An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Skerries Community College

Skerries, County Dublin

Roll number: 76078Q

 

Date of inspection: 28 September 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

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 Skerries Community College was undertaken in September 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The quality of teaching and learning in three subjects was evaluated in detail as part of the whole school evaluation and one had been evaluated in advance. Separate reports are available on all these subjects (see section 7 for details). 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.

 

 

Introduction

 

Skerries is a seaside town, 30km from Dublin city. The population of the town has grown significantly due to its proximity to the city and as a result there has been significant development in the locality. Skerries Community College is the only second level school in the town, catering for an enrolment of 920 students in the 2007/8 academic year. The school, built to accommodate 900 students, is currently over-subscribed and this situation is likely to continue in the immediate future. However, it is expected that plans for new post-primary schools in north Dublin, when implemented, will relieve this situation.

 

It is a multi-denominational co-educational college under the patronage of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The school provides the Junior Certificate, Transition Year, Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational programmes. An adult education evening programme, available on two evenings per week, provides evidence of the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of the local community as a whole.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

Skerries Community College is a designated community college, formed in 1999 when the then Holy Faith/De La Salle College came under the sole management of County Dublin VEC. This school had itself been formed following a merger of the De La Salle College, Holy Faith Convent and Skerries Vocational School in 1982. There is a strong sense in the school of its roots as a catholic voluntary secondary school and this is honoured in a number of ways. The school crest of Skerries Community College incorporates a cross with radiating rays, which is a symbol of the Holy Faith Sisters, and the five-pointed star and motto “Signum Fidei” of the De La Salle Order. A memorial garden located just inside the main entrance displays old school signage and is dedicated to the memory of both religious orders and the mission statement of the school is essentially the same one that was agreed in 1996, though it has been reviewed recently.

 

Care for, and inclusion of, students is an espoused value in the school’s mission statement:  “Students, irrespective of economic circumstance, gender, religious or philosophical outlook, race or social situation are welcome to join us in the pursuit of knowledge.” In order to ensure that this spirit of welcome is felt by all, it is recommended that a review of how it is currently expressed symbolically should now take place. This could involve action on a proposal put at the staff council meeting this September to change the school logo to include the diversity of students.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management operates under the Model Agreement for Designated Community Colleges between County Dublin VEC and the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. The functioning of the current ten-member board, established in 2005, is in accordance with the requirements of the Education Act 1998. Members have attended training for their role provided by the VEC though there was general agreement on the need for additional training. It is recommended that the board sources additional training in those areas they have identified as priorities. Areas suggested included legislative requirements and cultural diversity.

 

Meetings are held regularly. The board is active in its role and attendance at meetings is good. However, there is a need to review the timing of board meetings so that all members can attend without undue difficulty. The board fulfils all its functional requirements and actively supports the school. Agendas are prepared and circulated and minutes of each are maintained. An agreed verbal report from the board is disseminated to staff and parents’ council meetings. Members of the board have also taken a role in the appointment of teaching staff and of staff to posts of responsibility within the school.

 

A key priority for management following the VEC handover has been securing a new   extension for the school and this was completed in 2005. Since then, the board has focussed on relevant policy review and development. Board members discuss all school policies and make recommendations where deemed necessary. They submit policies to the VEC for ratification when finally agreed by the college community including staff, parents and students.

 

Priority areas for development within the school have been identified by the board. Amongst these is the further development of school resources, including upgrading of the facilities in the original school building. In the light of an increasingly diverse student population and anticipated changes in enrolment numbers, it is recommended that a key task for the board, following comprehensive consultation, is to articulate a clear vision for the school in order to inform school development planning. The vision should set out clear and achievable aims that can be formulated into a three-or five-year development plan.

 

Skerries Community College’s parents’ association (PA) has its origins in the Holy Faith/De La Salle parents’ association founded in 1982. The PA has drawn up a Constitution and it is affiliated to the National Parents Council, Post Primary. Officers are elected at the annual general meeting to which all parents are invited. However, meetings are poorly attended and a small number of regular members, once elected, hold office until they either resign or their children complete their secondary education. As a result, elections are held irregularly. It is recommended that the board of management, as required by the Education Act 1998, works with the PA to identify how best to motivate greater parental involvement in the school.

 

There are eight members on the PA committee and a member of the teaching staff represents the principal at the meetings. Meetings are held once a month in the school. The work done by the current, small, PA to support the school is highly commendable. In addition to hosting a social night for parents of first year students to welcome them to college, the PA organises seminars for parents, raises funds for the school and is involved in the consultative process for policy formation and review.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The senior management team is highly committed and supportive of the values which underpin the school’s mission statement. The principal and deputy principal work well as a team and have clearly defined areas of responsibility. They meet daily on a formal basis to discuss both day-to-day matters and plans for upcoming events. The parents, students and teachers with whom the inspection team engaged indicated that senior management in the school is supportive and approachable.

 

Senior management is assisted by a team of ten assistant principal post holders and fifteen special duties teachers.  Responsibility for aspects of the management of the school is delegated to these post holders following a review of posts which takes place every three years, most recently at the end of the 2006/7 school year. The committee set up to review posts is representative of assistant principals, special duties teachers and non-post holders in direct proportion to the number of teachers in each of these categories. The deliberations and recommendations of the committee are brought to staff council meetings, thus ensuring that decisions made are arrived at democratically. The commitment of senior management to consultation and to the encouragement of all teachers to contribute their ideas, evident in this approach, is highly commended.

 

The schedule of post duties which has resulted is reflective of the whole staff’s commitment to care for and support the children in their care. Of the twenty-five posts available, sixteen are specifically pastoral in nature, indicating a significant investment of middle management capacity. The inspection team did not find, however, that this was warranted by the school’s student profile. The majority of students enrolled in Skerries Community College enjoy a significant level of parental support for their education and the school’s own tracking indicates that approximately eighty-three percent go on to study at third level. Similarly, the school reported that less than one percent of students are regularly in difficulty. While it can be argued that the low incidence of behavioural problems and the academic success of students is attributable to the significant level of support available in the school, the inspection team is not persuaded that the diversion of some of these posts to other areas of school management would have a detrimental effect on student behaviour and progress in the school. It is recommended that the review committee gives serious consideration to the full range of management activities and the needs of the school in order to free up more posts for other areas of school life. Specifically, there is scope to extend the responsibilities of the year head to include some duties currently held by other post holders.

 

Senior management have put in place a number of strategies to ensure that there are clear and open lines of communication between staff and management. The year heads and deans meet with the principal once a month after school. Agenda are prepared for these meetings and minutes are maintained. Following each meeting, a report is made to the whole staff and the whole staff votes on issues raised at these meetings. Staff meetings are held regularly. The agenda is displayed prior to meeting to allow staff to suggest items for discussion and the recording secretary for each meeting is drawn from staff volunteers. Notice boards, announcements and letterboxes all supplement formal meetings to ensure that everyone is informed of day-to-day activities. Communication between teachers is facilitated every Tuesday afternoon, when regular meetings for subject departments and other teacher teams are organised. A review of the schedule for these meetings indicates that many teachers contribute voluntarily to various areas of school life and demonstrate a sense of commitment that is much appreciated by management.

 

The evaluation team found that there were warm, mutually respectful, relationships in evidence between teachers and students. These are supported by a code of student behaviour which is available to parents in the pre-admission information pack and to students in their student journal. The code is presently under review by staff and it is recommended that this review should result in greater clarity regarding the sanctions to be applied for particular levels of misbehaviour. The practice, by a small minority of teachers, of placing students outside the classroom should cease immediately. Discussions have begun in the school around building positive behaviour management into the code of behaviour. This shift in emphasis is encouraged, as it reflects the values espoused in the school’s mission statement and the commitment to students’ development evident in the two leadership development programmes in place for students; a mentor system which invites students to act as supportive guides to first year students and a prefect system which involves students in the administrative functions of the school.

 

Students’ attendance is carefully monitored through twice-daily roll calls. A post-holder has been appointed to act as attendance monitor and the teacher involved has established contact with families to offer encouragement and support in this regard. Year heads may refer a student to the attendance monitor who will work with the school’s care team and his or her parents, to address whatever difficulties are being experienced by the student. The school reports that this is a successful intervention in many cases.

 

Application procedures are clear and unambiguous. The information pack given to prospective students and parents is comprehensive and includes copies of relevant policies. Given the fact that the school is currently oversubscribed, the board of management has defined a catchment area and outlined the process by which places will be offered in its admissions policy, a copy of which is made available to parents in the information pack. A waiting list is maintained and offers of places are made strictly in order. This is good practice.

 

A student council has been established in the school. While twelve of the student representatives have been directly elected by their peers, the current arrangements allow for seven senior prefects, who have been chosen by the staff, to assume automatic membership of the council. It is recommended that the structure of the student council should be reviewed to accord with section 27(5) of the Education Act 1998, with a focus on achieving a more democratic, representative, body. The council meets regularly and is assisted by the principal, who attends meetings as often as possible. Issues tackled by the student council include healthy food in the canteen, litter, improved toilet facilities and bullying. It was also instrumental in the naming of the social areas in the school, using the names of local town lands around Skerries. Students are consulted, through the student council, on the development and review of relevant policies.

 

Those officers of the PA who met the inspectors reported a very good working relationship with the senior management team in the school and their appreciation of the principal’s representative attendance at all PA meetings. They spoke of good communication between home and school, exemplified by regular letters to all parents from the principal on events and activities, the regular use of the students’ journals and direct telephone contact.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

Very best use is made of the resources available to the school. Facilities to support the implementation of the curriculum are well organised and maintained and management makes every effort to ensure the availability of specialist rooms for the relevant class times. The principal and deputy determine deployment of teachers to classes and levels and in doing so, they ensure that all teachers achieve and maintain experience across all levels. This is very good practice as it builds subject teaching expertise in the school. Following the submission of a report to the principal, subject departments can access funding for resources. This is usually done on an annual basis and reports outline the work of the subject departments in the preceding year. The school is commended for this arrangement as it ensures that subject departments have access to a central budget and senior management are kept fully informed of the work of individual departments.

 

Good attention is paid to health and safety issues. The school is commended for the arrangements being made to provide special training for a post-holder who is the safety representative. A policy has been drawn up and the principal and safety representative conduct an annual review designed to identify risks and address them. In this regard, whilst it is acknowledged that a major re-fit of one of the technology rooms was taking place at the time of the evaluation, it is recommended that first aid boxes and classroom procedures should be on display in all the technology rooms, all of the time. The school has a system in place to record accidents which might occur from time to time. It is recommended that this system should be reviewed to ensure that it facilitates monitoring of the incidence of accidents. This will allow the principal and safety representative to identify areas of particular risk and act to reduce those risks.

 

The school has excellent facilities within the computer rooms. In addition, terminals are available in the staff room, the library and the learning support rooms. An acceptable use policy has been drawn up and is at consultation stage. All classrooms and specialist rooms are networked with broadband internet access. Twelve standard classrooms have computer and data projection facilities. There is a school digital camera to record student activities. Many classrooms are equipped with wall-mounted TV/DVD units. In addition, many subject departments have used their resource budgets to invest in data projectors and laptops. There was some evidence that good use of these facilities is made by teachers to deliver the curriculum and the school also provides optional timetabled computer classes for students in senior cycle.

 

Teachers are allocated classrooms where they have access to facilities for the storage of teaching materials and resources and displays of students’ work and subject-related posters. Students move from room to room for their timetabled subjects and the senior prefects contribute to the good management of traffic on the corridors, resulting in orderly and disciplined movement in the corridors at class breaks.

 

The college buildings and grounds are well maintained, reflecting the hard work done by the caretaking staff. The school has recently begun to work with Skerries Community Association on an environmental project and this has the potential to provide opportunities to involve students more effectively in managing the school environment. In their meeting with the evaluation team, students indicated their pride in the school and their general satisfaction with the facilities available to them. They would like to see the introduction of a water fountain and hot drink dispenser in the school and are pursuing this issue with management.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

The school has been involved in school development planning since 1996, when a steering committee was formed to guide the development of the school plan. The change of management and trusteeship in 1999 interrupted the process until school development planning recommenced with the assistance of a facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) support service in November 2005. In the interim, planning activity had focussed on the development of a large extension and the efficient running of a school during a demolition phase, relocation to temporary accommodation and the subsequent reconstruction phase.

 

Since 2005, the main focus has been on policy development and review and on subject planning. Senior management co-ordinates the planning process and teachers volunteer to work on individual policies. Although there is, as yet, no formal school plan document, as envisaged in Section 21 of the Education Act 1998, progress has been made on the relatively permanent section of the plan. The mission statement and a range of policies have been developed and, in some cases, reviewed. These were collated in a folder and were available for inspection during the evaluation. However, the contents of the folder did not make it clear which policies were under development, ratified or being reviewed. It is recommended that, as policies are ratified, they should be signed and dated. Where policies are at the developmental stage, they should be kept in the developmental section of the plan.

 

As policies are being reviewed, they should be written in language accessible to the parent body. In particular, the language used in the Suspension and Expulsion policy is quite legalistic and dense and the procedures that will be implemented by the college’s board of management are not immediately clear. The stages through which students’ misbehaviour is managed should also be clearly delineated. Care should also be taken to avoid the inclusion of aspirational statements which describe what should happen, as in, for example, the Acceptable Use of ICT policy. All policy documents should describe what is happening in the school.

 

There is recognition in the school of the value of consultation which means that students, parents, teachers and board of management are all consulted as policies develop. The involvement of the whole school community is encouraged as good practice. While much has been achieved through the planning process in the school to date, a focus on the future of the school is missing. There is scope to establish a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities which the school is likely to encounter in the next few years and to build a common vision of how the school should develop. This would, in turn, prioritise areas for the planning activities of the whole school community. It is recommended that the board of management should take the lead in this regard. Consideration should be given to the appointment of a school planning co-ordinator, perhaps in the context of the on-going review of posts of responsibility. His or her role would be to invigorate discussion about the school’s future, to prioritise areas for planning and to support and steer the planning work of the school community. By including school development planning as a regular item on the agenda for its meetings, the board can contribute to the formation and realisation of a strategic plan for the school.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2005, 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

 

As the only second level school in the town, Skerries Community College offers a range of programmes including the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Vocational (LCVP) programmes. While expectations of high academic achievement are held by parents and teachers alike, the inclusive enrolment policy has resulted in a diverse range of academic abilities among students currently attending the school. There is a consequent need for the school to review the appropriateness of its curricular provision in order to ensure that it supports the diverse learning needs of students. Specifically, it is recommended that the discussion about introducing the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, suspended some years ago, should be re-invigorated in the school.

 

Planning for the TY and LCVP is facilitated by the school’s provision of time for formal meetings of the teaching teams. Both of these programmes are co-ordinated by post holders and documentation available indicated that they make good use of this time to plan effective programmes. The TY programme is very popular and the school has established a list of admission criteria to determine who will achieve a place on the programme. TY balances year-long courses with a series of modular transition courses to provide an interesting preparation for Leaving Certificate programmes. The activities programme is organised by student co-ordinators such that students can opt in or out of any particular activity. This often results in students missing class while on an activity and can have a negative impact on students’ progress through TY. It is recommended that this arrangement should be reviewed to ensure that all students on the TY have equal access to the benefits of the programme.

 

The LCVP is not a popular option for senior cycle students but each year a small class group is formed. The fact that the link modules are timetabled against Physical Education lessons may limit the programme’s attractiveness for students. There is no timetabled provision for career investigation on the programme and students consult with the guidance counsellor on an individual basis to work through that module. Both these issues should be addressed.

 

Reviews of both the TY and the LCVP are conducted annually by the programme co-ordinators and teachers. It is suggested that these reviews should also involve students and parents.

 

A significant adult education programme is offered on two nights each week.  A teacher, who acts as director of adult education, is responsible for devising the programme, working with tutors and managing all aspects of the necessary administration. It was evident that the adult education programme is an important aspect of the life of the college and that it has made a significant contribution to the positive reputation of the college as a centre of learning for the community.

 

Section 4.1 of this report discusses subject planning in more detail. There is a strong subject department structure in the school and responsibility for subject planning is devolved to subject departments. Subject teachers agree annual schemes of work and these generally outline the content to be covered and facilitate planning for teaching. The time allocated to subjects is appropriate and generally in line with syllabus recommendations. While there is a good mix of single and double periods for practical and optional subjects in both junior and senior cycles, in some instances double classes are timetabled across breaks or lunch hour. This is unsatisfactory and management have indicated that it is unlikely to occur in future years.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

There is very careful liaison between the school and its feeder schools, such that a series of visits is made to the primary schools by the learning support co-ordinator, the counsellor and a ‘transitions administrator’, who is a post holder responsible for collating information about each incoming student. The board of management and the PA reported that, as a result, the transition from primary to second level is almost seamless.

 

Students and parents are very well informed of the range of subject options available to them. Option choice forms and an option subject information booklet are included in the documentation sent to parents of incoming first years prior to admission and an information session is organised for them. Students are asked to choose six subjects from a list of ten and those choices are used to generate option blocks. To support students in making good choices for themselves, the principal and deputy principal are available to parents for advice. A guidance input on the import of subject and level choice should also be included in the information session provided for parents. It is suggested that consideration should be given to providing a taster programme for first years to inform their choice of option subjects.

 

Students are placed in class groups in either a top or lower band in first year. From year to year, the number of class groups formed in either band 1 or band 2 will vary, depending on the needs and abilities of incoming students. In 2007/8, there were four class groups formed in the band 1 and two in band 2. Those students in band 1 class groups take the higher level courses in English, Irish and Mathematics. It is difficult for a student who opts not to take the higher course in one of these subjects to remain in this band. Those in band 2 class groups generally tend to take the ordinary level courses in these subjects, though there is flexibility at this level to allow students to attempt the higher courses in English, Irish and Mathematics. All other subject class groups in both bands are mixed ability.

 

Given that lessons in English, Irish and Mathematics are not timetabled concurrently and that there is only limited scope for changing between levels once a student is placed in a band, particular care needs to be taken to ensure that student placement is appropriate to the needs of the learner and reflects the wishes of parents and students. In Skerries Community College, the transitions administrator plays a significant role in ensuring that this happens. The post holder consults with primary teachers at least twice prior to commencement of first year and collates this with information gathered by the learning support teacher and the results of pre-entry assessment tests in order to build a comprehensive picture of each student’s abilities. That information is then considered by the school’s board of studies when forming class groups. Placement is monitored through the first term and, where necessary, students may move to another class group. This very thorough and careful process should be strengthened by reviewing the suitability and validity of the standardised assessment tests used and ensuring that they are administered and interpreted only by qualified persons. Circular 0008/2007 provides advice on these matters.

 

An information night is held for parents and students in third year and the senior cycle programme co-ordinators, together with the guidance counsellor and the principal, provide information on senior cycle options. A booklet describing in detail the content of Leaving Certificate option subjects is also provided to all parents and third year students. At present, the guidance counsellor ‘borrows’ lesson periods from other teachers to deliver a guidance module in third year. It is suggested that a review of the time allocated in the school to both Guidance and personal counselling could improve this situation and provide more class-based guidance to more students. 

 

There are sixteen option subjects available for Leaving Certificate and these appear on four pre-determined blocks, so that students choose one subject from each block. The school reported that a ninety six percent satisfaction rating was achieved in this way in the current year. Requests for changes in option subjects are dealt with on an individual basis and the principal indicated that all requests were met in 2007/8.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The school has a very good programme of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, providing a range of sporting, cultural and social awareness opportunities to enhance students’ attainment of the school’s aims. The involvement of a significant number of teachers, in a voluntary capacity, is indicative of the care which marks the characteristic spirit of the school. The board of management and the representatives of the PA were highly complimentary about the range of activities and the generosity of teachers in providing it.

 

The school participates in a variety of sporting competitions including soccer, Gaelic football, golf, badminton, athletics and rugby. Teams have enjoyed significant successes in their leagues down through the years. Teachers reported that the very close ties between the school and the community were especially evident in the sports played in the school, not least because students who represented the school also played for the local teams. The generosity of local clubs in making available their facilities for training and playing was complimented by school management and teachers.

 

Through their participation in debating, public speaking and drama activities, students in Skerries Community College can develop a range of communications and grow in self-confidence. In addition to their involvement in an annual production of a musical, students also organise a drama club themselves, independently of their teachers, and they have performed for the local community. The attendance of teachers at these performances is a further indication of the very warm and caring relationships developed between staff and students in the school.

 

All activities are arranged so that they are inclusive of all students and the range offered is designed to appeal to all interests. As some of the students who met the inspection team reported that there was an activity available in the school for everyone. In fact, some students participate in multiple activities and, while care is taken to organise leagues and competitions on different days to ensure impact on particular class groups is minimised, this may still mean that students can miss a lot of time across the curriculum. It is suggested that management and the student council might consider whether placing a cap on the number of activities an individual student can pursue could help to avoid a negative impact on their progress in class.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

In most cases, departments meet and plan their programmes of work collaboratively. This is best practice and should be implemented in all subject areas. Planning documentation was available and in some cases included details of the organisation, planning, teaching and assessment of the subject and a timeframe for revision. Good use was made of the templates provided by the SDPI and commendably, in some cases these were further tailored to Skerries Community College. To enhance this very good work it is recommended that learning outcomes should be added to department plans. In addition, long-term content plans should be shared with the students.

 

Commendably, teachers have spent considerable time developing materials including worksheets, questionnaires, crosswords, handouts and revision sheets. These complement the professional resources that are also available. A further example of very good planning is the number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that are available in subject departments.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

In all subjects observed, lessons were well prepared and a wide range of methodologies was used. In some cases, learning objectives were shared with the students and returned to at the end of lessons which ensured that the content of lessons was effectively summarised and student learning consolidated. This very good practice should now be extended across all subject departments. In all cases, links were expertly made with previous lessons. A very good rapport existed between teachers and students and an atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed throughout.

 

There was a very good balance between student and teacher input in the lessons observed. Levels of student engagement were high. There was clear evidence that teaching takes account of the levels and abilities of all students in the differentiated strategies that were used. When necessary, additional support was provided to students during lessons. Practical lessons were designed so that students were encouraged to take responsibility themselves. This is commended. The emphasis on the specific language of the subject and on the reinforcement of key concepts in lessons observed is commended.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Commendably, a variety of assessment modes is used in the school. Formal assessments are held in February for all students and in May for students not taking certificate examinations. In some cases, subject departments devise common assessments and this is very good practice. A percentage of marks is allocated to practical activities in some subjects in keeping with the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. In that context, it is recommended that, where appropriate, this very good practice should be extended across the relevant subject departments.

 

There was very clear evidence that systematic marking of students’ work is occurring and these records in turn are used to inform student profiles. Of particular note is the application of the assessment for learning model where useful constructive comments are provided as an aid to student improvement. This very good practice should now be integrated into the work of all subject departments.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

There is a commitment in Skerries Community College to helping all students, whatever their particular needs, to reach their potential. This was evident in a number of ways. A small learning support team, comprising the counsellor, the learning support co-ordinator, the resource teacher and a special needs assistant, meet weekly to plan for and review a high quality support programme. The guidance counsellor should also be included on the team and meetings should be arranged to facilitate her attendance. Four other teachers who provide support to students are briefed by the co-ordinator and use is also made of the Tuesday afternoon meeting time as necessary. There is excellent internal networking on an informal basis with school management, year heads, tutors and teachers to ensure that students receive high quality support.

 

A very thorough enrolment process identifies students’ needs early and this, together with the school’s own aptitude and assessment testing, provides further information for the learning support team which allows them to generate a register of all students in the school with support needs and to tailor the support offered in the school to meet those needs. A total of 113 students were in receipt of support at the time of the evaluation. The school is piloting the development of learning plans for students with additional needs with a small group of teachers. This is indicative of the school’s willingness to experiment in order to achieve a best practice model of support provision.

 

The arrangements for literacy and numeracy support provision rely heavily on withdrawal from class, usually from an option subject or, where a student has an exemption, from Irish. It is recommended that the support team explores how students might be supported in class, perhaps through team teaching. This will provide support to students with additional needs without separating them from their classmates and will reflect the inclusive values espoused in the school’s mission statement. 

 

The support team benefits from a very good level of resourcing. There are three dedicated learning support classrooms and the co-ordinator has an office which is used for meetings with parents and by psychologists from the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC) psychological support service. School management has also adapted a small room in the school to meet the care needs of students with physical disabilities. Lifts located at four points around the school ensure its accessibility for all students. There is excellent internal networking on an informal basis with pastoral support teachers and liaison with external agencies.

 

A Learning Support policy is being developed and was still in draft form at the time of the evaluation. In progressing this document, it is recommended that the language in which it is written should be clear and accessible to parents. A description of the good procedures followed in the school and the wide range of supports provided should be included.

 

The school population is representative of the local community and there are no significant numbers of students from minority groups. A small number of students who do not have English as their first language are enrolled in the school. They are assessed using the same pre-entry assessment tests as those administered to all other students and the results have indicated that the majority of students do not require additional language support. Given that these tests are not designed specifically to measure language proficiency, it is recommended that the school identify a more appropriate testing tool, as recommended by CL0053/2007. County Dublin VEC’s own language support service may be of assistance in this regard.

 

Good language support is provided to a small number of students by a resource teacher who has attended training provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. This support is timetabled against Irish classes.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

An evaluation of Guidance provision is provided in the separate subject inspection report attached to this report.

 

Particular emphasis is placed on the care of students in Skerries Community College. Management provides a significant allocation of time to individual and group counselling from the general teacher allocation and the dedication of a considerable number of middle management posts to care and support has already been mentioned earlier in this report. A number of initiatives run in the school, including the Cool Schools Anti-Bullying programme and a student mentoring scheme, supplement the more formal Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme to provide a comprehensive care system for all students in the school.

 

Two year heads have been assigned to each year group and they have divided the class groups between them. Wherever possible, class groups retain the same year head throughout their time in the school, thus ensuring that year heads are familiar with their students and that the reverse is also the case. Year heads are supported by a dean and an academic monitor for junior and senior cycles and by class tutors.  The work of the attendance monitor has been outlined in 1.3 above.

 

The deans are highly visible on a daily basis in the school, particularly as the day begins when they are stationed at the entrances. This makes them very accessible to students in an informal way. It was reported that a discreet word at this time was often a good support to students for the rest of the day. Deans also provide an additional stage in the discipline structures in the school and year heads refer students to them when necessary. Class teachers who have identified a student who is struggling in a particular subject area can refer him or her to the relevant academic monitor who will, particularly in the case of Leaving Certificate examination students, arrange additional support in the necessary curriculum areas. This is made possible through the generosity of subject teachers who give of their time and energy on a voluntary basis.

 

A team of class tutors who are encouraged to foster a good relationship with their students and to monitor their general academic and social development has been appointed. Theirs is a voluntary role and is pastoral in nature. A programme in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is provided to students once a week right through junior cycle, in accordance with circular M11/03 and the school is commended for extending this provision into senior cycle. The outlines for SPHE in the junior cycle, presented during the evaluation, indicate that a range of modules is taught which is in keeping with Department of Education and Science guidelines. An SPHE policy has been developed and the school’s Relationships and Sexuality (RSE) policy statement is included in this. It is recommended that parents should be given a copy of this document, together with a fuller outline of the topics to be covered in RSE than is presently available. This should be sent to parents immediately prior to the teaching of the RSE module so as to alert parents to its content and provide them with opportunities to discuss its content with their children, if they so wish.

 

The thirty two class tutors usually teach the SPHE course to their class groups and their work is co-ordinated by the counsellor. Management is supportive of continuing professional development and most tutors have availed of some of the in-service provided by the SPHE Support Service. The co-ordinator is commended for her work in providing each tutor with a folder of teaching materials and the regular meetings held with each year group tutor team. This has been a good support to junior cycle SPHE but has been less effective in senior cycle. Students and parents commented that the SPHE programme at that level is not as successful. It is recommended that a review of senior cycle provision should be conducted, involving students and tutors. Consideration should also be given to forming a smaller teaching team of interested teachers to deliver the programme.

 

The school operates a student mentoring programme so that first year students are befriended by trained senior students. Mentors are carefully chosen and their role is to work with the class tutors to help ease the transition from primary to post-primary. They are a valuable support. Their work is co-ordinated by the counsellor and they are supported by weekly meetings. Senior prefects are selected from sixth year classes. These are chosen by teachers and management and are responsible for a range of organisational duties, for example, supervision in the canteen and answering the school phones. This group also receive training for their roles and attend weekly meetings. It was clear that both leadership roles are highly respected by the student body and that mentors and prefects value the opportunities given to them to develop their communications skills.

 

This is a multi-denominational school and it has the services of a full-time chaplain who has worked in Skerries Community College for the last nine years. The chaplain, whose appointment is approved by the Archbishop of the Dublin diocese, works closely with the local representatives of other faith backgrounds. She is conscious of the needs of all students, regardless of their faith backgrounds, and the daily reflections include prayers and philosophical reflections drawn from a very wide range of sources. The chaplain is available as a support to students and plays a key role in the care structures in the school. A school oratory is available and it is a quiet haven where reflective services are held for class groups. A small garden of remembrance has been created by the students next to the oratory and it is dedicated to deceased past students.

 

While the ethos of the school is Christian, as allowed for under the Model Agreement for Designated Community Colleges between County Dublin VEC and the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, it is challenged, like many other schools, to make alternative arrangements for students who do not wish to, or whose parents request them not to, participate in the religious education programme which is offered to students in all year groups. That programme involves the study of the Religious Education syllabuses prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. These syllabuses promote an understanding and appreciation of why people believe, as well as tolerance and respect for the beliefs and values of all. They also include the preparation of students for certificate examinations in the subject. The courses are designed to be inclusive of students from all faith backgrounds and from none. The school is encouraged to engage with parents who represent the full range of faith backgrounds to explore how practical arrangements can be made which allow all students, and their parents, choices about participation in the religious education programme.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

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.

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

8.         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, senior management, staff and parents welcome the very positive outcome of the Whole School Evaluation which confirms that the educational provision by the school is of the highest quality.  The recognition of the hard work and dedication of all staff is most welcome and well merited.  It is appreciated that the report highlights the whole staff’s commitment to care for, and support, the children in their care.  The acknowledgement of the fact that many teachers contribute voluntarily to various areas of school life is most welcome.  The Board of Management are very happy that the excellent work in the area of extra curricular provision and also in terms of the strong links forged between the school and the greater community has been clearly endorsed by the inspectors.  The strong affirmation of the high quality of the school’s resources and the excellent use of those resources is deserved.  

 

The Board is very pleased with the excellent subject reports and wishes to congratulate the Irish, Home Economics, Science and Guidance/Counselling departments in the school.

 

The board thanks the inspectorate team for their professionalism and courtesy and the thorough nature of their evaluation.

 

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

 

The Board of Management is mindful of all its responsibilities and actively supports the school.  In consultation with the partners the Board will prioritise the recommendations of the report.  In implementing the recommendations the Board will continue to strive for excellence in all the activities of the school.  The Board is confident that the management, staff and parents have already responded and will continue to respond effectively and positively to the recommendations made in the Whole School Inspection Report.