An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Limekiln Avenue, Greenhills, Dublin 12
Roll number: 70130I
Date of inspection: 23 January 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Greenhills College was undertaken in January 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 were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Greenhills College is an all-boys second-level vocational school and a co-educational further education college. It is a non-fee paying school run under the trusteeship of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The location of Greenhills College has been recognised as an area of social and economic disadvantage by successive governments. Consequently, the school was given disadvantaged status by the Department of Education and Science and as a result is in receipt of funding and other supports to assist students in attending school and benefiting from the time spent there. The school has also been included in the current Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme, through which supports to help alleviate disadvantage are continued. The school currently caters for approximately 161 second-level students. These students present with a wide range of ambitions and abilities for which the school strives to cater.
Greenhills College opened in 1970 in Crumlin, and moved to its present site in 1972. In 1973, Greenhills College offered adult education and leisure-type classes to the local community. The college currently provides a range of programmes at both junior and senior cycle for second-level students. The school is involved in the Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) and provides post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) and Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) courses for adult learners. There is currently a large adult student population availing of these courses.
The current teaching staff consists of twenty-four permanent whole-time teachers, including the principal and deputy principal, and twenty-three other teachers, including temporary whole-time, substitute and part-time teachers, and those on contracts of indefinite duration (CIDs). In addition, the school has appointed a permanent member of staff to the role of home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. Non-teaching support staff are also employed in the school.
The whole-school evaluation process focused on the areas of school management, planning, curriculum provision, teaching and learning, and supports for students. In the evaluation of teaching and learning, four subject areas were evaluated in detail. These are Art, Gaeilge, Mathematics and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).
According to its mission statement, which was updated in December 2008 as a result of a consultative in-school process, Greenhills College is “committed to providing a comprehensive integrated education that will enable each individual to fulfil his potential in a positive, caring, respectful, learning environment where skills and attitudes for life-long learning are developed.” Commendably, it is evident that the school strives to live up to this statement in its daily routines and in its interactions with all stakeholders. The school operates in an inclusive manner and welcomes all students who apply to attend.
Co. Dublin VEC plays an active role in the school, in its role as trustee, and the assigned education officer maintains close links with senior management. Following the relatively recent appointment of a new senior management team, the school is now moving towards a new and more defined means of acknowledging the views of all stakeholders in planning and decision-making. Consequently, policies and procedures will increasingly reflect the characteristic spirit of the school, as defined by the mission statement. As these policies and procedures are implemented, the day-to-day activities of the school will, likewise, come to reflect this spirit more openly.
The board of management of Greenhills College is correctly constituted. It has an excellent relationship with the VEC, senior management, teaching staff and parents’ representatives. The school gains much from the range of expertise and experience of the members of the board. Members have received training in relation to the functions and responsibilities of the board. The board is clear in its role and works hard to see that its legal obligations are fulfilled. It is given a high degree of autonomy by Co. Dublin VEC. It meets regularly and decision-making is by consensus. It is recommended that all members of the incoming board avail of the training programme that Co. Dublin VEC proposes to provide, when new VEC representatives are appointed later this year. A vacancy for one parents’ representative on the board has recently arisen and it is recommended this vacancy be filled at an early date.
Co. Dublin VEC provides a range of services to the school, including corporate services such as personnel management and the management of accommodation, and financial services. It also provides educational services, such as induction for new teachers and continuous professional development (CPD) for existing teaching staff. The board of management communicates with the VEC, in-school management, staff and parents through the representatives of these groups on the board. In addition to reporting to Co. Dublin VEC following its meetings, it is recommended that the board issue agreed written reports to parents and staff.
The board is involved in policy formation and ratification. It has identified a number of developmental priorities for the school, including revision of the school’s code of behaviour, development of policies and procedures on student admission and enrolment, the provision of an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) unit in the school, and improving student attendance and punctuality. The board should now put in place the appropriate action plans and strategies, and timeframes, to deal with these priorities.
The principal and deputy principal, who comprise the senior management team, operate very effectively as a partnership. Both have engaged with the Leadership Development Service (LDS) and with a Co. Dublin VEC training programme for senior in-school management. Both display a great commitment to the school. While each has distinct duties, the principal assumes primary responsibility for the second-level portion of the school and the deputy principal concentrates mainly on the PLC section. Many duties are shared, and a flexible routine is in place. The principal and deputy principal meet each morning to plan for the day ahead, frequent informal meetings occur during the course of the day, and they meet again at the end of the school day. They also meet before specific events such as staff meetings. Both are in constant, effective, communication and are constantly supporting each other. This is very good practice. However, as there is no documented list of duties for each, it is recommended that such a list be agreed, in order to ensure that all relevant areas of responsibility are covered and that each is clear about his own and the other’s responsibilities.
The exercising of the management and administrative functions of the senior management team is obvious from the quality of the work that is carried out on a daily basis in running the school. The leadership function is also apparent from the skills used to manage, motivate and support staff and students, but this function needs to be exercised in a clear and obvious manner in all aspects of the work of the school, to include leadership of learning and a vision of where the school is going in the future, that is, leadership for change. There needs to be a greater focus on the enabling of student learning, in the exercise of leadership. This will involve improving and enhancing the functioning of subject departments; close monitoring of student outcomes; the identification and support of high achieving students; and the identification and provision of factors that enable improved learning outcomes.
An appropriate degree of responsibility is distributed to the middle management layer, which consists of ten assistant principal (AP) post-holders and fourteen special duties teachers (SDTs). Post-holders have written job descriptions and they carry out their duties assiduously. Many post-holders have received training in the past in relation to their duties. Opportunities to display leadership, in the management and development of posts, have been availed of in areas such as learning support, in much of the PLC area, and in the manner in which the development of the skills unit has been managed by relevant staff. This is commendable. While most posts are suitable and appropriate to the needs of the school, and duties have been monitored over time, a full review has not taken place recently and a degree of obsolescence has crept in. Therefore, it is timely that the schedule of duties for posts of responsibility be reviewed. This should be preceded by a full analysis of school needs. Although members of staff have suggested that senior management should carry this out, the analysis should be carried out as a whole-staff activity in order to ensure that all necessary areas requiring intervention are identified, to define an appropriate range of tasks and duties and to promote a partnership approach. This process will facilitate management in ensuring balance in provision for the post-primary and PLC sections of the school, it will ensure equity among post-holders and, overall, will lead to more planned provision. It is recommended that all post-holders provide management with a written account of the work completed each year, including difficulties encountered, enabling factors and ideas for the future development of the post. Commendably, this has been done, to a limited extent, in the preparation of the school’s annual report for the 2007/08 school year, and the principal has also met with some AP post-holders as part of an evolving process.
Communications between senior management and staff are good and consultation with staff on a variety of issues takes place in an open and inclusive manner. Staff meetings are held regularly and in accordance with Department of Education and Science regulations. Weekly meetings of the AP post-holders also take place and both those with responsibilities in the post-primary and PLC sections of the school attend. The principal and deputy principal also attend these meetings and minutes are recorded. This is good practice.
Continuous professional development (CPD) of staff is promoted and supported generously by Co Dublin VEC and by the board. Senior management facilitates staff to attend in-service days and other appropriate professional development events. In order to make the best of the knowledge and experience gained by staff in attending such events, it is recommended that management explore ways that such gains could be shared among the various subject departments, with the ultimate aim of providing a better service to students. In addition, following on from the review of posts of responsibility mentioned above, and an analysis of training needs for staff who have taken on new duties, appropriate training opportunities should be identified and sought as required. In particular, it is recommended that the training of year heads be reviewed and updated as appropriate.
The school operates an open and inclusive admissions practice in relation to students with additional educational needs. However, the enrolment policy, as written, does not reflect this good practice. In order to ensure compliance with the Education Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2002, and to reflect existing practice, the enrolment policy should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. The revised policy should be aligned with changing contextual factors, for example the skills unit and the proposed ASD unit. When reviewed, this policy should be dated and a future review date should be indicated on the document. The school supports the principle of respect for the diversity of beliefs, traditions and languages of its students. No barriers are placed in the way of including the full diversity of students in school activities.
The recently introduced student incentive programme, run with the support of the school completion programme (SCP), provides a means to reward positive student behaviour. It has been implemented with junior cycle students, it has proven to be very effective, and has delivered positive outcomes to date. All who are involved in implementing this programme are commended for their work. It is recommended that this effective programme be formalised and extended to the entire post-primary section of the school.
Greenhills College has a documented code of behaviour, as is required under the terms of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. While this code has been effective to date in supporting student management, it has now been prioritised for review, as a result of recent developments in the school and the publication of Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools by the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). It is recommended that this review be used to rationalise the current situation, as there are several different versions of the code in different school documents, none of which is dated. The inclusion of both a code of behaviour and a code of discipline in the otherwise very good parents’ handbook should be rectified. It is recommended that, on occasions where detention is used as a sanction, the code specifies that work of educational value be assigned to students.
A students’ representative council (SRC) is in place in Greenhills College. This council meets every Tuesday after school and has worked diligently with a supportive management to bring about improvement and to give a voice to students. While an agenda is circulated in advance of meetings and minutes may be recorded, some vagueness was evident among students regarding the functions of the council. The SRC has brought forward issues such as classroom maintenance, student security, health and safety, sports and fundraising. Students are highly commended for their work. An SRC notice board in the student canteen in used to inform students of upcoming events. The membership of the SRC is currently not representative of the student population as a whole, officers and members of the council have received no training for their roles and the SRC does not have a constitution. However, the link teacher has recently received relevant in-service training. Therefore, the school should now be in a position to review its approach to the SRC. Arrangements should now be put in place to set up a more representative council. The book Giving Young People a Voice, published jointly by the Office of the Minister for Children and the City of Dublin VEC, contains a relevant module of work for Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) classes and is a useful means by which the importance of the SRC may be communicated to students. Appropriate training should be sought and provided to enable students to draw up a constitution and clearly define their role, in conjunction with school management. Greater recognition and a higher profile should be given to the members of this important group and their involvement in school planning and policy development should be facilitated. The publications Second Level Student Councils in Ireland – a study of enablers, barriers and supports (2005) from the Children’s Research Centre, and Student Councils: a voice for students (2002) from the Department of Education and Science both contain advice and useful information.
The school has acknowledged that student attendance and retention are issues of concern. A designated part-time secretary has been appointed for the purpose of monitoring both attendance and punctuality, and to contact parents as necessary. This positive initiative has resulted in an improvement in attendance and punctuality. The home-school-community liaison service is also used effectively to support student attendance. The problem of retention is at its most acute when students are transferring from junior to senior cycle. While much of the pastoral work being carried out is supportive of student attendance and is designed to encourage students to remain in school for as long as possible, it is recommended that the school examine the factors that improve retention rates and that formal strategies to support attendance and retention of students should be developed and implemented at an early date, in conjunction with the SCP retention plan, in order to consolidate the various interventions that are currently taking place. The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) has been under developed and under used as a means of supporting students and the role of this programme should be considered in developing the above-mentioned strategies. In addition, a statement regarding the possible exclusion of students with a poor behavioural record, when transferring from junior to senior cycle, should be removed from the relevant transfer policy. This will bring the policy document into line with the stated existing practice of not excluding such students.
Greenhills College has had an active parents’ association in place for many years. The association holds meetings each month which are attended by the deputy principal and HSCL co-ordinator. Members of the association have demonstrated a very strong and admirable commitment to the school. The parents’ association has been consulted regarding some school policies. It has worked very hard to promote the education of students, for example through fundraising, involvement in arranging mock interviews for sixth-year students, arranging speakers on a variety of topics to address parents, and through extensive liaison with the HSCL co-ordinator. The members of the parents’ association have a realistic but very positive view of the school and are very supportive of management and teaching staff.
The parents’ association has not met with the board of management, although it has a direct link through a member who is on the board. It is suggested that the board should meet occasionally with the parents’ association in order to improve communications and to discuss, in a more effective and efficient manner, issues of mutual concern. It is also suggested that the parents’ association gives consideration to finding a means to include all parents in the process of electing its members, rather than relying on the attendance of parents at its annual general meeting, held each October. It is recommended that the parents’ association be given an opportunity to contribute to the school’s annual report.
Members of the parents’ association stated that communications with the school are excellent and that management is very approachable and supportive. A variety of means is used by the school to communicate with parents. These include the use of a text messaging system, phone calls and letters to parents, writing notes in the school journal that students are required to keep, and home visits by the HSCL co-ordinator. The school operates an open door policy for parents, who are encouraged to come to the school to discuss issues concerning the students’ welfare and progress. Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group, in accordance with Department of Education and Science regulations. Regular progress reports are also sent to students’ homes. Members of the parents’ association expressed satisfaction with the work of the HSCL co-ordinator in promoting parental involvement in the school and the production of an information leaflet for parents. The school also issues a newsletter to parents on two occasions each year. The school is commended for the efforts it makes to maintain contact with parents and to seek their support in the education of their children.
Greenhills College maintains good links with the community and with a range of outside agencies, including providers of educational and counselling services which are used to support programmes in the school and to assist students with a variety of additional needs. The school is closely linked to its main feeder primary school through the School Completion Programme and there is an appropriate exchange of information. Greenhills College also maintains links with its closest third-level institution, Tallaght Institute of Technology. Links with local business enterprises are used to provide for the work experience needs of students. In addition, the services and support of a variety of other groups and agencies are availed of, including the local newspaper, the County Enterprise Board, Mental Health Ireland, Dublin-West Education Centre, and the local committee. Staff and management are highly commended for their commitment to working closely with these groups for the benefit of the students.
Greenhills College is in compliance with Department of Education and Science regulations regarding the number of instruction hours per week and the number of teaching days per year, as specified in circular M29/95. The deployment of teaching staff is generally in line with teachers’ qualifications, expertise and experience.
Available teaching hours are not being utilised to their maximum. Teaching time is the largest, most expensive and most important resource the school has. It must be used to the fullest extent and in the most effective way possible. All teachers should be at, or close to, the required maximum number of class contact hours, as determined by their status and other commitments such as posts of responsibility, co-ordinator positions and other relevant criteria. In some instances learning-support hours are assigned to teachers to increase their teaching hours to the required minimum. This is less effective practice. Learning-support hours should only be assigned to increase teachers’ class-contact time if a clear benefit to students is certain. When such timetabling is carried out, it should be with the involvement of the learning-support department, to ensure that interventions are planned in order to achieve the best outcome possible for the students concerned. Management should monitor implementation. Relevant training and support may be necessary for some teachers.
As there may be changes in the availability of teachers during the course of the school year, it is recommended that a system be put in place to manage the hand over of classes from one teacher to another, in order to minimise the level of disruption for students and to ensure a smooth transition. This will require that documented curriculum plans and an agreed minimum level of records be made available to incoming teachers.
At the start of the current academic year the school was assigned a foreign language assistant by the Department of Education and Science. This is a valuable resource for students and teachers. However the terms of the scheme, as outlined in the Department of Education and Science guidelines, were not adhered to in terms of timetabling and planning. The language assistant was given full responsibility for a class group which is not permitted under the scheme. There was evidence of planning for the use of the language assistant. However, there was no evidence of curricular planning, as is required under the terms of the scheme. It is essential that, where additional resources are provided to the school by the Department of Education and Science, all terms and conditions are observed. The language assistant left the school in January instead of May 2009.
A mentoring programme is in place to support new members of staff. The mentors involved in this programme are to be commended for their efforts to support new colleagues. This mentoring programme is run in conjunction with supports provided by Co. Dublin VEC. The mentoring process should be carefully planned and managed, and should be carried out with clear objectives.
Appropriate support staff are in place and contribute effectively to the operation of the school. Three special needs assistants (SNAs) are currently employed and there is an effective policy in place in relation to their deployment. This is good practice. In addition, the school employs three secretarial staff, two of whom are part-time, a caretaker and cleaning staff. The school community places a high value on the work of the support staff. The high level of co-operation displayed by staff effectively supports the work of the school.
School accommodation is good and is maintained to a high standard. Well-equipped specialist rooms are available for practical subjects. Other spaces have been well adapted for specific purposes, for example the learning-support room and the guidance suite. However, many classrooms are very basic and there is scope to improve the learning environment through the use of wall charts, posters and displays of student work. This will give students a sense of ownership of their classrooms. Students complained of the severe cold in the school building and many students wear their coats throughout the school day. The temperatures in the school are well below what they should be and this matter should be addressed.
Subject departments are encouraged to identify useful resources and teaching aids. Management is to be commended for its willingness to provide such resources, when requested by subject departments. Department of Education and Science grants in specific subject areas have been spent in accordance with their intended purpose.
Information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and resources in Greenhills College are very good. There are three dedicated ICT rooms in the PLC section of the school and a fourth in the post-primary section. In addition, specialist rooms have been equipped to serve specific functions, for example the skills room, the technical graphics room, the learning-support room and the career guidance suite. The business studies room is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, and it is intended to deploy a second such resource in the near future. A number of data projectors, printers and other ancillary items of equipment have also been deployed. It is recommended that subject departments address the issue of planning for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning, in order to maximise the use of these extensive facilities for the benefit of students. Very good ICT infrastructure has also been provided to support year heads, secretarial staff and other school administration needs.
A school health and safety statement has been prepared, in addition to the standard Co. Dublin VEC safety statement, in order to reaffirm the school’s commitment to the parent statement and also to recognise local issues pertaining specifically to Greenhills College. This statement is not dated so it impossible to determine when it was prepared. It is recommended that it be reviewed, at an early date, and that the resulting statement be dated. The revised statement should include separate details for specific areas such as workshops, laboratories and classrooms. It is also recommended that the date for the next review be stated in the document. At the time of this evaluation, a safety audit of the school was in the process of being carried out, in consultation with all members of staff. It is suggested that the outcome of this audit be used to inform the review of the safety statement. Fire extinguishers and a number of first aid kits have been placed at appropriate locations around the school. A number of members of staff have been trained in the provision of first aid and in the use of a defibrillator, which has also been made available. School management is commended for this good practice.
There has been a good tradition of planning in Greenhills College, going back over many years, and there has been good engagement with the school development planning initiative (SDPI) in recent years. A school plan has been ratified by the board and is currently in operation. The school’s mission statement has been updated to take account of recent developments and a critical incidents plan has recently been put in place. The board, senior management and teaching staff have been the leaders in planning, and other stakeholders have been involved to a lesser extent. However, the planning process is evolving into a more inclusive and consultative process. A range of policy documents have been developed and have been ratified by the board. All those involved are to be commended for their work to date.
For a number of years, post-primary student numbers have been falling while PLC numbers have been increasing. Although an annual target has been set in relation to first-year enrolment, there is currently no documented plan in place to deal with declining numbers at post-primary level. At the same time, increased resources have been provided to support a growing number of students with special educational needs. The school has earned a reputation in its locality, and beyond, for its quality of care and support for students with special educational needs. There is evidence that such students are actively choosing to attend Greenhills College in order to access the good support provided.
To date, the board, along with senior management and staff, have been occupied mainly in dealing with current issues and, while the future of the school has been discussed in relation to some specific issues, such as whether or not to admit girls, the overall big picture has not been addressed. The board, in consultation with all stakeholders, should now give consideration to the future direction of the school and to how to lead the school in its future development. The alternative is to drift and possibly facilitate the decline of the school. A fundamental reappraisal of the role of Greenhills College, who it serves and what it provides for those it serves, is required, as is the preparation of a long-term development plan for the school.
At a practical level, there are a number of documents that need to be updated, in order to keep up with events. Included among these are the admissions policy, the code of behaviour, policies and plans in the area of ICT and Guidance, the child protection policy, and others that are not really policies or plans but simple one-page procedure documents, for example the relationships and sex education (RSE), anti-bullying, and substance use policies. There is no evidence that the board has ratified a number of policies, as it is not stated in the documents. An audit of policy documents and of the minutes of board meetings should be carried out to ascertain the true position of all policy documents, and appropriate remedial action should be taken where necessary.
As stated in the introduction to this report, the school is included in the department’s DEIS initiative. It is imperative that the school develops a plan associated with its inclusion in this initiative. This plan should contain specific targets in relation to student attainment in literacy, numeracy and retention. Excellent materials to assist in DEIS planning are available at www.sdpi.ie.
It is recommended that the planning process within the school be reviewed to ensure that it conforms to best practice. When a need for a policy or plan in a given area has been identified, the planning team should consult all stakeholders at the earliest stage possible and seek their input on the development of policy. The team may carry out further research and then prepare a draft policy, which can then be used as a basis for further consultation. Eventually, a final draft should be prepared and presented to the board for ratification. This process should be time-bound, to ensure that the process does not drift. All policies and plans, regardless of their stage of development, should be dated. When a document is ratified by the board, it should be stated that the document supersedes all previous versions. This will ensure that only one version is current and that its pedigree is apparent. Each policy and plan should have a review date stated. The role of the co-ordinator should be to manage policy development and planning: to be aware of the priorities for policy development, the policies currently under development, the stages they are at, those responsible, the next steps, and the timeframes for their development.
The subject department planning process is in need of renewal. Very good practice is evident in areas such as learning support, Art, Mathematics, and others are actively involved in an evolving process, for example SPHE. Some departments, however, are lagging behind and have very little to show for the time that has apparently been spent on subject planning. The good practice in the areas mentioned above serves as an excellent model for other departments and should be shared. Specific recommendations in relation to subject areas evaluated as part of the whole-school evaluation are to be found in the individual subject inspection reports, which form appendices to this report. It is recommended that they be read by all subject departments. It was noted during the evaluation that, in general, recommendations in relation to planning, made in previous subject inspections, have been implemented. However, those recommendations in relation to curricular planning in some subject areas have not been implemented. It is incumbent on management to ensure that all recommendations are implemented over time. It is recommended that it might be timely to re-engage with the SDPI, with a view to developing quality subject departments, in a consistent manner, and with the ultimate goal of enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.
A new and clear policy, based on factually correct information, should be drawn up regarding the inclusion, or otherwise, of exempted students in Irish classes, and subsequent practice should reflect this policy. Appropriate supports should be provided for such students during Irish class time. This does not necessarily mean that these students should be denied culturally valuable experiences. Decisions should be made in the best interests of individual students.
It is recommended that the terms of the internet acceptable user policy should be broadened out to include all users of the internet in the school, and not just student users. In addition, key statements from the policy should be displayed on the walls of the ICT rooms.
Confirmation was provided that the board has approved and ratified Appendix 5 of the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, 2004). Conformation was also provided that these child protection procedures had also been brought to the attention of school management and staff, and that relevant training had been provided for all teaching and non-teaching staff. However, due to a misunderstanding, the board has not formally ratified, and adopted as school policy, the remaining provisions of the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools. It is recommended that this be rectified as soon as possible. It is also recommended that an audit of school staff, including non-teaching staff, be carried out to determine if, due to the passage of time, there are members of staff for whom the provision of training in child protection procedures is now necessary. Identified training needs should be provided for at an early date.
Greenhills College provides an admirably broad range of programmes at post-primary level, adapted to the specific needs of its students. The curriculum currently consists of the Junior Certificate (JC) programme, the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, the established Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The school is commended for providing such a range of programmes for a relatively small cohort of students.
Students have access to both higher and ordinary level in most subjects. The school caters for a significant number of students who are in need of extra supports. Small classes are provided where possible, in order to provide the best possible supports for students who have difficulty with the curriculum.
Students are streamed, on entry to Greenhills College, on the basis of the results of standardised tests, school-created tests, and information provided by the parents and feeder primary schools. Students in the second stream, in each year, follow the JCSP. The school has begun moving away from the discrete JCSP model of class organisation and towards integrating JCSP students into mainstream classes, taking due cognisance of the full range of criteria that should be used for assigning students to the programme: placement in the JCSP is not solely determined by the presence of special educational needs. During the course of the evaluation, the implementation of the JCSP was not apparent. At the time of the evaluation, the JCSP co-ordinator was on leave and the post remained unfilled. It is essential that school management makes arrangements to continue implementing the programme in accordance with best practice during the planned absence of key personnel. In addition, it is recommended that the school continues to give due consideration to high-achieving students and that these students are appropriately challenged and supported in their various subjects.
The LCA programme is provided for those students for whom the established LC is not an option. Due to falling student numbers, there is no fifth-year LCA class at present. However, it is anticipated that a class will be again formed in the coming year and in subsequent years. It is noted positively that planning has commenced in preparation for this.
An appropriate amount of time is allocated to subjects, in line with syllabus requirements. This is praiseworthy. In many subjects, the distribution of lessons is good and allows for regular contact with subjects. However, timetabling in some specific areas is not in line with best practice. While it is commendable that double periods have been extensively provided in practical subjects, consideration should also be given to spreading class contact, in a number of subjects, over as much of the week as possible. The provision of two separate single periods in a subject in one day, as is happening with some Irish classes and in a number of other instances, should be avoided.
The PLC section of the school has grown substantially in recent times and further growth is anticipated. A wide variety of courses is on offer to adult learners. Provision is determined by the anticipated needs of prospective students and is reviewed on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that similar reviews of curriculum provision at post-primary level be carried out as part of the planning process, in order to ensure that provision remains appropriate to student needs.
Incoming first-year students sit entrance assessments in the spring prior to entry. The purpose of these assessments is to identify students who may have additional educational needs, in order that the required supports can be put in place for them as early as possible. In addition, the HSCL co-ordinator visits the feeder primary schools to gather information on incoming students. Parents and incoming first-year students are invited to a meeting each year, at which subject options are explained. Currently, students choose their subjects before entry to the school. It is recommended that consideration be given to providing a short taster programme in optional subjects so that students are facilitated to make a more informed choice.
First-year students are provided with a core set of subjects, consisting of Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, in streamed classes, and Science, Religion, CSPE, SPHE and PE, in mixed-ability classes. They are also provided with a weekly lesson in computer studies. First-year students study three additional subjects, choosing between German and Technical Graphics, Art and Business, and Metalwork and Materials Technology (wood) respectively. Classes in these subjects are also mixed ability. The option bands are set by the school in order to provide students with an appropriate variety of subjects, including practical subjects. It is recommended that this procedure is kept under review to ensure that it remains relevant to student needs.
Second-year and third-year students are provided with a core set of subjects consisting of Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, in streamed classes, and Science, Religion, CSPE, SPHE and PE, in mixed-ability classes. Students in the more academically able stream are required to study German and their subject choices are between Art and Business, and Metalwork and Materials Technology (wood), in mixed-ability classes. Students in the less academically able stream are provided with extra classes in a number of subject areas. In future years, it is intended to follow the scheme currently used in first year. This is a positive development, as it opens up the option of a modern European language to all students.
The core of examination subjects for LC includes Irish, English and Mathematics, in classes which are streamed, and four other subjects selected from a substantial list of optional subjects, with an open choice being offered to students. The subject groups from which students make their choices are designed to facilitate the maximum number of students, but are subject to the availability of teachers. Classes are mixed ability. Students also follow programmes in Guidance, PE and Religion. A career guidance programme is provided for all final-year LC students, who also have access to one-to-one guidance and counselling support. This is good practice.
Currently, almost all fifth-year and sixth-year students are following the LCVP. They are facilitated and encouraged to choose appropriate qualifying subjects to enable them to follow this programme, as the school considers it to be very advantageous to them. A module in a modern European language, as required, is provided for the small number of students who are not taking such a language to LC level. It is recommended that, in line with good practice, the course content of this module be documented and a schedule for its implementation be drawn up.
Lessons in Irish, English and Mathematics are provided concurrently for all year groups and classes, thus facilitating withdrawal of students for extra support in these subjects, and facilitating movement of students between streams when warranted. Commendably, this concurrency has also been used to facilitate the formation of additional smaller class groups, on occasion, thereby providing extra support for students. This is good practice.
Timely information is given to third-year students and their parents regarding subject and programme options for senior cycle. An information meeting is organised for parents where presentations on programme and subject options are given by members of staff. This is good practice. The guidance counsellor also visits classes in third year and students are given a leaflet, updated annually, with information on subject choices. Students can also make individual appointments. Specific recommendations may be made to parents and students regarding participation in the LCA or LC programmes. However, as the criteria for the advice given are not available in written form, it is recommended that such criteria be documented and made available to all concerned.
Currently, third-year students do not have regular timetabled class contact with the guidance counsellor. It is recommended that this situation be re-examined with a view to providing regular weekly class contact, thereby improving the service provided to students. This will also provide an opportunity to encourage greater parental involvement. It is also recommended that a booklet on senior cycle programme and subject options be developed, similar to the very good booklet that has been prepared for sixth-year students.
A commendably wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is offered and supported, involving all areas of instruction, including sporting activities, cultural activities, social and charity-based activities and a number of other activities which are linked to specific programmes and subjects. These activities are designed to support students’ academic subjects, to encourage their social development and to enable students to develop specific skills such as leadership skills, teamwork skills and a variety of social skills. Activities are inclusive except where numbers are limited or when an activity is related to a specific class or group of students. No restrictions are placed on students participating in activities, other than to ensure that no one is so involved as to suffer academically. A committee is in place to raise funds to cover some of the expenses associated with these activities. The school also has its own minibus to provide transport to events, further reducing costs to students.
Examples of sporting activities include trips to soccer matches abroad, hiking trips, and participation in basketball, soccer, football and hurling competitions. Students are also involved in table tennis, handball, athletics and skating. The school has provided a mountaineering skills programme, which encourages self reliance and teamwork skills. A first-year sports half-day is held during the first term, to encourage students to settle in to the school, and there is also an annual sports day in the final term of the school year.
A variety of subject and programme related activities are supported. LCA and LCVP students take part in work experience. LCVP students are involved in enterprise-related activities, including an enterprise club, mini-companies, recycling waste paper, National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) competitions and events, and student enterprise awards competitions. Other subject-related activities include visiting the Gaeltacht, tours to Germany, theatre visits, history trips, writing workshops and public speaking. Examples of social, cultural and religious activities include lunchtime cookery classes, holding concerts in school, the annual collection for Concern and the Concern Christmas mass choir.
Greenhills College maintains links with a number of outside organisations in order to support extra-curricular activities, including Tallaght Institute of Technology, Mental Health Ireland, Cheeverstown House and a number of commercial organisations. Staff are commended for maintaining such valuable links.
Management, staff and students have stated the benefits they feel both teachers and students gain from participating in these activities. Teachers and students get to know each other better, especially in an out-of-class context and relationship-building is thus facilitated. Students gain a greater sense of achievement and self-confidence is improved, especially for those students who do not achieve highly in other areas. Social skills, life skills and independence are all improved, leading to the holistic development of students. These activities are an example of the mission statement of Greenhills College in action. Much time-consuming work is being done by a number of teachers and it is recognised that there is a cost, in personal terms, to teachers in providing these opportunities for students. Their work in supporting students in this manner is indeed praiseworthy.
The effectiveness of subject department planning is varied within and between the subject areas evaluated. The very good level of collaboration in evidence among some subject department teams, which benefited subject planning, is highly commended. In the case of most subjects, management provides time for formal meetings. It is recommended that this facility be extended to other subject areas, such as SPHE, in order that the development of a comprehensive department plan can be progressed.
The role of subject department co-ordinator is voluntary and is adopted on a rotational basis among team members, generally for one academic year. Given the high level of leadership, commitment and enthusiasm displayed by members of some subject teams, it is recommended that the role of co-ordinator be adopted for a period of two years. It is further recommended that teachers, in partnership with senior management, agree the duties assigned to the role of subject department co-ordinator.
Subject department plans are well developed in some instances while, in the majority of cases, they are in the early stages of development. It is strongly recommended that the good practice of developing comprehensive long-term and short-term subject department plans be extended to all subject areas. The subject department plans should also include plans for the delivery of the subjects in the different programmes offered, such as the JCSP and LCA, along with the Junior Certificate and established Leaving Certificate. These documents should be viewed as working documents in the delivery of the curriculum to the students in Greenhills College and should prove useful tools in integrating new teachers into subject departments and the school staff, as has already been the experience in some instances.
In guiding the work on planning at subject level, it is recommended that teachers work collaboratively and develop a framework of the expected learning outcomes for their subject areas at the different levels and in the programmes in which it is offered. It is further recommended that the agreed expected learning outcomes inform planning for individual lessons, including the differentiation of content, and that they form the assessment criteria for class tests and house examinations.
The good practice, noted in a small number of instances, of including teaching and learning methodologies and strategies as items for discussion at formal subject department meetings is highly commended. This excellent use of the time provided facilitates the sharing of good practice and experience among team members and enhances collaborative efforts. In order to support the implementation of differentiation of content, and to further develop work already underway in this area in a number of subjects, it is recommended that discussions among and across teams focus in particular on the promotion of active student engagement with their learning.
Planning and preparation for the individual lessons observed during the course of the evaluation was generally of good quality. The development and sharing of resources for individual lessons was particularly noted in some areas and should be extended to all subject areas.
The lessons observed during the inspection were well planned, were consistent with the subject departments’ long-term planning and with the requirements of the curriculum. This resulted in lessons that had a clear focus, where the content was delivered in systematic fashion and where there was appropriate use of correct terminology. The good practice evident in lesson planning could be further enhanced by sharing the lessons’ objectives with students at the outset of the lessons and by ensuring that there is sufficient time at the end of the lesson to review the outcomes of the lesson and to reinforce the students’ learning.
In all cases classroom management was very good. The teachers dealt skilfully with any issues that arose and the lessons proceeded in a secure and supportive environment. The teachers were affirming of the students’ efforts and worked hard to ensure that the lessons were inclusive and purposeful. Teacher questioning was very effective and served to elicit factual responses to directed questions, to enhance student participation and to ensure that all students were appropriately challenged.
In-class support, in the form of team teaching and through the presence of a special needs assistant (SNA), was also observed during in inspection. In both cases the level of support provided was appropriate and facilitated inclusive classroom practice without negatively impacting on the students’ independence. The team teaching model employed in the lesson observed during the inspection should be extended wherever the opportunity and resources allow.
A variety of teaching methods was observed during the inspection. These included the use of quizzes and worksheets, the integration of models and the engagement of students in active learning. The range of teaching methods should be extended to increase levels of differentiation, to reduce reliance on the textbook and to create a more visually stimulating environment. The integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching and learning is particularly encouraged and a whole-school approach to developing competency in ICT integration should be undertaken.
The quality of student learning was good. The students responded readily when questioned by the teachers and displayed a good knowledge of concepts and facts, and were well able to recall material covered in earlier lessons. The quality of their written work in homework copybooks and during in-class assignments was also very satisfactory. It was noteworthy that the teachers took great care to ensure that the students understood key terminology. However the practice of translating words to English to explain their meaning during language classes should be kept to a minimum.
Across the four subjects inspected, student progress is monitored through questioning, homework, class tests and house examinations, as well as mock examinations for third-year and sixth-year students. Communication and feedback are provided in relation to results of assessment. Formal reports are furnished twice a year. Parent-teacher meetings are held once a year for each year group and more informal communication is maintained where necessary.
Some good practice in integrating formative assessment was evident in lessons observed in SPHE, where questioning strategies, teacher monitoring of activities, and group-work plenary sessions were used to assess individual levels of learning as well as to provide affirmation and feedback on the tasks assigned. SPHE students are asked to complete end-of-module review forms, and if extended, this procedure could become a source of useful information on which to base ongoing development of the programme. It is recommended that the SPHE team should collectively agree on an assessment policy, and review, together, the range of assessment methods used. There is also considerable scope for further use of written tasks in SPHE as a source of evidence to provide constructive feedback and teacher monitoring.
In Irish, good practice was seen in some instances when the full range of language skills were all assessed in house examinations. It is recommended that all these language skills be examined as general practice when assessing student progress. Targeted questioning was well used in all instances in the in-class assessment of student attainment. Students’ copy-books revealed a great variety in the content and level of the material therein. It is recommended that, where appropriate, common assessments be set in Irish.
In Art, standard assessment practices are in place, with good record keeping and reporting of results in evidence. Planning for assessment should seek to build on these efficient methods of assessment management.
In general, it should be noted that the use of learning outcomes in drawing up assessment criteria would improve alignment of what is taught and learned with what is examined and assessed, and the techniques used for examining attainment in relation to desired learning outcomes. It is recommended that, in all subject departments, learning outcomes be used to structure assessment criteria and that these criteria be communicated to students.
In Mathematics, assessment of homework takes place regularly and the practices involved in processing this work were generally very good. It is recommended that all teachers in the department adapt and follow the good mathematics assessment practices evident in most cases. It was noted that assessment results in Mathematics were used to modify lesson content and teaching methods in response to student attainment in tests: this is good practice, reflective of a caring and student-friendly attitude. The regularity of assessment in Mathematics and the assignment and correction of homework are commended as they support learning. The very good practice of writing positive comments on homework, a technique of affirmation, should be adapted across the mathematics department.
Use of school journals by students to record homework given during class was not universal within subject departments or across all the subjects inspected. In some instances there was evidence that student work assignments and homework were corrected regularly. As no whole-school assessment policy exists in Greenhills College, it is recommended that this be developed to ensure consistent and comparable procedures between and within subject departments, and to enhance assessment-for-learning procedures throughout the school.
In Greenhills College, a very effective, thorough and forward-looking learning-support team provides an excellent service for students with additional educational needs. This team, led by a designated co-ordinator, meets regularly and has prepared a comprehensive draft special education needs policy, covering all aspects of special education needs and learning support provision. This policy provides the basis for a draft special needs assistant (SNA) policy, a concurrent learning-support plan, and a provisional whole-school literacy policy. Such planning has provided a solid context for the work of supporting students with additional needs and is highly commended. There is strong evidence of reflection and ongoing evaluation in the learning-support department documentation. It is recommended that these policies and plans be brought to the final stage of ratification by the board. A provisional whole-school literacy policy has been prepared. However, this policy is in need of substantial development. It is recommended that, in conjunction with developing this strategy, a whole-school numeracy strategy be developed. Excellent materials are available regarding the development of a numeracy policy on the SDPI website at www. sdpi.ie.
Students with additional educational needs are identified before and during the transition process from primary schools. This process is well organised and co-ordinated and it is carried out with the assistance of the HSCL and SCP co-ordinators. Commendably, the learning-support department maintains a register of special needs students which aids in the ongoing monitoring of student progress after admission and in ensuring that interventions are made as appropriate. This is very good practice. It was stated that while assessments can be difficult to arrange, the school will not allow students to lose out while waiting for assessments and will intervene as necessary. This is commendable practice.
Senior management is very supportive of the work of the learning-support department. A whole-school approach to learning support is evident and there is good integration with other areas, for example the transfer programme from primary schools, the mentoring programme and the SCP. All available resources that can be used to support students, both internal and external, are accessed. Very good links are maintained with the local special education needs organiser and with an appropriate range of outside agencies, including agencies that provide counselling and support for students with a variety of personal difficulties. The recent appointment of SNAs has enhanced provision and their deployment is appropriate. Regular meetings are held between the learning-support co-ordinator and the SNAs to plan and co-ordinate relevant student supports and to monitor students’ progress. This is good practice. Students with special educational needs are encouraged and assisted to access and participate fully in school life.
A variety of models of support are used, including withdrawal, team teaching and the provision of small classes where deemed appropriate, and these are tailored to the specific needs of students. This is good practice. It is intended to use individual education plans from next September, and planning for this is already underway. This is a good example of the progressive approach of the learning-support department.
Students from disadvantaged, minority and other groups are welcomed in Greenhills College and are supported, as necessary, through a variety of interventions. All available evidence suggests that newcomer students have been included and well integrated into the school. Language support has been provided as necessary.
Learning-support facilities are good. A base room is designated for to the use of the department. ICT resources include four networked computers work and appropriate software. A number of laptop computers are also due to be provided shortly. A decision has been made to set up an ASD unit in Greenhills College, with the support of Co. Dublin VEC. This is a good example of the school responding to the needs of students and the local community.
There are very good links between the learning-support department and staff in general, and very good collaboration with other sections of the school community. Good communications are maintained with parents. The learning-support department is currently preparing a staff information pack and a staff presentation on issues pertaining to special education needs. This is a very good initiative and the department is commended for its work in this area. It is suggested that this work be enhanced by the preparation and inclusion of a list of available special education resources for other teachers and subject areas. These initiatives will encourage the use of appropriate methodologies and differentiation in all subject areas. By maintaining close links with the learning-support department, subject teachers can ensure that students are receiving the best possible support in the classroom. Subject teachers should consider using the excellent teaching methodologies associated with the JCSP in all classes. Further information on this can be obtained at www.slss.ie.
Greenhills College is in receipt of a 0.5 whole-time equivalent allocation for Guidance and, under the DEIS programme, another 0.16 whole-time equivalent post for Guidance has also been allocated. This allocation is being appropriately used to provide for educational, personal and vocational guidance. One guidance counsellor delivers the guidance programme in the school.
A draft guidance plan is presently under development and is at the consultation stage. Commendably, it is being implemented while awaiting final completion and ratification. The guidance programme, as described in the plan, is designed to cater for a wide range of students, from first year up to Leaving Certificate students, including LCA and LCVP students, at post-primary level, and also for the PLC section of the school, including students following Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses and mature students. A counselling model for the school, including both individual and group counselling, is also described. Provision for review and evaluation of the plan is included. This is laudable.
A guidance suite has been set up in the building which primarily houses the PLC section of the school. This suite has appropriate ICT facilities and it is well equipped to serve its purpose. It is recommended that, due to its location being at a distance from the post-primary section of the school, consideration be given to making the suite more accessible to second-level students.
The guidance department maintains good links with a wide range of agencies and organisations that are necessary to provide information and student supports in both career guidance and counselling provision. Links are also maintained with parents, as appropriate, for example through guidance input in the transfer programme from primary schools, open nights, and the provision of advice regarding subject and programme choices for students. Guidance department personnel are also available should parents wish to make contact for any reason. This is good practice.
Greenhills College, in conjunction with the main local feeder school, is part of the School Completion Programme (SCP). A variety of focussed and effective interventions are underway to support students. The home-school-community liaison (HSCL) service is used effectively to maintain contact with parents and, in many ways, to further support students in attending school. A very good transfer programme from the main feeder primary schools is in place, run in conjunction with SCP, and the HSCL co-ordinator. Parents of incoming first-year students are invited to a meeting in May of the year of entry of their children and are given information regarding the school and its procedures, and copies of a very good parents’ handbook which details the academic and support systems in the school, procedures for contacting the school, and the code of behaviour. This is good practice. It is recommended that a copy of the school’s mission statement be included in this handbook.
A mentoring system is in place in Greenhills College, whereby mentors trained under the auspices of the SCP provide support for in-coming first-year students. These mentors are sixth-year students, recruited and given appropriate training while in fifth year. This is a very good initiative and all those involved are commended for their work.
An effective system of year heads and class tutors is in place to monitor student performance, to support students at both individual and class levels, and to deal with discipline issues. This system helps to identify students with problems who may require further support. Class teachers are involved in pastoral care and they also help to identify students who are having difficulty. It was stated that there is no conflict between the pastoral and disciplinary roles of year heads and tutors as a caring way to deal with problems is always sought first, with an emphasis on building relationships. In instances where students are placed on detention, it is recommended that the work assigned to them be of educational value, and designed to encourage a positive response, which evidence suggests does not always happen. This will support, rather than diminish, the positive aspects of the student-support systems of the school.
A student incentive scheme, a reward scheme for good behaviour which students devised for themselves and which has been implemented on a trial basis in a number of junior cycle classes, has proven to be an excellent means of promoting positive student behaviour and has delivered positive outcomes to date. It is recommended that this scheme be developed further and extended to the whole school, over time. Student achievement is recognised and celebrated through the display of project work, posters and photographs of prize-giving ceremonies in the front hall of the school, and through the annual graduation ceremony, held at the end of the school year.
All students are required to keep a journal where they record homework given in class. This journal is also used as a means of maintaining contact with parents. The recording of positive comments regarding students’ behaviour and performance in a number of instances is highly commended. It is recommended that a whole-school approach be implemented by teachers to ensure that students record their homework in these journals as required.
The convening of the recently formed core team is an excellent initiative for the management of student supports and all involved are highly commended. This team meets every week and membership includes the principal and deputy principal, the guidance counsellor and learning support co-ordinator, the SCP and HSCL co-ordinators, year heads and other student-support staff. The core team provides for a whole-school approach to the issue of student support. It is a place from where an overview of provision can be taken, and tailored supports for students can be arranged, managed, monitored and co-ordinated. It provides for enhanced communications between all those involved in supporting students. The work of this team includes the identification of students in need of intensive and individual support and pastoral care, identification of providers of the required supports and referral of students, as appropriate to these providers, both in school and externally. Progress of students is then monitored and follow through may be arranged if necessary. The core team is highly commended for its professional approach to supporting students. Its work exemplifies the care and support afforded to students in Greenhills College.
It is recommended that an overarching pastoral care policy document be drafted in order to tie together the various aspects of the work of the core team, to link the range of policy documents underpinning this work into a coherent whole-school student-support strategy, and to present them as an integrated process. This will ensure that a systematic approach is taken in existing provision and will help to avoid the current situation where a post-holder, who is carrying out valuable student-support work, is not actually a member of the core team.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published, January 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Thank you for the WSE report which overall looks very favourably at our college. A number of suggestions and recommendations have already been addressed and implemented, and as I go through the report, I have noted some of them.
Finally, may I thank the WSE team who visited the college during the week of January 19th - 23rd for their professionalism, dedication and assistance to all the staff of Greenhills College, it was an enjoyable educational experience benefited by all.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
A new parent was elected to the Board of Management (BOM) and all members of the BOM have been offered training.
Child Protection Guidelines were fully ratified by the BOM 25/11/09.
All policies have been dated and review times indicated.
The student representative council Assistant Principal post holder is examining ways of getting a bigger spread of students involved.
We have made a request to the SDPI to assist with further developing subject planning; our Regional Coordinator is offering assistance.
We had both buildings insulated with eco-beads and already, certainly in one of the buildings, we have noted a heat increase.
The school has started the process of drawing up the DEIS plan looking at literacy, numeracy and retention.
A new system for improving attendance and punctuality has commenced in September 2009 using a student card system.
We have improved and extended our Student Incentive Programme.
We have established an Autism Unit, as planned.
The staff and management will use the WSE report to improve the level of care and support for individual students.