An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Causeway Comprehensive School
Causeway, County Kerry
Roll number: 70540E
Date of inspection: 02 May 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Causeway Comprehensive School was undertaken in May 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Causeway Comprehensive School continues a highly valued tradition of education in the local North Kerry community. The school’s origins lie in amalgamations of earlier schools in the locality; firstly of Saint Patrick’s Boys’ Secondary School and the Vocational School in Causeway and later amalgamation of this school with the Presentation Convent Girls’ Secondary School, Lixnaw. The school, co-educational and offering a comprehensive range of subjects, has the status of designated community college under the joint trusteeship of the County Kerry Vocational Education Committee (VEC), known as Kerry Education Service (KES), and the Presentation Congregation. The name Causeway Comprehensive School dates from 1973, the year of the second amalgamation, and this name has been maintained in the instruments and articles of management agreed between KES and the Presentation Congregation in 2004. Being the sole provider of second-level education in Causeway and the immediate surrounding areas, the school is charged with meeting the educational needs of all the students of the community.
In its mission statement the school welcomes each student into a friendly, caring and supportive community, in which it is recognised that each young person is unique and has different talents and needs. The school sets out, in partnership with parents, to promote a Christian ethos and nurture a positive self-image in students, enhancing their self-confidence and allowing them to realise their full potential. The school further sets out to provide a well-balanced educational programme so that all students can develop skills and attitudes that will allow them to grow into mature, responsible, well rounded adults capable of living fulfilling lives and of making a worthwhile contribution to society.
The role of the trustees in fulfilling the mission of the school is fully clarified in a document, agreed by KES and the Presentation Congregation, which outlines the characteristic spirit of post-primary schools under their joint trusteeship. There are four such schools in Kerry. The clear and coherent vision for the school presented in this statement of characteristic spirit is shared by the trustees and the whole school community and is consistent with the school’s mission statement. It is acknowledged in the agreed statement that the characteristic spirit of each school is to be found, in reality, not in a written document, but in the full range of lived experience for pupils, teachers and parents who make the school community. This is commended. Both trustees express satisfaction with the arrangement of joint trusteeship that is in place. KES is the employer of the staff, new appointees being assigned to the school as school of first assignment within the VEC scheme. Such teaching positions are re-deployable within the KES scheme. The day-to-day management of the staff is devolved to the principal by KES.
The mission statement of the school is often referred to within written policies and is sometimes quoted in full. This anchoring of school policy in the mission statement is commended. An examination of the policy documents shows a commendable focus on the welfare, pastoral care, spiritual growth and educational advancement of the students. The whole child’s development is in focus as well as academic achievement. Thus it is clear that policy documents reflect the central principles espoused by the school.
The characteristic spirit is reflected in the friendly, caring and supportive community of the school. This nature of the school community was evident to the evaluation team. Interactions between management, teachers, pastoral care and other staff and the students were such as to enhance students’ development as unique, mature, responsible and well-rounded members of society. Day-to-day activities take place in an environment in which the Christian Catholic ethos of the school is to the forefront. Partnership with parents and the wider community is consistently supported. Inclusion on staff of an ex-quota chaplain is a great support to the maintenance of the ethos. Religious services are organised throughout the year. Clarity has been maintained around the characteristic spirit of the school. To aid this, charitable areas of endeavour have been fostered and maintained. The clear statement of characteristic spirit which “welcomes each student into a friendly, caring and supportive community, where we recognise that each young person is unique and has different talents and different needs” prepares the school for the challenge of welcoming and supporting diversity, where encountered. Students are provided with a well-balanced educational programme that takes account of their various talents and skills and supports their development as expected by the mission statement. The quality of interpersonal relationships evident between staff members at all levels provides a very good model for students as they develop relationships with their peers. It is clear that the central principles of the school’s stated mission are put into effect through established procedures.
The board of management is a sub-board of KES and its functions and relationship to the VEC are consistent with the status of the school as a designated community college. It consists of ten members, three nominees from each of the trustees, two parents of students in the school and two members of the teaching staff. The board of management works closely with the trustees and its members have benefited from appropriate training, provided by KES, relating to the role, statutory functions and responsibilities and the statutory compliance obligations of boards of management. Members discharge their duties with both confidence and competence.
Board of management meetings are regular, at least once per term, the date of the next meeting being decided at the conclusion of each meeting. Clear and concise minutes provide continuity from meeting to meeting and they are dealt with before proceeding with the agenda. Agendas include the principal’s report which gives current information on all issues relating to the school. Financial information is presented and discussed. School planning and policy development form part of the work of meetings. The state of the building and progress made in relation to the development and refurbishment of built resources are dealt with. An agenda is always prepared in advance, in keeping with best practice and the instructions of KES. The board of management fulfils its statutory obligations commendably.
The education officer of KES attends each of the board of management meetings and is in constant contact, providing valuable support and an extra channel of communication with KES. The mutual support of the board of management and the principal in furthering the broad and diverse interests of students is impressive. The chairman of the board of management and the principal maintain contact between meetings to ensure continuity of communication and to deal with any issues that might arise. Minutes of board of management meetings are relayed to both trustees, KES and the Presentation Congregation.
There is no agreed report to the staff following meetings and the discussions and decisions reached are not presented formally to staff by the teachers on the board. Information is relayed back to the parents’ council when relevant, in particular if the parents’ council have made contact with the board in relation to an issue being discussed, as was recently the case in relation to policy regarding students driving to school. In such a case there is an agreed report. Routine preparation of an agreed report at the conclusion of each meeting is recommended. This report, suitable for release to staff, parents and students, would remove any doubt concerning what should or could be reported and would further improve communication between the board and the school community.
The board of management is appropriately involved in policy development and the process of ratification and this involvement represents a major element of its school development planning (SDP) involvement. The usual procedure is for a draft to be presented to the board of management for its careful reading and consideration. Ensuing recommendations are then incorporated into the document. The initial drafts originate most commonly from the principal and staff, develop through discussion at staff meetings and benefit from fine-tuning by the principal. Consideration of draft policies by the student council is facilitated when appropriate, which provides a channel for input by students. While the parents’ council is less commonly involved in the process of policy development, involvement is facilitated in areas of particular interest such as school transport and students driving to school. The process of policy development is concluded by the adoption of draft documents as school policy by the board. Fourteen such policies have been adopted. To further improve the process of policy review and adoption, it is recommended that all policy documents be signed and dated by the chairperson of the board meeting on ratification and that each document include a date for its proposed review. The trustees have suggested the establishment of a representative group, including board representatives, for the development of draft policy documents. Such a partnership approach has much to commend it in terms of efficiency and deserves further consideration taking practical constraints such as the availability of time into account.
The board has a clear and shared set of priorities for the development of the school. Priorities include support and encouragement of the principal and staff in a range of SDP undertakings such as the review of school policies, teaching and learning, subject department planning, continuing professional development (CPD), student support, curriculum diversification and roles and responsibilities within the school. The board sees the maintenance of student enrolment in the face of competition as a continuing challenge which has, to date, been met successfully. Access to financial and other resources is a priority identified by the board to continue the implementation of the school’s plan for the expansion of information and communications technology (ICT), to facilitate refurbishment of the built facilities and grounds and to develop additional facilities such as a prayer room and a room for meeting parents.
Communication between the board and the parents of students in the school is maintained primarily through the two parent members and the principal. The board is advised to publish an annual report on the operation and performance of the school with particular reference to the achievement of objectives as set out in the school plan. This report may be circulated to the parents of students in the school, teachers, other staff and the student council consistent with the provisions of Section 20 of the Education Act, 1998. The report may draw substantially from the annual report to KES to aid its efficient preparation. The board is commended for the empathy and understanding it maintains with the school, parents and the wider community.
The school has prospered under the enlightened and motivational leadership of the current principal for three decades and this evaluation was to coincide with the announcement of his retirement from the position. Through his tenure as leader, school development has been a constant priority, sometimes inspired by his visits to other successful schools which provided a source of ideas. At times of accelerating change in education in Ireland, leadership within the school has responded to challenges with innovation and creativity without deviating from the sound principles of the school’s mission. Development involved the provision of modern school buildings as well as the diversification of curriculum and the expansion of appropriate care and administrative structures. While the core staff remained relatively unchanged for many years there have been many changes in the last seven years arising from the age profile of the successful team that steered the school through its first quarter century. Positive leadership has ensured that the ongoing transition has been successfully managed. Reflective practice at senior management level, supported by involvement in the pilot project to support the learning school and consistent planning towards the achievement of the goals of this project, has contributed greatly to this success. The learning school is defined by the project as a community of practice which respects and values learning by all and where the culture is one of continuing reflection and inquiry, commitment to the process of review and self-evaluation and participation in ongoing development. The school is commended for its expectation of achieving the reality of the learning school within the next year.
A common vision of the mission of the school is shared by senior management and the whole staff. This is clear, not only in policy documentation, but in the views expressed by senior and middle management and in all meetings in the course of the evaluation. While leadership flows from the principal, it is distributed through the layers of management. Clarity of goals and unity of purpose underlie the commitment to achieving the school’s mission and this facilitates leadership at all levels of management. The principal and deputy principal work closely together with the full support and loyalty of the staff. Division of duties at senior and middle management levels is clearly defined and effective in meeting the needs of the students and the school. It is indicative of the collaborative and devolved nature of management in the school that the staff as a team, very effectively led by the deputy principal, was able to fully accommodate the whole-school evaluation process in the absence of the principal who was unavoidably absent due to his sudden illness on the eve of the evaluation. Despite this being the first absence of the principal that anyone could remember the robust in-school management team worked impeccably.
Middle-management is well structured. The eight assistant principal and twelve special duties posts have suitable duties attached to them to meet the administrative, pastoral and curricular needs of the school. The schedules of duties have remained largely unchanged since the introduction of the posts of assistant principal and special duties teacher. A review of post duties was imminent at the time of the evaluation and this is commended and encouraged. Effective record keeping by all post holders is acknowledged as an effective means to efficiency in the discharge of their duties. The position of year head forms part of the duties of a selected assistant principal for each year. The year head system is central to student management in the school and is functioning well.
It is established practice for the assistant principals and senior management to meet weekly. This facilitates communication among in-school management, in line with best practice. Prior to the evaluation, the arrangement for weekly meetings had been disrupted somewhat due to staffing changes which could not have been anticipated in timetabling. It is commended however, that the weekly meetings are to resume as soon as possible and this is recommended. There is very good informal communication between all staff and this is commended. It is urged that thought be given to the further enhancement of staff communication by developing a little more formality in communication particularly between special duties teachers. While the absence of meetings is understandable given the pressure on available time, enhanced communication between all post holders, including special duties teachers, would help fulfil their role as part of the middle management team and could lead to increased communication with the whole school community, including other staff, parents and the board of management.
In keeping with its aim to be a learning school, notable emphasis is placed on CPD at school and management level. The principal has been to the fore in this through his long and in-depth involvement both as a recipient and as a source of CPD for the staff. In addition to the whole-staff programme, full advantage is taken of the opportunities presented through the support services and other agencies, including KES, to provide for the specific CPD requirements of subjects and programmes. The enthusiasm and eagerness of the school and staff to engage fully with opportunities for CPD is commended.
The practice with regard to the admission of students to the school is in line with the policy of KES and statutory requirements. The commendable approach adopted by the board of management and senior management to the admission of students is acknowledged. However it is recommended that the wording of the admissions policy document be reviewed to ensure clarity and to confirm that there are no extraordinary conditions attached to the enrolment of students with additional needs.
The code of student behaviour in the school, as described in the Code of Discipline and the General Rules for Students, is clear and comprehensive. The approach to the maintenance of discipline in the school is based on the development of mutual respect between students and teachers and between students themselves. There are many, admirably positive practices in use including direct praise by teachers of students’ good behaviour, writing of positive notes in students’ diaries and awards to students. While practice with regard to the positive encouragement of good behaviour is commended, it is recommended that the Code of Discipline be reviewed to include further references to these positive measures as a means of further strengthening and making clear their place in the discipline system.
The student council is representative of all classes which each elect two representatives. The executive is elected by the council from among their number and consists of two students from each year. The executive selects a chairperson and secretary. The student council plays an active, responsible and well-defined role in the school. Active involvement in the KES Students’ Forum is a valuable dimension of the work of the council and has provided a sharpened perspective for the students on school life and an enhanced sense of pride and appreciation of their own school. The home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher attends meetings of the student council and facilitates its operation maintaining very good relationships with the students and a link to staff and management. The student council is an effective and valued part of the life of the school and successfully provides involvement for students in the organisational structure of the school. While the student council meets regularly, the holding of meetings does not follow a particular pattern and it is recommended that more formality be brought to their scheduling.
The attendance policy and strategy adopted by the school is clear in its intent and thorough in its implementation. Comprehensive processes ensure accurate monitoring of attendance and time-keeping. When a student’s attendance is excellent, this is acknowledged and rewarded at the annual school awards night. Good attendance is encouraged by various means identified in the school attendance policy, such as communication with parents, extra-curricular activities and the school completion programme. The positive approach adopted in the implementation of the policy is commendable.
There is an active parents’ council in the school. For about eight years, the council has provided a forum for parents who are elected annually to provide a group that is representative of the geographical spread of the school population. Meetings are well organised with prepared agendas and minutes. Attendance is very good and parents have freedom to raise any matters of concern to them. The principal and the HSCL teacher attend meetings providing a direct channel of communication to school management. The role of the parents’ council is further enhanced by its involvement with the KES Parents’ Forum which is representative of the parents’ councils of each of the KES schools. This is commended for its role in providing affirmation for all the parents involved and as a means of encouraging full discussion of common concerns. There is very effective communication with parents regarding students’ progress. This is maintained formally through the student homework journal, school reports and parent-teacher meetings but also individually by parents contacting teachers as the need arises. HSCL is a valuable and widely used channel of communication.
The school is fully a part of the community it serves. An array of links at management level ensures integration. The spirit of involvement of the community in the development of the school was demonstrated when the community mobilised itself to level the grounds of the new school in difficult financial times in the 1980s. This spirit of closeness with the community remains strong. School facilities are at the disposal of many community groups. Links to outside agencies have been very effectively maintained by management at all levels. Partnership with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has resulted in the development of the sports hall and other facilities are shared by the school, the GAA and the community in general. The advantages that have resulted for the school and the whole community are commended.
There is a culture of ongoing self-evaluation and review in the school. This culture informs the weekly meetings of senior and middle management. Periodic focussed re-evaluations of aspects of the school, such as the reviews of the junior cycle and senior cycle curricula, involve the whole staff in the process of self-evaluation and review. In the case of these reviews task groups undertook detailed work which was presented to the whole staff for consideration. The outcomes of these reviews have informed curriculum development in the interim. The conscious aim to make the school a learning school shows a commitment by management and staff to continue to evaluate and review and to ensure timely and appropriate responses to change. The focus of the school is firmly on the outcomes for students in the broadest sense, not just on academic achievement but in the full development of the potential of each student.
The weekly instruction time and the number of school days provided for students are consistent with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science (DES). KES makes a satisfactory allocation of staff to the school to meet the requirements of the curriculum. Senior management works closely and effectively with KES in planning for staffing requirements by means of ongoing analysis of curriculum needs. The turnover of staff in recent years has increased due to factors related to the age profile of staff. This turnover has been well managed. It is urged, in the context of subject department development, that the deployment of teachers in subject areas be used to enhance the development of strong, coherent and clearly defined teams for the teaching of all subjects, particularly in CSPE and Gaeilge. It is essential that every effort continues to be made, in collaboration with KES, to ensure that students benefit from the highest levels of subject expertise at all times. Particular care should be exercised to ensure that teachers employed on a temporary basis are in a position to provide education to the required standard in the relevant subjects for all students in the classes assigned to them.
The school building, in which corridors run radially from a central assembly area, is a fitting physical expression of the friendly, caring and supportive community of the school. Students move with confidence and ease through the building without ever being too far from its heart. Management is commended for its care and attention to detail in maintaining the building and furnishings to a very high standard and for the careful modifications which it has undertaken to ease movement where necessary.
Financial management in the school has the benefit of the extensive support of KES, through which it receives its funding. KES delegates financial management responsibilities to the board of management and the principal, who report monthly to KES. Moves towards the involvement of subject departments in budgeting for materials and resources are commended. The energetic efforts of management and the board to source extra funding for the enhancement of the school’s facilities are highly commended. The school’s success in achieving funding for a hurling wall is applauded and continued efforts to forward the provision of resources are appreciated and encouraged. Much progress has been made in integrating ICT into the learning experience of the students. This was helped by the school’s involvement in the Laptops Initiative and is continuing with further development of the computer room, the drawing room and the increased provision of data projectors in classrooms.
The health and safety statement of the school is comprehensive, sets out the general policy of the school with regard to securing the safety, health and welfare of all and is up to date. Responsibilities for fulfilling the requirements of the policy are clearly identified including the commitment to review the policy annually or where major changes in equipment or work practices occur. The care and attention taken with regard to the development of this policy are indicative of the commendable emphasis placed on the achievement of the highest standards of health and safety practice throughout the school.
Causeway Comprehensive has been positively engaged with school planning under the very able leadership of its principal for many years, before such formal engagement with school development planning (SDP) became the norm. With the advent of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) the school refocused its planning activities integrating them with the SDPI process which the school embraced. Planning is coordinated by the principal who has kept a close eye on developments in the education system, visiting other schools to see innovation and the development of best practice where this has come to his attention. Policy development is undertaken on a collaborative basis by management, staff, parents and board. The process of policy development has become embedded in the school structure through the success of task groups, set up under the planning steering group which is composed of the assistant principals. The usual process adopted when a policy is to be developed is initiated when a task group led by an assistant principal is formed. The task group sets about writing a draft policy document which it puts before the staff for its consideration and amendment. The amended draft is then circulated to the board of management, the parents and, where appropriate, to the students. Following the inputs from each of these partners, the draft is forwarded to the board of management for its final agreement and formal ratification. The planning structures are familiar to everyone in the school. The level of engagement with SDP is commended.
The school has a clear vision of its mission and this is encapsulated by its mission statement which was written following detailed consultation and debate. The evaluation team was impressed by the commitment of the whole staff to the stated mission which provides a firm foundation for meeting the school’s responsibilities to its students and to the community as a whole. A range of priorities for future development is identified for the school. Continuation of work on teaching and learning, leading towards the achievement of the learning school by May 2009 is cited. This work will include the further development of assessment for learning (AfL). Further CPD, recognised as central to success in SDP, is planned. The need to write and review school policies to support the achievement of these priorities is identified. Curricular planning has taken place as part of SDP and the curriculum has benefited as a result. It is an objective of the school to further the utilisation of ICT in teaching and learning on a phased and incremental basis. Other prioritised aims, in addition to the provision of a room for use as a parents’ room and prayer room by 2010, include the improvement of the school library, the improvement of the dining area and associated facilities and improvement of outdoor and physical education infrastructure. School planning includes action plans for the achievement of these prioritised aims and it is commended that dates have been set for their achievement. The successes achieved to date are recorded and this is heartening. This developmental section of the plan is seen, realistically and commendably, as work in progress. The assignment of dates for the achievement of aims in areas such as teaching and learning was seen as problematic when improvements are continuous and cannot be said to have reached a definite target. It is urged that the formulation of the developmental plan leave the dates for achievement of specific goals suitably defined in line with the nature of the particular goal.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
It is clear that the school planning process in place in the school has provided direction and certainty to the growth of the school over many years. Teachers expressed their satisfaction at being involved in the development of policies and at the method of forming task groups based on the interest expressed by those staff members involved. The collaborative procedures adopted for the development of the school plan have helped to ensure its ownership by the whole school. There is a commendable awareness of the need to review the school plan and policy documents on a regular basis. Very good practice was seen regarding the identification of development targets and planning for the future of the school.
Causeway Comprehensive provides a wide range of programmes for its students. Junior Certificate (JC) and established Leaving Certificate (LC) are provided as are the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The Transition Year Programme (TYP) is provided as an option for students following completion of the JC and JCSP.
At the time of the evaluation, JCSP is available for a number of selected students. The teaching approaches required for the JCSP programme have been adopted in English and Mathematics, but not in the full range of junior cycle subjects being studied by the students in JCSP. Management expressed the school’s interest in adopting these approaches in the other subjects, identifying French and ICT as two possible subjects to be considered immediately. JCSP provides an integrated approach to meeting the educational needs of particular students. It requires the involvement of the whole team of teachers who deliver the curriculum to the students involved. It is urged that the school continue with the implementation of JCSP in all subjects for the students who are most in need of it. Given that the first group of students to have benefited from JCSP in the school has now completed junior cycle, this is a good time to review and revise the programme in the school. It is recommended that this revision of the implementation of the JCSP programme in all subjects be completed as a priority. Building on Success (DES, 2005), available at http://jcsp.slss.ie/resources/insp_jcsp_building_on_success.pdf, should be consulted when reviewing JCSP implementation.
LCVP is undertaken by the great majority of senior cycle students and all students study the link modules for their educational value. This is commended. It is recommended, to further improve LCVP in the school, that a written policy be developed including strategies for the completion of the syllabus by all qualifying students and that the time allocated for the teaching of LCVP link modules in the second year of the programme be increased in line with requirements.
The school’s junior cycle provides students with a balanced curriculum consisting of Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, French, Science, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religion and Physical Education, which are studied by all students, and a further three subjects from Art Craft Design, Business Studies, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork and Technical Graphics. The involvement of the school in the Junior Cycle Physical Education Project (JCPE) is indicative of its ongoing interest and involvement in curriculum development. This is a joint KES, Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) and University of Limerick (UL) initiative running from 2007 to 2009. Causeway Comprehensive is one of six schools under the patronage of KES involved in the initiative and it is commended for this involvement. The senior cycle curriculum is similarly well balanced consisting of Gaeilge, English and Mathematics, which are studied by all students, except in the case of some students who are exempted from the requirement to study Gaeilge and choose not to study this subject, and four other subjects chosen from Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Accounting, Business, French, Engineering, Design and Communication Graphics, Agricultural Science, Construction Studies, Home Economics, History, Art and Geography.
The school provides equality of access for all students to its range of subjects and programmes. The range of subjects can be studied at the level appropriate to each student in junior and in senior cycle. Appropriate access is provided for all students to the programmes available in the school. While students exempted from study of Gaeilge are provided with extra time in a variety of subjects, it is urged that care continue to be taken to provide opportunities for the greatest possible number of students to engage with Irish language and culture at a level that is appropriate to their needs and learning styles.
A major review of the school’s curriculum was conducted about five years ago. The process of review involved two task groups with some guidance from the SDPI. The recommendations of the review groups were accepted and underpin curriculum planning. It remains the aim of the school to introduce Music and a second European language in addition to French to the junior cycle curriculum as resources permit. The engagement of management and staff with curriculum planning is commended and continued, ongoing review is encouraged.
The allocation of teaching time to the subjects in the school’s curriculum is generally equitable. The timetable provides for regular distribution of lessons through the week. Double and single period lessons are provided in line with the requirements of particular subjects in keeping with best practice. When the requirements of subjects in some option groups are different, there is fairness in the compromises reached. Timetabling in the school is effective in meeting the requirements of the curriculum.
The subject option arrangement in place provides students with an open choice of optional subjects in junior cycle and in senior cycle. In junior cycle, three subjects are chosen from Art Craft Design, Business Studies, Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork and Technical Graphics prior to students attending the school. Incoming students and their parents are provided with information to support their decisions regarding subject choice. Parents and prospective first year students are invited to an open-night information session at the school in November at which aspects of the school’s mission and organisation and the transition from primary to secondary school are presented. Closer to the date for enrolment, prospective students are invited to an orientation morning to further familiarise them with life in secondary school, including subject options. Further support is provided by the HSCL teacher who visits each of the primary schools and gives information about subjects. Following students’ submission of subject option forms, subject option groups are designed and timetabled to satisfy their preferences within the normal constraints of time and available resources. To further enhance this good practice, it is urged that the school continue to consider, perhaps in the context of drawing up a curriculum policy, how best to further enhance support of students with regard to choosing of subjects in first year, perhaps by means of a taster system.
On entry to Leaving Certificate students initially list, in order, their eight preferences from the full list of fourteen optional subjects in the school’s curriculum. Based on these preferences, subject option groups are devised in order to satisfy student choice to the greatest practicable extent. Students are then presented with four subject groups and asked to choose one subject from each group. Provision is made for students to feed back their observations on the options presented to them and flexibility is exercised regarding subject changes which students may wish to make within a reasonable time. It is common for all students to be fully satisfied, studying all four of their preferred subjects. Occasionally a student will be provided with three of four first preferences as a result of timetabling and resource constraints. The provision made for subject choice in senior cycle is commended. Students, and their parents, are supported with regard to making subject choices. Guidance regarding subject choice is provided at meetings with parents and for students in the course of third year and TYP and by means of individual meetings. The school has prepared a comprehensive information document which lays out the programme and subject options available for students following completion of JC. This guide includes short focussed notes on each of the optional subjects available in the school’s senior cycle as well as information on the programme options, TYP, LCVP, LC and LCA. An aim of TYP in the school is to broaden knowledge and skills and help students make mature subject choices. This provides very good support in choosing subjects for those students who opt for TYP. Students choose the level at which they study their subjects in consultation with their teachers and they are encouraged to study at the level appropriate to the realisation of the best of their ability. The practice of monitoring students’ attainment and participation in examinations at each level compared to national norms is commended and its use in all subjects is encouraged.
While the free subject choices presented for all students is commended, there is, generally, a risk that gender stereotyping in the community outside of schools might influence students. It is urged that the avoidance of this risk continue to be addressed in a school curricular policy.
It has been the practice for some time to offer the option of LCA for students entering fifth year. There has not been sufficient interest, however, for an LCA class to be formed. Given the size of the school’s intake and its commitment to cater for all the students from the catchment area, it is suggested that it would be worthwhile to identify those students who would benefit more from LCA than from the established LC. The result of this investigation could be shared in confidence with the individual students and their parents with the purpose of supporting their choice of programme in senior cycle. It is recommended that the school make contact with the SLSS to investigate LCA and to be fully prepared for its introduction.
Practice regarding the provision of activities in support of the curriculum, both co-curricular and extra-curricular, is consistent with the school’s stated mission to provide a well-balanced educational programme and to support students’ broad education. Different talents are given recognition and are encouraged. Skills and attitudes are developed that will allow students to grow into mature, responsible, well rounded adults. Activities are available to all students and their range is wide, suiting diverse interests and talents. Two of the most prominent examples of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are the TYP drama production, which in the past has featured the work of local, nationally acclaimed playwright, the late John B. Keane, and the annual Christmas talent show which facilitates students in groups or individually to perform and compete in friendship in a rich display of talent. All participants receive certificates of participation and prizes are awarded to winners. There is an impressive level of involvement in sport in the school. To the fore is the nurturing of the North Kerry hurling tradition of which the school and students are justifiably proud. Other sports, including basketball, ladies football, football, athletics and outdoor pursuits are also encouraged and supported among students by the school. Staff are commended for their commitment in this regard as well as in their support of the wide range of other activities including the Science Olympiad, Young Scientist competition, quizzes and art competitions among a host of others. Visits to the Gaeltacht as well as the provision of scholarships provide opportunities for students to encounter the language outside of school and these are commended. While all aspects of the school’s extra-curricular programme are worthy of commendation, the development of Breaking the Silence, a DVD resource to combat bullying which originated in work done by the Transition Year class of 2005/2006 for the Young Social Innovators Project is particularly impressive. The original DVD, in which the students themselves starred, depicted the long suffering of two contemporary teenagers who ultimately realise that the only escape from their torture is to break the silence and seek help. Subsequently the DVD has won the Bank of Ireland Award for Community Spirit and a group of teachers from the school has produced a resource pack for teachers based on the DVD. The DVD and resource pack has been formally launched and made available to all schools in Kerry with a view to its being made available nationally. The involvement of members of the whole school community in this project is indicative of the quality of cooperation, caring and mutual support characteristic of Causeway Comprehensive in the provision of a broad educational experience. These areas of the school’s mission are clearly recognised, strongly supported and further development into the future is applauded.
Subject planning is operating as an ongoing process in the school and is seen to be of good quality. Subject areas have advanced the process at a varied pace and to different depths. In all subject areas there was an identifiable subject department where teachers collaborated and discussed common issues and tasks both formally and informally. Subject department meetings are held but in a number of subject areas inspectors recommended that a formality be brought to the meeting process and to the subject planning process as a whole. This was seen to be of particular importance in subject departments involving a large number of teachers. Subject coordinators were operating in all the subject areas evaluated and this process was commended by inspectors. In some areas there was a need to clarify the role of the subject coordinator to add to the effectiveness of the duties involved. It is also recommended that this role be rotated among the members of the teaching team in some subject areas.
In all cases a subject department plan has been developed. This plan is seen as a tangible outcome of the subject planning process. Inspectors were particularly focused on how these plans had impacted on classroom practice. Very good practice was observed in subjects where the plan had a clear focus on strategies to ensure students’ progress and improved learning outcomes. In almost all cases, these plans were well developed and were used to reflect on and improve teaching and learning. Inspectors were very positive in relation to the work achieved. However, in a number of subject areas, it was recommended that these plans be further developed particularly in the areas of agreed common teaching programmes, teaching and learning methodologies and safe access to materials in the classroom. In a number of areas, teachers were encouraged to enhance the impressive level of subject planning by moving to a process of review and evaluation on the impact of the plan on an ongoing basis.
Individual teacher planning and preparation was of a high quality in lessons. Where observed, the use of ICT in the planning and delivery of lessons was highly commended. Planning for co-curricular and cross-curricular activities and for the inclusion of students with additional educational needs was also commended where this practice was observed. Teachers are to be both commended and encouraged to develop their engagement in individual planning for lessons towards the improvement of students’ learning.
In general, the overall quality of teaching and learning was very good. In these instances, learning intention was clear from the outset and began from the earliest moment possible. Students were engaged in a variety of worthwhile learning tasks during the lesson and learning outcomes were revisited at the end of the lesson as a means of reinforcing learning and checking students’ understanding. Such careful planning is to be commended and it would be worthwhile for all teachers to consider, in advance, the desired learning outcomes deriving from each lesson. Lesson activities should then be planned, accordingly. Overall, lessons were well-structured and well-paced and where this was so there was clear evidence of student learning.
A variety of methodologies was used to present the lesson content and to drive learning. In general, teacher instruction was clear and relevant. In many instances students’ attention was drawn to the close links between lesson content and local or student-relevant issues. Such references served to stimulate students’ interests, to elicit students’ opinions and to clarify meaning. Questioning was used to good effect to revisit prior learning, to consolidate new learning and to check for understanding. Significant emphasis was placed on engaging students in practical tasks and, to this end, group-work and pair-work activities were used to good effect in many classes. In instances where students tended to complete group assignments alone or where one or two students dominated the class’s oral response, it was suggested that a culture of collaborative learning be promoted continuously and that measures be introduced to ensure equality of oral input from all class members.
In some classes, core concepts and key terms were presented visually, as well as orally. Visual reinforcement of key lesson content is worthwhile and all teachers are encouraged to make effective use of the whiteboard, both as a means of developing students’ note-taking skills and to reinforce learning. It is recommended that all students be encouraged to file notes in a structured manner. Such files, or notebooks, will prove an invaluable aid to revision. Other resources used included handouts, questionnaires, videos/DVDs, dictionaries, examination papers, worksheets, maps and listening extracts. The effective use of resources indicated that the majority of teachers had carefully planned their lessons and had given due thought, in particular, to the aids that would best cater for the learning needs of all students.
There was a positive atmosphere in all classes. Students willingly engaged in activities and teachers affirmed their efforts. A culture of mutual respect between teachers and students was evident in all classes and is commended.
Samples of students’ work were displayed in many classrooms as were a selection of wall charts relating to specific subject-related topics. Teachers’ efforts to create bright and interesting classrooms that are conducive to learning are commended.
In almost all instances, students displayed a significant level of understanding of lesson content and the desired learning outcomes were attained, be it skills development or the broadening of subject-specific knowledge. Very occasionally, however, where the students’ proficiency in subject-specific skills was considered limited, it is recommended that measures be taken at whole-school, at subject-department and at an individual level and strategies to address this are suggested in the individual subject inspection reports which accompany this whole-school evaluation.
A range of assessment modes is being utilised in order to determine students’ progress and achievement. Oral questioning in class was observed in all subject areas and was seen to play a significant role in both the assessment of students’ learning and also in the promotion of students’ engagement. Topic tests are issued on a regular basis in all subject areas. As appropriate, the assessment of students’ advancement and attainment also takes account of students’ project, practical or journal work. These, as appropriate, are combined with students’ results in the in-house, written examinations to provide an aggregate mark, which is a more accurate indicator of students’ achievement in Home Economics. This approach is highly praised. If and where not already practiced, a similar approach could be used for the assessment of students’ oral competencies in the language subjects. In the majority of subject departments the very good practice of issuing common assessment papers at key times during the school year, to students of any one particular year group, is an established approach. This approach, which is consistent with general school policy, is commended and, as applicable, is encouraged for greater use with all class groups. Students sit formal house examinations at Christmas and in summer and those preparing for state examinations also sit mock examinations during the second term. Some very solid use of past state examination papers has ensured that students are given plenty of opportunity also to familiarise themselves with more formal assessment requirements.
Approaches to homework were found to be consistent with school policy and best practice. Homework was monitored and assigned as part of all lessons. The variety in the types of exercises assigned as homework was highlighted and praised in one subject area. On occasions, lesson content also drew on homework that was issued in previous lessons. There was evidence to suggest that students’ copybooks are regularly monitored with some very fine examples of the annotation of student work. All in all, it was clear that teachers place much value on homework and much effort goes into ensuring recognition of its value amongst students. When the whole-school homework policy has been finalised, and as was observed in one of the subject areas, it is suggested that subject departments might consider drafting their own subject-specific and year-group specific homework policies.
All assessment outcomes are carefully recorded by teachers in their individual diaries. The communication of these to parents is facilitated via the issuing of twice-yearly school reports, the organisation of annual parent-teacher meetings and the student journal.
It is timely that future priorities for SDP in the school plan include an exploration of AfL and as a means of enhancing general approaches to assessment, subject departments are encouraged to take this opportunity to explore a fuller application of AfL strategies. This could assist in embedding formative assessment processes and meaningful developmental feedback in classroom practice. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment should inform in this regard, www.ncca.ie.
The special educational needs policy of the school is detailed and is commendably concise and clear in assigning responsibilities and rights for members of the school community in relation to the provision of educational support for all students including those with recognised additional educational needs. It is suggested that the balance between the right of a parent to withhold consent to an assessment being carried out, and the desirably of such an assessment for the educational welfare of the student concerned, needs to be more clearly stated in the section on the role of parents. The policy document refers to the relevant legislation and the school’s mission statement and clearly states how the responsibilities of the school in regard to these are to be discharged. It is particularly commended that the need for everyone involved in the student’s educational experience to be involved in the provision of additional learning support is recognised as being essential. To further develop this very good policy document, it is urged that specific reference be made to the admissions policy of the school, amended as recommended earlier in this report, clarifying the very good practice of the school in relation to meeting the educational needs of all students who apply for admission.
The inclusion of a section in the policy document which sets out how it is to be implemented is admirable. It is suggested, as a step in the further improvement of this section, that the term reduced curriculum be changed to modified curriculum which would perhaps more accurately indicate the objectives of such a curriculum. It is thus also urged that a little more detail be provided as to the possible nature of such modifications to the curriculum. Best practice should be clearly stated in the policy regarding contact with parents, which is essential, and also with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) where appropriate, in relation to the modified curriculum being offered. It is urged that the school continue to focus on providing, to the greatest extent possible, full programmes of study for all students, in a spirit of inclusiveness. The learning support team is commended for the progress made in providing individual education plans (IEPs) for those students who stand to benefit most from such a structured approach. At the time of the evaluation almost sixty IEPs were currently in use.
There is a robust system in place to identify the educational needs of students. The learning support team liaises with the primary schools from which the students come. Parents are requested to pass on information as soon as possible to allow the necessary resources to be sought in good time. This approach is usually successful in providing the school with the information needed for effective planning. All students entering first year are assessed using approved tests. Subject teachers are consulted to help identify students who may have undiscovered additional educational needs. The learning support team talks to individual students about their strengths, needs and expectations. The team also speaks to the parents at the open night and again after the tests have been administered. The National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS) and other outside agencies are consulted as appropriate. The thoroughness of this approach to identifying students’ additional educational needs is commended. Further testing of students is conducted on a less formal basis as they progress through the school. It is urged, as a step towards further improvement of the tracking of students’ progress, that a little more formality be brought to retesting with a view to providing feedback regarding the learning outcomes of particular interventions as well as the progress of individual students.
The learning support department is well organised around an active and effective team. The core team all have qualifications in learning support and they and the wider team of teachers involved, collaborate very effectively. Four special needs assistants work as an integral part of the school’s response to the needs of its students. Regular meetings ensure the quality of communication within the team and that its response to the needs of students is coherent. The former coordinator of learning support and the whole team are commended for the smoothness of the transition, current at the time of the evaluation, following the recent promotion of the coordinator. Inclusiveness, espoused by the mission statement, is actively pursued in the daily life of the school and is promoted by the leadership of in-school management.
Learning support is adequately resourced with a dedicated room of sufficient size to cater for small groups of students and storage for a range of resources that are shared by the team. Twenty laptop computers, acquired under the Laptop Initiative in 2000, provide availability of ICT, although these are becoming dated. There is also a small office and computer. The available resources, including teacher resources, are well deployed.
Effective continuing professional development is provided for teaching staff regarding provision for students’ educational needs. This is often accessed through the support services including the JCSP support service. The participation of school staff in online training in specific areas is commended as is the support of KES in its facilitation and funding. Participation by teachers, parents and a special needs assistant in online training provided by the Institute of Child Education and Psychology (ICEP) under the auspices of KES is worthy of specific mention. The courses studied were Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Managing Student Behaviour: Positive Interventions for Schools and Classrooms. Participation in the former course seeks to ensure readiness in KES and its schools to respond to the needs of students with ASD enrolling in the schools.
The learning support team, and the whole teaching team, are commended for the progress made in adding team teaching to the range of strategies in use as appropriate in providing support for the additional educational needs of students. Such an approach has particular value as a means of furthering inclusiveness and can be of benefit to all students. It is recommended that appropriate reference to this strategy and its applications in the school be included in the policy document. The provision of support for the small number of students for whom English is not their first language is effective and forms a sound basis from which to develop should there be an increase in this section of the enrolment.
The school caters for a major cross-section of the whole community and takes seriously its role in relation to all students, including those who are experiencing disadvantage for whatever reason. There is a small number of students from the Traveller community enrolled in the school and generally these students benefit fully from the inclusiveness at the heart of the school. There is communication with the visiting teacher service for Travellers (VTST). It is urged that the school continue the improvement of the provision for students from the Traveller community, carefully ensuring that systematic planning takes place in line with recommendations contained in the Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy (DES, 2005), available in digital format at www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/des_recom_traveller_educ_strategy.pdf. Post-primary education recommendation 4 deals with raising the attainment level of Traveller students on a par with national standards and proposes plans of action including systematic planning through the school team taking a partnership approach: principal, class teacher, learning support, pastoral care, career guidance, and counselling (starting at the junior cycle), together with VTST, HSCL, SCP, etc. Work by each member of the team should complement and reinforce that of other members. The Guidelines on Traveller Education in Second-Level Schools (DES, 2002) should also be consulted with regard to this planning. It is recommended that the outcomes of such planning be included in the school’s Special Needs Policy. The complete implementation of the JCSP programme and giving serious consideration to the introduction of the LCA could be very beneficial in enhancing further the school’s response to meeting the needs of students from the Traveller community.
Causeway Comprehensive plays a central role in the life of the community from which it draws its students and is successful in meeting their diverse educational needs. In keeping with this, the school, through the leadership of its learning support department, is encouraged to consider how best to further develop programmes for those students who are exceptionally able and gifted.
There is a well developed comprehensive whole-school guidance policy in place in the school. The policy takes its cue from the mission statement and indicates clearly the complementary and supportive roles and functions of the full range of structures and personnel in the provision of effective guidance for all students. The policy on guidance identifies a number of other policy documents which are also complementary to it. It is recommended that the very successful task group take full advantage of the work done in developing these complementary policies, such as the pastoral care policy, as it completes its work on the guidance plan. The staff and the wider school community are aware of, and support, this whole-school approach.
The twenty-seven hours allocated to Guidance in the school’s teacher allocation are deployed effectively. There are two guidance counsellors in the school who meet regularly and collaborate closely and effectively for the provision of a comprehensive guidance programme. Students are met individually or in small groups as appropriate. Each guidance counsellor takes charge of ensuring the provision of Guidance for alternate year groups in second year and third year in junior cycle and in senior cycle. Thus the guidance counsellor maintains contact with the same students as they progress through the school. Guidance for first year and TY is shared on the basis of an agreed programme. One guidance counsellor is year head to first year classes. This provides an invaluable means of guiding and counselling new students in an integrated and positive way as they come to terms with their new surroundings.
The facilities at the disposal of Guidance include an office and a developing careers library and classroom which is available almost exclusively for the subject. ICT facilities include a laptop computer and data projector with broadband internet access in the classroom. The provision of wireless internet access, including the guidance office, is hoped for as part of the further development of facilities which would help students in their independent research. Such moves towards constant improvement of the available facilities are commended.
Guidance lessons are timetabled in TY and for all senior cycle students as part of LCVP. Management acknowledges the need to provide for Guidance in junior cycle and, commendably, is considering how to best to achieve this while providing for the timetabling needs of the full curriculum. Notwithstanding timetabling considerations, Guidance permeates the programmes provided by the school and this is reflected in the guidance plan. There is access to educational, personal and vocational guidance for all students.
The guidance department works in an open and collaborative way with the whole staff. The central role of pastoral care in the education of students is given a special emphasis and there is very effective two-way communication between the Guidance Counsellors, the rest of the care staff and the staff as a whole. The collaborative nature of the interaction between the guidance team and the rest of the staff has benefited greatly from the work shared in developing the whole-school guidance plan in recent years. There is a developed Guidance plan in place which is kept under constant review.
Recently, student mentoring is facilitated for incoming first-year students. Fifth-year students wishing to take part in this scheme are interviewed before summer and help with the induction of first-year students in September. This is a very effective way of enhancing the whole-school nature of guidance and care. Counselling for students is provided by the guidance counsellors as required and appropriate referrals, to the chaplain or outside the school, are made when needed. Very good links are maintained with outside agencies including NEPS and local psychological services in Tralee.
While student support and pastoral care are appropriately seen as the function of all members of the school team, there is a readily recognised team at the centre of this provision. The school’s pastoral care policy was in its final draft and, following agreement, soon to be ratified by the board of management at the time of the evaluation. This policy presents, in a cogent and comprehensive form, the commendable whole-school approach and established best practice in regard, to student care in the school. The policy is a testament to the devoted and thorough work of the staff members who took part in its writing and to the school community which contributed to its development. The school benefits from a full time co-ordinator of chaplaincy services who plays a major role in the development and co-ordination of pastoral care for the whole school community. The pastoral care policy dictates that the pastoral care team consists of the principal, deputy principal, chaplain, fifth-year year head, HSCL teacher and both guidance counsellors. The pastoral care co-ordinator will be appointed from among this team. The team will meet monthly and have a co-ordinating, advisory and supporting role in relation to the pastoral care programme and the achievement of the care aims of the school. The policy document also indicates the considerations which will be taken into account in agreeing, and drawing up in partnership, descriptions of the pastoral aspects of all roles within the wider staff. These developments in the provision of pastoral care in the school are applauded. The accommodation available to the care team, including the guidance counsellors and the chaplain are bright and welcoming and the plans to add to these facilities are commended. The student support and care system is comprehensive. It acknowledges complementary aspects of SPHE and pastoral care within the school and is firmly rooted in the school’s mission statement and the agreed Statement of the Characteristic Spirit for Schools under the joint Trusteeship of Presentation Congregation and Kerry Education Service.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The high level of care provided for students throughout the school, in line with its stated characteristic spirit, is commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Routine preparation of an agreed report at the conclusion of each meeting of the board of management is recommended to remove any doubt concerning what should be reported to parents and staff and to further improve communication between the board and the school community.
· To further improve the process of policy review and adoption, it is recommended that all new and reviewed policy documents be signed and dated by the chairperson of the board meeting on ratification and that each document indicate the proposed interval for its review.
· It is recommended that the wording of the admissions policy document be reviewed to reflect practice in the school, to ensure clarity and to confirm that there are no extraordinary conditions attached to the enrolment of students with additional needs.
· It is recommended, as a priority, that the implementation of the JCSP in the school be reviewed to bring it fully in line with programme requirements, particularly in subjects other than English and Mathematics.
· It is urged that care continue to be taken to provide opportunities for the greatest possible number of students to study Gaeilge at a level that is appropriate to their needs and learning styles.
· It is recommended that those students who would benefit more from LCA than from the established LC be identified and that this knowledge be shared in confidence with the individual students and their parents with the purpose of supporting their choice of programme in senior cycle.
· It is urged that the school continue the improvement of the provision for students from the Traveller community, carefully ensuring that systematic planning takes place in line with the recommendations contained in the Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy.
· The further development of the JCSP programme as implemented in the school and giving serious consideration to the introduction of the LCA could be very beneficial in enhancing further the school’s response to meeting the needs of students from the Traveller community.
· In keeping with its mission, through the learning support department, the school is encouraged to consider how best to further develop programmes for those students who are exceptionally able and gifted.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published March 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
· Captures very well operation of the school on a daily and ongoing basis.
· Page4. Par 1. Relevant decisions and information from BOM meetings are relayed to staff.
· Page6. Par 5 Students’ council has been operating for many years.
· Page7 Par 4: All teachers are fully qualified. 1 teacher was employed as substitute who was not qualified as we could not get a qualified sub to teach Irish.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· Admissions policy reviewed, amended and ratified by Board of Management.
· Decision taken by staff to rotate subject Dept. Co-ordinator on an annual basis.
· Format drawn up by Board of Management for formal reporting of relevant information and decisions to staff, parents & students councils.
· Post of responsibility review and code of Behaviour review ongoing.