An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, Cahir
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 9 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, the CEO of South Tipperary Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff, to the CEO and to the board of management. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh is a co-educational, multi-denominational/interfaith community college under the aegis of South Tipperary VEC. An amalgamation of three schools, this school was built on an extensive, green-field site just on the outskirts of Cahir town in 1997. The catchment area extends to approximately ten miles and a high percentage of students within the transport catchment area attend the college. It has a broad socio-economic base and plays a large role in the wider community. The current number of post-primary students attending the college is 608, of which 323 are male and 285 female. This is a slight decrease on previous years’ enrolment. The college also runs a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course, with eighteen students currently enrolled, and facilitates evening classes for a total of 42 adults. One of the changes which the college has seen in recent times has been the increasing number of newcomer students.
It is evident that much effort has gone into building a sense of pride in the new school. Prior to the establishment of the college, substantial preparatory work was carried out in defining the roles of senior and middle management and these have been reviewed regularly since, to fit the needs of the school. All of the partners are to be commended for their efforts to develop a real sense of partnership and collegiality.
The school has a mission statement which is clearly written down, communicated to the school community and informs decision making. It is committed to providing the opportunities for each individual student to reach his/her potential and also to forging strong links between the school and the local community. Emphasis on the pursuit of excellence and the fostering of self-worth is stated. There was evidence during the whole school evaluation of an atmosphere where ‘equality, openness and a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect are promoted.’ School policies, such as the inclusive intake of students, reflect the aspirations of the mission statement and there is a strong awareness among the school community of the school ethos. It is evident that students are well cared for and that very good collegiality exists among staff.
The present board of management is comprised of: three representatives of the VEC community; three representatives of the Sisters of Mercy; two parents’ representatives; two representatives from the teaching staff; a representative of minority religions and a community representative. The present board has been in existence for two years and members have a five-year tenure. The board meets five or six times per year, with extra meetings being held when necessary. In addition, monthly meetings for VEC nominees are held by the VEC. Close contact is maintained with the CEO of South Tipperary VEC, and in-service opportunities provided by the VEC are availed of. Board meetings are well attended and minuted, and the proceedings are communicated to all of the partners. Teachers or parents can request items to be included for discussion through their representatives. Members of the board attend the annual musical and awards evenings and the chairperson informally visits the staffroom from time to time.
Sub-committees of the board are formed when necessary to deal with particular issues. These then report back to the full board. Training is provided for, and availed of by all board members, who are well informed of relevant legislation and national developments. A VEC handbook is provided for all members. Through its work on policy development and decisions regarding school matters, it is evident that the board supports and fosters the characteristic spirit of the school. In general, the board feels its role is to be supportive of the principal, ensuring the maintenance of the school ethos and that students’ and parents’ needs are catered for. Communication between the board and senior management is effective, as the principal and chairperson of the board are in regular contact. A good awareness of the school’s accommodation and resource needs was in evidence among board members.
The board has fulfilled its statutory obligation in arranging for the preparation of a school plan. Legally required policies on child protection, admissions, health and safety, ICT acceptable use, a code of behaviour including substance use and anti-bullying, and strategies to encourage attendance and participation have been adopted by the board. The active involvement of parents in policy development and in a wide range of school activities is encouraged and facilitated. It is commendable that policy formation within the college is collaborative in nature, with the board, parents, staff and students all meaningfully involved. The board has identified priorities for development and these include further development planning, a review of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), the completion and adoption of the guidance plan, a draft plan for extracurricular activities and a review of subject options. Work on policy formation and review is ongoing.
While no formal report is issued to parents from the board of management, the principal informs parents about school matters through regular attendance at parents’ association meetings. In order to ensure that all parents are kept informed about school matters and in line with Part II, Section 20 of the Education Act 1998, it is recommended that the board consider the publication of an annual report about matters concerning the operation and performance of the school, to be circulated to parents.
The principal and deputy principal have a partnership approach to school leadership and communicate effectively as a team. A clear sense of shared responsibilities and a clarification of each one’s roles and responsibilities, together with the time commitment given by both, contribute to the smooth running of the school. Senior management has an inclusive approach to decision-making. Leadership roles are distributed among senior and middle management, involving all in achieving the aims of the school. Staff members are aware of the duties assigned to senior and middle management.
Relevant, clearly defined and regularly reviewed duties are assigned to post-holders according to the changing needs of the school, which is recommended practice. Throughout the evaluation it was noted that duties which have an important impact on the smooth running of the school have been taken on by non-post-holders and their contribution is commendable. Self-evaluation and review is integral to the work of the school.
Good informal communication exists between all staff, particularly in relation to students’ needs. Senior management ensures that staff members are kept informed about school matters, either through the staff notice-board or individual contact. Meetings are held regularly between middle and senior management. Staff meetings are held approximately every six weeks and staff in general feel that they are able to make a real contribution to school affairs. It was evident that the whole staff is a committed and professional body of people, with a high level of expertise and skills.
The school has a truly inclusive approach to the intake of students. It implements the admission policy of the school in a fair, transparent and equitable manner. Provision for students with special educational needs is excellent and much thought has been given to welcome and include newcomer students. Inclusion of the diversity of students in a wide range of school activities is evident and students are treated in accordance with their needs.
Students’ attendance and retention is monitored in an organised and systematic manner. Following a review of the needs of the school, a post-holder was appointed to monitor and record attendance in each year group and data is fed back to senior management. Information is relayed to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) as appropriate. The home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) teacher is proactive in taking prompt action where problems relating to frequent absenteeism arise. A new card system to monitor attendance has been introduced for this year’s first-year students and it is hoped to further develop this system.
Management of students is effective. A clearly structured code of behaviour exists in parallel with a student-support system. A year-head system operates within the school and very good communication between the HSCL member of staff, the guidance counsellors and the year heads ensures high-quality care of students who may be at risk. The group of year heads meets regularly. Good contact with parents is maintained and where problems arise regarding individual students, the involvement of parents is sought at an early stage. There are plans for a working group to review the code of behaviour in the near future and it is recommended that this working group seek to further affirm and reward positive behaviour in a systematic way, perhaps through the development of the existing ‘merit’ system.
Effective links have been established between the school, appropriate outside agencies and the local community. Evidence of this is the provision of excellent sporting facilities at the college. The adult education classes and PLC courses within the school provide further links with the community. There is ongoing liaison with primary schools, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist and the Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO) to facilitate students’ needs in areas such as induction, progression and transfer of students, including students with educational needs. The principal and guidance counsellors visit the local primary schools every year and these visits are used to access information on the needs of incoming first-year students. A successful transition programme has been established with a local primary school and is available for all feeder schools that wish to become involved.
Partnership with parents is central to the school ethos. Senior management has close links with the parents’ association and informs the general body of parents about school matters through parents’ evenings, letters and regular items in the local newspaper relating to school achievements and activities. Parents are actively engaged in school life and contribute hugely in many areas, some of which include helping with the organisation of the musicals and awards nights. While fundraising forms part of the work carried out by parents, their involvement in school matters goes far beyond this and they are actively engaged in policy development. The parents’ association was instrumental in setting up a book rental scheme in the school, to which all students subscribe. The association, which was set up in 1997 just prior to the amalgamation, is affiliated to the National Parents’ Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (NPAVSCC). Meetings are held once a month and each catchment area is represented on the committee. It is to be commended that the committee expressed the wish to have some newcomer parents involved in the association, to ensure that all of the parent body is represented on the committee.
Management involves students in a partnership approach through a representative students’ council. Students are nominated by their classmates and a committee is elected from the nominated class representatives. A member of staff, who is a post-holder, monitors and supports the work of the students’ council, which meets monthly. Student council members are involved in activities such as the school musical, the tuck shop and school quizzes, among others. They are at present carrying out research into different types of schoolbags, with a view to solving the problem of the weight of schoolbags. In the past, following surveys among their peers, the council has brought about successful changes in areas such as new school jackets and more healthy canteen food. The students’ council has been consulted on policy documents such as the code of behaviour, anti-bullying and the homework policy.
The deployment of staff is, on the whole, consistent with teachers’ qualifications, expertise and experience. Continuing professional development is encouraged by management and facilitated within parameters agreed by the board, in-school management and staff. Induction and support procedures are in place for teachers joining the staff. Ancillary staff members include two caretakers, two secretaries and five part-time cleaners, all of whom are to be commended for their role in supporting the teaching staff and students and maintaining the school accommodation to a high standard.
The school is a bright, modern building with excellent facilities and these are well maintained. The material resources available within the school are appropriate, up-to-date and used by both teachers and students. A health and safety statement, involving the whole school, has been prepared by the school and communicated to staff and students. Facilities include: three well-equipped science laboratories with adjacent preparation rooms; a demonstration room; a large sports hall; a home economics department which houses two well-equipped kitchens and a design room; two wood workshops; an engineering workshop; a technical drawing room; two fully equipped computer rooms; a technology laboratory; an art room; a library; a canteen; a music room; a chaplain’s room; a tuck shop and various classrooms and offices. Individual subject departments do not have a specific budget allocation but resources are granted on a needs basis and this system seems to working quite well in general, although some suggestions regarding this are given in the Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies inspection report.
Wireless broadband internet access is available throughout the school. Besides the two computer rooms, several of the specialist rooms are equipped with information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and a mobile suite of sixteen laptops is available for subject teachers to use in their classrooms. Specialist subject teachers may also book classes into a computer room depending on availability. Eight laptops and five data projectors are available for use by staff members and personal laptops are used by a number of teachers. Each member of the teaching staff has been issued with a memory stick. Overall, this is very good provision and, commendably, facilitates the incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning in the different subject areas. As part of the school development planning process a school website is currently being set up.
It is a tribute to the commitment of both management and parents that close links with the local community have resulted in top-quality sporting facilities which include two 7-a-side astro-turf pitches, one other astro-turf pitch suitable for hockey or tennis, two hard-court tennis courts, an outdoor basketball pitch and two full-sized grass pitches in the immediate vicinity of the college.
As the canteen area is too small for the student cohort, the main library has been used as a general-purpose room to accommodate the overspill from the canteen. Consequently, the library has been housed in a smaller room. However, there are plans to restore the library to its original room to maximise its use and this is encouraged. This move would free up space for small-office accommodation which is missing at present. There is a need for general small-office accommodation for year heads and programme co-ordinators, who at present keep their records and files in the small staff workroom adjacent to the general staffroom. It is, therefore, recommended that the school continue to actively pursue provision of office accommodation for staff who need it to efficiently carry out their duties. An extension to the school’s administrative offices and increased storage space are planned as part of the summer works’ scheme this year.
The guidance counsellors both have their own offices and a large guidance room is available for students, all with internet access. Two rooms are designated for learning-support teaching but teachers also use general classrooms and one of the guidance offices for small groups of students with special learning needs. The chaplain’s room is used to support students’ spiritual needs and, it is to be commended that, when needed, it also serves as a quiet space where students can go to reflect or pray.
Throughout the school, students’ achievements are affirmed by the display of photos, posters and newspaper articles giving details of the school musicals and the students’ many achievements and activities. The school environment is greatly enhanced by exhibiting students’ art work throughout the building. This good practice not only enhances the educational environment but visibly adds to the students’ ownership and pride in the school. An awards night is held annually to celebrate the students’ academic, sporting and overall achievements, during which the Sisters of Mercy present a perpetual trophy to the student who most reflects the ethos of the school.
A recycling and litter-reduction initiative has been introduced to raise students’ awareness of environmental issues and it is to be commended that this has resulted in students managing recycling and composting schemes in the school.
Management and staff at Coláiste Dún Iascaigh are committed to a process of school development planning and have dedicated time to carry out this process of dialogue and consultation. Good collaboration and consultation is in evidence between all of the school partners in relation to school planning. Progress has been made on the development and review of school policies and this is ongoing. It is evident that the characteristic spirit of the school informs such policy development. Much thought and work has gone into policies such as the anti-bullying policy, the code of behaviour and the homework policy among others, with meaningful input from staff, management, parents and students. It is to be commended that in-service training and ongoing advice has been sought from the School Development Planning Initiative. The professional development needs of staff are identified and addressed as part of this process. A member of staff, who is not a post-holder, has been co-ordinating the school development planning process in addition to many other duties, and for this much credit is due. It is however suggested that, when reviewing the needs of the school, the co-ordination of school development planning be prioritised as a full-time post and included among the list of post-holders’ duties.
Policy review has included policies relating to the code of behaviour, anti-bullying, attendance and punctuality, admission, suspension and expulsion, homework, health and safety, substance use, admissions and ITC acceptable use. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. Work is in progress to prepare policies related to guidance, pastoral care and provision for special educational needs and it is to be hoped that these will soon be finalised and ratified by the board. It is planned to put all school policies on to the website when it is up and running. At present the different policies exist as separate entities, so it is recommended that all adopted policies, including curriculum objectives, be incorporated into a permanent section of the school plan. A copy of the school plan, incorporating all adopted policies, should then be circulated to the VEC, parents, teachers and other staff of the school.
The school is to be commended for its open and transparent approach to admission to the school. However it is suggested that some elements of the wording of the school’s admission policy do not reflect the school’s exemplary practice in this regard and should be reviewed in order to ensure that the policy is in line with Department of Education and Science (DES) recommendations.
Over the last few years all members of staff have been engaged in the process of subject development planning and good work has been carried out to date on the preparation of individual subject plans. Meetings are minuted and records kept of progress made, and this is good practice. It was noted, however, that action plans and timeframes are not always included in this process, so it is recommended that all school development planning activities include targets for development with defined action plans and timeframes to ensure review and evaluation.
The planning process has helped develop a sense of collegiality among staff and whole-staff ownership of development planning. Staff feel that the process has brought about a greater confidence in their own competence and a clearer sense of how they can meet students’ learning needs. In some subject areas it was noted that, as part of the subject planning process, members of the team have discussed and shared specific teaching methodologies which they could use with different groups of students. It is recommended that this good practice, which has the potential to greatly enrich the learning experience of students, be extended to all subject areas. It was noted during the evaluation that subject planning for the Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes do not always form part of this teamwork planning and are not always included in the subject plan. It is therefore recommended that individual subject plans for TY and LCA be included in the collaborative subject planning process and be incorporated into the subject plan.
The current priorities identified by management for the developmental aspect of whole-school planning include a review of the courses and syllabuses available to students, a review of health education within the school and in-service training for staff in relation to students with special educational needs. Whole-school planning for SPHE is a priority and it is recommended that management’s plans to include this in the planning process be implemented as soon as possible. It is also seen as important that all members of the SPHE team avail of relevant in-service opportunities.
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh offers a balanced and broad curriculum, both at junior cycle and at senior cycle. It offers the widest possible range of programmes, subjects and levels to serve the needs, interests and abilities of all students. The Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and Transition Year (TY) programmes are all included in the curriculum. Effective programmes of learning support for students are in place and the school responds to educational disadvantage among its students through making effective use of Department curriculum initiatives. Lifelong learning is promoted through a PLC course which is provided each year in the school. The school also facilitates and co-ordinates adult education classes in the school and these have included English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) for newcomer families.
Besides the seven core subjects of English, Irish, Mathematics, Geography, History, Science and Civil, Social and Political Education (CSPE), optional subjects at junior cycle include Home Economics, Art, Craft and Design, French, German, Spanish, Music, Business Studies, Technology, Metalwork, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technical Graphics. Junior cycle students also study SPHE, Physical Education, Guidance, Information Technology (IT) and Religion.
At senior cycle, subjects offered include Mathematics, English, Irish, History, Geography, Art, Music, Technology, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Technical Drawing, Economics, Business, Accounting, Construction Studies, Engineering, Spanish, German, French, Agricultural Science, Applied Mathematics and Home Economics. Non-examination subjects include IT, Religion, Guidance and sport.
Some timetabling issues have been highlighted in the individual subject inspection reports and it is hoped that these will be addressed as soon as is feasible. These include problems relating to the timetabling of double lessons for language subjects, the home economics social and scientific/biology module in TY and the current spread of junior cycle English lessons throughout the week. Following recommendations contained in the physical education (PE) subject inspection report, timetabling for senior cycle PE has been adjusted to ensure that all classes receive at least one PE lesson per week and this goes some way towards implementing the recommendation regarding senior cycle provision. It is commended that timetables which previously included extracurricular activity as part of teaching hours have also been adjusted following recommendations.
It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. The school indicated that it would be addressing this matter and making adjustment to the timetable for future years or seeking additional resources to address the matter if this adjustment would compromise essential course provision.
Much credit is due to management for providing an after-school study facility during the week for all students who wish to avail of it. Third-year and sixth-year students can also avail of this on Saturday mornings.
A good TY programme, which is committed to the development of the whole student and incorporates work experience, career education and personal and social development, is in place. The programme is optional and in recent years between twenty and twenty-four students have opted to take the programme annually. The school is urged to continue to promote the programme among third-year students in the hope that uptake can be increased, in order to benefit a greater number of students and to facilitate timetabling by making concurrent modules possible. Besides the provision of English, Irish, Mathematics, a choice of languages, History, Geography, Chemistry and a joint social and scientific/biology module, the programme offers a broad range of subjects such as enterprise education, computer applications, video and photo editing, car maintenance and road safety, orchestra, speech and drama, art, craft and design and personal development.
A range of courses is provided and, this year, these include: a radio/broadcasting module culminating in the students planning and recording their own radio programme for local radio; a one-day Law programme; a two-day First Aid course; public speaking; self-defence; drama; a Citizens’ Information programme; student investment and youth leadership. Students undertake a two-week work-experience placement and positive links with the local community facilitate this. Students are encouraged to become actively involved in community work and help to organise a senior citizens’ party locally. They also produce a yearbook at the end of the year, giving details of their activities throughout the year.
The overall TY plan is a comprehensive document, containing details of the mission and rationale behind TY and individual subject plans. It is good practice that the programme is evaluated annually and, in the light of this, the programme can vary from year to year.
The LCA and LCVP programmes are well established within the school and include contacts with local businesses. There are thirty-four students in total taking the LCA programme in the school. Parents and students are given an outline of the course at a parents’ information evening during third year and the guidance counsellor has input into decisions regarding programme choice. This year’s cohort of LCA students, together with the TY students, are to be congratulated for their success in designing the impressive road-safety poster which was launched recently by Gay Byrne and has been adopted by the Road Safety Authority.
It is to be commended that, as part of enterprise education, a ‘market day’ is arranged annually to encourage initiative and independent learning for both TY and LCVP students. LCVP students who are not taking a language for the Leaving Certificate examination study Spanish for one period per week for one year to fulfil the modern language requirement of the course. While all students take LCVP in fifth year, only those students with relevant subject areas continue to take the subject as part of the Leaving Certificate examination. However, all students are timetabled together for LCVP in sixth year and those who are not continuing the subject for Leaving Certificate use the period for extra study. While cognisant of the fact that completion of the link modules element of LVCP is of benefit to all students, this raises concerns about completion of the statutory twenty-eight hours’ tuition time for all students. It is suggested, therefore, that management look at alternative timetabling arrangements for these students.
The programme co-ordinator is responsible for the TY, LCA and LCVP programmes. While other members of staff assist in the different programmes, it is suggested that, as this constitutes a substantial workload, a review of the job specification of the programme co-ordinator be carried out and consideration be given to appointing a separate TY co-ordinator.
A member of the teaching staff acts as co-ordinator for the PLC course in the school and keeps the team of teachers informed. At present there are eighteen students taking a community and health services course. The subjects chosen for the PLC course each year are chosen to maximise employability of students. Organisation of the PLC course includes regular communication with senior management and the guidance counsellor. During the evaluation week, the enthusiasm of these students was evident and it was clear that they enjoy the course. An awards night at the end of the year celebrates achievement and forges closer links with families in the community.
Subject options at both junior and senior cycle are decided by students’ preferences, which is recommended practice. The school makes information readily available to students and parents to assist them in making subject choices. Incoming first-year students choose their subjects prior to coming to the school, having attended an introductory information night on subject choice and an open night where subject areas are presented. It is a matter of some concern that almost fifty per cent of students in first and second year do not study any modern European language. In order to address this issue, and following recommendations contained in the recent Spanish subject inspection report, consideration is being given to the possible introduction of a ‘taster’ course in first year to further inform incoming students regarding their choice of subjects for junior cycle.
All first-year classes are of mixed-ability. The school operates a system of streaming in the seven core subjects in second and third year and setting in fifth and sixth year. In optional subject areas, classes are of mixed ability. While the school makes efforts to accommodate students who wish to change their choice of subject level for the Junior Certificate examination during second or third year, this is not always possible due to timetabling restrictions. In second and third year, Mathematics and Science are timetabled concurrently to facilitate changes of level. Further concurrent timetabling of subjects would help to accommodate changes of levels where required. It is strongly recommended that decisions regarding choice of levels in the Junior Certificate examination be deferred until as late as possible, preferably after the mock examinations. Whole-staff in-service on differentiated teaching methodologies could be useful in this regard.
Decisions on the class allocation of students in second year is dependent on the results of a selection of first-year subject examinations. It is strongly recommended that the present arrangements regarding the streaming and allocation of students be reviewed by the whole staff and that subject teachers’ input be a formal and consistent element of this process. It is also recommended that, if streaming is to be continued, up-to-date standardised tests of ability be utilised to further inform decisions regarding the placement of individual students. In this regard, it would be a worthwhile exercise for individual subject teachers to look into possible effects of the streaming process as it stands, by comparing uptake and grades at both higher and ordinary levels with national norms. In addition, an audit of such matters as the attendance levels and motivation of students in the middle streams would give a further insight into whether or not this system is the best, overall, to ensure that all students reach their potential.
The school is to be highly commended for the provision of a wide range of activities which support and enhance students’ social and personal development. These include cultural, aesthetic, community, social and sporting activities. Students throughout the school are encouraged and facilitated to contribute to the local community through the organisation of, and participation in, fundraising events. It is commendable that students have formed a group called the ‘Justice’ group, to co-ordinate fundraising activities which involve all year groups and usually target local and school-related charities.
Extracurricular activities include sports such as basketball, Gaelic football, hurling, hockey, rugby, soccer, camogie, tennis, athletics, swimming, gymnastics and cross-country running. There are also opportunities to represent the school in golf and horse-riding competitions. Non-sporting activities include participation in the annual school musical, quizzes, competitions, debates, speech and drama, public speaking and orchestra. Provision is made for individual musical-instrument tuition and educational outings are organised on a regular basis.
Co-curricular activities are organised throughout a variety of subject areas, and this greatly enriches the students’ educational experience. Students participate in a wide range of national events and speakers are invited to the school to give of their expertise and knowledge. An educational trip abroad involving senior students is organised annually, and this again is to be commended.
The programme of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is designed to cater for all students, including those with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged or minority groups. After-school activities and lunchtime activities are supervised and monitored by members of staff, providing the opportunity for all students to become involved in extracurricular activities. The dedication and commitment of staff in providing such a wide range of opportunities for a maximum number of students is deserving of the utmost praise.
In all subject areas evaluated, good work on the preparation of subject department plans has been achieved by the teams of teachers in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration. Subject co-ordinators have been identified and it is commended that time is made available by management for regular subject-department planning meetings, approximately every six weeks or so, to coincide with staff meetings.
Good long-term planning for subject development was evident in each of the subject departments. It is urged that the development of all the subject plans should continue, based on the guidance given by the School Development Planning Initiative and various support services but reflecting the relevant circumstances of each individual department. It is recommended, where this has not already been undertaken, that planning for individual subjects in TY and LCA form part of the collaborative process and be incorporated into the relevant subject plan. While the content of the TY programme in one subject area evaluated is praised for its wide range of unique and interesting activities, it is suggested in other subject areas that the TY programme be viewed as an opportunity to explore non-examination-led content. Teaching approaches which foster activity-based learning are encouraged, in line with the ethos and aims of the programme.
In addition to more formal subject-department planning meetings, teachers in each of the departments meet informally to discuss subject planning and this is applauded. The inclusion of learning and teaching methodologies in the individual subject plans for each year group would greatly enhance the programme planning already completed. In each of the subject inspection reports, it is recommended that specific subject-related teaching and learning strategies which have proven effective for the different year groups, together with relevant resources, be shared, discussed and incorporated into the relevant subject plan. In some cases, as in English, where brief lists of such approaches do not reflect the true range of imaginative and creative work observed in the course of the evaluation, the expansion of the subject plans should be viewed as an opportunity for teachers to share their own practice and continue to develop and enhance their professional expertise.
Planning for individual lessons in each of the subjects was good and in line with the requirements of the relevant syllabuses. While syllabus-appropriate programmes of work had been drawn up and agreed in each of the subjects, in Home Economics it is recommended that these be more syllabus based rather than text-book led. The TY English programme should also be revised collaboratively by the department teaching team as a means of ensuring that all teachers are aware of the content of the programme and are able to contribute to its continued development. Planning for differentiation was in evidence in some mixed-ability groupings and this is to be commended and encouraged.
The school is commended for its implementation of the revised Junior Certificate physical education syllabus, as recommended in the subject inspection report. Planning for the incorporation of co-curricular and extracurricular activities in some subject areas adds greatly to the learning experience of students and, for this, much credit is due.
The home economics subject department is commended for its task-based approach to the food studies practical work in third year and is encouraged to extend this practice to the other years of the junior cycle. The display of English project work at the TY night is affirmed and planning the extension of this activity to facilitate the adoption of a portfolio as an element of TY assessment is suggested. In Physical Education, the range of unique and interesting activities provided is commended and in keeping with the spirit of TY. It is recommended that the home economics TY module descriptor be revised collaboratively by the whole subject department. In Spanish it is commended that planning for lessons is informed by the needs and interests of the students and cognisance is taken of both language and cultural awareness.
Planning of provision for students with special educational needs in each of the subject areas is commended and the home economics subject department reports being assisted by good support structures and open and active communication in this regard. Particular mention is made of the good links between English teachers and the special educational needs department.
It was noted that effective planning and preparation has ensured that excellent teacher-prepared teaching resources were available in Spanish and Home Economics. Visual resources were used to good effect and their use is encouraged. It is suggested, as part of the Spanish subject planning process, that one area for development could be the building up of a bank of appropriate reading material to further enhance learning.
The recent deployment of mobile laptop computer facilities in the school is a very positive development and will make ICT-based learning more accessible. Planning for the incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning is commended in several of the subject inspection reports. It is suggested that each of the subject departments continue to engage in planning for the use of these facilities in learning and teaching as part of the formal subject planning process. In Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) the teaching team is urged to plan carefully for the deployment of hardware and computer aided design software to be supplied shortly. It is also urged that these valuable learning and teaching resources be fully incorporated in the subject plans. The subject departments are also encouraged, where this has not already been done, to take full advantage of the available ICT facilities to record and store documents and records relating to subject department planning.
While planning for health and safety in the construction studies and materials technology (wood) workshops has led to best practice in many regards, the display of further safety notices in the workshops and the demarcation of safe operational areas around machines are recommended.
Teaching and learning at Coláiste Dún Iascaigh are in general very good. Teachers showed an awareness of a wide range of teaching methodologies and applied them effectively. Well-established approaches to teaching such as note taking, the use of questions and of the blackboard were very well utilised. A good variety of active-learning strategies, such as role plays, online research, brainstorming and small-group work were in evidence and it was noted that students responded particularly well to these. Further use of similar strategies is encouraged in all subject areas.
Most teachers began lessons with a short revision of previous learning, giving continuity to the learning process. The answers to questions regarding the content of those lessons showed good retention and comprehension on the part of students and their questions on clarification of issues raised by teachers were relevant and confident. Where lesson objectives were shared with students at the outset of lessons this was commended and suggestions for further development of this strategy is encouraged. Students were absorbed and showed interest throughout the majority of lessons. This level of attention was achieved by teachers through the use of a range of interesting subject material.
A wide variety of resources were successfully utilised in all subject areas. ICT and video were used appropriately and to good effect in several lessons and the use of data projectors to display teacher-generated materials is commended. Teachers are also commended for their high levels of current, subject-related knowledge and for their use of this knowledge in bringing relevant, interesting and personalised information to the attention of students in a variety of formats. Information boards with recent newspaper cuttings and comments made during lessons as to the relevance of the material to students’ lives were among the methods used to incorporate up-to-date information. Relevant subject-specific material was also used to good effect in most cases, such as the use of the target language as the means of communication in language classes, the mixture of aural and oral work in languages and of dramatic readings of prose in English. The efforts of teachers in all subject areas to create a print-rich environment, despite the fact that classrooms for non-practical subjects are not teacher-based, are encouraged and praised.
Students were well behaved, relaxed and respectful in all classes observed. Teachers had good rapport with students and any student-management issues were dealt with tactfully, with humour and without confrontation. The atmosphere in classes was focused, purposeful and conducive to learning. Students responded well to the directions of teachers and engaged well in learning activities. Students’ initiative was also praised, especially where materials were to be stored or tidied at the end of a practical lesson.
Students’ learning was judged to be good and in general, there was evidence that students were achieving to a high standard. Homework and class work were well presented and organised by students, and work assigned by teachers was in keeping with the aims of the lessons. Teachers used their positive relationships with students to good effect and it was clear that productive engagement by both students and teachers was a normal part of teaching and learning. Lessons proceeded well and in accordance with plans in most cases, although recapitulation at the end of some lessons was not possible due to the pressure of time. This was particularly noted in some physical education lessons which were of a single class period duration. It is suggested in this regard that more self-directed learning and task work could help to allow more teacher time for observation of students’ work and for summarising, although it is recognised that much was achieved within the constraints of the timetable. It is also recognised that in all cases the tasks set for the lessons were completed in the allocated time and students’ achievements were commended by teachers.
Teachers are commended for their maintenance of a warm, purposeful atmosphere during lessons where students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed and in which a positive attitude to learning was promoted.
Both in-house formal assessment and subject-based class assessment is carried out in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. Formal house examinations are organised at Christmas and summer for all non-state-examination classes, except TY students, who have class-based assessment in all subject areas, followed by regular reports to parents. Third-year and sixth-year students participate in mock examinations in February of each year. Reports based on students’ performances in the Christmas, summer and mock examinations are issued to parents. Parents of sixth-year students are provided with reports of students’ progress on a monthly basis. There is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group and students’ homework journals are also used as a successful means of ensuring communication between home and school. A number of subject areas have adopted the practice of setting common examination papers for classes in particular year groups and subject departments are urged to expand the use of this approach wherever practicable and appropriate. Ongoing, informal assessment of students’ progress is carried out on a continual basis in all subject areas and records are kept.
A comprehensive homework policy has been prepared as part of the school development planning process and this is good practice. In general, homework is assigned, monitored and corrected on a regular basis in all subject areas. Where this was not the case, a recommendation for more regular assigning of homework was made. The use of comment-based assessment by teachers in the correction of students’ work was highlighted in a number of subjects. This strategy is recommended and forms part of the Assessment for Learning (AfL) research carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Teachers are encouraged to continue to expand their use of this strategy to all year groups.
In Spanish and Home Economics, the links between the departments’ assessment practices and those of the State Examinations Commission were noted and commended. In a number of English classes the use of personal response journals on the part of students responding to texts was noted as a worthwhile strategy. The integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses in students’ homework was also observed in a number of classes. The English department is exhorted to expand the use of this strategy, which should also be set down in the subject plan.
The introduction of formal oral assessment in addition to the already-established aural assessment for all year groups by the Spanish department is to be commended. Informal class assessment is ongoing. In Home Economics, oral questioning and written topic tests were used appropriately to assess students’ progress and achievement. Some more novel approaches to assessment are also in place. These include the use of skills cards with first-year students, self-assessment by students in food studies practical work and the design of evaluation sheets, which are developmental in nature, for the different year groups. These approaches are to be credited. Record-keeping methods used by the home economics department were very thorough and systematic. This is to be applauded.
In Physical Education, records of students’ attendance and participation are kept by teachers and these inform reports to parents at Christmas and summer. Informal assessment takes place by observation. The physical education department has taken on board the recommendation contained in the relevant subject inspection report that records of students’ achievement should be kept by teachers through the use of a comment recorded each term or after a significant block of learning.
In Construction Studies (CS) and Material Technology (Wood) (MTW), the average results of continuous assessments are aggregated with examination marks to give Christmas and summer results. This use of continuous assessment is commended and the subject team is urged to develop common practice in the weighting of the assessment average when aggregating marks. Informal assessment of students’ project work during practical lessons was another positive feature in the department. In-school assessment modes in MTW and in CS are in line with the modes indicated by the respective syllabuses. Emphasis should continue to be placed on the importance of student project design books in the assessment of MTW throughout junior cycle. The practice of ensuring that student design project work is differentiated with respect to student ability is commended.
The school is to be commended for its inclusive approach to students identified as having special educational needs. Good liaison exists with local feeder primary schools and information on students’ special needs is identified and relayed in good time so that the necessary resources can be requested from the Department. The school is proactive in seeking the necessary resources to meet the physical and educational requirements of these students, including reasonable accommodations for the state examinations where needed. At present the school has an allocation of eleven whole-time equivalents for special educational needs and twelve special needs assistants (SNAs) are employed to further support students. There are no problems accommodating students with mobility difficulties in the school and the school accommodates students with hearing problems, having also facilitated staff in-service in this area.
Professional expertise among the learning-support team is high. A co-ordinator for special educational needs has been assigned. Although no time is set aside for meetings of the learning support team as such, much informal work and communication ensures that provision for students with special needs is of a high standard. It is, however, recommended that the co-ordination of this large cohort of students with special educational needs be formalised, with designated time for meetings of the team. As part of the school development planning process, good work has been ongoing on the development of a policy for special educational needs provision in the school and it is hoped that the policy will be adopted by the board in the near future. Assessment and identification of students with educational needs is effective. Strategies in place to provide for these students include: one-to-one teaching; team teaching; small class groups; small learning-support groups; resource class; counselling support and a paired-reading scheme. In some cases, students are withdrawn from class for learning-support tuition. It was noted that some students are withdrawn from SPHE lessons and as this is a matter of some concern, it is recommended that this be reviewed. Learning-support teachers work in consultation with individual subject teachers on the learning needs of individual students and it is recommended that this be continued and developed.
The two rooms designated for learning-support teaching are used for small-group teaching, in conjunction with one of the guidance counsellor’s rooms and general classrooms. As resources are not at present stored together in one place, it is suggested that a bank of resources for special educational needs be stored in a central location for easy access by all members of the team. This could then be built upon and shared by the whole team. Both students and teachers have access to ICT for learning support. While it is to be commended that teachers use individual planning templates for students with special educational needs, it is suggested that the same template should be utilised by all members of the team. The practice of preparing individual educational plans (IEPs) for those students who require them should be a collaborative process involving all relevant parties, with timescales for regular review.
The school adheres to best practice in relation to the social and educational inclusion of students with special educational needs, by ensuring they have access to all subjects and programmes. The school maintains regular communication with their parents. A very successful shared-reading programme has also been set up where a number of parents come into the school at intervals to help students with reading. A homework club has also been set up to further support students. Especially able and talented students are identified in first year and supports made available to them.
Links with outside agencies are effective in meeting with needs of students. The school works closely with, and implements the recommendations of, the NEPS educational psychologist assigned to the school. It is commended that whole-staff in-service on special educational needs has been, and continues to be, organised by management. Information regarding specific needs is provided for the whole staff. Further whole-staff in-service training on teaching methodologies for students with special educational needs can be accessed through the Special Education Support Services (SESS).
There are very successful strategies in place to support disadvantaged students and students from minority groups. These include liaison with appropriate outside agencies. Although the school has lost its disadvantaged status this year, it retains the allocation for disadvantage. This is put to good use in supporting students. Much credit is due to the HSCL member of staff, who plays a major role in supporting disadvantaged students through home visits and regular contact with parents. It is to be commended that this work has included organising classes for some parents to involve them more in the life of the school. The principal also plays a major role in identifying and supporting these students. Students in need of lunch, uniform, home economics ingredients or other material necessities are dealt with sensitively. The care given to disadvantaged students is very much in tune with the ethos of the school. However, no written policies are at present in place and it is recommended that these good practices be formalised in writing.
The school is to be commended for its efforts to support newcomer students and their families. Planning for the English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) programme is excellent and there is evidence of effective teaching and learning. Contact has been made with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) to access resources. It is particularly praiseworthy that safety notices in practical classrooms have been translated into Polish and Lithuanian. The school has made good efforts to involve parents of newcomer students in the life of the school, providing information nights for them and facilitating ESOL evening classes as part of the adult education programme.
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh has an allocation of twenty-eight hours for guidance and these are being used to good effect. Guidance hours are shared between two counsellors, one working on a whole-time basis and the other on a part-time basis. Division between personal, educational and vocational counselling is appropriate. Guidance services in the school are very well integrated and very good informal communication exists among all staff. A high level of expertise is in evidence in the guidance team and the ongoing dedication to in-service and monitoring, both on the part of counsellors and management, is commended.
Accommodation and resources available for guidance are good. As previously mentioned, the guidance counsellors both have their own offices and a large guidance room is available for students, all with internet access. This guidance room is equipped with many sources of information for students, including wireless internet access, so that students can easily access information, such as Qualifax on line.
A meeting time is scheduled once a week for the guidance team and good records are kept of all meetings. Record keeping in general is of a high standard. A well-written guidance programme has been prepared and the personal plan and programme for the counsellors themselves is very good. A whole-school guidance plan is currently being developed. While involving the guidance counsellors in the first instance, it is recognised by the team that this should involve the collaboration of all the partners. It is recommended that a SPHE co-ordinator be involved in the guidance planning team so that the proposed whole-school SPHE plan would link in with and complement the guidance plan.
It was evident throughout the evaluation that interaction and communication between guidance counsellors and students is good. Guidance has the recommended timetabled contact with senior cycle classes (including TY, LCVP and LCA programmes) and guidance counsellors have an appropriate input into junior cycle classes. Counsellors are available for advice to individual students at any stage. Students’ progress is tracked and documented. Personal counselling, which may include some behaviour-modification counselling, is provided for those students who need it.
Clear information about the school is made available to parents by the guidance team. An information night and an open night where information on subject options is available, are held annually for parents of incoming first-year students. Information nights are also held for parents of third-year students, regarding programme and subject choice at senior cycle. Parents and students are advised about career choices and relevant subject and level requirements. As the mission statement states that the school ‘is committed to the pursuit of excellence’, it is recommended that all students be encouraged, when making choices relating to options and levels, to seek to broaden their educational experience ‘in order to reach their full potential.’
Contact with local primary schools is good. The principal and guidance counsellor visit the local primary schools in the spring of every year to speak to teachers and pupils. The transition programme available to local national schools incorporates a comprehensive programme, and all schools are welcome to participate. An induction day is organised for incoming students where, among other activities, they are given a guided tour of the school by the group of senior cycle students who have completed the Leader programme. The input of the Cara leader group in this is noted and commended.
Communication with relevant outside agencies is ongoing and effective. Referral services are used sensitively and effectively, and in-depth counselling is appropriately referred to external agencies. Good contact is maintained with the NEPS psychologist, the social services, the local Gardaí and health officer. The school’s HSCL teacher supports and complements the work of the guidance team. HSCL in the school is very effective in addressing the factors which influence the participation of students in the learning process and the HSCL programme increases parents’ awareness of, and confidence in, their abilities to enhance their children’s educational progress.
The quality of pastoral care in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh is very good. While there is a care team in place which includes the guidance counsellors, the chaplain, the HSCL officer and the religion teacher, responsibility for pastoral care is shared among the whole staff. The staff in general shows a great commitment to the care of students and it was evident during the evaluation that much informal work goes on all the time regarding students’ welfare. Relevant staff are notified personally in relation to care issues. Communication between staff and students is good and students can, and do, approach members of staff if they have problems. Management hopes to carry out an annual monitoring of the care system in the school as part of the planning process and this is encouraged.
The care team has a meeting every two weeks at lunchtime. It is suggested that the team would benefit from the provision of formal timetabled meetings. The guidance counsellors and HCSL member of staff have dedicated phone lines so that parents can contact them directly. The school used to have a class-tutor system in place, but this was replaced by the present system, which seems to be working very efficiently. Year heads contact parents early on where problems arise and are an important element in the care structure in the school. Good communication between all members of the staff in relation to students’ welfare ensures the success of the care system. The school is a member of the Irish Association for Pastoral Care in Education (IAPCE) and relevant training has been availed of by a member of staff.
The provision of spiritual support for students in the school is excellent. The school has an allocation of sixteen hours per week for chaplaincy and the input of the chaplain adds greatly to the quality of pastoral care of students. He endeavours to meet every student throughout the year and knows most of the families. He provides for all of the liturgical events throughout the year. These include a welcome Mass at the beginning of the year for each year group, an end-of-year Mass, monthly confessions, a reconciliation ceremony at Easter and the facilitation of prayer and meditation services. His room is used as a quiet space for students from time to time when needed. While Catholic in ethos, the school is inclusive and welcoming of students of different religions. Assemblies are held for the different year groups about three times per year and these are usually taken by the deputy principal with the respective year head also in attendance.
The school has a process in place to deal with critical incidents and has dealt with critical incidents in the past sensitively and professionally. Although a formal plan has not yet been put in place, it is envisaged that this will be formalised in the near future and this is encouraged. The critical incidents policy could be incorporated into the overall plan for pastoral care which has been developed. To reflect the very good practice relating to the care of students evident throughout the school, it is recommended that the documented policy and programme for pastoral care be completed and adopted by the board at the earliest opportunity.
Students’ input into pastoral care is encouraged. The student body has actively been involved in the development of care-related policies and the care team meets the students’ council formally every year. The school is applauded for providing the opportunity for students to become actively involved in pastoral care through a leadership training programme. The programme is provided for a selected number of TY students who, during fifth year, then act as mentors for younger students in the school. This group of students are particularly involved with first-year students, not only during induction for incoming students, but throughout the year. Their contribution enhances the pastoral care in the school and for this, much credit is due.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The staff and community of Colaiste Dun Iascaigh welcome the report from the inspectorate on the Whole School Evaluation carried out in the Colaiste last February.
We are delighted that the inspectors noted the high level of care taken of the school community and that the mission is a reality in the Colaiste not just an aspiration. It is a particular source of satisfaction to the community that the high quality of teaching and learning was commended. We are pleased that the inspectorate identified all the strengths of the Colaiste and elaborated very positively on them.
We appreciate the recommendations made by the WSE team and the school community will consider them in due course.
We note and appreciate the professionalism, courtesy and communication skills of all the inspectorate team.
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 staff have looked at the recommendations made by the WSE inspectors and the following work has already been progressed:
a) Pastoral Care draft policy has been presented to staff. It will now go before the Students’ Council and Parents’ Association in September/October before being presented to the Board of Management.
b) Special Education Needs draft policy has been presented to staff. It will now go before the Students’ Council and Parents’ Association in September/October before being presented to the Board of Management.
c) Whole School Planning for SPHE has progressed. The SLSS - SPHE team is to give full staff in-service on 30th August 2007.
d) The co-ordination of School Development Planning has been listed as a “need of the College”.