An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Finian’s Community College

Swords, County Dublin

Roll number: 70120F

 

Date of inspection: 2 May 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of St Finian’s Community College, Swords was undertaken in May, 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the whole-school evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in three subjects was evaluated in detail. A subject inspection of one subject was conducted in advance of the whole-school evaluation. Separate reports are available on these subjects (see section 7 for details).  The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

St Finian’s Community College, a multi-denominational school under the trusteeship of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee, first opened in 1956 at North Street in Swords village as St Finian’s Vocational School, with an enrolment of 107 students. During the 1970s, the school moved to its current location in Castlefarm and the new school building was completed in 1981. At this time, there were just two schools in Swords to cater for the needs of the town’s expanding population and enrolment in St Finian’s increased to 850 students. This reduced when two additional schools were built in the 1980s. The school currently has an enrolment of 590 students.

 

While the school population consists mainly of Irish national students, it includes fifty-seven newcomer students and a small number of students from the Traveller community. The main feeder schools include Saint Cronan’s National School, St Colmcille’s Boys’ National School, St Colmcille’s Girls’ National School, Rolestown National School and Rivermeade National School. All of the parties who spoke with the inspection team made reference to the rising population in Swords as evidenced by the number of new housing estates which have been built and the increased number of newcomer families moving to the area. This, in time, may lead to a greater demand for student places in St Finian’s. The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan and in the School Completion Programme (SCP).   

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The mission statement clearly outlines the school’s commitment to being “a caring, learning community where each person is valued and accorded respect and dignity.” One of the aims of the school is “to promote the development of the whole person and to afford each student the opportunity to develop his/her full potential”. It is very clear that the school places the student at the centre of all its activities. The care and the holistic development of the student underpin all policies, programmes and initiatives in the school. The student population is representative of the full local community and the board of management, staff, parents and students all consider St Finian’s to be a welcoming and inclusive school. However, this is not fully reflected in its mission statement and it is suggested that consideration might now be given to a review of the mission statement.

 

County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC) actively supports staffs in all the schools in the VEC scheme. The range of in-service training opportunities it provides is one very significant way in which it does this. It has established subject networks and it provides for the induction of new teachers and for training for teachers of English as a second language. It also facilitates network meetings for all learning support coordinators, guidance counsellors and programme co-ordinators of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA) and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in the scheme. The VEC provides a template for the development of individual education plans (IEPs) and a booklet of key vocabulary in ten subjects to assist teachers of newcomer students. St Finian’s has benefited from all these supports and particularly from the support provided by the education officer assigned to the school.

 

The VEC devolves general responsibility for the management of the school to the board of management. This year the senior management team will be required to produce an annual report on the operations of the school and a template for doing this has been provided to all schools in the VEC scheme. It is clear that there is regular communication between the VEC and St Finian’s and that this is a real source of support for the school.

 

The ethos of the school as a caring and supportive environment is actively lived out in many policies and practices. Inspectors observed a calm atmosphere around the school and within classrooms during the evaluation. It is commendable that the policy guiding the management of students is framed positively and that the many award structures in the school affirm student effort across all areas of school life.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The current board of management was established in October 2005 and is appropriately constituted. Some members are also members of other boards of management. While parent and teacher representatives are elected to the board for a two-year term, one parent and one teacher are elected each year, so that all four individuals serve only one year at the same time. VEC representatives remain on the board for five years other than in exceptional circumstances. It is very clear that this arrangement gives rise to some difficulties, most obviously in the area of training. The VEC does provide training from time to time which is intended for the full board, but due to the frequent changes of parent and teacher representatives, the period during which all board members can receive training together is limited. Consideration should now be given to addressing this arrangement so that all members remain on the board of management for the same period of time. This, in turn, would ensure that training could be provided to all personnel simultaneously.

 

The board of management meets five times per year and more often if necessary. The board sees its role as assisting senior management in the provision of facilities and in overseeing policy development. The board is fulfilling its obligations regarding the ratification of policies. To date, seven policies have been ratified; these relate to illegal drugs, critical incidents, code of positive behaviour, examinations, suspension and expulsion, newcomer students and learning support. Five policies—homework, anti-bullying, Irish language and culture, information and communication technology (ICT), and a tour policy—are currently at draft stage To date, the board’s role in relation to all policy development has been one of responding to the initiative of in-school management. As a means of extending its involvement in this key area, the board might now consider assuming a more proactive role in early stages of policy development.

 

The board supports school staff by attending school events, implementing the code of positive behaviour when necessary and supporting teachers’ training needs through the provision of funding. Commendably, five teachers are attending courses this year in psychology, school development planning, the recently introduced technology syllabuses and learning support. Minutes of all board meetings are kept but no system is in place to ensure that the same report is made by all representatives to their constituents after each meeting. It is recommended that such a report is agreed at the conclusion of each board meeting.  

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The senior management team comprises the principal and deputy principal. The deputy principal was appointed in March 2008, the month prior to this evaluation. The principal has dedicated many years of service to the school as a teacher, deputy principal and as principal. Despite the newness of this senior management team, it is clear that its members are working well together. Both articulated their individual duties but indicated that these are not mutually exclusive. Principal and deputy principal are in contact at the end of each school day to review that day and plan for the next day. There is also much informal contact during the day. The principal and deputy principal have a strong presence on the corridors: they greet students in the morning and afternoon at the entrance and are both involved in break and lunch-time supervision. Both operate an open-door policy and this is much appreciated by staff and students.

 

The principal provides a high level of educational leadership to the school. This was confirmed by parents, staff and students. Both principal and deputy principal are involved in class-room teaching and they lead by example. A clear focus has been placed on raising academic standards among students. A caring and supportive environment has also been created for teachers who are strongly encouraged in their continuing professional development. The principal has provided teachers with opportunities to participate in team building activities to strengthen their sense of collegiality and he gives due consideration to their individual skills and talents when allocating post duties.

 

It is evident that the principal has a commitment to developing the leadership potential of post holders and empowering them to contribute effectively to the school with minimum supervision. This style of distributed leadership is very good practice. The school has an allocation of ten assistant principal posts and fourteen special duties posts. Management and staff conducted a full review of the schedule of posts in 2005 and identified the need to invest more posts in the care and welfare of students. At this time, the full teaching staff gave a commitment to ensuring that the school journal, recently introduced, would be used to monitor progress and as a mode of communication with parents. Responsibility for monitoring the journals has been given to five special duties post-holders who have been appointed as assistants to the five assistant principal post-holders who are year heads. It was evident that very good use is being made of the journals and that they are an integral part of the school’s support structure. It is important that this initiative is reviewed at an appropriate time to ensure that the concentration of posts on year head duties continues to be effective and the best use of available resources. Other assistant principal roles include responsibility for certificate examinations, public relations, the transfer of pupils from primary school, parent-teacher meetings, adult education and book rental. A wide range of formal systems is in place to enable communication between teachers and year heads and other post holders.

 

Year heads have clearly defined roles as members of the school’s middle management team. Currently, year heads remain with their year groups for the duration of the junior or senior cycle. This is a good arrangement as it provides students with consistency for a number of years and with a change to mark the key transition point at the end of junior cycle. To take account of the professional development needs of year heads who may wish to experience this role in the cycle other than the one in which they now work, the school might consider introducing more flexibility into the process of allocating classes to year heads. 

 

Year heads meet weekly with the principal and the guidance counsellor to deal with student-related issues and to discuss and make recommendations on whole-school matters. The remaining assistant principals do not have the opportunity to participate in these discussions as a group. While it was evident that all members of the teaching staff are consulted through various mechanisms on whole-school issues, consideration might be given to providing opportunities for all assistant principals to be involved as active participants at middle-management meetings.  

 

Appropriate and effective channels for communication are in place between management and staff. In advance of all staff meetings, an agenda to which staff can contribute is prepared. As part of a post of responsibility, other items of communication are distributed daily to staff.

 

In accordance with legislative requirements, the school has an admissions policy in place. However, this should be reviewed so as to ensure that the criteria for admission to the school are sufficiently clear and prioritised and that the policy conforms to all current legislation. Clear systems are in place for the management of students and there is a very explicit ladder of referral regarding student behaviour. Student management is undertaken in a caring manner. For instance, opportunities are provided to those students who need ‘time out’ through the provision of a supervised ‘harmony room’. Here, restorative justice practices are implemented and students are provided with opportunities to assume responsibility for their own actions in a supportive environment.

 

A student council has been formed and its members are democratically elected. It is representative of all year groups. Training has been provided by a teacher. Consideration might now be given to accessing the training that is available through the citizenship education support team. Information is obtainable on the support service website (www.slss.ie). The council is active, for example, it participated in the ‘Big Ballot’ organised by the Office of the Ombudsman for children. Student council meetings are held regularly and minutes are kept. The principal is kept informed of all meetings. Council members are provided with badges and have access to a designated notice board. This enhances their profile among all students.

 

Prefects are selected from senior cycle students. They are nominated by their teachers or they can apply independently for the role themselves. Their duties include assisting school management at parent-teacher meetings, organising a Christmas concert, a quiz and/or treasure hunt at the end of the year for first year students. They are also available to assist at open days and to support first year students. This might now be an opportune time to formalise this source of support for first yeas through the introduction of a buddy system.

 

Student attendance is monitored effectively. A swipe card system is used in conjunction with daily in-class registration. All absenteeism is diligently recorded and promptly followed up. For example, texts are automatically sent to parents whose child is absent and letters then follow if necessary. These systems are reported to have led to an improvement in student attendance.

 

A pro-active parents’ council provides a high level of support to the school. Meetings are held regularly. The council consists of seventeen committee members and attendance at meetings is generally very good. The annual general meeting (AGM) tends to be well attended. The role of the council has evolved to include the organisation of career nights, of talks for the main parent body, of fundraising for the school, of the first-year open day and of mock interviews for sixth year students. Contact is maintained with the main parent body through letters. The work of the parents’ council has made a valuable contribution to the operations of the school and this is commended. To foster a greater general awareness of the very good work of the parents’ council, there is scope to utilise the school website to publicise its activities. Management is very supportive of the council and every effort is made to ensure it is represented at all meetings.

 

Effective measures are in place to ensure very good communication between the school and parents. These include the school journal which is the primary means of communication, letters regarding different strands of school life and parent-teacher meetings. Phone calls and/or post cards are used to recognise, and reward, positive behaviour. The duties attached to an assistant principal post of responsibility include public relations, the purpose being to ensure that good links with the community and other outside agencies are maintained. In addition, the school has established links with many external agencies including North Dublin School of Music which provides instrumental lessons in St Finian’s Community College for any student in Swords wishing to avail of this facility. A further post of responsibility has been allocated for the coordination of evening classes, which are held in the school and which primarily focus on leisure activities. These courses are publicised locally and have maintained a consistently good uptake throughout the last ten years.

 

Self-evaluation and review are fundamental within the management structures of the school. The review of the schedule of posts indicates a commitment by management and staff to ensure that the ongoing needs of the school are being met. The progress made in subject department planning demonstrates that teaching and learning is a core value of their work. It is particularly commendable that the major recommendations that were made in previous subject inspections have been diligently followed up.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school has in place organisational practices which result in some erosion of the minimum instruction time of twenty-eight hours per week for students required by Circular Letter M29/95 Time in School.  These include the release of first year students ten minutes early at lunch-time each day to facilitate their access to the canteen, a six-minute registration period every afternoon for all students and the allocation of two class periods per week for teachers to meet for planning purposes. It is essential that all such systems are reviewed at the first available opportunity to ensure that the requirements of Circular Letter M29/95are fully met.

 

The timetabling of classes is appropriate in most instances and the weekly allocations are broadly in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses. The review recommended above to ensure full compliance with Circular Letter M29/95 may make additional class contact time available and it is suggested that this be allocated to the core subjects, English, Irish and Mathematics, which are currently allocated just four periods per week. In a small number of cases, there are teachers who are not specialists in the subjects which they are teaching. The school is making every effort to ensure all staff members are specialists in the areas where they are deployed for the next academic year. 

 

Management has utilised all of the resources available from the Department of Education and Science under the Summer Works Scheme. Work undertaken on the school to date has included the replacement of all windows and doors and a complete refit of electrical works. Discussions regarding the development of the neighbouring field, which is currently lying dormant, for sporting facilities for the mutual benefit of the school and the community are ongoing between the board of management, Fingal County Council and the VEC. The school is very well maintained both inside and outside. This is now a good time to introduce the school to the Green School Initiative as further support and encouragement for this work and to heighten staff and students’ awareness of the environment. Subjects within the school curriculum such as Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Geography could be involved in advancing this initiative. Many classrooms contain vibrant displays of subject-related material and this is commended.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

School development planning was initiated formally in 2005. A steering committee has been established, which is led by a planning coordinator who holds a specific qualification in this area. In 2005, staff agreed a three-year strategic plan the implementation of which is now near completion. This included the development, ratification and review of a number of policies, subject department planning and the introduction of the school journal. As stated in section 1.2 of this report, a significant number of policies have been completed and draft policies currently include homework, ICT and the internet, anti-bullying and Irish culture and language policies.

 

The steering committee is currently working towards the next phase of planning following collaboration with staff and this will include a review of policies. It is suggested that any review of the anti-bullying policy should make certain that the language used throughout communicates an understanding of bullying as a behaviour which can be modified. All available supports for both the perpetrator and alleged victim could be identified in a care policy. The policies on suspension and exclusion and the school’s positive code of behaviour should also link with the care policy (when developed) in order to reflect the supports that are available to students. It is important that the critical incident policy references the supports which are available for the principal. Optimal use should be made of the guidelines and resource materials Responding to Critical Incidents, published by the National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) and which is available on its website (www.education.ie).

 

It is very clear that the planning process to date has been undertaken in a spirit of partnership as consultation has involved the board of management, staff, students and parents. However, there is scope for a higher level of collaboration with parents and with students, where appropriate. The process of planning has been positive for all partners and it is apparent that it has impacted very positively on students at whole-school and at subject department levels.

 

The school is commended for its strategic approach to development planning which has resulted in the three-year strategy which began implementation in 2005. The first phase of this strategic plan is almost complete and work is underway in the school to develop its plan for a second three-year phase. The impact of the ever-increasing population in Swords on the school might be considered when developing the school’s next three-year planning strategy. In keeping with good practice, the school should organise its documentation into permanent and developmental sections. 

 

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.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school offers the Junior Certificate Programme (JC), the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Established Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). In former years, the school offered the Transition Year (TY) programme but believes that there would be insufficient uptake to warrant its reintroduction.

 

Given the wide range of interests, ability and needs of the students in St Finian’s Community College, and particularly since TY is not available, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) has a number of elements which would benefit, and appeal to, many of the students who currently take the Established Leaving Certificate. These include work experience, preparation for the world of work, enterprise education, the additional guidance component and the establishment of cross-curricular links. It is now recommended that consideration be given to making the LCVP available as an additional option for students.

 

The LCA and JCSP co-ordinators have a clear understanding of their roles and regularly consult with senior management, year heads and staff. Minutes are taken of all formal meetings. Informal meetings between both co-ordinators have also been held. Training for both co-ordinators has been provided. To date, no formal review has yet been undertaken of either of these programmes. Such reviews are important, not least because they can inform planning at subject department level. It is therefore recommended that programme co-ordinators initiate systematic reviews of programme content and implementation in consultation with teachers, students and parents.

 

The LCA co-ordinator oversees any work experience undertaken by students. Students are prepared in advance for work experience by the guidance counsellor. Students are then de-briefed informally by the coordinator upon returning to school. Formalising this process would ensure that there is a permanent record of students’ application to their work experience. It is suggested that all employers be asked to complete a report on each student and that a template be devised to help them. The voluntary nature of the employers’ engagement is a key to the success of the programme and is highly valued by the school.

 

JCSP is currently available to students in first and second year and will be offered in third year in 2008/2009. JCSP students follow a reduced curriculum appropriate to their needs. Both the coordinators of JCSP and LCA have been allocated a notice board each in the staff room to enable ongoing communication with staff.

 

Much work has been undertaken on subject department planning and materials provided by the school development planning initiative (SDPI) have been optimised. While section 4.1 of this report discusses subject planning in more detail, the good work done by subject departments in this regard is acknowledged here.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

St Finian’s Community College offers a commendably broad and balanced range of subjects. It also meets departmental requirements regarding the provision of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Civil, Social and Political Education (CSPE).

 

In-coming first year students are banded according to their ability. This takes place following assessments and consultation with the primary schools. Three bands are formed in first year. The top two bands comprise two class groups each. A third band contains a single class group along with a separate JCSP class. The range of subjects available varies according to the band with the top band having access to a wide range and significant choice. The six class groups are timetabled independently of each other for the duration of first year. This means that each student must remain in the one class group for all subjects, an arrangement that continues through second and third year. This has implications for any student who is suited to a subject level different from the one the majority of his or her class group is taking. While a student’s placement in a class group can be changed during the year, this is only possible in exceptional circumstances. In fifth year and sixth year, students are provided with a considerable degree of flexibility through the simultaneous timetabling of the three core subjects Irish, English and Mathematics. This approach is in keeping with good practice as facilitates the teaching of students in class groups according to the levels they are taking in these core subjects. It is strongly recommended that the simultaneous time-tabling of Irish and Mathematics be introduced for junior cycle students as a means of giving these students greater flexibility regarding their subject levels.

 

JCSP students take a fixed programme which does not offer students any subject choices. This means that these students are precluded from accessing many of the subjects available on the school curriculum, for example, Technology and Music. While the school reports that it does make exceptions in special circumstances, this practice is not in keeping with the aims of the mission statement for the JCSP programme which seek to “promote the development of the whole person and to afford the opportunity to develop his/her potential”. It is recommended that management reviews the provision of subjects currently on offer to these students to ensure equity of access to the curriculum for all students.

 

Comprehensive arrangements are in place for the transfer of primary students to the school. These include visits to the primary school, an open night and an informal orienteering day. Incoming fifth year students are provided with an open menu from which they select their subject choices. These students are provided with a booklet which includes details of all subjects and which outlines the possible implications of certain subject-related decisions they could make. Year heads assign students to class groups following consultation with the principal. Sixth year students are provided with a careers day where colleges are invited in to provide information to students. One-to-one support is provided to newcomer students and their parents when completing Central Applications Office (CAO) forms.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Students can avail of a wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Sporting, cultural and educational activities are on offer, contributing to the holistic development of the student. These activities are provided by both teaching and non-teaching members of staff and owe much of their success to the commitment and dedication of all involved. Commendably, the code of positive discipline is linked to extra-curricular activities and requires students, who may miss class due to participation in an activity, to assume responsibility for acquiring and completing any assigned homework.

 

A post-holder monitors all extra-curricular and co-curricular activities to ensure that they are evenly distributed throughout the week. Consideration might now be given to the development of a central file detailing the names of all students and the activities in which they are involved. Such information would provide a useful record for management and year heads for the completion of references. An analysis of uptake among males and females, newcomers, Irish nationals and students with special educational needs could also prove to be useful in determining whether the interests of all students are being addressed.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Good progress has been made in planning at subject department level. This includes planning for the provision of resources to support teaching and learning. It is evident that teachers share ideas and discuss teaching methodologies. This has been facilitated by the subject co-ordinators and by the provision of formal time for teachers to meet for planning. Teachers also meet during non-class contact time to discuss planning matters. Best practice was seen where records of all formal meetings were maintained and minutes were kept systematically.

 

Subject department plans in the subjects evaluated outlined the policies and practices of the department. These covered areas such content planning, the organisation of resources, teaching methodologies, and assessment. Particularly commendable is the development of cross-curricular planning in some subject areas. Further planning in relation to the integration of ICT to support teaching and learning is recommended.

 

Individual teachers’ planning was guided by the relevant subject department plan. It is recommended that a statement of expected learning outcomes including the skills which students should attain be included in all planning documentation. The level of short-term planning and preparation for most lessons observed was very good. Teaching and learning was supported by a range of teacher-generated resources. These included models, cards, PowerPoint presentations, CDs, worksheets, and handouts. It is commendable that this range of resources and support materials has been developed by teachers; it is a reflection of their desire to provide rich learning experiences for their students.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

In all lessons observed, the learning intentions were shared with the students at the outset. This resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. In most cases the pace was appropriate to the ability level of the students. Teachers were careful to link new material to the content of previous lessons and this is good practice. Overall, classes were well managed. There was a very good rapport between students and teachers. The level of engagement by all students for all activities was high.

 

A wide variety of methodologies was observed and this included board work, group work, peer-tutoring, brainstorming, questioning and case studies. There is scope for the wider integration of ICT in teaching and learning and ways in which this can be achieved should be explored. In most of the lessons observed, the material chosen was appropriate to the relevant syllabuses and to the ability level of the students and this is commended. It was evident, in some cases, that teachers included material of everyday interest to students. This enabled students to identify with the content of their lessons more easily; this good practice should be noted by all subject departments as an effective way of improving the quality of student engagement with their learning.

 

Teachers, in most cases, made very good use of oral questioning to assess learning and to engage students. On some occasions, open questions were skilfully used to encourage students to think for themselves. It is important, particularly at higher level, that teachers take every opportunity to incorporate this type of higher-order questioning into lessons, thus allowing students to take more responsibility for their own learning. Teachers offered high levels of individual attention and support to students in the lessons observed. The value of this support was most noticeable in classes where students were finding their work very challenging.

 

4.3 Assessment

 

The range of assessment techniques used includes questioning and discussion in class, the setting and correction of homework, regular tests throughout the year as well as house examinations at Christmas and end-of-year tests in summer. Certificate examination classes are set ‘mock’ examinations in the spring.

 

The quality of work observed in student copybooks and portfolios indicated the regular setting of homework and the routine monitoring of student work in some subject areas. The monitoring of the student journal was reported to be helpful in ensuring completion of homework. Comment-based marking was employed in some instances, a feature of assessment for learning which inspectors recommended. The practice of recognising students’ work in copybooks through signing and dating the work is noted in inspectors’ reports and the extension of this practice is recommended. Teachers maintain good records of individual student achievement.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

The learning support team consists of five core teachers, two of whom have attended specialised training courses this year, and five additional teachers. Five special needs assistants (SNA) also support this department. There is a commitment to the development of a small core team of teachers. Commendably, regular informal meetings are held between the learning support coordinator and the core teachers.

 

The learning support department is very well supported by senior management as evidenced by, for example, the provision of a large and spacious room. This has been divided into several different work stations, allowing students to work at their own pace. ICT is a core feature of this department and twelve computers have been acquired. A variety of software packages including Wordshark and Lexicon are available. Resources for learning support are very good and have been developed through the diligence and dedication of the coordinator. Teaching and learning is enhanced by the extensive range of texts and support materials that is available.

 

Students’ learning needs are identified following assessments and parents are also invited to the school to make any particular needs known. Teachers are made aware of students’ learning needs at the start of the year. Much work has been undertaken on the learning support policy which has been developed and is now currently under review.

 

Students with special educational needs (SEN) are withdrawn from Irish if they have exemptions from the subject, from Physical Education, or from modern language classes. In addition, team teaching and one-to-one strategies are deployed. Individual education plans (IEPs) have been developed for all students with SEN, based on templates which have been devised by the VEC. These IEPs are assessed regularly to identify any difficulties students are experiencing so that support can be modified to meet their needs. The IEP is then amended where necessary. Assessment procedures are in place for monitoring and tracking students receiving either learning support or English language training. It is recommended that progress made by students in their support classes should be reported to parents as part of the regular school reporting processes.

 

Clear systems are in place to ensure that the language needs of newcomer students are assessed appropriately prior to the allocation of support. This is done through the administration of the Oxford Language Assessment. Many activities are available through the School Completion Programme (SCP) to enable newcomer students to feel fully included. Peer mentoring further supports newcomer students.

 

There is very good support given to exceptionally able students. For example, students can enter the Talented Youth Programme, run by Dublin City University (DCU). The school is part of the Access Programme for students who wish to progress to third level. A science day is organised for second and fifth year students and the Prism Maths Challenge is available for students who are particularly able in this field.

 

Additional support is provided to students through the School Completion Programme (SCP). A breakfast club is funded by the SCP and this was visited by the inspectors. This club is very well managed and attendance is reported to be consistently very good. The ‘harmony room’ is staffed continuously through the SCP. Activities available for students include swimming lessons, typing and computer skills and fitness training. After school clubs are also available to complement these in-school activities. Links have also been made with Swords Youth Service. The dedication and commitment of all involved with school completion is commended.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

It is apparent that there is a whole-school approach to the care and support to students. Meetings held with the care team, year heads and tutors in conjunction with the guidance and learning support departments provided evidence of the extent of the support and care that exists in the school. Twenty-four hours per week are allocated by the Department to St Finian’s Community College for the delivery of guidance and an additional four hours is allocated under the DEIS initiative. Through the SCP programme, ten additional hours of counselling are provided by an external counsellor. The guidance department is staffed by two fully qualified guidance counsellors each of whom has responsibility for guidance for particular year groups. The level of guidance provision in the school is very good.

 

Facilities for guidance are very good. Commendably, all guidance classes are now timetabled in the computer room following a recommendation made in a subject inspection report in 2006. In-coming first year students are provided with guidance regarding subject choices. Third year students receive guidance at particular points during the year as part of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme. Fifth and Sixth year students are timetabled for one period per week. An individual meeting is held with all sixth year students once per term and additional meetings for any student can be scheduled upon request. Year heads can also refer students for additional counselling and templates have been developed for all such referrals. Parents can also meet with a guidance counsellor upon request.

 

All students are tracked following completion of their post primary education and detailed records have been developed. This is very good practice as these records indicate, for example, the level of uptake in third level courses and those students who have chosen to enter straight into the world of work.

 

There is very good support for the guidance department within County Dublin VEC. Cluster groups of schools in north Dublin have been developed through the psychological support services. As a result, guidance counsellors provide mutual support if a critical incident arises. In addition, a system has been developed which facilitates the sharing of resources. This level of collaboration and communication is very good practice and this is commended.

 

Student support is further enhanced through the development of a formal care team and weekly meetings of this team are held. These meetings include a year head, a guidance counsellor, the school chaplain, SCP co-ordinator, learning support co-ordinator, the external counsellor and the SPHE co-ordinator. Minutes of all meetings are kept. Other supports are provided which include the chaplain, tutors and assistant year heads, the SCP, SPHE as well as various schemes such as the book rental scheme. This level of support for students is very good and clearly indicates the manner in which the mission statement is lived out on a day-to-day basis. Consideration might now be given to the development of a care policy which should reflect all the very good practices that are happening on the ground.

 

In addition to religion classes, the school chaplain further supports students’ needs through the coordination of liturgical ceremonies at significant times during the school calendar. These include a first year prayer service in September and services for Advent and Lent, at examination time for certificate students and at the sixth year graduation ceremony.

 

 

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 January 2009
 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

8.         School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management is very happy with the report. It reflects all the hard work done by the staff, students and parents.

 

 

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

 

1.       Mission statement has been reviewed to reflect inclusive nature of school.

2.       Admissions policy has been reviewed.

3.       Full compliance with CL M29/95 is in place.

4.       Extra classes have been provided in Irish, English and Maths.

5.       Plans to introduce the LCVP programme are in train.

6.       Subject provision for JCSP is under review.

7.       Committee is in place for review of student-care policy.

8.       LCA under review.