An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Mullingar Community College
Mullingar, County Westmeath.
Roll number: 71450I
Date of inspection: 29 February 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Mullingar Community College was undertaken in February 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subject areas was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). 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.
Mullingar Community College operates under the auspices of County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The school has been located on its present site near the centre of Mullingar on Millmount Street for nearly fifty-five years. Since the 1950s, two extensions have been added to the main school building and there is an additional small extension at the rear of the site adjoining the sports’ pitches. This consists of three prefabricated classrooms.
Mullingar has grown physically and demographically in size over the last twenty years. Currently, the school’s catchment area includes both urban and rural settings and a wide range of primary schools. An open enrolment policy is adopted that aims to cater for diversity and all students’ needs. Due to the influx of new families into the town, the school’s population now includes a significant number of newcomer students. Many of these students do not speak English as their first language. Traveller students are well represented in the student cohort. These minority groups are integrated and are actively encouraged to engage in school life.
As a community college, the lifelong learning needs of all age groups are promoted. Currently the school’s enrolment totals 1036. This number consists of 390 mainstream students and 65 are following Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. In addition, 581 adult students are enrolled in a wide variety of part time and continuing-education programmes which take place on three evenings during the week.
With the active support of the VEC the school has taken the lead in responding to meeting the diverse educational needs of learners in Mullingar, and demands for new educational provision have been addressed. Meeting these needs has presented challenges for both school management and staff. For example, the school recently responded very effectively and enthusiastically to meet the educational and English language needs of a large group of Kurdish families who have settled in the town. Every effort is being made to integrate this group, and indeed other newcomer students and provide for their particular language, cultural and educational needs. The school and the VEC are to be highly commended for rising to meet these challenges in such a collegiate and systematic way. It is reported that the arrival and the integration of newcomer students has contributed much to the life of the school.
It is reported by the VEC and the board of management that the further expansion and continuation of the school on the present site are not considered as viable options. Plans are now being considered for the possible future relocation of the school to a new ‘green-field’ site, where more modern educational and sports facilities for students could be made available. However, as this is recognised as a long-term objective, the VEC and the school’s board of management are committed to continuing to maintain and develop the present school site and to maximising learning and sporting opportunities for students and the local community. The recent development of the new ‘Astro-Turf’ sport pitches at the college has heralded a new impetus for student and community involvement in sports. This type of development of facilities is to be highly commended as it provides very valuable opportunities for students and sporting groups within the Mullingar community. As well as teaching staff, the school community includes a dedicated team of ancillary staff who make a very valuable contribution to the school and students. These fulfil a wide variety of administrative, learning support, catering, cleaning, caretaking and maintenance duties to support the smooth operation of the school and provide a clean and green environment on the school campus.
Mullingar Community College has a clearly articulated mission statement that promotes partnership between school, parents and students and supports diversity and inclusion. It is disseminated widely among the school’s community and informs all aspects of life in the school. The characteristic spirit of the school is fully enshrined in the mission statement. There is good collaboration among the school’s partners for the good of the whole-school community. The VEC, the board and school management share a common vision for the school and co-operate fully to support the school’s development. School policies which have been drafted contain aims and objectives that are broadly in line with the mission statement. It is recommended however, that the whole-school community continue to explore new ways to maintain the common vision, and live out the ideals outlined in the mission statement in all the day-to-day activities, interactions, procedures and practices that operate within the school. The school is participating in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity for Schools (DEIS) programme. This initiative together with the School Completion Project (SCP) provides extra supports for students to counteract the effects of social disadvantage. Good efforts are being made in the school to encourage students’ full attendance and participation. Extra supports for learning and personal development are being provided. The home-school-community liaison service (HSCL) complements the work done in school with students by liaising with parents and the local community.
The characteristic spirit is lived out in the way that the school integrates with the Mullingar community and in how staff members strive hard to provide for students’ educational, personal and career needs. The student cohort now includes a large group of newcomers and students from the Traveller community many of whom are well integrated in the school. Parents are invited to participate actively in the life of the school and are reported to make a valuable contribution to school life through the dedicated efforts of the parents’ council.
The board of management operates as a sub-committee of the County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee. It is properly constituted and operates within the procedures laid down for such boards within VEC structures. The board meets formally each term and a number of other meetings are arranged at the request of senior management. However board members have not received training for their roles. It is recommended that training be arranged to enable them to learn about how to fulfil their roles and to become fully acquainted with the statutory obligations for boards enshrined in the Education Act, 1998.
The board is supportive of school management, staff and students. It is reported that members give generously of their time to assist the school. The education plan drafted by County Westmeath VEC contains a development plan for all schools and centres for education in the county. The board has identified priorities for Mullingar Community College which are outlined in a published five-year plan. This plan has provided a very useful starting point for school development planning. It pinpoints the initial areas for development and the essential school policies to be drafted. However, as these primary objectives have largely been achieved, there is now an urgency on the board to instigate development of a new and more comprehensive whole-school plan as prescribed by section 21 of the Education Act, 1998. The school plan should be drawn up in conjunction with the whole-school community; the board, senior and middle management, teachers, parents and students. This plan should outline a vision for the school moving into the future, set priorities for development, establish short-term and long-term goals, include agreed timeframes and contain all ratified school policies. This plan should serve as a reference point to guide all school planning and developments and should be reviewed regularly. To generate this whole-school plan it is recommended that the board and management continue to actively liaise with the school’s School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) co-ordinator and with the SDPI www.sdpi.ie. The expertise of the VEC’s education service should also be sought to assist the board with this task. A new impetus to ratify all draft school polices should be planned and executed immediately. Once completed, the school plan should be made available to the whole-school community.
Parents are represented on the board. Through these representatives good liaison is maintained with the parents’ council, which also receives good support from the principal. It is recommended however that an annual report about the work of the board be prepared for the parents’ council to keep them fully informed about school planning and all new developments. The parents’ council is well established and successive groups of parents have made very valuable contributions to the development of the school’s facilities for students. The council is well supported and has the respect of management and the board. Parents who participate in the council report appreciation for the efforts being made by the school community to expand the educational, personal and recreational supports provided for students. Fundraising, which takes place annually, is organised by parents with support from the student council. Council members promote the school among their own communities and are now exploring new ways in which to contribute towards school life. It is suggested that links be established by the council with the parents’ councils or association in some of the main feeder primary schools. These contacts should serve to encourage some parents of the students who are transferring to Mullingar Community College to get involved in the parents’ council of the post-primary school.
The first student representative council (SRC) has been established in the school. The SRC is very active and is contributing to a number of developmental priorities in the school. The democratically elected council holds regular meetings and is planning how to improve facilities and the range of activities available to students. The school has two student representatives on the local Junior County Council. This is an excellent example of citizenship-awareness building and this experience is feeding directly back to the SRC. The current SRC has not yet availed of leadership training. It is recommended that this be arranged to provide a better understanding of the roles to be fulfilled. In the course of the evaluation, inspectors met with the SRC and attended a meeting of the council. Students spoke most enthusiastically about their role and their aims for future development. The students and staff involved in the SRC are to be highly commended for their work in this vital aspect of the development of a partnership approach to school management. It is recommended that closer links be forged between the parents’ council and the SRC.
The principal and deputy principal, since their appointments in late 2003 and early 2004 respectively, have formed a cohesive senior management team that works well to manage the school. They share a common vision for the school which they agree is now moving swiftly forward into its next stage of development in the early 21st century. Both the principal and the deputy principal have accessed training for their respective roles and are co-operating effectively to meet new challenges and to plan new initiatives. However, the school is now heavily engaged in a variety of new areas such as, developing new programmes and support measures for students, introducing new subjects and expanding provision for extra-curricular activities. It is therefore recommended that the principal and the deputy principal adopt stronger leadership roles to oversee these developments and work with staff to establish and achieve common objectives.
The senior management team is supported by a core group of assistant principals and special duties post holders and these make up the middle management team. This team fulfils a wide range of pastoral and other roles that aid the smooth running of the school and provides supports for students and the curriculum. However, the reality of distributed and shared leadership is somewhat undeveloped. The senior management team still assumes ownership of a number of roles and duties which could more ideally be delegated to middle management. It is recommended that the senior management team review and evaluate their own managerial and administrative roles and then agree with middle management which tasks and roles could be delegated or shared. To progress this work it is recommended that a total review of the school’s post structure be undertaken following a survey of the school’s and students’ needs, and the identification of current priorities. It is advised that the views of all staff members be canvassed to guarantee that an accurate and full assessment of needs is achieved. Having highlighted the main priorities, new areas of responsibility should then be assigned to assistant principals and to special duties post holders. This root and branch analysis should facilitate teachers to evaluate existing roles and explore the adoption of new roles and empower them to contribute enthusiastically towards the creation of a more dynamic middle-management structure for the school. At the time of the evaluation some new posts had been advertised and were in the process of being filled. Most notably a post to take responsibility for the co-ordination of special education needs had been advertised.
A concentration on year-head roles for assistant principals was noted, with some assigned to other duties. Assistant principals work closely with senior management, hold regular meetings, provide pastoral care for students, monitor behaviour and attendance and liaise directly with parents. Class tutors are assigned to junior cycle classes. They provide very valuable support for students making the transition from primary level, settling into school and then transferring successfully to senior cycle. However, in line with the further development of pastoral care in the school it is recommended that the role of tutors be reviewed and strengthened. Tutors could be given more ownership for the monitoring of students’ attendance and journals, as this would greatly complement the work of year heads. It is commendable that a pastoral team has been formed that meets regularly and includes staff who provide a range of supports for students. To build on this good practice and the school’s involvement in the DEIS initiative, it is recommended that the pastoral-care team meet weekly and plan even more targeted supports for the students who are deemed to be most at risk of dropping out of school or of being suspended. All the interventions planned and executed with these students and their parents should be fully documented.
Special duties post holders make a very important contribution to the school and fulfil roles in a wide variety of areas. They are facilitated by management to meet a few times a year to plan activities and also meet regularly informally in their own time. This contribution is to be commended. Other staff members have taken on a plethora of duties and roles that provide a comprehensive range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for students. This generosity of spirit from the staff throughout the school is to be highly commended.
Teachers are supported by the board and management to engage in personal continuous professional development (CPD) and acquire new or improved skills. However, it is recommended, as part of a general school review, that an audit of teachers’ skills be undertaken, and that areas of staffs’ professional competence or skills that require retraining or updating be identified and addressed through in service or other training. It is therefore suggested that more reference be made in future to the Second Level Support Service’s brochure and website www.slss.ie when CPD for teachers is being planned. In addition, as there is an urgent need for the development of expertise in the area of providing for students with special education needs, reference should be made to the Special Education Support Service’s website www.sess.ie. Although the school has accessed advice from personnel from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), it is recommended that more training for staff in the area of school planning be arranged to provide extra skills in this area.
Students making the transition from primary school are assessed, using school assessments, and reference is made also to the information supplied by parents and the primary schools. An induction programme is also arranged. Good and due regard is then taken of all their identified special educational needs. It is recommended that the assessment instruments be reviewed and that more culture fair ones be developed to meet the needs of all, including newcomer students. Students are then allocated to classes and are reassessed throughout first year. There are four class groups in this year’s first-year cohort and mixed ability operates in two of these. Streaming, especially at such an early age, is contrary to the principal of inclusion and is not supported by research. It is strongly recommended that more emphasis be placed on the creation of mixed-ability base classes for all first-year students, with the option of providing concurrent timetabling in some core subjects and extra learning and language supports for those who require these interventions. This mixed-ability approach would facilitate students to settle into the new school and develop higher expectations for success with their peers. Decisions on the banding of students, if required, should be delayed until second year. Research published by the Educational Research Social Institute (ERSI) www.ersi.ie in conjunction with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB), on issues surrounding the problem of early school leaving shows that students of lower ability behave and succeed better when included in mixed-ability groups in first year, as do the students of higher ability. Advice about this change of approach should be sought from the VEC.
Over the last number of years great efforts have been made to develop policies and adopt practices that promote full participation in school and the progression of students to Leaving Certificate level and beyond. Policies on attendance and the establishment of good contacts with parents are two examples of how participation has been promoted. The School Completion Programme (SCP) has provided support towards the development of a variety of supports for students. These efforts are to be commended, and evidence shows that most students now transfer directly to senior cycle upon completion of the Junior Certificate.
The school operates an open enrolment policy for students residing in the catchment area. However, it is recommended that the school review the relevant sections of the admissions and enrolment policy to ensure that it is in line with the Equal Status Act (2001), and with the policy of inclusion promoted by the department and referred to in the Education Act (1998) and the EPSEN Act (2004). Section 2.4.1 of the Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs, Post-Primary Guidelines will provide some clarification in this regard. Some of the statements in the policy could be interpreted as being somewhat discriminatory and inequitable towards students who require special-learning support, and therefore should be restated. It is recommended, that the enrolment of students who require the provision of extra learning resources or other supports should not be delayed, and that such cases be dealt with within a stated short timeframe, as any delay hinders their full and immediate integration into the school with their peers. References in the policy to delaying enrolment for some students should be reviewed, and advice sought if relevant, from with advice from the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), the Visiting Teacher for Travellers (VTT) Service and or the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).
The school’s code of behaviour has been developed and is accepted by the majority of students. However, this code is now due for review as the development of a more positive approach to school discipline to cater for the diversity of students attending the school is strongly advised. This revision will require closer dialogue and full collaboration with all the school partners including parents. In reviewing the behavioural code, the school community should investigate and explore ways to reduce the overuse of the suspension of students. Data supplied by the school to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) shows that this type of sanction is applied in a high percentage of cases. In total, 125 students were suspended in 2006. It was noted in the course of the evaluation that some first-year students had received repeated suspensions. The purpose and the procedures governing suspensions from school therefore should to be urgently reviewed and reference made to CL M33/91. Suspension is a discipline strategy that should only be applied to students as an ultimate sanction by the school for very serious breaches of the behavioural code, and when all other sanctions have been tried and exhausted. Full regard should be taken to the effect that suspension may have on an individual student’s progress and performance in learning. The VTT should be kept informed by the school about students from the Traveller community who are suspended.
It is also crucially important that all staff be made fully aware of the behaviour code and that they consistently apply the disciplinary rules in all circumstances. It is recommended that positive discipline practices be encouraged throughout all subjects through the planning and use of appropriate teaching methodologies. In the course of the evaluation, it was noted that during lunch-time detention students were given large amounts of German vocabulary to transcribe as punishment work. This punishment was given to students indiscriminately including those not studying German. This type of punishment exercise has no educational value and gives a negative image to a subject that has recently been added to the curriculum. The work set for students to complete during detention should always be in line with the curriculum they are studying.
Rewards for good behaviour should also be consistently applied to encourage and support positive-discipline approaches. In addition, to cater effectively with the small percentages of students who require individualised support to learn self-management skills and positive behaviours, it is suggested that more ways be explored to build up their self esteem and engage them in more positive endeavours and activities. The school already offers a range of excellent activities and sports for students. Some of these opportunities could now be focussed particularly on mentoring individual students whose continued participation in school is a cause for concern.
Communication with parents is generally effective. However, the correspondence sent to parents explaining the reasons for students’ suspensions and the duration of these suspensions needs to be reviewed. The content of such letters should make it even clearer to parents that students who are being suspended should remain at home under their supervision to complete appropriate course work set by the school. Upon returning to school following a period of suspension, students should be interviewed by their year head to discuss their reintegration and the completed work that is signed by their parents should be presented. This change of strategy would serve to involve parents more in supporting the school’s code of behaviour and the suspension process. Advice about redrafting the code of behaviour can be accessed directly from the NEWB www.newb.ie which has issued new guidelines for schools about the development of codes of behaviour. Advice and assistance with redrafting the policy and code should also be discussed with personnel from the SCP which operates under the DEIS initiative.
The school and the board are very anxious to support the raising of students’ expectations and participation in school. The improvement of students’ attendance rates is a real priority for the school as poor attendance is severely hindering the achievement of individual students’ academic and personal successes in school. Management and staff are commended for the steps they have taken with support from the VEC so far to address this important issue. A ‘swipe card’ system for students has been installed that registers their attendance each day using the software package Anseo. A daily tally of the numbers absent in each class and year group is provided for year heads to follow up and refer, if appropriate, to the HSCL service and to the NEWB. An attendance officer appointed under the SCP monitors attendance each day and identifies students who are at risk of dropping out of school. The attendance officer liaises with staff to put extra measures in place to improve attendance. These include an after-school homework club which provides assistance with homework followed by refreshments and games. It is reported, that attendance, while still an issue for some groups, is showing an improvement especially in first year. It is recommended that this issue be kept under strict review to maintain the progress that has already been made, and that new ways be found to impress upon students and parents the need for full attendance. The board, through support from its business representatives could discuss with local employers ways to adopt a school-supportive policy of offering only limited hours of part-time employment to students studying for state examinations. Agreeing ways with the business community to discourage students from entering local shopping areas during school-tuition time should also be considered.
The school calendar, with respect to the number of teaching days per year and the number of instruction hours per week, is compliant with Department of Education and Science regulations. The deployment of teaching staff is largely consistent with teachers’ qualifications and expertise. However, it was noted from the school’s timetable that a number of teachers are allocated teaching hours fewer than the stipulated minimum eighteen hours per week. Department of Education and Science regulations state that all teachers should be fully deployed for between eighteen and twenty-two hours per week. It is recommended that this shortfall in teaching hours be addressed. The VEC and management should strive to maximise all the available teaching hours to meet the needs of students’ and of subjects. It is recommended that all resource teaching hours be included on teachers’ timetables from as near as possible to the beginning of the first term. It is further recommended that the number of teachers currently engaged in providing resource teaching be reduced. This will enable the formation of a cohesive team of teachers with an interest and expertise in this area.
New teachers are provided with a staff pamphlet and they report that more experienced staff members are very helpful in mentoring new staff. A staff handbook is being developed and the school is urged to complete this task to aid the induction of new teachers, and provide information for existing staff. As already suggested in this report, a full audit of staff’s skills and interests will be useful to inform all aspects of planning the future teaching needs in the school.
The school has five special-needs assistants (SNA). It is reported that the SNAs provide a valuable support role for students to assist their full participation in learning. Management has been very supportive of this group and has aided their full integration into the school. The role fulfilled by SNAs in developing a wide range of supports for students is highly praised by staff and parents.
Accommodation in the school is of varying quality as it reflects three distinct phases of development since it was opened in the 1950s, with a main building and a prefabricated extension. The current buildings were not originally designed to cater for small-group teaching sessions, the full exploitation of new information communications technologies (ICT), or to use very interactive teaching methodologies. However, good efforts have been made to maintain these buildings and provide reasonable facilities for students. The school has a good range of general classrooms located in the two blocks and a number of specialist workshops and rooms. The well-maintained reception area which is located in the main school building houses the administrative suite and the senior management team’s offices.
Given the breath of the curriculum that is currently being provided, the school is severely challenged to provide adequately for all subjects and students’ other needs. Each year ways are explored by management to reassign available space in the school. An example of this creativity is the way that a canteen was created to provide suitable accommodation for students. As a caring school participating in DEIS a priority to provide a day-long canteen space for students was identified for the breakfast club, lunch and after-school snacks. A classroom was redesigned to cater for these needs. The school is to be highly commended for providing this facility and the dedicated group of staff who work in this area interact effectively with students and demonstrate a strong duty of care for those considered to be most needy. This type of flexible thinking on the part of management and staff is to be commended. In the same way, some classrooms have been divided so that smaller rooms could be made available for learning-support groups.
Parts of the school buildings have been renovated and repaired over the years as resources have become available. The public reception areas in the school are well presented and generally the school building is well heated and comfortable for students. However some areas of the school require more attention to general care and housekeeping. In particular, the general tidiness of some classrooms needs urgent attention. As many of the teachers are classroom based each should assume responsibility for maintaining the general orderliness in his/her own room. All obsolete or damaged equipment and all waste paper should be jettisoned or recycled. This particularly applies to some of the practical subject workshops where some equipment that is no longer used is still occupying valuable floor space. Each classroom should contain well-maintained and subject-appropriate notice boards that display aids to learning and examples of current students’ work. A practice of tidying classrooms and school storerooms at the end of each academic year should be adopted. Examples of old project work should be removed so that all available storage space can be fully utilised. Subject departments should be asked to audit all resources annually so that they can be shared, repaired and updated. More attention to the maintenance of students’ toilets to make sure that they are constantly supplied with soap and hand-drying equipment in line with health and safety requirements is recommended. The current guidance office is small and does not provide adequate space for the guidance team or a careers’ library. The relocation of this facility should be considered during an audit of available resources in the school.
Despite the expansion of Art into exciting new areas such as film studies, resources for the teaching of this subject in the school are very inadequate. The accommodation and facilities provided for Art needs to be reviewed, resources permitting. Furniture appropriate for the subject, sinks, storage racks, display boards for students’ completed work and work-top space should be planned once the resources become available. These would provide students with access to a wider range of crafts and art disciplines. Students should be invited to display their work in school corridors, and more of the work of those currently in the school should be exhibited. It is suggested that the student council be asked to organise the choosing of work for display throughout the school.
As a school that originally focussed on the provision of technical subjects, these subjects are well represented. One of the technology rooms has been splendidly renovated for the new Technology Four (T4) curriculum. This is a very welcome addition to the existing practical workshops in the school as it provides the most up-to-date equipment in computer aided design (CAD) and three dimensional imaging. The other technology room is however in a much poorer condition, has no information communication technology (ICT) facilities and some of the equipment is sub standard. It is recommended, that as resources become available this room be refurbished. At the time of the evaluation the health and safety grant issued in respect of the material-based technology room had not been used to address health and safety matters. It is recommended that every effort be made by the VEC and school management to ensure that the health and safety grant is put to effective use as soon as possible.
Recently, the development of ICT facilities has been a school priority and two rooms have been equipped with ICT to a very high standard. Students are encouraged to avail of these resources. The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) modular training is provided, and this is greatly enhancing opportunities for students to become competent with ICT and progress into Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) Courses. Broadband is now available in most classrooms and will provide an increasing support for teachers in subject teaching. Students with special education needs have access to ICT in the learning support room. It is therefore recommended, that all staff take full advantage of all available training in ICT to exploit fully this new resource. Data projectors are available in some classrooms. It is also commendable that a number of teachers have purchased lap-top computers to support their planning and teaching.
Some computers are provided for staff in the staff room and in other locations throughout the school. Two interactive white boards have been installed and students expressed their great interest in the use of this teaching aid. Therefore, subject teachers in all departments should now consider how to integrate ICT fully into the planning and delivery of subjects.
When originally designed in the 1950s, only a small assembly hall that is suitable for small drama productions, music events and meetings with parents was provided. However, this hall cannot provide adequately for sports which have to take place instead outside on the new astro-turf pitches or in sporting premises rented by the school. The school has made good efforts to maximise all available resources in the local community, and within the constraints of available resources students can avail of sporting opportunities in a variety of local venues. The school currently has no library although students have access to sets of books and other reading materials to assist learning. It is reported that management has worked assiduously to address this deficit and that the school’s inclusion in the DEIS Junior Certificate Programme Schools’ Library project has just been announced. The VEC has commissioned the design of an area within the school campus where this facility could be located. This concerted effort by the school to provide a library is to be highly commended.
A health and safety statement has been developed and regular evacuation drills are held. Specific areas in the school grounds are clearly marked to which classes are evacuated. Each subject department has been asked to contribute safety statements tailored to their specific subjects. It is recommended as a continuation of this whole-school strategy that each subject area revisit their agreed health and safety statements as part of formal-department planning. Statements contained should be revisited to make sure that they state clearly how students and staff can contribute actively to maintaining a good level of safety while using equipment and tools.
The school has taken a positive role in promoting community awareness among students and active participation in the An Taisce Green Schools Project. It is to be commended that a second green flag has been awarded for the school’s efforts and the whole-learning community is justly proud of this major achievement.
The school reports that formal school development planning commenced in 2004. The initial priority for planning up to 2007 was to establish a mission statement and draft a number of essential core policies such as a code of behaviour and an admission policy. The planning process is now established and a planning co-ordinator is now overseeing the drafting of a number of new policies. Most of the policies drafted to date have been put for consultation to the staff, parents’ council and student council. This approach to planning is to be commended. The current emphasis in the school is on the development of plans for each subject area.
However, as the school does not yet have a whole-school plan, timescales for the completion, up-grading and the review of policies are not decided. As the drafting of policies is crucial for the development of the school, it is recommended that the whole- school planning co-ordinator’s role be strengthened by the creation of a small planning team to oversee the development of new policies. This group should actively engage in drafting policies that are in tune with the school’s agreed priorities and should also review existing policies to guarantee that they are in line with the mission statement and the vision for the school outlined in the whole-school plan. It is suggested that new priority areas for policies are special education needs, language support and literacy. By consulting widely with the school community other areas may also be identified. In addition, this group could also begin the task of revising and updating some of the existing policies.
As already stated in section 1.2 of this report, the permanent section of the whole-school plan has not yet been developed, although the board has established a five-year plan for the school. It is recommended that the board should now dedicate its attention to creating a whole-school plan in line with the requirements stated in Section 21 of the Education Act 1998. This school plan should be developed following a consultation conducted with the whole-school community, include all aspects of school life and act as a blueprint for the school’s total development in the early 21st century. A broader vision for the school should also be created by the school community to inform short-term and long-term planning goals and objectives for both staff and students. The priorities outlined for the school in 2005 should now be allocated timeframes for completion, and a review process needs to be established to keep the school plan and all aspects of planning fully on target and up-to-date. The board and management should be guided in drafting the school plan through reference to School Development Planning: An introduction for Second Level Schools (1999) available at www.sdpi.ie.
A home-work policy has been developed and is being implemented. Students are expected to write all assigned homework in their journals. However, for full impact, the application of this policy needs to be reviewed and become more of a priority for all subject and programme departments to maximise students’ learning.
As the school is participating in DEIS the development of a literacy and numeracy policy should be an immediate priority.
The school is engaging actively in subject department planning. Subject areas have now elected a convenor and drafted a subject policy. It is recommended that further advice on subject planning should be accessed from the School Development Planning Initiative to further progress this process. It is also recommended that departments debate how learning outcomes can be included for all sections of their plans and how a review of these outcomes will be managed.
Through its planning initiatives and plans for expansion of programmes the school is laying good foundations for the development of education for students in the 21st century. However, there is now a need for management to emphasise and support more intensive self-review throughout the school, and the inclusion of learning and other outcomes in all planning documents. The Department of Education and Science inspectorate publication , Looking at Our School - An Aid to self-evaluation in second-level schools, should be referred to more widely to inform the direction and scope of school planning and self-evaluation.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with post-primary circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. However, it was noted during the evaluation that some new teachers who had joined the staff this year were not fully aware of the child protection guidelines. It is therefore recommended, that all staff be reminded annually by management of the guidelines, and that copies of these regulations be included in the staff handbook and on the school’s website.
The school complies with Department of Education and Science regulations with regard to the breath and balance of the curriculum provided for students. The school is to be commended for offering such a wide range of programmes to cater for the diverse educational needs of students and introducing new subjects such as German. It is reported that both the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) with their modular approach to learning are proving very popular with students. Only the Transition Year (TY) programme is not currently offered. As the school has set as a priority the need to maximise the numbers progressing to further and higher education, the introduction of this programme would benefit a number of students with these aspirations, and should therefore be kept under annual review. Curriculum documents and Department of Education and Science circular letters are disseminated widely to all school staff.
Ongoing review of the curriculum is taking place in the school and new Post Leaving Certificate courses and other school programmes have been introduced to meet students’ needs. It is recommended that when curriculum review is taking place care be taken to involve fully the views of both parents and students. Care also needs to be taken when selecting subject options for both junior and senior cycles, so as not to limit students’ progression routes. The guidance team should be encouraged to adopt a greater role to assist this process.
The school provides instructional hours in compliance with DES circular M29/95. The school timetable is drawn up after consultations held with staff. However, when examining the school timetable during the evaluation some quite significant shortfalls in the allocation of teaching hours for some staff members were noted. Management explained that most of these deficits have since been addressed through the allocation of some extra hours for resource teaching and other school activities during the school year. It is the responsibility of the management authorities to ensure that staff who have an incremental post are timetabled for a minimum of eighteen hours, or eleven hours in the case of those who are job sharing. This shortfall in teaching hours on the timetable needs to be addressed urgently by the school and the VEC. The up-to-date teachers’ timetables were not made available in the course of the evaluation. Lists of teachers who had been allocated additional teaching hours (mainly teaching hours) were provided in conjunction with the original timetables for teachers issued in September 2007. It is recommended that teachers’ timetables be updated regularly when extra resource hours are sanctioned by the Department of Education and Science. It is desirable that all hours for resource teaching be included in staff’s timetables from as early as possible in the school year. More co-ordination among staff about how resource hours are being deployed is also required.
The evaluation found that the allocation of time for some subjects is not fully in line with syllabus guidelines and the recognised best practice of spreading lessons across all five days of the week. This facilitates students to have maximum contact with subject teaching and the consolidation of learning through completing regular homework assignments. It is further suggested that all students in first year should have access to all subject options. A school timetable that focuses directly on the needs of students and subject delivery provides an essential framework to support the full implementation of the curriculum. To ensure that a fully balanced timetable for all core subjects and subject options is provided throughout the school week, it is recommended that maximum use be made of all available teaching hours and resources. When drafting the school timetable each year, it is recommended that a small planning team be assembled to decide how all available resources can be best used to guarantee that all school priorities and students’ needs are fully met.
A good range of programmes and subjects are provided for junior and senior cycles and the development of new programmes demonstrates that the school is engaging in expanding students’ subject choices. New subjects such as German and T4 have been introduced and this is commendable.
Students can access a lot of support for learning and are assisted to achieve academically at levels that suit different ability ranges. However, it is noted that the uptake of higher level in some subjects for Junior Certificate is currently very low. This issue needs to be addressed with a whole-school response, as it appears contradictory that students are taking higher level in some subjects and not in others. Without changing this strategy it will be difficult to encourage more students to take higher level in subjects for the Leaving Certificate. Students with special educational needs have access to the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) option. This is reported to provide students with very-focussed learning targets and to have good outcomes. It is suggested that, as the planning of a new JCSP library area is now underway, when the school is reviewing the post structure that co-ordination of this programme should be included. It is also suggested that more ways be explored to make JCSP available to an even wider number of students in junior cycle. The current practice of providing some classes in first year with a very limited range of subject-options should also be reviewed.
An open day is held for parents, who are invited to visit the school and view the facilities, meet with staff and view examples of students’ achievements. However, it is recommended that a dedicated night for the parents of incoming first years be held. Such an event would provide opportunities for staff to meet parents, and for parents to become really familiar with the school and learn how they can support their children. The excellent DVD about the school which has been developed should be shown, the subject options explained and the many ways that parents can support their children’s learning could be emphasised. Guidance in the school could make a valuable input to this event. Some members of the board of management could be invited to attend and meet with parents. The development of a new brochure for parents explaining subject options and all aspects of the support provided for learning is also recommended. As first year is a time when students settle into a new school, it is suggested that consideration be given to the reintroduction of a short-taster programme for optional subjects. This would allow students to sample subjects before choosing them for Junior Certificate. This may serve to counteract the gender imbalance currently evident in some subject areas.
A good range of practical subjects and access to ICT are provided at both junior and senior cycles. However, there is an evident gender imbalance in the cohorts opting for some of these subjects. This imbalance should be addressed by the subject departments which should become more proactive in promoting active participation in these subjects with students and with parents during school open days. The guidance team should also assist with this issue by emphasising to parents the possible opportunities for third-level education and career advancement that may accrue from choosing these subjects. Issues such as the gender stereo typing of certain subjects should also be challenged with parents and students. Guidance is provided for all students making transitions and one-to-one support is available for all students wishing to explore subject or career options. Particular attention is paid to assisting students to make good subject and programme choices for Leaving Certificate and throughout senior cycle. However, more use should be made of ICT to encourage students to be proactive in engaging in their own career research.
The school is to be very highly praised for the way that it supports and promotes the involvement of the diversity of students in a very wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. These include cultural, aesthetic, community, social and sporting activities. It is particularly commendable that all these activities are displayed and promoted with parents on the school’s website, www.mullingarcommunitycollege.com. This website allows parents and the wider community to see how students are participating and succeeding. None of this engagement with students would be possible without the generosity of teachers, many of whom give up their own time to support students in activities after school, at weekends and during school holidays. Students take part in a large number of school leagues in all sports and the trophies and plaques they have won are displayed proudly in the school foyer. The newsletter also informs parents about these accomplishments and achievements.
It is noteworthy that many of the newer teachers have enthusiastically joined more established colleagues in supporting existing sporting and other co-curricular activities, and introducing new ones to students. The expansion of students’ interest in sport has been aided by the development of the new Astro turf pitches and courts on the school campus. Students no longer have to travel to access soccer and basketball facilities. Swimming is popular with students and is available in the swimming pool located in the park next to the school. Many of the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities take place during lunchtime and after school, providing a good balance to academic work.
The Grand Canal which is located near the school, is used for basic-canoeing techniques training and water safety. Then the canoeists progress with support from teachers to tackle white-water rivers and take part in competitions.
As well as sports, drama and musical interest are highly developed and students are well accomplished in these pursuits. Concerts, talent shows such as ‘You’re a Star’ and plays are arranged each year with good involvement from staff. Students also take part in a range of local and national drama and musical competitions. Debating is reported to be very popular and students can be justly proud of their achievements in this area. The student council has surveyed students to ascertain their interests in developing new activities or clubs. This is a praiseworthy input by the council and it should be repeated annually as it supplies a real student focus to this important area within the school.
Subject departments have recently been established on a formal basis in Mullingar Community College. A subject co-ordinator is in place for each subject area. While this is good practice, it is recommended that a clear role be devised for co-ordinators and that once established their role be rotated on a regular basis among each of the members of a particular subject department. This practice would eventually provide all department members with experience of subject planning and coordination and so enrich the expertise available within a department.
Given that subject departments are in their infancy in the school, only small numbers of formal meetings of the different departments have taken place to date. Practically all of these meetings to date have been facilitated by management, which is commendable. Teachers, however, also meet frequently on an informal basis. From discussions with teachers it was clear that their meetings, whether formal or informal, facilitate them to function as a subject team and provide them with opportunities to share teaching and learning resources. Some subject departments maintain records of formal meetings. This is commended as it supports continuity in the planning process. It is recommended that this good practice be replicated across all subject departments. There is an opportunity for the sharing of good practice at meetings in a wider range of areas, particularly regarding teaching and learning strategies, and for the outcomes of department meetings to be shared formally with school management. This is an effective way of keeping management informed of developments in subjects.
Draft individual subject plans are in place in the school. These plans are informed by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) which is good practice. From an examination of those plans supplied, however, it was clear that many required further work. In particular, all plans would benefit from the inclusion of more detail. In developing their subject plans further teachers should focus on, among other areas, striking a better balance between long and short-term planning, on homework and assessment practices and procedures and on specifying learning outcomes to be achieved by students. Subject plans should also place a greater emphasis on how ICT is used to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Given that subject plans are relatively new in the school there has been little opportunity to date to evaluate or review them. It is important that subject plans are monitored, evaluated and reviewed on a regular basis.
Each teacher who is assigned a student or group for learning support, language support or resource teaching creates a profile using a school designed template. All relevant teachers complete some basic planning using this template. As the school has not yet introduced individual education plans (IEPs) for students with special educational needs, this existing good practice will act as a solid foundation for their introduction. There was some evidence of collaboration between those teachers who deliver support teaching and relevant mainstream subject teachers. The level of collaboration here, however, could be strengthened further, particularly in the case of new teachers in the school. Indeed, the practices currently in place with regard to how all teachers are inducted into the school should be reviewed and updated accordingly.
Planning and preparation for lessons by individual teachers showed examples of very good practice. Lesson objectives and subject matter, for example, were carefully devised, and it was common for additional materials for use with students to be produced or prepared in advance of lessons. In some cases the materials observed were teacher generated and were of a very high quality. While texts are used in most subjects, and efforts are made to ensure that all students have access to relevant texts when necessary, it is also important to ensure that nominated texts are sufficiently challenging and age appropriate. There was evidence of planning for the integration of newcomer students in some of the lessons observed. This level of individual planning is very praiseworthy.
A variety of lessons, both theoretical and practical, were observed during the evaluation. Classroom management was generally good and interactions between staff and students were respectful. Some good examples of well-planned lessons were observed. In a number of subjects, teachers had established good routines with students who proceeded directly to assigned places in classrooms, were informed from the outset about the topic to be studied and the necessary support materials were supplied. These are examples of good practice and planning as they allowed teachers to make effective use of the available time for teaching and learning.
Most lessons observed showed evidence of planning and in a number of lessons very good practice was noted. The learning intention was implicit in most cases. It is recommended however, that desired learning outcomes should always be shared with students at the start of each lesson and that students should be made aware of what they should be able to do and what they should know by the end of the lesson. The closing stage of lessons should provide opportunities for both teachers and students to check whether or not learning outcomes have been achieved. The initial phase of lessons in some subjects involved a recap of the work covered in previous lessons in order to provide a platform for learning new material. This was usually achieved through the use of questioning. However, a review of any homework assignments completed since the last lesson at the beginning of sessions should also be included. A discussion about any issues arising for students from this exercise could also be useful to support questioning, build on knowledge and provide more continuity for learning outcomes.
The selection of texts and support materials was appropriate in most cases and in some cases excellent. However, care should be taken in all cases to ensure that texts and all materials chosen are sufficiently challenging, age appropriate and designed to engage the interests of all students. The board was effectively used in a number of cases but not all. In a small number of lessons, the board was either not used at all or was not used to best advantage. The board is a convenient resource and an effective teaching tool. More care needs to be taken by teachers in planning lessons so that students do not spend an undue amount of time transcribing notes from the board. These notes could be presented instead to students as handout sheets for discussion in class where appropriate to save class time. Students could then be asked to consolidate learning by entering them in copy books as a homework assignment. This exercise of transcribing notes from the board is particularly challenging for newcomer students, those with special educational needs or students with sight disabilities and should therefore be avoided wherever possible. Copybooks examined showed a satisfactory amount of writing practice in the majority of cases. However, it was also found that some class groups do not get sufficient writing practice to develop skills and consolidate learning. This needs to be addressed so that students develop more competence in writing skills. This deficit should be addressed by all teachers building differentiation into the setting and assessment of writing and other tasks, supervising students to enter homework in journals, correcting work on time and supporting the full implementation of the school’s homework policy in all classes. A more concerted effort by the whole staff should lead to a general improvement in the quality and amount of work completed by students and contribute to the raising of standards and outcomes in all subjects.
Methodologies viewed were varied and designed to encourage active participation in most lessons. Question and answer sessions were lively in many cases. The diversity of students’ needs observed in some lessons presented challenges for teachers. Best practice was observed when students were included through focused questioning and one-to-one instruction. Closed questions were used effectively to check understanding of material or test recall of information learned in previous lessons. Open questions sought to develop higher-order skills. The questioning techniques used by some teachers further facilitated the engagement of students. Questions were generally spread throughout the class and targeted at individuals. Students were given sufficient time to answer questions and were encouraged to develop their answers and constantly affirmed. Other students were asked to repeat the answers. This is very good practice as it consolidates learning and keeps students focused on the lesson. Good practice was noted also, for example, when students were asked to evaluate, predict an outcome or to draw on their own personal experience and thereby encourage imaginative engagement and empathy. Global questioning was used effectively in many lessons to challenge and to prompt students. Individuals were also targeted, for example, to elicit personal responses or to ensure participation and engagement.
In order to encourage collaborative learning, group and pair work were organised in some lessons. This not only engaged students in their own learning but it also afforded teachers an opportunity to circulate and monitor individual progress. Such practice is commended and should be extended. In a few lessons, activity was teacher-led. It is suggested that all subject departments should consider the planning and use of more active student-focussed methodologies where content and the curriculum allows. This would cater for a wider range of the multiple intelligences and students’ different learning styles. Teaching methodologies associated with the JCSP were in evidence in some lessons. Teachers focused on students’ literacy and regularly used key word lists. Any new terms were listed on the JCSP key word charts and students took them down in their copies. This is very good practice.
Instances of the effective use of ICT were noted in the classes visited. It is recommended that all subject departments should discuss and plan how to fully integrate the use of ICT in subject and programme delivery.
Interactions between staff and students were lively and students were motivated and challenged to learn in most lessons. They displayed a willingness to ask questions and volunteered information. Student communication was effective in lessons where they were regularly encouraged to express their views and to find evidence to support them. Students were encouraged in their responses. In almost all classes they were warmly affirmed. Such good practice should be extended to all lessons.
Most classes were managed effectively. Very good practice was noted in a lesson where rules of behaviour were clearly explained and where high expectations were set. In most lessons observed, students showed a willingness to learn and in a few, there was a very good level of engagement. This practice should be universally applied throughout the school in all lessons.
New approaches to teaching in subject and programme delivery are being encouraged, for example team teaching. It is recommended however, that all subject departments develop a range of suitable and more active methodologies to engage all levels of ability. Co-operative learning and group or pair work could usefully be tried. All subjects require access to available ICT and should plan ways to fully integrated ICT to support teaching and learning.
The assessment process begins for incoming first-year students prior to entry. School-created tests are administered. Students are assigned to classes using the results of these tests and following consultation with teachers in primary schools and parents. Some are re-tested at later stages but practices in this area are not consistently applied. It is recommended therefore that this area be addressed and that all assessment practices be kept under review.
Formal school examinations take place before Christmas and the summer holidays. Mock examinations are held in the second term for students taking the state examinations. Feedback of results and students progress in general is formally undertaken through school reports and also once a year for every year group in a parent-teaching meeting. There are no specific arrangements in place for reporting the progress to parents of students who are receiving additional support and or supplementary teaching, and the responsible teachers are not scheduled to meet parents during parent-teacher meetings. However, on request to the year head, parents may make an appointment to meet with the support teacher.
Informal assessment of students’ knowledge and understanding was observed in lessons. Teachers used a combination of questioning, the setting of assignments, homework and class tests to assess their students’ progress. The setting and correction of these also help to provide information about student application and progress. Assessment for learning (AfL) was observed being applied in a variety of ways in the course of the evaluation. These included the use of comment-based assessment in correction of students’ written work, informal testing of students’ knowledge and understanding of earlier work by means of teachers’ skilled questioning and teachers’ interaction with students to provide affirmation and encouragement as they completed practical work. It is recommended that the use of AfL be further developed and extended to all lessons.
The school has a formal homework policy in document form. Varied practices exist across subject departments in relation to assigning and monitoring of homework. The importance of homework in consolidating the learning process is highlighted in a number of reports and the assignment and monitoring of appropriate homework is recommended. It is recommended that every subject department identify the implementation of the school’s homework policy as a priority. A variety of practices regarding the homework journal were observed. It should be always kept on the desk and teachers should insist that students record all homework assignments in their journals. It is recommended that the journal be promoted further as a two-way means of communication between the school and students’ homes.
Good practice was noted in some cases where students’ work was well-organised and presented. In other cases student portfolios were in poor condition. This was due in part to the erratic storage procedures that applied. It is recommended that that this issue be addressed as part of a whole-school approach to school housekeeping.
It was reported that management and some subject departments analyse each year to varying levels the state examination results achieved in the subject areas. This is commended and its practice encouraged as examination outcomes can provide important information about learning. It is also encouraged in light of the fact that the potential for students to achieve at a higher level in examinations was highlighted in a number of subject areas. There was little evidence of school-wide procedures for recording the progress of students who are receiving additional learning supports. It is therefore recommended that the school develop a whole-school policy on assessment.
The school is committed to providing educational support for students with special or specific educational or language needs. As part of the whole-school evaluation an evaluation of special educational needs also took place. The report on this evaluation is attached.
A large number of extra teaching hours are now available to meet the educational and language needs of students in the school. However a policy to support the full development and integration of special educational needs has not yet been completed. Work should begin immediately on drafting this policy. It was reported that a post of responsibility to manage this area will shortly be filled. In addition, a policy on literacy and numeracy needs should also be developed. The goal of creating a small core team of teachers with expertise in the area of special needs and language support should be a priority for the school. To achieve this aim more training should be arranged by the school to up-skill teachers. Advice about training should be sought from the Special Education Support Service (SESS). This core group of teachers could then usefully provide support and mentoring for staff about how to adopt a whole school approach to meet the needs of all students through subject teaching. All subject plans should therefore include differentiated methodologies to cater for a wide range of abilities.
A range of approaches are being deployed to teach students identified as requiring resource teaching and extra support for learning. These include one-to-one and small group teaching. Students are withdrawn mainly from Irish classes. However, it is recommended that more use be made of team-teaching approaches where deemed appropriate, as this would facilitate students to remain in their class groups and receive extra support alongside their peers. This approach could be useful for integrating students with special education needs into a wider range of subjects including all practical subjects. The introduction of mixed- ability groups in first year is encouraged with specific support provided for targeted students. The introduction of the JCSP in first year should also be considered as it provides targets for learning and a portfolio approach to assist the achievement of learning outcomes.
The school caters for one student with hearing impairment and a number of newcomer students with language or other educational needs. Many newcomer students require some degree of support to learn or perfect their English. It was noted during the inspection that some students were placed in classes that were not age appropriate due to their English language or other perceived learning deficits. This goes against the spirit of inclusion and should cease. It is not desirable that numbers of newcomers or members of other minority groups should be grouped in the same classes, except in exceptional circumstances. This prevents students from developing new language skills and creates barriers to advancement.
Students are assessed during their first year in the school. It is recommended that individual progress charts for each student requiring extra support be created. This would facilitate the recording of areas to be addressed, personal achievements, an evaluation of learning outcomes and the methodologies to be deployed to meet needs.
A strong group of special needs assistants provides support for students in the school. SNA personnel make a valuable contribution to the school and to students. However, the creation of a stronger special-education needs team in the school would provide greater support for SNA staff and even more creative ways could be explored to make maximum use of this resource. It is recommended that the development of a policy on the integration of SNA support into all subject areas should be constructed.
Communication with newcomer parents can present problems where parents do not have good English. The VEC could assist by providing templates for correspondence with parents in a number of languages. Communication with parents is generally good and contacts by phone are made wherever possible. However a review of the content of all correspondence sent to parents should be on-going to guarantee clarity and understanding. More use should be made of school report forms to complement students’ successes and achievements as well as exam grades. More use should also be made of the report form to comment on students’ general performance and seek clarification from parents about their children’s inadequate attendance.
As the school is seeking to maximise students’ participation and achievements, and great work is being undertaken by the SCP and teachers, the introduction of a more formal and structured award system for all students is strongly recommended.
Good links are established and maintained with appropriate outside agencies and the referrals of students for extra supports are effectively and sensitively managed. Contacts with community groups representing newcomer students are particularly well maintained. It is recommended however, that closer links be established with Traveller support groups and in particular with the local Visiting Teacher for Travellers service to further develop the good integration of this group in the school and their participation in school life.
Guidance in the school is long established, is delivered by a team of guidance counsellors and is one of the many supports available to students. The guidance team co-operates well to plan the delivery of Guidance to junior and senior cycles. Through involvement in the Guidance Enhancement Initiative the school currently has an allocation of 22 hours for Guidance. In addition a professionally trained counsellor is employed though the SCP to work with targeted students who are experiencing personal or family issues which are impeding learning. This extra counselling support for students is welcomed as it augments the one-to-one counselling support being provided throughout the school by the guidance team.
The school acknowledges the important role that Guidance supplies in supporting students’ educational, personal and career goals and their progression to higher or further education or training. The school’s pastoral team which includes Guidance currently meets regularly. It is recommended that this group meet weekly to discuss individual students who are experiencing difficulty. All planned actions decided should be fully documented and reviewed at the next weekly meeting. It is further recommended that the guidance team develop a stronger role through guidance planning to target at-risk students in junior cycle. More one-to-one guidance support for these students should be provided to raise their personal expectations about achieving in school and progression.
There is a dedicated guidance office which is shared by the guidance team. This is quite a small room which also houses the careers’ library. It is recommended that consideration be given to relocating Guidance to a larger area, or providing an additional room for the careers library that is accessible to students and has ICT available. Although students have good access to ICT elsewhere in the school, it is desirable that they can also exploit this resource with support from the guidance team on an ongoing basis. It is important that students be able to balance information on courses and careers found in hard copy materials with that which is available on appropriate websites. The guidance office needs to be supplied with an up-to-date computer and a printer so that students can copy information they have accessed about possible progression routes into college or training.
Members of the guidance team work well together, and have developed a draft guidance plan and a guidance programme for each year group and school programme. It is recommended that guidance planning should continue with a more whole-school focus and that a comprehensive plan for Guidance be developed. A survey of students’ needs should be organised with staff, parents and students to inform the guidance planning. It is suggested that two documents may usefully be consulted that have both been circulated to schools, Planning a School Guidance Programme (NCGE 2004) www.ncge.ie and Guidelines for second level schools on the implications of Section 9c of Education Act 1998, relating to students’ access to appropriate guidance (Department of Education and Science 2005) www.education.ie. It is recommended that once completed the school guidance plan should be presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management. This plan should be updated regularly.
It is suggested that the guidance team should share the delivery of Guidance across junior and senior cycles, and not divide their time as at present in concentrating only on either junior or senior cycles. As it is important for students to begin exploring career options earlier than third year, it is recommended that an even greater emphasis be placed in the plan on providing more guidance inputs for students in second year. Greater co-operation between Guidance and the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme is also urged to expand guidance provision in junior cycle. A stronger role for Guidance in raising first year students’ and parents’ expectations for success in school and their progression to third level education is urged during the first year students’ induction programme. Guidance should also support the development of new materials for parents that explain how to choose optional subjects and the career advantages that can be gained from choosing to study certain subjects or groups of subjects. It is recommended that students and their parents be referred to the module on the Qualifax website www.qualifax.ie Leaving Cert. and Junior Cert. Subject Choice which provides comprehensive information on the long term implications of subject choices in junior cycle.
A range of appropriate methodologies are used to deliver Guidance. These include timetabled classes with senior cycle groups and individual interviews. Occasional classes are held with junior cycle classes and one-to-one interviews are arranged to discuss personal or educational issues. Where appropriate, referrals are made for students to outside agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), to adolescent services in the Health Service Executive (HSE) or to other agencies.
Guidance sessions can be arranged with classes in the ICT room. It is recommended that the use of ICT with groups become more of a feature of guidance delivery for all senior cycle groups to empower students to develop good research skills and make full use of all guidance software. In line with the stated school priorities to promote the progression of more students to further and higher education and training guest speakers are invited to address students and trips to colleges and to careers events are arranged. Good links have been established with the third level colleges’ Access Programme. This programme is now assisting more and more students from the school to gain places in third level colleges for which the school is justifiably proud. More students are also entering further education courses and apprenticeship training having completed the Junior and or the Leaving Certificates. It is commendable that the initial-progression routes of students completing the Leaving Certificate are being mapped annually.
As previously stated, the school has developed a pastoral-care structure and a pastoral team that meets regularly. However, the full integration of new school policies and student- support measures now requires that this pastoral team develop a more comprehensive range of strategies to encompass and co-ordinate the very wide range of supports being provided for students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Mullingar Community College strives to meet the educational needs of the community and caters for a diverse student population engaging in lifelong learning.
· County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee and the school’s board of management are supportive of the school and school management.
· The development of the parents’ council and more recently the students’ council has been a significant step in promoting the involvement of parents and students in the life of the school. The dedicated support supplied by parents to enhance many aspects of school life is particularly praiseworthy.
Since 2004, a range of school policies have been developed. This process is ongoing and has the support of the board, management, staff, parents and students.
· The excellent attainment of a second An Taisce Green Flag award is a real achievement for the whole-school community. The work carried out by students and staff in providing a clean, green and safe environment is truly commendable.
· Subject departments have begun drafting plans for the development of each subject, and co-ordinators have been appointed to progress this work.
· The promotion of full attendance and participation of students is a recognised priority for the school community. With support from the School Completion Programme a number of good practices have been adopted to assist students to participate fully in school. These efforts are to be highly commended as most students now transfer directly to senior cycle upon completion of the Junior Certificate, and an increasing number are transferring to further or higher education or training.
· A good range of academic programmes and subjects are provided. This serves to maximise students’ choices and their opportunities for progression to third level or further education or training. The school is to be commended for introducing new subjects as part of a review of the curriculum.
· The school has promoted the development of new sporting facilities and a very wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are available to students. These fully complement the academic curriculum and provide many outlets for students’ individual talents and interests. The generosity of staff displayed in supporting these activities so assiduously is particularly commended.
· The challenge of catering for such a large number of newcomer students is one that the school has embraced and this is to be commended. Some innovative ways have been developed to support their education and integration into the school.
· The school has set as a priority the provision of a very wide range of educational, personal, vocational and career supports for students. Teachers display a strong duty of care and concern for students and many give individual support to students.
The school is currently developing the range and scope of special education measures and language supports available to students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Members of the board of management have not yet received training for their roles. It is therefore recommended that training be arranged to enable them to become fully acquainted with all the statutory obligations enshrined in the Education Act, 1998.
In line with section 21 of the Education Act (1998), the board, with support from the VEC, management and the whole-school community should immediately begin developing a school plan. This plan should serve as a reference point to guide all school planning and developments and should be reviewed regularly. To generate this whole-school plan it is recommended that the board and management liaise with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI).
· The school’s admission and enrolment policies should be reviewed to ensure that they are in line with the policy of inclusion promoted by the Department and referred to in the Education Act (1998) and the EPSEN Act (2004).
assist school development it is recommended that a comprehensive survey of all the school’s resources and students’ current needs be undertaken. A total review of existing posts and duties should also take place.
A whole-school review of the school’s code of behaviour is recommended to include more positive and tiered approaches to student discipline. It is recommended that the sanctions contained in the code be consistently implemented by all staff, and that suspension should be used only when all other sanctions have been fully exhausted.
To ensure that a fully balanced timetable is provided throughout the whole school week for all core subjects and subject options, it is recommended that maximum use be made of all available teaching hours and resources.
· Planning is now a recognised and agreed priority for the school. It is therefore recommended that more in-career training for staff in the area of school planning be arranged to provide extra skills in this area, and promote a whole-school approach and focus to planning. Subject planning is now taking place. It is therefore recommended, that the draft outline plans for subjects be broadened to include learning outcomes, schemes of work for each year group a list of the differentiation strategies to be adopted. Records of all planning meetings should be documented.
· To meet the challenges of providing effectively for students with special educational needs it is recommended that more in-service training for staff be arranged. The number of staff contributing to this specialist area should also be reduced to a smaller core team with expertise in this area who work with the co-ordinator to plan delivery of special needs support. These teachers should provide mentoring and support for other staff members to adopt appropriate approaches to learning in all subjects.
· Students are presenting with a wide variety of educational, personal and career needs. To further develop the range of supports currently available to students and augment the pastoral-care structure, HSCL, SCP and Guidance it is recommended that the student support team meet more regularly.
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:
· Subject Inspection of English – 10 October 2007 ( report issued in February 2008)
· Subject Inspection of Geography – 25 February 2008
· Subject Inspection of Special Education Needs – 4 March 2008
· Subject Inspection of Technical drawing and Technical Graphics – 25 February 2008.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Mullingar Community College has received the Whole School Evaluation report on our school, and welcomes its positive findings and recommendations. The Board thanks the inspectors for their expertise and comments, and is happy that they affirm the school's ongoing and sincere efforts to do the best for the students in its care. The Board members are also happy that it affirms the efforts and commitment of management, staff, students, parents and other stakeholders.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management views the Whole School Evaluation report as a significant resource with regard to the strategic development of the school over the coming years. The Board members welcome the recommendations; a number of them have already been acted upon. The Board is committed to utilising these recommendations to continue with the process of school improvement and development, subject to resource and staffing constraints.