An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre

Clonmel, County Tipperary

Roll number: 65320J

 

Date of inspection: January 21-25 2008

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

1. quality of school management

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

1.2 School ownership and management

1.3 In-school management

1.4 Management of resources

2. Quality of school planning

The School Plan

3. Quality of curriculum provision

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

4. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

4.1 Planning and preparation

4.2 Learning and teaching

4.3 Assessment

5. Quality of support for students

5.1 Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

5.2 Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

6. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

7. Related subject inspection reports

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel was undertaken in January 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in six subject areas was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these. (See section 7 for details). The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre, known locally as the ‘High School’, was founded in 1899 by the Christian Brothers, with significant diocesan and local support, to provide education for the young men of Clonmel. The first year saw the school housed in temporary accommodation until the building, now part of the town’s architectural heritage, was completed and opened in 1900. While this original structure continues in use, most of the school is now housed in more modern buildings. A new school was built between 1969 and 1970, to accommodate increased enrolment trends in the early days of Free Education. This building was renovated and added to in the 1990s, to include the highly innovative change of what had previously been an open courtyard into a central atrium area. The school built a large gymnasium from locally sourced funds in 1991, the same year that the first and still-current lay principal at the school was appointed. A further annex was added to the school in 2001, while the most recent works have included the complete re-seeding of the school’s playing area and, through funding accessed via the Summer Works Scheme, the construction of a new wall on the eastern side of the grounds. Most of these developments and a host of educational, cultural and sporting activities have been beautifully recorded in ‘A Journal in Commemoration of the Centenary of Clonmel High School’ (2000), by Brendan Long.

 

The school is situated in the heart of Clonmel, little more than four hundred metres from the town centre to the south and a little further from the town by-pass to the north. As such, it is highly accessible for its student population, although pressures of space in this built-up area have also contributed to challenges in finding appropriate space for school buildings, car parking and, particularly, playing areas. Ardscoil na mBráithre is the only boys’ secondary school in Clonmel, with the other local post-primary school which accommodates boys, in a co-educational context, being Coláiste Clúain Meala and its sister Gaelcholáiste, which are within the remit of South Tipperary Vocational Education Committee (VEC). While the main feeder primary schools serving the High School tend to be in Clonmel, the school also attracts students from a wide range of primary schools in south Tipperary and north Waterford. Intake levels have fluctuated only slightly in recent years, with current figures of 682 reflecting an optimum annual intake of 140 boys. In previous years, the school has felt obliged to rely on its very comprehensive enrolment policy in order to ensure that it is not oversubscribed.

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre serves a relatively diverse community, reflecting the urban-rural divide of the area, as well as considerable social diversity. Although there are significant pockets of both urban and rural disadvantage in the school’s catchment area, the school does not currently qualify for disadvantaged status or supports under the School Completion Programme, Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) or DEIS initiatives. Clonmel, like many other towns of its size, has experienced considerable change since the 1990s, including significant housing and infrastructural development, industrial expansion and a growing number of newcomers to the town. In this latter context, the Central Statistics Office reports that the number of recorded newcomers in the urban area alone increased by over 125% between 2002 and 2006, now accounting for roughly 7% of the official population of Clonmel. This aspect of demographic change has already begun to impact on applications to the school although future trends are difficult to identify as yet.

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The formal mission statement of Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel, states:

‘Ardscoil na mBráithre, founded by the Christian Brothers as a Christian community, aims to promote the personal, spiritual, physical, creative and academic development of its students. The support of the wider community and in particular of all parents/guardians is necessary to promote this vision.’

 

The school, while now having a lay principal and no longer any Christian Brothers on staff, has retained a strong sense of its Christian Brothers’ identity to this day. It remains under the ownership and trusteeship of the Christian Brothers and management maintains strong links with the order. The school itself has highlighted the particular emphasis placed in CBS trusteeship on caring for those in the community or school who are disadvantaged. Many of the school policies and practices emanate from CBS ethos directly, including its seminal Educative Community of Faith document. Policies ranging from promoting the effective involvement of parents in education, student mentoring and the outline pastoral-care strategy in place have been directly influenced by current CBS philosophy. The school has been actively involved as part of the evolving Edmund Rice Schools Trust initiative, while the parents’ council is also affiliated to the national CBS parents’ body.

 

A broad Catholic ethos is reflected in many school policies, including the enrolment policy, and is further strengthened by the links between the school and its home parish of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, where the school’s very supportive chaplain is based. His role, in tandem with numerous staff members working in the area of spiritual and personal development, does much to ensure the maintenance of the school’s ethos on a day-to-day basis. From the perspective of promoting the physical, creative and academic development of students, both the curriculum of the school and the host of co-curricular and extracurricular activities which form part of school life play huge roles, as will be evidenced in Section 3 of this report in particular.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre has had a board of management since 1987. Each board has held  office for a period of three years, which is appropriate, and has been given the responsibility for the conduct, management and financial administration of the school. The present board took office in 2005. As was the case with previous boards, the board consists of four representatives nominated by the trustees, two representatives from the staff and two representatives from the parents. The chairperson is nominated by the trustees and the school’s principal acts as secretary to the board. Some members of the present board have served previous terms as well, helping to ensure continuity. Usually, approximately six meetings of the board are scheduled per year, although these have sometimes had to be supplemented to cater for the ratification of appointments or for disciplinary procedures to be effected.

 

A high degree of unanimity has been noted in terms of the viewpoints of board members, reflecting a shared vision and commitment. Decisions are invariably taken by consensus rather than vote, and board members organise a number of social outings each year, which help to reinforce good relations. The board has collectively identified a number of development priorities for the near future. Among these are creating structures to support staff and students, the updating and maintenance of school facilities and general policy development. In its efforts to promote high standards of educational provision, the board prioritises the provision of necessary resources, complying with all legislative, trustee and Department of Education and Science regulations, and safeguarding school finances. The board has done much work on the promotion of a safe working environment, including supporting the principal in attaining high-level qualifications in health and safety. It is also very supportive of extracurricular activities within the school, with board members regularly attending school activities, shows and sporting events.

 

Actively consulting all partners (where possible) in decision-making is a stated priority of the board. Both staff representatives and parents’ representatives give verbal reports back to the relevant bodies as soon as is practicable after board meetings and always with the confidentiality of some board matters to the fore. Good lines of communication have also been established between staff, parents’ council and the board, where policies have been developed through appropriate consultation. One recommendation in the area of communication with parents is that an annual report from the board should be given to the diversity of parents, beyond the parents’ council meetings. This would be in keeping with the spirit of Section 20 of the Education Act (1998) and would help keep the body of parents informed of progress with school planning, building issues, areas for development in the coming year, and so on. Including such a short report from the board on the school’s website and in the school newsletter or yearbook should also make the process relatively cost-neutral. Website publication of the school plan is now also a practicable option and would be in keeping with the aspirations of Section 21 of the Education Act.

 

While recent board-meeting minutes show that significant amounts of time have been taken up with staff appointments, including the ratification of posts, building and discipline issues, the board has been proactive in working on health and safety policies and the review of the school’s code of behaviour which has been effected in its initial stages at year-head level. High levels of legal, administrative and financial expertise are to be found among the board members, as well as a genuinely united vision for the school and its future. The board has also shown a huge degree of support to the senior in-school management team in the day-to-day running of the school, with very regular contacts between the chairperson and principal highlighting this support in particular. The board is commended on the degree to which its individual members are aware of current legislation and educational developments, including Departmental regulations.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

As previously indicated, the school has had an externally sourced lay principal since 1991. Apart from his wealth of experience in the position, the principal has been very active in the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and has also worked for the Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) project in both full-time and part-time capacities. The current deputy principal, who came from within the staff, was appointed in 2002. In this relatively new position, he has also been loud in his praise of the supports he has been able to avail of via the NAPD and LDS. There is a very clear job description for the deputy principal in particular, focusing on substitution and supervision, and day-to-day discipline. The principal deals with timetabling and, among many other duties, with external contacts such as the Department of Education and Science, trustees and the board of management. However, there is equally a very strong sense of the sharing of in-school management duties between principal and deputy principal, to the point that they see their roles as virtually interchangeable as the situation arises. The principal ensures that the deputy principal gets a copy of all documents, circulars and letters which arrive. Invariably, one of the in-school management team deals with issues as they arise simply on the basis of which person is on the scene first, such is the sharing of duties.

 

Such a united approach to in-school leadership leads to a very intensive working day for both incumbents but ensures that in-school management is in touch with day-to-day matters in a very hands-on fashion. The fact that the offices of principal and deputy principal are adjacent to each other in the administration area, and directly beside the front entrance, assists this proactive management style. Furthermore, both are regularly found in the corridors, calling in to classes, supervising in the yard at break time, meeting parents and visitors, and mixing with staff members in the staff room at lunch time and as other times allow. Maintaining energy levels and finding time for reflection remain constant challenges for both principal and deputy principal but there is no denying the hugely proactive role they play individually and in tandem in managing the school daily, with the mutual support ethic they have developed being central to their effectiveness.

 

The school has a total of nine assistant principal posts and a further fourteen special duties posts. Assistant principals are generally assigned to either year-head duties or to a number of administrative duties. The special duties posts range across administrative roles particularly, with some dealing with extracurricular, pastoral or more directly educational tasks. In the main, these posts have been found to reflect the needs of the school, although it has been pointed out that these needs may well change in the coming years. For example, increasing numbers taking the Transition Year (TY) and/or Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) might necessitate a review of the programme co-ordination structure. Senior management is applauded for its awareness of the need to review some other posts when practicable to do so. A number of post holders are in acting-up capacities. While this has created a high degree of fluidity between post-holding personnel on occasion, and frequent interviews, it has at least had the positive result of bringing fresh ideas to a number of posts, even for short periods of time. The diversity of posts in the main has meant that there has been little point in holding focused meetings of post holders operating in specific areas but good levels of informal co-operation have been evident. Where posts have entailed management of a team, as in pastoral care and learning support, structures which facilitate team meetings have appropriately been put in place by senior management.

 

The role of year heads in particular has been central in the school’s middle-management structure, with each one of the five year heads responsible for the monitoring of and encouraging attendance and discipline particularly, among over 120 boys in each year group. These year heads bring a wealth of experience and commitment to their posts and maintain very thorough student records. Appropriately, a weekly meeting of year heads, generally with the deputy principal in attendance, is held and greatly assists in the ongoing monitoring of students. The fact that the year heads are among the most senior teachers in the school has been a central element in the maintenance of school traditions and consistent enforcement of discipline and attendance structures. The weekly meetings have reinforced their sense of forming a ‘middle management’ element within the school, which is applauded as it gives ownership of day-to-day management to a broader spectrum of staff.

 

The school operates a class tutor system on a voluntary basis and much good work has been done in recent times on clarifying the role such tutors can play, while always mindful of the voluntary nature of the position. Certainly, year heads have suggested that the class tutor is best described as filling a pastoral role, while year heads and senior management have some pastoral duties and most of the serious disciplinary tasks. The work done to date on developing the class tutor role is commended and, as it evolves, it can provide a very important element of positive student management, in tandem with care personnel, year heads and senior management, in terms of formalising the balance between pastoral and disciplinary structures. It is suggested that formalisation of a positive behaviour structure, incorporating rewards and strategies to develop student engagement, should be considered within the tutor role and could enhance the discipline structure which the school holds dear.

 

It has been decided during the course of the whole-school evaluation visit that a committee will be formed to investigate the possibilities of computerising the reporting system, possibly replacing the existing student record books to some extent. This proactive step, which comes from a staff review forum, deserves to be explored. It should not add to existing cost levels and could save considerable teacher and administration time in the longer term. In the assumption that this review will provide an opportunity to revisit the report template itself, recommendations have been made about the need to emphasise the value of academic performance in Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), as an encouragement to less academic students, and also concerning the possibilities of inserting an optimum level of ‘excellent’ or its equivalent on students’ reports, where merited. It should also remain possible for teachers to insert an unprogrammed comment if they see fit, as a limited list of options may not suit all subjects or disciplines in all circumstances. In addition to the reporting process, the student planner and diary which is issued to all students at the school is a very important support to student management. It details a number of key school policies, particularly relating to discipline and attendance, as well as providing a structure for the maintenance of regular contacts between home and school. It would be worthwhile including some of the school’s more pastoral elements in this planner when next going for printing, to include some details about guidance and pastoral care, and information about students’ groups like the peer ministry and student leadership group.

 

In terms of broader student-management issues, parents and management have highlighted particular concerns about the difficulties created for some of the school’s students by the restrictions on bus seating due to the introduction of compulsory seat belts. Both the board and members of the parents’ council have argued strongly that a fresh look at bus routes ought to be taken, as a number of students whose families have traditionally attended Ardscoil na mBráithre are now unable to get room on buses which could take them to Clonmel instead of to schools in other towns. This matter is currently the subject of communication between the parents’ council, the board and transport authorities.

 

School management has established very positive and effective lines of communication with the parents’ council and the general parent body. The principal, staff-liaison teacher and, generally, the deputy principal attend the regular meetings of the parents’ council, at which the principal gives a very thorough report on school activities. The meeting of the parents’ council, observed during the evaluation, and the meeting with parents’ council members both suggest that this is a body which is very supportive of the school ethos and management. Newsletters, a beautiful yearbook, regular features in local newspapers, parents’ evenings and focused communications in relation to specific issues and events are also employed as means of written communication to parents. The school’s website has recently been made more user-friendly and it is recommended that this should be seen as an additional vehicle for informing parents generally, and former students around the world, about school activities in time. Individual student diaries contain sections which facilitate parent-teacher communication, while all parents spoken with were very clear as to the identity of their son’s year head. Appointments can be facilitated should parents wish to meet with a tutor or year head, while the deputy principal and principal are invariably available as well. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group annually and are in line with regulations.

 

School management has been very successful in forging links with the wider community and with outside agencies. In point of fact, it would be virtually impossible to list all of the community links which have been built at this juncture. Many relate to supports for extracurricular activities and include sponsorship of sports gear for almost all of the school’s outdoor sports teams. Local concerns have been very helpful in accommodating students on work experience within the school’s programmes. Equally impressive has been the manner in which cultural and community groups have been engaged with supporting school life. The financial backing received from a number of charities has been used to acquire up-to-date psychological assessments for some students where there have been gaps in coverage from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). The support for the religious education department’s pastoral work coming from the local JETS initiative, and the annual French/Rugby scholarship sponsored by a local firm are good examples of the manner in which the school has linked with local community supports. Equally the supports which have been given to students’ involvement in community and youth projects have been many and productive. Very strong connections have been developed with local schools, via activities like the annual school show and through Ardscoil Transition Year (TY) students involving themselves in language teaching and other classes in local primary schools. A number of adult-oriented night classes are also provided in the school as demand dictates. The school has reported in an appropriate fashion to the National Education and Welfare Board (NEWB) and has also maintained very productive contacts with Departmental bodies such as the Visiting Teachers services, the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) and county agencies.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre has a teaching staff of forty-two permanent wholetime (PWT) teachers and nine non-permanent teachers. These include ex-quota positions for the principal, deputy principal, a learning-support teacher and one guidance counsellor. The PWT number is in line with Departmental allocations, while the bulk of the part-time hours derive from additional Departmental supports totalling 6.25 teacher-equivalents for additional guidance and counselling, education support and other allocations. The school is applauded for supplementing its official allocation by funding hours in areas where it perceives an additional need, such as counselling. It is also applauded for the fine commitment of management to supporting continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers, with a very substantial file of attendance at in-service training being maintained and including several sessions provided in the school by external facilitators.

 

The decision made within the past two years to accept special-needs assistants (SNAs) within classrooms has been an important step towards enhancing learning opportunities for students and is applauded. There are currently three SNAs in the school, two of whom generally operate in the same class group and all of whom have integrated seamlessly into school life. The school employs two secretaries. Each has quite clearly defined duties but also plays a vital front-line role in day-to-day school life. A full-time caretaker is also on hand and deals with maintenance, waste disposal and some security issues in an efficient and pleasant manner. The cleaning staff consists of one full-time person and four part-time cleaners. Duties are divided in different sections of the school and, for some personnel, also include preparation and serving of food in the school’s canteen. The efficient and extremely pleasant manner in which this work is carried out adds to the friendly spirit around the corridors. Furthermore, auxiliary staff members are very well integrated into the social aspects of school life. In many instances, the length of service that these personnel have given to the school speaks volumes for their commitment to the place and its students.

 

In terms of structural resources, the school consists of two distinct buildings. The main building has 18 general classrooms, five specialist classrooms, a computer room, a library, a prayer room and a number of smaller rooms used for career guidance and education support in the main. There are also two toilet blocks, a staffroom with discrete preparation area, an administration area, a store room and a canteen. The focal point of this building is a beautifully appointed central atrium, which was created through the imaginative conversion of an open quadrangle some years ago. Adjacent to the main school building is the original High School, now mainly used as the first-year centre, with five classrooms, a toilet area and a technical drawing room, as well as some smaller tuition areas. Pressures of space have meant that the school has also had to place three pre-fabricated classrooms in the yard area. This has reduced the recreational area available to students and the physical condition and the intensity of the observed maintenance work required on these classrooms suggests that their lifespan is certainly near its end. While classroom space for the number of students in the school is not excessive, very commendable use has been made of small spaces to create annex-style storage spaces and some small rooms, particularly for use in one-to-one learning support contexts. A prayer room and counselling room have been created and beautifully decorated with students’ artwork. In fact, a particularly impressive feature of the school’s building management is the commitment to visual displays in all corridors. Sports teams and framed jerseys, casts of school shows, class groups and student-generated artwork adorn the walls, with the innovation of constructive graffiti spaces being a particularly forward-thinking and student-relevant management decision in recent years.

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre has developed a fine computer room over the years, incorporating an extended and well-appointed classroom, with a post holder assigned to monitoring access and maintenance needs. The school has recently received a substantial boost to its information and communication technology (ICT) resources through a Department grant for T4 subjects. In recent years, laptop computers and data projectors have been installed in some of the science laboratories, with more planned. The school reports that it also has a trolley-based facility for classroom use, as required. With all classrooms now networked and having satisfactory broadband access, the augmentation of such ICT facilities for use in ordinary classrooms is further recommended, as and when the school feels it has the financial resources to do so. There is no doubt that the use of ICT can significantly enhance teaching and learning and the provision of such equipment in as wide a spectrum of classrooms as practicable should be the ultimate goal.

 

Another area where the school may be able to augment its facilities for teaching and learning is the school library. This beautiful resource has been developed very successfully and actively under the direction of an assistant principal, and is adorned with some beautiful appliqué designs. It is also good to note that the recommendations of a previous inspection have been taken on board in terms of library stocking. Plans to install some of the existing computers into the library, offering a linux system with internet access for student research work, are applauded as a significant enhancement of learning opportunities. Furthermore, the round-table seating in the room, and facility for curtaining off the table area, make it an ideal venue for classes where group work and pair work could be engaged in, although the addition of a whiteboard on an end wall could be helpful in this context. These possibilities for making the library a virtual-information centre and active-learning centre are deserving of consideration and should not have significant resource implications, given that the designated computers are already in the school.

 

Recreational space around the school is tight. There are distinct yards for different student year groups, a staff car park and an additional car park which has required the commandeering of an outdoor basketball court. The school’s proactivity in securing Department of Education and Science support for a new car park and basketball court is applauded, as is the support of the parents’ council in providing funds for two containers to augment the available storage space for games equipment. A gymnasium, complete with changing rooms and small viewing gallery, and one full sized GAA pitch complete the school’s other recreational resources. It should be pointed out that the pitch in particular has been the venue for multiple training sessions in a wide variety of sports, sometimes simultaneously, such is the demand on the facility. Drainage difficulties have been tackled within the past decade, while the gymnasium remains a fine facility despite occasional problems with board warping due to residual moisture underneath. The school has taken significant steps in recent years to ensure the integrity of its grounds, including the installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, security fencing and a new wall as previously mentioned. In terms of general health and safety policies, the school is applauded for the seriousness with which it views such matters. A very thorough suite of documents outlines policies and procedures to cover every conceivable situation, with the additional support of the principal’s qualifications in health and safety and the allocation of part of a post of responsibility to health and safety co-ordination, including regular fire drills and the allocation of lockers and lunchtime passes. Such genuine concern for health and safety is applauded.

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

The School Plan

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre prides itself on having been one of the first schools in Ireland to develop a formal school plan, between 1996 and 1998. The original plan survives but has been altered and added to, ultimately to a point where the current plan little resembles the original. This is both natural and commendable, keeping pace with the rate of change in education generally. Yet all members of the school community are conscious of being relatively happy with the informal policies and practices which have been built up in the school for over a century, so change has been embraced carefully. The planning process since 1998 has seen a wide range of issues covered, including the implementation of building improvements, establishment of the student leadership group, identification of professional needs of staff, the introduction of both TY and LCVP, and the enhancement of pastoral care and of supports for students with additional educational needs.

 

Ideas for policy development come most often from within the school’s staff or senior management team but some policy work on health and safety, admissions and social, personal and health education has also been initiated by the board of management itself. A significant amount of this planning has been given an impetus by legislation in education and other areas. The general approach to school planning at Ardscoil na mBráithre has seen the designation of a special-duties post of responsibility to the co-ordination of planning activity. A number of externally facilitated planning days have been engaged in over the past few years, most recently a School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) training day on subject planning. The co-ordinator also attends regional school development planning meetings, relays information back to colleagues, has supplied folders and templates for subject planning and has overseen the creation of staff groups to work on specific areas of planning. This is all commended, as is the practice of allowing staff members to volunteer for the areas which most interest them or, as with the current work on a school trips policy, of designating teachers from the most relevant subject areas to such work. Very honest minutes of planning meetings show a realisation that too many planning groups may have been initiated simultaneously in the past, to limited effect, and the move to a more focused, manageable approach in recent times is applauded.

 

As a rule, the draft policies which emerge from staff groups are presented to the whole staff, then to the parents’ council for any amendments or comments and then on to the board of management, for further discussion, amendment and eventual ratification. This is a sensible approach which gives due recognition to the adult members of the school community. On occasion, students have had a say in planning, such as with the involvement of a student leadership group member on the health and safety committee. However, the spirit of the Education Act, Section 21(3), and the recommendations of the National Children’s Strategy would suggest that the involvement of students in a broader range of policy development work than heretofore would be beneficial to the school. The Departmental publication School Matters recommends: ‘Students should be involved as appropriate in the construction, the implementation and the review of school policies, especially the code of behaviour’ and, certainly, the maturity and positivity of the formal student leadership group met with during the evaluation would suggest that such involvement, even on a staged basis, is very worthy of serious consideration.

 

Planning priorities in the current academic year have been identified by staff and management, and include the development of policies on sexual harassment, school trips and a student awards scheme. It is commendable that ongoing planning groups in special educational needs and guidance and counselling have been working on draft whole-school policies, while another planning group has been working on clarifying the role of the class tutor, as previously intimated. These are all sensible priorities for planning and fit well with the school’s efforts to adapt to the needs of its students. During all of this work, facilitated by occasional formal meetings and several informal ones, time has also been found for some initial steps in subject planning, while the year heads group has also worked separately on a review of the discipline structure.

 

The suite of school policies which has been developed and adopted over the past ten years is nothing short of comprehensive. All of the areas required by the Department of Education and Science and legislation have been covered, with a number of additional policies also in place to deal with aspects particular to the school, as with the CCTV policy and student leadership group constitution. Many of the policies have also been driven by initial guidelines from the Joint Managerial Body of Catholic Secondary Schools (JMB), the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) and other education partners. In recent times, it has been management practice to put the date of adoption on such policies, which assists in identifying what may need to be reviewed and updated. Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

Some degree of uncertainty has been recorded at meetings as to the value of such planning work. This is understandable and certainly it should be borne in mind that the real value of school planning is that it can impact directly on the school and empower the members of the school community, regardless of what Departmental or other pressures there may be to undertake such work. What has been done to date has been very impressive and the following paragraphs are offered as future directions which might be considered, and which should maintain the momentum in school planning.

 

Firstly, a number of school policies, such as the code of behaviour, the admissions policy and the general school curriculum ought by their very nature be considered for review every few years, in order to ensure that the school keeps pace with societal change. Work has already been done on the discipline structure and some curricular aspects, and the continuation of this is supported. The board of management has expressed itself satisfied with the school’s thorough admissions policy. The policy includes reference to the admission of students from other schools and students with special educational needs but contains some caveats which are not in line with Departmental interpretations of legislation. Such clauses are deserving of review when practicable, although the school has confirmed that no student has been refused admission on the grounds of having special educational needs. The general admissions policy caters for possible oversubscription in a transparent manner, favouring boys from the recognised feeder schools and relatives of existing or previous students. In the event of oversubscription, it is stipulated that places are decided upon by a lottery system. Some of the enrolment procedures as communicated to parents carry an implication that payment of a ‘voluntary contribution’ is part of the admissions procedure. In reviewing procedures overall, this implication ought to be removed, as it is at odds with the spirit of free education, and senior management has explained that this will be done, as it has been included with enrolment procedures for administrative purposes.

 

In turning to other aspects of school life which deserve renewed attention, as time allows, the completion of an overarching pastoral care policy is suggested. Ideally, if time can be allocated to the pastoral care team outside of its regular care meetings, this would effectively knit together the excellent work which has been done to date in relationships and sexuality education (RSE), bereavement, critical incidents, anti-bullying strategies, religious education and other areas. The policy on special educational needs is very clear and thorough, and has just been adopted by the board.  The merits of including a section on dealing with exceptionally gifted students in such a policy, or separately, have been discussed and taken on board, while some formalisation of re-testing of students at appropriate intervals should also be factored into such planning when possible. Very good progress has also been made on whole-school guidance planning and this should be continued. Suggestions for curricular review will be made in Section 3 of this report.

 

From an ab initio standpoint, it is recommended that a designated ICT planning group be formed, with a view to exploring how best ICT can be further integrated into school life. A very important first step has been taken with the setting up of a group to work on electronic reporting systems. The proposed additional group might explore how ICT can be factored into teaching and learning to optimum effect, perhaps to include strategies for promoting the deployment of the school’s broadband and networking systems through the increased use of data projectors and laptop computers in regular classes, augmenting the sharing of teacher resources, and finding ways of increasing student use of ICT as a learning tool. This recommendation is made in the interest of building on the excellent hardware provision of recent times, both from Department and school-based resources, to ensure optimum benefit to all students and all teachers, whether currently computer experts or not. Some of the ideas offered at www.laptopsinitiative.ie are also well worth considering.

 

Because the work done in planning to date has had a focus on whole-school issues, it has not been possible to advance all subject planning at a similar pace. Some subjects have been able to develop quite substantial plans while others are at a more embryonic stage. It is recommended that all subject areas ought to look at how an ICT policy might reflect the needs of their subject specifically and factor their views into the group mentioned in the previous paragraph. While the completion of SDPI-driven subject templates is applauded where it has been observed, it is also urged that the focus of current and future subject planning should be, as much as possible, on the core issues of teaching and learning. The sharing of ideas and methodological approaches, pooling resources, promoting differentiated teaching strategies and simply promoting a collaborative approach to teaching and learning are all worthy of discussion. On a structural level, common decision-making on syllabus options, identifying common needs from a budgeting standpoint, feedback from in-service attendance or subject association membership are among the issues which should be discussed at subject planning meetings, as and when time permits.

 

Finally, in a more general sense, the future-proofing of the school via school planning is worthy of consideration. There is no doubt that society has changed in the past ten years and will almost certainly change significantly again in the next ten years. A form of five-year and perhaps ten-year planning might be considered, identifying the likely medium-term needs of the school and seeking out ways of dealing with them. Demographic and social trends ought to be considered, including the likely impact of newcomer students, and perhaps a general working group on disadvantage might seek ways of enhancing contacts with the current Garda juvenile liaison officer (JLO) and other possible support mechanisms which are currently not as strong as they might be.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre is compliant with the requirements laid out for voluntary secondary schools in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/5. In addition, the school offers students a wide range of subjects, both on an optional and a compulsory basis, in junior cycle and senior cycle. Subject areas where there are stipulated amounts of time to be allocated are, in the main, satisfactorily met, although the provision in Physical Education generally falls short of the recommended two hours of tuition time. Time provision for CSPE and for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) are in line with Departmental recommendations. The school is also compliant with regulations relating to time in school, having twenty-eight hours of tuition time and fulfilling the 167 in-school days required, including the provision for meetings inside and outside of normal school time. Scrutiny of the school timetable also shows that most staff are deployed for between twenty-one and twenty-two hours, with some on slightly reduced hours in order to accommodate year-head or co-ordination roles. All mainstream teachers teach at least eighteen hours of class, while the appropriate allocations for education support, guidance and counselling are deployed.

 

In junior cycle, the school is commended on the range of subjects on offer to students. This includes two modern European languages, Business Studies, Science, Materials Technology (Wood), Technology and Technical Graphics, Music, Art and Classical Studies, in addition to the core subjects of junior cycle. All subjects are available at higher, ordinary or foundation levels as appropriate. The range of subjects on offer for Leaving Certificate is equally impressive, with all three science subjects on offer, all three business subjects, two modern European languages, Technical Drawing, Construction Studies, History, Geography, Art and Music available, in addition to Irish, English and Mathematics. Again, all subjects are available at different levels as deemed appropriate. Applied Mathematics was formerly offered but the numbers of students seeking to take it on made it unviable. On the positive side, the school is actively exploring the possibilities of extending Classical Studies into senior cycle and this is also applauded.

 

Within its general curriculum, Ardscoil na mBráithre offers two recognised Department of Education and Science programmes, TY and the LCVP. Both of these programmes are applauded as means of shaping the curriculum to suit the needs of the students. Numbers taking the LCVP are currently relatively small, in part attributed to the fact that a number of popular subjects in the school’s senior cycle remain outside the remit of the programme’s vocational subject groupings. Link modules, work experience and time in the computer room are all appropriately provided for in the LCVP programme, as is a volunteer co-ordinator who is assisted by the programme co-ordinator. TY is currently limited to twenty-four students, selected following an application and interview process. This is an area where there may well be room for expansion, perhaps with a view to filling two class groups instead of the current one. Parents expressed a desire to see TY more readily available to students and certainly the breadth and quality of the programme on offer is very impressive. In exploring the possibility of enlarging TY, issues of space and staffing are acknowledged, including a likely need to make TY co-ordination part of the post structure as opposed to the voluntary role it currently is. However, it is recommended that the school give more active consideration than heretofore to the possibility of promoting TY more strongly and aiming to accommodate a second class group if at all possible. The educational benefits of TY to students are virtually undeniable, while the benefits to the school in terms of extra grant income and student numbers would help towards offsetting the initial challenges of broadening TY.

 

The school does not offer either the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) at present. Consideration was given to the JCSP some time ago but the group working on it concluded that there was insufficient demand among the student cohort at that time. This may well be the case still, and the fact that the school is not eligible for DEIS supports would make it impossible for it to adopt the JCSP fully in any event. The academic results and attendance levels being achieved suggest that there would indeed be limited uptake of either the JCSP or the LCA were they available or offered at this point. It is recommended, however, that a review of curricular provision be undertaken at regular intervals over the coming years, in order to ensure that societal change is being accommodated to the optimum level by the school’s curriculum. The time may well come when a programme like the LCA will be a viable option and the school ought to be open to consideration of such programmes if that time comes.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

As previously indicated, the range of subjects available to students at Ardscoil na mBráithre is very impressive. The school faces an annual challenge in allocating its first-year enrolment to class groups. This is ostensibly done on a mixed ability basis, and indeed most junior cycle class groups are of mixed ability. The allocation of subjects to different class groups presents a particular difficulty. At present, students who opt for Materials Technology (Wood), hereafter known as MTW, are placed in 1A, while other students are placed in different classes depending on that they opt for from another option block. MTW has been in a block which also included Technical Graphics and Business Studies, while a second block contained German, Technology, Music, Classical Studies and Art. Plans for the coming year anticipate German being included in a third option band, opposite French, with consequent alterations to the two existing bands. This system has worked satisfactorily from a timetabling perspective but it has the disadvantage of locking students into a particular class group on the somewhat limited grounds of one subject choice, generally for a three-year duration. Active consideration should be given to the introduction of a taster system for at least part of first year, in order to give students some hands-on idea of the subjects they may opt for ultimately. Such a move would also be in keeping with the spirit of the school’s draft whole-school guidance policy and, indeed, an enhanced involvement of the guidance department in first-year subject selection would also be an important consideration. These measures would complement the written information currently given to parents and students on first-year subjects and are also supported by the views expressed in Moving Up, published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in 2004.

 

The degree of choice offered in TY is very satisfactory. This starts with the optional nature of the programme itself. Within TY, students are not asked to select likely Leaving Certificate subjects in advance but are offered the chance to work on core subjects and also to sample possible Leaving Certificate optional subjects too. All subject programmes reviewed contain a healthy non-emphasis on Leaving Certificate material and are aimed at broadening students’ knowledge and understanding in a manner in keeping with TY philosophy nationwide. The range of experiences available to students outside of the more regular classes is equally impressive, covering a huge variety of life skills, social involvement, co-curricular opportunities and so on. The involvement of TY students in training to assist primary school students in learning modern languages, and students with dyspraxia in the use of a fit frame, as well as work experience and community work experience combine to make the TY programme very satisfactory in its scope.

 

The facilitation of students’ choice for Leaving Certificate is excellent. Students are given substantial advice, both as groups and individually, on subject selection before fifth year, with subject teachers and the guidance team significantly involved. An open choice is offered initially and only subsequently are bands developed, designed to offer the optimum degree of satisfaction to the greatest number of students. These bands may allow some students to take the LCVP option but may be restrictive of others. However, it is infinitely better to have students select their preferred subjects first and then see if the LCVP fits their choices rather than the reverse situation where students might end up choosing subjects they do not really want simply to fit into the LCVP requirements. The openness and fairness of the choice system in senior cycle is applauded, as is the availability of all subjects to all levels for the Leaving Certificate.

 

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre has an enviable record in terms of extracurricular activities, all the more so because there is a very healthy mix of sporting and non-sporting activities available to students. A huge commitment, in terms of teachers’ time and school supports, has been given to student involvement in such activities over the years, to the point that there is literally something for everyone to get involved in at the school.

 

In sport, the school has a very proud tradition in Gaelic games, rugby, association football, athletics and racquet sports in particular, with several championships having been won at Munster and All-Ireland levels in recent years across this spectrum. The school has also been highly supportive of the achievements of students (and teachers) in other sports, from rowing to karate, boxing and swimming. Very well-established traditions of ensuring that classes are covered when teachers are away with teams exist, as do the requirements that students involved in school matches are automatically expected to get and complete homework assignments like every other student. This is not, as such, written into the homework policy and would benefit from being there, although it is an accepted part of extracurricular involvement. As previously mentioned, the school’s pitch is utilised to the maximum in facilitating such activities, while the nearby availability of the facilities of local clubs has been loudly praised by the school. Indeed, several local clubs have made their facilities available to the school at no charge or at a nominal fee and a number have made material contributions to sports in the school. Local businesses have been very supportive also, with almost every set of team jerseys worn having been sponsored by a local enterprise. It deserves to be pointed out also that while the school has achieved great sporting successes over the years, the emphasis in extracurricular sport is as much on participation as it ever is on winning and this is also applauded. Internal, optional leagues held at lunchtime are fine examples of this commitment to participation.

 

Non-sporting extracurricular interests are equally well served at Ardscoil na mBráithre. Debates, including training for TY students with Toastmasters, quizzes and public speaking are to the fore. School tours are organised on an annual basis and most recently have visited destinations such as Rome, Pompeii and Andalusia. The commitment to ensuring that these are educationally valuable is self-evident and the school is applauded for its policy of not missing term days due to tour activity. The emphasis on music, for which Clonmel itself is rightly famed, is very strong within the school and caters for all tastes, from the student leadership group’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ to the huge school show in co-operation with a local girls’ school each year. Profits from this show have been ploughed back into the enhancement of equipment, including a modern recording deck in the music room.

 

From the co-curricular perspective, the school has a high range of activities designed to enhance specific aspects of the curriculum. The school’s efforts to equip students for life sees ‘Life Skills’ form part of the senior cycle timetable and also a core module in cookery in Transition Year. Visits to English plays and films, Gaeltacht visits and Irish debating, field trips in the nearby Comeragh Mountains, Green-School development, activity-centre trips by TY students and student exchanges are among such activities. The school has engaged in annual visits to other European schools for cultural, sporting and linguistic activities which are again of prime educational value. Enterprise education has a particularly prominent position within the school, with several awards won and a team from the Ardscoil carrying off a very prestigious European award for its German language game, Deutsch Macht Spaβ. Artworks, as previously intimated, abound around the school and have included significant supports from outside groups like the South Tipperary Arts Centre and the NAPD’s Creative Engagement Project. It bears reiteration that the degree of extracurricular and co-curricular activities, and particularly the manner in which these are promoted and managed by school staff, and fundamentally balanced with academic work, is highly beneficial to students and to the vibrancy of school life generally.

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

As previously mentioned in Section 2, the school is engaged in school development planning. In addition to the ongoing review and updating of the school plan, subject-specific planning is progressing. Management facilitates the planning process by allocating time for at least two formal subject department meetings per year. The good practice of recording minutes of formal meetings has begun. Minutes of departmental meetings are kept in the appropriate subject folder. In addition to these meetings, much useful planning takes place during informal meetings among members of the larger subject departments.  Co-ordinators are in place in the case of subject departments that have more than one teacher. At present these co-ordinators are appointed on a voluntary basis. It is recommended that the role of convenor of these subject departments be rotated among members of the team, perhaps annually. This could help to equalise the workload involved, provide continuity within the department and would allow for the development of a wide leadership skills base within these departments.

 

Among the key areas dealt with in the subject plans are the aims and objectives of the subjects, theme-based yearly plans, topics for each year grouping and appropriate methodologies. Some subject plans included planning for students with special educational needs, provision for health and safety requirements and assessment and examination procedures. All plans were relevant to the appropriate syllabuses and the requirements of the state examinations. Evidence of planning for some cross-curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular opportunities was also noted and commended. Another commendable factor was the inclusion of planning for the continuing professional development of staff in each subject department. Individual lessons were mostly very well planned. These plans included detailed individual long-term and weekly work plans, assessment and attendance records, lists of daily work completed, worksheets, handouts, all necessary materials and audio extracts prepared in advance.

 

In order to progress and develop these subject departments further, some recommendations are made. All programmes of work should be reviewed and expanded to include information on intended learning outcomes. The different needs, abilities and strengths of students should be addressed by planning for the use of a broader range of teaching methodologies and the inclusion of more active-learning strategies. Plans should be seen as flexible working documents, open to review, so that the contents remain relevant and purposeful. Recommendations pertinent to specific subjects can be found in the Subject Inspection Reports on English, German, Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, Mathematics, Music and Physical Education linked to this WSE report.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

For the purposes of this evaluation, six inspectors visited a combined total of almost forty lessons in the subject areas outlined earlier in this report. In all lessons visited the quality of teaching and learning observed was good, lesson content was appropriate and teachers were prepared for their teaching. There was a good rapport between the students and the teacher in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere that was conducive to learning. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. Discipline was firm in all lessons and students co-operated well with each other and their teachers. Student–teacher interactions were characterised by mutual respect. Teachers were affirming to students during the course of lessons. Students were generally engaged by lessons, the material covered in classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability.

 

Objectives were clear in lessons and particularly good practice was observed in a number of lessons where teachers explicitly set out at the beginning of the lesson what was to be covered and achieved by the end of the lesson. This assessment for learning approach is to be applauded as a means of focusing students on the work at hand and should be extended to all lessons.

 

There was some evidence of the development of a print-rich environment in classrooms. However many rooms visited had no displays of posters, keywords, character diagrams, subject-related visual materials or students’ work which can enhance the visual learning environment and remind students of key concepts, particularly with the diverse learning needs which are currently presenting in the school.  While the difficulties in developing such an environment are noted, ways of introducing such displays should be given consideration.

 

The use of a wide range of teaching strategies and resources encountered in some of the lessons observed in the course of the inspection is commended. In other lessons, teacher-led activities dominated and students were passive. A more co-operative learning environment where students are encouraged to involve themselves as active learners is recommended in all lessons. Probing questioning of students in order to evaluate learning, to develop work and create a link between previous learning and the current lesson featured strongly in many lessons. The development of such questioning strategies clearly enhanced the learning process and is commended.

 

In interactions with the inspectors, students displayed a knowledge and understanding of the topics and texts being studied. The majority of students had a clear understanding of the work in which they were involved. Given the quality of learning and teaching observed it is recommended that due consideration be given by all staff as to how the good practices witnessed during the evaluations can be shared within and across subject areas.

4.3          Assessment

 

There is a homework policy. This is positive and, in the case of one department this has led to the development of subject-specific homework guidelines. This good practice might profitably be emulated in a number of the other subject areas evaluated. Homework was regularly assigned and corrected. Particularly good practice in this area was seen where there was formative, comment-based correction of students’ homework, which conforms to an assessment for learning approach. This was also evident in the encouragement of students’ self-assessment which was observed in two of the subjects evaluated where it was viewed as having been skilfully used to enhance students’ learning. Careful monitoring of student materials is recommended in one subject area, especially with regard to junior classes. Homework was assigned in written, aural and practical forms, along with students’ presentations and project work, across different subject areas. This is commendable.

 

A range of informal modes of assessment was observed across the different subjects evaluated. These included informal questioning of students in class, observation of students’ performance in class, the completion of projects, tests, task sheets and work sheets, along with the continual assessment of practical elements in particular subjects. All of this is to be praised. In one subject the focus brought to bear on co-operation rather than competition through students’ engagement with a particular in-class test was praised and should be continued. In-class tests are organised at Christmas, with formal mock examinations in the spring and formal house examinations in the summer. Some use of a common approach to assessment was observed in one of the subjects evaluated and this was highlighted as good practice. In another subject, teachers shared insights on marking procedures in state examinations. This was also commended. It is recommended that, as a means of extending this good practice, the use of common assessments be expanded. In one subject, a common approach to aggregating practical assessment mark averages with summer and Christmas test marks is offered for consideration.

 

There are yearly parent-teacher meetings for each year group. Beyond this, reports on student progress are issued at Christmas, summer and following mock examinations. In addition, communication between teachers and parents is facilitated through use of students’ copybooks and the student journal. Meetings between teachers and parents may also be organised, when necessary. These arrangements are to be commended. To facilitate non-academic subjects, it is recommended that the range of comments available to teachers be increased, or that there could be a facility to record an open comment, in reports to parents on students’ progress. This is urged as a means of increasing the formative nature of these reports. The school has plans to address this situation.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The school has achieved a lot in terms of provision for the inclusion of students with additional educational needs over recent years in particular. It has an allocation of 113.7 hours in the current academic year, which translates into just over five teacher-equivalents. This allocation is divided between two core teachers and a number of other teachers who take mainly individual or small-group tuition sessions. The education support team currently comprises nine teachers and three SNAs, a manageable number of personnel which allows for teachers to gain considerable experience and expertise rather than having withdrawal classes simply factored into spare time on teachers’ timetables. There has been some move in recent years towards team teaching as an alternative to some forms of withdrawal and this is to be encouraged as a more inclusive practice, where practicable. Custom and practice at the school makes little overt distinction between learning support and resource teaching, although each teacher is aware of the different learning needs of students as they are identified, which is good practice. The department also maintains personal student plans which assist in the identification of needs and the monitoring of progress. Good contacts exist with the local SENO.

 

A draft policy on special education has been completed and adopted by the staff in recent weeks. This now goes to the parents and board for further consideration and, eventually, ratification. The policy is very clear and propounds an inclusive ethos from start to finish, and it has been confirmed that a caveat in the school’s admissions policy has never, in fact, led to the exclusion of any student on the grounds of special needs. One teacher takes responsibility for visiting primary schools to seek information on potential incoming students well in advance, while this information is complemented by assessments carried out by the learning-support team and guidance counsellors. Assessment results are used in consultation with parents, students, subject teachers and outside agencies to identify the best forms of supports which are to be offered to students. This is sound practice. Management has given assurances that a presentation from the education support team has been mainstreamed into open nights for incoming first-year students and is good practice.

 

In turning to the general supports offered by the school, there are many examples of good practice to applaud. The school has equipped a fine learning-support room, complete with special carrel desks for use as required and a good stock of books and other support materials. There are a number of small rooms scattered around the school which are used to facilitate one-to-one tuition as required. Assistive technology has also been applied for and procured when needed, and excellent awareness exists of the needs of students in relation to reasonable accommodations in sitting state examinations, with the practice of allowing some pre-examinations to be done in similar contexts to state examinations being very helpful. The training of TY students as mentors for students with dyspraxia who use the school’s fit frame is deserving of reiterated praise. As previously mentioned, among the most important supports in this area are the team of SNAs in the school, while the systemic supports of facilitating regular team meetings among education support team members, and between the head of learning support and the SNAs, is also very good practice. The focus of the current school awards scheme on acknowledging the achievements of students with special needs is a very supportive step and is highly commended. A further tremendous support to students with learning needs is the provision of speech and language classes, focusing on building self confidence through performing and poetry, following a well-established syllabus and achieving some outstanding success on a regular basis.

 

The general staff have been given in-service training on a number of special educational needs and conditions, facilitated by the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and other bodies. This is very good practice, as is the focus on encouraging differentiated teaching methods at another staff in-service session. It would be worthwhile if a focused in-service session could be given to staff by members of the school’s own education support team, highlighting strategies which can be employed in different circumstances and perhaps refocusing on differentiation to some extent, considering that all class groups are of varying degrees of mixed ability. Strategies for supporting exceptionally gifted students should also be considered for whole-staff training, as time allows.

 

The school currently has a small number of Traveller students and these are allocated the appropriate number of hours for education support, with good contacts maintained with the local visiting teacher for Travellers (VTT). In the absence of some Departmental supports due to the lack of disadvantaged status, the school is applauded for the wide range of statutory and voluntary agencies it has gleaned supports from in its efforts to tackle educational needs and disadvantage. The local Rotary Club, Lions Club, Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others have given excellent assistance to the school over the years, as have the NEWB. The school has also been loud in its praise of support received from the local Pathways initiative, to tackle early school leaving.

 

Tuition allocations include language support offered to newcomer students, who total twenty-one at present. It is custom and practice at the school that one designated teacher has concentrated on language-support work in the main and good links have been established with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) to support this work. Local demographic trends suggest that the number of newcomer students with language-support needs is likely to increase rather than fall in the medium term, so consideration may have to be given to facilitating another teacher to upskill in this specific area. Other systemic supports which might be considered include the use of the student leadership group in highlighting positively the different cultures represented in the school, perhaps through celebration days, and the translation of some key school documents into the relevant languages, which has already been begun and should assist parental involvement and understanding. The proactivity of the parents’ council in seeking representation from newcomer parents is again applauded.

 

 

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Ardscoil na mBráithre has a formal allocation of twenty-eight hours for guidance and counselling. This is spread between one full-time guidance counsellor and one part-time equivalent and includes six hours obtained through the Guidance Enhancement Initiative. In addition, the school has employed the services of another expert counsellor from within the staff and has allocated a number of hours each week to provision of this additional support. Such provision is indicative of the manner in which the school has come to see pastoral approaches generally as a very important element of student support, thus ensuring that alongside more traditional discipline structures there now exists a range of student-centred supports for both career-relevant and personal matters. This provision is applauded. A guidance team has also been formed and it is anticipated that this team will play a central role in the finalisation of the whole-school guidance plan by 2009.

 

In terms of time provision, the guidance counsellors are timetabled for rotating single periods across five senior classes, with the majority of the remainder of the provision assigned to individual student meetings or counselling sessions. The school’s additional counsellor has an allocation of six hours for one-to-one sessions and it is a reflection of the level of supports required and available that all three teachers invariably have full schedules each week. Careers classes per se are mainly focused in senior cycle and rotate between innovative ‘Education for Living’ modules. This is satisfactory, as the formal classes are supported by focussed sessions at certain times, such as when subject choices are being considered or Central Applications Office deadlines approach. Facilities include a well-equipped careers room, with adjoining office area which can be used for counselling, and other small rooms which can also be used for counselling as required. The careers room has a number of computers, each equipped with Qualifax and other programs for careers investigation, and these computers are readily available for students’ use.

 

The guidance counsellors have produced a thorough plan, intended to feed into the school’s whole-school guidance planning up to 2009. This is a fine document, with clear identification of areas of work, time allocations and resources, as well as guidelines for meeting with parents and students and presentations on study skills, programme options and other areas relevant to guidance and counselling. It is wholly appropriate, as the school focuses on its whole-school guidance obligations, that the guidance counsellors form part of the pastoral care team at the school and are facilitated in attending the regular meetings of this group. In the current academic year, it has not been deemed possible to timetable the guidance counsellors in such a way as might facilitate attendance at the regular meetings of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and this is deserving of reconsideration in the coming year, if possible, as an additional support to their work.

 

The previously mentioned pastoral-care team consists of a co-ordinator who comes from the religious education department, the guidance and counselling team, members of the education support team and the school’s chaplain. This is applauded, with the reminder that the current SPHE co-ordinator should also be factored into the regular meetings in future academic years. Members of this team have played central roles in the development of many school policies relating to student care, including anti-bullying measures and peer ministry, and the remaining work of bringing such work together into an overarching pastoral-care policy should not prove excessive, although it may require some additional meeting time to formalise matters ultimately. A particularly impressive area which team members have worked on in recent times has related to first-year induction and general transfer issues, a model for more general approaches in the region, and the school is certainly commended on its proactivity in relation to ensuring that student transfer to second level is as seamless as possible. The designation of the old school building as a de-facto first-year haven is an important additional support and one which has been highlighted by parents. The important supports of the school chaplain in the context of maintaining the Christian ethos have been touched on elsewhere. In pastoral terms, it has been found to fit very well as part of the pastoral-care supports generally and enhances the strong sense of student care which has become evident in so many facets of school life.

 

The role allocated to the school’s peer ministry group within the pastoral structure is particularly effective in this first-year context and this work dovetails very well with the school’s SPHE structures. Furthermore, the student leadership group has played a very important role in school life, ranging from the procurement of practical supports such as blinds and benches to more socially conscious fundraising initiatives. The highlight of the group’s activities each year has been its organisation of a ‘Battle of the Bands’, raising funds in the process for its own projects. A current aspiration which remains a major challenge has been the development of a healthy-eating policy within the school. As previously intimated, the focus on student involvement which such initiatives have fostered has been a very positive feature of school development in recent years, with management, staff liaison teachers and the students themselves deserving of great credit. It is recommended that active consideration be given to the extension of the student leadership group into junior cycle, taking some representation directly from junior years, in keeping with the spirit of recent Departmental guidelines on student councils in post-primary schools. The sense of commitment to the school and to fellow students which the current group, and which the peer ministry group’s record supports, again suggests that school life generally could only be enhanced by such moves in time.

 

The overall progress which the school has made in the past decade or so, in areas of general student support, is applauded. More recent developments like the designation of a resource teacher exclusively for language-support work, the acceptance of SNAs, the upskilling of staff in special educational needs and other initiatives suggest that the school has endeavoured to marry its proud traditions with an awareness of the changing needs of students. This is applauded and it is simply recommended that such moves towards student-centring the fine educational provision at the Ardscoil be maintained in the years to come.

 

 

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: 

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

             Inspection Report School Response Form

 

 

            Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

The Board of Management, staff, parents’ council and students of Ardscoil na mBráithre welcomes the WSE Report for the positive acknowledgment of the many strengths of the school.

The report is a clear and comprehensive document capturing the caring ethos of the school and the good relationships and mutual respect that exist between all members of our school community. It recognises that Ardscoil na mBráithre maintains a strong Christian Brother’s tradition placing the education and holistic development of each student at the centre of all activities. The inspectors have also recognised and endorsed the high quality of teaching and learning within the school and the commitment of the teaching staff to using a wide range of teaching strategies and resources.

The report acknowledges the commitment of the school to the provision of a caring and supportive environment for all students and gives justifiable recognition to the huge amount of time, effort and professional input by all within the school community. The acknowledgement of the involvement and dedication of staff in all the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is welcomed.

The Board of Management is pleased that the report further acknowledges the hard working senior management team, the dedicated and professional staff (both teaching and ancillary), supportive parents and a Board of Management that is itself committed to the future development of the school.

The Board of Management especially acknowledges the contribution of the students to the success of the WSE.

The Board wishes to place on record its appreciation of the professionalism, courtesy and thoroughness of the inspectors and the collaborative manner in which the WSE was carried out.

The WSE experience was both positive and empowering and the evaluation process was a very supportive and beneficial experience for the whole school community.

 

 

 

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

The Board of Management and staff of Ardscoil na mBráithre are fully committed to the continuing development of the school. The Board accept the recommendations of the WSE Report as a means of building on strengths and will endeavour to implement them as part of the ongoing process of school development planning and as resources become available