An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballyshannon, County Donegal
Roll number: 91506V
Date of inspection: 29 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon. 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 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.
Coláiste Cholmcille, a community school operating under the auspices of the Bishops of Raphoe and Clogher, the Provincial of the Sisters of Mercy and the Co. Donegal Vocational Education Committee, was founded at the turn of the millennium. The school crest is based on the life of St. Colmcille, patron of the school, and the history of Ballyshannon. Three scrolls in the centre of the crest represent the three schools which amalgamated to form the new community school – the Vocational School and the two Voluntary Secondary Schools - De La Salle and Sacred Heart School. The school moved to the current purpose-built premises in 2001.
The school, located in the south-west of Co. Donegal, is the only school in the town and serves a catchment area of approximately forty miles from north to south. Students come from the town and surrounding areas and also from counties Sligo, Leitrim with a few students travelling cross border from Co. Fermanagh. Students come from a mixed, mainly rural background. Approximately half of the current enrolment of 653 travels by bus, some students having quite a long commute.
Coláiste Cholmcille is conscious of its remit to cater for all local students, including those with special education needs. Concern was expressed by some parents at the time of the amalgamation about the possibility of students losing out on the disadvantage status of one of the schools and agreement was reached that this issue would remain under constant review. Currently the school has one disadvantage post and the full-time services of a home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. However, Coláiste Cholmcille has not been included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS) initiative and all groups met with during the course of the evaluation expressed the fear that this will result in a loss of resources and that consequently supports for students and parents will be diminished.
The mission statement, agreed at the initial stages of School Development Planning (SDP) in the school and displayed throughout the building, values respect for the individual’s rights and self worth and seeks to provide “a happy and safe environment in which the individual may achieve her/his spiritual, academic and personal potential in order to develop all positive aspects of the individual and the community”. This aspiration is reflected in policies and is lived out in the many practices through which the school fosters the development of individual members of the school community and in the caring and friendly atmosphere evident throughout the school.
The board of management of Coláiste Cholmcille is appropriately constituted and meets monthly. The principal and deputy principal attend all board meetings as secretary and recording secretary respectively. The current board was selected before the end of last school year with some continuity from the previous board being maintained. Training has been provided for board members by the Teacher Unions, Parents’ Association and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), where members are informed of their responsibilities and statutory requirements. Training for new members should be prioritised.
The board has established a list of priorities for the school. Regarding curriculum, these involve the expansion of programmes to include Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, back to education initiative (BTEI) and adult and community education, as well as expansion of the green school project. Non-curricular priorities include the challenges of changing demographics and the integration of minority groups within the school, links with third level colleges and provision for exceptional students and consideration of the implications and impact of the DEIS unsuccessful appeal. A lot of work by all stakeholders went into preparing the appeal of the DEIS decision and with the majority of their feeder schools included in this new initiative, the board is now considering how best to proceed to ensure that existing supports, including the HSCL resource guaranteed only for the current year, are maintained for students and parents.
Board members described their role as one of governance, representing their own constituencies but functioning as a single cohesive unit. It was clear that the board has a strong sense of its responsibilities to manage the school on behalf of the Trustees. The board members consider the principal’s report as vital in keeping them informed about the running of the school
An agreed report of meetings issues to staff members, via the internal email system, and to parents through the parents’ representatives who attend meetings of the parents’ association. This practice is commended. Financial matters are dealt with by the finance sub-committee of chairperson, principal, school bursar and a board member/treasurer. The board expressed confidence in staff and senior management and commended the principal and deputy principal for their contribution to the school.
Coláiste Cholmcille’s Parents’ Association, formed in 2002, is affiliated to the Parents’ Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS). Initial training was provided by the PACCS. A member of the Ballyshannon executive attends the meetings of the PACCS and sits on the national executive of the association. This level of commitment is commended.
Meetings of the parents’ association are held monthly, frequently following board of management meetings. The principal attends meetings of the association providing a two-way system of communications. Attendance is good as was evidenced by the number of committee members wishing to attend the pre-evaluation meeting with inspectors. Members, representing all geographical districts of the catchment area, do not wish to be regarded merely as a fund-raising group but as a very active and vibrant association providing “the parent voice in the running of the school”. This pro-active approach is commended. Guest speakers are invited to address the annual general meeting of the association and study skills seminars are arranged for students taking the State examinations and for parents so that they can support their children.
The parents’ association describes the ethos of the school as inclusive with an excellent, energetic, welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Its representatives believe the quality of teaching in the school to be excellent, state that the school caters well for the personal development of the students and feel that students have a sense of pride in Coláiste Cholmcille. Parents praised the openness and approachability of senior management and staff members and were very appreciative of the efforts made by staff to provide extra tuition for students and the broad range of co-and extra-curricular activities available in the school.
The association wishes to support the school in every possible way and its many and varied activities, especially those involving students and staff, past and present, typically illustrate the quality of relationships within the school community. A biannual newsletter issued by the association is a source of information on events, student achievement and a link with the general parent body.
Parents expressed their appreciation of the supports provided by the board of management, HSCL and guidance and counselling personnel, year heads and the school secretary. Representatives of the association stated that the school should not need to encourage parental involvement in their children’s education, their belief being that parents themselves should be proactive in this regard. They regard the establishment of the parents’ room and the Irish and Mathematics courses offered to parents as sensitive and important elements of support.
School signage is under discussion at present and it is recommended that this issue be progressed. Into the future parents wish to sustain the current progress, see their role as ensuring that supports are provided for the school and are concerned and frustrated that Coláiste Cholmcille has been denied entry to the DEIS programme as there are significant areas of rural deprivation in the catchment region.
In-school management comprises the senior management team of principal and deputy principal and middle management of eleven assistant principals and fourteen special duties teachers, including four members of staff who carry personal allowances from their former schools. Currently, due to recent retirements, two assistant principal posts are vacant and consequently some post holders have taken on additional duties in a voluntary capacity. This commitment to the efficient running of the school is commended. Assistant principals are afforded four hours, non-class contact time, to carry out their duties.
The principal and deputy principal were appointed at the foundation of Coláiste Cholmcille. Both have attended the Department of Education and Science sponsored Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) programme ‘Forbairt’ for senior management and are active members of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), attending meetings regularly as well as in-service sessions provided by the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS). These are commended as sources of both information and support.
Working closely together in an effective leadership partnership, both are involved in a wide range of administrative, management and pastoral issues throughout the school and are a visible presence on the corridors. Both share a vision for the school of continuous improvement in the quality of educational provision for students and facilities and equipment for staff and place a high value on good communication and strong interpersonal relationships within the school community. Conscious of the fact that Coláiste Cholmcille is a community school, senior management wishes to encourage an open door policy. Staff members praised both principal and deputy for their approachability, their supportive and consultative style of management. During the evaluation good relationships were evident among staff and between staff and students. All school personnel were friendly and welcoming. Students were polite and courteous.
Post holders have one major area of responsibility with some assistant principals also having additional duties. The schedule of posts documents the duties of each post holder. The current schedule was identified and agreed to reflect school needs at the foundation of the new school. Post holders state that duties reflect the values of the school and that flexibility to change responsibilities as needs arise is always available. A minor review of the schedule took place last year giving post holders opportunity to change responsibilities. While there is no formal structure of monitoring post duties by senior management, informal meetings take place between principal and post holders at the end of each year. Post holders state that they are affirmed in their work by the principal.
In general a post holders’ meeting is scheduled during staff days and on another one or two occasions per year. Year heads meet as a group annually in September and subsequently with class tutors. Further communication is informal or by email. As yet no training has been provided for post holders and they have no sense of their being a middle management team. Other than the weekly care team meetings, which a significant number of post holders attend, there is no formal structure of meetings of middle management. It is recommended that when the two vacant assistant principal posts are filled, it would be opportune to review the posts of responsibility in the school in order to ensure an equitable distribution of duties. It is further recommended that training be provided for assistant principals to support their role as a middle management team and to enhance their opportunities for development in instructional leadership, curriculum, management and development of staff, in keeping with Circular Letter 23/98. It is suggested that the school explore whether it would be beneficial to have a structure of regular meetings between senior management and the assistant principal team, separate from the care team meetings which are both pastoral and managerial in nature.
Coláiste Cholmcille takes a positive approach to the management of students. The school has introduced the use of restorative justice practices which have facilitated conflict resolution and enhanced anti-bullying measures. The school code of conduct is designed to ensure both the safety of students and a vibrant environment “where learning takes place and positive relationships develop based on mutual respect”. It is planned to update this code next year, putting more emphasis on the positive discipline approach to reflect current practices.
Parents state that there are effective and open lines of communication between the school and home. The school journal, which contains much useful information for students and parents, is inspected and signed by parents weekly and is regarded as the main channel of communication between school and home. Ongoing communication with parents is maintained also by phone calls and letters from year heads as well as through parent-teacher meetings which are held for each year group annually and where attention to detail to accommodate parents is commendable. Information on school events is also carried in the notes section of the local newspapers.
Items of importance and concern are brought by the HSCL co-ordinator to the school from parents. All parents met with view the services of the HSCL office as vital to the school and the well-being of students, especially those who live a distance from the town. School reports are issued twice yearly and parents are welcome to make individual appointments with staff members to discuss student progress. Parents are kept informed of school events and activities via the journal or letters. The tenor of the letters was noted as being friendly, inclusive and encouraging. Groups and individuals receive letters of support and congratulations from the principal on achievement and success. This practice is commended as an example of confidence building.
Coláiste Cholmcille is commended for engaging with a wide range of outside agencies and organisations to support students e.g. National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), National Education Welfare Board, the HSE, Special Education Needs Organiser, Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP), Youthreach, local sports, drama and music groups and the local business community who offer student work experience and sponsorship of school events. Several local groups use the school hall in the evenings and at weekends.
Coláiste Cholmcille has a total allocation of 50.54 whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts from the Department of Education and Science and five special needs assistants are allocated to students. The principal states that every effort is made to offer equitable timetabling to all members of staff and, depending on post of responsibility duties, all teachers are timetabled to the appropriate maximum of twenty-two or eighteen hours. Subject teachers are encouraged by senior management to rotate between higher and ordinary level classes. However, sometimes assigned teachers agree who will teach at each level. It is recommended that senior management monitor level allocation so that all teaching staff are afforded the opportunity to develop their expertise in all aspects of their subject areas and that no one individual has responsibility for particular levels within subject areas.
The board of management facilitates staff job sharing and career break arrangements and teachers are encouraged and supported to engage in continuous professional development. Coláiste Cholmcille is commended for engaging with the National Pilot Project on Teacher Induction to assist new staff members. This induction support is now being extended to include Higher Diploma students, new special needs assistants and nurse trainees who attend for work experience in the special class. A handbook for new staff members is being compiled and guidelines for teachers have been produced by the school on effective class management and student motivation. These activities to support new staff are commended. Senior management encourages teachers to leave lesson work prepared which substitute teachers can use in the class. Staff members state that teachers frequently provide, on a voluntary basis, extra tuition for students absent on co- or extra-curricular activities. This commitment is commended.
Communication between principal and deputy principal is informal and ongoing with frequent daily contact. Announcements relevant to the life of the school are delivered twice daily via the intercom system and news items are displayed on the plasma screen in the all-purpose area. Formal staff meetings take place three, or four times a year. An events’ white board in the staffroom is updated daily, notice boards carry information on school and in-service courses, the internal email system offers staff opportunity to access information as they wish. School programmes have special notice boards in the staffroom to inform staff of daily and future events. As part of senior management’s consultative approach ideas and suggestions are brought to staff members for comment and input and the agenda for staff meetings is emailed to staff in advance.
School archives, in the form of photographs, DVDs and laminated newspaper cuttings, are conscientiously maintained in the print room. This room also houses two photocopiers, digital cameras, video tapes and IT equipment. House examination papers and the annual awards certificates are produced in the print room.
The school has excellent ICT facilities in the form of two networked computer rooms, laptop and data projector, overhead projector, televisions and videos – a number of which are wall mounted in the classrooms. Almost all classrooms have a computer with DVD facility and broadband access. Two of the four science laboratories have data projectors and teachers can swap when required. The staffroom is equipped with six computers for staff use, two photocopiers and storage space for subject materials. Staff members with particular expertise provide ICT support and on-going maintenance of ICT facilities, collaborate to produce posters and newsletters and have provided instruction in ICT use for colleagues, on a voluntary basis. This co-operation and level of commitment is acknowledged and commended. Individual laptops, with wireless broadband, have been provided for LCA students while ECDL training is provided for TYP students. It is commendable that access to computers is provided for students at lunch time on three days per week with supervision by three staff members.
Accommodation in Coláiste Cholmille is new and the excellent maintenance of the building, including classrooms, and the cleanliness of the environment reflect the diligence of the caretaking and cleaning staff. There is a total of eighteen specialist rooms, including two language rooms. On the corridors and in some classrooms excellent displays of student work and subject related materials were noted. The widespread use of display is encouraged as an extra stimulus to the learning environment.
Safety rules are displayed in the specialist rooms and the school’s Health and Safety statement is being developed at present. Transition Year students have completed a one-day certified first aid course and an half-day training in CPR procedures. In addition a number of staff have received first aid training. Regular evacuation procedures are practiced. It is recommended that records of these drills be maintained.
Approximately fifteen teachers have a base classroom, with students moving after each subject lesson. This has lead to concern about traffic levels on some corridors. The school reports that corridor design contributes to congestion levels and although management has tried a number of options to alternate the traffic flow, concern was expressed by all groups about circulation between lessons and at break. As the board has provided lockers for students to store school bags and materials, it is recommended that the school make a concerted effort to have students store school bags in these lockers when appropriate, in order to assist safety on the corridors. It is further recommended that management would continue to explore ways of alleviating the congestion on the corridors.
Due to pressure of space the school library is used as a classroom. This restricts access for library purposes and computer access facilities have not been developed. However, teachers operate a swap system with colleagues to facilitate class access. The library, in seeking to fulfil the aspirations of the school mission statement, houses an excellent range of books and materials as well as a unique historical department where once off publications of local cultural, musical interest and historical importance are maintained. Chief Examiners’ reports, syllabus guidelines, resources for English, CSPE and History are also stored in this resource room.
The post of librarian is one of the schedule of posts of responsibility and approximately twenty-five students are appointed as library assistants. Some of these students perform their duties as part of their Gaisce award work. The library is open for borrowing books at lunch time and after school. Coláiste Cholmcille was the first school in the country to receive full funding for the “School Library Management Systems” which operates efficiently in the library and is an excellent means of lending management. For the future the library plans interaction and collaboration with the Donegal County library. This networking is commended.
Subject budgets are not pre-determined and, in keeping with community school regulations, agreed resources are made available to subject departments only on receipt of order forms. Requests for larger sums are discussed. Staff commended the board and senior management with regard to resource provision and both parents and staff praised the school administrative staff for all the support and assistance received. As well as administrative and reception duties, the school secretary, a member of the finance sub-committee, also acts as bursar and takes responsibility for day-to-day school accounts, wages, stock ordering and payments.
A well-equipped classroom accommodates the special class, a dedicated classroom and an office are used for the delivery of learning support and resource teaching. While a range of support and teaching materials is available it is recommended that relevant materials and posters be displayed in the learning support room in order to enhance the learning environment. The school has excellent facilities for Guidance in the form of a suite with classroom, two offices with phone, storage, computer and broadband internet access. Careers materials are also housed in the guidance suite and a careers notice board provides information for students.
The school gym, under construction, will be coming on stream later this academic year. Indoor games and PE lessons are accommodated in the school hall. An all-weather football pitch, an outdoor unlined basketball and tennis court are also part of the school campus. Future development plans include the provision of an astroturf pitch.
Since the foundation of the school, boards of management in Coláiste Cholmcille were concerned initially with the amalgamation process, the physical transfer into the new premises and the development of the new plant. All stakeholders met with in the course of the evaluation state that the amalgamation process has been very successful and the transition into the new school has been a smooth one. The principal praised the board on the good stewardship provided during the process. The school is commended on the level of work, collaboration and commitment required to achieve this success. The planning group acknowledged the generous teacher allocation from the Department of Education and Science during the amalgamation process and its importance in achieving a smooth transition for students. The establishment of Coláiste Cholmcille is also regarded as beneficial to the community as a single united school in the locality. All stakeholders acknowledged the input of the Department of Education and Science for the facilities available on campus.
Colaiste Cholmcille is commended for having engaged productively with the school development planning (SDP) process since 2003. Personnel from the SDP Initiative have provided training for staff and the area of teaching and learning has been prioritised. The school has also benefited from templates provided by the Department of Education and Science and the support of the ACCS, the board having ratified directly policy guidelines issued by ACCS. The school prefers a collaborative approach to planning rather than appoint a planning co-ordinator. The deputy principal has considerable input into planning management, each policy area has an individual co-ordinator, groups are actively involved in policy formulation and good progress has been made.
Generally, planning work begins at staff level, input is sought from the parents’ association and the students’ council also have had input to policies such as anti-bullying and the code of conduct. Drafts are then forwarded to the board. Coláiste Cholmcille participates in the restorative justice network of local schools and this has enhanced policy formulation for example, the admissions policy. To date six policies have been ratified by the board. Currently emphasis in planning is on policy formulation; however, no timeframe for review of policies has been drawn up. It is recommended, therefore, that the board would consider the importance of having such a timeframe so that all policies can be reviewed to reflect the continuous development of the school and in order that the recently available templates may be customised to reflect the individual context of the school.
It is commendable that the school has completed work on a Bereavement Response policy and a Critical Incident Response Plan. In the review of these policies it is recommended that the school would engage with the NEPS psychologist. While the school has an effective informal network with the local hospital and GP clinic, it is suggested that the school would liaise with neighbouring schools with regard to the critical incident response plan as such collaboration will provide additional support and assist all participants.
Having accomplished a successful amalgamation the board has now moved to identify areas for development. It is recommended that the board would now engage in discussion on a long term vision for the school in order to progress to the next phase of its development. The board should begin the process of formalising the school plan Parts 1 (Permanent) and 2 (Developmental) to provide an overview, a structure and a context for both policy review and future planning. During the review of policies it is recommended to consider the terminology used in policy statements so as to reflect the inclusive approach the school wishes to foster. It is further recommended that the school would formalise and document its procedures with regard to suspension and expulsion of students as part of school policy formulation.
Subject departments, with voluntary co-ordinators, have been established and the commitment of staff to planning is commended. Subject planning is facilitated during staff meetings with on-going informal meetings during the term. Subject folders are maintained and stored in the staffroom. It is recommended that existing good practices in collaborative planning should now be built upon to produce a more formal and comprehensive plan for each subject department in terms of delivery, methodologies and learning outcomes.
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 has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
Colaiste Cholmcille is commended on the wide range of programmes and subjects provided for students. The school is conscious of its mission statement and thus tries to encourage and foster the academic, emotional, spiritual and physical development of students by offering a wide choice of curricular, extra- and co-curricular programmes. Currently the school offers Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TYP), Leaving Certificate (Established), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and collaborates with the Co. Donegal VEC and the local Tír Hugh Resource Centre to provide a range of adult education courses.
Coláiste Cholmcille used to offer a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course in Information Technology (IT) which became redundant due to the emphasis on IT in the school and availability of local adult education classes. The board is now discussing other possible PLC courses, a worthy initiative that would enhance further the education opportunities for the local community. The principal states that curriculum provision includes a lengthy consultative process involving students and parents. This inclusive approach is noteworthy.
Generally the allocation of time to subjects is in keeping with requirements. All first-year classes are of mixed ability and common examinations are held. Concurrent timetabling is provided as far as is possible in second and third years and the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics are concurrently timetabled in senior cycle, thus allowing students the opportunity to take subjects at their preferred level. Participation rates in non-traditional subjects are increasing in the school. A female student has been a past winner of a national medal in Engineering. It is suggested that the use of the gender equality policy of the Department of Education and Science could be useful in proactively encouraging take-up in these subjects.
The school attendance officer works closely with the principal, school secretary and HSCL co-ordinator to encourage and promote attendance and punctuality among students both in the morning and in the afternoon. Unexplained absences merit phone calls home, lack of punctuality is sanctioned with detention and full attendance is rewarded in the annual awards. Notwithstanding this level of co-operation, it is recommended that a concerted effort be made by all staff members, in keeping with the school’s code of conduct, to encourage students to attend in sufficient time to be prepared for class work at the official starting times so that the requirements of Circular M 29/95 can be fulfilled.
The school demonstrates its commitment to PE by employing two qualified teachers and by timetabling PE as a core subject throughout the school. Teachers noted the fact that when a PE teacher is absent on school business every effort is made to employ a qualified substitute.
In first year a total of twenty-one subjects is offered and taster classes are provided in all optional subjects during the year. This is commended as students are then well placed to make informed choices for Junior Certificate. In junior cycle religion, science, a modern language, history, geography, PE, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Civil, Social and Political Education (CSPE) are core subjects. The subject selection process begins with an open choice and input from teachers and guidance counsellors. The guidance department surveys students four times in total to refine choices with students choosing four subjects from a total of eleven options. An information session is also provided for parents with information on course structure and content. As the school is keen to raise expectations and encourage all students to perform to their potential it is suggested that the import of subject level choice be included in this session.
In third year students are offered a choice of programmes for senior cycle – TYP, LCA, Leaving Certificate (Established) or LCVP. The demand for the TYP option is growing each year and the school is aware that it has almost reached its present capacity for this programme. It is recommended therefore that, in the course of school development planning, consideration be given to determining optimum numbers of participation and to documenting selection procedures and criteria, should that number be exceeded. Annual evaluation of the TY programme takes place and it is recommended that part of the review and further development of the programme would include an evaluation of the content of the modules with input from all relevant stakeholders.
A guidance module in third year, offered by the guidance counsellors with input from subject teachers, provides information to students on programme and subject choice. The Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) are offered to students after the mock examinations and individual appointments are provided as required. A similar process as in first year is followed to determine subject choice for senior cycle. The guidance department is also planning a booklet on subject choice for students and parents. This is commended and encouraged.
Parents expressed satisfaction with the present range of subjects and praised school personnel for their approachability to answer queries and for the information provided on programmes. Coláiste Cholmcille provides a fifth year options information evening for parents. Further information sessions are provided on individual programmes e.g. LCA and TYP and parents are welcome to make appointments with the guidance counsellors. Students wishing to enter TYP and LCA programmes are interviewed. For the Leaving Certificate (Established) students choose four from a total of seventeen subjects. Students may then decide to take up the LCVP depending on appropriate subject groupings having been chosen. It is recommended that a presentation on the LCVP would be included in the individual sessions. It is noted that LCA information sessions are held so that parents are informed of student progress and credit accumulation. The session is repeated during lunch-time to facilitate parents. This is a successful model of parental involvement and support.
Coláiste Cholmcille is commended on the wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities provided for students and places strong emphasis on involving students. It was noted that members of staff play a significant voluntary role in providing and supporting a wide range of activities in these areas. One of the difficulties alluded to by all groups is that of involving students who live in the far away parts of the catchment area and their need for transport home after school activities. It is for this reason that a number of activities are scheduled during lunch-time in school in addition to the activities which take place daily after lessons finish. Overall the school received a nomination this year for “Best Sports Secondary School” in the Donegal County Council Sports Awards.
The school organises
an annual sports’ day as well as a bonding day for first years in September using
sport activities to facilitate the settling in process. The school liaises
with local sports clubs, the Lakeside Centre, the Outdoor Adventure Centre in
Bundoran, the Abbey Centre and the Leisure
Centre/swimming pool in the town. A number of fund raising events are organised
annually to support extra-curricular activities.
The school has an excellent record in sports and the most inclusive activities, in terms of staff involvement and students participation, are the numerous teams that represent the school with distinction in a wide range of sports. The senior girls’ basketball team won the All-Ireland last year and, based on participation levels and development of the sport within the school, Coláiste Cholmcille was given the award for Best Girls Basketball School in Ireland. The school’s very active Special Olympics Club has enjoyed success up to regional and national level and works closely with the local club.
Staff are assisted by some coaches from outside the school and students are encouraged to take coaching courses in sports where a number of students are now training junior sports’ teams. This encouragement and development of leadership skills in students is commended.
There is also a high participation rate in music where students are involved in traditional groups, rock bands, concerts and competitions such as Stars in their Eyes. For the past two years senior students have composed pieces for submission to the National Chamber Choir’s (NCC) tour of schools. Last year one of the pieces was chosen by the NCC and performed during a concert in the National Gallery and during their visit to Coláiste Cholmcille.
Coláiste Cholmcille stages a musical show each year and students frequently transfer to the Ballyshannon Musical Society from the music and dance clubs in the school. Carol singers visit the local geriatric hospital to entertain residents. The tradition of the Mummers has been re-established by the students in TYP and they entertain the senior citizens at their Christmas party. This level of engagement with the local community is praiseworthy.
Teachers report that almost all TYP students are involved in co-curricular and/or extra-curricular activities and are successful in drama productions and related competitions. Members of the school drama groups are invited to contribute to the town street carnival every October and to assist the Ballyshannon Musical Society with their annual production.
Colaiste Cholmcille is commended for having engaged with the HSE and the Donegal and Sligo Sports Partnerships to introduce the Girls Active programme into the school. Last year the school participated successfully in the Active School Awards Scheme supported by the Department of Education and Science and the Irish Sports Council, and was a North West prize winner and one of only six schools in the country chosen to perform in the National Showcase in Dublin.
The school participates in international and cross-border projects such as the Comenius exchange and the KEY projects. Other noteworthy and commendable examples of co- and extra-curricular activities are the public speaking and debating groups in English and Irish, the organised school trips and the successful involvement in many subject-related competitions such as, for example, the IBM/DCU Irish Science Olympiad from whence students have gone on to win international awards. Students have also achieved success in local and regional mathematics quizzes, in the International Mathematics Olympiad and are represented among National Engineering Medal winners. It is acknowledged that very dedicated planning is required to organise this wide range of co- and extra-curricular activities for students.
Student achievement and success is celebrated through recognition by letter from the principal, through news items on the school plasma screen, over the school intercom system and in the notes section of the local press and in the display of trophies on show. Reflecting the school’s ethos of recognising and celebrating achievement and rewarding students, a system of on-going awards operates and an annual presentation of awards for both academic and non-academic achievement, to which parents are invited, takes place in the school.
All of the subject departments visited have established department structures and have initiated collaborative departmental planning. In some cases the co-ordination of the departments is organised on a voluntary basis. Departments should consider rotating the co-ordinator’s role among members so that this task is formally shared. Management makes appropriate arrangements for formal departmental planning time and, in addition, informal meetings are held regularly to deal with operational issues. Minutes of meetings show clear evidence of collaborative planning and review in some departments. It is recommended that minutes of all formal meetings be kept to track progress and guide future practice.
To date these meetings have largely centred on establishing agreed programmes of work for year groups. Long term plans in departments have been used to chart the organisation of teaching and learning in subjects. These plans include reference to aims and objectives, time allocation and options structure, planning for students with special needs, the development of cross curricular links and assessment procedures, among others. It is recommended that teachers build on this very good practice by working collaboratively to produce a more formal and comprehensive plan for each department. In some individual subject areas it is recommended that curriculum content be rebalanced and that teachers review the pace at which topics are covered. Further consideration could be given to a statement of learning outcomes and agreed timeframes for each year group, active learning methodologies, fieldwork policy if appropriate, plans for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning and the further development of appropriate resources.
A wide range of individual teaching plans was observed as part of the evaluation. All lesson plans examined reflected curricular requirements. Good practice was observed in the inclusion of attendance and assessment records, copies of class tests, and teacher notes some of which were commendably extensive. In the individual departments a wide range of resources was made available. Where teachers provided resource material to support student learning they were used effectively and integrated into lesson plans.
Reference is made specifically in plans to students with special needs and informal discussions have been held with departments and specialist teachers to address these students’ requirements. It is suggested that these meetings be formalised and that this input into the planning documents be acknowledged.
Cross-curricular planning features highly in the plans and activities of Coláiste Cholmcille. This development of cross-curricular links is good practice and their further development is encouraged.
In the main, the lessons observed were purposeful and generally well structured and paced, and there was some very good evidence of careful preparation for teaching and learning. In most cases classroom management was effective and lessons generally began with correction of homework or a review of material from the previous lesson. The good practice of sharing the planned learning outcomes with the students at the outset was evident in some lessons and similarly, there were some very good examples of reviewing the learning outcomes at the end of the lesson before the assignment of homework. Communicating learning outcomes or objectives to the students provides a structure for the lesson and a clear focus for the students and it is recommended that this practice be applied to all lessons.
In the subjects evaluated teaching and learning methodologies ranged from the traditional style, where teachers presented work at the board followed by the setting of work for individual student practice, to the use of a range of active learning methodologies. Teaching and learning were particularly effective when accompanied by well-planned and appropriately used resources and active learning methodologies that stimulated and motivated students and caused them to actively engage with the content of the lessons, thus enhancing understanding. These included the use of, for example, pair work, practical work, discussion, scaffolding, the use of photographs, newspaper articles and the effective integration of subject-specific resources. Lessons also included some good examples of the use of the whiteboard, textbooks, worksheets and reference to students’ everyday experiences. Good practice was also observed when there was variety in lesson content and in the methodologies used within lessons, thus facilitating the varying learning styles of students of all abilities and particularly in mixed ability settings.
Many of the methodologies observed challenged students to demonstrate higher order thinking skills such as analysis, application of knowledge gained during the lesson and from previous lessons, as well as suggesting solutions to problems. It is recommended that, in cases where there is an over-emphasis on teacher input and the “traditional” teaching style, a range of teaching and learning methodologies be explored and used, so that the emphasis is on learning as much as on teaching. It is suggested that some discussion and the sharing of good practice in this area could be incorporated into subject department planning meetings in the future.
There were good examples of helping students focus on the language of particular subjects where new terms were introduced and clearly explained and often supported by the display of key terms in the classroom or on the board. Some very good examples of effective questioning strategies were evident in a number of lessons observed. Questioning was most effective when questions were directed at named students and in the use of open-ended questions that required students to show a deeper understanding of the topic, as well as questions that challenged students to apply their knowledge to a range of varying situations, as opposed to mere recall of knowledge. Such strategies should be sustained and further developed in both oral and written work in order to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills.
Teaching and learning took place in a positive and supportive environment, characterised by appropriate affirmation of students’ efforts, mutual respect and a good rapport between students and their teachers. This resulted in a comfortable and secure atmosphere that was conducive to learning. The physical environment of a number of classrooms was greatly enhanced by the display of a variety of subject-specific materials such as educational posters, relevant newspaper articles and some very creative project work produced by the students. This good practice establishes a stimulating learning environment and provides opportunities to celebrate students’ work.
A range of assessment strategies is used by teachers, including focussed questioning, the provision of feedback during lessons, class tests, term examinations and student self-assessment. Students’ written and, in some cases, project work is closely monitored, in line with good practice. An examination of a sample of student copy books indicated appropriate work, generally of a high standard. There were commendable examples of grades being given for effort and written feedback offered on the completion of past examination questions.
Reports on student progress are issued to parents/guardians at the end of the Christmas and summer terms or, for examination classes, following the mock examinations. Grades received on Christmas reports are calculated as an average of results obtained in at least three class tests held during the first term. This practice encourages students to work consistently and is commended.
There was evidence that not all subject departments have formal assessment policies; it is recommended that policies aimed at broadening the range of assessment strategies be developed for all subject areas. Such policies might include the wider use of small scale project work, the introduction of ‘comment only’ marking, the use of feedback indicating how improvements might be made and the further development of the use of common tests. It is noteworthy that, after results of the State Examinations are issued, all subject departments carry out an analysis of student achievement against the national averages.
Coláiste Cholmcille has a total of 196.46 hours per week for learning support and resource teaching. There are five full-time special-needs assistants (SNAs) working in the school, three of whom have been in the school for a number of years. Some of the special-needs assistants have taken training courses and all would welcome further access to such training. It is suggested that the school explore how this provision could be advanced. The learning support department states that provision is becoming more structured in the school and that up to a total of seventy, including gifted, students are receiving extra support. Parents met with in the course of the evaluation praised the level of care and attention that students with special education needs receive. The principal states that all students have access to all subjects and programmes as far as is possible, unless there is a health and safety issue.
In order to assess student needs there is close co-operation with the primary feeder schools and information is channelled through the HSCL department from whence lists of categorised needs are provided to the special education needs department. For diagnostic purposes all students are assessed on entry to the school using norm-referenced literacy and numeracy tests. Learning support teachers communicate student needs to year heads who, in turn, pass the information to the tutors and to subject teachers.
Since its foundation Coláiste Cholmcille has continued the provision of a class for students with specific education needs. Currently one student is on a reduced curriculum and a class of eight junior cycle students is accommodated in a designated classroom equipped with an interactive whiteboard. Each student has access to a personal computer, a box for class materials and the individual timetable is attached to the desk. The school is discussing provision and curriculum for this class. The commendable target is for all students to take as many subjects as possible in the Junior Certificate over a few years.
In this class there are two full-time special-needs assistants, and at the time of the evaluation two trainee nurses were present on work experience, Team teaching is developing as a worthwhile methodology in the class. Some of the students attend mainstream classes for PE and other practical classes and a weekly half-day activity programme is offered. Social and life skills are enhanced through activities such as preparation of lunch for parents and care of the environment. TYP students assist with paired reading and students also participate in the ‘maths for fun’ first- year project. A file recording the achievement and activities of the class is compiled annually by the special-needs assistants. Students from this class proceed, by means of a gradual transition, to workshops in the local area or continue to the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. This progression is commended.
The preferred option in Coláiste Cholmcille is to have students with special education needs attend mainstream classes as fully as possible, and General Studies has been introduced as an alternative to withdrawal of students from mainstream class. This issue is under continuing discussion by the school to determine the best means of facilitating students while not restricting their attendance at mainstream classes. Where learning support and resource teaching are provided on a withdrawal basis from other subject areas the school attempts to ensure that students are not withdrawn from the same classes each week. In first year, where students take two modern languages, if a student drops a language these classes then are used for withdrawal. Some students who have an exemption from Irish attend the General Studies classes.
Three special-needs assistants work with individual students and assist in the special class when not required to work with their individual students. This level of commitment is commended. Notes on student progress are shared with parents by the special-needs assistants and work is sent home via memory stick to inform parents and for support. Learning support teachers meet regularly with the teachers of the special class, the special-needs assistants and the chaplain.
Three members of staff are qualified learning support teachers, one of whom co-ordinates the department on a voluntary basis. At the time of the evaluation the full teaching timetable for special education needs had not been completed. It is recommended that the school consider how the full arrangements could be put in place as early as possible for the new school year ensuring optimum levels of tuition and support for students. Learning support teachers are members of the Irish Learning Support Association (ILSA) and attend in-service meetings. This is commended and it is suggested that locally based cluster groups could be a useful source of networking and support.
In-service training on learning support and dyslexia identification has been provided to teachers. One of the learning support teachers has provided information and advice on differentiated learning to mainstream teachers. This is commended as an efficient use of the learning support resources. The education support team meets regularly with the special-needs assistants and the deputy principal and the team also attend the weekly care team and monthly pastoral care meetings.
While preliminary work has been completed on the special education needs plan, it is recommended that the planning process be progressed to facilitate the best possible structure for the department and use of the extra allocations. It is recommended that the introduction of individual education plans (IEPs) be included in the planning process. Student profiling has begun and education support staff have already identified the need to incorporate records of student progress. An internal evaluation of learning support was carried out in the previous school year and this is commended as a means of informing future planning in the department.
Coláiste Cholmcille liaises with the visiting teacher for the visually impaired and the local Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO). It is recommended that in-service provided by the Special Education Support Services (SESS) could also be beneficial. In the course of school planning the school should also consider optimum means of providing for wheelchair access to accommodate any future requirements in this regard and any ensuing health and safety concerns.
Management states that there is good local knowledge of students and the school considers this a major strength in the awareness and understanding of student needs. Students in need of financial assistance are supported and subsidised by management in a sensitive and confidential manner. Coláiste Cholmcille has strong working links with the local St Vincent de Paul Society and a Student Conference operates in the school. There is one student from the travelling community and a small number of non-Irish students attending the school. There are no students from refugee or asylum seeking groups in the school at present. The visiting teacher for travellers visits the school and has addressed the staff. The school is commended on the level of engagement with available supports to assist students and their families.
The school has the services of a full-time HSCL co-ordinator who works to provide a strong link between school and home. Rural disadvantage is a factor in the school context as is the fact that a number of students travel quite a distance to attend Coláiste Cholmcille. The HSCL co-ordinator participates in the local cluster group, which includes parents and students, and this local committee raises a number of issues which are brought to the school for action. One example was the parents’ idea to design and produce an information sheet for parents on the requirements of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 in the form of a fridge magnet. A laminated sheet was produced by the school for homes. This level of response to parents is commended. All groups met with in the course of the evaluation expressed the fear of having the HSCL resource withdrawn or diminished now that the school has been denied access to the DEIS initiative.
The school canteen, though small, provides hot lunches for students. It is suggested that school management would explore the possibility of providing stackable tables and chairs for students in the all-purpose area during lunch time. Currently the school is discussing the introduction of a breakfast club. This is commended in light of the early start to the day of some students.
Coláiste Cholmcille operates a book rental scheme for all students. Supervised study facilities for students are provided after school four days per week. An outreach programme on literacy and local history is offered to students of the school who live in particular parts of the catchment area. One of these projects resulted in a booklet on local history links which was published and subsequently launched by the Australian Ambassador to Ireland.
Colaiste Cholmcille receives an allocation of 28 hours for Guidance and Counselling from the Department of Education and Science. The school is commended on providing extra hours for Guidance from the general teacher allocation. Currently three staff members, two qualified guidance counsellors and a member of staff who compiles the timetable and subject options, collaborate to deliver the guidance provision. In consultation with the principal, deputy principal, chaplain and HSCL co-ordinator, this group is also working on developing the guidance plan. It is recommended that the school consider the formalising of this whole group as a planning sub-committee to progress the guidance plan with input from all stakeholders and from the business community. A student needs analysis would also inform the planning process.
At present guidance classes are timetabled for senior students, including TYP. The two guidance counsellors both teach SPHE and these classes are used to provide a guidance module for third year students on decision making, programme and subject choice. While it is necessary to provide a guidance input on programme and subject choice and while the integration of Guidance and SPHE is commended, the school should consider if it is necessary for the guidance counsellors to take all the SPHE classes in third year. During September one of the guidance counsellors visits all first year classes to introduce the guidance service and this is followed by regular checks with students in the course of that year. It is recommended, however, that, in the course of guidance planning, the school review the current timetabling arrangements in order to address the imbalance in provision between senior and junior cycles.
Testing to assist subject choice begins in third year with the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) or the Cambridge Profile Tests and the Centigrade Test is administered in fifth year. Career Interest Inventory, Rothwell-Miller Interest Blank are also used to assist career choice. The guidance department have identified the need for a testing policy for the school. This is encouraged and in this regard liaison with the education support team is recommended. In determining its policy it is suggested that the school would include review of instruments used, access to test scores/results and how these are communicated to students.
Senior cycle students have good access to ICT facilities for guidance classes. A programme of guest speakers and visits out to college open days are arranged. The school participates in the Access programme with NUI Maynooth which is considered by the school to be an important element of student support with ongoing liaison between the school and the college. Links have been established with St. Angela’s College in Sligo and the Institutes of Technology in Letterkenny and Sligo. As part of the access programme extra tuition in modern languages is offered and the school participates in the third-year special awards sponsored by NUI Maynooth. It is suggested that the school would build on these praiseworthy links by liaising with these colleges to facilitate visits by small groups of junior cycle students in order to increase their knowledge of courses and choices at an earlier stage.
Counselling is offered to students throughout the school and students can choose to attend the guidance department or the school chaplain. Guidance counsellors state that there is a demand for counselling. In this regard, with a significant counselling case load, it would be important that guidance counsellors attend the professional development provided to support counselling. There is evidence that school management would willingly facilitate attendance at these sessions and at the local in-service organised by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). Both guidance counsellors are members of the IGC and the school facilitates attendance at national in-service.
The guidance department works closely with the chaplain and class tutors, year heads and subject teachers to support students. Students are referred to the guidance counsellors by the principal, colleagues, parents, student mentors or they self refer. Coláiste Cholmcille is commended for having a system for referral to outside agencies in place with referrals being effected through the office of the principal. Currently contact with the NEPS psychologist is via the learning support department. In order to avail of support for guidance it is recommended that a structure of appointments be arranged between the guidance counsellors and the psychologist during the latter’s visits to the school.
The guidance counsellors are members of both the care and pastoral care teams and attend regular meetings. While there is on-going co-operation and collaboration between the guidance department and the school chaplain there is no formal structure of meetings. The school should consider if it would be beneficial to have regular meetings of these two departments in order to facilitate transfer of information and to support students.
The guidance department has an open door policy in terms of parents’ access. Parents met with in the course of the evaluation praised the work done by the guidance department to assist students and parents with subject choice. Guidance counsellors attend all parent teacher meetings and meet with parents after school hours if necessary. In response to a request from the local HSCL committee last year an information session on CAO, UCAS, post-Leaving Certificate choices and students leaving home was provided for sixth year parents. This is commended. Tracking of student destinations is carried out by one of the guidance counsellors and past students are welcome to return to the school for information and support.
Care and support for students is important in Coláiste Cholmcille and the desire to develop self-confidence could be regarded as a major strength of the school. This is reflected in the system of class captains, prefects, head girl, head boy and mentors operating in the school. The pastoral care system operating in the school is based on the assumption that every teacher acts in a pastoral as well as an academic capacity. The role of the class tutor is one of a pastoral nature, discipline issues being dealt with by the year heads.
The importance of respect for people and each other is evidenced by the fact that the previous school year included a dedicated “respect week” with emphasis on justice, politeness and consideration for others through daily communication, art work, posters, focus on positive anti- bullying measures and the restorative justice practices to which the school has committed. The fifth year mentors operate a system of weekly meetings and activities for first years. Staff report good feedback from mentors on the settling in process. Mentors have received training in restorative justice methods and training is planned for student council members. The parents’ association have also arranged for a speaker to address their annual general meeting on the topic.
An induction programme, delivered in conjunction with the local Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP), which continues into first year ensures that incoming students are supported as they make the transition from primary school. The principal and/or deputy principal visit/s all the feeder primary schools and 6th class pupils and their teachers are invited to an open day in Coláiste Cholmcille. Some students return to their former primary schools either to accompany the deputy principal or to provide a day of planned taster classes for 6th class pupils. Sixth class pupils from feeder primary schools are invited to school musicals. All of this preparation to ease the transition from primary to post-primary level is commended. The school also hosts a pre-entry information session for parents of incoming students and, in collaboration with the parents’ association, first- year parents are invited back at the end of September. This is commended as an opportunity for parents to receive feedback on the student settling in process and to clarify any issues of concern.
Coláiste Cholmcille collaborates with the NYP to provide after school activities for first and second year students as well as a holidays and summer programmes for students from the local area. In collaboration with Magh Éne College in Bundoran the school has compiled a guide for parents/guardians providing information on services, supports and facilities for families in the local area of Bundoran and Ballyshannon.
The school care team, which consists of a large group of staff involved in all aspects of student care and management, meets weekly. These meetings facilitate transfer of information on students and the identification of students in need of extra support. The pastoral care team, a voluntary group comprising the principal, deputy principal, chaplain, guidance counsellors, year heads, class tutors, SPHE and learning support teachers, meets monthly. Currently this group is working on formulating a draft pastoral care policy which has gone to the staff for consultation and will be forwarded to the parents’ association and the student council for input before going to the board for ratification.
While it is beneficial to have a student care team with an overview of student needs, it is recommended, as part of the school development planning process, that the school consider within its own context if there is any duplication at present between the care and pastoral care teams, and whether it would be appropriate to separate the management and pastoral functions of the care team and useful to redefine roles.
The student council was established in Coláiste Cholmcille in 2001, the council year running from October when new councillors are elected. Each class has one representative and at least two members of the executive stay on to ensure continuity. Members receive training on roles and responsibilities. The council meets monthly and the executive fortnightly, sometimes with lunch provided by the school. The principal attends some council meetings otherwise, different council members take responsibility to bring issues of concern to school management. Minutes of meetings are posted on the council notice board and members state that students bring forward ideas and issues to class representatives. Fundraising events take place and last year the council offered grants to students wishing to set up clubs in the school. Applicants were required to undergo a trial period of two months to demonstrate feasibility before securing funding.
Another area of success is the Green-Schools Project where a large number of students is involved. Over a period of two years and a programme of surveys, action plans and hard work the school has been awarded the Green Flag. During the course of the evaluation members of the Green Schools committee in Coláiste Cholmcille presented the Green Flag to the school principal. It is commendable that as part of their activities the committee held a planned day of action to raise local awareness and to organise a clean up in the town. Students were pleased to report a most successful community effort. The student council is proud of the fact that last year they were involved in a very successful clean up of the school environment.
The council members praised the school on the range of subjects available, the support to make subject choices, the involvement of staff in extra-curricular activities and in general the assistance given to students.
Coláiste Cholmcille enjoys the services of a fulltime chaplain. All students have access to Religious Education (RE) classes. Following discussions staff decided not to offer RE as an examination subject as such an emphasis would alter class atmosphere. The religion room is converted to an oratory on Mondays. Close links have been established between the school and local clergy and the chaplain wishes to provide a sense of parish in the school. A panel of guest speakers visits the school, world faiths are highlighted, a notice board provides information on forthcoming events and thoughts for the day. Liturgical seasons are marked, services take place at the beginning of the school year for all year groups and retreats are organised for students. Graduation prayer service is arranged for Leaving Certificate students and a mass is held in the school for all students taking examinations. The school participates in the Mission Alive competition for post-primary schools and in the Youth for Justice action project. Students are involved in fundraising for both local and national charities.
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:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wishes to acknowledge the professionalism of the team of inspectors from the Department of Education and Science and is pleased that the many strengths of Coláiste Cholmcille have been recognised and outlined in the Whole School Evaluation Report.
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 considers the WSE document to be a significant resource in terms of the strategic development of the school. The report acknowledges the ongoing school development planning in Coláiste Cholmcille and the findings and recommendations of the inspection will be utilised constructively in prioritising and informing future school development.