An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Bridgetown Vocational College

Bridgetown, County Wexford

Roll number: 71610E

 

Date of inspection: 23 January 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Bridgetown Vocational 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 was 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.

 

 

Introduction

 

Bridgetown Vocational College, founded in the 1930s after the enactment of the Vocational Education Act, is a non-denominational, co-educational, second-level school under the control of County Wexford Vocational Education Committee (VEC). With increasing enrolment in the 1960s, a new purpose-built school was provided, which was substantially extended in 1984 and again in 2007. The college has a very large catchment area which extends from Rosslare to Wellingtonbridge and from Kilmore Quay to Forth Mountain, on the outskirts of Wexford town. The main feeder primary school is Kilmore National School. Students are also enrolled from primary schools located in the surrounding areas of Rathangan, Kilrane, Broadway and Mayglass and from further afield. Enrolment has remained quite consistent over recent years, varying from 580 to 620 students, with a current mainstream enrolment of 582 students. 

 

Recent infrastructural improvements to the school building include the addition of a large new extension, which contains additional specialist rooms and an extended sports hall. These much needed enhancements to school facilities have increased the college’s capacity for enrolment. School development is ongoing, and the college is in the process of finalising arrangements for the development of a playing pitch. The college participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

Bridgetown Vocational College is under the trusteeship of Co. Wexford VEC, which, as stated in its Education Plan 2006-2010 ‘is dedicated to providing a diverse and quality education service to meet the changing needs of our community’. VEC education is co-educational and non-denominational.

 

As outlined in its mission statement, the college aims to provide a holistic educational experience in a positive learning environment while meeting the needs of the diversity of the community. The stated mission also ‘encourages all students to realise their full potential and to develop a sense of self worth by promoting mutual respect, co-operation and tolerance’. There was clear evidence that this mission statement was being lived out in the many aspects of school life observed. Pride of place, respect and courtesy of students were evident throughout the evaluation.

 

It was evident in the course of the evaluation that the college has a very proud tradition of providing for students of all abilities, and is inclusive. The diversity of the student body, its needs, talents and abilities reflects society as a whole. Students are well cared for, and school policies and practices reflect this caring ethos. The strong rural and maritime traditions of the surrounding areas are celebrated and embraced by the college. For example, together with other sports, handball and equestrian sports are nurtured by the college as they represent the traditional sports of the surrounding hinterland. The visual appearance of the college is enhanced by thematic pieces of art and works of stained glass, some on a maritime theme, put in place on the opening of the new extension in 2008. Other pieces of artwork on display include those produced by students on themes as diverse as rugby and opera. It was evident that the provision of the new building has had a very positive impact on school life.

 

Staff are open and friendly and are dedicated and committed to creating a positive learning environment. New teachers are made welcome and expressed their strong satisfaction with the structures in place to support them. Levels of collaboration are very high.

  

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management, as a sub-committee of Co. Wexford VEC, manages the college on behalf of the VEC. Members’ diverse experiences contribute to the board’s effectiveness. There is a good awareness of roles and responsibilities by most board members and these roles are carried out effectively. The board is consultative, adaptable in its outlook and has developed a strong profile in the school community. Co. Wexford VEC receives regular reports from the board on the work of the college.

 

The board is properly constituted and the principal, in his role as secretary to the board, reports on school activities and school issues to the board. The board meets seven to eight times per year in order to carry out its duties. Minutes of meetings examined during the whole school evaluation provided good evidence of the board’s commitment to the continued development and success of the college.

 

The board’s priorities have had both an educational and infrastructural focus. It is aware of its role in discipline procedures and has admirably met its obligations in this regard. Examples of educational priorities include a review of the code of behaviour, a review of guidance provision, the formulation of a Delivering Equality of  Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) plan and the development of an information and communication technology (ICT) policy.  It has been very proactive in the planning, development and completion of the new school extension and has now put a building committee in place with the purpose of improving resources in the older school buildings. Policy review, development and enactment have been prioritised and the board has overseen the development of the current school plan. However, there is a need for a heightened awareness of the college’s priorities among all board members. Promoting further in-service to its members regarding board roles and responsibilities should further contribute to the effective fulfilment of its managerial duties.

 

The board has met legislative requirements regarding policy formation. An examination of policies developed by the board shows that the board seeks to reflect openness, inclusiveness and respect for the individual in its policy development. The admissions policy, for example, is grounded in the principles of inclusion and diversity and this policy is administered in a fair and equitable way. However, the policy should clarify the procedures and criteria for admission in order to reflect current practice. More consultation with parents and students on relevant policies would help to further raise the profile of the Parents’ Association and Student Council in the life of the college, therefore it is recommended that this practice takes place prior to enactment of policies by the board.

 

Currently, board activities are reported verbally to the teaching staff and to the Parents’ Association. Good practice would suggest that an agreed written statement could be communicated to the teaching staff and parents and it is suggested that this takes place.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Senior management, consisting of the principal and deputy principal, has commendable leadership qualities and presented as having a clear and shared vision and understanding of the developmental priorities for the college. Both members of the senior management team display complementary skills and present as a strong senior management team. High standards are set by senior management for students and staff, communication is open and transparent and management is consistently approachable, flexible and realistic in its approach. For example, staff meetings are consultative and democratic and the staff is kept well informed of school developments through the weekly staff newsletter. Both members of senior management have an active on-the-ground presence in the college and collaboratively manage the college very effectively on a daily basis. The management of change in consultation with the whole school community, the administration of the school discipline system, liaison with board members on matters of school business, the ongoing management of the school finances, communication with parents, as well as the constant management of students are but some of the responsibilities carried out very effectively by senior management on a daily and weekly basis. The principal and deputy principal also take on some individual responsibilities. For example the principal prioritises staff relations and takes responsibility for the construction of the school timetable. The deputy principal plays a key role in the care of students, conflict resolution among students, enrolments and junior cycle options.

 

A culture of self-review and self-evaluation is being fostered by the leadership of school management especially through the school development planning process. This is central to the shared vision for the college and it is recommended that this process continues and strengthens.

 

Delegation of responsibilities by senior management is effective in ensuring the ongoing smooth operation of the college. In the main, meaningful roles are distributed to post holders and there was evidence that posts are regularly reviewed. All year heads are assistant principals (APs) and their duties are both disciplinary and pastoral. The role of year head should be expanded to further meet the needs of the college to include the monitoring of academic progress on a more formal and systematic basis. The outcome of such academic monitoring should inform the board, senior management and subject departments of academic trends in the college. Comparisons could be made between subjects, between students and with national norms. Year heads meet with senior management on a weekly basis and, in this way, form a strong and effective middle management structure in the college. It is recommended, however, that the consultative remit of middle management extends to all APs, so that consultation can develop beyond care and discipline to all aspects of school life. Year assemblies are conducted once per term. Year heads work closely with class tutors in the administration of the care and discipline system of the college. In addition, class tutors conduct morning assemblies for their class group, where attendance and other administrative matters are dealt with.

 

APs who do not carry year head duties have a range of responsibilities including co-ordination of whole school planning, organisation and administration of the student fund, and supervisory duties. The special duties teachers (SDTs) carry out a wide and varied range of duties. They contribute to the effective operation of the college by taking on responsibilities such as the school awards scheme, public relations, organisation of the school library and ICT co-ordination. The duties associated with these posts are carried out effectively. Some posts carry more weight and responsibility than others. Therefore, it is recommended that restructuring of posts be accommodated, so that college needs can continue to be best met whilst ensuring an equitable distribution of responsibilities.  It is imperative that the time and responsibility element of each post be reviewed during any review process.

Partnership with parents is central to the school ethos and parents endeavour to play an active part in the life of the college and are involved in college activities in many ways through the representative Parents’ Association, which is affiliated to a national body. The Association praised the college for being inclusive and expressed confidence in its leadership team. The Parents’ Association is consulted on some issues such as uniforms, subject choice and extra-curricular activities. For example, the format of parent-teacher meetings changed due to widespread consultation with parents. This is commended.

 

The college has a good system of communication with the diversity of parents in relation to student progress and achievement. The newsletter informs parents of school activities, events and student achievements. The college will, this year, initiate sending ‘mock’ reports to parents of third-year and sixth-year students. Individual letters, newsletters and the school website are some of the means of communication and means of celebration of student achievement with parents and the wider community. Well established links have been forged between the college and the community. These links have been particularly developed due to the wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on offer. Adult education provision, innovative business partnerships and sport all play a vital part in fostering meaningful links with the community.

 

The Student Council is properly constituted and was established in its present form in 2005. The ten-member body is democratically elected and is representative of the full student cohort. The Council is engaged in areas including fund-raising, organising a whole school talent show in aid of the development of the planned school playing pitch and in representing Co. Wexford at national level in Comhairle na nÓg.  It is recommended that the profile of the Student Council be raised progressively in order to take on a greater role in decision making and in activities that impact on students’ lives in the college. The Council needs to realise its potential in policy consultation. Two teachers currently co-ordinate its work and it is now timely to proceed with training for teacher facilitators of the Council.

  

1.4          Management of resources

 

Bridgetown Vocational College has a teaching allocation of 44.91 whole-time equivalent (WTE) teachers which includes the ex-quota positions of principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor. The college also receives allocations for learning support (1 WTE) special educational needs (4.96 WTEs), the various curricular programmes offered which consist of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme (2.81 WTEs), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) (5.13 WTEs), the Junior Certificate School Programme, (JCSP) (0.25 WTEs) and a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course (0.81 WTEs), as well as other allocations such as for having disadvantaged status.

 

Senior management actively promotes the development of a professional learning community and continuous professional development (CPD) is actively encouraged and supported in order to maintain high standards. Future professional development should prioritise key areas such as assessment for learning, the effective use of ICT in the classroom and teaching practices and methodologies that prioritise the raising of academic standards. Staff may input into the agenda of staff meetings and many staff meetings are also used for planning and for the provision of CPD.

 

New teachers are well supported through a very good induction programme. A school information pack, containing the comprehensive staff handbook is given to new teachers. The school discipline system is clearly outlined. The college maintains professional links with University College Dublin to support teacher induction. All staff, particularly year heads,  play an active part in supporting new teachers in the college and subject department personnel diligently support new teachers in their subject specialism.

 

The commitment of the college support staff, including the office staff, the caretaker, canteen staff and cleaners is commended. They all make an appropriate and effective contribution to the life of the college and carry out their duties efficiently and effectively.

 

Teaching staff are deployed according to their competencies and experiences. The school timetable is drawn up by the principal in consultation with staff. The primary concern of staff deployment and timetabling is to meet students’ needs and to optimise the quality of student learning. Each year group in junior cycle is banded, with students in the lower bands in first year and second year following the JCSP. Management facilitates concurrency on the timetable within bands in core subjects in second year and third year to allow for students to move class group if it is found that they are misplaced. This is very good practice. Students are placed in either of the two first-year bands based on the results of their assessment tests and on information from primary schools.

 

Some senior classes receive timetabled study periods during the week. This practice must be discontinued to enable each student to receive their entitlement to twenty-eight hours of class contact time. The allocation of time in terms of the number of class periods assigned to subjects is generally good. However, time allocation to Physical Education should be addressed as outlined in the subject inspection report. In addition, students in the lower band do not have timetabled access to French and there is an issue regarding equity of provision in senior cycle Mathematics. Management should endeavour to address these issues in planning for the timetable.

 

The school grounds are maintained to a high standard. Very good facilities are now in place to support the delivery of a comprehensive Physical Education programme in the college. The completion of the new extension, incorporating the sports hall, illustrates the commitment of the college to ongoing development to meet the needs of students. However, enhancement of the older school buildings requires ongoing attention.

 

Specialist rooms are consistently used for their designated purpose. It is commendable that some facilities in the technology department have been upgraded following a recommendation made in a recent subject inspection report. This initiative came from the teachers of this department with support from senior management. Classrooms are predominantly teacher based and promote the development of the room itself as a resource, and there were exemplary instances of this observed across subject departments. Many classrooms contained lively displays of visual and print materials and examples of students’ recent work.  The recently developed library is a worthwhile addition the college.

 

Computer facilities in the college have been recently upgraded and are progressively being enhanced. There are three well utilised computer rooms and broadband internet access is now in all classrooms, the staffroom and the school offices. Fixed data projector provision in the college classrooms is increasing and the four interactive whiteboards ensure that ICT resources are now increasingly available for use in classrooms. A laptop and data projector are also available for mobile use. It is commendable that this provision has begun to impact very positively in some lessons. The widespread use of ICT in general classrooms, as a tool for teaching and learning has yet to be fully developed. An ICT development plan needs to be drawn up with its main aim to thoroughly integrate ICT into the curriculum. Staff training should form an essential component of this plan. The ICT coordinator can play a role in facilitating the dissemination of best practice on ICT to staff, and in the development of an ICT policy in collaboration with the ICT committee. Student records are maintained on a centralised database. However, there is scope for the further development of this process, particularly in the monitoring of students’ academic progress as outlined earlier in this report. Audiovisual equipment is available in all classrooms and improvements are being made on an ongoing basis. CD and cassette recorders, televisions and DVD players are available in each language-based classroom. 

 

The health and safety statement is outdated and requires urgent review, updating and enactment following a full school health and safety audit and following extensive staff consultation. The completion of the new extension makes this work more imperative. It is acknowledged that the college, in cooperation with the VEC, plans to develop such a policy. Once ratified by the board, this policy should be updated annually. A special duties post is assigned to safety and this role could incorporate the audit and update of the health and safety policy and its annual review.

 

The school recognises its responsibility with regard to environmental issues with the appointment of a special duties post to monitor litter and the school environment. It is recommended that consideration be given to expanding this work to include the implementation of the Green School programme with the ultimate aim of achieving and maintaining a Green Flag for Bridgetown Vocational College.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

Whole school planning is collaborative and consultative with all members of the school community enabled appropriately to contribute ideas, express concerns and make suggestions in an open and constructive way. The staff has embraced the process which is led by the shared vision and leadership of senior management. The co-ordination of school planning is very effective. The college has welcomed facilitation of the planning process by the school development planning initiative (SDPI) which was instrumental in initiating planning in the college and now supports it in the development of this process.

 

Priorities for school development planning frequently come from the staff following school self-evaluation. Staff has shown a willingness to contribute effectively to this process by taking an active part in the formulation of action plans for prioritised school development. Commitment to development is focused, with almost all staff participating in at least one of fifteen sub-committees. These committees include curriculum review, uniform, professional development, discipline review, building facilities and the DEIS committee.  A steering committee oversees the process with very good linkage between the steering committee and sub committees in such a way that members of the steering committee chair the sub-committee meetings. Planning is prioritised at staff meetings, for example sub-committees are given the opportunity to report and consult with the entire staff. It is highly commendable that the majority of staff has taken ownership of this process.  Evidence from minutes of staff meetings, steering committee meetings and board of management minutes demonstrate how clear and achievable priorities have been identified and supported.

 

The college has clearly outlined development needs into the future. There is an acute awareness among senior management of the need to revise certain policies. Priorities have been identified and task group committees have been set up in key areas as outlined earlier in this report. Some planning priorities have been carried over from 2007/2008 academic year. For example, the school attendance strategy statement will be reviewed, the ICT committee will draw up a draft policy, curriculum review will be prioritised and strategies will be put in place for the evaluation of guidance provision. The school plan has identified its new priorities for action planning in 2008/2009. For example, the completion of a DEIS plan by mid-2009 and a further audit and review of the code of behaviour will be completed by 2010. Other priorities documented include review of: the school uniform, the resources in the old school building and the quality and value for money of food in the school canteen. The college has also critically analysed its needs into the future and has identified its future priorities to include policy review and development in areas such as work placement, relationships and sexuality education (RSE), homework, and professional development of staff. Future priorities should also include timeframes for the development and review of new policies in key areas.

 

Improvements for the whole school community are now evident as a result of focused and prioritised planning. The school plan was ratified by the board of management at the beginning of the current school year. The comprehensive plan includes both permanent and developmental sections and policy statements reflect the college’s mission. This is very good practice. All policies required by legislation are in place, relevant policies are identified for review and revised on a needs basis, and new policies are prioritised and developed. The current code of behaviour was initially ratified in early 2007 and was revised on two occasions to date. The anti-bullying policy was drawn up in 2006 and revised in 2007. Policies and plans drawn up by the college and ratified by the board in the past year include: the substance abuse policy, a critical incident management plan; the special education needs policy; the whole school guidance plan and the attendance policy. The proactive approach to policy review and development is highly commended.

 

Numerous examples of successful development planning are evident and this process has played a major role in driving curricular change to meet student needs. This is evident in the introduction and implementation of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme and in the recent introduction of the JCSP.

 

Co-ordinated subject departments are now well established throughout the college. Staff are facilitated to hold subject department meetings with each department required to keep up-to-date records of subject planning. Staff commitment and collaboration to this process has emerged as a key strength. The culture of self-review requires further development within many subject departments.

 

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 (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The college offers a broad and balanced curriculum at junior and senior cycle with a range of academic and technical subjects. The establishment of the curriculum planning committee ensures that curriculum planning is characterised by ongoing review. The college offers access to a wide range of subjects, programmes and levels to serve the needs of students and in an effort to fulfil its stated mission of each student reaching his/her full potential. School management ensures that curriculum provision is prioritised in whole-school planning and is commended for its great efforts to broaden the curriculum and to introduce new subjects and programmes that will further suit the needs of different students.

 

Music was introduced into the college initially as part of an initiative led by the School Completion Programme (SCP). It is now part of the mainstream optional curriculum at junior and senior cycle. This is a very good example of how the college meets students’ curricular needs on an ongoing basis.

  

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The range of programmes offered by the school includes the Junior Certificate, the JCSP, the LCVP, the established Leaving Certificate, the LCA and a PLC. In addition the college offers a broad range of adult education courses. The college does not currently offer the Transition Year (TY) programme. The TY programme may further meet the needs of a certain cohort of students and any future curriculum planning should maintain an open-minded approach to TY provision.

 

Students are, in the main, well supported regarding subject choice and the vast majority of students obtain their desired subject choices. Subject bands are developed from the outcome of student preferences. Third-year students and parents are invited to an information evening regarding programme and subject choices in senior cycle. Subject choices are addressed at these meetings by senior management, the guidance department and relevant subject teachers. However, incoming first-year students are required to choose their optional subjects in advance of entering the college. Flexibility is built into the process in that students may change their chosen subjects in the first few weeks of term. However, it is recommended that additional quality information regarding subject choice for first years be made available to students and parents in advance of taking up that subject, so that a more informed choice can be made at this critical time. 

 

Subject bands for senior cycle are created in such a way that the vast majority of students can study their desired subjects and combinations of subjects. However, Physics was not offered as a senior cycle subject in the current school year, despite nine students choosing it. It is therefore recommended that the college gives consideration to formulating a policy on supporting the physical sciences, in line with Department of Education and Science (DES) policy.

 

The JCSP was introduced into Bridgetown Vocational College in 2007 and has played a significant part in rewarding student success and achievement. Currently, the programme is available to first and second years. The programme is very well coordinated and organised with an enthusiastic, intuitive and discerning approach to planning and to the implementation of the plan. The most appropriate methodologies are used to meet the needs of students. The JCSP is a very commendable addition to the curriculum of the college.

 

The programme coordinator undertakes duties including some administration work for the JCSP programme, work experience organisation for LCA, enterprise project work with the LCVP coordinators and liaison with other programme coordinators on an ongoing basis. There is also liaison with the VEC regarding insurance and other programme related matters. The programme coordination duties should be reviewed in line with the overall evaluation of time allocation to programmes as outlined below.

 

There is a good uptake of the LCVP with the majority of students in fifth year and sixth year making appropriate subject choices to enable them to follow the programme. Students taking the programme receive additional periods per week in computer skills and in the link modules, Preparation for the World of Work and Enterprise Education. The career investigation is carried out with input from the guidance department. Students not partaking in the LCVP are provided with study periods at this time. This practice should be discontinued since all students are entitled to twenty-eight class contact hours per week as stated earlier in this report. The modern European language requirement is provided on an ab initio basis to those students who have not studied a modern European language at junior cycle. Work experience is organised by the students themselves with little input from the college. It is recommended that the college plays an active part in coordinating the work experience module of the programme and that this work be focused on career sampling. The LCVP programme has currently two coordinators assigned to its organisation and planning, each coordinator receiving three hours and twenty minutes in lieu of these duties. This time allocation is excessive and should be reduced.  

 

The LCA, which emphasises personal development and transferable skills, was introduced to the college ten years ago to meet the changing needs of students. There is one class group in each of fifth year and sixth year. Student retention in LCA is quite good. The programme has a good profile in the college and is well received by students. The programme has not been reviewed to date but one is planned by the newly appointed coordinators and the college is urged to proceed with this planned review. The work experience elements of the programme are properly organised in liaison with the programme coordinator with students partaking in four work experience placements. The programme is very well organised and coordinated. However, as with the LCVP, each coordinator receives three hours and twenty minutes for LCA duties. As with the LCVP, this time allocation is excessive and should be reduced.

 

The college has a long history of PLC provision and now plans to promote the programme with a view to increasing participation. The PLC Business Studies Course is overseen by two experienced coordinators and evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to confirm that the course is well organised and delivered. The course is valued by students with each student maintaining a progression plan for their individual path to third level.

 

The adult education programme offered by Bridgetown Vocational College builds links with the community while providing a valuable service to the surrounding areas. The programme receives strong support from senior management. Courses offered include Salsa dance, Computers, Beauty Therapy, with one course certified by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). The programme has recently qualified for a SDT post allocation due to its expansion.

  

Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Bridgetown Vocational College offers a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in line with its stated mission of providing a holistic educational experience. It was evident that positive relationships between students and teachers are developed in this context. The majority of students partake in some form of activity from a wide range on offer in the college. Many co-curricular activities relate to subjects or programmes and impact positively on students’ experiences of the subject. Parents are very supportive of these activities and the valuable links established with the college community.

 

The college provides many opportunities for students incorporating a myriad of activities including sport, music and drama events. Sport plays a very important role in the lives of students. The major sports include Gaelic football and hurling, handball, ladies football, basketball, athletics and rugby. Good links with local sports clubs have been established. The advent of new and enhanced facilities on site will benefit the whole school community. The achievement of the college in many of these activities is noteworthy. A multitude of other activities enhance student experiences. A highlight of the school calendar every other year is the school show. This event involves teachers, parents and students and provides a strong link with the local community. Fundraising activities for worthy causes have been a very successful part of student activity in recent times.

Co-curricular activities include ecology trips, visits to museums and galleries, inviting speakers to talk on various topics of interest and student participation in courses including the safe pass course and safe driving courses.

 

The provision of co-curricular activities is commended as it provides students with enjoyable learning experiences and ensures that each subject maintains a high profile in the college.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

A collaborative approach to subject planning with effective co-ordination was evident in the subjects evaluated. Subject department planning is facilitated by school management through the provision of regular scheduled planning meetings each year, which are supplemented by additional team meetings. Meetings provide teachers with the opportunity to discuss subject-related issues and to plan for overall development. Minutes of these meetings are routinely recorded and these revealed clear evidence of collaboration between teachers and ongoing review of practice within the subject department. For example, in some subjects, the minutes showed careful monitoring of the placement of students into class groups and some recorded discussions on key approaches to supporting students with special educational needs (SEN) in that subject.

 

Within subject departments, a system of rotating co-ordinator or contact person is in place and this role is clearly defined. Evidence of highly effective co-ordination was cited in many of the subject inspection reports and examples included convening meetings, overseeing the development of the subject plan, developing the range of resources and co-ordinating professional development opportunities for the subject teachers.

 

A subject plan has been prepared for all subjects in the school and these are kept together with subject department records in folders in the staff room. Subject department plans for each of the four subjects inspected were comprehensive and commendable. Some recommendations were made in relation to planning in the individual areas evaluated. 

 

In the case of other subject documentation, however, the plans varied considerably in their scope and level of detail, particularly around curriculum planning; some clearly identifying objectives and learning outcomes and others containing only a list of topics for course content. It is recommended that curriculum planning for each course bring greater clarity to the links between learning outcomes/objectives of the syllabus, the most appropriate teaching and learning methods and intended forms of assessment. Management is encouraged to maintain the focus on subject planning, to continue to encourage the sharing of good practice and to facilitate further support in this area. The school should make reference to www.sdpi.ie  in this regard.

 

Evidence of very good liaison with the school’s SEN department was found in the documentation for most subjects and this is highly commended. Reference to the needs of students with SEN in key areas was detailed and included a range of strategies for the inclusion and full participation of these students.

 

A very good range of teaching resources has been developed for subjects including worksheets, task cards, and DVD material. There was evidence that these are continually added to, collaboratively reviewed and shared by all members of each subject department. Many elements of good practice were noted, including centrally storing resources for ease of access, the development of electronic files of resources and the inclusion of a list of resources in some subject plans.

 

Individual planning was generally good as was lesson preparation, with good choice of resources. Materials matched the purpose of the lesson and supported student learning. Good planning allowed for good progress throughout and smooth transition within lessons.

  

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

The inspectors found that in all lessons visited, the content was appropriate to the range of students’ abilities and in line with syllabus requirements. Lessons were appropriately paced and time was used effectively. The purpose of the lesson was communicated to students at the beginning, and, in some lessons, teachers introduced the content, direction, and the learning outcomes of the lesson. The practice of sharing, not only the topic, but also the learning intention with the class should be adopted in all lessons.

 

The standard of teaching observed was generally very high. In most lessons visited, a commendable range of teaching and learning methods was observed throughout. Methods included direct whole-class teaching, teacher demonstration, students completing tasks while the teacher circulated, team teaching, peer learning and pair work. Methods used often supported active learning and independent learning and these were highly commended. When applied, these approaches proved effective in engaging students. Skill development appropriate to the subject was promoted. Approaches that allowed students to apply their knowledge and understanding were praised in many reports. Learning contextualised within the students’ experience was also recognised. In these ways, teachers catered effectively for a wide range of learning styles in the majority of lessons. The range of resources used to support teaching and learning was also varied and appropriate. Students’ personal responses were encouraged in many lessons where tasks set were open-ended and progressive and they provided sufficient challenge for all abilities.

 

Questioning styles varied in all lessons. Short questions were used to check recall and basic comprehension and were mostly directed at a wide range of named students. In some instances, the skilful questions asked by teachers led the students to think more deeply about the topic. In general, sufficient time was given for responses to questions demanding higher-order thinking and analysis. In some instances, there was a need for the enhancement of the classroom interactions and questions asked by both students and teachers in the target language.

 

The use of ICT as a tool for teaching and learning was noted in some lessons but, as there is relatively good access to ICT facilities in classrooms, it is recommended that all teachers explore its potential for enhancing teaching and learning.

 

Subject inspection reports noted effective classroom management and a good rapport between students and teachers. A very good atmosphere of learning was created in lessons evaluated. The learning environment in classrooms and in the fitness suite was enhanced with appropriate, motivational charts and samples of students’ work and with key words and key expressions. These were used as teaching tools during lessons. Effective use of the whiteboard throughout provided clear reference for learning in lessons.

 

Students showed satisfactory recall of prior learning in their responses, and a good knowledge and understanding of the concepts required within the various syllabuses at their chosen level. Many students communicated willingly, with some high levels of engagement noted in some lessons. In general, teachers effectively communicated an expectation that students would apply themselves and work to an appropriately high standard, and they affirmed students’ efforts. The quality of students’ written work and folders indicated that high standards are set.

 

Past results for the school in the state examinations were examined as part of the evaluation. It is recommended that all subject departments conduct an annual analysis of the results for their subject in the state examinations to examine the uptake of levels and the proportion of students obtaining ‘honours’ grades in comparison to national trends. There may be a need in some subjects for ongoing vigilance to ensure that students are choosing the level most appropriate to their abilities and potential. The outcome of the analysis of state examination results should inform part of the planning for teaching and learning annually. It is recommended that the school focuses on planning approaches to raising academic standards for all and that a whole-school approach to raising attainment be adopted.

  

4.3          Assessment

 

A range of assessment modes was used to monitor students’ progress and to promote learning. Assessment occurred throughout lessons through teacher questioning, observation of students’ participation, application and progress and through the allocation of written assignments. Students received regular homework and written work, as was appropriate. However, it was noted that not all students record homework systematically in their journals and closer monitoring in this regard is required.

 

Constructive formative feedback was given to students both verbally and in written form. The use of ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) strategies was evident throughout many lessons. A review of students’ copies and in-house examination papers indicated that many teachers included formative assessment on students’ written work. Continued development of AfL strategies is recommended. Self-assessment and peer-assessment are in use in some subjects and the development of such formative assessment strategies is encouraged for all subjects. Overall, it is recommended that the principles of AfL be revisited with a concentrated refocus on formative assessment applied by all teachers across the entire school.

 

Formal assessments are arranged for non-examination years at Christmas and summer and for examination years at Christmas with ‘mocks’ set in the second term. Where relevant, the inclusion of an oral assessment in the formal examinations is recommended. Commendably, subject departments are working towards the very good practice of setting common assessments. This is to be encouraged and should be extended, where relevant. Teachers keep very good records of performance in assessments, records of LCA key assignments and statements for JCSP students and records of student attendance.

 

Good systems are in place to communicate with parents regarding their child’s progress; the school issues reports following formal school examinations, annual parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group, and progress reports are sometimes issued to advise parents should a subject teacher have a concern. Records of student attainment in the formal school examinations are kept on the computer system, which all teachers have access to. Computer-generated school reports are produced twice each year with a set of agreed comments for inclusion by teachers. Recently, the school made the decision to send the results of the ‘mocks’ examinations home to parents. School reports carry grades as well as comments from subject teachers and the relevant year head.

 

The provision of after-school study, a homework club and other events such as the awards scheme are all very supportive of student achievement.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The college has developed, in line with its ethos, required policies on the admission, enrolment and participation of students with special educational needs. The special education needs policy draws on Department of Education and Science guidelines to put forward a whole school approach to learning support and to resource provision. This policy is well researched and emphasises many key aspects of learning support and resource provision including the importance of monitoring progress and liaising with parents on an ongoing basis. A partnership approach is promoted between senior management, mainstream teachers, learning support teachers and parents in planning and implementing teaching programmes. Communication with parents is very good with a meeting organised with parents before the student is enrolled and a good level of consultation on an ongoing basis thereafter.

 

The learning support and resource department is coordinated by a small dedicated team of well-qualified, highly organised and professional personnel. Planning takes place in a focused way to meet ongoing student needs. The way in which school management has supported training and staff development in this important area is highly commended.

 

The resource, learning support and guidance teachers carry out the initial screening tests of students. Assessment tests are administered after enrolment, and a visit is made to all feeder primary schools. Diagnostic testing may be carried out if necessary and with parental permission. A very positive feature of SEN provision is the amount of retesting of students so that their progression is monitored and decisions can be made on the future of learning support for that student.

 

Mainstream teachers delivering resource teaching to students are required to keep a record of each lesson. Learning targets are set for each small group on a term basis. These targets are reviewed at the end of each lesson and the outcome of the review is discussed with the student and the learning support teacher. Students are encouraged to take ownership of their own learning by agreement on specific learning targets. An individual education plan is drawn up for students as necessary with students with more complex needs receiving learning support after consultation with relevant personnel. Resource teaching is provided by a large team of teachers. In the interests of best practice, it is recommended that a small core team of resource teachers be established so that there is better continuity with students from year to year and so that teacher training and experience can be maximised.

 

An inclusive approach to student support is promoted. In junior cycle, students are placed in the class groups in the lower band to allow for more specialist teaching in these groups by teachers with learning support or special educational needs qualifications. Students who are exempt from Irish attend small group classes or receive individual tuition in literacy and numeracy. A student may be placed in a small group for additional support in English or Mathematics. Students may be encouraged to take a place in a class which offers a modified curriculum programme, JCSP at junior cycle or LCA at senior cycle.

 

A designated additional needs room has been established with good ICT provision and appropriate educational software and teaching resources. Record keeping is exemplary. Good links have been built up with outside referral agencies.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Guidance and care are provided to students by the whole school community including senior management, the guidance service, year heads, class tutors, teachers, senior students and parents. Structures and focused programmes are in place to ensure that student care and support are prioritised. These include Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education (RE), SCP, the home school community liaison (HSCL) scheme, the care team and the Meitheal leaders. There is very good integration between these teams. In addition, good links have been established with parents, the wider community, work experience employers, National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and external counsellors. Counselling is a key part of school guidance provision. Staff complete referral forms where appropriate. The SCP also provides funding for counselling and for supporting students at risk.

 

Guidance and counselling are delivered by a team with a broad range of skills and experience and by professionally qualified personnel. A reflective and self-evaluative approach has been established. The guidance plan is comprehensive and well structured in its approach to providing support to each year group. The college makes full use of the ex-quota hours to provide personal, educational and vocational guidance. Good records are maintained for each student. Guidance facilities and resources including ICT facilities and a guidance library are available to students.

 

The guidance counsellor plays an active part in the first-year induction programme and together with the resource teacher makes contact with the principals of all feeder primary schools to arrange a meeting with sixth-class teachers. This information gathered is used together with the assessment results to decide the level of supports needed and to inform year heads and class tutors regarding the incoming student’s ability to cope with the transition to post-primary. This is commended. Students in all year groups receive some support. Timetabled guidance is provided in senior cycle. Individual appointments are allocated to all sixth-year students and requests for appointments from all students are accommodated. It is praiseworthy that aptitude tests are provided to determine the suitability of subject choice and the results are discussed with parents.

 

Students who indicate that they are discontinuing a subject or changing a subject level from higher to ordinary are often referred to the guidance counsellor. This is commended. It is praiseworthy that students who indicate a wish to leave the college are interviewed by the guidance counsellor to ascertain their reasons for leaving and to combat early school leaving.

 

The school care team adopts an inclusive approach to student care and support. There is genuine care of the individual and an acute awareness of the home situation and how student behaviour may be influenced by context factors. The approach to student welfare is infiltrated with care and understanding and a willingness to resolve issues. Efforts are made to achieve maximum benefit from external agencies including the Health Services Executive, Barnardos, and the SCP. A very effective system is in place for contacting parents. The care team works closely with the guidance department.

 

SPHE is timetabled at junior cycle and contains the appropriate RSE module. RSE is implemented on a more ad hoc basis in senior cycle, however. The module is taught during RE for some but not all class groups. The college does not have a pastoral care and RSE policy in place at the moment. Therefore, it is recommended that policies be developed in these areas in the near future and that a strategy for the provision of RSE at senior cycle be prioritised.

 

The Meitheal leaders administer an effective mentoring programme to first years and genuinely contribute to the care of first years and to their induction into the college. They are very good role models, have a high profile in the college and are seen as trustworthy and fair in the way they provide support. The Meitheal team is well trained and students have gained many skills from their involvement with Meitheal.

 

HSCL support is now in place and is currently being further developed to meet student needs. Homes are visited on a needs basis. There is close liaison with the SCP, particularly regarding the monitoring of attendance. A parents' room has been developed and coffee mornings forge links with the community of parents. Attendance is checked and there is follow up on the student absence list. It is recommended that this service be further developed in line with national guidelines, ‘The Home, School, Community Liaison Scheme in Ireland- From Vision to Best Practice’.

 

The SCP operates a wide range of initiatives that appeal to a broad range of parents and students. Services to the college include themed workshops, the innovative music programme and the sourcing of funding for musical instruments, and the funding of external counselling. The SCP is effective, valuable to the college, is located on-site and is integrated into the guidance and care programmes. There is an acute awareness of the needs of families in the area and what initiatives will work. This programme provides an invaluable service to the college.

 

Retention of students from junior cycle to senior cycle and throughout senior cycle is quite good. However, attendance at school by some students is a cause for concern and requires constant monitoring and attention. Poor attendance makes it very difficult to progress the delivery of the curriculum, resulting in a negative impact on student outcomes in examinations. The college has put a number of important strategies in place to support this objective. Students who may have attendance problems in primary school are identified in advance of enrolment. The annual awards system rewards students with excellent attendance records. Parents of students whose attendance record raises concerns are contacted by phone. As mentioned earlier in this report, attendance tracking is carried out by the SCP on a random basis with at least one year group targeted on a daily basis. The HSCL department also puts supports in place to ensure regular attendance. It is recommended that the current focus on issues relating to student attendance and truancy be maintained and that continued priority be given to this area as part of ongoing school development planning.

 

The Parents’ Association expressed their satisfaction with the school discipline system and described the college as a non-threatening environment with a good community atmosphere. Year heads administer the code of discipline with consistency and fairness and the graduated discipline system is seen by the whole school community as fair and balanced. Examples of issues brought to the attention of year heads and school management include substance misuse and bullying. The code of discipline is seen by the college as an evolving policy which is constantly revised and updated as the college changes, to support the ongoing needs of students and to meet external changes in society. The number of suspensions has been quite high in recent years, however, recent trends are positive. The college has put a successful detention system in place and this measure has reduced the necessity for some suspensions. This is commended. The college has a very good awards system in place which supports student achievement in key areas. In the interests of balance, it is recommended that the code of discipline be revised and updated to include school awards and celebrations of student success.

 

The roles of year head and class tutor encompass pastoral and discipline responsibilities. They have developed an administrative, discipline and caring role and work with students to maintain a positive school environment Year heads and class tutors oversee the welfare of students on behalf of the whole school community. The college has developed a caring atmosphere in line with its ethos and mission.  

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Through its mission, the college aims to provide a holistic educational experience in a positive learning environment while meeting the needs of the diversity of the community.

      There was clear evidence that the mission was being lived out in all aspects of school life.

·         The college boasts a very proud tradition of providing for students of all abilities and in this way is inclusive.

·         The provision of the new building has had a very positive impact on school life.

·         The board of management is consultative, engaged on issues, adaptable in its outlook and has developed a strong profile in the school community.

·         The principal and deputy principal have commendable leadership qualities and present a clear and shared vision and understanding of the developmental priorities

      for the college. Both display complementary skills and present as a strong senior management team. Communication is open and transparent and management is consistently

      approachable, flexible and realistic in its approach.

·         Delegation of responsibilities by senior management is effective in ensuring the ongoing operation of the college. Year heads work closely with class tutors in the

      administration of the care and discipline system of the college.

·         New teachers are well supported through a very good induction programme.

·         Staff are kept well informed through the various systems of communication within the college.

·         Computer facilities have been recently upgraded and are progressively being enhanced.

·         Whole school planning is collaborative and consultative with all members of the school community enabled appropriately to contribute ideas, express concerns and make

      suggestions in an open and constructive way. Improvements for the whole school community are now evident as a result of focused and prioritised planning. The school plan is

      comprehensive and wide-ranging. A collaborative approach to subject planning with effective co-ordination was evident.

·         The establishment of the curriculum planning committee ensures that curriculum planning is characterised by ongoing review. The college offers access to a wide range

      of subjects, programmes and levels to serve the needs of students. School management ensures that curriculum provision is prioritised and is commended for its great efforts to

      broaden the curriculum and to introduce new subjects and programmes that will further suit the needs of different students.

·         There was a very good atmosphere for learning. Methods used supported active learning and independent learning. The range of resources used to support teaching and

      learning was varied and appropriate.

·         There was a variety of modes of assessment. The use of ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL) strategies was evident throughout many lessons.

·         Learning support and resource planning takes place in a focused way to meet ongoing student needs. A partnership approach is promoted between senior management,

      mainstream teachers, learning support teachers and parents in planning and implementing specific teaching programmes.

·         Structures and focused programmes are in place to ensure that student care and support are prioritised. These include the guidance department, SPHE, RE, SCP, HSCL,

      the care team, year heads, class tutors and the Meitheal leaders. Guidance provision is well planned and delivered professionally. The school care team adopts an inclusive

      approach to student care.

 

 

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

 

·         Promoting further in-service to its members regarding board roles and responsibilities should further contribute to the effective fulfilment of the board’s managerial duties and

      heighten awareness of the college’s priorities among all board members.

·         Further consultation should take place with parents and students on relevant policies prior to enactment by the board.

·         It is recommended that the profile of the Student Council be raised progressively in order for the Council to take on a greater role in decision making and in activities that impact

      on students’ lives in the college.

·         The role of year head should be expanded to further meet the needs of the college to include the monitoring of student academic progress on a more formal basis. All assistant

      principals should form part of the consultative middle management structure.

·         Restructuring of posts should be accommodated, so that college needs can continue to be best met whilst ensuring an equitable distribution of responsibilities. 

·         The health and safety statement is outdated and requires immediate review, updating and enactment following a full school health and safety audit and following extensive

      staff consultation.

·         The practice of some classes receiving timetabled study periods during the week must be discontinued to enable each student to receive the entitlement to twenty-eight hours of

      class contact time.

·         The time allocation for the coordination of LCVP and LCA is excessive and should be reduced. In addition, the programme coordination duties should be reviewed in line with the

      overall evaluation of time allocation to programmes.

·         It is recommended that the school focuses on planning approaches to raising academic standards for all and that a whole-school approach to raising attainment be adopted.

·         Management is encouraged to maintain the focus on subject planning, to continue to encourage the sharing of good practice and to facilitate further support in this area.

·         A small core team of resource teachers should be established so that there is better continuity with students from year to year and so that teacher training and experience can 

      be maximised.

·         Pastoral care and RSE policies should be prioritised and a strategy for the provision of RSE at senior cycle should be developed.

·         The code of discipline should be revised and updated to include school awards and celebrations of student success.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 12 December 2008

·         Subject Inspection of French– 20 January 2009

·         Subject Inspection of English – 21 January 2009

·         Subject Inspection of Physical Education – 23 January 2009

 

 

 

 

Published November 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management of Bridgetown Vocational College welcomes this very positive W.S.E. Report and would like to compliment staff, students and parents on the excellent work acknowledged by the inspectorate.

 

It is gratifying for the Board to note in particular the positive evaluation of school management, school planning, curricular provision, teaching and learning and the supports provided for students.

 

It is very encouraging to note that the inspectorate found “clear evidence” that “the Mission Statement was being lived out in many aspects of school life observed”.

 

 

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

 

County Wexford V.E.C. in conjunction with D.I.T. is due to draw up a new Safety Statement and to carry out a full Health and Safety Audit during the Autumn of 2009.

 

Other recommendations made in the report will be dealt with in due course.