An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Royal School Cavan

College Street, Cavan

Roll number: 61080S

 

Date of inspection: 28 November 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

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

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Royal School Cavan was undertaken in November 2008. 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 was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

Introduction

 

The Royal School Cavan, a co-educational, voluntary secondary school, was founded in 1611. The oldest part of the school building, which still forms an intrinsic part of the school, was purpose-built in 1819 as a boarding school. It operates under the trusteeship of the Protestant (Local) Board of Education, a board set up under the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Act of 1885. The school, which is fee-paying, caters mainly for students from the local area and from neighbouring counties within a forty-mile radius of Cavan town. Currently there is an enrolment of 191, including fifty-seven boarders and twenty international students. This year the school, along with the four other Royal Ulster Schools, has been celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of receiving the charter for its foundation. There are eight main feeder primary schools.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The school community shares the aspiration of ensuring both the curriculum and facilities provided in the school meet the demanding and changing requirements of the twenty first century so as to support the provision of a quality education for all students within a Christian ethos. In addressing the curriculum aspect, the school currently offers sixteen subjects at junior cycle, thirteen subjects to Leaving Certificate level and thirteen subjects and nine modules for Transition Year (TY), indicating successful efforts to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. As regards the facilities, an extensive programme of expansion and renovation has transformed the school amenities and has made an equally important contribution to meeting the school’s stated mission.

 

The ethos of care in the school, which is based on Christian values and the recognition of the dignity of each individual, reflects the commitment of the patron body to a school ethos that parents expressed a wish to see maintained. The school day commences with an assembly of all students; led by the headmaster or the school chaplain, a few moments are spent in prayer and contemplation before students settle into the daily class routine. In addition, care structures have been established within the school and supports have been made available for students with additional educational needs. Furthermore, the anti-bullying policies for both students and staff, based on every person’s right to have their dignity respected, are practical examples of the school living out its ethos of care.

 

The school atmosphere observed by inspectors was welcoming and calm. There was an often-expressed sense of commitment to the school and what it is striving to achieve. Interactions observed among and between staff and students were courteous and respectful at all times, and acted as living examples of the achievement of the stated characteristic spirit.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The school is officially managed by a board of governors which is also its registered patron. The board at present has eleven members plus the ex-officio member, currently and normally chairperson, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardah. The board does not have a set term of office and is constituted in line with the Education Endowments Act of 1887. However, in recognition of the requirements of the Education Act 1998, the board of governors should, as soon as possible, make arrangements for the establishment of a board of management, with its composition and functions as outlined in the Act.

 

It is of significant benefit to the work of the board of governors that a number of members have experience in educational management, either as members of boards of management of other schools or as former members of in-school senior management teams. The board has delegated responsibility for the management of the school to the headmaster, who is the board’s sole employee, with all other staff members being employed directly by the headmaster as manager.

 

The board meets four times per year, at irregular intervals. It would be desirable that, in future, meetings be scheduled at regular, pre-determined intervals so as to provide optimum levels of support for the work of the headmaster and the school. Considerable progress has been made with regard to the board’s involvement in the management of the school. Guided by the headmaster, members are kept informed of school activities, consulted and involved in the amendment and ratification of policies, and, in turn, have provided valuable input, support and encouragement.

 

In its preparation for future changes in in-school management, the board of governors has begun succession planning, with an expressed eagerness to explore a range of options for the school. While commending this foresight, it is recommended that this matter be prioritised, exploratory work be completed and plans and strategies be identified and agreed as soon as possible.

 

The parents of students attending the school have not, to date, established a parents’ association. In line with Section 26(3) of the Education Act, 1998, the board of governors should agree and implement steps to facilitate and assist the formation and operation of a parents’ association for the school.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The headmaster plays a particularly central role in Royal School Cavan and shoulders the responsibilities for the management of the school, the management of the boarding house, the employment of all staff, the management of school finances and he is the conduit of the majority of communications to and from the school. It is recommended that steps be taken to reduce this burden of responsibility. One aspect of this task can be addressed through the strengthening of the middle-management structure in the school. Another is best addressed through the formation of the board of management, as recommended in section 1.2, and a subsequent review of the role and responsibilities required for the position of headmaster.

 

The in-school senior management team believes the school is fulfilling its potential as a quality educational institution, caring for both students and staff in a close family environment. The headmaster and deputy principal share great pride in being part of a school in which students’ abilities and talents are nurtured and celebrated.

 

The headmaster’s leadership style is consultative, conferring with staff on issues prior to taking decisions. The deputy principal works closely with the headmaster and prefers to lead by example. As a team, they communicate an expectation that staff will take their responsibilities seriously and fulfil their commitments. A number of the duties of managing the school have been shared between head and deputy, maximising the skills of each while recognising constraints such as the time required by the deputy principal to fulfil his teaching duties and the legal obligations of the headmaster as employer.

 

Three assistant principals, a special-duties teacher and a programme co-ordinator together form the middle-management structure within the school. A schedule of posts has been drawn up and agreed, following consultation with teaching staff. The schedule was reviewed and adjusted in 2005, after which post-holders assumed revised duties. It remains for post-holders’ current duties to be formalised through the signing of contracts. The holding of annual review meetings between individual post-holders and the headmaster is also recommended.

 

While a middle-management structure operates within the school, the culture of post-holders seeing themselves as part of the school management team is not strong. Nonetheless, post-holders avail of opportunities to show leadership. This is evident in their interactions with colleagues whether they are in their specific areas of responsibility, at staff meetings or in informal interactions. In addition, on occasions of official absence of the senior management team, assistant principals, in order of seniority, take charge of the running of the school.

 

Given the relatively small numbers of staff, informal exchanges are a feature of daily life. However, to help establish a stronger middle-management identity in the school, it is recommended that post-holders and senior management schedule formal meetings to discuss issues, share ideas and contribute to planning for the future.

 

The current headmaster introduced staff meetings at Royal School Cavan. It is now practice for those meetings, chaired by him, to be held once per term with a combination of staff and management items forming the agenda. In addition, staff meeting times normally include opportunities for school development planning, through which, in line with good practice, all staff members can have input into the current and future directions of the school.

 

The senior management team, in line with good practice, has participated in a number of continuing professional development (CPD) courses relevant to their management functions. A number of members of the middle-management team have also engaged in role-specific CPD, gaining knowledge and skills to the benefit of the school and students. All members of the middle-management team should now investigate role-specific CPD and prioritise participation in relevant activities.

 

School management is supportive of teachers’ personal and professional development and all members of the teaching team are encouraged to and facilitated in attending in-service courses. In addition, management has been proactive, arranging for school planning days with a focus on areas such as special educational needs, health and safety, and legal issues.

 

There has been, since 2005, a year head and tutor system in operation in the school to assist with managing the care and discipline issues that are a normal feature of school life. The code of behaviour, which includes the school rules to which each student and their parents sign up, is implemented within an overarching care framework. The student council, representative of all student groups, and the prefect system, open to sixth-year students, also play their respective parts in student and school matters. Royal School Cavan is a fee-paying school that was established to cater for the educational needs of Protestant students. However, it is to its credit that it has adopted inclusive policies and practices, which have allowed the school to welcome students regardless of ability, beliefs and financial means.

 

The code of student behaviour has been developed from the school’s earlier code of discipline and is strongly rules-based. It is comprehensive in the areas it addresses and is communicated clearly to parents, students and teachers. Appropriately, it includes details on sanctions up to and including suspension and exclusion. In line with requirements, the right of appeal for parents, or students over the age of eighteen years, is clearly stated. When the code of student behaviour is next reviewed, it is suggested that it be redrafted with a stronger emphasis on the promotion of good behaviour and on its influence on the learning environment, as recommended in the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) publication Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools.

 

The student council, established in 2005, is elected annually and is representative of both boarding and day students. The council members see their functions as listening to and speaking on behalf of students, bridging the gap between students and teachers, and improving the school. In recent years the student council has taken on a number of worthy projects including the purchase of sports equipment, the partial funding of outdoor furniture, and the donation of funds to nominated charities. In addition, the council has worked with the liaising teacher in raising issues of importance to the student body with school management. Currently meetings with school management occur at the request of the council. To ensure a systematic flow of communication between the council and management, it is suggested that one formal meeting per term be scheduled. Association with the student council has facilitated members in becoming involved in the local branch of Comhairle na nÓg. It is a credit to all involved that three members of Royal School Cavan council have been elected as Dáil na nÓg delegates for the coming year.

 

Currently, the teacher liaising with the student council takes on that role for a two-year term. It is suggested that this term be extended, by agreement, so as to allow full benefit be gained from experience and expertise acquired. While the council is actively involved in aspects of school life, its profile among the general student body could be enhanced. Suggested ways include the provision of a dedicated notice board to assist in general communications, the development of a dedicated section on the school website and in the student diary, and the highlighting of council members and officers through the provision of identity badges. In terms of the council’s procedures, greater clarity around the methods of communication between the council and the student body and between the council and individual students would be beneficial.

 

Punctuality and attendance procedures implemented in the school are clear and involve responsibilities for students, parents, tutors, subject teachers and the deputy principal. There is close liaison between in-school management, teachers and the school matron who records, monitors and reports attendance due to illness at the matron’s office.

 

In-school senior management communicates with parents in a wide and appropriate variety of ways; via general letter, at parent-teacher meetings, at awards and information evenings, through periodic student progress reports, by individual contacts and through the school website. The impressive website, developed and maintained by the ICT co-ordinator, has a dedicated section for parents in which highly practical information on the school is presented in user-friendly format, from application to enrol to boarding, health and welfare, links to book lists for each year group and a list of policies with access links. The next edition of the school stationery should include the school website address and communications with parents should refer to the website whenever appropriate.

 

The importance of engaging in reflective practice through which individuals and groups reflect on past and current practice and, on the basis of lessons learned, plan for future practice, is self-evident. During the inspection there was evidence of formal and informal review and self-evaluation among members of the in-school management team, who, commendably, have a clear picture of what they are trying to achieve and how.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school fulfils its obligations to students with regard to the number of hours of instruction time made available per week and the number of teaching days provided per year. The time allocation for curricular areas is in line with syllabus recommendations. All members of the teaching staff are appropriately deployed, with all subjects other than Physical Education (PE) and Guidance being taught by suitably qualified teachers. In managing the school timetable, teachers’ strengths are identified and maximised with a view to optimising students’ learning experiences. School management has plans in place to address the issue of acquiring the services of a qualified guidance counsellor and it is hoped it will be possible to implement these in the near future. Consideration should also be given to ways in which the services of an appropriately qualified PE teacher might be acquired.

 

The caretaking, secretarial and boarding house staff, a number of whom have worked in the school in excess of ten years, provide invaluable support for the school in general and for the headmaster in particular. They operate as an integral part of the school community, playing a key role in frontline contact with students and their parents.

 

The accommodation for Royal School Cavan has been updated and extended and this has played a significant part in ensuring the school’s continued existence. Currently it includes rooms for Science, Home Economics, Art, Technology, Design and Communication Graphics, Computers, Music and general subjects, as well as boarding facilities, staff rooms, offices, student recreation areas and library. The maintenance of the original 1819 school house is ongoing and will continue to require attention in the years to come. The school’s nineteen-acre site offers students many possibilities for outdoor activities on its floodlit all-weather hockey pitch, grass hockey and soccer pitches, and hard-court tennis and basketball area. Indoor sports are played at the town’s community sports hall, to and from which students are bussed on a regular basis. All members of the school community expressed a wish for an on-site PE facility to increase access to and time available for indoor sports activities.

 

Resources and materials for teaching and learning are supplied on request to the headmaster, who expressed an eagerness to support teachers and students in this matter, school finances permitting. Consideration might be given to allocating and communicating a budget to each subject department, allowing teachers take a more responsible role in planning for and acquiring resources and materials on an annual basis.

 

Teachers are classroom-based and many have taken the opportunity provided to optimise the learning environment, displaying charts, posters and student work. Almost all classrooms are equipped with a computer and there is wireless internet access at several locations in the school building. The staffroom is also equipped with computer stations to facilitate research, lesson preparation and planning activities by school staff.

 

The safety of students, staff, visitors and property has been prioritised with the installation of a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system in the school buildings and grounds. A CCTV policy regulates its use and assures that monitoring will be conducted in an ethical, professional and legal manner while still respecting the individual’s right to privacy. Student safety was also at the forefront of moves to replace worn and damaged games equipment.

 

A safety statement has been produced for Royal School Cavan in which a commitment to carry out fire drills every term is given, and which identifies the roles of three members of staff in emergency evacuation procedures. Safety notices, exit signs and regularly-serviced fire fighting equipment are visible around the school. The safety statement is now due for review and would be improved with greater detail regarding the location of safety equipment, the identity of “occupational first-aiders” and clarity regarding the safety officer.

 

The school has recently begun separating waste for recycling purposes. This initiative, that recognises and acts on the school’s responsibilities with respect to its environment, is applauded.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

It is a credit to the planning co-ordinator, management and staff that planning has become an integral part of school life in Royal School Cavan, providing continuity, cohesion and a framework for improvement. A core planning team, made up of the planning co-ordinator, headmaster and deputy principal, has been established and has made significant progress in advancing the school’s planning activities. Involvement in planning is shared, with the majority of staff members making a contribution to the process. This has enhanced the sense of team among teachers, has improved communication and has promoted openness to the sharing of ideas.

 

The school plan currently contains the school mission statement, statement of values, preface explaining the planning process, school background and school policies developed to date. As a preamble to each policy contained in the plan, it would be helpful to indicate the groups involved in its development and its date of ratification by the board. The developmental section of the plan has not been progressed as yet. Planning activities currently underway, along with those prioritised for the current and next school years would appropriately sit here. It should be noted that current planning activities should follow an action plan stating the expected timeframe for the task and the list of responsibilities of task group members.

 

Dedicated time for planning has been allocated around staff meeting times, but also takes place at lunch times and during teachers’ non-class contact time. Plans and policies have, in the main, been instigated and developed by teaching staff and school management, promoting collaboration among and between them. The drafting of planning documentation is usually undertaken by task groups made up of volunteer teachers who then report to and take input from the full staff at staff meetings. While commending this process, it would be strengthened and enhanced with the involvement and collaboration of the remaining partners in the school community; parents through the parents’ association, and students through the student council could make a positive contribution and their inclusion should be prioritised.

 

The system of presenting policies to the board of governors needs to be clarified to ensure that all policies are presented, discussed and ratified as a normal course of action. Ratification of policies should be formally recorded in minutes of board meetings.

 

There were clear indications that planning is facilitating the development of reflective practice amongst teachers at Royal School Cavan and is leading to changes in the core areas of teaching and learning and in supports for students. Management and staff are commended on this work and encouraged to continue this programme of improvement and 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 and school staff; 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 now remains for parents to be made aware of the school’s child protection procedures, and this task should be undertaken without delay.

 

The final step in the planning cycle – review of policies – sometimes happens in an informal way and tends to focus on practical day-to-day issues such as the code of student behaviour. Policy review should be formalised and systematic, making sure that the school’s focus does not become too narrow or that certain areas are not overlooked.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school offers the Junior Certificate at junior cycle and the Transition Year (TY) and established Leaving Certificate at senior cycle. It is indicative of the school’s commitment to its mission that a wide range of subject options is available on the curriculum – sixteen at junior cycle and thirteen at Leaving Certificate level, thus supporting the board of governors’ belief that the range of subjects provided is impressive given the size of the school.

 

The school’s priority is to offer as broad a curriculum as possible for as long a period as possible in students’ schooling so as to keep their future options open. Thus junior cycle and TY students are provided with the opportunity to experience a broad and balanced curriculum forming a solid base on which to build during the remainder of senior cycle. The curriculum is continually under review by school management and requests from parents and students have been acted upon leading to the introduction of additional subjects.

 

Royal School Cavan operates an eight-subject Leaving Certificate programme, that is, students, with few exceptions, study and sit eight subjects in their Leaving Certificate examinations. While a strong case is made by school management to retain this, it must be recognised that this arrangement is not always the most appropriate for every student. It is therefore recommended that it be reviewed and possibly, in future, offered as an option. Such a relaxation of this system may also provide the opportunity for consideration to be given to introducing the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).

 

In 1993, the TY was established in the school as a compulsory programme for all students, following consultations with parents and teachers. The curriculum offered is comprehensive, including the core subjects Irish, English, Mathematics and French, subject sampling in the Sciences, Design and Communication Graphics and cookery, and TY-specific modules including the Steer Clear driver safety programme, Japanese culture and the performing arts. Its current co-ordinator, who has engaged in significant programme-specific CPD, has overseen the production of the impressive TY plan, which provides an overview, aims and objectives of the programme, a complete guide to the TY curriculum, organisational details including class timetables, the TY calendar, assessment and certification practices, and details of projected costs, evaluation procedures and a record of participation in CPD by TY teachers.

 

A laudable feature of the TY programme is the additional opportunity presented to students to ‘sample’ a subject during this year and then follow it through to Leaving Certificate. In the Leaving Certificate examinations over the next two years, eight boys will undertake Home Economics and ten girls will undertake technical subjects as a result of their experiences in TY.

 

Planning for TY has been boosted this year with the establishment of a planning team, in line with programme recommendations. The team consists of the co-ordinator and two volunteer teachers on the programme, each of whom will commit two years to the activity. In this way, there will be ongoing renewal and refreshing of ideas and approaches. Dedicated planning time has been scheduled for the TY planning team, which is currently focussing on assessment issues. Records of meetings are documented and, through these, progress is being charted. The team is aware of what it is trying to achieve and is exploring innovative ways in which to achieve it.

 

Evaluation of the TY programme is systematic and comprehensive. It takes place on an annual basis, involves students, parents and teachers, and is clearly documented. The co-ordinator and team are congratulated on a job well done.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

First-year students are appropriately assisted in choosing subjects through a sampling programme operated for the first four weeks of their first term, during which they experience all subjects on the junior-cycle curriculum. At the end of the four-week period, each student has an individual guidance interview with the headmaster during which all aspects and implications of choosing subjects are explored. Final choices are made at the end of September, with some flexibility up to the October mid–term.

 

Subject choices for Leaving Certificate are made at the end of TY, during which subjects have been experienced, and following another individual guidance interview. At this time, initial decisions are made also on choice of level for the core subjects Irish, English and Mathematics.

 

Particular efforts were made this year to ensure that fifth-year option bands met the needs and choices of all students. This exercise, along with the amendment of bands to include additional subjects, is indicative of the priority the school places on meeting students’ needs.

 

Parental involvement in subject choice is supported at information nights held for incoming first-year parents and incoming TY parents. If space permits, consideration should be given to inviting incoming TY students along with their parents to the TY information night.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, from team sports to portfolio preparation and mini company to music tuition, is available to all students attending Royal School Cavan. After-school activities are a very important part of school life in a boarding school and to reflect this, activities are co-ordinated by a post-holder at assistant principal level. It is indicative of the teaching staff’s understanding and support of this characteristic of school life that all teachers volunteer at least one hour per week to running or supervising an evening activity.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

School management has facilitated the establishment of subject departments for all of the subjects evaluated. This is good practice as it enables a collaborative team approach to subject planning and provides opportunities for the sharing of experience and expertise amongst teachers. Subject co-ordinators have been appointed and consideration should be given to rotating this role, ensuring that the responsibility is shared and that all members gain experience in the development of their subject department.

 

As part of the planning process, management provides time for formal subject department meetings. Teachers also meet frequently on an informal basis and outside of school time. In most of the subjects evaluated minutes of subject department meetings were provided to the evaluation team. This is good practice and the keeping of minutes should take place for all subjects as a means of keeping a record of decisions made and to facilitate future planning. There is scope, in some instances, for more comprehensive minutes to be kept. Minutes should record those who attended meetings and a summary of the issues raised and should be retained as part of the subject department plan. The creation of a template for minute keeping would prove useful.

 

Good progress has been made in subject department planning and long-term subject plans were presented for the subjects evaluated. Some of these plans were based on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template. Commendably, some subject departments have made amendments to the template to reflect the practice in the school. In the subjects evaluated, the planning process has resulted in the agreement of common programmes of work within given timeframes with a strong emphasis on the content to be covered. It is recommended that the approach to subject department planning be developed further by providing statements of learning outcomes as well as curricular content. This should also include reference to appropriate timeframes, teaching methodologies, resources and assessment. A good example of cross-curricular planning is the support given by eight other subject areas to the Irish department during Seachtain na Gaeilge.

 

There was effective planning by individual teachers for the lessons observed and planning is in line with the agreed schedules of work at department level. Each of the lessons observed was part of a larger planned unit of work and learning objectives for the lessons were clear. In a number of subject areas teacher-generated resources were made available and the sharing of such resources amongst members of the subject department is good practice. A plan to collate such resources, as is the case in the science department, and to store these in a common folder on the school server is commended.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Seventeen lessons were observed across four curricular areas. These were Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), English, Irish and Science/Biology. Separate subject inspection reports for each of these areas are appended to this report.

 

Teachers’ preparation for the lessons observed was thorough. Appropriate teaching resources for use in the classroom had been developed and lessons were clear and well structured. Good practice was observed where the teacher shared the learning objectives with the students from the outset as this provided a clear focus for lessons and helped students to place new learning in context. For that reason, it is recommended that a clear statement of the learning intention should be shared with students at the beginning of all lessons. The content covered in lessons was in keeping with subject planning and syllabus requirements. In order to retain freshness in the material covered in lessons, caution should be exercised to ensure that recurring syllabus topics are discussed and explored in an appropriately varied way from one year to another such that account is taken of students' ages and varying language capacities.

 

Many of the class groups visited were of mixed ability and it was noted that teachers were sensitive to the needs of their students so that, in general, lessons took account of the abilities of all students within groups, including those with special educational needs. To support this work, it is suggested that a keyword list of common instructional terms within subjects should be developed and explicitly taught to students.

 

A variety of teaching methodologies was used including group work, paired work, questioning, brainstorming and discussions. Students willingly engaged in the learning activities and, in many lessons observed, were enthusiastic and displayed clear enjoyment. In some subjects, the predominant strategies used to engage students were teacher exposition and question-and-answer sessions. While these provide valuable practice in listening and speaking for students, it was noted by all inspectors that lessons were most effective when students were more actively engaged in the learning process. It is recommended, therefore, that there should be more extensive use of active learning methodologies so that an appropriate balance between teacher-input and student activity is achieved and maintained.

 

In the practical lessons observed, students displayed good routines for setting up and clearing away equipment. Appropriate opportunities were provided to allow students engage with practical work and this is commended as essential to students’ development of the required investigative skills in the science subjects. Similarly, providing opportunities for oral and aural work in language lessons is important, so that students experience and practise communication in the target language. For that reason, it is suggested that teachers should use the target language in providing directions for instructional activity, in classroom interactions and in providing feedback to students on their written work.

 

Teachers made use of a range of appropriate resources, including textbooks, handouts and notes, many of which were teacher-generated. These supported the work done in class. In some cases, however, there was over-reliance on the textbook to shape the lesson and in others the level of support provided by written materials limited the scope for students to engage authentically with the themes being studied. A review of the use of these resources is suggested.

 

Inspectors’ interactions with students generally indicated a good understanding of the topics being studied. Students demonstrated confidence and competence in answering questions and in experimental work. Across the ability range, they showed the ability to address the questions set by their teachers and were found to be articulate and knowledgeable.

 

Teachers moved around the classroom, questioning, monitoring and advising, thus ensuring that all students were on task and engaged with the lesson content. The atmosphere was conducive to work, respectful and purposeful and students were frequently affirmed by their teachers. In all lessons observed, good classroom management was in evidence.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Formal in-house assessments are held at Christmas and summer. In the subjects evaluated, these assessments take the form of common tests for each year group and this is good practice. Class tests are also administered by individual teachers on a regular basis. Teachers should, however, regularly monitor the content of class tests in order to ensure they include sufficient differentiation to cater for the needs of the full range of students’ abilities. Parents receive reports on students’ progress following formal assessments and at scheduled parent-teacher meetings held annually for each year group.

 

Planning should be expanded upon to detail the types, regularity and marking schemes for student assessments. In addition, subjects that include course work, oral, aural, or other practical components should formulate assessment strategies that include these particular elements.

 

There were examples where, in line with assessment for learning strategies, students received appropriate and constructive feedback from their teachers in relation to the completion of assigned work. There were also instances where grades or marks stood alone, without a comment on the strengths and difficulties evident in exercises set. Best assessment practice would include the provision of information to students on the quality of their work, whenever possible, and therefore all teachers are encouraged to develop assessment for learning practices.

 

Records of students’ results were observed in some planning documentation presented. Best practice would see these linked with the analysis of results carried out by the headmaster and used to inform subject department planning. Students’ progress is also regularly assessed through the use of questioning, short tests and homework.

 

The school homework policy outlines the amount of time which should be spent by students on their homework. Subject department planning documentation should also incorporate planning for homework and how it is used to reinforce the skills taught in class. Homework was allocated in all classes visited and samples of students’ copy books showed evidence of checking and annotation by teachers. Teachers should ensure that students follow up on these corrections so that learning is consolidated.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The educational support team includes four special needs assistants (SNAs), one qualified learning-support teacher and a selection of mainstream subject teachers, and operates under the leadership of the learning-support teacher who acts as educational support co-ordinator. Commendably, special educational needs (SEN) issues are not the exclusive remit of the educational support department; whole-staff involvement is maintained through planning activities, such as the staff day on understanding Down syndrome and the participation of general subject teachers in learning support and resource interventions. Informal communication and liaison between members of the educational support team and with other subject teachers takes place as a matter of course throughout the school day. It is recommended, however, that meetings of the educational support team be formalised so as to more easily chart progress, collectively resolve issues, and plan for future developments.

 

The SEN policy addresses the identification and enrolment of students with SEN, outlines the collaborative approach taken by the school, specifies the possible interventions, and makes reference to special arrangements in certificate examinations. The policy was developed by the learning-support teacher in conjunction with two other volunteer members of staff and its admirable underpinning philosophy is equal access to the curriculum for all students requiring educational supports and the promotion of self-esteem among such students.

 

The school operates an effective system to identify students with SEN; initially, information is received from parents, usually at the time of application; following that, in September of first year, standardised tests are administered across the year group to identify other students who may have learning-support needs; finally, a system of referral, whereby subject teachers can refer any student about whom they have concerns to the co-ordinator, is implemented to try to ensure that every student in need of educational support is identified.

 

The current model of intervention that consists of small learning-support classes and individual or small group learning-support or resource tuition has been in place over an extended period of time. It is recommended that a thorough review be conducted and that other possible models of support, for example, team teaching, be explored, with a view to ensuring the best possible outcomes for SEN students.

 

Parents of students with resource needs meet with the co-ordinator on enrolment, allowing planning to begin on how best the school can meet those needs. Parents of students in receipt of learning support meet with the co-ordinator at scheduled parent-teacher meetings. It is also possible for parents of students with SEN to contact the co-ordinator during the school year, as the need arises.

 

The SNAs display a dedication to the students in their care and a high awareness of their needs and aspirations. There is a very good level of interaction between the SNAs and subject teachers so as to ensure the effectiveness of the support being provided. SNAs also interact with parents on areas including initial collaboration on curriculum, ongoing monitoring of progress and informal contacts on day-to-day practical issues.

 

Resources available in the educational support room include ICT hardware and software, reading comprehension materials to address literacy needs, and mathematics materials to support numeracy needs. Students attending learning-support English participate in a “Read a book” project, which sees students’ accounts of books read published by the school at the end of the school year.

 

The teachers involved in individual support provision (both learning support and resource) collaborate to draw up individual learning plans for their students. Such plans form part of the educational profile of the student, which is completed and maintained by the co-ordinator. Learning plans and teaching strategies are devised on a term-by-term basis, and are generally reviewed and updated following Christmas and Easter terms. To further progress the good work going on in SEN planning, it would be beneficial to consult with parents in the development of individual learning plans and to provide them with copies of completed plans, thus cementing the partnership between home and school in working towards agreed goals in the best interests of each student. Supplementary information regarding this process can be found in the publication Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process produced by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

 

Through the school’s inclusive practices, there has been a welcome for students of different nationalities, currently making up ten percent of the student cohort. Targetting those newly arrived from abroad, students are assisted by a liaison teacher who meets with them at the beginning of and mid-way through the school year. The teacher’s own experience of different cultures makes her an excellent choice to empathise with such students and her willingness to propose and undertake this role is applauded.

 

The English as an additional language (EAL) department, in conjunction with the educational support co-ordinator, has, in line with good practice, drawn up individual learning plans for EAL students. The plans address learning strengths, learning needs, learning targets and materials to be used and are a practical support to students’ English language learning. Materials to assist in planning and implementing a comprehensive programme of English language support, including those developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT), should be sourced and exploited to the full. These materials can be found on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s website (www.ncca.ie).

 

There has been liaison between the EAL department and the English department regarding students’ needs and the nature of supports provided. It is recommended that such links be extended to other curricular areas, particularly those with technical language or with a strong emphasis on reading and understanding English.

 

Families in which at least one parent is a member of a Protestant denomination can apply for financial assistance in the payment of fees under the government ‘block grant’ scheme administered by the Secondary Education Committee. In addition, there is a school scholarship scheme which, on the basis of performance in scholarship examinations, offers a small number of fully-paid boarding scholarships or assists with boarding expenses. It is stated school policy that no student should be unable to attend the school due to a lack of finance and examples were given of ways in which the school has provided practical and discreet assistance from school funds. The book grant received from the Department of Education and Science has been shared out among the most needy students by the headmaster who is well-informed of students’ circumstances.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Guidance in the school is currently provided by the headmaster, who looks after all individual work with students, and two members of staff who have been timetabled for guidance classes in senior cycle. It is recommended that the appointment of a qualified guidance counsellor continue to be pursued as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, formal meetings of the teachers currently involved in providing guidance should be established and minutes recorded.

 

The comprehensive transition programme for incoming first-year students and their parents begins with teacher volunteers visiting designated feeder primary schools. An open day for fifth-class pupils (changed from sixth-class pupils following feedback from primary schools) then sees prospective students transported to the school for an afternoon of orientation, games and activities. Parents of incoming students are invited to an information evening during which they can learn about all aspects of Royal School Cavan and meet with teachers. They can also access information from the clear, instructive prospectus that has been prepared, or from the dedicated section for parents on the school website. At any stage in the process, information and advice can be obtained through the headmaster, either through face-to-face meeting or by telephone.

 

Guidance planning is well advanced, guidance programmes have been developed and a draft guidance plan has been prepared for consultation. The draft guidance plan should be presented to staff for consultation and discussion, following which, input should be sought from parents, students and the local business community, perhaps via the school website. The process should then be completed with the plan’s presentation to the board of governors for consultation, approval and finally ratification. Commendably, a critical incident response plan has been completed and a crisis response team has been established.

 

Guidance classes are timetabled in TY and in fifth year and a range of appropriate materials has been downloaded from the internet by the teachers involved. Guidance support regarding choice of levels for the certificate examinations takes the form of one-to-one meetings with the headmaster. Students have good access to computers to facilitate independent guidance research.

 

It is suggested that, in the continuing absence of a guidance counsellor, interviews with first-year students regarding subject choice, as referred to in section 3.2, be held with the year head instead of with the headmaster. One of the advantages to be gained is the opportunity for the year head and students to meet at an early stage in the year on an issue not related to discipline, thus providing a positive basis on which to build their professional relationship.

 

There is a strong sense of care in the school and there is a long tradition of care and support for students being provided by the headmaster and his wife, a former deputy principal, both of whom live within the grounds and remain available to house staff after hours as necessary. House staff, consisting of three house ‘parents’, fulfil evening duties with student boarders, and also play a significant supervisory and support role for all students, both day and boarding, during the school day.

 

Following a whole-staff planning day in 2005, the student support system was reviewed. The role of the year head was revised and the class tutor structure was introduced. This was done with a view to promoting a positive relationship between students and teachers, and evidence suggests this is being achieved. Teachers in key care roles such as year head and class tutor should take advantage of CPD opportunities available in this important area of work. The significant learning gained from other professionals would benefit not only the teachers involved, but, when shared, the whole school community.

 

The capacity of the year head and class tutor to work together in relation to their year group, when fully utilised, can have a significant impact on the well-being and performance of students. The proposed once per term meetings between year heads and tutors should help to cement their professional relationship and increase a sense of team in their management of their year and class groups. In all year groups, these meetings should work through a formal agenda and main points of discussions, along with decisions should be recorded.

 

The school’s policy on bullying is clear and practical and specifies actions to be taken by student victims or witnesses and parents before outlining the procedures that will be followed by the school when an incidence of bullying is reported. Its focus on care, discretion and sensitivity acts as reassurance for students and parents alike.

 

The school reports that it has a care team but that it operates in an informal and mostly uncoordinated capacity. The care team, that ideally would include class tutors, year heads, house staff, SPHE teachers, senior management team, guidance counsellor, educational support team and school chaplain, should be formally identified and roles and responsibilities within the team considered and agreed. This should lead naturally to the drawing up of a care policy, for which documents already prepared on the roles of the year head and tutor, along with the school anti-bullying policy and the draft guidance plan, could form the basis.

 

SPHE, a compulsory subject for junior cycle, is, commendably, continued into TY, a further indication of the school’s ethos of care. However, the teaching team for this subject changes from year to year and this has undoubtedly contributed to the current situation where participation in CPD training in SPHE is very limited. It is recommended that a team of teachers interested in teaching SPHE is established and kept in place for a number of years. This team should endeavour to attend in-service courses on the various aspects of the subject, including co-ordination.

 

Student effort and achievement is celebrated in TY and acknowledged in an impressive display of wall-mounted plaques and photographs positioned outside the library. Sporting achievements in the school sports day are marked at a prize-giving ceremony that takes place in front of the full student body late in the summer term. Such support for students’ accomplishments is important and consideration should be given to extending the TY awards system throughout the school so as to celebrate achievements and participation among students in all years.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • It is of significant benefit to the work of the board of governors that a number of its members have experience in educational management, either as members of boards of management of other schools or as former members of in-school senior management teams.
  • There is a strong expectation in the school that staff will take their responsibilities seriously and fulfil their commitments.
  • The school has adopted inclusive policies and practices, which have allowed students regardless of ability, beliefs and financial means to be welcomed.
  • There was evidence of formal and informal review and self-evaluation among members of the in-school management team, who have a clear picture of what they are trying to achieve and how.
  • The school accommodation has been updated and extended and this has played a significant part in ensuring the school’s continued success.
  • Involvement in school planning is shared, with the majority of staff members making a contribution to the process. This has enhanced the sense of team among teachers, has improved communication and has promoted openness to the sharing of ideas.
  • The TY programme was established in the school following consultations with parents and teachers. The curriculum offered is comprehensive, offering core subjects, subject sampling and TY-specific modules. A TY planning team has been established and dedicated planning time scheduled. Evaluation of the programme is systematic and comprehensive, includes input from students, parents and teachers, and is clearly documented.
  • There is a comprehensive transition programme for incoming first-year students and their parents. In addition, all students are appropriately assisted in choosing optional subjects through a sampling programme in first year and TY and through individual guidance interviews during which all aspects and implications of subject choices are explored.
  • The importance of after-school activities is recognised by school staff and management, with activities being co-ordinated by an assistant principal and all teachers committing at least one hour per week to running or supervising an evening activity.
  • In lessons observed, a variety of teaching methodologies was used. Students willingly engaged in planned learning activities and demonstrated confidence and competence in answering questions and in experimental work.
  • The underpinning philosophy of the policy on SEN is based on equal access to the curriculum for all students requiring educational supports and the promotion of self-esteem among such students.
  • There is a strong sense of care in the school and a long tradition of care and support for students. The student support system was reviewed in recent years with a view to sustaining a positive relationship between students and teachers, and evidence suggests this is being achieved.

 

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

 

  • Arrangements for the establishment of a board of management, with its composition and functions as outlined in the Education Act 1998, should be made as soon as possible.
  • Succession planning should be prioritised by the board, with exploratory work completed and plans and strategies identified and agreed within a short time-frame.
  • In line with section 26(3) of the Education Act, 1998, the board of governors should agree and implement steps to facilitate and assist the formation and operation of a parents’ association for the school.
  • The school planning process should include the involvement and collaboration of parents through the parents’ association, when formed, and students through the student council.
  • More extensive use of active learning methodologies is recommended, so as to more actively engage students in the learning process, maintain an appropriate balance between teacher-input and student activity and try to ensure lessons are most effective.
  • A range of meetings (middle and senior management, year heads and tutors, educational support team, student council and senior management, middle management reviews), a number of which currently happen informally, should be formalised and scheduled as discussed during the inspection.

 

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.

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

  • Subject Inspection of Civic Social and Political Education – 26 November 2008
  • Subject Inspection of English – 24 November 2008
  • Subject Inspection of Irish – 21 November 2008
  • Subject Inspection of Science/Biology – 26 November 2008

 

  

 

 

Published November 2009