An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Maria Immaculata Community College

Dunmanway, County Cork

Roll number: 76086P

 

Date of inspection: 25-29 February 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 Maria Immaculata Community College, Dunmanway was undertaken in February, 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management was given the 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 to this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Maria Immaculata Community College has developed from the amalgamation of Coláiste Cháirbre, a Cork County Vocational Education Committee (VEC) school, and Maria Immaculata Secondary School in the town of Dunmanway at the start of the 2002-2003 school year. The school was established under the joint trusteeship of both pre-existing schools, the Daughters of Charity and County Cork VEC. The new building, situated on the outskirts of the town on a spacious well-maintained site, was one of a group of five new schools built nationally under the Public Private Partnership programme. It provides teachers and students with a spacious, modern, state-of-the-art environment in which to teach and learn. The ethos and traditions of both founding schools are given equal respect in the new school and the school is conscious of its position as the only provider of post-primary education in the immediate locality. The school draws students from no fewer than eighteen feeder national schools and caters for students from a wide variety of social backgrounds.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The mission statement of the school states that it strives to be a school where each individual is cared for in a safe and happy environment, with an emphasis on individual dignity where, while in the pursuit of excellence, the message of Christian values is at the heart of what is important. This is a mission statement which is truly lived out in the ethos and day-to-day life of the school and is to the fore in school policies, procedures and all interactions within the school community. The ethos of the school endeavours to instil in students a sense of belonging, loyalty, pride and ownership. The impact which this ethos and vision is having on the ground has resulted in a caring, friendly environment in a school that welcomes and cherishes all of its students. This has been actively promoted by both trustees and the school’s board of management. Senior management and staff deserve the highest praise for ensuring that this interest in the care and welfare of each individual student remains at the heart of everything that the school does. It finds its most obvious manifestation in the school’s open enrolment policy and in the spirit of inclusion and respect afforded to all, especially the school’s special educational needs class, Rang Saoirse. The school’s strategies for the integration and inclusion of Rang Saoirse students and, even more impressively, the reverse integration strategies in place to increase awareness and understanding of these students among the mainstream student population, are clear testimony to a school which values each student and is dedicated to enabling each student to reach his/her full potential. There is a clear recognition, evident in the school, of the importance and value of partnership and of working with students, parents and the community as a whole. Parents spoke regularly of the “open door” policy of senior management and of the feeling that their input into the running of the school is greatly valued and appreciated. Students similarly praised the dedication of their teachers and the level of care available to them, noting that all teachers are understanding and approachable.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

As already mentioned, Maria Immaculata Community College is the product of an amalgamation of two pre-existing schools in the town. The caring, student-centred focus and the friendly, courteous atmosphere which marks all relationships in the school indicate that this amalgamation was particularly well managed. The proactive involvement of the trustees in particular, but also the board of management, in-school management, staff and parents in managing the amalgamation process has been clearly effective and has helped to set the tone for the spirit of partnership which now exits in the school. This is something of which all concerned can be justly proud.

 

The current board of management, which has been in place since December 2007, is properly constituted, containing representation from the Daughters of Charity and the VEC as joint trustees, staff, parents and a nominee of the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. The school principal acts as secretary to the board. Currently, eight members of the board have served on previous boards of management and this is seen as advantageous in that it facilitates continuity in dealing with issues which are ongoing over a period of time. The board is highly committed and proactive in its management of the school and sees its role as supporting the provision of the best possible education for all students in line with their needs. The board also seeks to support senior management in the delivery of education without interfering in the day-to-day, administrative operation of the school. The board has been very involved in the area of policy development in particular and the many policies which have been developed, or are in the process of development, are testimony to this. Excellent working relationships exist between the board and school management and staff. Priorities which the board has identified for the future development of the school include developing the role of the school in the community, particularly with regard to music, culture and adult education. The board is clearly functioning effectively in the management of the school and has gained the respect of all the school partners in so doing.

 

The board is aware of its statutory obligations in the fulfilment of its role and the VEC is commended for making training available for board members in this regard. It is recommended that any board members who have not yet had the opportunity to avail of such training do so at the earliest available opportunity. The position of chairperson of the board rotates informally among the trustees’ nominees to the board. A draft copy of minutes of the most recent meeting, together with the ratified minutes of the previous meeting, are sent to the trustees seven days after board meetings. Although all board representatives give summary reports to their nominating bodies, either verbally or, in the case of staff, via the principal’s weekly written bulletin, an agreed report is not formulated at the end of board meetings. While accepting that the board operates in a completely transparent manner in everything that it does, it is nonetheless recommended that the board formulate an agreed report for communication to the various partners at the end of all meetings. This should ensure consistency in the information which is communicated while respecting the confidentiality of board proceedings as required. The parents’ executive council is very committed to the welfare of the school. Any issue of concern to parents is raised at board meetings through parents’ representatives and parents are happy that any such matters are dealt with effectively.

 

It was reported by the board, and verified by board minutes made available to the Inspectorate, that issues regarding the daily operation of the school via the Public Private Partnership (PPP) system have exercised the time and energy of board members over a considerable period of time. The board feels that, while the PPP model has delivered a first class facility for the education of students, it has not had the impact which was intended due to the bureaucratic nature of operating through the PPP system in achieving progress in a range of issues. The board feels that operating through this system has placed a significant burden on the school principal.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Very effective leadership is evident in the school, characterised by excellent working relationships between the principal, deputy principal and staff. The commitment and dedication of senior management is acknowledged and respected by all. Senior management display a keen awareness and understanding of issues that are relevant to the quality of educational provision in the school. They have a clear vision for the future of the school and would like to build on the current strengths that exist. They would like to see the school grow and expand as an educational community and would also like to see increased student participation in programmes such as the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). They view the enhancement of community links as important, especially in view of the emphasis which was placed on this in the Dunmanway Integrated Development Strategy, recently published by Cork County Council. Management is particularly conscious of the need to keep the school, which is a community college, at the heart of the local community and is aware that this aspect of the school’s role needs to be safeguarded. Declining numbers of people attending adult education classes in the school, as well as the greater availability for hire of other, lower cost locations in the town, have all contributed to a reduction in usage of the school by the local community. Attempts to remedy this have involved promotional and advertising campaigns involving local newspapers, radio and church announcements as well as written communications with parents. Management is commended for these efforts and is encouraged to keep the matter under review, especially with a view to ensuring that adult education courses on offer are relevant to the needs of the community and are promoted effectively.

 

Excellent structures and a schedule of regular meetings, typical of the collaborative, consensual management style in evidence, ensure a good flow of information throughout the school community. The principal and deputy principal have a clearly defined schedule of duties. They meet formally on a daily basis and regularly throughout the school day to deal with matters that arise. Formal, weekly meetings are organised with assistant principals and it is considered excellent practice that an agenda is provided and minutes are recorded for these meetings. In addition to this, management also meets with various student-support teams throughout the week and informal meetings take place as issues emerge. They also meet with administrative staff on a daily basis, consistent with the value placed on the contribution which all non-teaching members of staff are making to the functioning of the school. A clear culture of self-review and evaluation permeates all interactions with parents and students in the school, clearly focused on improving the quality of education available to students. Questionnaires and evaluation sheets are regularly used as a routine part of school management. This has helped to promote a culture where all members of the school community feel empowered to become actively involved in the decision-making process. Senior management and the school’s board of management are commended for the establishment of this culture.

 

Following amalgamation, posts of responsibility were adjusted in accordance with the needs of the newly-created school. While there is general satisfaction that the schedule of duties attached to posts of responsibility meets the needs of the school, there appear to be some anomalies. In particular, one person appears to have particularly onerous duties, while there appears to be some overlap in duties among other post holders, specifically in the areas of promotion of school activities and in-house examinations. It is also noted that the principal has undertaken a significant additional workload in relation to school development planning. While it is accepted that substantial progress has been achieved in this area through the efforts of the current and previous principals during the post-establishment phase of the school, it is suggested that these duties could more appropriately be devolved to an assistant principal as the school moves forward. Despite this, it must be acknowledged that duties pertaining to posts of responsibility are regularly reviewed. It is recommended that, as part of the annual review, post holders should give a brief, written outline of the duties they completed, what worked well and what challenges they encountered in the performance of their duties. This should help to ensure that post duties are equitable and that they continue to meet the evolving needs of the school.

 

Management encourages participation in all available continuing professional development (CPD) and such opportunities are regularly availed of by staff. It is considered good practice that subject teachers who attend seminars are given an opportunity to disseminate information at formal subject planning meetings which take place five or six times per year. Good use is also made of staff development days for CPD, much of which is delivered by the school’s own staff, though external expertise is used as required. A wide range of topics, relevant and important to the functioning of the school, have been addressed at these seminars over the past few years.

 

The school’s pupil behaviour management policy is used positively in the management of students. It is a fair and balanced document that has the respect of parents and the student body. It is commendable that this document emphasises positive attributes of student behaviour and focuses on the core value of respect as its guiding principle. It is one of a number of policies which have been produced by the school, aimed at managing student behaviour in a positive, collaborative manner. The school’s excellent affirmation and friendship/anti-bullying policies are particularly significant in this regard. In keeping with the tenor of all the school’s policies, the attendance policy focuses on the positive aspects of the school and how a positive experience of school life is fundamental to ensuring high levels of attendance. Where students’ attendance is less than satisfactory, the policy aims to ensure a change in attitude as the primary means through which this can be improved. Good strategies are in place to monitor students’ attendance and these include a formal roll call taken every morning and afternoon, occasional whole-school spot checks, a list of morning absentees posted on the staff room noticeboard and a comment on students’ attendance included in school reports sent to parents. The school is involved in the School Completion Programme (SCP) and poor attendance is one of the key criteria used by the programme team in deciding if a student needs support. It was reported that the supports offered by the programme have been successful in promoting greater attendance.

 

The parents’ executive council was formed following amalgamation and is affiliated to the National Parents Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (NPAVSCC). Typically the executive consists of a core group of about fifteen members, although there are sixteen this year. As with the board of management, there is some overlap in members of the executive from year to year and this facilitates continuity. People are nominated to serve on the executive at the annual general meeting (AGM) and some others volunteer their services. The chair and deputy chair are automatically on the executive as these are the parents’ nominees to the school’s board of management. The executive council meet once per month and view their role as representing the interests of parents to ensure a quality education for their children. They liaise closely with the school and with students and feel that any communications regarding their concerns and opinions are attended to and truly valued. Recent communications regarding students driving to school and parking arrangements for students and school buses were cited in this regard. Efforts being made to promote inclusion through the formation of a sub-committee to look at how best to cater for the diversity of the student population at the sixth-year graduation mass are particularly praiseworthy. Parents have also been involved in fundraising ventures such as fundraising for a cardiac defibrillator and the organisation of an annual raffle at Easter. Regular pupil-parent/guardian-teacher meetings take place and parents feel that they have open access to the school outside of these.

 

The parents’ executive council ensures that an information brochure is sent to every home and that contact details of members of the executive are included. This ensures that parents are able to contact someone on the executive should they need to. Excellent communication between school and parents is maintained throughout the school year via a circular letter posted at the start of the school year and thereafter during the year as the need arises, through the students’ journal, written reports following Christmas, summer and mock examinations and parents’ signatures of students’ tests. New information is sometimes included with school reports. In addition, written permission is required from parents for some school activities and letters are also sent to parents in keeping with the ladder of sanctions associated with breaches of the school’s code of behaviour. Pupil-parent/guardian-teacher meetings are organised for each year group every year and students are expected to attend these meetings as outlined in the school’s pupil-parent/guardians-teacher meetings policy. Parents also meet teachers as part of the many school events which take place, such as the open evening.

 

The school does not currently have a website, although this is in the process of development. It is recommended that this matter be expedited as a matter of priority. Notwithstanding the fact that 2006 census information indicates that the number of homes without internet access in Dunmanway is slightly higher than the national average for a town of its size (60.37%, compared to 52.48% nationally), a fully functioning website would be extremely useful in helping the school to communicate with parents and students and should help in the promotion of school activities.

 

While it is accepted that any financial issues are dealt with discreetly and sensitively by the school and that funds raised are put to very good use in providing a quality educational experience for students, the voluntary nature of the student development fund, which is used to cover the cost of insurance, photocopying, transport and other costs incurred by the school including the cost of operating the book loan scheme, needs to be clearly articulated in any documentation sent to parents. It is also recommended that requests for such funding be de-coupled from any enrolment documentation sent to parents lest the impression be inadvertently created that enrolment is in some way contingent upon payment of a fee.

 

The students’ council is in operation in Maria Immaculata Community College since November 2002. The chairperson is elected by ballot of all of the student population and meetings of the council take place every two to three weeks. The stated aims of the council are to create awareness among young people of their own capabilities and strengths, to give students an opportunity to develop a working relationship with adults, to create a sense of belonging and ownership within the school and to provide education through experience in decision-making, responsibility, respect and development of skills. These laudable aims are being realised to a very large extent. Students feel that their input into the operation of the school is taken on board by management. They have effected some changes to the food menu in the canteen and have secured a reduction in the cost of supervised study for students whose participation was limited due to extracurricular commitments. Particularly praiseworthy is the fact that the students’ council is expected to undertake one major event or activity each school term. Some activities undertaken in past years have included fundraising, addressing uniform issues, meeting the parents' council, dealing with environmental issues and organising a new students’ council notice board. Activities being undertaken this year include fundraising for a local charity and organising a sports tournament for all students during lunch hour. It is regarded as a clear manifestation of the spirit of inclusiveness evident in the school that the council decided that this tournament should promote the involvement of students who had previously not been involved in sport. The council and their liaising teacher deserve the highest praise for these efforts.

 

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school building is an excellent resource, providing a bright, spacious and comfortable location for teaching and learning. The school grounds are well maintained with ample recreation and amenity space for students. There are plenty of private offices and specialist rooms such as the library, a meditation room, a sensory room and other rooms for specific subject areas. It is suggested that a second room for the teaching of metalwork would be advantageous, bearing in mind the uptake of the subject and the fact that there are two metalwork teachers in the school. Subject departments are well resourced and annual budgets are allocated to specialist subject departments. Non-specialist subject departments are funded on a needs basis and all reasonable requests for materials or equipment are favourably treated by management. The plentiful availability of computers throughout the school is particularly impressive. Apart from the school’s three dedicated information and communication technology (ICT) suites, there are computers in all classrooms and specialist rooms. The school operates under the PPP model where school management, through the VEC, board of management and senior management, are responsible for all educational matters and the maintenance and upkeep of the building is the responsibility of an independent management company. Occasionally, the VEC has provided money for necessary equipment whenever difficulties have emerged in accessing these through the PPP system. The VEC has then sought reimbursement of costs involved from the Department of Education and Science (DES).

 

The PPP model has, as already mentioned, delivered a state-of-the-art teaching and learning facility to the teachers and students of Maria Immaculata Community College. However the school has experienced significant difficulties in its day-to-day management and operation via the PPP system. Responsibility for the maintenance of the ICT system by the PPP company was not renewed as part of the PPP agreement after the first three years of operation and the responsibility transferred to the school/VEC. This has posed significant problems for teachers and students and has negatively impacted on areas such as teachers’ ability to integrate ICT into their teaching, internal and external communications in the school, safe internet access for students and the ability of students to meet important deadlines for their future careers such as the completion of Central Applications Office (CAO) forms. But for the resourcefulness of in-school management and certain staff members who have ICT expertise, maintenance of the ICT network and of the school’s many computers would be impossible. Despite this, the failure of one of the school’s servers has meant that the school’s external e-mail system has not worked for over twelve months and the filtering software which is used to prevent access to websites that are inappropriate or unsuitable is also not functioning. It is a matter of concern that, due to the ongoing difficulties in relation to the ICT system and contractual requirements with regard to equipping the school for the new Leaving Certificate Technologies syllabuses (T4), students have been unable to do practical elements of this course since the beginning of the school year. Other important Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) project materials are stored on the school’s server but this is not being regularly backed up. These matters need to be rectified as a matter of urgency and all concerned are urged to give these matters their fullest attention in order to expedite a resolution.

 

The board of management, senior management, staff and parents all agree that the facilities available are of a very high standard but feel that the administration and maintenance difficulties highlighted above have limited the effectiveness and efficiency of these facilities. However, it was reported to the inspectors at the time of the post-evaluation feedback to the school, that some progress has been achieved in the resolution of some of the difficulties mentioned above since the in-school week of the whole school evaluation. The school is encouraged to record and document difficulties with the ongoing management of the school through the PPP system and to continue to be proactive in resolving any difficulties, particularly where these impact directly on students’ learning. It is also recommended that all necessary access to the ICT system be provided to the school’s ICT co-ordinators to enable them to carry out essential maintenance tasks, such as the backing up of essential data, pending the implementation of a maintenance contract.

 

All teaching staff are appropriately deployed in the school, although, following amalgamation, there is an oversupply of teachers in some subject areas and an undersupply in others. The VEC closely monitors upcoming retirements and staff changes in order to gauge their impact on the school and is very facilitating in helping to address any consequent timetabling difficulties. The school is compliant with DES regulations regarding the time in school, meeting requirements for the number of instruction hours per week and the number of instruction days per year.

 

The school greatly values the contribution which its ancillary, administration and support staff make to the smooth running of the school and to school life in general. The team of caretaking and canteen staff, although employed directly by the facilities management company, regularly interact with school management and staff. The school’s administrative staff and the substantial number of special needs assistants also make a valued contribution to the school and are always vigilant where student welfare issues are concerned. All involved deserve praise for their genuine interest in the welfare of students and the improvement of the school.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

The school has been very active in the area of planning and the substantial work completed to date reflects the commitment of the education partners in the school to this area. Personnel working with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) have been regularly engaged by the school to provide guidance and assistance, and the VEC education officer has played a key role in working with the school in the area of policy development. Policies which have been developed to date include: admissions; attendance; affirmation; friendship/anti-bullying; homework; critical incidents; pupil-parent/guardians-teacher meeting policy; pupil behaviour management policy and substance use policy. Other policies which are at various stages of development include: health and safety; special educational needs; social personal health education (SPHE), which includes relationship and sexuality education (RSE); Internet acceptable user policy; guidance and bullying and harassment. It is commendable that, while awaiting the finalisation of work on these policies, the school uses excellent general policy guidelines made available to it by the VEC, thus ensuring that there are no major gaps in policy in critical areas. All policies which are in place have the date of board ratification included and review dates are attached to many, although not all, policies. Although it is noted that policies are reviewed on an ongoing basis and as issues emerge which prompt their review, it is nonetheless recommended that specific review dates be included in all new and revised policies which are produced. The school is extremely reflective in everything it does and a culture of self-evaluation, self-review and constantly seeking to improve has been firmly established.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

Future planning priorities have been agreed by the board of management and by in-school management. These include an increased focus on custom and practice issues relating to how the school operates, the organisation and management of school tours being particularly significant in this regard, and general developments in teaching and learning with specific focus on the use of assessment for learning and team teaching. The board is currently working on a special educational needs policy and the procedures concerning the use of a cardiac defibrillator, for which fundraising is currently ongoing.

 

The planning process in the school is truly collaborative, reflecting the ethos of the trustees and the vision of the board and senior management. All the education partners are involved, including students, and all feel that they have a role and can influence planning decisions. The impetus for policy formulation can come from variety of sources, although it is being very effectively driven and managed by the principal and deputy principal and it is noted that the principal has brought a schedule to the board outlining target dates for the implementation of particular policies. This systematic, purposeful approach to planning is commended.

 

The normal pattern of planning activities is that a committee, usually led by an assistant principal and comprising staff members with a specific interest or knowledge, is established to look at policy in a particular area. Time is made available to the committee for meetings as necessary, although it is acknowledged that the commitment of staff in terms of time and effort goes well beyond what can be made available by management. Draft policies are brought to staff meetings and amended as necessary before being brought to parents and, as required, to students for comment and eventually to the board for comment and ratification. It is considered good practice that draft policies are sent to board members well in advance of board meetings to enable time for consultation between board members and their nominating bodies if required. A list of ratified policies is sent to parents and it is considered good practice that key policies regarding the management of students are an integral part of the student journal. As previously outlined, a fully functioning school website would be a considerable aid in helping the school to publish its policies effectively to the whole school community.

 

The school is highly commended for the manner in which all policies include reference to the school’s mission statement and to precisely how the policy will contribute to this mission. Staff are very attentive in ensuring that all policies and procedures adhere to the fundamental principles of care, respect and inclusion and that policies are benchmarked against these values.

 

The fact that many documents have been provided by management to subject departments, such as the subject department policy checklist and curriculum action plan for each subject, is commended as a means of focusing and ensuring consistency in subject planning activities. Comprehensive subject department folders have been compiled using SDPI templates and these are stored in the staff room. Subject department planning is at an advanced stage with interdisciplinary themes and cross-curricular planning having taken place with the current focus being on the use of appropriate teaching methodologies.

 

Notwithstanding the comprehensive nature of the range of policies that have been compiled, and the considerable time and effort that have gone into their preparation, the school is encouraged to revisit some of its policies in order to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and to ensure consistency with the excellent practices which it operates on the ground. While it is accepted that the school operates truly open practices regarding enrolment and that it welcomes and celebrates diversity in the school community, amendments are suggested to the school’s Admissions Policy to ensure clarity regarding the right to make an appeal under section 29 of the Education Act (1998). It should be made clear that such an appeal can be made to the DES, following an appeal to the board of management and the VEC. It is also suggested that the selection criteria on which enrolment is based be stated in order of priority and that this be clearly articulated in the policy. The school’s enrolment policy should also be automatically provided to parents following a request for enrolment. As already mentioned, a school website could be very useful here, both for access to the enrolment form and the admissions policy. It is also suggested that the school revisit criteria which are mentioned as possible grounds for refusal to enrol a student. As currently stated, these include “lack of space in options class” and the expectation that enrolling a student might have a “negative impact on the common good” or represent a “threat to the health and safety of staff and students”. While lack of space in an options class might mean that a student might not be able to access his or her chosen subjects, the school would, nonetheless, be expected to enrol the student if space could be found in another options class. Similarly, it would be difficult to defend a decision not to enrol a student on the basis that it was expected that he or she would have a negative impact on the common good or would represent a threat to health and safety without first giving the student a chance to disabuse such expectations. A minor alteration is suggested to the enrolment form involving the removal of item number fifteen, i.e. a request for information concerning the occupation of the parent or guardian. While it is accepted that this information is not used in any way to prejudice decisions regarding enrolment, best practice would be that such information is not sought as it serves no obvious purpose.

 

The school’s critical incident policy is an excellent document which has proven invaluable as a means of co-ordinating the school’s response to some recent events. It is suggested that the policy’s wording regarding the definition of a critical incident be revisited. In a school context, the definition of a critical incident as “any incident or sequence of events which overwhelms the normal coping mechanisms of the school” recommended in Responding to Critical Incidents – Guidelines for Schools (DES, 2007) is encouraged. Further information can be accessed by consulting this publication which is available for download at: http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/neps_critical_incidents_guidelines_schools.pdf.

 

As the school is currently developing its own ICT policy, to include an acceptable usage policy (AUP) for internet use, it may also be worth considering incorporating a data-management strategy as part of the ICT policy to cover items such as how the school deals with storage, access and security of electronic and other data. The precise role of the special needs assistants in the school, and within the VEC generally, is currently under review and it is recommended that the school proceed with formulation of its special educational needs policy pending final clarification on the role of the special needs assistants from the VEC.

 

It is clear that the considerable work which has gone into policy formulation is having a significant positive effect on everyday life in the school. In particular, the positive tone set by all policies impacting on the management of students is commendable. The school’s excellent affirmation policy is a good example of this as it seeks to build self-esteem, to help students to appreciate their own intrinsic worth and the worth of others and to inculcate a sense of pride in themselves and in their school. A similar positive tone is set by the substance use policy which aims to give students the confidence, skills and knowledge necessary to make healthy decisions when dealing with the issue of drugs. The annual report which the board issues to parents representatives and the trustees on the operation and management of the school, also emphasises the positive aspects of the school and how each individual’s success and achievements are valued by the whole school community. In this regard, the annual VEC awards which promote and acknowledge academic excellence are also an important means through which students’ achievements are affirmed. The school is proud of its record of achievement in these awards.

 

The care taken to ensure that each policy reflects the ethos of both trustees has helped to create a friendly, caring atmosphere throughout the school. Students and parents reported that any of their concerns are dealt with sensitively and speedily and students feel that there is always someone to whom they can turn if they are in difficulty. The inclusive nature of policy formulation has similarly helped to foster a sense of shared vision and purpose among the school community. Such achievements should not be taken lightly, not least in a school which is the product of an amalgamation of two schools with differing backgrounds, and all concerned are applauded for this achievement.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Maria Immaculata Community College is conscious of its position as the only post-primary school in the immediate locality and, as such, has made a particular effort to ensure that as broad a curriculum as possible is available to cater for the needs of all students. Consequently, a wide variety of programmes is on offer in the school, including the normal Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY) Programme, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).

 

The school assesses all incoming first-year students through a series of tests administered by the principal, deputy principal and guidance counsellor. The results are analysed and students are assigned to mixed-ability classes. The JCSP programme is offered to some students and aims to prepare students for the junior certificate examination through working to short-term goals or learning targets while offering the option of studying a reduced number of subjects. Students are withdrawn for three classes per week in first and second year to work mainly in the school library, while JCSP students in third year form a discrete class group. The JCSP provides support to students in a range of areas and has a cross-curricular emphasis. The progress of students is closely monitored and, occasionally, students are removed from the programme during the year if it is felt they no longer need its support. Its operation is regarded as highly successful in the school. At the end of third year all students can take the school’s optional TY programme. In fifth year, students are assigned to mixed-ability class groups for Physical Education, LCVP, Religion, ICT and for a tutorial period. Having selected their options subjects, students are assigned to mixed-ability option groups. Every effort is made to ensure that English, French, Irish and Maths classes are timetabled concurrently and subject teachers in these areas form higher and ordinary level classes following consultation with parents and students. Students who wish to follow the LCA programme also have the option of doing so. The overall system of programme choices is working well and to the satisfaction of all concerned, although management would like to see a better gender balance in the LCA programme, with more girls involved.

 

The range of subject choices available to students is very broad, reflecting the school’s desire to cater for the diversity of students’ interests. It is not uncommon to have extra subjects offered outside school hours to students whose subject area is not on the curriculum. The voluntary commitment of staff to providing this instruction is commended as a further indication of the school’s outstanding commitment to its students. While the range of subjects on offer is commendably broad, there has been some discussion at board and parents’ executive council level, about the need for a second European language to be taught in the school, especially as one of the pre-existing schools offered the option of a second language. Currently, French is a compulsory subject for all students at junior cycle. The most recent attempts to gauge students’ interest in taking a second language focused on Spanish and the result was that insufficient students were interested. The decision not to offer Spanish at the present time appears justified on this basis, although the school is encouraged to keep the matter under review. It is suggested that the option of doing either Spanish or French as European language could be considered in the long term as some students may want to do Spanish but may not want to study two European languages.

 

The school is commended for its ongoing efforts to ensure that the curriculum and subjects on offer continue to meet the evolving needs of students. Time has been allocated at staff development days to reviewing the appropriateness of the curriculum, at whole-school level, and at subject and programme level, to students’ needs. The views of staff and parents have been taken into account in this regard and work has also taken place on evaluating the effectiveness of the curriculum in terms of students’ progress and levels of attainment. These have focused on students’ oral and written responses to texts in class as well as performance in school tests and State examinations. Such work in maintaining the relevance of the school’s curriculum to students’ needs is highly commended.

 

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Excellent structures are in place to inform and assist students and their parents in making subject choices. These include open nights, information evenings, literature sent home and the availability of staff, especially the class tutor and guidance counsellor, to assist students both inside and outside of formal class time. A taster programme existed in one of the pre-existing schools and the possibility of reintroducing such a system, or an alternative to the current model, is currently being explored.

 

Currently, students in first year study twelve core subjects: Irish, Religion, English, Physical Education, Mathematics, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), Science, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), History, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Geography, French and three option subjects from Art, Business Studies, Music, Materials Technology (metal), Materials Technology (wood), Technical Graphics and Home Economics. In second year, students study ten core subjects: Irish, English, Mathematics, Physical Education, Religion, CSPE, Science, SPHE, French, ICT and three option subjects chosen from Art, Business Studies, Music, Materials Technology (metal), Materials Technology (wood), Technical Graphics, Home Economics, Geography and History. Students continue with the subjects chosen into third year.

 

In senior cycle, students doing the LCA follow the full LCA programme and those doing the Leaving Certificate study seven examination subjects and LCVP, if they have the requisite subjects for this programme. The seven examination subjects are the four core subjects of Irish, English, Mathematics and French as well as three optional subjects chosen from fifteen other subjects, classified into artistic, technology, humanities, business, science and social groups.

 

Option bands vary from year to year and are based on student demand. Very good supports are offered to enable students to make correct decisions and, after three weeks of studying a particular subject, an opportunity to change option is provided to students where they are invited to complete a ‘Change of Option’ form. Every effort is made to ensure that students’ requirements are met, within the limitations of timetabling constraints. Management holds the view that as many as 98% of students get the subject combinations that they desire. The uptake of Physics and Chemistry at senior cycle is low despite every effort being made to promote these subjects through encouraging students to attend events such as Chemistry camps organised by UCC Plus+. Very detailed information is also sent home regarding the career implications of making particular subject choices and it is considered good practice that parents are required to sign the student options form indicating agreement with the option choices which their son or daughter has made.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

The provision of co-curricular and extracurricular activity in the school is outstanding and the commitment of all involved in providing these activities, including parents, local coaches and especially teachers, is acknowledged and valued. The school’s desire to cater for all needs and all students within the community in its curricular programme is further extended to extracurricular and co-curricular activities, and the range of activities available is a reflection of this. Activities range from fundraising and charity events, outdoor education trips, visits to local businesses, subject expositions and events, participations in art, music, history, drama, debating and poetry competitions, road-safety events, school magazine, school tour, ‘Make a Book’, school bank and an extensive variety of sporting and athletic activities. No fewer than sixty-one different activities were documented in the 2006-07 school year, and the involvement of students in these various activities is so substantial that middle-management meetings have discussed the need for students to maintain a balance in their curricular and extracurricular commitments. The school’s philosophy in providing these activities is that it helps the development of the whole person, enables students to learn the value of co-operation and commitment and that it provides them with valuable life-skills and a vehicle to display their talents. This philosophy is commended. The school’s awards evening is very effective in promoting these values through the acknowledgement of students’ achievements and the school also endeavours to communicate all successes and achievements through the use of positive notes in the student’s journal and the occasional sending home of postcards highlighting successes.

 

The students’ council feel they receive significant support from management and staff in the organisation of their many fund-raising activities and they have been involved in community efforts to provide a local youth café in the town for some time now. The school’s variety show and fashion show have been particularly important in bringing the school community together, as these are events which facilitate the involvement of many students and staff members in a wide variety of roles.

 

It is clear that the availability of such a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is having a significant positive impact on the morale and sense of belonging of the student population and that it is highly motivational for many of them. The school has made every effort to provide ease of access to these activities through organising training and meetings at lunchtime, as difficulties with school transport mean that such activities cannot usually take place after school as many students come to school by bus. All concerned in providing these activities are roundly applauded for their efforts and for the genuine spirit of volunteerism which is exhibited in the school.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

The quality of planning and preparation at a whole-school and individual level is excellent. The high levels of student engagement are indicative of a genuine commitment to continuously developing and enhancing the learning and teaching experience. Effective systems of review and self-evaluation enable teachers to implement strategies that cater for the varying needs of the student cohort.

 

Each subject department has a co-ordinator who oversees work and drives subject development planning. The position of co-ordinator is reviewed annually and, where practicable, is rotated amongst members of the department. Time for departmental planning is provided at staff meetings. A common agenda is distributed to all subject groupings with a view to ensuring consistency of approach and clarity of focus. Minutes are kept of formal meetings which are typically held six or seven times a year. Informal meetings also take place as the need arises.

 

Planning folders contain thorough and comprehensive subject plans that have been formulated in line with SDPI guidelines. A curriculum action plan is used to assist departments in identifying planning priorities. Plans contain schemes of work and are in line with the aims and objectives of the various syllabuses. Planning for the specific and individual needs of students with special educational needs was also evident. The compilation and ongoing updating of a database of students with special educational needs will further enhance communication and information transfer between the special educational needs department and mainstream teachers. Teachers are commended for the effort and thought they have brought to the planning process and for the manner in which they have collaborated effectively in the collation of the relevant documentation. In view of the developmental nature of subject planning, possible priorities for the future were suggested to the various subject departments. Greater discussion between department members on key areas of classroom practice was the predominant recommendation, particularly in relation to teaching methodologies and the use of resources. The practice, within one department, of teachers compiling individual records of methodologies and resources used, along with homework assigned and assessments utilised, was noted as a significant step towards agreeing a more detailed programme of work within that department.

 

Individual files were well organised and some of them corresponded directly with programmes of work outlined in subject plans. Material in these files included many valuable resources such as copies of handouts, worksheets, homework assignments and assessment papers.

 

Planning for resources is very good. Teachers have accumulated an array of materials that are stored neatly and utilised to good effect in class. In most instances these materials are centrally available to all members of a department. Teachers are committed to encouraging participation in co-curricular, cross-curricular and extracurricular activities in an effort to promote the holistic development of all students.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

In all subjects evaluated, the rapport between teachers and students was very good. Whether students were in regular classroom environments, in practical rooms, physical education contexts or on field trips, behaviour was exemplary but never stilted. Mutual respect between students and teachers was uniformly evident. Some subject reports have also noted that, where a numerical imbalance existed in any subject between girls and boys, there was no sense of any group being marginalised, with a fine watch being kept by teachers in order to ensure inclusiveness.

 

Teachers in all subject areas showed a high degree of organisation and commitment in terms of resource preparation and general lesson planning. In general, students were given clear outlines of what the aims of lessons, including non-classroom lessons, were. This was sometimes done on the board at the outset of a lesson, a practice which is applauded and recommended for further deployment where practicable. So too is the practice, observed in some lessons, of revisiting the learning outcomes towards the end of the lesson for reinforcement. Good seating arrangements were in evidence in classrooms, while in lessons which did not take place in classrooms, clear and sensible procedures were in place.

 

In most lessons, a fine degree of emphasis on developing visual and print-rich environments was evident. Sometimes, where a subject base room was involved, the surroundings also facilitated the display of students’ own work, which was a good support to student engagement. Elsewhere, curriculum-relevant materials geared towards the JCSP or state examinations were also productively displayed. Within the lessons themselves, many teachers deployed an array of visually stimulating resources, ranging from the pictorial, such as handouts and laminated pictures, to ones generated by DVD and television. Some recommendations have been made in relation to broadening such a visual focus in teaching into the use of overhead projectors and data projectors, but it is acknowledged that current ICT difficulties may not be conducive to optimum development of this area at present. Where a room-based ICT unit was deployed, this was very well done. It was noted that some subject areas have a very firm commitment to getting students to produce work of both a visual and verbal nature and this has been applauded as a good twin-track approach to promoting engagement and learning. On occasions too, a focus on aural stimulation by means of readings and recordings, and on hands-on experience during field trips or in physical and practical activities, have further complemented the emphasis on learning by seeing, hearing and doing and are commended.

 

Teaching laid a good emphasis on the role of questioning in lesson development. Initial questioning centred generally on homework review or on getting students to draw on previous learning in order to move to new work with a solid platform. This is good practice. Occasional recommendations have been made concerning the need to ask questions more directly of individual students, rather than seeking volunteers, and also on the desirability of mixing some additional higher-order questions with more fact-based ones. However, it bears reiteration that the overall emphasis on questioning as a means of both gauging and fostering learning was certainly satisfactory. So too has been the use of structured questionnaires and workbook approaches, getting students to complete written work on what they see and hear during some lessons. An occasionally observed strategy of getting students to question each other on activities or on tasks completed worked well and is deserving of continued employment. Similarly, a sorting exercise, using information and prompts initially supplied to groups in envelopes, was also an excellent variation on the questioning theme.

 

A very good focus on skills development among students, relevant to the various subject disciplines inspected, has been noted. Reading and writing skills, language usage, discussion and analysis, interpretation of images and documents and, where applicable, practical and sporting skills were all given significant emphasis in teaching and learning. Again, where appropriate, a very satisfactory focus within this area on health and safety procedures has been noted, forming an important part of skills development in its own right. In relevant subject areas, the emphasis placed by teachers on linking theory with practice, and on design briefs, reinforced the development of skills and general subject understanding, which has been applauded.

 

Teaching methodologies in the main were student-centred. In all subjects, an openness to students’ questions, and to class discussion, was clearly evident. In several lessons, students were given responsibility for leading some activities or as speakers on behalf of the class group, something which has been recommended as part of a possible ‘rich-task’ approach in some areas. Where students were required to self-learn with the assistance of computers, this was very well organised and monitored, and students took to their tasks with comfort. A number of classes were structured for group work or pair work, with students again being very comfortable in self-directed learning environments. The superb work done by students and monitored by teachers in project work is also deserving of great praise. In essence, students were found to be learning with their teachers, rather than just from them, and a very good standard of teaching and learning has been commended across the range of subjects evaluated.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Students’ progress and achievement is assessed using a variety of methods. This includes oral questioning in class, topic tests and the assessment of project work and practical work. Formal, in-house examinations are also organised at terminal points within the school year for students who are not involved in the State examinations. In tandem with the issuing of common examination papers to students undertaking the same level in the in-house examinations, common, jointly agreed and moderated marking schemes are in use in a number of subject areas. Mock examinations are organised each year, with examination papers being sourced and marked externally. Members of staff review students’ papers on their return to the school to monitor standards. This is praised as good practice. The provision of opportunities for peer-assessment and self-assessment were commended in a number of the subjects evaluated.

 

A school homework policy has been devised. This is a well-developed, thoughtful document which highlights the role of all members of the school community in ensuring that an effective approach is adopted to homework. It includes a very student-friendly advice sheet entitled ‘Need Help With Homework?’ This is highly praised. As appropriate, homework is assigned on a regular basis in each of the subject areas evaluated. Many lessons commenced with the correction of homework assigned in a previous lesson. In most cases, a regular and more formal monitoring of homework was also apparent. There was much evidence of the use of formative, comment-based assessment in this monitoring of students’ work, particularly in the copybooks and files of senior cycle students. This approach is further encouraged for regular use across all year groups. 

 

Teachers systematically maintain records of students’ attendance, participation and progress on an ongoing basis. A number of approaches seek to ensure that parents are kept well informed in relation to their son’s or daughter’s overall progress and achievement. Student journals are used for routine communication between parents and teachers. School reports are issued following each of the formal, in-house examinations. A pupil-parent/guardian-teacher meeting is organised on an annual basis for each year group. Periodically a postcard, designed to celebrate a student’s participation, advancement or success, may be posted home. As the need arises, subject teachers provide verbal reports on students’ progress to their respective class teacher. In addition to each of these strategies, and at any point in the school year, parents or teachers may request an ‘academic review’ of a student’s progress. While the overall approach is highly praised, the final point is deserving of particular commendation. 

 

To conclude, subject departments are encouraged to investigate the development of subject-specific assessment policies, which would incorporate assessment for learning and differentiated modes of assessment. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and assessment, which can be accessed at www.ncca.ie, could inform in this regard.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The school, in keeping with VEC policy and practice, is thoroughly inclusive in everything it does and this is particularly evident in its support and treatment of students with additional educational needs. It is the policy of the school to try to identify students who may have additional educational needs as early as possible in the admissions process. The school makes every effort to become familiar with these needs and to make the necessary arrangements to meet them.

 

The school community takes great pride in its special class, Rang Saoirse, which currently includes eight students who function within the mild/moderate range of general learning disability. These students are receiving full-time special educational under the guidance of a dedicated teacher with considerable expertise in the area. Students in this class play a central part in school life. Currently this class is not formally sanctioned by the DES and is dependent on the allocation of resource hours from year to year, the allocation in the current school year being 5.96 whole-time teacher equivalents.

 

The range of integration measures aimed at including students with special educational needs in every possible aspect of life in the school is highly commendable and is testimony to the school’s caring ethos. Whole-staff presentations have been provided on topics such as dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome in order to help to promote and increase staff awareness of these and other issues relating to special educational needs. A specific calendar of events relating to special educational needs students has been produced by the learning-support department in order to increase staff awareness of the type of events and supports that are organised around special educational needs. The VEC Education Officer is working with the school on two specific initiatives at present, one relating to team teaching and the other relating to the use of ICT in teaching students with special educational needs. This is being organised in conjunction with the Cork and Dunmanway Education Centres and the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE).

 

Reverse integration measures involving Rang Saoirse are a notable and commendable feature of school life. These have included opportunities for TY students to work in Rang Saoirse as part of their work experience programme and opportunities for students to work with Rang Saoirse towards the achievement of their Gaisce awards. There is also a planned programme of involvement of Rang Saoirse students in the school’s wide range of extracurricular, lunchtime activities. The truly enriching and mutually beneficial experience which these measures provide are deserving of the highest praise.

 

The resources available to students with additional educational needs are excellent, although the relevant authorities have been made aware that the additional three applications received for places in Rang Saoirse next year may pose some difficulties. Presently, Rang Saoirse has its own dedicated classroom which is very well equipped with a range of sensory and other materials to assist learning. The room also has some stand-alone computers on which a variety of software and other assistive technology has been installed. These computers are, of necessity, not linked to the school’s ICT network due to difficulties encountered in installing the necessary learning-support software on computers that are part of the network. The room which serves as a base room for the operation of the School Completion Programme, Room 28, has become synonymous with support in the minds of students as it is frequently used for a range of support activities including one-to-one withdrawal for learning support and the activities of the homework club and breakfast club.

 

In addition to the students in Rang Saoirse, there are a number of students in mainstream classes with either specific assessed needs or with general learning disabilities, or both. Although the school’s special educational needs policy has not yet been finalised, excellent practices have been developed in assisting these students. The school’s array of supports is aimed at enabling these students to obtain the maximum benefit from education at the school in line with their needs. Parents have to sign consent forms for application for resource hours and also have to subsequently give written permission for withdrawal from lessons. Withdrawal for learning support is generally organised into small groups of three to four students, although one-to-one support is also made available as required. This takes place typically during Irish if a student has an exemption from Irish, but also from French, Religious Education and any other subject that the student is not studying. Although the number of students in the school who have an exemption from Irish is relatively high, the majority of students with such an exemption have it upon enrolment in first year. The school is commendably vigilant in ensuring that students do not have an unofficial exemption from Irish by requesting a copy of the exemption at enrolment. The tutorial period is also used quite regularly for withdrawal and as a general rule withdrawal does not take place from Maths or English as these are two main areas in which learning support is provided. The normal school curriculum is not reduced for students with special educational needs and these students have access to all subjects. Withdrawal aims to support work done in mainstream classes and the school’s learning-support team maintain close links with subject teachers. In addition to the regular meetings of the learning-support team, it is recommended that formal structures be put in place to enable the team to provide focused information to general subject teachers as to how the educational achievement of individual students can be maximised during normal lessons. This may involve outlining differentiated teaching and assessment strategies appropriate to the needs of individual students so that the work of the mainstream teacher can complement work done during withdrawal for learning support, and vice-versa. The school may wish to consult Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs – Post-Primary Guidelines, DES, 2007 for further advice and information in this regard.

 

Annual literacy and numeracy tests, as well as house exams given to students in receipt of learning support, are closely monitored by the learning-support team to keep track of students’ progress. The internal database, mentioned earlier, which is being developed by the school is expected to be very useful in providing information on the needs of specific students to year heads on an individual or group basis and is also expected to play an important role in the formal dissemination of information to teachers. Special needs assistants are a key, and highly valued, aspect of the school’s range of supports for students. There are typically two or three assistants assigned to Rang Saoirse at any one time, depending on the activity in which the class is involved, and many other assistants work with other students who have assessed needs. The special needs assistants in the school operate effectively as a team and are included in all aspects of school life. They share a common vision aimed at providing support for students in a sensitive, caring manner and frequently share advice and information with their teaching colleagues. They occasionally support some students who may not have specific assessed needs and feel that this helps to draw attention away from the special educational needs student from time to time and also contributes to the overall care of students. Special needs assistants also sit examinations with special educational needs students and provide appropriate levels of support. Occasionally, students with learning needs are accommodated in a smaller exam centre for in-house exams. One of the learning support team liaises with subject teachers with a view to ensuring that items such as illustrations and diagrams are as accessible as possible to students with visual impairment. Thus, modified examination papers are provided as required. Such efforts to facilitate students with special educational needs are commended. A number of the school’s special needs assistants have completed Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses and other courses provided in the local West Cork Education Centre. Others would like to have availed of courses in the centre but these are often over-subscribed and all special needs assistants cannot be accommodated. Any additional courses which can be provided by the VEC, or can be accessed through other avenues, should prove to be beneficial to the work of the special needs assistants in the school.

 

There are very few students currently enrolled in the school for whom English is not their first language. For the small number for whom this is the case, the full range of student supports is available, including tuition in English as an additional language. There is an awareness of the likelihood that the number of international students enrolling in the school is likely to increase as the town of Dunmanway expands and develops. The school is encouraged to keep this issue under review so that it can respond to the needs of increased numbers of these students should they enrol in the school. Consulting the website of the Integrate Ireland Language and Training (www.iilt.ie) may prove useful in this regard.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The school’s trustees, board of management, senior management, teaching staff and ancillary staff deserve the highest praise for the creation of a safe and caring environment for students. The school makes every effort to ensure that every student is aware of, and has access to, support and assistance when required. Students have reported feeling safe and well looked after and feel that there is always someone to whom they can turn if they are in difficulty. Parents have confirmed this, additionally stating that the guidance counsellor and school chaplain merit particular praise for the manner in which they carry out their student-support roles.

 

The process of providing support to students begins even before they have formally enrolled in the school, through the organisation of visits to the school from pupils in fifth and sixth classes in the feeder primary schools. These pupils are taken on a tour of the school for part of a school day and become familiar with the school as a caring community from the outset. This is followed by a commendably thorough process of managing the transition from primary school and induction into Maria Immaculata Community College for students when they enrol. This process is very well managed through supports such as the student-mentoring system, paired-reading initiative, open evenings, assessment tests and the involvement of the School Completion Programme (SCP) which in itself is a hugely important aspect of support to all students in the school. The SCP team has established clear criteria to decide on what students are to receive support and these are based on the perceived needs of the school. Poor attendance receives a higher weighting than any of the other criteria which include recent experience of trauma etc. Referrals come to the SCP group from parents, students and teachers and there have even been some cases of self referrals. The programme emphasises building relationships with students through a variety of curricular and extracurricular activities and a teacher is involved in liaising directly with parents. In many cases, the programme provides continuity of supports provided in primary school and students often recognise and are drawn towards SCP staff from their work in the primary schools. The programme is operating very effectively in the school and has gained the respect of the school community as a core element of the school’s approach to student retention and care.

 

Guidance and support for students is a clear priority for all staff at Maria Immaculata Community College. Not only is there considerable emphasis on values relating to the care of students in the school’s planning and policy documents but this is also a palpable feature of daily interactions in the school. Similarly, responsibility for appropriate guidance is shared among staff, in accordance with qualifications, experience and interest. In the design and implementation of the whole-school guidance programme, the school has anticipated the growing emphasis on collaborative practice, which may be discerned in all of the recent documents related to Guidance in particular and to students’ progress in general.

 

The school receives an ex-quota allocation of twenty-four hours for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. These hours are used effectively and are allocated for use mainly by a qualified guidance counsellor. Some clarification as to how the hours are dispersed is recommended in the inspection report on Guidance, which accompanies this evaluation. It is suggested that, since whole-school guidance planning is a prioritised issue at the school, this clarification might be made in that context. The commendable collaboration which is evident in the practice of core support staff, such as the guidance counsellor and the chaplain, is fundamental to the effective student-support system of the school. Effective communication through the various teams which operate, further enhances this collaboration. The facilities for the practice of Guidance are appropriate and include an office with the requisite electronic and office equipment. Staff members are commended for the displays of guidance-related materials which are visible throughout the building. It is recommended that attention be given to ensure that some ICT difficulties, which have previously impacted on guidance work and on students’ capacity to complete essential careers forms, do not recur. Practitioners in Guidance rely heavily on the internet for information regarding personal, educational, and vocational guidance and for electronic communication via e-mail. Any difficulties in the operation of the system can have serious repercussions for students and for the workload of guidance counsellors.

 

It is clear that collaborative practice of the guidance department and chaplaincy has effected a successful system of student support through which the various elements of guidance and care have been well integrated. This has been achieved in the context of a clear focus on the school’s philosophy of care and personal development through education based on Christian values. Guidance is provided formally and informally, primarily by the guidance counsellor in timetabled and planned intermittent contact with students. The strong involvement of the chaplain and teachers of Religious Education (RE) ensures that pastoral care is an essential element of the supports provided by the school. The system also entails the allocation of a class tutor to each class group, whose functions include the day-to-day monitoring of students’ progress and behaviour. Communication with students is good and the involvement of the students’ council in school matters of relevance to them is recognised and promoted by senior management. Disciplinary matters are viewed in the context of responsible behaviour and mutual respect. The school’s “Friendship Week” which had art, poetry and story competitions and an anti-bullying presentation had a clear focus on students providing support for each other and was regarded as very successful. Other philanthropic activities such as the range of charitable fundraising that takes place in the school, including fundraising for the West Cork Wheelchair Association, Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), the Sr. Eilís Thiogo Fund, St. Vincent de Paul, Trócaire and the Belarusian Orphanage Project all help to inculcate a spirit of generosity and benevolence in students and are highly commended.

 

Effective communication and membership of many of the school’s co-ordinating teams has ensured that staff members at all levels of responsibility participate in the delivery of aspects of the whole-school guidance programme. Elements of the guidance programme which are common to subjects such as SPHE, Physical Education, Religious Education and Home Economics are well managed and their integration is part of the agenda of the commendable whole-school guidance planning team. The work of the team has anticipated the Draft guidance framework of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) published in 2007. Similarly, the location of the team as a task group in the SDPI structure is indicative of the school’s familiarity with other guidance planning documents such as the National Centre for Guidance in Education (2004) document, Planning the School Guidance Programme and the planning information contained on the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.ie. The documentation of processes, which is so evident in the school, is an added benefit to planning and should result in documents which will clarify the roles and responsibilities of the various supports provided by the school for students in accordance with its mission. It is to be expected also that such documents will serve to ensure continuity in Guidance and student support as new staff join the school and as responsibilities change. Major changes in schools’ provision for students with additional educational needs, which have come in the context of recent legislation, have broadened the remit of staff involved in this area. It is recommended that, as core providers of student support, a member or members of the special educational needs team should be part of the student-support team to facilitate communication and to enable rapid responses to the day-to-day needs of students.

 

It has been pointed out in other parts of this report that the school is conscious of its service role to the local community. It is particularly noted that the local knowledge of staff members and familiarity with the circumstances of students and of the community is of great value in the school’s ability to respond not only to the individual needs of students but also to the needs of parents. There is obvious openness on the part of the school to approaches by parents. The process is a two-way one, shown by arrangements for the provision of information through pupil-parent/guardians-teacher meetings and information sessions on topics such as subject and programme choice and transitions. A member of the special educational needs team is always present at pupil-parent/guardians-teacher meetings and parents are also contacted by phone or letter as the need arises. An open evening is also effectively used as an opportunity to inform parents as to the level of supports available in the school. Similarly, the richness of contacts with the local and regional community ensures access to the services of businesses and of educational providers for, for example, work experience, visiting speakers and visits to various institutions. In addition, effective contact has been made with agencies external to the school to which the school may refer in cases where the professional help of those agencies is appropriate. Referral systems within the school and to agencies outside the school are well managed and make efficient use of available resources.

 

 

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:

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Published, December 2008

 

 

 

 

Appendix

                                                                                                   School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

 

The stakeholders of Maria Immaculata Community College are extremely pleased to accept this very positive report as accurate, informative and a true account of what is happening in the College.

 

The Board is very pleased that the report acknowledges that the college stakeholders deserve the highest praise for the creation of safe and caring environment, with a friendly and courteous atmosphere, where the welfare of each individual student is at the heart of everything the school does. Staff were highly commended for their dedication to the implementation of the college ethos in daily school life.

 

Noteworthy also was that fact that the report acknowledged the excellent communications structures and relationships within the school community that are characterised by openness, recognition, respect and concern.

 

The report commends the provision of a broad and well-balanced curriculum structures for subject preference. The report recognises that the high levels of student engagement and collaboration are indicative of the school’s commitment to continuously develop the very good standard of teaching and learning.

 

The report acknowledges the outstanding provision of co- and extra-curricular activities and recognises the significantly positive impact this has on morale and sense of belonging.

 

It was gratifying to see that the report has recognised how much has been achieved in the first six years of our new College but also acknowledges that IT issues still exist.

 

We regard the evaluation as a very positive and beneficial experience in the context of delivering the best educational service possible to the school community.

 

 

The Home Economics department felt that the inspection report was concise and factually correct. They were delighted that the commitment, enthusiasm and professionalism of the Home Economics department was clearly acknowledged. The report was very affirming and encouraging in that it strongly commended current excellent practices within the Home Economics department.

 

 

Maria Immaculata Community College welcomes the Guidance Report and sees it as an affirmation of the excellent work of the Guidance Team.  It recognises that a high standard of guidance and care are in evidence, with collaboration with outside agencies, in this context, highly commended.

Though it’s acknowledged strong ethos of planning and review, the staff of the college are committed to maintaining the environment of care and support highlighted in the report.

 

 

The staff of the Maria Immaculata Community College History department are very happy with the content of the inspection report. They greatly appreciate the in depth review and affirming report which resulted.

 

 

 

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 notes the recommendations made and these are being considered with a view to their implementation. In line with the acknowledgement of the schools strong commitment to review and development, the recommendations made will be addressed in the context of ongoing planning.

 

Maria Immaculata Community College’s Home Economics Team acknowledges the recommendations in the report and these are being considered with a view to their implementation. Classes now remain with their Home Economics teacher for the duration of the school year. A practical cookery examination has been introduced for 1st Year Students. The updating of curricular plans, including details of practicals and journal work will continue. The Safety Statement is being re-examined in relation to the dual purpose use of the Home Economics Room. Discussions regarding the possibility of converting one storeroom into a department office continue. An agreed strategy for the correction of students’ work is being developed.

 

 

Maria Immaculata Community College’s Guidance Team acknowledges the recommendations in the report and these are being considered with a view to their implementation.

 

Maria Immaculata Community College’s History Team acknowledges the recommendations in the report and these are being considered with a view to their implementation.