures that students are reflecting on new material while concurrently granting them autonomy over their own learning. Questioning strategies ranged from lower order to those requiring a higher order response. Questioning which encourages more able students to explore and use knowledge gained in lessons is very good practice and their wider use is encouraged. It should be borne in mind however that questioning strategies should be inclusive of all students to avoid the predominance of a few.
Teachers use a variety of assessment methods to assess student competencies and progress. These include oral questioning in class, homework, projects, worksheets, crosswords and word searches. In some instances students had made good progress in completing course work and projects and had used their ICT skills in the presentation of their work.
An examination of copybooks indicated that, in a number of cases, students had received appropriate feedback on their work. This provision of feedback to students is highly commended as students are informed on their strengths, weaknesses are identified and ways to improve are outlined. This knowledge is invaluable to students in enabling them to progress the quality of their work and to teachers in providing a basis for further planning for teaching and learning. This good practice is commended and its extension to all classes is advocated. Supportive and affirming feedback to all students, but particularly those who have disengaged from the education process, can increase students’ self-esteem and help to raise attainment levels. It was noted from an examination of students’ copybooks that in some cases the questions assigned are generally of the lower order variety. It is recommended that students at all levels be challenged to a greater extent and provided with opportunities to develop higher order thinking skills. It is also suggested that students should not decide at too early a stage to take ordinary level papers in examinations and teachers should encourage as many students as possible to attempt higher level papers. Teachers are encouraged to further develop their methods of assessment particularly with reference to assessment for learning principles. Further information on this is available from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website, www.ncca.ie and teachers are encouraged to access this site.
The setting of common tests in some subject areas has commenced. It is recommended that teachers extend the collaboration already evident to include common assessment, where appropriate, in assessment tests for all year groups. In this way, an objective measure of students’ progress relative to each other within a particular band, for example, can ensure appropriate student placement and allow for targeted planning to meet their needs. Consideration should be given to devoting a section the each subject department plan to assessment, where a statement of objectives and methods of assessment could be outlined.
Formal assessments for non-examination classes include regular class tests and Christmas and summer examinations. Some teachers request that parents sign the class tests. This practice of including parents is commended as they are updated on an ongoing basis on their children’s progress. State examination classes take a formal Christmas examination and pre-examinations in the second term. Parents are also kept informed of their children’s progress through a variety of other means, including the homework journal, which is used as a mode of communication between home and school. It is particularly laudable that student progress in SPHE is commented on in school reports. Teachers are available at parent-teacher meetings or by appointment to discuss a student’s progress.
Evidence indicates that Balbriggan Community College is highly committed to providing for the needs of all of the students in the community. Management is particularly supportive of responding to the needs of students who require special help. The whole-school support provided in this area is excellent, as is the organisation and distribution of these resources. The school has as part of its enrolment a significant number of students with special educational needs in addition to the number of newcomer students attending the school. There is some overlap in that some of the newcomer students have been identified as having special needs in addition to their language deficiencies. This poses some significant extra challenges for the special needs department and the school. As indications suggest that the numbers of students requiring such help will increase in the future it may be necessary to seek further resources and to prepare for this in the interim.
The department is staffed by fully trained resource and learning support teachers. Commendably, teachers who are not formally trained in special needs or resource teaching are especially supported by the special needs coordinator and kept informed throughout the year. These teachers are provided with a manual created by the school to aid their teaching and such support is highly commended. The department is also staffed by a number of special needs assistants (SNAs) who play an important role in the progression of individual students’ progress. Guidelines describing the role of the special needs assistant have been drawn up by the school. The school has also prepared a Daily Record Sheet for individual students which is filled in by the special needs assistant and records behaviour and efforts at homework.
Balbriggan Community College receives an allocation of 103 hours for special educational needs from the Department of Education and Science. In addition to this, eleven hours are provided for learning support education, twelve hours are provided for travellers, forty-four hours are provided for non-national students and 86.24 for special needs assistants. The special needs department meets with management to ensure that the allocation for resource and learning support hours are optimised.
The department is divided into two units, resource and learning support, each of which is addressed in a discrete way. English language support is also provided in the department to those who need it. Various models of provision are used to deliver support to students. Learning support students are withdrawn from French, German and Spanish and receive help with literacy and numeracy and other subjects as necessary. Those receiving resource teaching are taken from SPHE, RE and PE and some of these students also avail of learning support. The resource class groups are also the JCSP classes in the school. In recent years the school has been exploring different models of delivery and have integrated all but the third year JCSP groups in the school. This integration is reported to be very successful.
Incoming first years who are in need of support are identified on the basis of information gathered from the primary school and parents are also contacted. Students are also tested when they enrol at the school. The department uses a number of tests to ascertain students’ needs. Commendably these include non-reading intelligence tests as part of the battery to ensure that students with language difficulties are correctly evaluated. The school also has access to a psychologist who works under the auspices of the VEC.
Evidence during the evaluation showed that the levels of organisation of the department were very high. The written planning and organisation of the department, various programmes of work devised by the department and other detailed and thorough documentation observed, including information for parents, is of an excellent standard. Detailed student profiles were observed as part of the evaluation as well as documentation regarding students’ ability, challenges and behavioural progress. Commendably, individual education plans (IEPs) are written for all students.
Students receiving special needs tuition are also involved in a peer tutoring system as well as other initiatives such as various trips and celebrations in order to preserve and encourage student confidence. Such practice is highly praised.
There are a significant number of students in the school whose first language is not English. This places significant demands on the curriculum and the resources of the school. The school and the VEC have been pro-active in seeking extra resources to this end, and were hopeful that some extra resources would be forthcoming. However, at the time of the evaluation, no extra resources had been put in place. The numbers of students attending the school with little or no English language has risen considerably and is likely to accelerate further. Against a background of this rapid acceleration of student numbers with English language needs, the high level of resources needed to address the issues and the lack of established practice nationally in this area, the school is endeavouring to provide solutions at speed with its presently limited resources and little established precedence in this area in the school.
Whilst acknowledging the school’s positive responses to the needs of these students in an environment of limited resources, it is recommended that a review of the organisation of the provision of English as a second language (ESL) is undertaken to ensure that the resources available are being adequately utilised.
The school has an allocation of forty-four hours to deliver language support. Presently, there are a number of teachers delivering language support to those students who have been deemed as requiring it. Two of these have received training through an initiative managed by County Dublin VEC, which awards those who successfully complete a two-part course with a Department-accredited certificate. Both these teachers have completed the first (taught) part of the course and their practice will be observed during the second part. Neither of the two trained ESL teachers is teaching ESL only and neither is involved in the setting up of the support timetable or the choice of support class members. Classes are formed first and students are tested afterwards.
The school has appointed a co-ordinator to work with newcomer students. In interview, this role was described as acting primarily as a liaison person with external agencies (for example the Reception and Integration Agency) so that the school is kept informed of the numbers who are expected to enrol and can plan accordingly. It is reported that this role also involves the integration of these students into the school and the addressing of any problems that might arise during their education. It was indicated that the VEC understands the role of the co-ordinator to be to ensure delivery of effective lessons and to look at syllabic design. Together with the deputy principal, the co-ordinator decides the class groupings and the curriculum to be followed by enrolling students. The co-ordinator does not have a specialist qualification in this area. It is unclear how the decision-making involved is informed by the testing which takes place subsequently. It is equally unclear what role the co-ordinator takes in discussing course content with the ESL teachers.
All students who do not have English as their first language are screened for language proficiency using the Cambridge tests. The majority are found to be at elementary level though there are a number who are only at breakthrough stage. These equate to B1 and A2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages devised by the Council of Europe. In addition, there have been a small number of students who have enrolled with no English at all.
English language support is timetabled against Irish and all newcomer students who do not study Irish at that time are placed in the support class group. The teachers and the co-ordinator recognise that there are students in some support classes who do not need to be there. Similarly, there will be students in the group who have minimal receptive English. Given that one of the first principles of class formation is that same-level tuition should be offered, it is not good practice that the determining factor in allocating students to class groupings is whether the individual student studies Irish or not.
At present, 126 newcomer students are enrolled. This has grown from thirty-five in 2003. Ninety students are in receipt of language support following testing. At the time of the evaluation the school was considering the value of introducing a special reception class for enrolling students who do not have English as their first language. The co-ordinator said that they are at an advanced stage of negotiation with the Department and are seeking a special allocation of three teachers to staff this class (Rathlin).
No written proposal for the class was presented but it was indicated that students who test at A1 and A2 would be allocated to Rathlin on enrolment. There was no indication as to when testing would take place but it is suggested that it would happen prior to enrolment. Students would be placed in this class based on proficiency and not on age. It is recommended that the inappropriateness of enrolling junior and senior students in the same class be recognised and addressed. Special class groups have some merit where an intensive course in English is required. Such a course should not extend beyond forty to fifty hours, however. There was no documentation available to indicate how movement out of Rathlin and into age and programme appropriate class groups would be facilitated.
At the time of the evaluation neither of the two ESL teachers appeared familiar with the details of the proposal for Rathlin. The interface between the learning support, language support and mainstream class teachers was also unclear. It is recommended that a whole-school student support team be established which would pool the expertise and resources available in the school. This would pave the way for more effective interventions for students who do not have English as their first language and who also have a learning need. Similarly, as the school indicated that the number of students needing language support is growing each year, a whole-school approach to language and literacy development may be appropriate, thus benefiting both this group and others in the school with literacy needs.
The transition programme in first year provides a wealth of support to ensure that problems are avoided and that students are content at school. Visits are made by school staff and students to primary schools, information is gathered from the relevant agencies, open nights are held for students and parents before and on enrolling at the school and, commendably, students have access to two induction days. Commendably also, tutors and established students help students settle in, make friends, and deal with any problems that might arise. A prefect system is in place which is reported to be very useful in the induction and settling in of new students. This system also helps to create a bridge between teachers and students and encourages new students to participate positively in the school. Prefects are also trained in dealing with bullying. The student handbook is a very useful and informative document, with content presented in a way that students find easy to process; this is highly commended.
Presently, the guidance and counselling department is staffed by one fully trained teacher who also has responsibilities in another subject department. The allocation for guidance counselling from the VEC is 16.9 hours with another possible allocation of five hours to be assigned under the DEIS scheme. Examination of the timetable shows that guidance and counselling is timetabled for five class periods only per week. There was no record of the periods allotted to the delivery of guidance and counselling outside of this, and no record of communications to staff or students of the particular times when the guidance counsellor meets students was made available to the evaluation team. The work of the guidance counsellor at times can be undoubtedly difficult to timetable, especially some of the counselling provision which takes place at crisis points in students’ lives. However, the scheduling and planning of work is essential and does not prohibit the helping of specific students in emergency. It is recommended that a timetable be prepared showing all guidance and counselling activity and a comprehensive record kept of all work undertaken, to be submitted to senior management at regular intervals. Appointment cards may be a useful tool in this regard.
According to Circular Letter PPT 12/05, the continued allocation of hours for guidance under this circular will be subject to: a guidance plan being part of the School Plan which is reviewed annually by school management and staff. At the time of the evaluation there was no School Guidance Plan. However, a School Guidance Plan committee had been established and initial stages of planning had taken place. Although the guidance counsellor has a leading role to play, it is recommended that the planning process would include a wide variety of representatives from the school community as set out in the circular. It is also noted that the plan should be reviewed annually and provision for this should be made during the creation of the document.
During the evaluation it was unclear as to the balance between counselling and guidance activity. It was indicated that the emphasis is on counselling in the school. It is recommended as part of the planning process to evaluate the needs of the students regarding guidance and counselling provision and to determine if there is a need to look for further support in either or both of these areas.
Presently the levels of guidance and counselling activity are minimal at Junior Cycle. All junior students have access to the guidance counsellor on open days and through particular programmes and guidance is provided for students in third year regarding their subject options. It is reported that the levels of guidance and counselling activity are also minimal at fourth year with access being limited to visiting career-agencies’ open days. It is suggested that ways of delivering guidance and counselling activity in Junior Cycle and in fourth year be explored during the guidance planning process in order to extend and enhance the delivery of guidance in the school in the spirit of the Circular Letter PPT 12/05.
During the evaluation a limited amount of tracking documentation was made available to the evaluation team. This documentation outlined some general statistics showing the general percentage of students who pursue FETAC, HETAC, apprenticeships, FÁS and other activities on completing their second level education. Such documentation is a valuable resource and a useful tool in the general monitoring of students’ progress. However the sample presented to the evaluation team suggests that there is much scope for the development of an accurate system whereby the progress of students as they complete their second level education can be accurately tracked.
The guidance counsellor is provided with a designated office from which all guidance and counselling activities are based. This room is small and of necessity must be locked when the guidance counsellor is not present. There is no dedicated careers library due to space restrictions and the guidance counsellor reported that students were making good use of the careers information available on the internet. It was reported that guidance and counselling lessons are held in the computer room to facilitate computer access. In order to further familiarise students with the options available to them and the requirements of particular programmes, it is suggested that, as opportunity presents, provision be made for a careers library with access for all students.
The guidance counsellor is also responsible for referring students to outside agencies such as the family centre, social services, the Mater Child Centre and the VEC Psychological Service. Students are also referred to the local family centre for the Living with Change and Loss programme.
The level of concern across all of the school staff for the welfare of students was clearly evident during the evaluation. This could be seen in the daily interactions of teachers and students as well as in the number of policies and procedures drawn up dealing with attendance, behaviour, substance abuse and integration among other issues. A number of teachers during interview spoke about their concerns for both groups of students and of the difficulties of individuals. Reports of interventions and supports put in place were also voiced. It was also reported that the open approach of management to both students and parents is used to good effect. A number of supports are in place including a range of outside agencies to facilitate students and parents. Programmes are also in place to promote positive behaviour and to support students in need.
Year heads and class tutors form part of the pastoral care strategy of the school. However there is no defined pastoral care team and no pastoral care policy. Although it was generally agreed that the year head and tutor system has a role to play in the pastoral care of the student, the extent of this role was not clear. In particular teachers voiced the opinion during interview that there was scope to develop the tutor role. As mentioned earlier, the practices of year heads and tutors are not consistent and expectations vary. It is recommended that a pastoral care policy be drawn up to include all of the supports that are being used to date, to evaluate their success, to define the roles and structures of the pastoral care team and to develop a clear system of referral.
Student attendance has been prioritised by the school as an issue of concern in recent times and regular meetings are held with the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) regarding attendance. It was noted by the evaluation team that there were context factors in the number of students being recorded as absent. The transient nature of the participation of newcomer students in the school is a large factor in the absenteeism rate. Another factor affecting the number of absent days is the swipe card system currently in use by the school. Students who forget to ‘swipe in’ in the past have been marked as absent. This situation has been improved in recent times as teachers take manual rolls in the morning and at lunch times. These rolls are then processed and retained by a specially appointed non-teaching attendance administrator. It is suggested that ‘spot checks’ are also held to encourage attendance and to check the efficiency of the system. The school has also appointed an attendance officer to monitor and improve the level of absenteeism in the school. This appointment shows the importance the school places on this issue. It was reported that there has been a significant reduction in absenteeism in the recent past due to measures put in place by the school. Currently, tutors have a limited role in following up absences, and it is suggested that the potential of this role be explored.
As there is presently no system for recording students’ release from the school for short periods, it is recommended that a sign-out system would be implemented.
It was reported by management that, in addition to monies provide for book grants schemes and other funding, financial support is available to students in need for extra-curricular activities, trips and other school-based activities. Such support is highly commended.
Good relationships exist between the students and the school secretary who gives support and help in a number of areas and contributes to the caring ethos of the school. However, students, staff and parents have very open access to the administration office and whilst this access can at times be very useful and add to the open approach of the school, it is suggested that these times be limited to ensure that administration staff has adequate time to complete tasks and duties.
The student council established in 2003 consists of a prefect system, in addition to the council itself. The hierarchy of the council and the procedures whereby students are elected are clear and transparent. The students vote in two students per class and the rest of the posts are decided on by teachers, through interview and seniority. The student council comprising approximately sixty students is made up of representatives from all of the years and programmes. The number of newcomer students actively involved in the council is commended. Prefects meet separately on Fridays to discuss the business of the week.
Members of the school council are very aware of their individual roles of prefect, co-ordinator, senior prefect and captain. The student council has received training and members feel very competent and efficient in their various roles. Notably the council has no financial role and the activities of the council to date have dealt with issues such as the school uniform and other student related issues. The activities of the council with regard to the prefect system has been very fruitful in matters such as helping to integrate first year students and anti-bullying. School captains meet with senior management once per month to discuss matters of concern. Some minutes are kept of meetings and were presented to the evaluation team. It is suggested that better records of student council meetings would be kept, both to record activities, actions and plans and also to develop the spirit and practice of good administration.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The mission statement is inclusive, caring and supportive and its primary aim is to provide a quality second level education for students of all abilities and levels, social and cultural backgrounds. This ethos is lived out in the daily interactions and activities of the school.
· In recent years the school has experienced a vibrancy and vigour that has resulted in a considerable amount of change and development. The school is proactive in meeting both the general changes in education and the needs of the students in its care.
· It was widely reported that the school’s profile has improved in recent years. The school produces a newsletter, which is a very positive way of sharing information and highlighting the positive achievements of the school community.
· The board has a high level of confidence in senior management and is very supportive of the school and staff, as is the parents’ association which has also been very active in terms of fundraising.
· Some very good educational links with the community have been established including adult education, English as a second language and second chance education.
· The maintenance of the school environment, notwithstanding the poor condition of some of the buildings, is a tribute to the school and reflects the diligence of both the cleaning and the teaching staff of the school.
· The principal and deputy principal together work closely and effectively promote an open door style of management; they are highly visible in the school.
· A good team spirit is evident with a friendly staff where good relationships encourage generosity and support generally. Communication among staff and between staff and management is largely informal. As part of senior management’s consultative approach, ideas and suggestions are brought to staff members for comment and input.
· The school is commended for having engaged with school development planning. Formal time is set aside for subject development planning and some voluntary co-ordinator posts have been established.
· Balbriggan Community College is commended on the wide range of programmes and subjects provided for students. Student access to subjects and programmes is good. Programme and subject choice information sessions for parents are provided at both junior and senior cycle.
· All parties express satisfaction with the levels of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities on offer to students. Teachers are praised for generously giving of their free time to benefit the students. A wide range of students benefit from these activities and there is awareness that involvement in these activities makes an active contribution to student retention.
· The student council is very well organised and all members have received training. Members are empowered and feel that they have a very important role in representing the students’ view.
· English language support is provided and a request has been made to lift the cap of two teachers per school. The VEC has supported the school by facilitating English Language training to teachers.
· Special educational needs students and learning support students are very well catered for. Detailed profiling of these students is in place. The co-ordinator supports inexperienced resource teachers with training and a written manual.
· Balbriggan Community College has taken a positive approach to the management of absenteeism within the school and has liaised with appropriate outside agencies.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A full review of planning practices and processes should be undertaken to accurately reflect the activities and interactions of the school and to put in place strategies to ensure that planning can adequately meet the school’s rapidly changing requirements.
· On receipt of further training, the board should prioritise the creation of a vision for the school. An agreed report should be used as the main instrument of giving feedback from future board meetings.
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:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Balbriggan Community College welcomes the W.S.E. report as a positive affirmation of the work being done and the service being provided here at the College. Not withstanding that the Board felt that the report did not accurately reflect the contribution of the school guidance counsellor. The Board recognises that the school Counsellor makes a very positive contribution to both student support and College management and wish to reflect that in this response document.
· The work of the Counsellor is highly visible and involves links with all the partners, students, parents and teachers. This includes the following.
v Co-ordinator of first year transition programme
v Prefect training
v Mentoring programme
· The pivotal role of the guidance Counsellor in the system of advising students on subject and career choice is not sufficiently emphasised.
· In relation to Leaving Certificate Year 2 and Leaving Certificate Applied:-
v Guidance is provided on a scheduled basis with one class period per week. Parents are informed by letter at the beginning of the school year regarding guidance planning for their son/daughter in the year ahead. A calendar of career events for the school year is provided to parents and students. An information night is held for all parents regarding further and future options, detailing college and work options. Students are assisted in their guidance exploration by the use of interest and aptitude tests and receive group and individual appointments. Evaluation of the service is carried out through administration of a survey at the end of the school year, thus informing practise.
· In relation to Junior Certificate Guidance and Counselling the inspection team was of the view that levels were minimal at junior level, however the Counsellor is actively involved in
v Co-ordination of 1st year transition
v Bereavement and loss programme
v One to one and small group counselling
v Subject and programme career guidance
· The Counsellor also actively engages with the tutor system through 1st year induction and thereafter, to meet the needs of the student.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· 28 Hour class contact from September 2007
· Guidance Plan at advanced stage
· Sign Out Book in place
· Student Support Team established
· 11 hrs extra Guidance support in place from September 2007