An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
De La Salle College
Churchtown, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60310E
Date of inspection: 27 February 2009
A whole-school evaluation of De La Salle College, Churchtown was undertaken in February 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these. A previous evaluation of the provision for English as an Additional Language was conducted during November 2008 and this report forms part of the evidence base for the whole-school evaluation. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
De La Salle College in Churchtown, founded in 1952, is a voluntary, secondary, non-fee paying, Catholic school for boys under the trusteeship of the De La Salle brothers. Current enrolment is 322 boys but at one time in the mid-nineteen eighties there were over 600 students enrolled. It was reported that the area of Churchtown is regenerating which offers renewed opportunities for more students enrolling in the school. This year, for the first time in many years, the school will operate a waiting list as there are reportedly more applicants than places available. The school takes pride in its strong rugby tradition. Although participating in the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, the school also prides itself in its academic tradition.
The De La Salle ethos is a community focused ethos that emphasises the care of the students and has a particular concern for the disadvantaged. There is a strong emphasis on the Lasallian ethos in De La Salle College. ‘De La Salle Day’ is celebrated annually with pride in the school. The De La Salle trustees have supported the school by providing funding for improvements to the facilities and school buildings. The trustees also support their schools in many other ways including: supporting leadership development through the organisation of leadership courses for principal teachers and other teachers; the provision of induction courses for newly appointed permanent teachers; and by encouraging school self-evaluation.
The De La Salle colleges in Ireland are currently in the process of moving into the Le Chéile trust which is an umbrella group for fourteen religious orders. This has led to some fears that the De La Salle ethos will be distilled in the larger organisation. At the time of the evaluation, this concern was somewhat abating as it has become clear that La Salle support will still continue into Le Chéile and the Le Chéile charter ensures that the values and traditions of the different religious orders are maintained. Already a team, working on behalf of the De La Salle order, has evaluated the ethos in the school and it was reported that it found a distinctive De La Salle ethos in the Churchtown school.
The school’s mission statement states that: The school seeks to foster the spiritual, moral, intellectual, social, cultural and physical education of all its pupils in a safe, secure and caring environment. In keeping with the charism of its founder, the school treasures all its pupils equally and encourages participation, integration and attainment for all the pupils. It strives to prepare students for the academic challenges they face, and to provide them with the necessary social, moral and spiritual skills so that they may take their place with confidence and prosper in the world.
The evaluation confirmed that the above mission statement is, on the whole, a true reflection of the work of the school. The school is keen to emphasise that it is welcoming of all abilities. There is a real commitment to the care of the boys to be found among the teachers and school management and this commitment was acknowledged by parents and students alike. In addition, students interviewed demonstrated great respect for their teachers and spoke about their pride in being in the school and of the De La Salle tradition. There was also a sense of the school being a small community within the larger local community. A particular feature of the school is the very good student-teacher relationships.
Although the characteristic spirit of care and respect was found on a daily basis in the school, it is not currently reflected in all of the policies emanating from the school, such as the intake policy. It is recommended that the mission statement, in order to be the guiding principle of all school policies, procedures and events, be stated on and integrated into all school policies.
There has been a board of management in operation in the school since 1985. This is the second year of the term of office of the current board of management. The long tradition of the board in overseeing the management of the school has led to the development of a focused board that has the interests of the student community at its heart and one that is well informed about school matters. The board meets on a monthly basis. It has ensured that all stakeholders in the school are informed about the ongoing developments of the Le Chéile charter.
Board members have received training for their role and there is a good awareness of this role among all board members. Good practice takes place in that agreed minutes of board matters are communicated to the parent and teacher bodies.
The board is very keen to follow correct procedures and has been particularly attentive to following Joint Managerial Body for Secondary Schools (JMB) advice and protocols. For example, the board has recently introduced a new policy in relation to collecting money for school tours. In addition, a sub-committee of the board oversees financial management in the school and all finances are audited on a monthly and annual basis. Priorities identified by the board for development include the development of an admissions policy and the establishment of a marketing campaign to increase student enrolment. The board is mindful of the available range of subjects on offer in the school and has discussed curriculum matters with a view to ensuring the maintenance of a broad range of subjects, including certain minority subjects. The board is also informed of serious discipline matters and, in extreme cases, has held disciplinary meetings with students and their parents.
Although committed, the board needs to be more proactive in working with senior management to identify the future needs of the school. In this regard, the board must ensure that the school plan is progressed, that all posts of responsibility meet the ongoing needs of the school and that key policies required by law or by Department of Education and Science circulars are in place. These include an admissions and enrolment policy (there was evidence that some work has begun on this policy), a relationships and sexuality education (RSE) policy, a whole-school guidance plan and an attendance and participation strategy. The existing health and safety policy statement (2004) should also be reviewed and updated in order to ensure that the commitments made in the policy are adhered to as the current policy states that it will be updated annually. The existing policy statement on deleterious substances (1996) is also in serious need of review.
The senior management team of the principal and deputy principal has complementary skills that serve the school well. Both have separate roles in the management of the school. The deputy principal takes on an excessively large range of organisational tasks including September and October returns, in-house examinations, supervision and substitution, school timetable and arrangements for subject choices. The principal takes a broader role; mainly in relation to human resource management and deals with issues directly relating to school staff and students. The principal is particularly dedicated to ensuring the pastoral care of the students and has given a guarantee to all parents that bullying will be immediately dealt with in the school. Both members of the senior management team maintain an open-door policy and have a clear presence around the school and both meet on a daily basis to discuss issues. Senior management is well respected by all stakeholders in the school.
The principal and deputy principal are totally committed to the school and the students. They are very accessible to staff, students and parents and directly manage most areas of school life. For example, the deputy principal is involved in organising a range of tasks crucial to the smooth operation of the school. Due to their busy work load, senior management often tends to react to some issues rather than to take time to proactively plan for the future needs of the school. For example, although senior management is aware of the need to overcome the current challenges in relation to providing appropriately qualified staff to teach all areas of the curriculum, a strategy to deal with this should have been planned for and implemented in the past.
There is an urgent need for the senior management team in the school to take time to plan more strategically and systematically in order to facilitate the implementation of the goals that they have been identified. In addition, senior management also needs time to plan for an increased intake and to deal with the process of updating school policies and procedures. For example, better planning would have ensured that students with English as an Additional Language (EAL) would have more access to support structures and resources. It is therefore recommended that many of the day-to-day tasks currently being undertaken by senior management, and the deputy principal in particular, be delegated to post holders or other teachers. The delegation of some of these tasks should be given priority in the next post of responsibility review, which is planned for next year.
The school’s assistant principals are consulted by senior management the same way that other staff members are consulted, that is, at staff meetings or informally. This should be reviewed. It is recommended that a cohesive middle management structure, which would enable senior management to have a consultative and advisory forum to work with and to discuss school priorities and review existing practices, be established in the school. Such a structure would also help build capacity among staff members.
The school currently has six assistant principal posts of responsibility and eight special duties posts. These posts of responsibility are constantly under review, which is largely to do with the fact that many of the post holders have retired in recent years. In addition, as numbers fell in the school in recent years the school lost some posts. The tasks assigned as posts are well executed but some of the posts do not encompass a level of responsibility commensurate with their status. In addition, some assistant principal posts include an ‘add on’ to their duties to reflect their status while others do not. This is inequitable. It is strongly recommended that in reviewing posts, a level of responsibility that is commensurate with the category of the posts be established. It is also recommended that in reviewing the posts of responsibility, the duties of each individual post also be reassessed and that a more up-to-date job description be agreed for each post.
Staff meetings are held two to three times a year. The staff has an opportunity to contribute to the agenda of these meetings. It is recommended that staff meetings be planned and timetabled in the school calendar in accordance with circular M58/04.
It was reported that there has been a fifty per cent increase in enrolments in the last five years. Senior management visits nearby primary schools with a view to attracting more students into the school. An open day is also held on an annual basis to promote the school. The school website is in its early days of development. In keeping with a recommendation from the board of management, the development of the website as a source of publicity for the school should be explored. Already some plans are in place to maintain a Transition Year (TY) section on the website and to display the school publication Wine and Gold.
There is a good system in place to ascertain information on the needs and abilities of incoming first-year students and this includes meeting with the key staff in their primary school. As already mentioned, the current intake policy is on the priority list for review which is very welcome because, although the reported practice in the school is for non-selective intake, this is not reflected in the thirteen-year-old policy.
There is an effective discipline system in the school and a good ladder of referral. The code of discipline is due to be reviewed this year to bring it more in line with the National Educational Welfare Board’s guidelines and this review is to be led by an assistant principal as part of a post of responsibility. Already gaps in the existing code of discipline have been identified and plans are in place to rectify these although the overall direction of the code is commended. Good practice takes place in that the existing code already includes positive discipline strategies. Referral slips have been created by year heads to pass students from one step of the ladder of referral to the next and this is good practice. A statement of the parents’ or student’s (if eighteen or over) right of appeal should be included in the reviewed code of discipline and the admissions policy.
The role of deans or year heads is a valuable one and there was evidence that the role is well executed. The fact that the deans now prefer to be referred to as year heads is evidence that they see their role evolving from a focused role on discipline to a more pastoral role. It seems apparent that some year heads have taken on more responsibility than others, regardless of whether they are special duties teachers or assistant principals. A more consistent role for all year heads is recommended.
A new role of dean of studies for senior cycle students has been recently established. While the emphasis on encouraging students to reach their full potential is highly commended, it is a role that could be adopted by each year head as part of the existing year head duties as the numbers in each year group are small. It is further recommended that an office be made available to the year heads for their work as this will facilitate exchange of ideas and consistency of practice.
The school uses a swipe card system for recording attendance electronically in the morning and after lunch. Teachers also take a roll in each lesson. One of the duties of the year heads is to follow up on absences and a list of all absent students is notified to staff each day. The school is obliged to have an attendance and participation strategy and this is an area for development. The particular issues of student mentors absenting themselves from class or of students missing a lot of classes due to sport could be dealt with in this strategy. It was reported that retention levels in the school are high.
The parents’ association is a very well informed, well supported and active group and it is evident that there are very good relations between the association, the principal and staff in the school. The association has established an effective role for itself in the school. It described this role as threefold: enriching the lives of the school for students; creating a place where parents can meet; and advising the school on relevant matters. Examples of how the parents support the school and enrich the lives of students, include fundraising for the radio studio which has been set up for TY, organising a wine and cheese night for first-year parents and recommending the revival of a careers night in the school. The parents’ association also organises a Mass for deceased members of staff and pupils, a table quiz for fundraising purposes, a graduation dinner and a ‘Debs’ reception for Leaving Certificate boys and their parents. Parents are commended for contributing to the sense of community within the school as well as for truly enriching the school with their support and new ideas.
Parents on the association have been consulted on a range of issues by school management. Parents expressed great satisfaction with the school and its teachers. They reported that teachers are very accessible in the school and there was evidence of frequent communication home on a range of issues by letter and via the school journal. The parents receive reports on their sons’ progress four times each year and there is a parent-teacher meeting for all years in the school, apart from TY. The home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator has created very effective links with parents and this role will be discussed later in the report.
Good links have been established with the local community and the school also makes the building available to local groups for a small charge. Through the HSCL scheme, the school has created many links with outside agencies to improve the lives of students in the school.
The school has a current allocation of 24.91 whole time teacher equivalent (WTE) posts. There are currently twenty-seven teachers on the staff and eighteen of these are on permanent whole-time contracts. The school has been in an ‘over quota’ position in terms of numbers of teaching staff for a number of years and this is the first year that this has not been the case. Consequently, the senior management team has not been in a position to recruit a permanent teacher over the last eight years. The school is due to lose the HSCL co-ordinator position this year due to recent cutbacks. This means that the current co-ordinator will return to full time teaching in a subject area that has an oversupply of teachers while qualified teachers are in undersupply in other subject areas, particularly the core subjects. As it stands, the school is relying on curricular concessions to provide some subjects and, in a small number of cases, some teachers are not suitably qualified to teach the subjects they are teaching. This latter scenario is worrying as it erodes standards. In addition, some of the optional subjects are taught by part-time teachers who may not return to the school. There is a curriculum review group which was set up to advise the principal and board on future staffing and curriculum needs. This group is commended for the work it has done in identifying the key issues. However, the school now needs to plan a strategy to address these issues in both the long and short term.
The weekly amount of instruction time provided in the school meets Department of Education and Science requirements.
The school has set a target of increasing enrolment to 450 students and a strategy to ensure the achievement of this target needs to be put in place. Consideration could be given to increasing this target to 500 students as this would bring additional curricular benefits to the school, such as a full-time guidance counsellor. The school’s EAL allocation of two WTE teachers should be utilised more effectively to support these students. It is also recommended that an induction programme for teachers that are new to the school be planned in future years as there is likelihood that there will be considerable changes to personnel in this time. An induction booklet could be prepared for new teachers to outline the ethos, key structures and procedures in the school.
Good practice takes place in that management allocates teachers to class groups to ensure that all have experience on a rotating basis of teaching their subject to all levels and in all programmes. The staff is also surveyed each year in preparation for the timetable. The current practice of timetabling some teachers for early finish on most days of the week should be discontinued. For example, two of the year heads are timetabled for early finishes on most days of the week and consequently have little non-timetabled class contact time during the day to effectively execute their post duties without missing class or causing students to miss class, for example to collect lateness sheets. A better distribution of non-class contact time is recommended on the timetables of these year heads and for others, as such practices are also inequitable.
School management facilitates all teachers to attend relevant continuous professional development courses.
Information and communication technology (ICT) provision is good and there are three rooms; the computer room, the learning-support room and the technology room which are well equipped with computers. The school is also wired for broadband. There is a post of responsibility for ICT which involves maintenance of equipment and this is commended. TY students are timetabled for lessons in ICT and these students undertake the Microsoft Academy Word Specialist Certificate course. A large number of rooms are equipped with data projectors and there was evidence of these in use in some classrooms. Overall utilisation of ICT could be expanded through provision for staff development in this area.
Physical resources are good in the school. Each teacher has their own base classroom and there was evidence that these classrooms were stocked with suitable teaching resources. It is suggested that better signage for classrooms be put in place. Better signage of the school for the outside community would also be useful. It was reported that management meets all requests for resources by subject departments on a needs basis. The school walls are nicely decorated with photographs of students from the past and present, particularly in relation to rugby and other school trips. These pictures enhance the ambiance of the school. The school is also fortunate to have its own playing fields. Over the years, there has been a whole-school approach to improving the environment of the school including the development of a school garden. A part of a post of responsibility is now assigned to maintaining the school environment. It is suggested that the school aim to achieve green flag status as part of this post.
The school has a very well-stocked library and the school funds a part-time librarian. This is a very useful and commendable resource and it was reported that many students borrow books on a regular basis. The school also has an audio-visual room and an oratory. Other recent improvements to enhance the curriculum for students include the TY radio studio. The school gym is state-of-the-art and of immense benefit to the school. The school is made available to local community groups and this is a source of funding for the school.
The school office is a hub of activity at all times of the day and it was reported that the secretarial support in the office is vital to the smooth operation of the school. Likewise, the caretaking staff has a constant presence in the school.
A process of whole school planning was initiated in the school in the academic year 2000/2001, when the mission statement and some school policies emerged. This planning process has continued since then and some planning groups and policies have been developed in response to real identified needs in the school. Examples of such committees include; the student activity and sports committee, the facilities and school environment committee, the enrolment and student numbers committee, the student care and safety committee, the curriculum review committee and the student ethos committee. These committees have identified targets in relation to one and five year’s time. Progress in some of these key areas can now be seen. For example, the school now has a critical incident policy in place and the school has reviewed its open day procedures. This work is highly commended. However, it seems that some of these committees, for example the intake committee, may fall into abeyance if the chairperson of the committee retires or leaves the school. In addition, while the work of these committees is highly commended and each committee has identified targets or goals, there is not always an outline of how the school will achieve these goals. It is strongly recommended that more structured action planning take place and that each committee identify the manner in which each target will be achieved.
There is a basic school plan in place which contains the school’s policies and the areas that have been identified for development. The key policy areas that need review or development have already been outlined in an earlier section of this report and it is strongly recommended that work on these policies commence and that they are finalised as soon as possible. The ongoing cycle of consultation, review, self-evaluation and monitoring of progress in achieving targets will have to be more systematically established, as will the impact of school planning on students’ learning.
It was reported that some policies emanate from the board of management while others are identified by staff. This is good practice. The students and parents have been consulted over relevant policies such as the code of discipline. Other policies in place in the school include a pupil protection policy, a dignity at work charter, a policy for identifiable education needs, a home-school-community-liaison policy and procedures and guidelines on professional behaviour for school personnel. All school policies should be dated and a date for review included. The pupil protection policy includes procedures for countering bullying. It would be useful if the policy also outlined the steps to be taken by the school in the event of bullying incidents being reported.
In order to implement a more systematic method of planning in the school, it is suggested that a post of responsibility be considered for school development planning so that one person will take responsibility for leading and facilitating this very important area of school life. In addition, one of the staff development days could be given over to identifying areas for improvement in the school and devising strategies for achieving these aims.
Over the course of the evaluation, some concern was identified about maintaining the work ethic of the students and ensuring that student absences from class in relation to other school activities were kept to a minimum. A proposal for the re-establishment of a committee on developing a work ethic among students has been made but so far has not been implemented although some work has been done on this front including the appointment of a dean of studies. This is an area for development.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with post-primary circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to 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.
The school provides the traditional curricular programmes of the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and Transition Year. It offers a broad range of subjects and strives to maintain minority subjects on its curriculum. Science and French are core subjects at junior cycle and all first years study ICT. In addition, students have access to a mix of academic as well as practical subjects. The school has considered the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme but realises that it is not suitable for the cohort of students who attend the school. However, it is recommended that the school give serious consideration to introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) into fifth year. This programme gives a strong vocational dimension to the Leaving Certificate (established) and combines the virtues of academic study with a focus on self-directed learning, enterprise, work and the community. The LCVP would be very suitable for some of students in the school.
Currently, Physical Education (PE) is not provided for either fifth-year or sixth-year students. It is recommended that the school review this policy with a view to including PE on the timetable for these year groups. Applied Maths is offered after school to students and management would like to introduce Music onto the curriculum in future years.
The curriculum review committee has identified a number of worthy priorities for the school to explore including the maintenance of high standards of teaching and learning, a review of subject choice, the provision of resources for EAL students and a marketing and publicity campaign to increase enrolment. These are highly commendable priorities and, as already stated in section 1.4, it is now time that a strategy was implemented to achieve them.
All boys in the school are encouraged to participate in TY although a few students who do not wish to participate in the programme are facilitated to go straight into fifth year. The co-ordination of the TY programme is commended and there are constant plans to improve the programme. For example, a TY booklet for students and for parents has been introduced and there are plans for a TY section on the school website. The plans in place for improving the programme are highly commended and in keeping with some of the recommendations of the curricular review committee. In addition, the planned review of the programme is to be welcomed and should involve parents and teachers as well as students. Recommendations from individual subject inspection reports in relation to TY planning should be addressed.
Some subjects in TY are offered on a year-long basis while others are offered on a modular basis. There was evidence of new modules and ideas constantly being introduced into the programme. Many activities are organised for TY students throughout the year which, although commendable, has the effect of interrupting teaching and learning in timetabled lessons. School management should consider timetabling these activities to minimise interference with normal class contact time. In addition, TY students embark on two work experience sessions each year with each session generally lasting two weeks. This means that students miss one month of instruction time during TY. It is suggested that work experience be reduced and that a week of community service or community care be also introduced on a formal basis. TY students are encouraged to participate in Gaisce – the President’s award and are involved in paired reading with feeder primary schools and in assisting students in the school’s homework club. In addition, a buddy system with the elderly is being set up. These useful activities could be harnessed into one week-long community care module.
A mixture of setting and streaming is practised in the school at junior cycle. For most subjects in each year of junior cycle, students are placed into one of two class groups depending on the outcome of a set of assessments of their abilities. The two class groups are split into three class groups, which are concurrently timetabled, for English, Irish, Mathematics and Science. There was evidence of students being moved from one class group to another throughout the year and especially at the end of first year and students are allowed to change level, where necessary, for all subjects. If a student is moved to a higher class group the consequence is that another student generally has to move back to the lower stream. Recent research demonstrates that streaming has ‘negative consequences on the outcomes of junior cycle’ for a large body of students. It is recommended that the current system be kept under review especially in light of increasing enrolment. Other models, such as the formation of mixed-ability groupings in first year, and perhaps beyond, or the banding of the two top groups should be considered in junior cycle. In addition, teachers should be vigilant in ensuring that the uptake of higher level is encouraged in the lower streams as well as in the top stream. An analysis of results in the state examinations suggests that only those in the top class group may be encouraged to attempt higher level in some subjects, although it must be stated that this is not always the case.
Setting is the practice in all fifth-year and sixth-year class groups and this method of placement of students is appropriate for Leaving Certificate. However, the streamed nature of Transition Year goes against the spirit of the programme and it is recommended that a mixed-ability placement of students (with perhaps some exceptions, for example in Mathematics and Irish) be implemented.
Students are well supported in relation to making subject choices in the school. They must make choices between subjects twice during their time in the school; prior to entry into first year and prior to entry into fifth year. An open day for incoming first-year students is organised each year where subject teachers are available to answer questions in relation to choosing various subjects. An information meeting is held for all parents of incoming first-year students where the subject choices are outlined and an information pack is distributed. Students make their subject choices from an open choice of subjects. It was reported that students are accommodated to transfer between optional subjects if it is considered that they have made a wrong choice. Students make their subject choices for fifth year during TY, having had the opportunity to participate in a taster programme of these subjects throughout TY and having received advice about various career options. This is very good practice. Some of the information that is given to students in relation to certain subjects needs to be updated to reflect syllabus changes. Prior to entry into fifth year, students make their choices from an open list of subjects and then subject options blocks are compiled to best fit the preferences expressed as an outcome of that survey. Students expressed satisfaction with this system as all reported getting their first choices.
The current optional subjects in first year; Art, Business Studies, Technical Graphics and Materials Technology (Wood), are timetabled three times a week for single periods in first year and either three or four times each week in second and third year. Ideally, four periods per week should be allocated to these subjects in each year of junior cycle. In addition, there are no double periods for these subjects provided on the timetable. This is an area that needs to be addressed in order to provide adequate time for the delivery of these subjects.
Guidance is timetabled for TY students. One group receives two periods of Guidance each week and the other group receives one period. This anomaly occurs due to the fact that the guidance counsellor is shared with another school. In addition, it was reported that the TY students are not always available for Guidance lessons due to other activities. Sixth-year students also have one timetabled period of Guidance each week and the guidance counsellor meets sixth-year students on an individual basis also. This is good practice. It is recommended that TY Guidance be reduced to one period a week and that fifth-year students be timetabled for one period of Guidance also in order to prepare students on a more systematic basis for making career choices.
A range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are offered in De La Salle College. Teachers are commended for their commitment to this aspect of school life. Rugby is the main sport in the school, and the school has had a lot of success in this area. The school also has had much success in basketball and currently holds the title of All-Ireland Champions in basketball at under-nineteen level. Gaelic football has also been recently introduced. Other sports include badminton, squash, soccer, sailing, canoeing, athletics and orienteering. Students have participated in courses leading to referee and football coaching certification. The school stages a drama on an annual basis with the assistance of a nearby girls’ school and this work is highly commended. In addition, the school has recently established its own band and music lessons are offered to students in the school outside school hours. These activities enrich students’ lives and are commended.
In addition to structured team activities, the school also runs a chess club and an annual chess competition and provides table tennis before school and at lunchtime. It was reported that these activities are a great support for particular students and also help in integrating students. Annual school trips abroad and in Ireland are organised and students were recently involved in the Dublin Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. Class teachers also bring their students on field trips to complement their classroom activities including theatre trips, visits to museums and visits to places of local interest.
An annual school publication Wine and Gold has recently been revived. This publication gives a very good flavour of the range of activities on offer in the school and the commendable commitment of many teachers in organising these activities.
4.1 Planning and Preparation
Provision for collaborative subject department planning is facilitated through the designation of time each year for formal meetings. While records are kept of meetings held, more detailed recording of decisions taken at these meetings is recommended.
There is currently some variation between subject departments in relation to collaborative long-term planning. Some of the subject departments inspected have developed wide-ranging plans addressing current provision, organisation of work and plans for future development. Other departments however, are only in the very early stages of subject planning. Furthermore, the planning documents examined often reflected the work of individual teachers rather than a collaborative department plan for teaching and learning of the subject. All subject departments should work to develop an agreed subject plan. To progress the subject planning process in a more systematic way, it is also recommended that, where it is not currently in place, a subject co-ordinator be nominated to lead planning in that subject area. This position should be rotated on a regular basis. The curriculum section of each subject plan should outline the intended learning outcomes that each year group should achieve, proposed teaching and learning methodologies, proposed use of ICT, the range of resources available for topics and proposed assessment methods. This level of detail is recommended for all subject areas. Such plans would ensure maintenance of appropriate standards and assist the work of newly appointed teachers, substitute teachers and learning-support teachers. Such planning should also help teachers to identify any gaps in resource provision and enable them to submit resource requirements to senior management at the start of each year. It would also facilitate students if they change classes and facilitate the specialist teaching of EAL and SEN students. Furthermore, each subject department should conduct an analysis of student grades in the state examinations to examine trends in relation to the uptake of levels and to plan strategies to increase the uptake of higher level. Strategic planning for increasing the uptake of optional subjects among students would also be an additional important activity.
Planning for the individual TY subjects and modules was generally good but in some instances, as outlined in subject inspection reports, the plans should include new and creative ways of teaching and learning in keeping with the overall philosophy and aims of Transition Year, and all TY plans should be modelled on Department of Education and Science Transition Year Programmes Guidelines for Schools.
Most subject departments had gathered a range of resources to support teaching and learning of the activities and topics covered in the planned programme. A number of relevant books, worksheets, charts, videos and ICT presentations have been compiled and are used as a reference for the enhancement of knowledge and skill competencies. In one instance, however, a recommendation was made to compile a broader range of resources for the subject.
There was good individual preparation for all the lessons evaluated and resources including handouts had been prepared in advance. There was evidence of good planning also in the content and delivery of lessons.
4.2 Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning was generally of a high standard in the school with many instances of very good practice noted in individual subject inspection reports. Classrooms are teacher based and many presented as subject-related print-rich environments. This good practice should be extended to all classrooms.
Lessons were well structured and, in most instances, appropriately paced. Good practice was observed in instances where the intended learning outcome was shared with the students. This practice should be extended to all lessons. Students were appropriately challenged in lessons observed and the lesson content was clearly delivered. Some very good examples of active student learning were noted and where this was not the case, it was recommended.
Opportunities for students to demonstrate and apply their learning were observed in many instances through the use of pair work activities, scientific investigations and active tasks. This student-centred approach, promoting active learning is commended. Tasks set were appropriately challenging and, in many instances, a differentiated approach enabled all students to achieve the assigned tasks. This is commended.
The board was effectively used in many of the subjects inspected to record the key points and concepts introduced in the lesson. ICT was also effectively used in some of the lessons observed to support teaching and learning. However, there is scope for the development of this approach and it is recommended that all teachers explore the potential of ICT in teaching and learning. Supplementary worksheets were used to good effect in some lessons. However, a more widespread use of supplementary materials and stimulating resources was recommended in some subject inspection reports.
The target language was mostly well used by the teacher in the language lessons observed and there were some excellent examples where every effort was made to ensure the target language was to the fore in lessons. In a small number of instances where the use of the target language was limited, a recommendation was made to extend its use.
Questions and answer sessions were used in many lessons to recap on previous learning and to link topics to the work being undertaken in the lessons evaluated. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging. The practice of naming a student to answer questions as opposed to a ‘hands up’ approach is recommended to ensure that all students participate.
There was very good classroom management in all lessons evaluated. Students applied themselves well to the work in hand and they responded accurately and confidently to the questions asked, some of which involved higher-order thinking skills. Overall, students demonstrated very good learning.
Good practice takes place in that students’ progress is carefully monitored in all years in the school as each student is met by a teacher to discuss their individual progress. Parents receive reports on students’ progress four times a year based on the results of continuous assessment and formal school examinations. TY students do not sit formal tests. However, a commendable system of student interviews takes place in TY annually where a team of teachers, mainly form teachers and year heads, interviews the students on their work progress. Study skills seminars are organised for third and sixth years. There is an annual prize-giving night in the school which awards prizes to the best achieving students in each year group as well as prizes for achievements in other areas. Such a focus on encouraging students is highly commended. A homework club is provided each evening in the school. As part of the Gaisce awards, TY students and fifth-year students provide homework support to junior cycle students with additional needs during this time and this is highly commended. The after-school study facility for students is also commended.
Assessment practices in the subjects evaluated included the monitoring of students’ work by teachers, ongoing questioning of students, the allocation of homework assignments and the setting of regular class tests. A review of students’ copies revealed that relevant homework was given, although greater monitoring of students’ copies was recommended in some instances. Elements of student self and peer assessment observed in some lessons is commended. Assessment practices should be expanded in some subjects to include giving constructive written feedback on students’ work, providing opportunities for student research, completion of ‘rich’ tasks, and the introduction of a practical component or an oral assessment for all year groups in relevant subject areas. Staff development in the area of Assessment for Learning (AfL) is recommended. It was reported that the school plans to review its homework policy in the future. This is to be encouraged as it was an area identified for development by some teachers.
The provision for students with learning support or special educational needs (SEN) is commended. The school has an allocation of one WTE for learning support and 1.35 WTEs for special needs provision. A team of two teachers provides this additional support and the small team allows for ease of collaboration and communication. Students are supported from first year through to sixth year mainly by withdrawal and, in these lessons, they are given additional literacy support and help in developing their study skills. If students have an exemption from Irish they are given learning support at this time. Otherwise, they are withdrawn from a range of other subjects while attempting to keep disruption to a minimum. The SEN and learning support allocation is also used to create the third group in English, Irish, Mathematics and Science at junior cycle and for English, Irish and Mathematics at senior cycle which means smaller classes for students of lower ability in these subjects. A qualified learning-support teacher teaches the lower-ability grouping for Mathematics and this represents good use of the school’s learning-support resources.
Students are also supported by providing for reasonable accommodation in certificate examinations (RACE) and it is commended that in the ‘mock’ examinations that were taking place at the time of the evaluation, RACE students were given experience in taking their examinations in this way.
Students sit incoming assessment tests prior to entry to the school and certain identified students are further tested in first year. The SEN team keeps very good profiles of all students receiving support. In addition, there was evidence of very good communication with staff in relation to students with SEN. It is suggested, to build on this very good practice, that in-service be arranged on teaching students with SEN in mainstream classrooms so that the entire staff is fully aware of appropriate teaching strategies for SEN students.
The learning-support room is equipped with good ICT facilities, including Kurzweil software which facilitates the computer to read the text aloud to students. Some SEN students are also loaned laptops to assist them in their learning.
The provision for students with EAL is an area for development in the school. This is particularly the case as one-fifth of the school’s population are EAL students and the school has two WTEs allocated to aid provision for non-nationals. The resource allocation for EAL is not used as well as it should be and this is addressed in detail in the EAL evaluation report for the school.
The school participates in the Disadvantaged Area Status scheme. However, it will lose this status in the coming school year which means it will lose its full-time HSCL co-ordinator and some funding. This will be a loss to the school as the HSCL co-ordinator is seen to be central to the pastoral care of students in the school and the role is manifold and useful. The role includes liaising with parents to support students in the school and working as a conduit with the year heads. The HSCL co-ordinator makes regular home-school visits and liaises with local education groups and relevant agencies. The role includes following up on regular absenters and working with early school leavers. Parental courses are also organised. The HSCL co-ordinator is also involved in running a range of other activities including a soccer blitz for sixth-class students in feeder primary schools, a rugby camp for incoming first years and a coffee morning for first-year parents. Overall, the HSCL service in the school is highly commended.
There is a care team in the school and the full team comprises senior management, the SEN teacher, the HSCL co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor. The team meets on a needs basis and deals with issues referred to it by teachers in the school. Other relevant personnel may be seconded onto the care team for particular issues. A more systematic structure to meetings should be considered, perhaps on a monthly basis with minuted meetings. The care team takes a proactive approach to supporting students and implements a range of supports for vulnerable students. This is highly commended.
The school has a 0.5 WTE allocation for guidance and counselling and has employed a guidance counsellor who is shared with another school. Guidance lessons are timetabled for four hours and forty minutes each week with the remaining time used in one-to-one meetings with students and for counselling. Students reported satisfaction with the guidance service. However, due to a lack of time, the guidance counsellor is concentrating the service and resources on senior cycle students. It is recommended that the guidance counsellor meet all first-year students on their entry to the school in order to ensure that they are aware of the guidance and counselling service. In addition, it is recommended that the whole-school guidance plan be immediately advanced so that formal links can be established with all other services in the school delivering guidance, especially with the social, personal and health education (SPHE) department and the student support systems. Parents have requested a careers night on an annual basis in the school and plans are in place to implement this.
The pastoral care supports for students in the school are very good and there is a strong ethos of care. The school works hard to ensure that all boys are happy in the school and arranges a number of fun activities prior to the commencement of the formal school year for incoming first-year students. The SEN co-ordinator and principal visit feeder primary schools to get information regarding incoming students. Students sit incoming assessment tests in November and parents of incoming first years are invited to a formal meeting in the school each May. Incoming first years are invited to an ‘induction day’ in the school each June where standards and expectations are made clear. A week-long rugby camp is organised for these students in August.
The school operates a mentor or buddy system where a team of fifth-year students acts as mentors to first years. These mentors are appointed following a written application and interview. Mentors assist in the induction process of first years and organise sports, recreational and social activities for them. They also keep an eye out to ensure that these students are coping in first year. This system is commended. In addition, a prefect system is in operation in the school for sixth years. Prefects are elected by the students and teaching staff and act as leaders and representatives of the school. The mentors and prefects together form the student council. This is not a structured forum and currently meets at the discretion of the principal for consultative purposes. It is recommended that a properly constituted student council be established. The council should have a clearly defined role, should meet at regular intervals during the year and should actively engage in whole-school issues, such as school planning.
Each junior cycle class group has a form teacher assigned to it. This form teacher, who also teaches the class group, moves with the students from first year through to third year. The role of the form teacher is clearly defined and involves dealing with low-level discipline issues and student pastoral care. Some of the form teachers meet their class group at 8.45am each morning for roll call and to deal with any pertinent issues at this time. This is a very useful strategy. There was evidence that the form teachers execute their duties very well. For example, journals are checked on a regular basis by these teachers.
The year heads deal with more serious incidents of discipline and junior and senior year heads respectively have a slot timetabled each Friday to meet together to discuss issues. In instances of serious incidents of discipline, the year heads use this time to meet the student. The year heads refer students to the HSCL co-ordinator, guidance counsellor or care team as necessary. Overall, the care of the students is one of the greatest strengths of the school and results in well disciplined and happy students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Students demonstrated great respect for their teachers, and pride in being in the school and of the De La Salle tradition.
· Very good student-teacher relationships are a feature of the school.
· The board of management has the interests of the school community at its heart.
· The senior management team is totally committed to the school and its students. Their complementary skills serve the school well.
· Good work is being done to attract more students to the school and there are good systems in place to ascertain relevant information on incoming first years and to induct
first years into the school.
· There is an effective discipline system in the school and a good ladder of referral.
· The role of dean is valuable and is evolving into a year head role. The form teacher system is also effective.
· The parents’ association is a very well informed, well supported and active group which enriches the life of the school.
· Parents expressed great satisfaction with the school and with its teachers and there is frequent communication home on a range of issues.
· The curriculum review group has identified a number of worthy priorities for the development of the school and the curriculum.
· Physical resources in the school are good, including ICT provision.
· The school offers a broad range of subjects, and students have access to a good mix of academic as well as practical subjects.
· The TY programme is progressive and evolving.
· Good information and advice is given to students in relation to making subject choices.
· A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are offered which enrich students’ lives and the commitment of teachers in this area is commended. Rugby is
strongly promoted in the school.
· Teaching and learning was generally of a very high standard with a range of effective teaching methodologies observed. Students applied themselves well and demonstrated good learning.
· A range of very good assessment practices are in place and student progress is well monitored.
· There is good provision for students with learning support or special educational needs and these students are well profiled.
· There are very good pastoral supports for students and the care team takes a proactive approach to supporting vulnerable students. A strong ethos of care emanates
from senior management down in the school and the overall care of students is one of the great strengths of the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The board of management needs to be more proactive in working with senior management to ensure that the school plan is progressed, that the posts of responsibility meet the
ongoing needs of the school and that school policies required by law or circular are in place; these include an admissions and enrolment policy, a RSE policy, a whole-school guidance
plan and an attendance and participation strategy. The existing health and safety policy and the policy statement on deleterious substances should be immediately reviewed.
· Senior management needs to take time to plan more strategically and systematically to facilitate the implementation of the goals that they have identified, including planning
to meet curricular challenges, planning for an increased student intake and devising and updating policies and procedures. In this regard, there is a need to develop a long-term plan
for the school. More structured action planning should take place and strategies for achieving identified aims should be developed. A post of responsibility for school development planning
should be considered.
· Some of the day-to-day tasks currently being undertaken by the deputy principal in particular should be delegated to post holders or other teachers, and a cohesive middle
management structure should be established in the school.
· All posts of responsibility should have the level of responsibility commensurate with their status and some of the posts should have a more up-to-date job description.
· Staff meetings should be planned and timetabled in accordance with circular M58/04.
· The school should give serious consideration to introducing the LCVP.
· The timetable for all teachers in the school should be more equitable. The timetabling of some junior cycle optional subjects also needs review. The timetabling of TY Guidance
should be reduced to one period a week so that fifth years could be provided with one period of Guidance. The school should make every effort to timetable PE for senior cycle students.
· EAL support should be improved and the EAL allocation should be used more effectively to support these students.
· The current system of streaming in junior cycle should be reconsidered and the uptake of higher level should be further encouraged in the lower streams. The streamed nature
of TY should be immediately discontinued.
· Systematic and collaborative subject planning needs to be implemented in order to: to support new teachers, to preserve standards, to facilitate EAL and SEN students, to plan for
the acquisition of resources, to plan for the uptake of optional subjects, to plan for increased uptake of higher level and to facilitate movement of students. In this regard, a subject
co-ordinator for each subject should be nominated and minutes of subject department meetings recorded. TY subject plans should better reflect Department of Education
and Science guidelines.
· It is recommended that a properly constituted student council be established. The council should have a clearly defined role and should meet at regular intervals during the year.
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:
· Subject Inspection of English as an Additional Language – 21 November 2008
· Subject Inspection of French – 25 February 2009
· Subject Inspection of Irish – 27 February 2009
· Subject Inspection of Physical Education – 5 March 2009
· Subject Inspection of Science and Physics – 24 February 2009
Published February 2010