An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Mountmellick Community School

Mountmellick, County Laois

Roll number: 91426A

                                         

                                                                                                                               Date of inspection: 4 May 2007

                                                                                                                    Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007

 

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

1.   Introduction

2. The quality of school management

3 Quality of school planning

4 Quality of curriculum provision

5 Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

6 Quality of support for students

7 Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

8 Related subject inspection reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Mountmellick Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

 

1.   Introduction

 

Mountmellick Community School is a co-educational post-primary school that caters for students from Mountmellick and the surrounding areas. The community school was established in 1990 from an amalgamation of two schools, St Mary’s Presentation College and Mountmellick Vocational School. The present school occupies a site in the centre of the town that has long been associated with education. The Quakers established a school on the site in 1786. In 1821 the Presentation Order took over the building and went on to establish a very successful secondary school and a boarding school for girls during the 1920s. St Mary’s became co-educational in 1967 and boarding was phased out during the 1970s. Mountmellick Vocational School was established in 1966. Initially, only a range of practical subjects for boys and girls was offered.  In 1976 additional subjects and the Leaving Certificate were introduced to provide a more rounded education. Since its establishment in 1990 Mountmellick Community School has operated under the trusteeship of the Presentation Order, the Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Laughlin and County Laois Vocational Education Committee. The trustees have successfully supported the school’s development and have assisted the school through its establishment phase.

 

Mountmellick Community School is an inclusive school that operates an open-admission policy and enrols all students from the local feeder primary schools and applicants who reside in Mountmellick. There is a current enrolment of 515 students. There are five main feeder primary schools and pupils also enrol from up to five other local schools. Since 2004 the number of students applying for admission in the community school has increased and it is expected that this pattern of increase will continue due to demographic trends in Mountmellick and the surrounding rural areas.  The Commission on School Accommodation issued a report in 2004 outlining a development plan for Mountmellick and Mountrath from 2004 to 2010. This report can be viewed at www.education.ie. This plan proposes that the community school in Mountmellick will in future years have to cater for an additional 150 students due to the projected rise in the town’s population and its hinterland.  The report also states that additional capital investment in the school will be required to meet these expanding needs.

 

Mountmellick Community School is centrally located in its own extensive grounds off the town’s main street. The school endeavours to meet the educational and recreational needs of the local community. Through very active partnership with the wider community, shared facilities within the school campus have been developed which can be used by the school during the day and by local sports and other groups in the evenings and at weekends. Playing fields, sports’ pitches and a community sport’s hall are located within the school’s grounds.  The very well-appointed sports centre was built with community support for the school and the whole community. The school’s extensive-sports programmes, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities can avail of this resource. Because of the excellent links that have been developed by the school with the wider- sporting community, direct access has been established from the school’s grounds to the adjoining ‘Smith’s Field’. This facilitates students’ use of the athletic track and additional football pitches. This forging of quality links with the community greatly extends the range of sporting activities available for students. The school buildings and grounds are very well maintained by caretaking and cleaning staff. The school’s administration team interacts daily with staff, students and parents and provides a level of quality assistance. The roles played by all the school’s ancillary staff are valued by the whole-school community. The high level of co-operation displayed by these staff supports the work of the school and guarantees that a pleasant and safe environment is provided for students.

 

Students participate in the Junior Certificate programme in junior cycle. The Established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational programme (LCVP) are available in senior cycle.

 

 

2.                   The quality of school management

 

2.1    Characteristic spirit of the school

 

Mountmellick Community School has a clearly-articulated mission statement that promotes diversity that is disseminated widely among the school’s community. The characteristic spirit of the school is enshrined in the mission statement that is used effectively to guide the operation of the school and is evident also in the interactions that take place between all members of the whole- school community.

 

From the establishment of the school in 1990 the trustees and the board of management have taken full cognisance of the requirement set out in the school’s Deed of Trust to guarantee that a comprehensive education is planned and provided for all students. This aim is incorporated in the school’s mission statement and is underpinned by the school’s motto, Respect is Our Strength. This motto has served as an inspiration for the whole-school community and assisted in the development of the mission statement, the school’s pastoral system and school policies.  The characteristic spirit is also lived out in the school’s full integration with the community of Mountmellick, and in the way that the educational and personal needs of all students are being addressed. The school aims to foster a caring-educational community and empower each individual student through personal achievement to lead effective lives in adolescence and adulthood.  This clear articulation of the school’s aims and vision act as a guide for the work of staff and students, and is included in all documentation provided for staff, parents and students. Parents are invited to participate actively in the life of the school and students have access to a wide range of learning and personal supports. The guiding philosophy of the school is to provide an environment where quality learning can take place and where students are assisted to achieve their personal goals.

 

 

 

 

2.2     School ownership and management

 

Mountmellick Community School operates under the trusteeship of the Presentation Order, the Bishop of Kildare and Laughlin and County Laois Vocational Education Committee. The board of management is properly constituted and is very well informed about its role, functions, responsibilities and statutory obligations. The board’s roles and responsibilities are well understood by members and the school community and are carried out effectively. The board is very active and there is a high level of awareness among members of all relevant education legislation, Department of Education and Science circulars and all necessary regulations regarding the running of the school. The board meets regularly, meetings are well attended and the proceedings are fully minuted and communicated to all members. A number of board members have received training for their roles. From the establishment of the school in 1990, successive boards of management have maintained a close and supportive relationship with school management. This has greatly assisted the establishment phase of Mountmellick Community School. It is highly commendable that the board has dedicated so much time and energy to the identification of priorities for the future development and expansion of the school to meet the needs of the community in Mountmellick. 

 

It is the stated wish of the present board of management that the development plan for the school contained in the Commission on School Accommodation Report for Mountmellick issued in 2004 would be realised before 2010. The board has also assisted in the identification and completion of a list of other immediate areas for school development. This is being used to inform the agenda for planning within the school. The board has set a very high priority on school planning and has actively assisted policy development, approval and review. A report on the operation of the board of management is supplied to the school’s trustees annually. The Presentation Education Office is available to provide advice and support to the school on an on-going basis. This is to be commended.

 

The school has actively encouraged and supported parents to become involved in the parents’ council. All parents are free to join the council and are given every support to play a full role. The parents’ council is affiliated with the Parents’ Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS). To further support the development of the parents’ council, it is recommended that some training for the role be provided when the new council is formed in the autumn of 2007. The parents’ council is highly valued by management and plays a crucial role in supporting students’ learning and in communicating information about the school to the wider community.  Most recently a new prayer room in the school has been beautifully equipped through parents’ fund-raising efforts. The principal liaises with parents about relevant current school issues and new school policies. It is reported that parents hold the school in high regard. Management and staff are particularly praised by parents for the diligence that is shown in addressing individual students’ needs and in providing such a wide range of sports, co-curricular and extra -curricular activities for students.

 

 

2.3   In-school management

 

The principal and the deputy principal form a strong and effective senior-management partnership and provide good leadership for the school. This management team shares a common vision for the school and articulates this vision effectively to staff.  They meet daily to discuss school matters and are very focused on the importance of providing quality management for the school. A high level of co-operative and collaborative interaction is evident in the way that this team functions, liaises with middle-management groups, organises the work of the school and relates to the generality of staff. A strong-middle management structure has been developed to support the senior team and assist with the management of students. The principal and the deputy principal adopt a hands-on involvement in the day-to-day running of the school and are very well acquainted with staff, students and parents. Considerable importance is given to taking an interest in the welfare of individual students and in networking widely with local primary schools, relevant support agencies and the wider community. Management and staff work in a highly collegial way within the school and very effective communication channels for the dissemination of information throughout the school have been developed. Staff is fully aware of the management structures of the school and the schedule of duties that is assigned to all post holders. Annually, an information pack explaining teaching and pastoral roles is provided for each teacher. Staff members are actively encouraged to contribute to the planning and operation of staff meetings where a wide range of issues and topics are dealt with in an efficient manner. Management and staff work in a very collegial way to form a strong corps to meet the academic and other needs of students, and contribute towards the development of the school.

 

Leadership roles are shared by senior management with the assistant principals and with special -duties post holders who fulfil a wide range of duties within the school. An on-going review of posts is taking place to meet changing needs within the school. Detailed descriptors have been provided outlining the tasks that are assigned to each post. Of particular note is the way that each post holder is requested to evaluate his or her role at the end of the academic year and outline any obstacles that may have presented. Post holders are facilitated to meet regularly and all meetings are fully minuted. Eight assistant principal posts and twelve special duties posts are allocated to the school. In addition, a number of other teachers have volunteered to assist these post holders and also fulfil other roles. These contributions are making a very valuable contribution to the life of the school.

 

There is a culture of continuing- professional development (CPD) for teachers and the outcomes are shared with peers. Of particular mention is the way that the school has engaged actively in the Teaching and Learning 21 (TL21) project with the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM). This has encouraged the development of new teaching methodologies and has contributed to a new level of professionalism among staff. Good contact is also being maintained with the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). In addition to the teacher allocations provided by the Department of Education and Science, two retired Presentation Sisters volunteer to fulfil the very important roles of Home School Community co-ordination and resource teaching. These Sisters work in close liaison with senior management, middle-management groups and subject teachers to provide excellent support for students and parents.

 

The admissions policy that has been developed and implemented and clearly defines the school’s catchment area and feeder-primary schools. However, it is recommended that this policy should now be reviewed to address all issues of equity and incorporate more clearly statements about providing care for students that are contained in the school’s mission statement. In addition it should also more accurately reflect the very inclusive practices already operating within the school.

 

An effective pastoral-care structure has been established to include a year head and an assistant year head for each year group. Students’ behaviour and attendance is strictly monitored and the year heads liaise directly with staff and parents. Regular student assemblies are held. Management and staff in the school are working very hard to retain all students to complete the Leaving Certificate and achieve their maximum potential. The code of behaviour has been developed to support the management of students and provide a safe educational environment for all.  This code is widely disseminated, consistently applied and explained to all existing and incoming students. However, it is recommended that this code should now be reviewed to make it fully compatible with the school’s mission statement and all school policies. It is also recommended that a greater emphasis be included on positive behaviours, and that these should be placed before details about school sanctions. A students’ merit system has been introduced to encourage positive behaviour and recognise personal achievements. This is to be highly commended as an excellent example of support for positive behaviour. It is recommended that this practice should be continued and that even more systems to support positive-discipline approaches should be developed with support from staff and the parents and include a wider range of in-school sanctions. The maximising of students’ attendance is being very actively encouraged in the school. A staff member is developing additional strategies to address this issue, especially for those considered most at risk, students in senior cycle. Close contact is also being maintained with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) to support the promotion of school attendance.

 

Frequent communications are sent to parents and parents are kept fully informed about all school developments through the school’s newsletter. A number of information events are arranged for parents when students are making transitions, and they are welcomed to the school at all times to discuss their children’s progress. However, as the diversity of parents is increasing in Mountmellick, it is suggested that all available modes of communication as well as written ones should be adopted to facilitate those who may have problems with literacy or with the English language. When drafting letters to parents, it is suggested that any possible ambiguities should be avoided, and arrangements supporting students’ enrolment or re-enrolment should continue to take into account all particular-family circumstances. It should be clearly stated to parents that the annual contribution sought by the school to support the provision of extra facilities for students is a voluntary donation. To advance the range of communications that already available, it is also recommended that the school’s website should be further developed to disseminate information.

 

There is good evidence of effective student-management systems in the school and a wide range of educational and other supports are provided. An effective school-prefect system has been established to provide leadership and peer support for students. A valuable network to provide support for students in junior cycle has been developed by prefects. Training for the prefect’s role has been accessed externally by the school. Meitheal fulfils a buddy role for first-year students to help them to settle in well to the school. Games, sports and other activities are also arranged by prefects to help integrate junior-cycle students, and those experiencing any personal difficulties receive friendship and peer support. Management and staff in the school have also supported the development of a very vibrant students’ council which has been democratically elected and represents all year groups. This council has already identified areas they would like to explore to improve education and supports for their peers and the school environment. Working closely with the school’s prefects, activities such as the Green School project are being developed. The need to launch a healthy eating campaign throughout the school has also been chosen by the students’ council as a focus for development in the new academic year.

 

The school is fully integrated within the wider community and has established good links with all local organisations, educational institutions and relevant support agencies. A particularly strong feature of the school is the willingness displayed by management and staff to engage in on-going self-review and self-evaluation. This has supported the updating and review of policies and procedures and facilitated debate about new ways of delivering educational and personal support to students. This high level of engagement with the review process is to be commended.

 

 

 

2.4   Management of resources

 

The school is fully compliant with all Department of Education requirements regarding the appropriate deployment of staff and the use of available resources. Staff members work effectively to support the delivery of education and make a very valuable contribution to the school by volunteering for extra duties and providing extra tuition for students. There is a very strong sense of collegiality among staff and a real focus is maintained on serving the needs of students. Staff resources within Mountmellick Community School are well managed. Good care is taken to acknowledge the contributions made by new teachers and they are supported to integrate within the school community. The staff-information pack provides new teachers with a good understanding of how the school operates. Established teachers provide valuable peer support to newcomer teachers in all subject departments. The board and senior management actively encourage engagement in continual-professional development (CPD) and support staff to avail of all opportunities to progress their own professional skills. This indicates clearly the school’s commitment to equip teachers with the necessary skills. This supportive climate that promotes the development of professionalism among teachers is to be highly commended.

 

The school campus covers a large area and contains buildings dating back to the foundation of the convent secondary school and a longer historical past. Since the amalgamation of the two schools in 1990, a lot of time and effort have gone into maintaining and refurbishing the existing-school buildings and keeping them in good repair. It has also been necessary to change the functions of some rooms as new subjects have been introduced and subjects have made increasing demands for space. The new Technology Four (T4) subjects for senior cycle are being introduced in the school. The need for additional space for subjects such as computer-assisted design (CAD) is being identified. Some years ago the school had a new entrance installed and some extra classrooms were created within the school. In the last year new windows have been installed and other remedial work has been carried out to greatly improve conditions for staff and students. However, the school is now enrolling and maintaining to the Leaving Certificate a much higher number of students than previously, and this is increasing pressure on available space and resources. Due to enrolment patterns in the local feeder-primary schools, the number enrolling in the community school are projected to increase over the next few years. The school community is very committed to providing improved facilities for students. The need for a proper canteen for students, more small rooms for resource teaching and special-educational needs and more access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT), are some of the areas that have been identified as requiring development. Therefore, the roll out of the development plan for the school issued in 2004 and already alluded to in 2:1 is eagerly awaited by the board of management and the whole-school community.

 

There is a good range of well-equipped classrooms and specialist rooms in the school. Strenuous efforts are being made to provide the most up-to-date technology for students and to introduce new-learning opportunities. Specialist rooms are well equipped and have been up-dated as resources have become available. The school is very proud of its ability to promote a wide range of subjects and to provide good facilities for all subject areas. A study hall is provided for after school study and this room is also available during the school day for student assemblies, resource teaching and for students’ lunch time. There is at present no dedicated canteen area for students, although lunch-room space is being provided as many students travel some distance to school. The need for a canteen is identified as a high priority for the whole-school community.

 

The other main challenge now facing the school is how to provide a new area dedicated specifically to special educational needs. This area of learning is very professionally organised and students identified as requiring extra support receive structured and well planned interventions in a room allocated for this purpose. However, the dividing of students into individual or small groups is placing increased pressure on the space currently available in the school. It is recommended that the specialist suite of facilities for special educational needs should be further developed within the main-school building, and should not be transferred to a separate part of the school campus.

 

Access to broadband to support ICT usage is being provided in the main-school building, and it is planned to extend cover to all parts of the school in the coming year. There is a well-equipped computer room and many teachers have computers for use in classrooms. Data projectors are also available to staff. However, with the roll out of broadband it will be necessary for the board and for management to plan for the extension of ICT in all areas of the school.

 

The school has a library which is a valuable resource for teachers and students. However, it requires some modernisation and needs additional books and more access to ICT and the world wide web. The parents’ council has recently helped the school to install a splendid prayer room. Over the years parents have fund-raised tirelessly to assist the school to provide for students’ needs. A suggested new focus for this group could be the redevelopment of the school library. A further contribution of time and effort would actively support students’ learning and provide an improved environment for all students to read, research and study. Direct access to the library for individual students is currently limited to lunch times and to periods after school a few times a week. It is strongly recommended that the issue of access to the library should be urgently addressed with support from the board, staff and the students’ council. Development of the library should become an immediate priority for the school.

 

The school’s health and safety policy was reviewed during the inspection visit. The policy is in accordance with requirements. It does not however contain a map of the school buildings. It is  recommended also that areas in the school yard where the classes line up for fire drills should be clearly marked, and that all walkways and escape routes within practical rooms should be kept clear of obstructions at all time. 

 

Guidance and counselling is provided for students. A whole-school guidance plan is being developed and this draft plan will shortly be presented to staff, parents and students for consideration. The school has a full chaplaincy service that provides a range of personal and spiritual supports for students. Home-school community liaison co-ordination and extra-resource teaching are both provided by retired Presentation Sisters. This continued on-going involvement by the Presentation Order and the Presentation Education Office in the life of the school which is providing extra valuable resources is to be highly commended.

 

 

 

3         Quality of school planning

 

Since the establishment of the school in 1990, policy development has been the main focus of school planning for the board and management. The present board of management has efficiently assisted the school to engage actively in planning and has facilitated the development of a very wide range of policies. This high level of engagement with planning has firmly directed the development of the school since its establishment. It has also facilitated senior management and staff to establish very viable operating practices to assist with the management of students and the promotion of good teaching and learning.  Many of the school policies are now being reviewed and up-dated. The board is fully compliant with all legislation and has been very active in instigating and supporting the development and review of school policies. Staff and parents have been consulted and have contributed to policy development. Recently the students’ council was consulted during the review of policies that pertain directly to the management of students.

 

The school is firmly established, is vibrant and is well organised. Planning for the next developmental phase of the school is now under consideration. This post-establishment phase should include the development of a comprehensive whole school plan to act as a blue print for all future planning. The development of the school plan should be the main focus for the new board of management to be established in the autumn of 2007. The plan should incorporate the policies and practices already developed and include the priority areas already identified by the existing board to meet future development needs. In particular, the plan should set out a clear vision for school, outline short and long term goals for the school community and identify ways that the school could meet the increasing challenges of providing a progressive education in the twenty first century. Appropriate time frames should be established for on-going review of the school plan.

 

Post-holders in the school operate very effectively and promote policy development and review of such policies. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management is now considering how to adopted and implement the policies to meet the needs of the school. The principal has been appointed as the designated liaison person in line with the requirements of Departmental guidelines.

 

Senior management has assisted the development of policies with support from a wide- range of staff. The school has appointed a co-ordinator for school planning and a formal planning group to promote planning and identify areas for development has been established. It is recommended that this group should ideally consist of members from as many diverse areas of specialty as possible to fully inform school planning. Contact has been established with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and a number of in-serve days for staff have been devoted to school planning over the last two years. Subject planning is taking place with support from management. All staff meetings include an item on the agendas dealing with school planning, and time is allocated to discuss planning issues. Management facilitates formal- planning meetings and other meetings take place informally due to staff giving up their own time at lunchtimes. This whole-staff approach to planning is to be highly commended.  It is reported that the new emphasis on subject planning has served to energise staff to work even more co-operatively together, to share resources and identify areas to be developed. Co-ordinators for each subject area have been identified and they have taken on the role of supporting subject planning. These roles are being rotated regularly in subject areas to share expertise and the burden of co-ordination.

 

 

 

4         Quality of curriculum provision

 

4.1   Curriculum planning and organisation

 

At junior cycle all students follow the Junior Certificate programme; at senior cycle the Established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational programmes are provided. The Transition Year (TY) programme is not currently offered, although it was available in the past. It is evident from the contributions made by parents, the board of management and from discussions held during the evaluation in the school that the possibility of re-introducing this programme should be considered. This programme provides students with opportunities to grow in awareness, develop a wide range of new interests, experience new environments and explore the world-of- work. As an increasing number of students are now transferring to senior cycle and are seeking to access third-level education, the provision of TY would provide an alternative to progressing straight to the Leaving Certificate.

 

The school’s timetable is fully complaint with the Time in School Circular Letter M29/95. At junior-cycle students have access to a broad curriculum. Students entering the school are banded based on assessments completed and on information gathered from the primary schools and supplied by parents. As the present year groups are organised into four classes, banding is not really a viable option for the allocation of students to class groups.  The school has already put in place very effective ways to identify students who have special education needs and address their needs. It is recommended therefore, that it would be preferable to organise students into mixed- ability classes for junior-cycle, and allow any rearrangement of students to take place only when they have been fully reassessed and are well-established in the school. It is also suggested that due to increasing enrolment in first year for the next academic year that the grouping of students into five classes rather than four would be preferable to reduce class size.

 

When reviewing the school’s timetable it was noted that only four class periods are allocated in first year for the core subjects of Irish and English, and that some of these periods are timetabled twice on the same day. It is recommended that core subjects such as Irish and English should have five periods in first year to allow students to become fully competent in literacy.   Periods of instruction should be ideally spread over the week to give maximum exposure to the subjects. It is recommended that year heads should adopt a role in considering the balance of the timetable for each class in their year group and advise those responsible for timetable in the school accordingly. In senior-cycle, students also require good access to core subjects and this must be balanced against other subject demands and the allocation of study time during the school day. In addition, it is noted that a large number of students has official exemptions from the studying of Irish. This creates problems for the school about how to provide alternative provision for these students. It is recommended that this issue should be discussed urgently with the feeder primary schools and with parents. Plans should also be made to accommodate any students who could take up the learning Irish in second level, and inputs on Irish culture should be provided for those who have special-educational needs or experience other obstacles to learning second or third languages.

 

As a rule, teachers are assigned to subjects based on their qualifications and level of experience. In most subject departments teachers are rotated to teach the full range of abilities. The school is committed to the promotion of studying subjects to higher level at both junior and senior cycles.  ICT is being promoted. However, the use of ICT throughout all subject areas must be further promoted.

 

 

4.2    Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The school offers a good range of subjects for the junior cycle that include the core subjects of English, Irish and Maths, technology subjects, languages, Art, Religious Education, Home Economics, History, Geography and Science. An increasing number of students are now studying a second European language, and this to be commended. Music is a welcome addition to the curriculum at junior and senior cycles, Religion has been introduced as a subject for junior-cycle and ICT classes are being provided.  However, Physical Education (PE) is an important element of the curriculum and encourages the development of a healthy lifestyle. It is recommended that a double period should always be allocated for PE to facilitate its full implementation. PE should not be shared on the timetable with another subject as this serves to diminish its importance for some students.

At senior cycle, students can choose from a wide range of subjects and are encouraged to consider taking up new subjects and the Leaving Certificate Vocational programme (LCVP). The uptake of LCVP has risen sharply (500%) in the last few years and students are availing fully of the opportunities provided by this programme. The students and staff praise elements of the programme such as, the work experience and career-exploration modules as being particularly beneficial to the development of students’ awareness of the adult world of work.  Students are afforded every opportunity to achieve, to set individual goals and are assisted to seek advancement through further or higher education or training opportunities.

 

Students are assisted to make suitable-subject choices and parents also receive good information and advice to assist their children in this process.  School literature includes a booklet for parents to explain the subjects’ contents and some of the implications of choosing certain-subject combinations. Events for parents are arranged which are attended by staff who provide information and advice on subject options. Students are facilitated to change from their optional subjects with support from management and subject teachers. However, in discussion with parents during the whole school evaluation a view was expressed that the selection of optional subjects for first year should not be made until after the information evening for parents has taken place, and the options available have been fully explained. Parents who are still uncertain about choosing subject options or who need more assistance are facilitated to meet with the principal or the guidance counsellor to receive individual assistance.

 

Every attempt is being made to encourage students to choose subjects that traditionally might not have been more associated with one particular gender. It is reported that girls are now more interesting in choosing the new technology subjects and that more boys are now taking Home Economics and languages. Students with special educational needs are encouraged to take a full range of subjects to meet their needs in line with their abilities. These choices are then fully discussed with parents.

 

 

4.3   Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

A very comprehensive range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are arranged for students during school time, the lunch hour and after school. Physical Education department staff are the main organisers of sporting activities. They are assisted by a large number of other staff who give selflessly of their time to provide support for these activities. They offer training for students, accompany teams to outside events and provide extra coaching. New teachers who have joined the staff in the last number of years are now effectively assisting teachers who have fulfilled the roles of coaches for many years, and are facilitating the introduction of new activities and sports. Sporting activities are advanced to a very high level of individual and group excellence and awards are made to reward participation and achievement. Sporting facilities are excellent. There is a well-equipped sports hall that is shared with the community in Mountmellick, and every effort is being made to provide as rich an experience as possible for students. Excellent links with local sporting organisation are also well established. A full list of available activities is contained in the students’ diary and parents are kept fully informed about all activities that involve students’ participation in representing the school.

 

The school prides itself on the way that it promotes participation and the involvement of students in all co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. However, lunch time in the school is presently restricted to just forty minutes. The length of this lunch break may need to be re-examined by management, staff and students in the future. Forty minutes does not really provide an adequate break for students after a long morning at lessons. It also precludes worthwhile participation by students in sports, the promotion of healthy eating and the full engagement in physical or other activities by the school’s population. At this stage in the school’s development it is time to also take a fresh look at the range of non-sporting activities provided by the school. The provision of some new interests would cater for those seeking alternatives to sports and more individually- focused co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Some new possible ventures and interests have been suggested by the students’ council, which could be asked take a lead in the promotion of new activities among their peers. The addition of more cultural events to the school calendar should also be considered, such a literary or an arts week. It could include writing competitions, art and music events and inputs from outside speakers. These activities would encourage even more co-curricular co-operation, provide students with the opportunities to display completed work, and allow newcomer students to integrate even more quickly into the life of the school.

 

 

 

5         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

5.1   Planning and preparation

 

There is a well-established culture of subject-department planning in Mountmellick Community School. Each subject department has a co-ordinator, a role which is rotated among the subject- team members. This is good practice which affords all members an opportunity to lead the work in their subject area and further develop their skills.

 

All subject departments are afforded formal-planning time. Agendas are agreed with management and records of meetings are maintained and were presented in the subject plans. Records of the meetings, with details about the decisions and actions decided are forwarded to management. This practice is commended as it promotes clear communication between subject departments and management. It is also noteworthy that subject-department teams also meet regularly on an informal basis. 

 

Subject plans were made available for all the subject areas evaluated. These were, generally, of good quality. There was evidence in most instances of reflective practice in the monitoring and review of plans. This is highly commended, as is the high level of collaboration evident among teachers in some subject departments. This was evidenced in the level of agreed plans of work and common assessments set for students in particular year groups or classes within year groups as appropriate. In some instances, there was evidence that teachers exchange their experience in the areas of methodologies and strategies. The inclusion of such items on the agenda is highly commended and it is recommended that this practice be continued and adopted in other subject areas.

 

In order to further develop planning for the teaching and learning of individual subjects to different year groups and class groups, it is recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on the desired learning outcomes and the integration of the skills to be developed with the subject content.  It is also recommended that the good practice of differentiation which was evident in the classrooms in most subject areas is included more formally in subject planning in order to further develop and extend its use. 

 

Preparation for individual lessons observed was good, and in some instances excellent. This was evidenced by the use of audio-visual resources, ICT and the preparation of worksheets and other support materials.

 

5.2   Teaching and learning

 

The good classroom management observed during the course of the inspections created a supportive learning environment for students.  Seating plans were generally in place and the rooms themselves and the interactions taking place within them were well ordered and pleasant.  Communication between teachers and students was open and positive, and students benefited from good feedback and regular affirmation of their work.

 

Teaching and learning resources were generally used well.  These included the classroom itself, the board and audio visual equipment.  Resource materials that had been prepared for specific- learning activities were well planned and prepared, and in a number of instances were notably imaginative and stimulating.  The good practice observed in this area is warmly commended and sharing and extending the use of such materials should be seen as an important aim of collaborative subject planning.

 

Lessons were well structured and the lesson objectives were stated clearly at the outset in most cases.  In some instances, the lesson objectives were expressed as learning outcomes so that students knew what they were expected to be able to do by the end of the lesson.  This is a very helpful practice as it gives an immediate sense of structure to the lesson and encourages students to work purposefully towards a goal, and it should be universally followed.  Pacing was good and ensured that a considerable amount of material was covered in each lesson.

 

A range of teaching and learning methods was observed during the course of the inspections.  Effective methods to promote active learning were observed in a number of instances, including very well-organised group work, problem-solving and prediction exercises.  These methods are of particular benefit to students, in that they not only engage students with the specific topics being covered but also make them more conscious of how they learn.  In the lessons observed, a good level of class discussion took place, with an appropriate balance between teacher and student talk.  Questioning of students was generally effective in checking understanding and recall and, in the area of higher-order questioning, leading students towards more complex perceptions and a clearer expression of their ideas.  Teachers should guard against an over use of global questions, that is, those addressed to the whole class, as these may lead to chorus answering or else responses from a small number of more vocal students.

 

Differentiation strategies were observed in some lessons to accommodate the different paces at which students learned and the different styles of learning.  This is excellent practice and could profitably be the focus of subject-department planning in the future.  The need to challenge able students by giving them greater responsibility for their own learning and opportunities for more self-directed learning should be very much borne in mind in developing differentiated teaching and learning practices.  The fact that a number of teachers felt that some able students in the school were under-achieving gives a particular weight to this recommendation.

 

It was felt that there was an over-reliance on prepared notes to be transcribed in some cases.  While notes may provide a useful support for students, dictation and transcription do not suit many types of learner, and the active learning referred to already will assist students to be more analytical and critical.  Notes are often used in the context of exam preparation but too early and too narrow a focus on state examinations should be avoided in all subject areas.  The creative and critically stimulating approaches observed are highly suited to fulfilling the aims of the various syllabuses, and both teachers and students should have confidence that these will produce a high level of attainment.

5.3   Assessment

 

Good assessment practices are widespread across the four subjects inspected as part of the whole- school evaluation. The homework policy is consistently applied and homework assignments are set and monitored regularly. Helpful feedback, both written and oral is supplied to students.  During classes, questioning was used to good effect to establish the current state of students’ knowledge and their understanding of course materials. In these instances, feedback was also provided for individuals and class groups.  The use of these approaches to provide assessment for learning is in line with best practice.

 

Formal examinations are a feature of the assessment policy for the school. All students sit examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays. Junior and Leaving Certificate students take mock examinations during the spring term and these are outsourced and marked externally. Good records are kept of all tests and examinations, and the results of these are communicated to parents and guardians on a regular basis.  Student attainment rates in the State Examinations are reviewed and compared with the national norms. 

 

Common tests were in use, notably in Business and in some instances in Irish and for first year Art. This type of best practice is highly commended. In Irish, good work is taking place around the assessment of the oral competence of sixth-year students and it is recommended that this practice should be extended.

 

One of the principles underlying the use of assessment for learning is that students should understand the basis on which their work will be judged; the criteria for assessment.  In this way, they can review their own work and check if they have done all that was required.  The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website has a section on assessment for learning www.ncca.ie and a short and helpful document, Assessment advice for students, can be found on the English section of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website www.slss.ie. Information about Junior and Leaving Certificate marking schemes is available on the State Examination Commission’s (SEC) website www.examination.ie. It is recommended that teachers should make students fully aware of the assessment criteria that are being applied to their work in this context.

 

Care should be taken to ensure that the mock examinations are used effectively to motivate students rather than discourage them.  In particular, able students who may not have applied themselves fully to study for the mock examination should be assisted to view a poor result in these tests as a learning experience, and not a reason to opt for a lower level than is appropriate in their case.  In-house tests and examinations should be used to inform and assist students’ work and progress and not only as summative assessments.  

 

As a general principle, criteria for assessment and suitable marking schemes should be discussed and agreed and should be shared with the students so as to assist their preparation and improve their skills to answer questions.

 

 

6         Quality of support for students

 

6.1   Students with special educational needs

 

Mountmellick Community School has a very open and inclusive enrolment policy and welcomes all students from its catchment area regardless of their particular educational needs. A flexible and informed approach is being adopted by management to meet challenging educational demands and special education needs. Over the years the school has attempted to equip staff with the competences necessary to meet students’ specific learning needs. A number of staff now provides learning support. In line with national trends a small but increasing number of students with special educational needs are enrolling in the school. Many of these had their special educational or other needs assessed while they were still in primary school. However a number of students who enrol  each year still require initial or additional educational or other assessments to be completed so that the school can plan their learning.  The school reports that the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) can facilitate the completion of about five individual educational or psychological individual assessments each year. As this provision is not meeting the needs of all students coming into first year a genuine problem is arising for the school. Completed educational and psychological-assessment reports must be accessed by management before seeking extra resources from the Department of Education and Science, and  plan appropriate learning and other responses for these students. The parents’ council has generously fundraised over the past few years to address this shortfall in resources, and a number of individual students have been assessed privately using these funds.

 

Every attempt is being made to meet the challenges presented by the minority of students with special educational needs.  All available resources are being sought from the Department of Education and Science to meet individual students’ needs and good planning and delivery of a range of well- managed responses is evident. The school has two special-needs assistants funded through the DES. In addition the school also funds another special-needs assistant position from within its own resources. It is reported that the special-needs assistant team provide very valuable support for special educational needs students. Very good networking with local primary schools and with parents is assisting with the gathering of information about students’ needs before they enter the school.

 

Parents are encouraged to become fully involved in planning the responses to individuals’ particular educational needs. They co-operate fully in the provision of necessary information so that appropriate education plans can be devised and implemented. A very professional approach is being adopted in the creation of individual education plans where required, and staff specially trained in the area of special educational needs are managing this process very efficiently. A whole-school approach to support the provision of special educational needs is being adopted.  Subject teachers who teach students with special educational needs or who supply resource- teaching support receive advice and encouragement from the special-education team. A range of new and innovative approaches to meet specific learning and behavioural needs is also being promoted widely in the school. These approaches include team teaching, the withdrawal of students alone and in small groups from classes and the full utilisation of the special- needs assistant supports that are available. A small number of students with particular special educational needs are also being provided with individual coaching by the physical education department to improve their co-ordination and movement. This attention to meeting individuals’ specific needs is to be highly commended. To further improve the excellent work being achieved in special- needs education, it is recommended that more use of ICT and available software with these students should be explored. It is also recommended that the special-education area should not be re-located out of the main-school building, as it is very important that these students should be accommodated in a way that aids their full integrated within the general life of the school.

 

 

 

 

 

6.2   Other supports for students: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

 

Support strategies to aid the full inclusion of the diversity of students are well developed. Newcomer students, those with special educational or other needs are fully accommodated. Those belonging to minority groups such as Travellers are fully resourced and well integrated in the life of the school. The parents of these students receive assistance to understand how the school operates and how supports for their children can be arranged to maximise their full participation. Parents of all students are always welcomed to visit the school to meet with management or teachers to discuss students’ progress or family issues. The HSCL co-ordinator visits homes and liaises directly with parents. Contacts with a wide range of local agencies that provide support for families are maintained.  A small number of newcomer students in the school who require assistance with English are provided with structured-language classes to develop competence in the language. They are fully integrated in class groups and receive a lot of assistance from management, year heads and subject teachers to participate fully in learning. The school liaises effectively with all local and national support agencies and with the local visiting teacher for Travellers service (VTT).

 

 

6.3   Guidance

 

Guidance has been provided for students in Mountmellick Community School for a long number of years. In the past, resources available for Guidance meant that the main focus for this support concentrated on meeting the needs of students in third year and in senior cycle. Due to the improvements in ex-quota allocations and increased enrolment figures, the school now has over seventeen hours for Guidance. This figure will soon rise to twenty four hours due to the school’s present enrolment of 515 students. The whole-school guidance plan is being drafted and will soon be presented to staff, parents and students for consultation and then to the board of management. It is recommended that this be completed to inform the development of Guidance throughout the school. Advice on how to complete drafting of the guidance plan is contained in, Planning a School Guidance Plan (NCGE 2004) and can be downloaded from www.ncge.ie . Additional information about Guidance can be obtained in, Guidelines for Second Level Schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act 1998, relation to students’ access to appropriate guidance ( DES 2005).

 

The draft-guidance plan outlines how individual and group guidance and counselling support should be provided. However, the school is now entering a new phase of expansion and more students are completing senior cycle and seeking entry to further and higher education. It is therefore recommended that the school guidance plan and guidance programmes for both junior an senior cycle should reflect this changing educational environment and integrate Guidance with all subject areas, Social Health and Personal Education (SPHE) and LCVP programmes.

 

Guidance and personal counselling is available to all students upon request and is a good example of the high level of personal support available for individuals. However, in order to establish a fuller awareness of Guidance among the whole school population, it is recommended that some group-guidance sessions be arranged for all year groups including those in junior cycle to augment the Guidance already being provided. Links with the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme in junior cycle could facilitate the delivery of these guidance inputs.

 

More and more students are now completing the Leaving Certificate and accessing higher and further education and training. It is therefore recommended that, links with all local and national higher and further education colleges and available higher education access programmes should be strengthened. Informal tracking of students leaving the school is currently taking place. However, it is very important that the school should begin to formally record the initial destinations of all students leaving the school annually to inform school planning, subject selection and to provide good examples of role models for students.  It is also suggested that links with NEPS, the HSE, the local guidance-counsellors’ network, and local Youth services in the community be further strengthened and details of all these links should be contained in the whole- school guidance plan.

 

 

6.4   Pastoral care

 

Mountmellick is a well ordered and well managed school where students receive a high level of personal care and support to learn effectively. There is a well-developed pastoral care system operating in the school that includes a year head and an assistant year head for each year group. All staff members contribute greatly to the delivery of pastoral care for students. There is a strong duty of care displayed throughout the school towards students. Interactions that take place between staff and students are courteous and respectful. Year heads and assistant year heads are well acquainted with students and their parents and work very hard to maximise attendance and participation in school. Good contact is maintained with homes through the students’ journals which must be signed regularly by parents, and through biannual reports on students’ progress which are sent to homes.

 

The HSCL co-ordinator works directly with parents to assist them in any way possible to support their children’s learning. The school’s pastoral system operates effectively to identify students at risk of dropping out of school and provides a range of personal and educational supports for them. In order to formalise the responses to meet students’ individual needs and support the existing pastoral-care structure it is recommended that the school should create a formal care team to plan and manage supports for targeted students. This group should include the guidance counsellor, the chaplain, the HSCL co-ordinator, the deputy principal and a year head. Other members of staff could attend when required.

 

The school has put in place a wide-range of policies to support pastoral care delivery. An anti-bullying and a homework policy have been developed by the whole-school community. The code of behaviour for students is well developed and covers all aspects of school activities. It is recommended however, that this should now be reviewed to stress the importance of positive- discipline approaches and bring it more in tune with the school’s mission statement. In order to engage the full school community the students’ council and the parents’ association should be invited to have a role in supporting this review

 

 

 

7         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Mountmellick Community School is a well managed and inclusive institution that provides a quality education for students.

·         The board of management has actively supported the school’s development and has facilitated the creation of an effective management structure.

·         The whole school community is focused on promoting excellence, is engaged in planning and promotes the provision of a wide range of educational and personal supports for students.

·         The school is very well integrated with the local community of Mountmellick.

 

 

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

 

·         The school has engaged actively in planning and a large number of school policies have been completed. It is therefore recommended that the whole-school plan should now be drafted to include these policies and set out priorities for the future development of the school.

·         As the school is very inclusive and responds well to meeting students’ needs, it is recommended that the school’s admission policy should be reviewed to reflect the mission statement more truly.

·         It is recommended that the timetable for each class group should be well balanced and include a good spread of subjects throughout the week.

·         As the school makes good provision for students requiring learning support, it is recommended that mixed-ability should replace banding when forming class groups.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

8         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of Art              - 27 April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Business                - 27 April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of English                  - 25 April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Gaeilge                  - 26 April 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report  

 

 

The Board would like to formally acknowledge the WSE Report and to take this opportunity to thank the inspectors involved for their insight, support and professionalism.

 

The Board is very encouraged by the quality of the report and congratulates warmly the Principal, Deputy Principal, teaching staff, non-teaching staff, parents/guardians for their consistently excellent work together for the benefit of our students.  The Board would like to congratulate the students for their work for themselves and for the school and for their willingness to learn and grow together. 

 

 

 

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 will systematically and regularly review the report and the work of the school and provide the necessary resources for the school’s ongoing future development.