An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Saint Brendan’s Community School
Birr, County Offaly
Roll number: 91491L
Date of inspection: 27 October 2007
A whole-school evaluation of Saint Brendan’s Community School was undertaken in October 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects and in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects and the programme. (See section 7 for details). 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.
Saint Brendan’s Community School, Birr, was established in 1979 following the amalgamation of the three existing post-primary schools in the town; Mercy Convent, Presentation College and the Vocational School. The school was built on a greenfield site comprising thirteen acres which was purchased by the Department of Education and Science from the Urban Council. The first board of management purchased further lands thus extending the site. In 1990, Bord na Móna donated seventy four acres of its property to the school and these lands now form the school’s Educational Bogland Reserve.
The school serves the town of Birr and a largely rural hinterland in south Co. Offaly and Co. Tipperary north. The school has thirteen feeder primary schools, three of which are located in the town. Two of these schools receive support through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme.
Saint Brendan’s is an inclusive school and is considered a microcosm of the community in which it is located. The school endeavours to address the educational, personal and spiritual needs of students from a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.
The school’s mission statement clearly indicates the value of the individual student and the extent to which the student is at the core of all aspects of school life. As evidenced in the meeting held with the board of management (the board), while the trustees consider their role in ensuring that the school’s mission statement is reflected in all of the school’s activities as very important, its expression in the day-to-day school activities is regarded as a matter of responsibility for all members of the school community.
It was clear in discussions with the stakeholders throughout the course of the evaluation that they share a common vision for the school. The board and staff consider the care of the individual student as the guiding principle for all their work and it is reflected in the provision made for students with a diverse range of learning needs. The board and the staff regard the school’s position as the focal point for education in the community as vital in its effective functioning as a community school now and into the future. The expression “we are looking out and they are looking in” which was often iterated during the course of the evaluation, reflects the school’s openness to its community. This is further evidence of the stakeholder’s shared vision for the school and the sense of community in the school.
The school’s mission statement is realised through the school’s policies and is clearly stated in the case of some school policies, for instance, the school attendance, admissions, homework and special educational needs policies.
The board, which is correctly constituted, is committed to providing a holistic education in an atmosphere of care for each student and also to caring for all members of the school staff. The clear commitment of its members to their role and the fact that they have accessed relevant training is commended. The very good level of collaboration in evidence between the board and the senior management team is also commended.
Board members have an active interest in the day-to-day operation of the school and are involved for instance in awards ceremonies, assisting with the organisation of the school show and addressing issues concerning accommodation when the need arose in recent years while various building projects were in progress. The trustees, the religious trustees in particular, have contributed considerably, both financially and in expertise to the development of the school. Their presence in the school is valued by staff and students and is indicative of their continued commitment to the students, staff and parents.
Matters presented to the board for consideration are discussed, at length if necessary, and decisions are reached by consensus. This commendable practice reinforces the stakeholders’ cohesive approach to the management of the school and supports the development and maintenance of their shared vision for the school. The board consults regularly with the staff and the parent body. Notices and agreed reports of board meetings are placed on staff room notice boards. The board communicates with the parents’ council by way of an agreed report which is presented at their regular meetings and, with the wider parent body through school newsletters. It is recommended that the format of the newsletter currently issued be reviewed and that the school’s website be further developed and updated regularly.
The parents’ council is affiliated to the Parents’ Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS) and is very active in supporting the school. Representatives met during the course of the evaluation acknowledged the board’s and the staff’s commitment to care for the individual student. In constituting the council they endeavour to include representation from each of the geographical regions in the catchment area. It was reported that efforts had been made to encourage the membership of parents from minority communities and it is recommended that these efforts be renewed in accordance with the school’s commitment to inclusion. The council has engaged in significant fundraising for a variety of structural developments in the school. These include a multimedia room, sportsplex, an all weather pitch and their current project concerns the purchase of a new stage for the school show. The parents’ council also operates the school’s second-hand book scheme, coordinates student insurance policy and is heavily involved in organising the graduation function for sixth year students. The work of the parents’ council clearly reflects the sentiments of the school’s mission statement and members are highly commended for the high level of support afforded the school and for their commitment to ensuring that the students receive their education in a caring community.
The council has been involved in the development of a number of policies in areas such as admissions, special educational needs, school tours and the school uniform, and was instrumental in instigating the development of the school’s graduation policy. This good practice is commended. It is recommended that members of the board take opportunities to meet with the parents’ council to discuss issues concerning school planning.
As evidenced in minutes of board meetings, and at meetings with the board, senior management, staff and students, the continuing issues concerning the school building have impacted on the board’s time and on the day-to-day running of the school. It is acknowledged that the school principal has had a major role in liaising with the building contractors, with the Office of Public Works and with relevant sections within the Department of Education and Science and in ensuring that health and safety standards have been adhered to at all times. The board is aware of the need now to redirect much of its focus to other areas and the developmental priorities identified are well balanced: the completion of current building projects, curriculum planning and whole-school policies.
While the board has been proactive in the development, review and ratification of policies as evidenced by the policy documents provided for inspection, it is recommended that the board now makes the necessary arrangements for the development of an overarching school plan. The school plan should clearly state the educational philosophy, aims and priorities for the school, set out action plans and realistic timeframes for areas prioritised for development, identify a cycle for policy evaluation and review, detail the contribution of school planning to improved learning outcomes for the students and explicitly state the period for which it is adopted.
The principal and the deputy principal work effectively as a senior management team. While each has a clearly defined role, it was evident that they work collaboratively. While no particular time has been set aside for them to meet during the school day, they regularly contact and consult each other on matters throughout the day. Given the size of the school, administrative demands and the many other meetings that are necessary, it is recommended that the senior management team considers setting aside a dedicated time to meet on a daily basis.
The senior management is supported in the in-school daily management by assistant principals and special duties post-holders. There is a high level of delegation, fostering leadership skills among post-holders and other members of staff. Staff, including new members of staff, commented positively on the high level of delegation and senior management’s openness and support for innovation. It was evident that staff considers the duties and responsibilities assigned to them important in their inclusion in the management of the school and students together with the development of their leadership skills. Post-holders currently report to senior management on their duties on a needs basis. It is recommended that senior management afford post-holders an opportunity to meet with them formally at regular intervals throughout the school year, as appropriate, and at the end of each school year to discuss and review their posts and duties and plan for the next year.
There is a year head and class tutor structure which supports senior management in the management of students. While the year heads are post-holders the role of class tutor is voluntary. It was reported that formal meetings take place between year heads and class tutors for all year groups at the beginning of the school year and that further meetings throughout the year are determined by the needs of a particular year group. It is recommended that management continues to facilitate formal meetings between year heads and class tutors in the case of all year groups at regular intervals throughout the school year and that a system be established for them to communicate with the recommended pastoral care team (section 5.2) and the already established guidance team.
The current post structure is under review and it is recommended that this be addressed as a matter of priority. Duties assigned to post-holders are communicated orally and consequently posts have evolved over time. The senior management team is highly commended for taking the initiative to review the posts and for including all staff in the identification of the school’s future needs in this area. It is recommended that the revised structures take due account of the changing needs and it is also an opportune time to review the duties assigned to the senior management team and to consider the benefits that both senior management and middle management could gain from engagement with Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in progressing this work.
It is highly commendable that the board recognises and is very much aware of the value of continuous professional development (CPD) to its staff and students, and to the continued development of the school. In reviewing the qualifications of staff it was evident that members of staff are highly qualified and that the board and senior management team encourage and support members of staff in participating in continuous professional development. These include post-graduate degrees and diplomas in the areas of management and curriculum including special educational needs and school planning. While the school has made provision to support newcomer students in acquiring English over a number of years, it was noted that none of the staff had, for example a TEFL qualification and that the main teacher responsible for delivering an English programme to these students does not hold a recognised teaching qualification. It is recommended that this area be considered a priority for future professional development and that formal links be established with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) in this regard. Furthermore, given the difficulties experienced by the school in recruiting a suitably qualified substitute guidance counsellor at the time of this evaluation, it is recommended that staff be encouraged to consider professional development in this area, particularly given that there are now a number of recognised part-time guidance and counselling courses available.
While it was clear in the various discussions held during the course of the evaluation that the school is an inclusive school and that it strives to address the educational needs of all students, its admissions policy does not reflect this practice. It is therefore recommended that the school’s admissions policy be reviewed to reflect the practice of inclusion in the school and in order that the policy is in accordance with the Education Act 1998 and the Education Welfare Act 2000.
The school’s code of behaviour is reviewed every two years and is included in the school journal. The promotion of self-respect and respect for others, including property, is the core value promoted in the code and is in keeping with the school’s mission statement. It details clearly the sanctions and the steps that will be taken in the case of a breach of the code, as is recommended. In the next review of the code it is recommended that the code states how the students who may be suspended are re-integrated into the school community. Given the broad range of ability and disability and the variety of language backgrounds in the school, it is also recommended that the language of the code be reviewed in order that it is more accessible and more positive in its expression.
Communication between the staff and the board takes place primarily through the agreed report the board furnishes to staff following each meeting. Regular staff meetings facilitate communication between management and staff. Advance notification of meetings is posted on staffroom notice boards and it is laudable that staff members are invited to contribute items to the agenda and that minutes are recorded. Staff meetings are also a useful means of sharing new learning among staff and thereby supporting the board’s commitment to CPD for staff. This is commended.
The school’s staff handbook is a useful tool, particularly for new staff in familiarising themselves with the school. While it contains key information regarding staff and the school’s curriculum it is recommended that it be reviewed to include details of the duties assigned to class tutors and year heads and, key policies such as the critical incidents policy, school attendance policy, health and safety policy and protocol’s regarding the school’s child protection guidelines. A good quality induction programme has been developed for new staff members and this is regularly monitored and reviewed. It is commendable that a briefing on the school’s health and safety policy forms part of this programme.
Parent-teacher meetings are held in the case of third-year and sixth-year students and a single day is set aside to facilitate parent-tutor meetings in the case of non-state examination year groups. It was noted in the minutes from one staff meeting that as a result of numerous requests from the parents’ council, parent-teacher meetings would be held in the case of first years later in the current school year. It is recommended that the parents of an increased number of year groups are afforded the opportunity to attend parent-teacher meetings in line with Circular M58/04. It was reported that the collection of information was the primary aim of the current parent-tutor meetings. It is recommended that parents and students are provided with a more comprehensive report on the students’ achievements and progress at the meetings held between parents and tutors in order that the focus is not solely on issues as is currently the case regarding the verbal reports provided at parent-tutor meetings. Staff often mentioned the challenges facing the school in sustaining the links that have been established with the catchment community. Convening parent-teacher meetings for further year groups would, for instance, provide a forum through which such links could be maintained.
Strong links have been established with the National Education Psychological Service, special educational needs organiser (SENO), the National Education Welfare Board, the Health Service Executive and the local credit union and other businesses and organisations. This again reflects the school’s commitment to the care of individual students and the community. The school is highly commended for its achievements in this area.
The school has an allocation of 58.37 whole-time equivalent posts (WTEs) and staff is deployed in accordance with qualifications in the majority of cases. Middle-management comprises eleven assistant principals and fifteen special duties post-holders. Duties assigned to post-holders serve the administrative, pastoral and curriculum needs of the school.
The hours of instruction allocated to classes are in line with Circular M29/95 in all but one instance. It is recommended that the situation regarding one of the special classes referred to in the subject inspection report on SEN in section 7 be addressed immediately in order to ensure that students are provided with their full entitlement.
School accommodation is maintained to a high standard. The pressure on available space was mentioned as an issue at a number of meetings. It is recommended that the board, in collaboration with the staff, students and parents, prepares an action plan in order to address accommodation issues. The school has excellent sporting facilities and has an oratory, counselling suite and prayer room.
Staff has taken advantage of ICT training offered through various initiatives and has identified and sought training in specific areas from time to time. The school’s ICT facilities are available to teachers, and to students in some instances, as referred to in individual subject inspection reports. The results of a recently conducted needs analysis in the area of ICT helped management identify the need to focus on the use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool as a priority for professional development. This process and the identified focus are highly commended and will assist the school in addressing and implementing one of the general recommendations highlighted in the various subject inspection reports. It is also commended as it indicates the school’s focus on the improvement of learning outcomes for students. The senior management team is also commended for its foresight in assigning an assistant coordinator to the post of ICT as it assists in developing and sharing expertise in the area among a greater number of staff.
In line with the school’s commitment to inclusion, it is noteworthy that it has, for instance, translated its enrolment forms into a number of languages including Latvian and Polish. A further example of its efforts to help newcomer students and their parents or guardians assimilate into the school community is the interpretation service provided at a parent-tutor meeting shortly before this evaluation. While making such provision is highly commended, the board is advised that the resources allocated by the Department for newcomer students should be used to their benefit as regards teaching and learning of English.
Part of the school’s learning-support allocation has been used to create a home-school-community liaison coordinator post, the equivalent of half a WTE post. While it is commendable that the board uses its resources to address the needs of the students in the school, it is recommended that the board ensures that the learning-support hours allocated to the school benefit the students in their learning in accordance with Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (Department of Education and Science Inspectorate, 2007).
It was evident at various meetings that the school’s ancillary staff is very much regarded part of the school community and that their work in highly valued and appreciated. Members of ancillary staff met with during the course of the evaluation were very complimentary of the board, senior management, teachers and students alike.
An up-to-date health and safety policy has been developed. This is reviewed annually with the assistance of an external agency. Evidence provided demonstrated that issues identified for redress in the review are addressed by management. This practice is highly commended.
As evidenced during visits to the school, the school is developing environmental awareness and responsibility in the students and staff. It is commendable that a whole-school community approach has been adopted to achieving this.
The school development planning (SDP) process was formally initiated in the school in 2004. An SDP team was established and a coordinator was assigned. The team holds formal meetings once a week and these are attended, although not always, by the principal and deputy principal. The planning undertaken to date has been primarily lead by the in-school planning team with some input from SDPI. In line with the school’s promotion of CPD, a number of staff members, including the SDP coordinator, pursued further studies in the area of planning and they have used their expertise to progress SDP.
A number of key policies were developed prior to 2004 in keeping with legislative requirements. The school-planning team is confident that the primary aims identified for the SDP process in the school of fostering ownership of the process among staff and developing confidence and professional dialogue among colleagues, have been achieved. The school adopted a two strand approach to SDP: developing whole-school policies and planning in individual curricular areas. The good practice of forming sub-committees to develop and review policies has been employed to ensure the participation of all teaching staff. The unpacking of the mission statement to benefit new staff, the development of cross-curricular links in subject plans and a review and consolidation of the permanent section of the school plan have been identified by the school planning team as areas for future development. Following discussions with the planning team and school management, and while it is recognised that the school is represented at SDPI cluster meetings, it is recommended that the school continues to engage with the SDPI services at a whole-school level in order to facilitate the continued development of the school plan and that the school also accesses advice and support from the second level support services (SLSS) in order to progress planning in the curricular areas.
A significant number of whole-school policies have been developed and individual subject department plans are at various stages of development. In the case of some policies the date on which they were ratified was clearly stated, those involved in their development and responsible for their implementation and review were identified, they were clearly linked to the school’s mission statement, and were cross-referenced to other relevant policies. It is recommended that these good practices be adopted in the case of all policies.
In some instances draft policies are communicated to the parents’ council and to the student council at various stages of development. In order to build on the good practice already experienced, it is recommended that the board establishes clearer procedures for the communication of draft and ratified policies to parents and students. It is also recommended that the revised school newsletter and the school website be used to keep parents and the wider school community informed of developments.
The board has adopted an ICT acceptable use policy which is available to students and a draft ICT policy was presented for inspection. The aims of the draft policy to develop staff and students’ skills in the use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool are commendable. It is recommended that the policy’s development be continued.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to staff; and that management has ensured that staff is 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. It is recommended that the guidelines are accessible and that training is availed of by all staff.
The school has begun to develop a culture of self-evaluation and review through its experience of policy formulation and review to date: this is commended. In advancing the SDP process it is recommended that, the board continue to guide the staff, parents and students in developing an ethos of review and in progressing the school’s capacity to self-evaluate, thus further improving learning outcomes for students. The publication Looking at Our Schools: an aid to self-evaluation in post-primary schools (Department of Education and Science Inspectorate, 2003) is a valuable reference for this work.
Saint Brendan’s Community School offers a broad and balanced curriculum including the Junior Certificate (JC), Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate established (LC), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The curriculum provision also includes programmes of study for students in special classes which are referred to in further detail in section 5.2 and in the subject inspection report on Special Educational Needs. In the past the school has considered offering the Junior Certificate Schools Programme. The management is commended for actively monitoring and reviewing the school’s curriculum.
All students in first year are offered a nine-week module programme in order to allow them and their parents make informed subject choices for the Junior Certificate. It was reported that the school has reviewed and changed the duration of the module programme in the past. The school is commended for engaging in the monitoring and review of this provision and it is recommended that it continues the good practice. First-year students are assigned to mixed-ability classes for the duration of the module programme. The extent to which the good practice of mixed-ability classes is continued in junior cycle varies depending on the subject. While students remain in mixed-ability classes in junior cycle in the case of English it is stated in the plan for Irish, for instance, that a certain level of streaming does take place and the plan for Mathematics indicates that a similar practice obtains. Instances where mixed ability is practised in the junior cycle are highly commended and the practice should be extended.
The school offers comprehensive TY and LCA programmes. TY focuses on the holistic development of each individual student and provides, in addition to the core subjects, a broad range of options allowing students to experience a wide range of disciplines and opportunities to explore talents in other areas. Attention is however drawn to the manner in which students’ ability is used as a basis to assign students to classes in the case of Irish and Mathematics as is stated in the TY plan. It is recommended that this arrangement be reviewed as it contravenes the spirit of the programme. The LCA programme is deserving of its high profile in the school. The coordinator and members of the teaching team met during the course of the evaluation are clearly committed to ensuring that each student derives maximum benefit from the programme. The reflection and review of the quality of the programme conducted by LCA students in recent years is particularly noteworthy and could be adapted to other programmes.
While the organisation of the curriculum is adequate in the case of the vast majority of curricular areas, a number of issues require attention. Time allocation in the case of English and Mathematics, for instance, is considered generous in senior cycle. However, a review of the time allocated in the case of a number of subject areas in both junior and senior cycles is required.
The time allocated to Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) is appropriate in the first year and in the third year of junior cycle. However, in second year, CSPE is offered over four days, typically when mock state examinations are in progress. This model of provision is not in accordance with best practice. It is recommended that provision for CSPE be urgently reviewed in line with Circular M13/05 and that the school engages with the CSPE support service.
Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is timetabled for first and second year classes only. It is recommended that discrete time for SPHE be provided for all students in junior cycle in accordance with Circular M11/03. The SPHE plan revealed that a significant proportion of this time is devoted to games. It is further recommended that an SPHE programme that demonstrates a coherent and balanced treatment of the ten modules in the SPHE syllabus be developed.
The time allocated to the Link Modules in the LCVP programme in both fifth year and in sixth year falls short of that recommended in the guidelines for their timetabling in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme syllabus. It is therefore recommended that the timetabling of Link Modules be reviewed in line with best practice. It is also recommended that the ab initio modern European language module of the programme, currently delivered at lunchtime, be timetabled within the main school timetable.
Physical Education (PE) is timetabled for all year groups with the exception of sixth-year students. It is recommended that this be reviewed in line with the PE syllabus guidelines and that an appropriate programme be planned for delivery throughout senior cycle.
The core subjects of Irish and English are limited to four periods per week for the duration of the module programme in first year and in the second and third year of junior cycle. This is considered less than adequate in both instances. It is recommended that the time allocated in these instances be reviewed in the context of a general review of the timetabling of subjects. A review of the distribution of class periods on the timetable in the case of the modern languages is also recommended in line with recommendations made in subject inspection reports for both French and German which have previously been issued to the school.
The programme and subject choice process maximises access to curriculum options for the vast majority of students. A review of timetables for both junior cycle and senior cycle indicated that option bands change from year to year to accommodate student choice. The management is highly commended for offering such an open choice. Prospective first-year students and their parents are introduced to the school’s curriculum at an open night in the academic year prior to their entry to the school and the guidance team is available to provide advice and guidance on the options available, together with information on its services.
Further information and advice on core and optional subjects is provided by the guidance team at regular information sessions on parent-tutor days for first-year students which take place prior to mid-term break in the first term. This assists students and their parents in selecting their optional subjects on the completion of the module programme. On completion of the module programme, first year students select three optional subjects in addition to the core subjects.
One of the subject choices available to students in junior cycle includes a ‘study skills’ option. This option is aimed at students who may have special educational needs but who do not meet the criteria for admission to the special classes. Tuition in these classes is provided to students in small groups and is largely based on literacy and numeracy. ‘Study skills’ is available to students from the beginning of first year and the vast majority of those who select it do so by the end of the module programme. Where it is selected, the student’s choice of option subjects is automatically limited to two subjects. While it is commendable that students are encouraged to reflect and identify their needs, it is recommended that, while having due regard to their learning needs, they be encouraged to pursue the full range of subject options available to their peers for as long as possible in order that a greater level of equality of opportunity of access to the curriculum is afforded to all students.
While two modern languages are available in the module programme, modern languages are not included in the school’s core curriculum and therefore students need not select one to study for junior certificate. Furthermore, it was reported at the meeting with the board that a modern language is most often, although not always, the subject not selected by students at the end of the module programme. It is recommended that this situation be monitored, particularly in light of concerns raised in relation to uptake in the subject inspection reports on modern languages.
The content of the curriculum offered to students in the special classes largely reflects their needs. It is recommended that the input being provided at various times on the timetable in the case of these classes be clearly identifiable and that the use of the term ‘general subjects’, as occurs at present, be avoided. While it is acknowledged and commendable that efforts have been made to integrate students in these classes into mainstream in areas such as TY and LCA it is recommended that ways in which their greater participation in mainstream classes through subject areas such as PE, Art and SPHE be further explored.
On completion of their studies in junior cycle, all students can choose to take TY, LCA, or the LC including the option of the LCVP. TY is optional and on completion of this programme students can select LCA or the LC. The school is commended for offering this open choice to students. An information night is organised for parents and students in third year and in TY. Information on subject and programme choice is offered by the guidance team and programme coordinators both to individual students and their parents and they are commended for the comprehensive detail offered.
The school management and staff consider co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to be essential components in the holistic development of each individual student. A very good range of activities is offered as part of the school’s co-curricular and extra-curricular programme affording students learning experiences in local, national and occasionally in international settings. It is commendable that student demand is the predominant factor in determining the content of the programme.
The school has a strong tradition in the area of sports, most notably in hurling, and has enjoyed great success at various competitive levels both locally and nationally. The variety of sports offered in Saint Brendan’s caters for both individual and team pursuits and includes hurling, basketball, soccer, camogie, athletics, and horse riding. All students are encouraged to participate in sports and take advantage of the school’s excellent sporting facilities. The annual school musical, which is very successful, is the highlight of the extra-curricular activities on offer. This provides students with an opportunity to explore and develop their talents and involves a huge commitment from staff, students and management.
Students have, from time to time, also enjoyed local and national success in a variety of co-curricular activities offered. The activities currently available include debating in Irish, English and French, science and engineering competitions and the Maths Olympiad. It is laudable that students contribute to the local print media, further developing their writing skills for specific purposes.
The involvement and commitment of a large number of staff members to the training and coaching of teams and individuals and in organising such a variety of activities to support student learning and reach high standards is acknowledged and is highly commended.
A good level of collaborative planning is identified across the subjects and the programme evaluated: this is commended. Programmes and subjects are effectively coordinated, regular formal meetings take place, agendas are set and minutes are kept. In addition, frequent informal meetings occur. In one of the areas evaluated, the close proximity of working areas creates opportunities for regular informal consultation. Subject department and programme meetings deal with a range of issues pertinent to the subjects and programmes. An area identified for development in general is the use of meetings for the sharing of good practice. LCVP documentation included a comprehensive list of duties attached to the post of coordinator. In line with the nature of the programme, a great deal of liaison takes place between the coordinator and management, staff and outside agents. Cross-curricular collaboration is noted in some subject areas: this good practice could be extended.
Plans are in line with syllabus and examination requirements. Schemes of work for year groups have been developed or are in the course of development. A model of good practice is identified in one area where the subject plan was circulated for comment, reviewed annually and revised accordingly. In general, it is recommended that subject and programme planning teams develop plans further in some areas of policy, teaching and learning as outlined in the individual reports. During subject and programme inspections, gaps were noted that now need to be addressed and some planning documents or policies need to either be updated or brought into line with current conditions and experience. Those involved in the teaching of students with additional learning needs took cognisance of the need to modify the JC curriculum in accordance with the needs and abilities of their students. In all subject and programme areas, planning documentation should show evidence of differentiation in content, teaching methodologies and assessment.
Best practice was observed where planning folders contained detailed schemes of work and a broad range of very useful information, and where individual teachers’ schemes and lesson planning was informed by and linked to subject department planning. To develop lesson planning further, it is recommended that there be a clear emphasis on learning outcomes and on teaching and learning strategies.
An appropriate range of resources and stimuli was prepared for the lessons observed. Where a theoretical or practical project is taught, consideration should be given to the preparation of a worksheet in order to consolidate learning.
There was good advance planning and preparation for the lessons observed in all the areas evaluated. The planned lesson content was appropriate to the syllabus requirements and the material chosen was pitched at a level suited to students’ abilities. Lessons, in most instances, were well structured and paced accordingly. The purpose of most lessons was clarified at the outset. Particularly good practice was evident in lessons where the theme or topic of the lesson was written clearly on the board as this was helpful in focusing students’ attention. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that students are made aware of some clear and concise planned learning outcomes from the outset of a lesson. This will provide an additional sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. This strategy can also motivate students and assist in their self-assessment when their individual progress is measured against planned outcomes. Useful information can also be gained to assist in evaluating lesson planning and delivery where the homework tasks assigned are linked to planned outcomes.
A good range of teaching methodologies was observed in the lessons evaluated. Good links were made with prior learning to establish continuity with previous lessons and useful strategies were deployed to integrate related areas of syllabus content. Some effective use was made of additional resources such as the blackboard, overhead projector and class textbooks to clarify explanations and support students’ learning. Of particular note was the fact that in a number of lessons the variety of resources used catered for a range of student learning styles. This was evident by the use of resources such as mind maps and flow charts, exemplars of practical work, video clips and worksheets that facilitated and reinforced students’ learning. This is very good practice, as it is important to use a variety of resources in order to fully engage students’ interest and to cater for different learning styles. A greater scope for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning was identified in a lot of the subjects evaluated. It is therefore recommended that subject departments develop strategies for the further integration of ICT into the teaching and learning process.
Active learning was a central feature of some of the lessons observed. In these cases teachers facilitated the active engagement of students in their work through the use of guided-discovery learning, group work and peer tutoring. This is commended. Such strategies are encouraged further. These activities prove useful in encouraging learner autonomy and peer collaboration, as well as preventing an over-reliance on teacher-led activities. Best practice in group work was observed in lessons where group members were assigned clearly defined roles and where the activity was well structured and managed to maximise student learning. Students’ participation levels in lessons were also increased through the use of some effective questioning techniques.
Classroom management was very good in almost all cases. There was much evidence of a very good rapport between teachers and students. There was good monitoring of students’ learning as each lesson progressed. Interaction with students and observations of notebooks and coursework indicated that good progress is being made.
All in-coming first-year students are assessed and it is noteworthy that most are assessed in their own schools. The results of these assessments, along with information from teachers in feeder primary schools and from parents, are used to identify students who require additional support and to assist in the formation of mixed-ability classes at the beginning of first year. Students likely to experience learning difficulties are assessed in the school with a suitable range of diagnostic and standardised attainment tests. These test results are used in the planning process. Retesting with the same instruments later in the year provides one means to monitor progress.
In the individual curricular areas inspected, in line with the school’s assessment policy, a range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, are used to monitor students’ progress and to provide feedback on attainment. Formative assessment is carried out on an ongoing basis using a wide range of methodologies, including oral questioning, homework activities, coursework assignments and the monitoring of project work.
Homework is regularly assigned, and there was an emphasis on formative assessment in the useful advice included in many of the homework samples viewed during the inspection visits. This good practice is to be commended. Best practice is where the homework is set and corrected regularly and positive feedback is given to students at an early date. This encourages further progress and builds confidence towards personal achievement. It also provides teachers with an opportunity to monitor students’ progress and identify students who may require further assistance. It is recommended that all teachers engage in this good practice.
Class tests are administered at frequent intervals in all subjects inspected. In addition, all students are formally assessed at Christmas. Non-certificate examination students are also assessed formally in May, while third-year and sixth-year students sit mock examinations in February of their examination year. In some subjects, in-house formal examination papers are designed to match the format and style of the certificate examination papers. This is a very useful means of familiarising students with the type of examination papers they will have to deal with in future and it is recommended that this good practice be carried out in all subject areas. In some subject areas, where there is more than one class sitting an in-house examination, the good practice of administering a common paper is followed. This provides teachers with a more objective assessment of student performance and it is recommended that the use of such common examinations be maximised.
The extent of record keeping by teachers was variable. Although attendance is recorded on a whole-school basis twice a day, it is recommended that all teachers keep full records relating to student attendance, performance, behaviour and other relevant issues. The recorded information can be used to build up a profile of each student and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents with regard to their choice of subject levels in the state examinations.
Results of assessment tests and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas and summer reports and also following mock examinations. The school journal is used to inform parents of more immediate events and issues.
The school has accessed appropriate resources to support the inclusion of students with additional educational needs. Provision in this area is effectively managed and has benefited from the experience of a number of staff who pursued professional development opportunities in the area of special educational needs. It was evident during the evaluation that both new and established staff members are involved in the delivery of the learning programmes thus enriching the school’s experience and expertise in the area. The school’s special educational needs policy is clearly linked to its mission statement and to the articles of management for community and comprehensive schools. The policy is underpinned by relevant legislation and set in the local context. The aim and the objectives of the policy are clearly outlined as are the key elements required to meet its aim. The education support team is commended for its work on the policy. In developing the policy further, it is recommended that it includes details on how students’ progress may be monitored and that the general recommendations in relation to school planning in section 2 be taken into account in its next review.
The school’s education support team is well organised and supports students with a diverse range of additional learning needs. The school established special classes to address the needs of students with mild general learning disability in the early 1980s. Regular contact is maintained with the parents and with the relevant support services. The team is commended for this. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are developed for students and progress is regularly evaluated. Building on this good practice it is recommended that a greater focus be placed on learning outcomes in planning for students with special educational needs (SEN).
The model for delivery of support for students with additional learning needs in the mainstream is one of withdrawal of students individually or, in small groups such as study skill classes in junior cycle. This report echoes the recommendation made in the subject inspection report on SEN regarding the need to further develop the integration of students in the special classes into mainstream classes, having due regard for their individual needs and the more extensive use of the good practice of team teaching which was reported to take place in some instances. The resource coordinator, in the main, liaises with training centres to provide for the needs of students in special classes on completion of their cycle of study in the school. This reflects the school’s commitment not only to its students but also to their community.
A small number of students from the Traveller community attend Saint Brendan’s. These students are fully integrated into the school community and it was evident from discussions at a number of meetings that the school genuinely encourages and supports students to improve attendance and to complete their education at post-primary level. The school takes great pride in the students from the Traveller community who have completed certificate examinations at both levels in the school. The school is commended for its work in this area and for the strong links it has fostered with the Traveller Training Centre.
The school has an allocation of one WTE post to address the needs of students of English as an additional language. While the vast majority of staff involved in this provision are fully qualified teachers, the main provider does not have a recognised teaching qualification nor has contact been established with Integrate Ireland Learning and Training. It is recommended that the board reviews this situation and is referred to section 1.3 of this report.
The school’s guidance team carries out many of the duties associated with a student support team including pastoral and counselling aspects. It was evident in the meeting held with the team that there was a great sense of openness and collegiality among members and that the care of the students was its priority. This team is very effective and is comprised of members of staff from a variety of complimentary disciplines: senior management, year heads, guidance counsellors, chaplain, the special needs coordinator, and the school’s HSCL officer. Members of the team play a key role in operating the school’s excellent school transfer programme which introduces students to the school and a variety of activities commencing in the month of November prior to their entry to the school. In line with good practice, meetings are held once a week, agendas are set and minutes are recorded.
Guidance and counselling is considered very important in providing care for students including their social, personal and career requirements. The school has an allocation of 1.5 WTEs guidance and counselling hours, 0.5 of which was allocated under the guidance enhancement initiative. Guidance and counselling is delivered by two qualified guidance counsellors, the school chaplain and a psychotherapist who is employed by the board. The guidance and counselling suite comprises two offices, a library, a data projector and a laptop together with computers and internet access.
There is a whole-school approach to guidance and counselling and they are provided as an integrated model of student support. All students have access to personal, educational and vocational guidance and to individual counselling. There is a clear referral structure and guidance is integrated with all programmes. This is good practice. A team approach has been taken to the development of the guidance plan and this is commended. The draft plan presented demonstrated that a good structure for the guidance plan has been designed, that there are clear aims and objectives and that target groups have been identified. The resources available and procedures for monitoring and reviewing the service, the mission statement and key policies that underpin student support are also referenced. Internal arrangements for students to access guidance support are clearly explained and are commended. The guidance counsellors regularly access CPD and attend supervisor meetings as is recommended. All first-year students are met individually by a guidance counsellor during the first term and the school chaplain has class contact with first year classes. The initial destinations of students on completion of post-primary education are tracked and it was reported that a number of past pupils access the service on occasion. While parents have access to guidance at present, the team has identified the need for its development as an integral part of the service: this is commended.
In further developing the guidance plan it is recommended that it outlines a guidance programme for each year group to include educational, career and personal guidance. The linkages between guidance and all school programmes need to be clearly outlined. As well as listing the guidance related activities to be undertaken with each year group there should also be some indication of the number of class periods required for each action and the resource materials that may be used, including ICT. In junior cycle, links with SPHE should be included. More detail is required in relation to the programmes offered in senior cycle, including TY. Time-scales for delivery, expected learning outcomes for all students, and links with school programmes should also be stated. It is also recommended that a list of guest speakers be included and that in this context the school considers the development of a policy on guest speakers.
The learning-support coordinator, in collaboration with the guidance counsellors, assesses incoming first-year students. Progress is tracked primarily through students’ achievement in summative house examinations and further assessments administered by the guidance counsellors at appropriate stages during the students’ course of study in the school. The guidance counsellors review their assessment procedures and the instruments used: this is commended. It is noteworthy that the school is participating in a Dublin City University project involving the standardisation Cambridge Aptitude Test for use in Irish schools. This is indicative of the team’s interest in providing the best for the students and is laudable. While the primary purpose of testing concerns the identification of students with learning difficulties, and is appropriate, it is recommended that the needs of exceptionally able students also be communicated to parents, students and teachers. The publication, Exceptionally Able Students: draft guidelines for teachers (NCCA 2007), is a useful reference for teachers.
The pastoral care of students is considered a matter for all staff and is, as such, in keeping with the school’s mission statement. While the school does not operate a formal pastoral care team, it was evident in various meetings held that senior management is very supportive of the work of all those involved in the pastoral care of students. The class tutor is the chief liaison person between the students and parents, the teaching staff and management and is supported by a year head. In assigning tutors to classes, management endeavours to ensure that the tutor also teaches the class but this is not always feasible. It is recommended that a pastoral care team be formally established. It is further recommended that formal links should be established between the pastoral care team and other student management teams such as the guidance team.
Students’ achievements are celebrated and an award ceremony is held at the end of each school year. This ceremony recognises a broad and balanced range of talents including academic and sporting achievements. Various displays of sporting, and other achievements were visible in the school environment and specialist subject rooms were adorned with samples of students work. The ceremony and the displays provide evidence of the school’s pride in its students and their accomplishments and are highly commended.
The school offers a number of student support structures for students including, prefects, mentors, peer ministry, and the student council. The primary aim of these structures is to provide care for students and assist them in integrating into the school community. While there is some duplication, each group has a clearly defined role and is supported by members of staff. The students involved, in turn, support staff and management in the day-to-day management of students. Students’ involvement in these structures contributes significantly to leadership development among students and is commended. It was noted however, that the majority of the students involved are in sixth year. It is recommended that the school explores how students from other year groups could be included, as is already to some extent the case with the student council, enabling the school to benefit for a longer period from the leadership it fosters among its students.
The school first established a student council in 2003. While the student council is democratically elected, it is not representative. It is recommended that the membership of the council be reviewed to ensure that it includes representatives from each year group including representatives from the special classes. Meetings of the student council are held on a weekly basis and are attended by a member of teaching staff with responsibility for coordinating their work. Members have received training and are enthusiastic about defining a clear role for the council in the school. Council members see their role as the student voice in the school and as a link between the student body and management. The council lists among its achievements to date the hosting of the school’s talent show, bringing about change in the school uniform policy and, more recently, coordinating a survey of student needs as regards the school library. Links have also been established with the local community and the council was active in raising funds for the Mother and Toddler Group. The student council has identified a number of areas for development including a newsletter and communication with senior management and the board, and is considering the development of a proposal concerning a design for a school crest in commemoration of the forthcoming thirtieth anniversary of the school’s establishment. The students and their teachers are commended for their achievements to date. The board and school staff are commended for the good level of leadership fostered among the student body.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published September 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school welcomes this affirmation of good practice in St. Brendan’s and specifically the acknowledgement of:
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 post-evaluation briefing of the Board of Management and staff by the D.E.S. Inspectors was noted and used to initiate reflection on the process of W. S. E. itself and on the observations and recommendations of the evaluation team. For example the school’s admissions policy was immediately reviewed and amended to reflect long-standing inclusive practice in St. Brendan’s.
Staff working groups were established to review further areas of policy and practice regarding organisation and planning, pastoral care and curriculum. Priorities were identified for modification or development along with projections for research and implementation. Staff development activities have been planned in association with The Irish Association of Pastoral Care in Education and with the Second Level Support Services. The school has now adopted this report as a guide to reflection, self-evaluation and development.