An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Blackwater Community School

Lismore, County Waterford

Roll number: 91509E

 

Date of inspection: 26 November 2007

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Blackwater Community School was undertaken in November 2007. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of learning and teaching in four subjects were evaluated in detail. A programme evaluation was completed in advance. Separate reports are available on these subjects and the programme. (See section 7 for details).  The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Blackwater Community School is located in Lismore, Co.Waterford. It was opened in September 2003 following the amalgamation of three Catholic voluntary secondary schools; St.Anne’s Mercy School, Cappoquin, the Presentation Secondary School, Scoil Chríost in Lismore and Christian Brothers’ Secondary School in Lismore. It was officially opened in January 2005 by the Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin T.D. The school’s name was decided upon in order to reflect the broad geographical catchment area. Its initial enrolment was 447, rising to its current intake of 567 students. It is commended that the school operates an open intake policy. The first cohort of students to complete six years of post-primary education in the community school will do their Leaving Certificate in 2009. 

 

 

The amalgamation has facilitated the provision of a wide-ranging curriculum, incorporating academic and vocational aspects, that was heretofore not possible in the smaller pre-amalgamation settings, in a modern school with facilities that are suitable for the delivery of such a curriculum. A number of meetings and social occasions of the teaching staffs of the three schools, co-ordinated by the incoming principal of Blackwater Community School with assistance from the trustees, provided for a smooth amalgamation. These meetings facilitated the development of communication links between the staffs of the three schools. A number of issues such as the code of behaviour and the design of the school uniform were resolved in this manner. The parents’ councils of the schools were also involved at this pre-amalgamation stage. Recruitment of additional teaching staff has facilitated the teaching of a number of additional subjects that were not offered in any of the pre-existing schools. This is commended. In this way this co-educational school has sought to accommodate and cater for the educational needs of all enrolled students. It also welcomes and accepts students of all faiths but is mainly Christian in its ethos. The school has disadvantaged status but has not been accepted into the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme.

 

The catchment area consists of all the national schools in the towns, villages and the adjoining rural hinterland. These include Cappoquin, Araglen, Ballyduff, Tallow, Aglish, Ballinameela, Villierstown, and Lismore itself.

 

 

1.         Quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The School has a clearly articulated mission statement that states ‘Blackwater Community School is committed to quality education’. The vision for the school as outlined in the aims of the school’s mission focuses on improving students’ learning experiences and outcomes and ‘enabling students to develop their academic and physical potential to the fullest extent’. Further development of the school plant, including an astroturf pitch and a number of interactive whiteboards, the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum incorporating a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities and the stated intention to enhance academic attainment all assist in providing an environment in which these goals can be achieved.

 

As in all community schools the appointment of a chaplain, in addition to the religion department, affords a caring and religious role in the school. The provision of a beautiful meditation/prayer room supports the Christian ethos. This ethos of the school is reflected in special events such as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Masses and other liturgical celebrations. In addition to these specific activities, the characteristic spirit of the school is evident throughout the school in other ways: for example, the pastoral care system cares for and respects each student in the friendly and comfortable environment; the trustees support the school effectively in promoting the characteristic spirit, and regular communication between the trustees and the principal and it is understood in some instances with the religion department, helps foster Christian values.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The board of management is appropriately constituted and is well supported by the trustees to ensure the effective provision of education in the school, particularly with regard to any decisions affecting the future of the school. Close links are maintained with the trustees through the principal and they are also kept informed of school concerns on an ongoing basis through the weekly staff newsletters, the monthly financial reports and the minutes of board meetings. The joint trustee group meets at least once annually, on which occasion the principal furnishes a report on the school’s developments. The trustees have a particular interest in upholding the Christian ethos in the school. It is noted that at the board meeting prior to the whole-school evaluation, members were informed that the trustees plan to sign the deeds of trust of the school, an arrangement that is actively encouraged. These close links between the trustees and the school is applauded.

 

The board is compliant with relevant legislation. Individual board members prepare presentations on child protection and other relevant Acts for delivery to the other members. In this way the board ensures that members are aware of pertinent legislation and the responsibilities ensuing from such legislation. This is good practice. It is understood that training has been provided by the Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS). Communication among board members is good, ongoing contact being maintained between the chair of the board and the principal. It is understood that following the initial meeting of a board, an agreement was made that all information would be reported back to the representative bodies with the exception of confidential matters and those pertaining to finance and human resources. Consideration could be given to the employment of a short recapitulation of the matters to be reported to representative bodies prior to the end of board meetings. It is suggested that a brief summary of the main events and achievements of the school calendar year be incorporated into the final newsletter to parents.

 

The development of policies is initiated at school level, the board subsequently discussing, adopting and ratifying the draft policies. The board has adopted legally required policies on admission, behaviour, child protection, safety and attendance and participation. A revised special needs policy is awaiting ratification. Key developmental priorities that have been identified over the lifetime of the board include enhancement of school facilities such as the development of the astroturf pitch and the meditation room, and the augmentation of academic attainment. There has been substantial achievement in the further development of the school plant since the inception of the school. This is highly commended. Communication with the general parent body is facilitated through the parents’ representatives on the board. The board has implemented clear procedures for dealing with complaints. This is praiseworthy.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

Both principal and deputy principal have been in their positions for the duration of the school’s existence. The principal was an external appointment and was employed a number of months in advance of the amalgamation. The deputy principal at that stage was principal of one of the amalgamating schools. Therefore, even prior to the opening of the community school, senior management was developing a relationship and communicating in order to facilitate a successful amalgamation. The principal and deputy principal play a key role in the in-school management. They very much work as a team and each has clearly defined roles that at times overlap to complement the other’s work and further support the running of the school. The principal and deputy principal effectively communicate, having daily formal scheduled meetings that are supplemented with significant informal communication. They share priorities for the future of the school and these are conveyed to the staff and the board for discussion and subsequent implementation. The involvement of the whole-school community in the identification of priorities for the future of Blackwater Community School was facilitated by means of a vision survey completed during the last academic year. Senior management expressed the desire to implement ‘quality education’, in accordance with the school’s mission statement. This is applauded.

 

Teachers are afforded the opportunity to take a role in the development of various aspects of the life in the school and there is evidence that teachers are involved in initiatives such as positive discipline, pastoral care and mentoring through the various groups that meet on a regular basis, in some instances as often as each week. Senior management is in attendance at the majority of these meetings. In this way strategies are developed that are subsequently presented and discussed with the whole staff at the Monday meetings.

 

Responsibilities are delegated to post-holders and other teachers to ensure the effective operation of the school. Following consultation with the principal, duties are assigned to post-holders. These posts of responsibility tend to be active roles, not sinecures. A number of special duties teachers and assistant principals act as year heads. Class tutors act in a voluntary capacity and play a significant role in caring for a class group. In co-operation with the year head, a student’s class tutor plays a very important role in the management of many aspects of his or her life in the school, including focusing on discipline and academic progress. This commitment is highly commended. The principal meets the junior cycle year heads and the senior cycle year heads as separate groups on a weekly basis and it is understood that meetings of all year heads together are held a number of times a year.

 

The duties of other assistant principals and of special duties teachers generally reflect the interests of the teachers and, in the main, respond to the needs of the school. One clear gap in the current list of posts operating in the school is the lack of an information and communications technologies (ICT) co-ordinator. It was reported that this had previously been a post. It was stated during the post-evaluation meeting with senior management that this task is currently being undertaken by a teacher who is paid a special duties allowance by the school, in addition to an outside contract that is in place for maintenance of ICT. While these compensatory strategies, are applauded, given the ever-expanding role of ICT in the management of students and of the school, and of senior management’s commitment to ICT in addition to the increased employment of ICT in teaching and learning, the gap should be rectified as soon as it is practicable. Currently, there is some imbalance among the duties assigned to post holders at each level and between levels. An examination of how best programme co-ordination can be integrated into the day-to-day work of the school should take place. Therefore it was recommended during the in-school week that a whole-staff review of the schedule of duties assigned to post-holders should be carried out to ensure balance and equity in the context of assistant principals and special duties teachers. All assigned duties should be commensurate with the middle management level attached to the post and be in accordance with relevant circular letters. This would also ensure that the needs of the school continue to be met. At post-evaluation stage it was stated that, as was recommended, the review had commenced. This proactivity on behalf of the school is commended.

 

All staff members are aware of the management structure of the school and the schedule of duties assigned. Formal lines of communication and collaboration with the whole staff are facilitated through the Monday meetings. Written communication is facilitated through the weekly staff newsletters and noticeboards in the staffroom. It is clear that the middle-management team makes a significant contribution to the effective organisation of the school through the completion of assigned duties. It is good to note that senior management communicates with post holders with regard to their specific posts and that teachers also provide written feedback in this regard on an annual basis.

 

Senior management promotes the development of a professional learning community within the school. Staff members are facilitated as far as possible to engage in professional development programmes. Delivery of whole-staff in-service by school staff members is encouraged and facilitated as appropriate. This is applauded.

 

Management of students is effective. Assembly is considered to have a key role in communicating with students, who are ‘met and greeted’ each morning. Intercom announcements are made twice each day. Other communication strategies with the general student body are outlined in section 1.4. The school strives to include the diversity of students in all curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Attendance is monitored in an organised and systematic manner through the swipe-card system, morning assembly and by individual teachers. Given the reported success of computerising morning attendance, consideration should be given to implementing the same mechanism in the afternoon. Monitoring of attendance has been further enhanced this year by the introduction of a ‘text home’ strategy. This is commended.

 

Discipline and pastoral care operate in parallel in the life of a student in the school. Complementing the code of behaviour is the operation of a positive discipline system that is enhanced by the positive action awards. The existing code of behaviour was drawn up and revised, in accordance with DES circulars, in consultation with teachers, the parents’ council and subsequently approved by the board of management in May 2006. The eighteen school rules are outlined in the students’ journal and must be signed by both the student and parent. It is suggested that these signatures could be carbonated and the copy retained in students’ files. The employment of suspension as one element of the sanctions for ‘mitching’ could be revisited as other more appropriate sanctions could be utilised. The positive discipline system gives rewards for classroom behaviour and effort. This system is co-ordinated by two teachers as the approach for first-year students and second-year students is intentionally at slight variance for the remainder of the students in the school. Teachers stated that the positive discipline system is effective in managing students’ behaviour. The work done in this regard is applauded.

 

Commendably, the school operates an open admission’s policy. However, the school’s admission’s policy does not accord fully with the requirements of the Education Act. The admission’s policy needs to be revisited in light of implications relating to deferral and refusal to enrol, and its concerns regarding the appropriate provision of resources by the DES in advance of enrolment. The school, in fact, operates a clear open-door policy when it comes to admissions and would have nothing to fear from stating this in its admissions policy. Furthermore, it states that an entrance assessment is administered on open night, which is not in fact the case. It is understood that this assessment takes place at another time. The school should draft and approve a new admission policy that accords fully with the Education Act, the Equality Act, the Education of Persons with Special Education Needs (EPSEN) Act and that reflects more fully the operation of the policy on the ground. All families receive the school contribution fee form that asks for €80 for an individual student or €120 for a family. This form should be amended in order to make clear that parents are not obliged to pay this fee.

 

Students are afforded a voice in the school through the students’ council and the Cáirde group. The council elects representatives from each year group and has a timetabled meeting every two weeks during the school year. Since the life of the council is a calendar year, there are no first-year representatives for the first term of each year. Consideration should be given to the possibility of holding the elections earlier in the first term, for example just before mid-term, in order to facilitate earlier involvement by this year group. Students stated that they had input into the development of policies such as the extracurricular policy and the religion policy, a practice that is encouraged. The officers communicate with the principal following meetings where issues of concern are discussed. It might be opportune to revisit the constitution of the students’ council with a view to updating it in line with current operational procedures. It was stated that communication with the general student body occurs via the plasma screen, noticeboard and day-to day talking. It is recommended that the facilities available be used to full advantage for the purpose of ensuring effective communication with the whole-student body. The function of the Cáirde group is the care of first-year students. This will be discussed in section 5.2.

 

The parents’ council that has been in existence prior to amalgamation is the main focus for inclusion of parents in the life of the school. The parents’ council strives to represent and include parents from the different geographical areas, a postal ballot of all parents being conducted to elect the members. They meet formally approximately five times a year at which time they obtain a report from the principal on issues pertaining to the school. Minutes of previous meetings indicate that discussions have taken place on updates of school policies, the child protection guidelines and the school vision survey that was sent to all parents for completion in January 2007. The parents’ council is actively involved in school events such as the organisation of social events for students and representatives have participated on the committee that drafted the school’s smoking and drugs policy. Communication is maintained with the general parent body in a number of ways. This active involvement is highly commended.

 

A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. Regular communication in the form of the students’ journals, text messages, telephone calls and newsletters are used to provide important information throughout the year. Formal parent-teacher meetings are organised in line with agreed procedures. The school also facilitates and encourages contact with parents with regard to individual student’s progress. The home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher successfully bridges the gap between the school and the community. The role promotes active co-operation between home, school and relevant community agencies in promoting the educational interests of children. Again this is applauded.

 

The school has established appropriate and important links with the local community to support school activities and programmes, including for example, work experience and the delivery of certain modules within TY. The local community has a significant role in the annual awards ceremony, sponsoring students’ awards in a broad range of educational, sporting, cultural and personal achievements. This involvement is commended. In return the school supports the local community by making its facilities, in particular its sporting facilities available for use. There is ongoing liaison with outside agencies and other educational institutions. These liaisons assist in supporting students, including those with additional needs. Strong links have been developed with the feeder primary schools. These have been enhanced by open nights, invitations to school activities, for example, Halloween quizzes and the organisation of the summer camps for students of the local primary schools. Frequent visits to the feeder schools are made by the principal, the HSCL teacher and the Learning Support teacher. These strong links are commended.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

Current timetabling arrangements for almost all students are in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M29/95, with students having access to a minimum twenty-eight class contact hours. However, for those students who have not opted for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), study is timetabled concurrently with the link modules and Applied Mathematics. Study is not ‘instruction’ and therefore the instruction time for those students does not comply with the circular letter. Therefore, management needs to address this issue to rectify the above situation and ensure compliance for all students.

 

The staffing allocation from the Department of Education and Science for the current year is 37.19 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE). This allocation includes the ex-quota posts or partial posts of principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, learning-support teacher, home-school-community liaison teacher, chaplain and a disadvantaged area post. The school has also received concessionary hours to support the teaching and learning process. In addition to the teaching staff, the school employs three secretaries, some of whom job-share, two caretakers and cleaning staff. The work of these ancillary staff members is commended as they contribute in a significant manner to the work and environment of the school. Three special needs assistants (SNAs) complete the staffing of the school. 

 

Management analysed staffing needs in order to ascertain the additional resources that would be necessary to provide instruction in the new subjects that were offered following amalgamation. These resources were subsequently accessed and utilised effectively for the purposes for which they were allocated. In almost all instances teachers are appropriately employed according to their qualifications, skills and interests. In the main, teachers have the opportunity to deliver their subjects at all levels. Management is encouraged to ensure that all teachers are provided with this opportunity as it broadens the expertise available in the school. There is an induction programme for teachers joining the staff, one permanent whole-time teacher having an assistant principal’s post for this purpose. Non-teaching support staff members are encouraged to make an appropriate contribution to the life of the school. This is commended.

 

Analysis of individual timetables revealed that almost all whole-time teachers are timetabled for at least a minimum of eighteen hours’ class contact in a recognised subject. This is appropriate. Some teachers are timetabled for pastoral care at lunchtime. This is a constituent of their timetabled classes. It should be noted that this pastoral care element, which in effect is an extracurricular activity, is not a recognised component of the curriculum. Department of Education and Science regulations do not allow for extracurricular activities to form part of a teacher’s timetable. Should it arise that a teacher’s timetable is less than eighteen hours of class contact in a recognised subject this would have implications in relation to payment of incremental salary. In addition a number of RPT teachers are timetabled for more than the required twenty-two hours of instruction time in recognised subjects. The Department of Education and Science only provides a salary for a maximum of twenty-two hours instruction time. Certain information provided on the timetables given to the inspection team did not relate to actual instruction being furnished. As a result, it can be concluded that in a minority of instances the timetables reviewed by the inspection team were, in essence, not the operating timetables. This is cause for concern and is an area that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. Teachers’ timetables should be amended to reflect Department of Education and Science practices and procedures and the operation of the timetable in the school.

 

Blackwater Community School is accommodated in a purpose-designed building provided by the Department of Education and Science. The school building was designed for a student population of 650. It is a single-story construction, thus ensuring that the building is fully accessible to all and is designed surrounding an internal garden. The facilities include general classrooms, three science laboratories, a science demonstration room, four rooms for the technology subjects, an art room, a home economics suite and a music room. As previously mentioned, a beautiful meditation/prayer room has been put in place. This is excellent. There is some concern with regard to the library. During the evaluation it was stated that work has been done to update the furniture in this facility and that further work is planned. It is recommended that that the school, along with the subject departments, pursue the expansion of the library as a key tool in enhancing students’ literacy and love of reading. This will involve a review of the stock of available books that is, at present, limited.

 

The corridors merge into two assembly areas in different parts of the school. Such areas provide meeting space for the students and, along with the corridors, house a number of noticeboards celebrating students’ achievements, as well as information relevant to the student body. In addition, the plasma screen, which is on view directly inside the front door of the school, is successfully employed to provide information on current events. Teacher-based classrooms provide for the creation of stimulating, subject-relevant displays. Some fine examples of this were noted in a number of rooms, a practice that is further encouraged. The building also accommodates a number of offices for use by the teaching staff. Commendably, the school runs a book-rental scheme that is availed of by the majority of the students.

 

School management has prioritised the integration of information and communications technologies (ICT) into learning and teaching as an aspect of the strategic vision for the school. An up-to-date ICT system has been put in place. The school has three computer rooms and there is a computer in each classroom. Management and staff have access to ICT facilities for lesson planning and preparation. There are twelve interactive whiteboards in base classrooms, that are used by a number of teachers to enhance teaching and learning. The provision of such facilities is highly commended. Training was made available to facilitate this use. All teachers are encouraged to utilise this excellent tool to support teaching and learning. With the exception of sixth year, all students have a timetabled computer lesson each week. There is a system in place for use of the computer rooms by individual classes. ICT is also used in Guidance and in student support in addition to being used in school administration and to monitor students’ attendance. The access for students is applauded.

 

There is a separate state-of-the-art sports hall, which is fully utilised by the school and the community. As a component of the school’s school development plan, management has strived to enhance these facilities from the outset. A floodlit astroturf pitch, a weights room and a reconditioned grass pitch with an effective drainage system have been the most recent additions to the sporting facilities. This work is applauded. Overall school accommodation is maintained to a high standard and is utilised to optimum levels in delivering the curriculum and addressing the needs of the school community. The school management, staff and in particular in this instance the caretakers and cleaners, are commended for the care taken to preserve the physical environment of the school.

 

In keeping with the vision for Blackwater Community School that is stated in a number of school documents, a green schools’ committee had been in operation prior to this year. Students had been working towards obtaining the green flag and significant work had been done in disposing of waste in an environmentally friendly manner. During the summer of 2007, the management of the school canteen changed. Currently a different system of disposal of canteen-based refuse is in operation and this has caused difficulty for operating a green school. It is recommended that the issue of waste disposal with respect to the canteen be addressed and that strategies be devised to dispose of canteen-based refuse in an environmentally friendly manner, that is in line with the school’s own disposal procedures. This would facilitate the school in once again working towards obtaining a green flag, an objective which is commended. During the post-evaluation meeting with senior management, it was stated that the school is currently working on the contract for the canteen.

 

The school facilities are made available in an appropriate manner to the local community. This is made possible, by and large through the use of the sports and school facilities and to a lesser extent through the provision of adult education classes. The adult education programme currently operates on one night each week. This limited programme is organised and co-ordinated by a staff member, as part of a special duties post, the remainder of the post comprising extensive duties pertaining to the curriculum provision for second-level students. During the evaluation it was stated that due in the main to competing sources, uptake had declined since the inception of the programme. While acknowledging the constraints caused by demographics and geography, and that Circular Letter 46_00 states that on cessation of the programme, “the post-holder will be assigned appropriate duties in the day school”, every effort should be made to continue to build this very important community service in the area of lifelong learning, particularly given the geographical location of the school. Further strategies should be devised to ascertain the interests of the members of the local community in order that the subject matter of these classes could be based on those interests. Cognisance should also be taken of modern trends and efforts should be made to develop a diverse range of evening classes.

 

A finance committee meets on a weekly basis to monitor the school’s finances and a report is furnished to the board at each meeting. Management supports subject departments and programmes financially on a needs basis. This is commended.

 

Following an external risk assessment, a health and safety policy was devised and subsequently adopted in April 2005. The school’s safety committee meets regularly to discuss safety issues pertinent to the school. This is good practice. However, it should be noted that although the risk assessment conducted in 2005 specifically states that ‘The storage of bags/ coats in corridors should be discouraged’, this was not observed to be the case during the week of the evaluation. In addition there is no reference to ventilation change or the existence of flame-proof cabinets in the chemical store, both of which are present as is best practice. Furthermore, no individual has been identified as the person responsible to implement the control suggestions to reduce hazards in the various areas of the risk assessment. Taking cognisance of these issues, it is recommended that the health and safety policy be revisited to address these matters. It is also urged that efforts should be made to ensure that the food served in the school canteen is consistent with the underlying principles of the school’s draft healthy eating policy.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

In advance of the amalgamation process, the teaching staffs of the amalgamating schools, the board of management and the newly appointed principal to Blackwater Community School were concerned initially with the development of the new plant, the physical transfer into the new premises and the development of working relationships between the staffs of the three schools. These targets were achieved admirably. At that early stage, curricular planning, in the form of subject and programme provision, was also discussed in order to expand the curriculum beyond that on offer in the three schools so that the needs of the whole community would be met and to facilitate the smooth implementation of the curriculum on the opening of the school. All stakeholders met with in the course of the evaluation state that the amalgamation process has been successful and the transition into the new school has been a smooth one. The school is commended on the considerable level of work, collaboration and commitment required to achieve this success.

 

School development planning (SDP) in Blackwater Community School moved forward with the involvement of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) initially by means of a whole-staff planning seminar in May 2004 and by the formation of a school planning team and the completion of the school development planning diploma by a number of staff members. From the outset the senior management team has been deeply involved in the process and is supported by the planning team, which meets on a weekly basis. While the principal is the co-ordinator of the team, it has been noted that the work of co-ordinating various school planning issues has been shared among the team members. This is good practice. Strategies for the proactive involvement of staff members outside the planning group could continue to be explored.

 

A considerable amount of time and energy has gone into the development of school policies, as is evident by for example the number of policies, five in all, including the legally required attendance and participation policy that were ratified at the board meeting immediately preceding the whole-school evaluation. All of the recommended policies have been drafted and ratified by the board and a significant number of other policies have also been ratified. However, care should be taken to ensure that ratification dates are clearly visible on all policies, as is the case in almost all instances. Consideration should be given, at the time of ratification, to also specifying the planned review date on all policies, as was observed in some instances. Different groups of personnel consisting of teachers and senior management have devised the various policies. The involvement of the teaching staff as a whole is facilitated through advance reading of draft policies, followed by discussion at a Monday meeting. Policies are then brought to the parents’ council and finally to the board for discussion and ratification. Representatives from the student body, in conjunction with representatives from the parents’ council and teachers, were involved in devising the draft smoking policy and the draft healthy-eating policy. This approach of actively involving all partners in policy development reflects best practice and is to be encouraged. As a result of this work, this section of the plan, which feeds into the permanent section, is well developed.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. It is suggested that the child protection procedures be included both in the teachers’ handbook and the students’ journal to ensure that new students and their parents, and new staff become familiar with the protocols.

 

At this stage it would be beneficial if subject department planning fed into overall curriculum planning and organisation. This could be achieved by devising a formal curriculum policy. Having a curriculum policy which effectively collated all the work that has already taken place could include programmes on offer, subject choice arrangements, supervised study, class size, subject planning and co-ordination and planning for ICT. The homework policy that is currently in existence could also be incorporated into this policy. This strategy, along with a planned curriculum audit would aid the school in working towards a focus on the key issue that has been identified by the school in the school in relation to teaching and learning.

 

It is clear, from a review of the summary statements for school planning for 2006/2007 and 2007/2008, that the school has identified annual planning priorities. The records summarise, for each year, the areas of work, the tasks to be undertaken and also details the staff members responsible for each identified area, a date schedule and a list of desired outcomes. This clear and practical approach to record keeping is good practice. It is noted that, consistent with the schools’ vision statement to enhance academic performance, a draft mentoring policy was devised in September 2007, incorporating a tracking system and mentoring process. The success of this policy will be determined at the end of this academic year.

 

Discussions with school staff during the evaluation and examination of documentation indicates that a priority for this year is the development of a long-term vision strategy for the school. The developmental section of the school plan contains a statement of the school's mission and aims. Group discussions on the school’s vision are also included as is a list of teaching staff and their roles and responsibilities. Over time, this section could be extended to include for example, a brief profile of the school and a statement on the overall curriculum provision in the school.

 

It is recommended that the different sections of the school plan be published on the schools’ website as they become available in order to facilitate their dissemination more easily.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Blackwater Community School offers a wide-ranging broad and balanced curriculum, addressing the needs of the general student population in terms of the development of moral, spiritual, emotional, social, physical and intellectual growth. The curriculum provided also reflects the aspirations of parents and the profile of the student intake in general. The organisation of this curriculum complies with the Department of Education and Science regulations. The following curricular programmes are on offer: Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TY), the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). These programmes are delivered in line with programme requirements and guidelines. The Junior Certificate School Programme is not an option for the school.

 

The school timetable provided the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and the breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. It is recommended that teachers’ timetables and the school timetable be amended so that they reflect the currently operating timetables of the school. In particular all subjects in the first-year option blocks should be included. Whole-school support for the provision of subjects at all levels is good. The school offers access to the widest possible range of subjects and levels to serve the needs, interests and abilities of all students. This is commended. These subjects are generally delivered in accordance with the requirements of the appropriate circular letters. While acknowledging the low time allocation in some subjects in first year due to the taster system, subjects are generally provided with an appropriate time allocation as set out in syllabus guidelines. 

 

Timetabling arrangements in terms of distribution of lessons and the provision of double periods for practical lessons are appropriate in many cases. A few timetabling issues are apparent on the timetable however. A number of class groups have some subjects on consecutive days, thus reducing exposure to the subject across the week. Some examples include third-year Geography for all class groups and first-year Science. In some instances Religion is also timetabled in this manner. Lack of class-contact time is also an issue for two first-year class groups in French and German as they are timetabled for one double lesson and one single lesson on consecutive days. Similarly the timetabling of double lessons in Irish and English is not ideal. Lessons are more beneficial to students if they are distributed more evenly over the week. In both junior and senior cycles, a double period is provided for all option subjects. This has a particular relevance for subjects in which practical work is required and is therefore applauded. In a minority of instances the double period can extend over the lunch break. It is recommended that this practice of splitting double-period lessons over break times be avoided as far as possible. In a minority of cases classes have all their lessons in the afternoon. This is the case for example for one first-year mathematics class group. It is noted that other class groups, for example third-year Irish, have all their lessons in the morning. In the interest of fairness and equity, care should be taken in future timetabling to ensure as far as is possible, that lessons for all class groups in all subjects should be distributed evenly across the week and that timetabling slots include morning and afternoon lessons.

 

All classes are of mixed ability in first year. In second and third year, the core subjects of Gaeilge, English and Mathematics are run concurrently for all class groups, thus facilitating maximum flexibility and movement of students between levels within these class groups. In second-year Mathematics and Gaeilge and in third-year Mathematics, provision is made for the formation of an additional class through the timetabling of an extra teacher. This good practice is encouraged as it supports students’ learning. All optional subjects in junior cycle are of mixed ability. A similar process operates in senior cycle, the core subjects in both fifth-year and sixth-year and Mathematics in TY being run concurrently. This flexibility built into the timetable at both junior and senior cycle to meet the varying needs of all students is applauded. Management is commended on the provision of all subjects at each level. Significantly, increasing academic attainment is one of the stated objectives of the school and such curriculum provision and timetabling should assist in the achievement of this worthwhile goal.

 

Pastoral care is timetabled as a compulsory subject for all first-year students during lunchtime. This in effect is a range of activities including sport, drama and computers, so the written timetable does not reflect what is operating on the ground. In addition extracurricular activities should be optional. This should be amended. While the opportunity to engage in these activities is commended, the timing of such activities should be re-assessed. In the first instance, as this provision takes place outside of the regular school time for the whole school, it has to be regarded as extracurricular provision, which was referred to in section 1.4. An additional concern is the limited time for students to have their lunch. It is noted that teachers who are involved in these activities may at times have limited opportunity to have lunch themselves. Ongoing consideration in relation to timetabling may be of use in these cases.

 

The Transition Year programme (TY) that is optional has been in operation since the inception of the school. An increase in the numbers of students opting for TY has been witnessed this year. TY offers a good educational experience for the students and deals appropriately with the overall aims and philosophy of the programme, as outlined in the relevant circular letters. The programme, which is managed by the third co-ordinator in as many years, has been modified following a review during the 2006-2007 academic year that involved consultation with the Transition Year Support Service. Commendably, one decision that has been incorporated into this year’s programme has been the distribution of the big events such as the TY musical/dramatic production, work experience and the enterprise competition over the school year. In addition efforts are being made to develop cross-curricular strategies, by means of for example, the TY production. This is highly commended.

 

A written TY programme of work was furnished in advance of the evaluation. The core subjects are appropriately provided for in TY and all students study History, Geography and Religion. Significantly, the personal and social development of students is facilitated in part through the TY SPHE programme. The provision of modules in Computer Studies, Music, Mini-Company, and the Young Scientist and Technology Competition, in addition to work experience enhances students’ personal and vocational development in TY and is highly commended. There is some concern surrounding the organisation of the Science and Technology as all students are not exposed to both subjects. French and German are in another option block and Social and Cultural Studies is timetabled for those students who have not studied a language for Junior Certificate. Ab-initio modules could be developed for students who have not studied particular subjects for Junior Certificate, particularly in the languages, given that LCVP is an option in the school. It is noted that Home Economics, while a component of the programme in previous years, has been omitted in this year’s programme. During the evaluation it was stated that it is planned to run a module of Home Economics after Christmas. This should therefore be included in the TY plan for 2007-2008. At the post-evaluation meeting it was stated that this subject would be provided as a TY activity. Given that in some instances, modules of what could be deemed as optional Leaving Certificate subjects, are timetabled in TY, due consideration should be given to the timetabling of modules in all subjects. Implementation of this system would help to ensure that all students get to sample most, if not all, of the Leaving Certificate subjects on offer. It is noteworthy that alternative modes of assessment are employed to determine the progress and achievement of TY students.

 

In keeping with TY philosophy, a fine range of complementary activities is organised during the two triple periods and one double period allocated each week. These activities that are modular in nature, facilitate students to get involved in new experiences and challenges and include drama, dance, Young Social Innovators and Boxercise. This is applauded. However, care should be taken to ensure that the focus would not lean in any one direction, as it is essential that balance is maintained given the diversity of students’ needs and interests. It is important that students are furnished with the opportunity to develop their skills equally in a range of areas in addition to their academic skills. Much success has been experienced by involvement in the myriad of TY activities over the years. Links with the wider community are facilitated through guest speakers, trips out and work experience. TY students are also encouraged to avail of the opportunity of becoming a member of the Cáirde team.

 

Students who fit into the pre-determined subject groupings and who are therefore eligible to sit the LCVP examination are encouraged to participate in the LCVP. The link modules are concurrently timetabled with Applied Mathematics and study, the last of which may influence students in their uptake of the programme. It was stated during the evaluation that ‘some students perceive study to be a free class’. As stated in section 1.4, study is not ‘instruction’ and therefore management needs to address this issue to rectify the above situation and ensure compliance with Circular Letter M29/95 for all students. Strategies could include for example, the provision of lessons in the link modules for all students not undergoing instruction at that time, as all students would benefit from completing these modules.

 

A small, dedicated and hard-working team of two teachers implement the LCVP, one of whom is the co-ordinator. The co-ordinator has a thorough knowledge of the programme and its implementation. Both teachers are also members of the LCVP teachers’ network based out of Waterford Teachers Centre and attend meetings relating to the programme during the academic year. This is commended. Support for the implementation of the programme from school management is good, as evidenced by the appropriate timetabling of the link modules. Strong links are maintained with local industry and community enterprises, particularly through work experience. Good planning is carried out to enhance the students’ experiences of the programme as evidenced by the documentation examined during the evaluation. Compliance with regard to students’ uptake of a modern language is adhered to. It is understood that on the rare occasion it has been necessary, arrangements were made to provide an ab-initio language module for students not taking a language to Leaving Certificate level. The LCVP school plan states that a file is being developed relating to cross-curricular linkage. This is commended. Teachers of the vocational subject groupings are encouraged to enhance the employment of strategies that facilitate cross-curricular linkage.

 

Ongoing commitment from the school contributes to the effective delivery of the LCA programme. Examples of this are the implementation by management of timetabling and other recommendations following the LCA evaluation in April 2007. The dedication of and teamwork between the co-ordinator and teachers involved is acknowledged in the success of the LCA programme in the school. Effective programme co-ordination and planning are the hallmarks of the LCA. A broad and balanced curriculum is offered, the design and implementation of which takes cognisance of students’ needs, interests and abilities. A written LCA programme is available, incorporating subject plans in almost all areas. Systems are in place to meet programme objectives and to facilitate the enhancement of the underlying principles of the programme. Due to unsustained student interest in the programme by the current fifth-year cohort that consisted initially of only four students, the fifth-year class was disbanded prior to October mid-term and arrangements were made to meet the ongoing needs to these students. It is recommended that the school continue to explore strategies to increase the understanding of incoming fifth-year parents and that of their sons or daughters of the nature and purpose of the programme, in order to facilitate its implementation in future years so that the needs of all students continue to be met. More detail on the LCA programme can be obtained in the programme evaluation report accompanying this whole-school evaluation report.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

As previously mentioned, in order to provide students with as wide a range of subjects as possible, subjects that were not offered in the schools prior to amalgamation are now included in the curriculum. These are as follows: Materials Technology (Metal), German, Technical Graphics, Applied Maths and Engineering. Furthermore Agricultural science and Music, which were initially offered outside the main timetable have now been incorporated into the option blocks. In addition LCA was introduced as an option. This is highly commended.

 

All first-year students study Irish, English, Mathematics, Religion, History, Geography, Science, Business, Civics, Social and Political Education(CSPE), Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), ICT and Physical Education (PE). The remaining subjects are optional subjects. A number of different ways of organising the taster system have been investigated and in some instances tried out in the school in order to provide students with the opportunity to study all subjects in advance of choosing for Junior Certificate. The effort to develop a suitable taster system is commended. First-year students currently experience a taster session from September to Halloween, at which time students drop four of the twenty subjects. Option blocks are presently pre-determined, thus preventing an open choice similar to the good practice undertaken for fifth-year subjects. The results of students’ choices at this stage influence their subject options in senior cycle. Therefore, consideration should be given to presenting the incoming students with an open choice and devising the option blocks based on students’ preferences. Final choices could then be made on completion of the taster sessions, thus facilitating a student driven process and simultaneously allowing students to make informed choices, as is presently the case. The current first-year parents were informed that subjects dropped in October 2007cannot be taken up again on entering second year.

 

Students drop a further two subjects on entering second year. Commendably, the option blocks are based on students’ preferences, although choices are constrained by decisions made in first year. Subject choice for the Leaving Certificate is based on students’ preferences. Initially the students have an open choice of all optional subjects. This is then analysed in order to produce bands that maximise the opportunity for each student to study their most favoured subjects. It is reported that the majority of Leaving Certificate students get their desired choice of subject. This process is commended. All students have the opportunity to take their chosen level in all subjects.

 

Students are afforded support and assistance in selecting subjects for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate and in choosing the TY/LCVP/LCA/Leaving Certificate options. Comprehensive guidance is provided to students and parents in assisting them in choosing programmes and subjects, including information on the implications of these choices. Parents are given appropriate, timely and comprehensive information on the options available and are included in the choice process with their children. This includes written documentation and information nights.

 

The school is congratulated for the wide range of subject choice provided and for the diversity displayed in framing the curriculum. The school should continue to follow best practice with regard to prioritising the views of the students when designing subject-option groups, keeping in mind their broad educational welfare and the teaching resources at the school’s disposal.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

The commitment and enthusiasm of the management and staff of Blackwater Community School to the provision of such an excellent array of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, all of which contribute to the holistic development of each individual student, is applauded. These include cultural, aesthetic, community, social and sporting activities. The opportunities offered to students in these areas endorse the vision expressed in the following statement from the school’s mission statement ‘to enable students to develop their academic, physical, emotional and spiritual potential to the fullest extent’.

 

Co-curricular activities such as foreign exchanges and tours, cinema trips, the Young Scientist and Technology Competition, the Young Social Innovators, Comhairle na nÓg, etc., complement and enhance the teaching and learning of related subjects. Students interested or talented in drama or music are also well provided for in the school. Cultural activities such as the drama, choir and the annual school musical provide an outlet for showcasing the talents of all students. Indeed, students have achieved success in both the musical and dramatic arenas and also in the Young Scientist and Technology Competition. This is commended. Students have participated in what has been termed the ‘BCS’ Factor, a school-based talent show based on the hit television show of a similar name The annual table quiz that students hold for pupils in local primary schools provides an opportunity to develop their planning and organisational skills. This level of provision is to be applauded.

 

Some of the co-curricular activities are more specifically focused on the spiritual development of students. Such activities include the annual senior citizens’ party and Christmas visits to Cappoquin Day Care Centre and St Carthage’s House. The major liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent are marked by opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Mass, a carol service and other liturgical celebrations. This encouragement and support for students’ spiritual development is excellent.

 

Sporting activities are well organised and supported by the school. Facilities are of a very high standard and an extensive extracurricular sports programme provides for participation in a myriad of activities. In spite of its short career, Blackwater Community School has experienced much success in national sporting competitions and events. For example, the school has won Waterford and Munster titles in hurling, camogie and badminton, and  national titles in volleyball. Other team sports that students are currently engaged in include soccer, basketball and ladies football. The pride in sporting success is evident in the display of trophies and photographs in the school.

 

The greater percentage of activities are provided on a voluntary basis by the staff. This additional interest and dedication is commended.

 

Staff and students are fully aware of the positive impact of such provision, with both groups highlighting the very favourable contribution that an involvement in co-curricular and extracurricular activities makes to overall relations. Concern has been expressed in the document entitled ‘Feedback on the Vision Survey’ conducted during the academic year 2006/2007 and in the minutes of some staff meetings regarding ‘extracurricular activities and loss of time balance’, and the need to ‘minimise disruption of class contact time.’ Taking cognisance of these concerns and the school’s commendable intention to raise academic attainment, it is recommended that strategies be explored to ensure that these issues are addressed while simultaneously providing the extensive range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities that are currently in place. For example, it is noted that one of the agreed professional practices from staff meetings is stated in the recently revamped teachers’ handbook, that ‘students should be restricted to three extracurricular sports or two and one other activity at any given time’.

 

Management and staff are encouraged in their efforts to sustain and develop this very important and significant part of school life.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

The quality of planning and preparation observed in the school in the subjects and programme inspected as part of the whole-school evaluation was good. Subject co-ordinators are in place for all subject departments and the LCA programme also has a formal co-ordinator in place. Formal subject department meetings take place and management is commended for facilitating this process by allocating time for subject department meetings at the start of the school year and at approximately one in every four staff meetings. The good practice of maintaining minutes from formal subject department and programme planning meetings was also noted and commented upon favourably by inspectors. In addition to formal planning meetings, much valuable planning takes place through informal meetings between teachers and there is clear evidence that teachers collaborate effectively with each other in the process of planning and review.

 

Good subject plans have been documented in all subject areas with yearly schemes of work outlined, although a comprehensive review of material to be covered in one subject area was recommended to ensure balance in the amount of material to be studied.

 

Good individual teacher planning in line with syllabus objectives was in evidence. This is commended. Many teachers have developed their own supplementary planning materials such as handouts, acetates and worksheets to complement syllabus materials and good cross-curricular planning was in evidence in some subject areas. Although most lessons benefited from thoughtful planning on the part of the teachers, precise planning of learning objectives for each lesson was recommended in one subject area with the recommendation that content for lessons be organised around the learning objectives. 

 

Planning for the provision of a wide range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities was apparent and the involvement of teachers and students in a number of cross-curricular projects was also noted. Management is commended for the ongoing efforts being made to promote and develop involvement in these activities and the commitment of teachers to the provision of these activities is acknowledged.

 

Suggestions for future development were made in each of the subject areas and the programme evaluated, including a need to develop long-term plans for each subject area where this has not been already done, the need to formalise arrangements with regard to participation in, and dissemination of, information from in-service courses attended and the ongoing development and delivery of team-teaching strategies.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

The quality of teaching and learning observed in the school was generally good and students were fully engaged in the learning process. In most cases the content and structure of lessons visited was appropriate and in line with agreed programmes of work and syllabus requirements. Lessons were appropriately paced and students remained on task and were focused and attentive. In lessons observed students showed a good knowledge and understanding of the topics covered. There was generally good linkage to previous lessons through questioning and continuity of learning was enhanced when a connection was also made with the next lesson.

 

Lessons were purposeful, demonstrating clear aims and objectives. On occasions these were openly shared with students, thereby providing students with a benchmark to evaluate their own learning. To further develop this process, it is suggested that lesson objectives, as opposed to lesson content, should be shared with students as this helps them to evaluate their own learning and can encourage them to become self-analytical, reflective performers. Furthermore, a review of these stated objectives as lessons draw to a close is also recommended.

 

A variety of teaching methodologies were used in lessons. These included team-teaching, peer-to-peer instruction, pair work, group work, brainstorming, research and investigations, tape work, role-play, class discussion, worksheets and practical work. In some instances appropriate links were established, where applicable, with existing understanding and everyday experiences and integration of other relevant areas of the syllabus. Best practice was observed when a variety of methodologies was used within the one lesson creating a stimulating and varied learning experience for students.

 

In many instances, questioning was used effectively to gauge students’ level of understanding, to probe their responses and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter in the lessons. A variety of questioning strategies was evident in lessons including a combination of both global and directed questioning. The good practice of using a variety of question styles including higher-order questions to appropriately challenge students was highlighted in some instances and further expansion of this was encouraged.

 

All lessons were well managed and the classroom atmosphere was warm, positive and affirming. Mutual respect among students and between teachers and students was evident. Interactions were generally relaxed and friendly whilst being highly respectful. Curricular activities were well organised in a manner that fostered students’ autonomy and self-esteem. In many instances appropriate specific measures were taken to include all students in the lesson.

 

In the best practice observed, a range of well-planned and appropriate resources was employed to support learning. ICT when used was effective. Good use was made of board work when required. Other resources included handouts, photographs, information leaflets and tape-recorders. The display and use of posters and students’ project work can be effectively used to remind students of key words and concepts.

 

Class work was productive and there were visible learning outcomes at the end of the lessons. Students’ progress was also evident from an examination of the written work completed by students in copybooks, workbooks and folders. There was evidence that in the majority of lessons, students had a clear understanding of the work in which they were involved. Students’ oral communication, practical skills and competencies were demonstrated through their ability to complete assigned work.

 

Practical lessons were highly organised, and students were supported in their work. A combination of whole-class instruction, on-spot demonstrations and one-to-one instruction was provided in practical lessons. The students applied themselves with proficiency and commendable care and attention. Students demonstrated a clear knowledge of proper and safe procedure and practice.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

A comprehensive range of assessment modes is utilised in order to determine students’ progress and achievement. This includes oral questioning in class, written work, class tests, term examinations and the assignment and correction of homework. The formal assessment of students’ practical and project work was also observed, as was the inclusion of a percentage of the marks achieved in these two areas in the overall mark awarded to students at key times during the school year. This approach is highly commended. Students’ copybooks and folders were indicative of the continuous assessment approach that is outlined in the school’s assessment policy. In some subject areas the teaching methodologies employed sought to increase students’ capacity to self-evaluate. This is fully encouraged. All classes are informally assessed at Halloween and non-examination classes have formal assessments at Christmas, Easter and prior to the summer holidays. In addition to the assessments at Halloween, Christmas and Easter, ‘mock’ examinations are held for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes in February. 

 

As appropriate, homework was assigned in each of the lessons observed. As alluded to previously, students’ copybooks were indicative of the regular assigning and monitoring of homework. In addition to the grading of students’ work, some fine examples of comment marking was observed in some students’ copybooks. Both approaches are commended and, as applicable, further encouraged. Good practice is evident where teachers encourage students to amend their work following correction.

 

It is clear that systems have been established in relation to the recording of students’ progress and achievement, as well as for the reporting of students’ outcomes to parents. Records are maintained of students’ attendance, participation and achievement in each subject area. These records are used to inform reporting to parents. In LCA a profile of the credits received by students in each of the seven student tasks undertaken, is maintained. This is commended. Written reports are sent home four times during the school year. This is considered excellent practice. Those issued at Halloween and Easter are based on the continuous assessment of students, while those issued at Christmas and following the summer examinations follow on from formal, in-house examinations. Comments provided on these reports are chosen from an agreed list. A review of the range of available comments should be considered and the possibility of including some ‘free text’ comments, so as to ensure the appropriateness of comments for certain subject areas, should be explored. Reporting to parents is also facilitated through the organisation of annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group, as well as through students’ journals.

 

The analysis of students’ performances in the Certificate examinations was also observed. It was clear that teachers are aware of the school’s standing in this regard and that they utilise this information to inform planning. For example, and as a result of this, in one subject area significant efforts are being made to increase uptake levels at higher level in both junior and senior cycle. The organisation of an annual awards ceremony that acknowledges students’ academic achievement and endeavours in each subject area is applauded.

 

In some subject areas it was clear that some groundwork has been completed in relation to the development of subject-specific assessment and homework policies. These should be further developed in time with a view to providing detail relating to specific class groups. Additional and more subject-specific findings and recommendations are provided in each of the appended subject inspection reports. 

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The school has displayed a significant commitment to developing provision for students with special educational needs and this provision is very good. Students with special educational needs are identified in a co-ordinated process through the enrolment procedures and through contacts with parents, primary schools and other appropriate agencies. This is in line with best practice. The special needs co-ordinator and the other teacher who is qualified in the area of special educational needs communicate with the teachers involved in delivery of resource hours and with the whole school in order to provide for and monitor needs and progress. Both teachers work extensively, and in a very committed fashion, to ensure adequate provision for students who have been identified as in need of additional support.

 

The school updated the special needs policy in November 2007, the original policy being ratified by the board in May 2005. Mention is made of students with English as an additional language in this policy. Given the changing demographics in West Waterford and to prepare for possible increase in the numbers of students with English as an additional language, it is suggested that the school register with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT), www.iilt.ie and that a separate policy on inclusion of students for whom English is an additional language should be developed in consultation with the guidelines produced by IILT. In this regard, the school should also refer to the Department of Education and Science Circular Letter 0053/2007:  ‘Meeting the needs of pupils for whom English is a second language’ and the Guidelines produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, ‘Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School.’

 

A large number of teachers have currently been assigned by the principal to assist in the delivery of learning support and resource hours to individual students. This is not consistent with best practice. However, it was stated that this large number of teachers was in part due to the reassignment of teachers who had been timetabled for the now disbanded LCA class. Every effort is made by the co-ordinator to have the same teacher administering support to identified students for whatever number of class periods the students are entitled. In order to maximise the effective use of the allocated provision, a core support team of teachers should be timetabled in order to facilitate the operation of a more cohesive and consistent programme of interventions.

 

The school’s procedures for the identification of students with special education needs adhere to best practice. The provision for special needs students is carried out in a number of ways, including, withdrawal of students for extra support, on an individual or small-group basis and team teaching. Students are identified for learning support using specific criteria. Small class groups have been put in place for foundation Mathematics in second year and in third year. Withdrawal is facilitated for some second-year and third-year students through the operation of a modified Junior Certificate programme, the number of subjects being reduced by two or three. It is understood that students may not opt for the full modified curriculum, depending on their needs. Significantly, parents and students are consulted with regard to the reduced timetable. Care should be taken to ensure that parents and students are fully aware of the future implications of the subject choices made at this stage. The provision of increased support in numeracy and literacy should also be considered. For example, given that students have lessons in PE and are afforded the opportunity for a large range of extracurricular activities, the timetabled leisure periods could be utilised to provide this.

 

Three experienced special needs assistants (SNA) have been assigned to the school and provide significant assistance to a number of students as they actively participate in learning activities. This is commended.

 

Senior management is supportive of the education-support team Two resource rooms, with an adequate level of ICT equipment, have been allocated for use in the area of special educational needs. One of the members of the education-support team during the last academic year has been facilitated in attending a postgraduate course. Whole staff development was accessed through the Special Education Support Service (SESS) during 2006/2007. Regular and ongoing whole-staff in-service could be planned that would focus on relevant themes such as strategies for enhancing literacy and numeracy. This could be delivered by qualified in-school staff as has been the practice in some instances.

 

The special needs co-ordinator communicates with the staff through a variety of means, including scheduled meetings with the principal and pastoral care team and attendance at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate year head meetings. Whole-staff communication is facilitated formally, through the Monday staff meetings, staff room noticeboard, weekly newsletter and this is supplemented with informal day-to-day discussions with relevant personnel.

 

Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been developed for students in receipt of resource hours from the Department of Education and Science. It is understood that this development involved co-operation with the students themselves and their parents. Students with special education needs are encouraged and facilitated to access and participate fully in all aspects of school life. Further support is provided to students with special education needs in the form of an after-school homework club. This is commended. It is understood that applications for the programme, ‘Centre for Talented Youth In Ireland’, organised by the Dublin City University are possible. It is noteworthy that the school is currently investigating the provision of additional strategies for the support of students with special education needs.

 

The school currently has an enrolment of approximately six students with English as an additional language. The school utilises the resources available, that is, a teacher with a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) to provide language support for these students. In addition, it is understood that the home-school-community liaison teacher (HSCL) has arranged for additional language lessons in the neighbouring town of Cappoquin. This is applauded. As stated above it is recommended that a whole-school policy be developed in order to enhance the support provided for students with English as an additional language.

 

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds and minority groups are encouraged and facilitated in all aspects of school life. The HSCL teacher maintains close links with the families and the community in order to assist in the provision of appropriate support for these students. This is commended. Significantly, the school is supportive of students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

It is understood that the practice is to enrol all students regardless of their needs and the school then endeavours to provide a curriculum suitable to each student’s need. In this respect it could be stated that Blackwater Community School works towards the achievement of a fully inclusive school. This is very good practice.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

A number of staff are involved both formally and informally in the delivery of guidance and support. The school makes appropriate use of the ex-quota hours allocated by the Department of Education and Science to provide personal, vocational and educational guidance. Structured programmes are delivered to all students in all year groups and programmes as required. A fine level of class contact is facilitated. A range of activities, including the use of ICT, mock interviews and visits to external agencies assist students in making choices and transitions in the personal, educational and career areas. This is commended. The school houses a well-developed and appropriately equipped guidance office and library. Significantly, access to ICT facilities is provided for guidance lessons. The level of resources is applauded.

 

Counselling takes place as necessary, and communication with and referral to the appropriate professional bodies is maintained with referral when necessary. This is good practice. Commendably, the guidance counsellor participates in information sessions arranged for parents and in this way provides information and support for parents to assist them in helping their son or daughter to make subject or programme choices.

 

While the school does not have a whole-school guidance plan, the current guidance counsellor’s plan contains an outline of the Guidance programme for each year group. This is commended. In the context of whole-school planning, a task group should be set up to progress the whole-school guidance plan. This task group should include core student support personnel, for example, members of the care team. While developing this plan, reference should be made to recently published documents on whole-school guidance planning, such as the document produced by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science (2005): Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance.

 

Strategies have been implemented to enhance students’ learning in line with the school’s vision. A weekly lesson in a study-skills module, ‘Learning to Learn’ has been implemented this year to support the learning of all fifth-year students and Leaving Certificate students have had a workshop in order to develop these skills. Junior cycle students have access to this programme through their Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) lessons. As previously mentioned, a mentoring system and a scheme for tracking students’ progress have also been initiated. These strategies are highly commended.

 

The care system in Blackwater Community School is intrinsic to the operation of school life and activities. Significantly, communication between the teams involved in the care of students is facilitated by means of overlapping personnel in the various groups. A care team comprising eleven members, including senior management, the guidance counsellor, the HSCL co-ordinator and the chaplain forms the backbone of the student support system. This group meets weekly, thus facilitating communication, amongst themselves and ultimately with the wider staff body, of information relating to students’ needs for support. The care team has close links with all year heads, who in conjunction with the class tutors have a distinct role in the care of students. The pastoral role of year heads and class tutors complement their discipline roles. They are available to advise and support students as well as liaising with the subject teachers and other school personnel. All of these personnel have an important role in monitoring each student’s personal development and providing appropriate support when necessary. In addition, the critical incident team has a specific role to play in the care of students and in this regard has close links with the care team, the year heads and class tutors. This level of care is applauded.

 

The bishop nominates the school chaplain who has a contract of indefinite duration. The role of chaplain is integrated into the work of the pastoral care team and, the religion team, collaborating and working with others in the school community. Complementing the pastoral role is the spiritual role. The chaplain is very proactive in the many and varied liturgies and other religious events which take place. There is a space in the main foyer that is decorated to reflect the changing liturgical calendar. The work of the chaplain in relation to supporting students is highly commended. The introduction of the ‘Rainbows Programme’ in the school is also applauded.

 

The school’s Cáirde group, which is comprised of twenty-five fifth-year students, is another element of the school’s support system. A co-ordinating teacher supports these students in their work. The Cáirde group works closely with first-year students, providing encouragement and support. They also organise activities and events that are designed to help these students to get to know one another and to settle into their new school environment. The group’s energy, commitment and interest is applauded. Another strategy that is provided to assist first-year students in becoming familiar with the school in advance of entry is the annual summer camp that is provided free of charge. Students are furnished with the opportunity to take part in a range of extracurricular activities. The work involved in this initiative is commended.

 

Students’ involvement in a range of community and caring activities fosters their social and personal development. These activities include working for Concern, Trócaire, Bóthair and working with the residents of ‘St. Cartage’s Old Folks’ Home and Day Care Centre’. SPHE is recognised as contributing to the school’s provision of guidance and support.

 

Students’ achievements in all aspects of school life including academic, sporting and personal successes are celebrated in particular by means of awards ceremonies. These awards are designed to publicly acknowledge a range of positive characteristics and qualities in students in addition to those mentioned above. The local community supports the school in its celebration by sponsoring the vast array of awards. The applauding of students’ successes in such a manner is highly commended.

 

As has been reported, different elements of Blackwater Community School provide for the care and support of students. The school should be justifiably proud of this.

 

 

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

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

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and deputy principal, staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

  

 

 

 

 

 

Published June 2008

  

 

 

 

Appendix

School response to the report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

            Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

Our school is pleased that this report recognises BCS as an “innovative school” (p23) which displays “advanced whole school planning” (p 23).  We are delighted that the” commitment and enthusiasm of the management and staff “ in our school has been complimented (p 23).  This is especially pleasing in the context of the implementation of “our broad curriculum and excellent array of co-curricular and extra curricular activities all of which contribute to the holistic development of each individual student in our school”.

We are satisfied that “the quality of teaching and learning in the school “ (p 24) is much praised.  Furthermore, we are glad that our school is acknowledged for our support and care for students through a wide and varied combination of services ranging from an elaborate staff mentoring system, positive discipline, Rainbows programme, pastoral care team, student Cairde, Chaplain and HSC Officer  (P24).

We are especially pleased that the report states that “all stakeholders met with in the course of the evaluation state that the amalgamation process had been successful and the transition into the new school has been a smooth one.  The school is commended on the considerable level of work collaboration and commitment required to achieve this success”. (p 10)

We are delighted that, in the 5th year of our new school the WSE report has recognised how much has been achieved in a short time and that “this innovative school”  (p23) is such a success.

I would like to commend the inspectorate for taking the time to respond to issues at the factual verification stage.

 

 

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