An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Mhuire Community School

Clane, County Kildare

Roll number: 91372D

 

Date of inspection: 1 May 2009

 

 

 

 

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 Scoil Mhuire Clane was undertaken in April 2009. 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 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

Scoil Mhuire Clane is a co-educational community school under the trusteeship of the Presentation Sisters and Co. Kildare Vocational Education Committee. The school was initially established as a voluntary secondary school for girls in 1963 and expanded to become a co-educational secondary school four years later. In response to the growing population and the expansion of the school’s catchment area, a new building was provided by the Department of Education and Skills he school was re-established as Scoil Mhuire Community School in 1983. Members of the school community have recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary as a community school. The numbers attending the school have risen consistently in recent years and the current student cohort is 859.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

According to its mission statement, Scoil Mhuire strives to provide a caring, warm and disciplined environment where students are taught to respect the dignity of each person, to develop their own sense of worth and self-esteem and to work and develop all their talents to the best of their abilities.

 

The evidence accrued during the course of the evaluation indicates that the school is true to its mission statement. Scoil Mhuire provides a broad and comprehensive curriculum and a wide range of pastoral supports and extra-curricular activities which ensure that students are enabled to “develop their academic, intuitive and creative gifts to enable them to live their lives to the full and contribute in a positive way to the society of which they are a part” as outlined in the mission statement. The board of management highlighted the merits of the tutor system and acknowledged the time and commitment given by members of staff to caring for the students. The members of the parents’ association spoke of the happy atmosphere in the school and praised the work of senior management and teachers in encouraging and supporting students’ academic and personal development. Students reported a great sense of pride in being afforded leadership roles and the opportunity to contribute to the life of school, through the work of the student council, the prefect and the mentor systems. The time and work given to school ongoing development planning are further testament to Scoil Mhuire’s commitment in the mission statement to re-examining goals and objectives and responding in a creative way to the demands of changing times.

 

The mission statement is a comprehensive document which is exemplary in its aims. To ensure that it remains a living document it is recommended that it be reviewed to make it a more succinct statement. It should then be posted up in a prominent place in the school to be read by all.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

The board of management is constituted in accordance with the deed of trust for community schools and comprises eleven members: three nominees of the religious trustees, three nominees of the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) trustees, two parent nominees, two nominees from the permanent teaching staff, in addition to the principal who acts as secretary to the board and is a non-voting member. The deputy principal is also invited to attend board meetings for the purpose of giving information or advice. In accordance with the articles of management however, he is precluded from contributing to the general debate. All board members have received training and information sessions on the role and functions of boards of management. This is good practice. The current board of management is in the second year of a three-year cycle and meets every month. The principal draws up the agenda in consultation with the chairperson of the board and minutes are recorded and circulated to members prior to the next meeting. Teacher nominees prepare a report for the staff while the deputy principal reports to the parents’ association. Good communication is maintained between the board and the staff through these reports and also through its commendable practice of sending letters of congratulation, affirmation or acknowledgement to teachers when appropriate. Parents also acknowledged the contribution of the deputy principal in keeping them informed of the work of the board. To ensure that there is a record of communications between the board, staff and parents it is recommended that agreed reports for staff and parents be drawn up at the end of each meeting and included in the minutes of the board meetings.

 

Members of the board were cognisant of their roles and responsibilities, which involve supporting senior management in the overall running of the school. There is a finance sub-committee which meets prior to the board meetings. Issues for discussion and debate at meetings include school policies, finances, appointments and items of correspondence. As managers of the school, the board has ensured that a school plan is in place and that the planning process remains ongoing. This plan includes a range of policies including those required by legislation. Some of these policies have been recently developed while others which have been in place for a number of years are prioritised for review. Decisions concerning policies for development or review are made in consultation with the school planning steering committee and the staff and can be issue driven or arise as part of the planning process. These good practices are highly commended.

 

According to its members the strengths of the current board lie in its support of senior management and their commitment to the overall welfare of the students. Members reported that they endeavour to build up their knowledge relating to different issues by sourcing the relevant information and expertise prior to making decisions, all of which are by consensus. The board also checks to ensure that all decisions taken are in keeping with the mission statement of the school. The board is praised for its proactive approach to the ongoing management of the school.

 

1.3          In-school management

Senior management works as a cohesive team to provide dynamic leadership and direction for the school community. The principal and deputy principal share a clear vision for the future of the school which is to create and maintain a secure and supportive environment where optimum teaching and learning can take place. This vision is underpinned by the fusion of ideas emanating from the recent appointment of a new principal and the historic traditions handed down from previous management through the deputy principal. Senior management meets each day with more formal forward planning meetings held at the beginning of each week. The principal has overall responsibility for the school and its environs and deals with all staff-related matters and serious issues of school discipline. The duties of the deputy principal, which are more administrative in nature, include the day-to-day management of supervision and substitution rotas for absent teachers, all on-line communications with the Department of Education and Science and the organisation of the timetable. The deputy principal also takes responsibility for trainee teachers in conjunction with the relevant subject departments. The principal believes in the benefits of dealing with issues as they arise and there was evidence to indicate that the current management styles of both the principal and deputy principal have resulted in a greater openness to change and co-operation from all relevant partners in the pursuit of school development and improvement.

 

Senior management’s belief in the importance of distributed leadership has also contributed to a sense of shared ownership which is reflected in the work of the middle management team. There are twelve assistant principal (AP) posts. Five are year heads and four are programme co-ordination posts. The remaining APs undertake a range of significant administrative duties including the management of the book rental scheme, health and safety and state examinations secretary. All posts have a written job description. Year heads travel with their group from first to sixth year and their duties include both a pastoral and disciplinary role. The day-to-day management of the students depends on the issues that present for a given year group. As part of their duties year heads oversee students’ progress and comment in all school reports. They are also part of the ladder of referral for disciplinary issues and collate all discipline related documentation. They maintain contact with parents and also liaise with the school’s care team. They have weekly meetings with the principal during which they are consulted on a range of issues aimed at moving the school forward in all aspects of students’ care and development. All other APs meet as a group with the principal each month for consultation and the exchange of ideas. Senior management reported that APs have developed a stronger sense of their role as members of middle management. This is commended. APs in turn reported great satisfaction with this consultative process which has empowered them to become more proactive in their work as part of a middle management team. Senior management is also commended for affording all APs the opportunity to take the necessary initiatives to further develop their middle management roles and to contribute in a more meaningful way to the overall management of the school.

 

There are twelve special duties teachers who carry out a range of tasks, many of which involve co-ordination duties of an administrative or a pastoral nature. Administrative duties include the co-ordination of house examinations, information and communication technology (ICT), school transport, school planning and public relations. Other posts involve organisational roles in the areas of special educational needs (SEN), the student council, the green schools’ committee, TY and new teachers. There are five assistant year heads whose duties are of an organisational nature, including allocating and checking of lockers, organising the canteen rota, monitoring attendance and reporting absences of over twenty days to the deputy principal. Assistant year heads travel with their group from first to sixth year in the same way as the year head. Assistant year heads however, do not form part of the formal ladder of referral in relation to the school’s code of behaviour. It is therefore recommended that the title assistant year head be changed to a title which better reflects the more specific nature of the post. A further post involves provision for gifted children. While the intention here is praiseworthy it is recommended that this post be redefined in terms of enhancing student motivation and that provision for gifted children be included as part of special education. Such an approach would then encompass concern for the academic progress of all students in the school. While they do not meet regularly with the principal, special duties teachers reported that they have been consulted as members of middle management. This is highly commended.

 

Non post-holders are encouraged to take an active role in the life of the school through voluntary membership of committees, the class tutor system and extra-curricular activities. This is good practice as it affords teachers opportunities for professional development and promotes a greater sense of belonging within the school community.

 

There is very good communication between senior management and staff. This is facilitated by good access to the principal, the ongoing exchange of ideas emanating from the regular meetings between the principal and working groups, and the staff meetings which are held in accordance with the Department guidelines. A very comprehensive handbook is issued to teachers at the beginning of the academic year. It sets out the mission statement, and includes a map of the school, the calendar for the year with the dates for parent teacher meetings, the names of key personnel in the school including the prefects and the student council. It also contains information on teachers’ duties, key policies and procedures concerning the management of students. The fact that the handbook is combined with the teacher journal means that all of this valuable information is at hand for teachers throughout the school year thereby promoting fair and consistent practices when dealing with all members of the school community. The members of senior management and staff involved in the compilation of the handbook are highly commended for the provision of such an informative resource. Students are provided with a similar style journal incorporating the mission statement and information of relevance to their overall welfare in the school. Space to record merits or incident sheets along with space for notes to and from parents is also included in the journal. Parents have to sign the journals each week and they are checked by the class tutors or year heads on a regular basis. This is commended.

 

Continuous professional development is well supported and teachers are released wherever possible for in-service training. The school has also engaged in a range of whole school in-service training to support teachers in their work. Staff and subject planning meetings are also used as a forum for providing feedback from courses attended. This is good practice.

 

The systems in place, the visible presence of senior management throughout the school and a hands-on approach by the principal in matters of discipline contribute significantly to the effective management of the students in Scoil Mhuire. All incoming students are asked to sign a code of behaviour and learning contract. This contract is renewed at the beginning of each academic year. A copy of the document and the procedures for breaches of the contract are included in both the teacher and student journals. This is very good practice. There is a ladder of referral relating to the code of behaviour, beginning with the class tutor and progressing on to the year head and an incident sheet is filled out for major infringements or for an aggregate number of minor misdemeanours. These sheets are kept by the year head who is responsible for issuing sanctions such as detention and to liaise with parents where necessary. A record of incident sheets issued and action taken by the teacher is also filled out in the student’s journal. These practices are commended as they provide a comprehensive record of student behaviour. Any decisions to suspend a student are made by the principal who, in turn, reports to the board of management in instances where the suspension exceeds five days.

 

Positive student behaviour is promoted through the merit system where good behaviour or helpful actions are noted in the student’s journal. A significant accumulation of merits is acknowledged at the end-of-year awards night. A review of a small number of student journals indicated that teacher enthusiasm for the use of the merit system was greater at the beginning of the school year than at the time of the evaluation. It is important to ensure that the use of the merit system does not wane as the year progresses. The current code of discipline which dates from 2005 was reviewed in 2008 to include a policy on the use of mobile phones. A root-and-branch review of the code is planned for the forthcoming academic year. This should provide a welcome opportunity to review the effectiveness of the current strategies, to consider other strategies and to document them in the code of behaviour. A revised code should also make reference to the student’s right of appeal in the case of suspension or expulsion.

 

The school does not currently have an attendance and participation policy. Attendance is monitored by the assistant year heads and absences of over twenty days are reported to the National Education Welfare Board through the deputy principal. A range of initiatives has also been undertaken to encourage good attendance and punctuality. While these good practices are acknowledged, they should be underpinned by an attendance and participation policy, drawn up in accordance with the recommendations of the Education Welfare Act.

 

The student council, which is in operation in the school since 2004, meets each week at lunchtime to discuss issues of concern to students and, when necessary, to make representation on their behalf to senior management. Students from third year to sixth year nominate themselves for election to the council. Representation from first-year and second- year students is rotated between the different class groups. This has, however, resulted in some students from these year groups forgetting to attend. To overcome this difficulty consideration should be given to revising the constitution to include full representation from first and second year students on the committee. The observation of a student council meeting during the course of the evaluation indicated that the student council in Scoil Mhuire is a well-coordinated and articulate committee which has succeeded in effecting a number of improvements for students in the school in addition to engaging in significant fundraising for a local charity. The work and commitment of the student council is highly commended. To further involve them as partners in the school development planning process the student council should be consulted in the development or review of policies affecting them directly.

 

The school has an active parents’ association which is encouraged to contribute to the development of school policies. The association actively contributes to the life of the school by supporting the school’s book rental scheme, sponsoring awards, organising speakers for the parents’ annual general meetings and acting as conduit between the general parent body and school management. Parents reported very good communication with senior management and said that their proposals were listened to attentively. For example, the parents’ association proposed a reorganisation of parent-teacher meetings. This has resulted in greater ease of access to teachers and increased satisfaction from parents.

 

1.4          Management of resources

Scoil Mhuire has a teacher allocation of 59.93 whole time teacher equivalents (WTE), including ex quota positions for the principal, deputy principal, learning support and chaplain. There is also a 1.64 WTE ex quota allocation for guidance. Concessions include a 4.24 WTE allocation for resource teaching, a 12.48 WTE allocation for programme coordination and a 2.45 WTE allocation for curricular concessions. There is also an allocation for three Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). Non-teaching staff include one part-time and two full -time secretaries for the day school, two caretakers and two canteen staff.

 

The school currently operates a forty-five period week, each lesson being of thirty-five minutes or forty minutes duration. A ten minute registration period is taken each morning by the class tutor, who takes the roll and disseminates relevant curricular information to the students. This affords tutors a period of contact time with their class group each day. Each year group has an assembly one day per week at registration time, taken by the relevant year head. This provides a forum for information giving, encouragement, and affirmation of all that has been achieved by the students in the particular year group.

 

A recent increase in the number of teachers committing themselves to the substitution and supervision contracts has facilitated the effective implementation of supervision and substitution rotas at the relevant times during the school day. In addition, the principal maintains a visible presence at the school bus stop each morning and evening to ensure an orderly entry and exit to and from school. Parents and teachers reported that this has resulted in improved behaviour and punctuality.

 

Teachers are deployed in accordance with their subject specialisms and are given the opportunity to teach to all levels. A review of timetabling for the current year also indicated that the majority of teachers are timetabled to their maximum number of hours. However, some of the assistant principals’ timetables fall somewhat below the required minimum teaching hours. This needs to be addressed to ensure full compliance with departmental regulations and full use of the available resource. This is particularly important in light of senior management’s concern, expressed during the course of the evaluation, that the projected reduction in staff allocation for 2009-10 would result in an inability to provide the breadth of curriculum currently being offered.

 

New teachers praised the supports offered to them through the induction programme which is coordinated by a special duties post-holder. They reported that the senior management and staff were very supportive and that the strong sense of collegiality which prevailed helped them when confronted with difficulties.

 

The school which is located on the outskirts of the village of Clane is well maintained and the array of photographs on the corridor walls pays tribute to the success of both present and past pupils and teachers. Classrooms are teacher based and this facilitates the upkeep of tidy and well-ordered rooms. However, it also means that students do not have access to classrooms at lunchtime and are obliged to eat in the canteen or in the open resource areas established for each year group. Senior management has endeavoured to make more space available to senior-cycle students with the provision of picnic tables in some of the open air spaces in the school.

 

The co-ordination of information and communication technology (ICT) is a special duties post and considerable work has been carried out in upgrading ICT facilities in the school’s computer rooms and putting systems in place to support optimal usage and monitoring. The ICT plan drawn up in 2004 has recently been amended to reflect the changes that have taken place since then including an audit of current resources and an up-to-date acceptable usage policy in addition to effective systems for monitoring appropriate use and internet security. The school’s website is also being updated. This is welcome as the information on the current website does not reflect the quality of educational provision available in the school. ICT has been effectively integrated into teaching and learning in a number of subjects. However, the absence of data projectors in many of the teacher-based classrooms limits its use as a resource readily accessible in the classroom. It is recommended that provision for the installation of data projectors in all classrooms be prioritised when planning for any future capital investment in ICT.

 

There is an active green schools committee, coordinated by a special duties post-holder and assisted by another teacher. The majority of the students on the committee are junior-cycle students. The committee meets once or twice each month and has established priorities for the year based on the results of surveys carried out. The current priority is to raise awareness about litter in the school with a view to applying for their first green flag. The committee is supported by the work carried out in Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and in some TY lessons. The work of all who contribute to the green schools committee is highly commended.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

There is a long tradition of school development planning in Scoil Mhuire. The first school plan was drawn up in 1997. While the planning process progressed in a commendable manner over a number of years with the ongoing development and review of policies, changes over the past two years have resulted in a new impetus for school development planning as a dynamic collaborative process. The co-ordination of school planning is a special duties post. There is also a steering committee which meets weekly to discuss all issues relevant to planning and development. Priorities are identified and agreed at the beginning of each year. Task groups are then formed to work on these issues. Findings and proposals are presented to senior management and staff for discussion prior to being submitted to the board of management for review and ratification. Formal time for whole school development planning is included as part of staff meetings and staff days. A school planning report is compiled at the end of each academic year outlining all that has taken place during the year to contribute to ongoing school improvement in line with the mission statement. This is forwarded to the trustees. All members of the school community are highly commended for their commitment to school planning.

 

The permanent section of the school plan sets out the school’s mission statement, its aims and objectives and its historical and operating context. It also includes a significant number of school policies including those required by legislation. It was noted during the course of the evaluation that the school’s admissions policy has recently been reviewed. While this is acknowledged and commended, it is suggested that the school further review the order in which incoming students are prioritised to ensure that the eldest child in a family living and attending primary school in the catchment area is not penalised because he or she has no sibling in the school.

 

To support the school development planning process, a document has been established listing the policies in place and the dates on which they have been ratified, reviewed or are due for review. This is very good practice. The school’s anti-bullying policy is currently among the policies due for review. This is welcome as the present policy, while outlining many of the good practices in situ to deal with bullying, needs to be further developed as a written document. The anti-bullying policy should include the procedures in place for reporting, recording and addressing issues of bullying. While issues of bullying are part of the overall discipline system, all procedures dealing with bullying should be documented separately from the code of behaviour. Furthermore it is recommended that the terms ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ be changed to take cognisance of bullying as a behaviour which can be modified rather than as an aspect of personality.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management is currently updating its Child Protection Policy to ensure that it is fully in line with the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Skills, September 2004). This policy should be due for ratification before the end of the academic year. It is essential that a compliant policy be ratified without delay. 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.

 

Senior management, staff and the board of management are warmly commended for the very good practices that are in place to support a high quality school development planning process.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

Scoil Mhuire offers a broad and comprehensive curriculum aimed at responding to the varied needs of the student cohort. Five programmes are offered in the school: Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). The school has an overall programme co-ordinator who also co-ordinates the LCVP programme while the co-ordination of TY and LCA is assigned to two assistant principal posts.

 

The TY plan outlines the aims and objectives of the programme, course content and assessment procedures. It also includes information on how the TY programme should differ from the other programmes in terms of teaching methodologies, study skills and team work and the progression towards more self-directed learning. The inclusion of this information in the TY plan is commended. However, the TY programmes in relation to a number of the subjects evaluated were identified as requiring adjustment. All subject departments should note the components of a good TY programme and submit their subject plans accordingly for inclusion in the overall TY plan. The programme offers a range of core subjects and modules. Some of the modules involve a sampling of the subjects offered in senior cycle. The programme also offers a range of cultural, leisure and charitable activities and outings which include a trip to Germany, talks from visiting speakers and the opportunity to take part in the school’s annual drama. The co-ordination of TY has been newly assigned and this offers the opportunity to review current practice. In this context it is recommended that one afternoon be timetabled for activities and that the proposed calendar for these activities be included in the TY plan. The allocation of designated time for activities allows for time-efficient organisation of the programme and minimises disruption to the core subjects.

 

The completion of two weeks’ work experience is another activity central to the TY programme. Students are expected to find their own placements. It was reported that in previous years a small number of students found themselves unable to get placements and remained at home for the work experience weeks. To overcome this difficulty it is recommended that a small bank of work placements be built up through the school’s networks for use when needed. Alternatively work shadowing or a series of work-related modules should be organised for students unable to source work placements themselves. As part of raising social and community awareness the TY students currently engage in a very commendable partnership with the local KARE organisation, where they engage in activities such as paired reading or artwork with clients from the organisation who come into the school one morning each week. This initiative is highly commended. To further extend this social and community awareness initiative, consideration should be given to introducing a community service week, similar in operation to the work experience programme, but with a social and community focus. 

 

The school offers three programmes at senior cycle and current practice is that all students who have the required subject combinations are automatically entered into the LCVP programme. The school should work towards the desirable situation whereby students are free to choose or not to choose LCVP. LCVP students are timetabled for three periods each week in each year for the completion of the link modules. Two periods each week would be sufficient in sixth year. The requisite work experience for the completion of the LCVP syllabus is arranged by the students and completed out of term time. It was reported that the majority of LCVP students use the points achieved in the link modules for entry into third level studies. The ongoing review of the programme has led to the introduction of house examinations for LCVP link modules as a means of raising student attainment in the students’ written work. This is commended.

 

A well co-ordinated Leaving Certificate Applied programme has been in operation in the school since 1996. Students can apply to do LCA, or may be encouraged to take the programme if it is deemed to be particularly appropriate to them. While LCA students follow their own programme, the sixth year cohort is integrated with the entire year group for religion and PE. This is very good practice and should be extended to fifth year. As part of their programme students also engage in work experience. The programme is kept under constant review to ensure that it is best meeting the needs of the particular cohort. Vigilance is also maintained in relation to student attendance in LCA. The LCA team comprises both new and experienced teachers and all in-service training is availed of where possible. It was reported that the majority of LCA students progress to Post Leaving Certificate courses and plans are in place to track this progression.

 

A locally renowned adult education service has been developed over the years in Scoil Mhuire providing a very comprehensive range of evening courses for both professional and leisure purposes throughout the school year. This is ably managed by the director of the adult education section and supported by the work of a number of assistant principals and special duties teachers. The financial success of the adult education sector has enabled senior management in conjunction with the adult education director to finance the provision of further resources which are of benefit to both those attending the adult education school and the students of Scoil Mhuire. The management of the adult education sector is highly commended for the comprehensive educational provision serving the local community.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

All incoming first-year students study Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, a modern European language, Religion, Physical Education, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Science has also recently been made a core subject in junior cycle. Optional subjects include Business Studies, Home Economics, Technical Graphics, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork, Art and Music. The study of a modern language is mandatory to Leaving Certificate and this is commendable practice. Senior management is encouraged to look at new ways of timetabling which would facilitate the continuance of the good practice of offering Science as a core subject.

 

Transition Year is optional in Scoil Mhuire. The numbers of students taking TY has increased significantly in the past two years and there are currently three TY class groups. The expansion of the TY programme to respond to the increased demand is commended. It was, however, noted that the entry requirements for admission into TY given in the TY plan differed from those contained in the school’s admissions policy. This needs to be addressed forthwith and the outcomes communicated to the student body without delay as it is projected that demand for places will exceed availability in the forthcoming school year.

 

All senior-cycle students take Irish, English, Mathematics and the modern European language studied for Junior Certificate. They also choose three subjects from History, Geography, Art, Accounting, Business, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Construction Studies, Engineering, Design and Communication Graphics and Home Economics. These subjects are placed in pre-arranged blocks reflecting the pattern of preferences over the years. The school is encouraged to ensure the system of subject choice is sufficiently flexible and responsive to students’ changing needs including issues of uptake by gender which were identified in some of the subject inspection reports.

 

A range of initiatives is in place to support students when making their subject or programme choices including a number of information evenings organised for parents and students. The guidance service provides information on subjects and careers for all students moving into senior cycle through meetings with class groups or individual appointments. The supports offered to students and parents are commended.

 

Students are divided into tutor groups of mixed ability on entry into first year and remain in these groupings throughout junior cycle. To facilitate timetabling, classes are formed in accordance with the modern language chosen. Vigilance is needed to ensure that the mixed-ability nature and the gender balance of the groupings do not become skewed as a consequence of this approach to class formation. Lessons for PE are timetabled in single periods for many of the class groups in junior cycle. The time involved on each occasion to go to the PE hall and change before and after the lesson limits considerably the class contact with the subject. For this reason, the allocation of double periods for PE should be prioritised. Senior-cycle students currently have the option between PE and study and it was reported that a significant number of students choose the latter option, particularly as the year progresses. This needs to be addressed as the current provision of study periods as an alternative to a curricular subject compromises the required weekly instruction time as prescribed in circular M29/95 Time in School.  All students are required to follow a school curriculum necessitating a minimum of twenty-eight instruction time each week.  To this end the practice of offering study periods as an alternative to PE should be discontinued.  Furthermore, in the interests of promoting the holistic development of all students, a review of the current provision for PE at senior cycle with the expressed aim of encouraging full participation is recommended.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

There is a strong commitment to the provision of a very broad range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for students in Scoil Mhuire.

 

Activities promoting students’ curricular development and interests include debating, a science club, a Justice and Peace group and a series of fundraising initiatives co-ordinated by the school’s religion department. Language and cultural awareness is promoted through the annual European tour organised for second-year students while TY students of German are afforded the opportunity to visit Germany as part of their TY activities. The school hosts an Irish language week. Year heads and tutors also organise a number of outings for their year and class groups. In addition a number of social nights are held in the school to help first-year students integrate into the life of the school. This is highly commended.

 

Students’ musical talents are nurtured through the school choir which performs at all school events, and the annual ‘stars in your eyes’ talent competition. A recently introduced musical production involving students from first and second year is quickly becoming a highlight of junior cycle extra-curricular activities. Speech and drama classes are offered to interested students and there is an annual Transition Year drama production. The school also produces an annual year-book inviting participation from students throughout the school.

 

Students’ experience of business is promoted through their involvement in mini-companies and also in the school bank which is used by many students to save for the outings and tours organised each year. Junior-cycle students have also displayed enthusiasm for the Formula One competition recently introduced into the school. This is a team activity, which is technology focused, aimed at designing and producing a Formula One car and merchandise. Success to date with this initiative has encouraged the teachers involved to offer it in the next academic year as an extra-curricular activity to senior-cycle students.

 

The active interest in sport and the pursuit of excellence facilitates the school’s ongoing involvement and success in a range of sporting events including GAA and soccer championships and blitzes for both male and female students, basketball, golf, badminton and athletics. Senior-cycle students can also participate in the Gaisce awards which include outdoor pursuits as part of a range of activities to be completed and the Pramerica awards for individual initiatives promoting community spirit.

 

The very high level of commitment from teachers ensures that the students in Scoil Mhuire are facilitated to develop their talents and to strive for excellence in all their pursuits in accordance with the mission statement. This level of commitment and the student involvement in the activities offered are highly commended.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

A culture of planning and collaboration has been established in the subject areas evaluated, complementing the good practices evident in the areas of policy development and whole-school planning. It is especially noteworthy that significant progress has been made in subject areas where a need for improved planning and co-ordination was identified in earlier subject inspections. However, the TY plan should be further developed using the recommended template for writing a TY programme, thus ensuring that all programme content and the methodologies chosen match the programme’s aims.

 

Systems of rotating co-ordination were in place in the subject departments encountered, and in some cases this was a shared collaborative role. The opportunity thus given for all teachers to gain co-ordination experience is commendable. Consideration could be given to agreeing a term of two years for the co-ordinator role, to allow scope for developing and implementing initiatives. Senior management facilitates the work of subject departments through the timetabling of planning sessions usually twice a year, and teaching teams meet throughout the year less formally. Records of meetings are kept, and communication with senior management in relation to concerns and to decisions taken is effective. Collaborative planning among teachers of modern European languages was noted and is commended as an instance of good cross-subject co-operation.

 

In all subject areas evaluated, subject plans have been developed, and subject departments understood this to be an ongoing process. Planning has reached a more advanced stage in some instances, and the most developed subject plans were described as comprehensive and wide-ranging. All subjects had agreed year plans or schemes of work and these indicated a thorough treatment of course material and, though to a less marked degree, the acquisition of skills. It is recommended that further work on subject planning focus particularly on identifying methods and approaches to develop students’ skills. Recommendations to broaden the range of teaching and learning strategies with an emphasis both on active learning and the greater use of ICT in the learning process appear in a number of reports. It would be useful to consider these on a whole-school basis so that subject departments can discuss their own practices and share them with others, in this way assisting the dissemination of effective strategies.

 

A number of subject and lesson plans included differentiated strategies and approaches to facilitate students with special educational needs. The benefits of planning on the basis of identifying what students must, should and could know and be able to do were discussed during the evaluation process. Subject departments should incorporate this approach into their planning when identifying appropriate learning outcomes. In furthering the good planning practices noted, it is recommended that emphasis be placed on clearly linking content, methods and learning outcomes.

 

The constructive work undertaken in all subjects was seen to support reflective practice on both an individual and collective level. Good individual planning was noted in almost all instances, as was a high level of planning and preparation for the lessons observed.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

In all, forty lessons were observed in the subject inspections informing these findings and recommendations. They covered all years from first to sixth, and all programmes offered in the school. The quality of teaching and learning observed was good, and many instances of very good practice were noted and commended. Some areas for development were identified but in the main these concerned the extending of good practice observed, rather than the need to introduce new practices or approaches.

 

Lessons were well structured, typically including a clear statement of the lesson topic and the intended learning outcome at the outset. This good practice should be extended to all lessons to give purpose and direction, and to indicate clearly to students their responsibility for their own learning. Good links were made with prior learning. For the most part, a satisfactory amount of material was covered in each lesson, and pacing was good.

 

A range of methodologies was employed in the lessons observed, and they were selected on the basis of appropriateness to the class group and the learning intention. Pair and group work was a feature of a number of lessons, and was effective in encouraging independent and investigative learning in practical subjects, and in developing students’ use of the target language in the case of the languages inspected. In extending the good practice observed, teachers should ensure that group work is well planned and that students understand its purpose and know what must be done and produced in the specified time. Good levels of engagement were noted in most of the lessons observed, and inspectors commented favourably on the strategies used to contextualise learning. For example, new concepts were reinforced through relating them to everyday applications and, in many cases, the target language was also placed in a real context. This good practice should be extended wherever suitable opportunities arise, as it clearly enhances student learning and engagement.

 

Questioning was appropriately varied and used for a range of purposes, including the assessment and reinforcement of prior learning, and the maintenance of student attention and engagement with the lesson topic. In the context of language learning, questions and responses were in almost all cases in the target language and the strategies used to avoid translation are commended and should be shared and extended. During practical work, questions were used to encourage students to think about what they were doing and why, thus ensuring the application of their knowledge to the task in hand. Probing questions were used effectively to develop and test students’ higher-order thinking and their understanding of concepts and processes. This emphasis on skills of analysis, deduction and inference is most appropriate to the aims and objectives of the various syllabuses. Where questions are aimed at the development of higher-order skills, teachers should ensure that sufficient time is given to allow students to formulate thoughtful responses, and that students understand the difference between quiz-type questions and probing or speculative questions.

 

ICT was particularly well utilised in some lessons. It provided opportunities for visual reinforcement of learning, and for the engaging presentation of new material. Its greater use in the context of language learning is recommended, as it will enhance the good practice noted in creating an authentic language environment.

 

Affirmation of students was evident in all lessons and this consolidated the positive atmosphere and led to high levels of participation. A supportive environment was created in which teachers effectively communicated their enthusiasm for the subject and students responded with interest. Teachers are highly commended in this regard.

 

The expectation that students would apply themselves and work productively was established in each lesson, and a focus on learning was maintained. Students were challenged to meet their potential and were motivated to learn throughout most of the lessons observed. Inspectors found in their interactions with students and in their review of students’ written work good evidence of learning and of the development of a range of relevant skills. The whole-school focus on continuing to raise students’ levels of attainment and their expectations for themselves was noted during the evaluation and is commended. To support this policy, constant vigilance to ensure that students are taking certificate examinations at the highest level appropriate to their abilities is recommended.

 

4.3          Assessment

The school has a homework policy which is included in both the teachers’ and students’ journals. Clear practice in relation to house examinations has been established. In building on the good structures in place, it should be noted that an agreed approach to assessment practices is an important element of subject planning. All subject departments should ensure that they discuss and agree homework practices that are in line with the school policy and that support the learning outcomes pertaining to their subject area.

 

The assessment modes observed included good classroom monitoring to ensure student engagement with the learning activity; use of questioning; and opportunities for classwork which teachers could oversee, thus assessing students’ competence and progress. Practices with regard to assessment in the classroom were largely positive. However, care should be taken to ensure that where homework is corrected orally in class, students enter corrections accurately in their copies.

 

Other modes of ongoing formative assessment included the regular setting and marking of homework, and oral feedback during the course of practical work. These were observed to be effective in encouraging students to reflect on their work and in pointing out to them where they had made progress, and where and how further improvement could be made. This use of assessment to assist students’ learning is very good practice and should be a core aim of all assessment planning. Particularly good practice was noted where the criteria for assessment were shared with a Leaving Certificate group. They then applied these criteria to their own work, and they themselves identified areas for improvement. It was also noted with approval that teachers use assessment to inform their teaching approaches.

 

Good systems are in place to ensure regular communication between school and home with regard to students’ progress. Parents spoke very appreciatively of the teachers’ concern for and knowledge of their students. Record-keeping as a means of monitoring students’ progress and identifying potential areas of difficulty is supported by the comprehensive teachers’ journal, which is regularly reviewed and annually updated.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

There is very good provision for students with additional educational needs in Scoil Mhuire. The school has an allocation of 4.24 WTEs for special educational needs (SEN) in addition to one ex quota position for learning support. There are also three special needs assistants. Two posts of responsibility, one at assistant principal level and the other at special duties level, have been allocated for the co-ordination and organization of SEN in the school. There is also a learning support and SEN team comprising these post-holders and another fulltime resource teacher all of whom work together to ensure the effective deployment of the available supports in the school. A school policy to support students with additional educational needs has been drawn up setting out the rationale underpinning such a policy, defining the criteria which distinguish between SEN and learning support and outlining the provision afforded to all students with additional educational needs. This is highly commended.

 

Every effort is made to integrate students requiring additional supports into the mainstream setting. This very good practice is achieved through the use of team teaching where the coordinators of SEN and learning support assign teachers who have been timetabled for resource or learning support to work in the classroom with the mainstream teacher. The SEN and learning support departments have also been allocated a computer room when withdrawal groups are deemed to best meet the needs of these students. A number of small offices are also available for lessons where students who are exempt from Irish or have a restricted curriculum receive individual tuition.

 

The learning support and SEN departments have good links with the primary schools. This facilitates advance planning and preparation for students with additional educational needs. There is also good liaison between the subject teachers and the learning support and SEN departments to identify students experiencing difficulties and to ensure that the work of the lesson is differentiated to meet the needs of all students. Contact is made with external agencies as required. The parents of these students are also consulted and kept informed of their progress. The learning support and SEN team is currently developing individual profiles and learning programmes for students with additional educational needs. This is highly commended. These students are also encouraged to participate fully in the overall life of the school. In addition to encouraging them to become involved in sporting and musical activities, a mini-company has been set up to engage these students in some co-curricular activities. This initiative which is currently experiencing good participation and outcomes is warmly commended.

 

There are three special needs assistants employed in the school. They work with a number of different students to ensure that students with SEN do not become over dependent on assistance from any one adult. All requests for reasonable accommodation in the state examinations are also made by the coordinators of SEN and learning support.

 

The school’s holistic approach to supporting students with additional educational needs is also reflected in the involvement of members of the SEN and learning support departments in the work of the care team. This is highly commended.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

Scoil Mhuire has an allocation of 1.64 WTEs for the delivery of guidance in the school. There are currently two members of the guidance department. Both are involved in the delivery of guidance in TY and at senior cycle.

 

There is a guidance policy in place and the members of the guidance service are commended for the work carried out in the development of this policy. Work is also under way to develop a whole-school guidance plan. This is welcome as the current guidance policy relates specifically to the work of the guidance service rather than to a whole-school plan for the delivery of guidance. While members of the guidance service are involved in the school’s care team there are no links between the guidance service and the school’s delivery of related disciplines such as the SPHE and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). A whole school guidance plan should involve an integrated approach with contributions from management, teaching staff, students and parents in addition to those of the guidance service in order to facilitate optimal provision for all students in the school. Information and guidelines for the development of an integrated whole school guidance plan are available on the National Council for Guidance in Education (NCGE) website. The guidance curriculum as drafted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) also provides useful information.

 

Current guidance provision begins in the primary schools where members of the guidance service speak to the pupils and encourage them to attend Scoil Mhuire’s open night. An information night is also organised for the parents of incoming first-year students. There is however, no provision for formal class contact with the guidance service in first and second year. Members of the guidance service meet with third-year students on a rotational basis to inform them of subject and programme options in preparation for their progression into Transition Year or senior cycle. It is recommended that all first- and second-year class groups have formal contact with the guidance service at the beginning of each academic year to inform or remind the students of the service offered and how they can access it. Further input from the guidance service should also be integrated into the junior cycle curriculum in conjunction with SPHE lessons as appropriate.

 

Most of the work of the guidance service is currently delivered to students in TY and in senior cycle. However, fifth-year LCVP students do not have timetabled guidance to enable the guidance service support them in their personal and career decisions. At the same time the allocation of three periods of guidance per week for established Leaving Certificate students in both fifth and sixth year is an over-concentration of the guidance resource to this programme. This imbalance of provision needs to be addressed. It is of the utmost importance that the guidance resource is optimised for all students in the school. There is a strong focus on vocational guidance. Students are provided with information on a wide range of career options and are afforded the opportunity to attend a number of career exhibitions, the Higher Options conferences, university open days and talks given by a number of speakers invited to the school from a wide range of Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) and third level institutions and universities. The guidance service is commended for its concern to ensure that students are fully informed of all the options available to them. However, the programme of invited speakers needs to be rationalised to avoid duplication and to make the best use of time. This will facilitate a reduction in the timetabled hours for guidance in senior cycle as already recommended, and will allow for more involvement from the guidance resource at junior cycle.

 

Individual personal or careers counselling is also available to all students by appointment. Initiatives which involve the use of personal counselling to underpin educational guidance have been introduced into some TY and at senior cycle classes. While it is important to ensure that students are making informed choices in relation to their personal, educational and vocational development, members of the guidance service should always remain mindful that any personal counselling initiatives should be appropriate to the school and to an adolescent context. In order to ensure a balanced programme which best meets the needs of the total cohort of students, all personal counselling should be undertaken within the context of the whole school guidance plan and in accordance with Department guidelines.

 

Concern for the holistic development of all students is embodied in the work of the school’s care team which was established two years ago. Members of the team include the school’s lay chaplain, members of the guidance service and the SEN and learning support departments and year heads or tutors who are free at the time when the care team meets each week. The service provided by the care team further assists the work of the year heads and tutors, ensuring that vulnerable students are identified and supported during their time in school. Referrals can be made by tutors, year heads, senior management, fellow students or parents. Students can also self refer. The school’s highly commendable chaplaincy service which can be accessed directly by both students and parents also provides a valuable conduit between the student and parent bodies and the care team. The care team then discusses the best approach to dealing with referrals. This can include choosing an individual member of the team to work with the student, developing action plans to help them or, where necessary, referring them to external agencies. Progress is monitored at subsequent meetings. Some members of the care team highlighted the importance of working within certain parameters and knowing when to refer individuals on for more specialised support. This is commended, as awareness of the limits of one’s expertise is crucial to the integrity of a care team. The work of the care team is not high profile in the school, its members preferring to work discreetly in the interests of protecting students’ identity. Some students remain on the case list for a relatively short period of time, while other cases remain ongoing. The very good practices established by the members of the care team ensure that quality systems are in place to embrace all students as valued and cared-for members of the school community.

 

Students in Scoil Mhuire provide valuable peer support through the prefect system, where they are assigned to work as sports or culture prefects or to work with different year groups promoting a spirit of community through a range of initiatives such as lunchtime activities, talent shows and social nights. A head-boy and head-girl are elected from the body of prefects, all of whom take on responsibility for being role models for the students. They reported great pride in being afforded the opportunity to be part of the student leadership body in the school. The work of the prefects is warmly commended.

 

A mentor system is also in place where a number of sixth-year students are selected to befriend and support first-year students in their transition from primary to post-primary school. Mentors accompany these students on their induction into the school and organise a range of events for them to help them to get to know their new peers. They attend the first-year tutor class once a week and maintain a presence to ensure that any problems are identified and are dealt with or referred to the tutor as appropriate. Mentors are highly commended for their work with the first-year students. In recognition of their work and their valuable contribution to the student support system, mentors should be facilitated to engage in some of the formal mentoring training courses such as the Meitheal programmes available in a number of dioceses throughout the country.

 

The very good systems in place to meet the varied needs of the student community in Scoil Mhuire are in evidence in all aspects of school life. This is warmly commended.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·      Effective systems are in place to underpin very good communication between senior management and staff and very positive collaboration with the parents’ association.

·     The provision of a high quality adult education service in the evenings has resulted in very good relations with the local community.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

Published June 2010

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

We are pleased the inspectors commended the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Follow up actions planned: