An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Whole-School Evaluation



Holy Family Secondary School

Newbridge, County Kildare

Roll number: 61682A


Date of inspection: 26 September 2008





Whole-school evaluation


Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report



Whole-school evaluation


A whole-school evaluation of Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge was undertaken in September, 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 one subject was evaluated in advance. Separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.





Holy Family Secondary School is a Catholic voluntary secondary school for girls. The school was established in 1958 and is one of five post-primary education providers in the town of Newbridge. The town itself is the school’s primary catchment area with a minority of students coming from outlying smaller towns and rural areas. Newbridge has experienced significant population growth in recent years, a development that has contributed to an increase in school enrolment. This surge in population has also contributed to the school’s community including students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.



1.         quality of school management


1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

The characteristic spirit of the school is based on the promotion of the value of respect among all members of the school community. In keeping with its mission statement, the school aims to provide a holistic education in an atmosphere of care for all its students. As evidenced in the discussions which took place during the course of the evaluation, all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the school ethos.   


The school is under the trusteeship of the Bishop of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. The trustee’s representatives on the board of management (the board) maintain regular contact with the Bishop. The Bishop’s attendance, as time permits, at school events and the celebration of Mass is indicative of his support for the school.


1.2          School ownership and management

The board of management is correctly constituted and the trustee representatives include the chairperson. Meetings of the board are regularly convened throughout the school year. Most board members have accessed training for their role and are commended for this.


The board communicates with the parents predominantly through the parents’ association representation on the board. Furthermore, all meetings of the parents’ association are attended by the principal who provides verbal reports on board activities. Reports on board meetings are communicated verbally by the school principal to the teaching staff at an appointed time. While this practice provides for a certain level of regularity and clarity in communication between partners, it is recommended that the board explores how best to furnish the parents and teaching staff with written reports on proceedings. Students, staff and parents are consulted on school issues and on the development of school policies. Highly commendable practice was noted where draft policies are circulated to the student council, to the parent’s association and to staff prior to adoption.


The board has a very good relationship with in-school management and the chairperson and the school principal are in regular communication. While the board is clear on its role in the management of the school, it does need to revisit its statutory obligation regarding the development of a school plan. A school plan is an essential element in communicating the ethos, vision and development priorities to all of the school’s stakeholders.


1.3          In-school management

The day-to-day management of the school is effective and there was a very good level of collaboration and consultation in evidence among the senior management team. Assistant principals and special duties post-holders support the senior management team in the management of the school on a daily basis. It was stated in meetings with post-holders and with the new teachers that the senior management team is very approachable, is open and welcoming of new proposals and supports staff in taking initiative and in introducing and sharing new ideas and practices. This contributes to leadership development among staff and is highly commended. It is recommended that the senior management team further develops its role in providing educational leadership and that it focuses in particular on generating a shared vision for teaching and learning, curriculum innovation and development among stakeholders.  


The in-school management structure has been comprehensively reviewed in recent years and new structures have been introduced. This review served to initiate the development of the school’s capacity to reflect and self-evaluate and is commended. The nature of the duties assigned to post-holders is in keeping with the needs of the school. It was noted that duties are duplicated in a few instances. Given that posts of responsibility were advertised at the time of the evaluation, it is recommended that the senior management take this opportunity to revisit the outcomes of the recent school review of posts when assigning duties and that management re-instates the post of school development planning co-ordinator as a matter of priority. In addition, management should also consider the benefits the school may derive from introducing a post for dean of studies as identified in the outcomes of the review.  


Very good practice is evident regarding the procedures for assigning and documenting the roles and responsibilities of post holders. Each post-holder has a signed contract which outlines the duties assigned and the scope for review and clearly indicates the post-holder’s opportunity to contribute to the areas of responsibility allocated.


Staff meetings are held regularly. It is commendable that staff are afforded the opportunity to add items to the agenda and are allowed time to feedback to staff on areas of professional development, including teaching and learning methodologies. Minutes of the meetings are recorded and communicated to all staff. 


Senior management and teaching staff are supported and encouraged to avail of continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities. These include postgraduate courses and programmes offered by the Department of Education and Science and the various professional bodies. The board is commended for its continued commitment to staff development.


The school’s admissions policy, for the most part, represents good practice and the school’s characteristic spirit. It does however include a phrase which does not reflect accurately the correct procedures in procuring resources for students with special educational needs (SEN) from the National Council for Special Education. It is therefore recommended that the admissions policy be revisited and amended where necessary.


The senior management team is supported in the management of students by a team of year heads, class tutors and class teachers. The year heads, most of whom are assistant principals, have a largely disciplinary role and in two instances, special duties post-holders were assigned assistant year head’s duties. The role of the class tutor is voluntary and focuses in the main on the pastoral needs of the students. Although year head timetables indicate that time for meetings is allowed, a schedule of formal meetings between year heads or year heads as a group and senior management was not in place for the current school year. Evidence was provided, however, that the senior management team and the year heads held formal meetings at various intervals during the last school year and at the beginning of the current school year. This practice is highly commended and it is now recommended that the time allocated on timetables be used to convene more regular meetings of the group.  


The school’s code of behaviour supports staff in the management of students. The code incorporates a penalty points system and outlines clearly the steps to be taken as the points accumulate. The code is communicated to parents and students as part of the school’s admissions policy document, is printed in the students’ school journal and parents and students are briefed on it at information evenings. It is acknowledged that the senior management team is aware of the need to review the school’s code of behaviour in order that it is framed more positively and therefore recognises and promotes more positive student behaviour. In this context it is also recommended that the school reviews the penalty points system with a view to reducing the instances of automatic suspensions in particular and reconsidering the grounds for same.


Student attendance is recorded twice daily in addition to roll call in each class. This is good practice. A post holder works in conjunction with the school’s deputy principal in monitoring attendance and preparing and maintaining records for the school, and furnishing reports to the National Welfare Board. At the time of this evaluation, preparations were in train to install and operate the Anseo swipe card system in order to improve the efficiency of checking attendance. The management and staff are commended for the detail and attention given to the recording of student attendance.  


The school has a democratically elected student council and further details on the council are available in section 5.2.


The parents’ association is proactive in contributing to the ongoing development of the school. Members of the association expressed the view that their role in supporting the school is in transition from being a fund raising entity to having more direct involvement in the school. For instance, they were instrumental in the organisation of a drugs awareness information evening for students and parents.


Members of the parents’ association are present at open evenings for first-year students and parents, where they fulfil a key role in welcoming parents and their children and sharing relevant school information with them. In order to boost attendance at events organised by the association throughout the school year, including the Annual General Meeting, a text message reminder service is being introduced. The association is commended for taking this action. It is recommended that the board, in collaboration with the parents’ association, monitor the effectiveness of this service; it should explore how the school’s planned and existing structures could be utilised to extend the membership of the parents’ association and include representation from the diverse backgrounds which form the school’s community.


Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each year group. Should parents require information on the progress of their daughters at other times throughout the year, meetings can be arranged with the relevant teacher. This is commended. The school’s newsletter, which is issued regularly, helps to keep parents informed of school activities and events. The development of a school website was being considered at the time of the evaluation and its development should prove a valuable resource in communicating with the wider student body. The school’s initiative to embrace new technologies as a means of communication with the wider school community is commended.


1.4          Management of resources

The hours of instruction offered are in line with circular 29/95. In keeping with best practice, the majority of staff are deployed in accordance with their subject specialisms and qualifications. In reviewing staff qualifications during the evaluation, it was noted that a number of staff hold post-graduate qualifications and one teacher is currently undertaking post-graduate studies in the area of learning support and resource teaching. This is commendable.


The caretaking team maintains the school plant to a very high standard. Members of the school’s administrative staff are clear about their role in supporting the management of the school. The support staff’s commitment to the students, staff, parents and the wider school community is evident in the day-to-day operation of the school.


The school accommodation is very good and is maintained to a very high standard. The accommodation includes suitably equipped specialist rooms such as science laboratories and preparation rooms, home economics rooms, a dedicated class room for Technology and a well equipped Physical Education hall.


Individual subject departments are very well resourced and have access to up-to-date teaching aids and material resources. A cross-curricular team of teachers was established to develop the school’s information and communications technologies (ICT) plan, which is now due for review, and an internet acceptable use policy. Considerable progress has been made in achieving the aims and objectives of the five-year ICT plan and as a result there is very good ICT provision in the school. This includes three computer rooms and broadband or wireless internet access in all classrooms. The school’s resource room, formally known as the library, is now one of the three rooms equipped with a class-set of computers. Additionally, the school has a media room which is used as a TV/radio studio. Management is highly commended for actively encouraging teaching staff to integrate ICT into teaching and learning and for facilitating training where necessary. The level of actual use of the dedicated computer rooms is monitored. This practice is highly commended as it ensures use is optimised. The internet acceptable use policy outlines the strategies used to maximise learning and reduce risk and was adopted in 2006. While it is acknowledged that parents are required to sign the admissions policy document which comprises all key policies pertaining to the management of students and includes internet acceptable use policy, it is recommended that this document should be signed by both student and parent as evidence that the policy has been read and understood.  


The school’s health and safety policy is current and was developed in collaboration with an outside agent. The policy clearly sets out the safety management structure within the school and individual responsibilities including those of the safety officer and the safety representative. The quality of the policy is very good and the continuing work in this area is highly commended. All areas of the school, including specialist and general classrooms, have been assessed, hazards and risks are clearly identified and risk ratings are applied together with details on how they are managed, and recommendations are made where necessary. Fire drills are held regularly and are recorded. Particularly noteworthy is the work currently engaged in to develop closer links with the town’s fire brigade service.


The school registered to participate in the Green Schools programme in 2006. It is in the process of developing a Green School policy and is planning towards the achievement of a green flag. The approach adopted in progressing this project and making it a whole-school community project is laudable. Worthwhile efforts have been made to empower students to achieve the programme aim by including a recycling module on the TY programme, organising a ‘Green Day’ and electing ‘Green Monitors’ from the junior classes, for example.



2.         Quality of school planning


2.1          The school plan

School development planning is embedded in the work of the school. The first school plan was ratified by the board in 1999. Although the planning process has continued apace since then, a successive school plan has not been ratified by the board. Consequently, while school policies and subject department plans are in place, the school lacks an agreed and clearly articulated vision for its development. It is recommended that, in line with section 21 of the Education Act 1998, the board, as a matter of priority, makes the necessary arrangements to formulate a school plan which will clearly articulate a strategic vision for the school, one which will underpin its development into the future as a centre of learning. The school plan should include the policies already developed and ratified by the board together with subject department plans. In order to facilitate and guide this work, it is recommended that action plans, with realistic timeframes, be devised for the achievement of areas identified as priorities for development. It is also important that a balance is achieved in setting these priorities. In this context, it is recommended that the plan should facilitate and support staff in focusing on teaching and learning, and in particular on improving uptake and attainment at higher level in senior cycle. Ensuring that the school plan is time-bound should facilitate its review at regular intervals.


While the school’s schedule of special duties posts includes the co-ordination of school planning, at the outset of this evaluation the senior management team had assumed these duties for the current school year. It is recommended that the senior management team review this arrangement, ensuring that leadership in this area is fostered among staff.


Examples of good practice were in evidence in whole-school policy development practice and procedures. Most noteworthy were instances in which the school’s mission statement is clearly stated at the beginning of policies, policy rationale is clearly set out, and policies outline the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in their development, implementation and review. The good practice of including dates for review on policy documents should be extended to all policies as this will assist in incorporating a cycle of review into the school plan. Identifying those responsible for the development, implementation and evaluation of the effectiveness of individual policies on the documents is also good practice and should benefit the planning process. It was evident in discussions held with stakeholders during the evaluation that some, but not all, policies are communicated to parents and students at draft stage. This good practice should be extended.


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.



3.         Quality of curriculum provision


3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

Holy Family Secondary School offers a broad and balanced curriculum including the Junior Certificate (JC), Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate (LC), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The school offers a good range of subjects in both cycles.


Formalised structures are embedded in subject and programme organisation and planning in Holy Family Secondary School. This practice is highly commended. While it is expected that the hours allocated to the school for programme co-ordination will increase in the next academic year, its current allocation is not fully used for that purpose. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that the programme co-ordinator convenes formal meetings with, for instance, the LCA, TY and LCVP co-ordinators to discuss their planning and implementation practices and procedures.  


Time allocation in the case of the majority of subjects is appropriate in both cycles. However, the core subjects of Irish and English are allocated only four periods per week in each year of the junior cycle and two class periods per week in TY. This provision is poor and should be increased in line with best practice. Concurrent timetabling, where possible, provides students with ease of access to subjects at appropriate levels and is commended.


In addition to the core languages of Irish and English, the school offers a very good range of modern European languages in both cycles. It is noteworthy that the school also offers Japanese in TY and for LC. The delivery of this subject is supported through the Post-Primary Modern Languages Initiative which provides a teacher who visits the school on a weekly basis. Japanese classes for fifth-year and sixth-year students take place outside the timetable and are also attended by students from another school in the town. This provision is commended. Given the school’s very good provision for languages, it is inopportune that students in junior cycle can only opt to study one modern European language which they select prior to entering the school. It is recommended that the school explores the possibility of offering students the opportunity of studying two modern European languages in junior cycle.


Physical and biological sciences are well supported in the school, Science being a core subject in junior cycle and Biology, Chemistry and Physics offered in senior cycle. The provision of Technology as a subject option in junior cycle is particularly praiseworthy as it allows for a greater balance between the academic and practical subjects. It is noteworthy that its introduction to the senior cycle curriculum was being considered at the time of this evaluation. It is also noteworthy that Applied Mathematics was introduced as an option on the senior cycle curriculum in recent years. 


The TY programme offers students a balance of core and new learning experiences and includes modules such as Classical Studies and Legal Studies. It is commendable that this provision is monitored and reviewed annually. The model of work experience which has been adopted in the programme results in students not being in school on one day per week throughout the school year. Additionally students participate in one full-week of work experience in November. It is recommended that the work experience model be reviewed and that its structure in the future represents one two-week block of work experience and, perhaps, a second two-week block of social placement. Students in TY, LCA, and LCVP are not visited during their work placements. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed and that arrangements be made to ensure that all students are visited in their places of work in line with best practice.


Provision for students participating in LCVP is, for the most part, appropriate. While Physical Education (PE) is provided for all year groups, the fact that LCVP link modules and PE are timetabled concurrently in senior cycle results in students participating in LCVP not having access to PE. It is recommended that the timetabling of LCVP and PE in senior cycle be reviewed in order to ensure that all students have access to PE in line with Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools. Furthermore, the LCVP co-ordinator does not have class-contact time with the LCVP students. It is strongly recommended, in line with the LCVP Implementation Guidelines, that the LCVP co-ordinator is timetabled to deliver at least one of the link modules.


Due to active promotion of the programme among students, it was reported that the LCA is enjoying renewed interest. The LCA plan is, for the most part, of good quality. Available resources are efficiently used to deliver a programme which incorporates four modules of work experience over two years. It is noted that the time allocated in a number of areas does not meet the minimum time required. It is therefore recommended that the minimum time required for each subject be given due consideration when planning the programme. It is particularly praiseworthy that LCA classes have the same year head as their peers and that they are integrated with their peers for programmes such as Religious Education and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).


The school calendar demonstrates a short fall in the number of days on which the school is open. It is strongly recommended that the school ensures it is in full compliance with circular 0107/2007 which states that each school is to be open for a minimum of 167 days. It is further recommended that activities scheduled during the first week be rationalised in order that tuition commences immediately the school opens.


3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

Arrangements for informing students and parents about the subject and programme choice are timely and very good in the case of senior cycle in particular. A member of the school’s Guidance team, occasionally accompanied by the school principal, visits the school’s feeder primary schools in October each year. During this visit, prospective first-year students for the next academic year are introduced to the school, to the range of subjects and to co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes offered and are invited to attend the school’s open evening in November. The open evening is an opportunity for parents and students to further explore subject options to enable them make more informed choices. Parents and students are also provided with information about the school’s guidance and counselling provision and student care structures. Consideration should be given to exploring how students could be afforded an opportunity to experience learning in option subjects for Junior Certificate before they make their choices.  


In preparation for senior cycle, students in third year are provided with information about programme and subject options as part of their guidance programme. Furthermore, an information evening is hosted for students and parents of third-year and TY where they are presented with information about the choice of programmes and subjects available. The students embarking on LC are presented with a comprehensive information booklet which details subject information and subject requirements for entry into a variety of third-level courses and other career options. It is commendable that students who decide to pursue LCA can participate in TY before they commence LCA. 


Through the school’s open evening and dissemination of information about the school’s curriculum, guidance and counselling services and parent-teacher meetings held at appropriate times during the students course of study, parents are invited to be active participants in their children’s education and the choices made. It is commendable that the Guidance team was engaged in the development of a comprehensive subject and programme information booklet for parents of incoming first years and it is also noteworthy that the team plans to develop a video of the school and its activities. Opportunities for communication with parents should be exploited to support and improve student attainment.  


As indicated by the introduction of new subjects, the monitoring and review of the TY programme and the changes in option bands from year to year in both cycles, it is highly commendable that the school reviews provision and demonstrates flexibility in catering for student choice.


3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

The school’s co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes offer students opportunities to expand their learning experiences and reflect the school’s mission statement of offering a holistic education for the students. It is particularly laudable that the activities are open to all students to support and enhance their learning. In discussing the provision with teaching staff it was clear that their main aim is to ensure participation by all students in activities. This is further reflected in the school show which is staged in collaboration with Patrician Secondary School, and hosted in the school every second year. Students from all year groups are included in this production. The organisation of these activities also reflects the strong and long-established culture of volunteerism among all staff in the school over the years. The teaching staff are highly commended for their commitment to providing students with opportunities to explore and expand their skills and experiences, and to enhance their learning.


Public speaking in English, Irish, French and German is particularly strong in the school: this is highly commended. School tours and exchanges are also organised to support the languages curriculum in the school. The provision of these opportunities is highly commended.


Team and individual sports feature prominently on the extra-curricular programme, most notably basketball and Gaelic football. Where necessary, outside expertise is sought to train and coach some team sports.


It is also worth noting that a number of Holy Family Secondary School students have enjoyed success in Mathematics Olympiad and The Young Scientist competition. It is commendable that students are encouraged to explore their aptitudes and talents in such competitions.



4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects


4.1          Planning and preparation

A good level of collaborative planning was evident in the subject areas evaluated during the inspection. Planning co-ordinators are in place, subject teams meet regularly, both formally and informally and significant progress has been made in developing subject department plans. Subject development planning can be further enhanced by ensuring that the role of co-ordinator rotates between department members and by clustering smaller departments from similar curricular areas together to facilitate more effective collaboration.


The subject development plans are in line with syllabus requirements and include, in almost all cases, curricular content, schemes of work, delivery schedules, homework and assessment procedures, resource lists, teaching methodologies and cross-curricular references. Identifying clear learning outcomes and using these to benchmark annual review will enhance the good work already underway.


Separate subject plans for TY and LCA are in place. In most cases these plans reflect the goals and objectives of the programmes. However some aspects of subject planning in LCA require review. Any such review should take due cognisance of the recommendations made in individual subject reports.


Planning in relation to assessment practices is good. However it can be further enhanced by integrating a focussed emphasis on learning outcomes into planning across all subject and programme areas. It is also recommended that the identified learning outcomes form the basis of assessment criteria for monitoring student progress and attainment and for informing modifications in teaching practice.


Individual teacher planning was good and was, in almost all cases, in line with the relevant subject department plan. Good examples of collaborative and effective subject and lesson planning and preparation within a number of subject departments in the school were particularly noted. Almost all of the lessons observed during inspection had clear learning objectives, maintained continuity with previous lessons, utilised appropriate resources and integrated a variety of teaching methodologies. It was evident that many of the resources utilised in the lessons had been prepared by the teachers themselves and that many of these facilitated the integration of ICT in lesson delivery and provided opportunities for active student participation.


4.2          Learning and teaching

The good planning which was evident in a number of lessons facilitated the introduction of new and innovative teaching strategies, the pooling of subject expertise, the integration of ICT and the sharing of available resources. In general, lessons were well structured, logical and sequential. Lessons were delivered at an appropriate pace in most instances. It was noted however that the pace of some lessons was too slow to be sufficiently challenging for students and that too little material had been planned to make full use of available time. The content of the lessons, in all cases, was in line with syllabus requirements.


While very good quality learning and teaching was noted, some variation in this regard was observed. Exemplary practice occurred where the learning intention was explicit, instructions to students were clearly articulated and where lessons proceeded at a suitable pace. The good practice observed in a range of classes where the aim of lessons was shared with students should be universally adopted. It is recommended that, where possible, the lesson aims should be written on the board at the start of each session and the expected learning outcomes should be explicit for students. It would be worth taking a few moments at the end of each lesson to allow students time to reflect on their learning. Links to prior learning were made at the outset of a number of lessons. This strategy helped create a context for new learning and is highly commended.


A wide range of appropriate methodologies to support teaching and learning was observed in many of the classes visited. Good examples were observed where the materials prepared were seamlessly integrated into the lessons and the available resources were effectively employed to support student learning. Particularly commendable was the way the board was used to record students’ contributions and suggestions. This reinforced learning, supported good communication between teachers and students, encouraged students to express their views and supported good peer learning. A number of highly commendable examples of group work were observed. Students, once supplied with a well-planned task by the teacher, worked independently in small groups. Teachers facilitated learning and provided one-to-one support when required. These active-learning approaches and the collaborative learning environments that resulted supported effective peer-to-peer interaction, contributed towards constructive learning and provided good learning outcomes. However, in order to build on good teaching practices, it is recommended that a good balance between the use of global and targeted questioning be maintained.


The school has very good ICT facilities and efforts are being made to integrate its use into subject planning, teaching and learning. Students, however, should be encouraged to further exploit ICT to support self-directed learning. ICT can assist research, the accessing of information and the presentation of findings and data to peers using software such as PowerPoint.


Classroom management was very effective, discipline was sensitively handled and a good supportive environment for learning was provided. A very good rapport between students and teachers was evident. Students were well organised, applied themselves to set tasks and demonstrated purposeful engagement with learning.


4.3          Assessment

A good range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, was used in all of the subject areas evaluated. Ongoing assessment takes place through class tests, teacher questioning in class and the assignment of homework. A school homework policy is in place and it is being employed effectively. Formal examinations are held every term. The purpose of these is to enable students to become familiar with the procedures associated with the state examinations, to introduce them to the structure of the questions they will face in the certificate examinations and to provide feedback on their progress. Mock Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations take place in the second term each year.


Ongoing communication with parents is facilitated through parent-teacher meetings, the use of the school diary, telephone conversations and additional face-to-face meetings which can be arranged on request. These communication mechanisms provide a forum where issues relating to student performance and difficulties being experienced by students can be discussed. Reports issue to parents on foot of each formal examination and following the mock examinations.


Formative assessment forms an integral part of assessment practice in the school. This was evident from the manner in which homework was annotated, corrected and amended. The very good practice of students amending their own work was also evident in a small number of cases. Positive teacher comments and other motivational strategies are also being employed and should be adopted as an integral part of the school’s assessment practice and included in the school’s homework policy. Where it is appropriate, students experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the certificate examinations. These provide very effective guidelines for student self-assessment.


Appropriate use is being made in the school of assessment procedures to support students’ learning needs. The good practice of maintaining accurate assessment records is in place in most cases. Areas identified for development include: the use of a greater range of assessment modes particularly in TY and more discussion around choice of tests and other instruments being used to establish students’ interests, abilities and aptitudes. It is noted that a number of subject areas could benefit from conducting a more comprehensive analysis of students’ attainment in state examinations and from consulting chief examiner’s reports which are available on the state examinations website (



5.         Quality of support for students


5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

Suitable resources have been secured to support the inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN) and are used appropriately. The SEN team includes a learning support co-ordinator and a resource co-ordinator and they are assisted by five other members of staff. Two members of the team hold formal qualifications in the area of special education and a third is currently studying for a postgraduate diploma in special education. It is noteworthy that the team includes teachers from a range of subject specialisms including Mathematics. Additionally, a member of the team involved in the delivery of English as an additional language (EAL) holds a Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualification. The team’s continued commitment to professional development is commended.


The education support team works very effectively and collaborates with the guidance team and senior management in implementing the school’s special education policy. The learning support and resource co-ordinators hold weekly formal meetings. These meetings are generally attended by the principal. In addition to planning for monitoring and reviewing student progress, meeting time is also used effectively to discuss issues with other members of staff, such as a year head or the guidance counsellor, or with representatives of support agencies such as the special educational needs organiser, the visiting teacher for Travellers and the National Educational Psychological Services.  


The co-ordinator’s offices and learning-support rooms are well resourced and include access to ICT facilities and software resources to assist in the development of students’ learning and skills. 


Assessment includes formal, informal and diagnostic tests. The school’s primary aim in administering tests is to screen and diagnose student needs and plan accordingly. It is commendable that the school reviews the tests used, as indicated by the introduction of Cognitive Ability Tests for use from September 2008. Planning documentation should be emended to reflect such changes. Referrals are made to the National Educational Psychological Service Agency, for instance, where necessary. Results of these assessments are discussed with relevant primary school personnel, particularly in cases of concern. Exceptionally able students are identified at this time and this information is shared with relevant school personnel: this is highly commended. Results of the assessments are used to guide the education support team in developing a framework of learning targets for students. This practice is praiseworthy indeed. To promote the sharing of good practice between schools in addressing the needs of students with SEN, it is recommended that the team explores how it might feedback to the primary schools on students’ progress.


Regular contact is maintained with parents by means of reports, phone calls and visits to the school. It is noteworthy that exemplars of good work are sent home to keep parents abreast of progress. Particularly praiseworthy is the team’s development and use of Individual Education Plans (IEPs). The IEPs are developed in collaboration with parents and the student and provide a means of clear communication with all partners involved in supporting the student’s learning.


The senior management team and school staff in general are very supportive of the education support team. Resources, including assessment instruments, are updated regularly and are provided as requested. The education support team liaises regularly with those teachers involved in the delivery of learning support and resource tuition as well as those involved in delivering a programme of English as an additional language. Additionally, there is regular communication with mainstream class teachers. Particularly noteworthy is the practice of team teaching which is being extended to mainstream classes. This allows the teacher visiting the classroom to differentiate the lesson content for the students requiring assistance and is evidence of the team’s commitment to inclusion. It is also noteworthy that teachers of EAL, resource and learning support facilitate peer teaching among students.


Student achievement is recognised and awarded at an annual ‘Awards Evening’. It is commendable that the awards presented recognise academic achievement and the wider contributions students make to the school. Cultural diversity is celebrated at events such as the International Languages Day and the Christmas Carols service, where students from different language backgrounds contribute songs from their traditions. This is commended.


A multidisciplinary student care team was established in September 2007. This development is highly commended and is a further indication of the school’s capacity to evaluate its needs and its flexibility in adapting student support structures when necessary. The team meets formally each week. The school’s pastoral care policy details roles and responsibilities of team members and supports them in fulfilling their duties. While the policy document is well structured it should include the date on which it was ratified and on which it will be reviewed. This team complements and supports the work of the class tutors and year heads.



5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

The school has a 1.5 whole time equivalent teacher allocation for guidance. Guidance staff includes one fully qualified guidance counsellor and the additional .5 guidance post is provided through a shared agreement with the adjacent Patrician Secondary School. At the outset of this evaluation the school’s guidance allocation was not being fully utilised. It is strongly recommended that the school’s allocation be fully utilised for the purpose for which it is intended.


The school’s Guidance plan is of good quality and details the provision of Guidance to all year groups. Provision includes access for students to educational, personal and vocational guidance as recommended. Provision takes the form of individual, small group or whole class-group settings as appropriate.


The guidance team meets regularly to plan guidance delivery and explore ways to provide extra counselling or other supports for students. It is noted that the guidance plan includes reference to the role of a home-school-community liaison co-ordinator (HSCL). The school has neither an allocation for a HSCL co-ordinator nor a post allocated to fulfil this role. It is therefore recommended, that this reference be removed and that steps be taken to ensure that the plan refers specifically to the school’s existing resources and practices. 


It is praiseworthy that the Guidance department considers it a priority for them to ensure all first-year students know how to access guidance and counselling support. As evidenced by the introduction of an ‘appointment request box’ this year, the team monitors the effectiveness of the procedures that facilitate students in making independent requests for guidance and counselling.


The Guidance teachers have access to fully equipped offices and have had significant involvement in the development and use of the school’s resource room. This includes a guidance library and access for students to appropriate software. Further information about Guidance in Holy Family Secondary School is available in Section 7 of this report which includes a subject inspection report on Guidance.


In keeping with the school’s mission statement, Catholic faith formation among students is duly emphasised. The school chaplain works closely with school management and staff in providing pastoral and spiritual guidance for students. The school oratory is at a focal point in the school and is used by class groups and individual students as necessary. Mass is celebrated at the beginning of each school year and religious festivals are also marked. It is worth noting that links are maintained between the students and the founding order, through, for example, visits to the local convent by TY and Meitheal students. 


Leadership is fostered among the student body from first year onwards, through the student council, Meitheal, and the prefect and buddy system whereby sixth-year students have a role in helping first-year students settle into school life. The student council comprises twenty students and includes school prefects and members of Meitheal. First year representatives are included after Christmas and until that time are represented on council by two Meitheal students. Formal meetings of the council take place once per month. A student council notice board and a suggestion box are used to facilitate communication between the council and the wider student body. This is commendable.


Student council representatives communicated clearly the value and understanding they derived regarding school management from their involvement in school policy development. To date, the council has been presented with some policies at draft stage including the school uniform policy and the penalty points system. It is good practice to include the student voice in policy development.



6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:



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



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



7.         Related subject inspection reports


The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:





Published, June 2009







School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management



Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     





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