An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Raphoe, County Donegal
Roll number: 71230R
Date of inspection: 27 February 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Deele College was undertaken in February 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in three subjects was evaluated in detail. The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme was evaluated prior to the whole-school evaluation. A separate report is available on each of these evaluations (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.
Deele College is one of two co-educational post-primary schools serving the town of Raphoe and its extensive rural catchment area. It is an avowedly inclusive school both in its policies and in its operation. The school provides the full range of Department of Education and Science courses and programmes to meet the diverse learning needs of the current enrolment of 525 students. The school is included in the Department’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan for educational inclusion. The school has a full-time home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. The regional co-ordinator of the School Completion Programme (SCP) cluster, which includes Deele College, works from an office within the school. The school contributes to adult education by providing evening classes during school term subject to fees covering costs. A new appointment has recently been made to the position of adult education officer to further develop the service.
Opened in 1964 as Vocational School Raphoe, Deele College is one of fifteen multi-denominational schools in the county that operate under the trusteeship of County Donegal Vocational Education Committee (VEC). Local Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy act as part-time chaplains together with some involvement in providing timetabled Religious Education. The original 1964 main school building was extended in 1984 to accommodate a school population of 425 students. The bilingual nameplate at the gateway of the school indicates the change in the name of the school to Deele College/Coláiste an Daoil in 2000. This symbolic change also marks the real advances made in educational provision by the school as evidenced by the provision of all second level educational programmes of the Department of Education and Science for the benefit of the full school community.
The school occupies an extensive nine-acre site and is well integrated with the local community through the sharing of its excellent indoor and outdoor sporting facilities. These have been developed since 1997 through local initiative that has involved considerable fundraising effort, assisted by State funding. A long-term projected enrolment of 450 students was identified in 2002 following application by County Donegal VEC for extension and refurbishment. This project has not progressed in light of competing demands on the capital budget of the Department. The anticipated increase in enrolment to over 500 students by September 2008 resulted in an application for temporary accommodation. The construction of a suite of four pre-fabricated classrooms has recently been completed. Pressure on space within the main building is evident, particularly in the case of the staffroom, music room, pastoral office space, room to provide withdrawal support tuition, and space for senior girls’ lockers. The imminent construction of a new school library and the appointment of a librarian under DEIS is a much anticipated support for teaching and learning at the school.
Apart from its base in Raphoe, the school’s wide catchment area includes eighteen primary schools. These include schools in Lifford, Convoy, St Johnston and Carrigans. Some students come from further afield. Students rely in large numbers on bus transport to and from school. The school faces competition for enrolments both locally and from Northern Ireland, particularly in the case of students resident in Lifford. Student enrolment numbers to first year are very solid, with over ninety students enrolled in each of the last five years. The school has reached a significant landmark this school year 2008/09 with overall enrolment exceeding 500 students for the first time.
While attainment in the certificate examinations is an ongoing focus of school self-evaluation and improvement, the quality of care provided to students is core to its work and the school promotes itself to parents on that basis. School records show that students with high academic expectations have been successful in obtaining third level courses of their choice. Further reference to this is to be found in section 1.3 of this report.
The school seeks to maximise its capacity to address the significant challenges presented by contextual factors within the community it serves.
The mission statement provides a brief and clear explanation of the principles that guide the operation of the school. The statement has recently been reviewed and amended by the teaching staff to sharpen the focus on Deele College as an inclusive and student-friendly school. Describing itself as a caring, learning community, the school identifies the promotion of mutual respect and the fulfilment of each individual’s potential as its goal within a school atmosphere that is both safe and happy.
The mission statement is prominently displayed at the entrance to the school and its sentiments are cross-referenced in school documentation and in communications with parents. The statement, in essence, aims primarily at providing students with a secure, supportive environment in which their talents can be nurtured. The statement’s sentiments inform school policies and practices and can be discerned in the raft of interventions put in place to support students as well as in the interactions of staff and students within class and outside. The definition of staff is intentionally a broad term that includes every member employed by the school. This definition is explicit in the information literature provided to parents of new students. Thus the requirement, for example, that students should respect and in turn be respected by all teachers extends equally to all ancillary staff who are included in the opening word ‘we’ of the mission statement.
The succinct mission statement expresses well the collaborative commitment to student welfare and learning discerned in the course of the evaluation. In any future review of the mission statement it is recommended that a wider canvas of views is undertaken as the mission statement is the core principle and the fulcrum for all endeavours in the school.
The board of management functions effectively as a properly constituted sub-committee of County Donegal VEC and submits board records and policy decisions to the VEC for approval. The current board, now one year in office, includes a number of members with previous service. An innovative feature of practice is the board’s invitation to the head boy and head girl and their deputies to attend and contribute views representative of the student body at one meeting of the board annually. This is an excellent initiative by the board to include the student voice in its deliberations and one that is much appreciated by students.
Records provided indicate that the board plays an active role in the life of the school. Apart from contributing to board meetings, members attend the annual student awards ceremony and Christmas show, both highlights of the school calendar. The board also marks the occasion of the retirement of staff members with a special function.
Board members have availed of training courses in the statutory functions and duties of boards, provided by the VEC, and all members have received copies of the Handbook for Vocational Education Committees and Boards of Management of Schools and Community Colleges as a further guide. Since not all board members indicated a full awareness or familiarity with these issues, it is recommended that the board considers including summary discussion of an agreed section of the handbook as a regular agenda item.
A minimum of five ordinary board meetings are held each year, supplemented by special meetings and emergency meetings which have been required to deal with pressing matters. The board is not afraid to make difficult decisions and its cohesion has withstood a rigorous test in recent times. The good practice of advance consultation between the chair and the secretary guides the selection of items for the agenda of board meetings. Attendance at meetings is high. Board members indicated that Deele College issues are well represented at meetings of the VEC and that board members keep public representatives of all parties, locally and nationally, well acquainted with the affairs of the school. There was evidence during the whole-school evaluation that this is true.
Copies of the proceedings of board meetings examined were clear and well presented. These records indicated that the board was actively involved in decision making in regard to school policies as well as being well informed of the broader areas of school life and its activities. In regard to key developmental priorities identified by the board, members are advocates for the enhancement of facilities, including increased accommodation for students and teachers. The board wishes to see the quality achieved in the school’s sporting facilities replicated in extensions and renovation to the main school building. The construction of a library is a development that board members view as a welcome step in the necessary incremental improvement of facilities for learning.
All members of the board acknowledged the support and advice of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the VEC. Relations between the board and the in-school senior management team are described by both parties as excellent.
Board members, including representatives of parents, indicated an awareness and a high satisfaction with the quality of teaching provided by the school. The chairperson indicated a familiarity with subject inspection reports relating to the school and cited positive feedback on the quality of teaching shared with him by parents independently of board meetings.
Parents’ representatives on the board consult with the parents’ association in advance of board meetings and the principal informs the association of relevant developments following board meetings. Teachers’ representatives provide an oral summary feedback report to their members on the day following board meetings. The content of reporting back is guided by the exclusion of matters of personal detail. In the interests of consistent practice, it is recommended that consideration be given by the board to the inclusion of an agreed summary report, whether oral or written, at the conclusion of board meetings for transmission to the general body of parents and teachers.
Communication with the general parent body on the proceedings of board of management meetings is an area for development. It is noted that the reporting back of issues raised at board meetings is to a typically low attendance of the general body of parents, although these meetings are well publicised by letter home. The parents’ association should consider the inclusion in that notification letter of the agreed report recommended above in order to raise awareness of the board and to better inform the parent body of developments at board level. Alternatively, the board of management may consider the option of the publication and circulation of a report on the operation and performance of the school in any school year to the named parties as set out in section 20 of the Education Act, 1998.
Co-operation between the school and the local community is encouraged and facilitated by the board and is conspicuous in the area of sporting activities. The excellent sporting and recreational facilities provided at the school, assisted by considerable local fundraising, are the outcome of wide community support and provide outlets for many local sporting endeavours when not required by the school.
Effective leadership is provided by the in-school senior management team of principal and deputy principal. They enjoy the support and confidence of all parties interviewed in the course of the evaluation and it is clear that both are held in high regard. Relations between the in-school senior management team and the CEO are described by both parties as very good. Both principal and deputy principal had many years experience of teaching in the school prior to their promotion to their present posts and know the community extremely well. The principal and deputy principal work well together, hold meetings daily, both formal and informal, consult on all matters of importance, and present as one in proposals for action and in decisions made. Communication between them is excellent. They both value highly the commitment of staff to the effective operation of the school and identify this as the school’s primary resource.
The areas of responsibility assigned to the principal and deputy principal are each discharged effectively and the allocation of duties between them is balanced and fair. The principal is responsible for teacher allocation, is the conduit for communication with the CEO, and has overall responsibility for staff issues, the discipline of students, and the development of the site and buildings. The principal and the deputy principal have shared responsibilities, such as in relation to student discipline that involves their participation in a rota of teachers committing to supervision of detention, dealing with staff, and membership of various committees and teams, such as the Systems Oriented School (SOS) facilitators’ team and the Care Team. They also have quite separate and defined areas of responsibility with timetabling being one in particular that has been traditionally attached to the deputy principal post in the school. A formal schedule of the duties currently assigned to the post of deputy principal would assist in any future review of duties that may be assigned to the position.
Both principal and deputy principal share a commitment to persuading a greater number of parents of the benefits of a full post-primary education for their children, particularly in the case of parents who were themselves early school leavers and may have equivocal views on such matters as a result. They see student apathy towards post-primary education as one of the main challenges faced by the school and they support all the endeavours of the home-school-community liaison (HSCL) teacher in her work with parents.
The in-school senior management team is ambitious for the school and for its reputation in teaching and learning within the community and within the county. The principal visits classrooms on a daily basis and has a full awareness of the quality of teaching. The principal attends subject department meetings on occasions to inform himself of developments within various subject areas. The principal responds to parents’ and students’ observations on teaching and learning and mentoring of newly appointed teachers has been put in place. The in-school senior management team keeps well informed on the quality of teaching and learning in the school and is well placed to express confidence in this core area of school life.
The shared vision of the senior management team is that the child is the first priority in the operation of the school and their focus is on securing and using all resources possible to better support the needs of all students. In return they expect students and parents to commit to the effort required in learning and to uphold and respect the code of behaviour. They have led the staff to support and contribute to this whole-school vision beyond teachers’ individual concern with their own assigned classes and their own subject areas exclusively. Consistent with this approach the school is working closely with the National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) in implementing whole-school approaches to effect improvements in teaching and learning. In achieving these aims the in-school senior management team is mindful of the need to strike a balance between focusing energies on supports that smoothen the path through school for all students and delivering improved learning outcomes that will allow its students to compete for places in the highest third-level points categories. The recent achievement of a JP McManus all-Ireland third-level scholarship by a student of Deele College for top performance in the Leaving Certificate 2008 is an indicator of the school’s success in meeting these challenges.
An effective system of distributed leadership operates at middle management level. The senior management team is well supported by a middle management team of nine assistant principals and twelve special duties teachers. Post-holders have each been delegated a very comprehensive personal portfolio of duties. The assistant principals group also provides members, on a rota basis, to act for the principal and deputy principal in the event of their joint absence. The post-holder contract in all cases clearly spells out that the post-holder’s general duties are, in the first instance, to assist with and to support the in-school management and to be a member of the internal management team. The specific duties are then listed. All members of the middle management team consulted in the course of the evaluation identified readily with being part of the management team and viewed their defined duties as part of their contribution to support senior management in the operation of the school. This evidence supports the positive finding of a cohesive and collaborative model of middle management.
The team of assistant principals acts as an advisory group and meets once a week with senior management at a defined timetabled slot. The meeting observed in the course of the evaluation, together with an examination of the minutes of previous meetings, indicated that these result in a very worthwhile, efficiently run, well attended and well recorded consultation of views and exchange of information on current issues carried out within strict time constraints. At the break-time immediately following, a nominated member of the group provides a report to the staff on the salient points raised at these meetings. The timely relaying of information is good practice and staff appreciation of it was noted. While this arrangement ensures all members of staff present may hear a brief synopsis of current issues, it is of necessity hurried and improved alternative arrangements might be explored. This might include the placing of an electronic reference file listing the proceedings of previous meetings on the personal computers in the staff preparation area, securely protected by personal password if necessary.
A similar model for senior management consultation with special duties teachers was considered but not pursued due to resource implications. It is recommended that a forum for senior management consultation with special duties teachers be held on an occasional trial basis initially, to permit contributions from this middle-management layer in the operation of the school.
CPD for post-holders is facilitated through County Donegal VEC courses and school-based initiatives, such as the NBSS training for all year heads. Staff attendance of both grades of post-holders at CPD activities relevant to the performance of their post is encouraged, while teachers are accommodated in attending CPD activities relevant to their subject areas.
The schedule of posts of responsibility has been developed through the canvassing of views of all staff on the most urgent needs of the school. A review of post-holders’ duties is carried out informally through management consultation with individual post-holders which then covers a three-year cycle going forward. It is not an annual review and the process does not include a formal evaluation of the performance of duties. The review is essentially an attempt by senior management to best match the identified needs of the school to the capacities of the individual post-holders. Assistant principal posts were most recently reviewed in 2008 and this has resulted in some reallocation of duties among post-holders.
It is recommended that a review of the entire post of responsibility duties and of the performance of duties be carried out on a more frequent basis, with the objectives to be achieved in such review set out in advance. This would usefully include an element of post-holder self-review with recommendations for improvement. Such an appraisal could be assisted by written comment on a common template followed by a meeting with school senior management at the end of the year. This would provide an up-to-date picture on the level of satisfaction among post-holders with their portfolios and with the quality of performance of duties. It could also encourage a wider exchange of duties and the enhancement of expertise among staff. Such a meeting could provide senior management with the opportunity to affirm post-holders in the performance of the very considerable list of duties held by all post-holders at Deele College. Such a review would also contribute to the achievement of a more even spread of duties among post-holders.
The senior management team maintains effective ongoing contact with both staff and students. The location of their offices and their visible presence among staff and students confirmed this view. Both operate a genuinely open-door policy. The approachability of both members of the senior management team was a widely mentioned positive assessment made to the evaluation team.
Communication between senior management and staff is good and staff members acknowledge that senior management values the views of all staff. The views of the entire staff are respected and welcomed by senior management and staff members acknowledge that this is the case. Staff meetings are held on one day at the start of the year and on five other days in the course of the year, after school on a voluntary basis.
Communication with staff tends to be informal, through announcements in the staffroom at break-times. This is easily achieved within the strict confines of space that apply. Not all staff members can be present, however. Space for wall notices in the staffroom is at a premium. There are six discrete notice boards, which includes a general notice board, but not a designated principal’s notice board. The option of dated printed notices displayed on a principal’s designated notice board, or section, should be considered balanced against the need to protect confidentiality in a staffroom that accommodates many visitors beyond members of the teaching staff. Alternatively, as a means of balancing the reliance on oral communication, a record of the principal’s communication to staff might be provided on the computers in the staff preparation area. As regards communication with students, the feasibility of providing a digitalised flat screen notice board in the general purpose (GP) area for students should be investigated. Such a facility would lessen the over-reliance on frequent intercom announcements that currently punctuate lesson time throughout the day.
The management of students is effective and is guided in the first instance by the school’s admissions policy. The policy provided indicated clearly that Deele College is an inclusive school and operates accordingly in its admissions criteria. The inclusion of children with a disability or other special educational needs is clearly stated. While there has been a very low enrolment of newcomer students and of other minority groups, the school indicates clearly in its admissions policy a respect for diversity. In the interests of clarity and to comply with legislation, it would be prudent to include in the admissions policy a clearer indication than is the case at present of the criteria to be applied. It is important to include also the order of priority in which those criteria are applied, where the number of applicants for places exceeds the number of places available.
The encouragement of positive student behaviour is a central focus of the pastoral care structure and other initiatives in the school. Further whole-school interventions support this such as the SOS initiative and the highly popular end-of-year awards ceremony is a practical expression of the school’s commitment to this principle. Documentation examined gives an indication of the challenge facing the school in this regard. The school is commended for its honest self-review of these matters and for actively engaging the whole staff with the services of national agencies in seeking improvement.
The school code of behaviour includes clearly laid out procedures for recording acts of misbehaviour such as the issuing of coloured cards for various misdemeanours. The student prefect system, confined to final year students, plays a significant supporting role in the supervision and monitoring of students and is a further and appropriate whole-school support in detecting vulnerable or disaffected students. As the school’s code of behaviour pre-dates the National Education and Welfare Board (NEWB) publication Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools (2008) the latter guidelines should be used to inform a review of the school code. It is also recommended that student council representatives be invited to fully contribute to this process as they represent the body whose support is most vital to the success of the code.
The school’s successful application for inclusion on the ‘Systems Oriented School’ (SOS) NBSS pilot project is consistent with senior management promotion of the centrality of students in the operation of the school. The continuing professional development (CPD) provided to teachers is equipping them to better deal with the three key challenges of teaching challenging students, devising a whole-school strategy to improve student punctuality, and encouraging positive behaviour. The so-called ‘turnkey system’ principles of the SOS programme, the vision of the school, the mission statement, and developing improved systems for the management of students based on a consistent, whole-school approach have become a focus for staff. All of this points to the good practice of school self-review and seeking agreed strategies for improvement.
The student council, in existence since 2004, provides for elected representatives of students throughout the school. The council meets monthly with direction from a senior member of staff. Minutes of meetings are provided to the principal who meets informally with the council to discuss matters raised. These tend to centre on issues identified by the council as improvements for students. A degree of consultation on the code of behaviour has taken place with submissions from the council on the new school uniform to be introduced next year and on the wearing of jewellery by boys. Members of the council have not been provided to date with training such as acquainting them with successful models of student councils in other schools. It is recommended that members of the student council be provided with training that will assist them to make a greater contribution to the school. The school may choose to devise its own training or seek guidance from the Citizenship Education Support Team service. The National Children’s Office website www.studentcouncil.ie has helpful documentation on student councils. There is also scope to raise the profile and recognition of student council members and their activities through the provision of a dedicated notice board in the general purpose (GP) area with accompanying photographs.
Management has directed considerable resources to improving student retention and attendance through positive interventions under the DEIS action plan. Student retention data provided by the SCP service at Deele College from initial first year enrolment through to completion of the senior cycle and certificate examinations shows consistent improvement and attention remains focused on maintaining the upward trend in this critical area.
The closely related issue of student attendance has not met with similar success to date and the school is fully aware of the need to achieve improvements in this area. School returns to the NEWB relating to student absenteeism at Deele College indicate the scale of the challenge. The lack of capacity of the NEWB to provide Educational Welfare Officer (EWO) support to the school with tackling the high levels of recorded student absenteeism has been a disappointment to the school. School management is directing a vigorous school response on a number of fronts. This involves the daily monitoring of attendance, student affirmation, and SCP supported awards to students and supports in conjunction with external agencies, HSCL interventions with parents, and currently the SOS intervention. A separate letter to parents, indicating the number of days attended, together with congratulations or requests for improvement accompany end-of-term school reports for students and are signed by the principal. The clear connection between low attendance levels and low performance at ordinary level Leaving Certificate Mathematics is self-evident from the guidance department’s analysis of Leaving Certificate results. This message is communicated to parents through HSCL efforts to encourage parents with improving their children’s attendance at school.
A parents’ association has operated at Deele College since March 2005. It makes a positive contribution to the life of the school. Its energies are directed at promoting a spirit of co-operation and goodwill between school management, staff and parents in the interests of the education and welfare of students. The association has decided not to have fundraising as part of its duties and prefers to concentrate on practical issues that can be achieved. The link with senior management is very good and the principal and HSCL co-ordinator attend all association meetings. It has succeeded in providing a defibrillator to the school and training for thirty staff members through funding by a local charity, the marking of a bus-bay at the school gates to improve traffic flow and student safety and a change of supplier of the school uniform.
None of the association’s officer members has received training for their role, either as officers or for the potential role of the association. This is an area that might usefully be addressed. Parent representatives would welcome a wider engagement with the association from the parent body than is currently the case. Evidence was provided of considerable effort by the association to raise attendance levels at meetings of the parents’ association beyond the officer board. These efforts have to date met with muted results. There is scope for raising the profile of the association through an information slot on its activities in the school newsletter or through inclusion of a separate information note with school reports. The facility of a school website would be an obvious platform for raising the profile of the association.
Communication between the school and home is of high quality and is commended by parents’ representatives. Communication with parents is in the first instance with the principal at open night for parents of prospective first-year students and thereafter through letter, end-of-term reports, parent-teacher meetings, awards presentations, information nights and the year head system as required. There is a high level of ongoing communication between the HSCL co-ordinator and parents. The management open-door policy applies equally to parents and they are welcomed to meet with the principal or deputy principal on any matter of concern or enquiry. A school newsletter issues twice per year providing a worthy account of school events, student achievement and photographic record. A school public relations officer is among the duties of a very comprehensive post-of-responsibility portfolio and mainly involves providing news and photographs of school events and achievements to the print media. The capacity of the school to provide accurate and up-to-date information to parents and to promote its achievements more widely would be greatly enhanced by the development of a school website. The academic achievement of students could be a useful target of its own web-based public relations output. It is recommended that the development and management of a school website be explored with a view to early implementation.
Community links with the school are well developed through myriad connections under the DEIS initiatives operating in the school, through the educational and work placement network for senior cycle programmes, through business sponsors’ support of the school’s awards ceremony and through links with community sports in the use of the school’s excellent facilities. A parent representative, with no previous links to the school, commending the quality of information provided by Deele College through the feeder primary school said it was the reason for the family’s first approach to the school; this is high commendation.
Self-evaluation is well established in the culture of Deele College. This has led to a committed whole-school approach to devising action plans to deal with the ongoing challenges that the school faces.
The 2008/09 Department’s staffing allocation for the school shows almost thirty-eight whole-time teacher equivalent (WTE) posts. Of this number, twenty-six posts are filled in permanent positions with a further seventeen posts filled under a variety of categories. Four teachers are on leave. The gender balance among the staff is two thirds female and one third male. There is a good balance among the staff of very experienced teachers and those in the early years of their teaching careers.
All teachers are appropriately qualified in the subjects assigned to them and the school is in compliance with the number of teaching days provided per year. The daily timetable for students provides nine class periods, each of thirty-five minutes duration. This amounts to a current weekly instruction time allocation to students of twenty-six hours and fifteen minutes. This figure falls short of the twenty-eight hours weekly entitlement as set out in Circular Letter M29/95 TIME IN SCHOOL by one hour and forty-five minutes. The shortfall is increased by the daily timetabling of a five-minute registration period that coincides with the starting time of the first class period. Arrangements have been confirmed in writing indicating that the weekly school timetable with effect from the start of the 2009/10 school year will be in full compliance with the provisions of the above circular. Application has been made to the appropriate school transport authorities to seek the necessary changes in bus schedules. Timetabling arrangements for staff are managed appropriately and include in most instances the assignment of one or two class periods for study periods with students that are separate from the supervision and substitution arrangements. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed as part of the timetable adjustments and retained only for compelling reasons.
Ancillary staff members are effectively deployed to the discharge of secretarial, maintenance, cooking and cleaning duties. The school administration office which enjoys the services of a second school secretary through SCP funding is one of the busiest areas in the school. This is particularly the case in view of the absence of pastoral offices for year heads. The service entails constant interaction with students, staff, visitors and parents. This is achieved effectively and with good humour.
The school buildings are generally well maintained. Classrooms in the main building and the new pre-fabricated classrooms are assigned to teachers, although many teachers cannot be assigned rooms due to pressure on space. Good efforts have been made to provide stimulating learning environments in many classrooms. The consequence of teacher-assigned rooms is the constant circulation of students throughout the building between classes with consequent wear and tear on the main areas of circulation. The floor covering in certain areas is in poor condition and would benefit from replacement. Consideration might also be given to a greater display of quality photographs of school events and of class photographs. Input into the creation and renewal of quality wall displays of individual year group activities and achievements could usefully be shared with the student council.
The condition and maintenance of the two football pitches, the all-weather pitch, and indoor sporting facilities are of the highest quality and provide students with an ideal outlet for recreation and personal development.
Improvement in the range of information and communications technology (ICT) resources is a perceived need among the school community. The provision of ICT to enhance teaching and learning is being achieved in an incremental fashion as financial resources permit. The main ICT resources are concentrated in the two computer rooms with access prioritised to particular groups such as Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) classes and availability thereafter to the generality of classes by reservation. Broadband access is available in a limited number of individual classrooms. The potential of ICT resources to stimulate the learning experiences for students in classrooms is referenced in one of the accompanying subject inspection reports. The school, through its links with Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), has arranged to receive further ICT resources when LYIT updates its own ICT resources. The absence of broadband lines in classrooms is an area that should be addressed. The construction of the new library will permit the integration of ICT resources into a student-friendly and student-accessible learning environment.
Health and safety, including fire regulations are well documented in subject department plans and related planning documentation. A health and safety statement is in place that includes provision for staff training. Fire drills are carried out, reviewed and well documented. The school has sought the advice of engineers on concerns at the condition of the boiler house chimney and the board will be guided by any recommendations for remedial action that are made.
The location of student lockers in the girls’ toilet area of the original school building is a matter of concern raised by the parents’ association with the evaluation team. This location has been reviewed by the school but retained due to the lack of alternative accommodation. It is recommended that this be again considered as students with bottom-row lockers are obliged to kneel on the toilet room floor to access their belongings. The school should consider whether it is preferable to withdraw the facility of lockers until alternative arrangements can be put in place.
Environmental awareness has been given greater recognition through its recent inclusion as part of post of responsibility duties. The proceedings of student council meetings provide evidence of council members’ frustration at the lack of respect for school property shown by a number of fellow students. It is suggested that cross-curricular education and whole-school awareness might be a better approach than the expansion of sanctions proposed by the council to school management. Engagement with the Green-School initiative would be a positive direction for student energies, one that would also help to raise a whole-school awareness of the benefits of the student council.
School planning at Deele College shows some significant commitment to date. Further development is now required to direct, guide and drive the process forward. The symbolic act of the change of name of the school from Vocational School Raphoe to Deele College/Coláiste an Daoil in 2000 is one of the earliest indications of school development planning. This indicated school engagement with self-review and forward planning in charting a new course and identity for the school. School planning has been a feature of school activities since that time.
The co-ordination of school development planning forms part of the duties of two assistant principals. Both co-ordinators have been well supported by management in securing the necessary skills for this task and in the provision of resources such as room space for planning folders, computer, telephone, printer and photocopying facilities. They have attended all regional and cluster meetings provided by the regional co-ordinators of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). One of the co-ordinators is currently on leave however, without replacement in school planning duties. The current co-ordinator, since 2005, has attended each of the three-day school development planning summer schools held annually in Dublin City University, accompanied on two occasions by the second co-ordinator. Communication to management and staff on issues and approaches to school planning was well addressed through both co-ordinators reporting back to senior management and staff on all of these activities. The co-ordinators became the school planning steering group with responsibility to drive the process.
This task has devolved to the sole remaining co-ordinator. In view of the fact that school planning duties form but one element in a very demanding portfolio of duties assigned to the current planning co-ordinator, it is recommended that the steering group be expanded to share the task of overseeing the direction of school planning activities. Consideration might be given to inviting a member of the board of management or a member of the parents’ association to join such a group to permit a direct involvement in the process of a wider representation of the school community than the teaching staff alone.
All members of the teaching staff have an involvement in school planning. This is most evident in the area of subject department planning and programme planning. The quality of this planning work is good. Plans have been collaboratively designed and agreed within subject departments and programme teams. This was a good starting point. Further reference to these matters is to be found in section four of this report.
On the broader front of school development planning, task groups have been formed among the staff to draft and present policies for consideration by the board of management. In the case of consideration by the board of school policies, the good practice is noted of the secretary introducing and distributing draft policies at one meeting and allowing members to further consider them before presenting them for approval at the following meeting. Uniquely among the policies provided, the admissions policy shows the year of ratification by the board of management as well as the date of the most recent review on the cover page. This good practice is recommended in respect of all policies.
It is also noted that the board has more recently deferred consideration of one policy to permit the consultation of student representative views. This is an appropriate step as, to date, parents’ and students’ involvement in contributing to school policies has been marginal at best. The inclusion of parents’ representatives also in the school planning consultation process, while adding a further loop to the ratification process, is recommended in the interests of true ownership of the school planning process. Further benefits of a wider consultation process include the likelihood of greater co-operation with policy documents to which all parties in the school are required to subscribe.
Apart from subject department planning, a total of ten whole-school policies have been completed and ratified to date. A further four policies are at draft stage. The list provided does not include a policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). In order to comply with the requirements of Circular 0027/2008 the preparation of this necessary school policy should be prioritised. A template to guide the development of an RSE policy is provided on the Department’s website (www.education.ie). In regard to the DEIS action plan, the DEIS task group, identified in the developmental section of the plan with assigned tasks under the action plan, should identify the improvements to be targeted, the actions to be taken to achieve these improvements and the arrangements for monitoring and evaluation of the action plan.
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). In the course of the evaluation it emerged that not all staff members were familiar with critical elements of the guidelines nor could all staff recall the guidelines being brought to their attention. It is recommended that all staff members reacquaint themselves with the guidelines and 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.
The Deele College school plan follows the SDPI template. Permanent and developmental sections of the plan have usefully been created. The loose-leaf format easily permits the transfer of some elements from one section to another as appropriate. The plan as presented would benefit from editing with attention to the headings included on the contents page. The developmental section of the school plan in particular should be viewed as a forward plan and would benefit greatly from the identification of time-bound targets such as a three-year action plan. The planning targets to be achieved within that period could usefully and easily be summarised on the opening page. The steering group could usefully conduct an end-of-year review and identification of priorities for the remaining timeframe of the plan.
A positive feature of the planning process in the school to date is the level of in-service activities engaged in by the teaching staff and the openness of staff to these developments as reported by senior management. The school plan includes a comprehensive list of such activities. Topics covered with the entire staff within the past eighteen months alone include subject department planning, restorative justice, an introduction to the NBSS pilot project which currently is focusing on improving student punctuality, intervention skills in dealing with low level disruption in class, staff wellbeing, motivation and stress management and differentiation. It is an impressive list.
Curriculum provision at Deele College is a strength of the school. The school has been active in ensuring that the widest possible range of programmes is included on the school’s curriculum. The teaching staff has responded positively to these developments and has been well supported by management in adapting to different approaches to teaching and learning required for the delivery of the full complement of programmes.
In addition to the mainstream Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes the school has provided the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme almost from their introduction nationally. The LCVP in particular has a broad appeal among students as two thirds of all students who took the Leaving Certificate in 2008, chose the programme. The Transition Year (TY) programme was successfully introduced in September 2005, as an optional programme. The provision of all programmes sits well with the mission statement’s claim for the school as a learning community that provides for each individual student’s potential.
JCSP forms an important contribution to the curriculum provided at junior cycle and is offered to students who are identified as likely to leave school early. At the time of the evaluation some twenty-two per cent of students in the junior cycle were enrolled in JCSP class groups. It is a deliberately fluid programme which enables students identified as no longer in need of JCSP support to pursue their studies in mainstream Junior Certificate classes. The information and planning documentation presented indicates that this is a successful and well co-ordinated programme which is well communicated to parents and students. Among the good practices employed in the programme is the principle of an anchor teacher who teaches a JCSP class for a number of subjects. There is a discrete core teaching team and a planning group which includes the active involvement of the principal. The programme contributes well to ensuring a positive experience of school for the participants and there is good celebration of achievements by JCSP students. A range of student-focused teaching methodologies has been developed among the staff through involvement in this programme. Overall, it is clear that the JCSP has contributed to the improved student retention levels that are referenced earlier in this report.
The TY programme presented indicates a clear view of the principles, aims and objectives of the programme together with sound procedural arrangements for selection, assessment, evaluation and review and a well developed programme of core subjects and modules. All teachers are considered potential members of the TY team and are assigned to teaching duties there as freely as to any other programme. The cohesion of the team would be strengthened by more frequent meetings of the co-ordinator and team. Such meetings should aim at keeping the delivery of the programme fresh and faithful to the aims and objectives of TY.
The number of students attracted to the LCA has increased since a renewed promotion of the programme in 2007/08. Students in LCA currently comprise fourteen per cent of students in senior cycle. The school has good arrangements in place both to screen students for entry to the programme and to provide appropriate information to parents.
The co-ordinators of each of the three programmes—JCSP, LCVP and LCA—engage in ongoing and end-of-year review in order to identify strengths and areas for development within their respective programmes. It is evident that this is an integral feature of their work and this is highly commendable.
A broad and balanced curriculum is provided to students in Deele College. The school provides a total of fifteen Junior Certificate examination subjects on the school timetable of which most students study ten. These now include a good balance of academic and practical subjects, the latter grouping having traditionally held a central place on the school curriculum. Eleven Leaving Certificate examination subjects are provided, of which most students study seven with the link modules becoming an additional undertaking for LCVP students. A twelfth subject, Applied Mathematics, is offered outside the conventional timetable subject to demand.
The review and broadening of the curriculum provided to the students is an ongoing concern of the school. An example of review leading to a change in the curriculum is the substitution of Spanish for French as the modern European language provided in recent times based on the perception of Spanish as a more accessible language to the students. The curriculum has been broadened through the introduction of Music at junior cycle this year for the first time. This has been a popular move with parents and has been well supported by student uptake. Music has also been included among the modules on the Transition Year programme and will be provided in due course as a Leaving Certificate subject. The school has canvassed student interest in Accounting for consideration as a further Leaving Certificate subject following expressions of interest from parents.
In addition to the balance of practical and academic subjects provided for the certificate examinations, the school provides Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Physical Education (PE), Religious Education (RE) and Computers to each year group. The course in computers is designed to provide all students with a good skills base in the use of the most popular ICT packages. SPHE is commendably extended into senior cycle. While involvement in sports is both well promoted and well organised, formal provision for PE in senior cycle is more limited and a review of senior cycle provision for PE is recommended. TY students are provided with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification option. The school is supported by two part-time chaplains in the delivery of Religious Education.
While arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes are generally good, an ongoing review is recommended of the restricted access to a modern European language and to subject levels. The school formerly operated a rigid streaming of students from the outset of first year but has varied this approach in recent years with the establishment of a banding system consisting of three bands. These three bands are maintained through to third year and a similar system operates in the senior cycle for the established Leaving Certificate classes. Within the first-year bands students are assigned to class groupings for more academically able and lesser able students based on assessment test performance, consultation with the primary schools and parents and ongoing monitoring of students’ performance. Abilities within these bands are mixed but in the main, students in band one take subjects predominantly at higher level in the Junior Certificate examination, students in band two take subjects predominantly at ordinary level, with some students taking higher level in certain subjects and a small number taking foundation level in some subjects. Band three is provided for JCSP students aiming exclusively at ordinary level or foundation level.
Although it is a more flexible arrangement than the rigid streaming that operated previously, the banding arrangement in first year involves early decisions regarding certain students’ access to subjects at higher level. Furthermore, only those students placed in band one have access to the study of a modern European language.
A limited form of concurrent timetabling operates through the junior cycle in the case of the three core subjects of Mathematics, English, and Irish. This degree of ‘setting’ bridges the divide somewhat between the bands as it permits different class formations for these subjects than is to be found in the base classes. In the main, however, the students taking these subjects at higher level tend to come predominantly from base class groups within the first band. The school is commended for the more inclusive approach now employed in the formation of class groups from first year. A consideration of a further move towards fully mixed-ability classes in first year, while retaining some setting, is urged in order to encourage a greater number of students towards raised expectations of achievement. It is difficult to promote this where students are from an early stage outside the first band.
A total of fifteen Junior Certificate examination subjects is provided on the first-year timetable. Seven of these remain core subjects through to the Junior Certificate examination for all students. Students are provided with a programme of the eight remaining optional subjects throughout first year, from which they ultimately proceed to study three from second year onwards. It is recommended that the year-long sampling of optional subjects in first year be reviewed. The school might consider whether an earlier date for selecting these subjects would benefit students in their studies. An analysis of Junior Certificate examination results should be one element of that review. The implications of the restricted availability of Spanish to students are well communicated to parents and are supported by career-specific advice provided by the guidance counsellor. The provision of Spanish as an ab initio subject in senior cycle redresses the balance somewhat. It is recommended that the question of the implications for students of not studying a modern European language are kept under review in the context of providing the widest possible curriculum to all students.
The efforts of the school over the years have been successful in promoting an increased uptake of subjects at higher level. A subject area examined in the course of the evaluation showed that in the past no students attempted higher level in that subject but that this pattern has improved significantly. In the case of the senior cycle programmes, parents are well informed in advance at information evenings by the respective programme co-ordinators and the guidance counsellor while close and ongoing contact is maintained with parents of JCSP students. Choice of subject level is guided by teachers’ advice on student aptitude and performance as well as ongoing examination results. Regarding subject selection from the optional subjects, parent and student demand is collated through pro-forma returns of preferences, following which class groupings are formed subject to resources. Parents’ representatives indicated satisfaction with the arrangements for the provision of optional subjects and with the efforts of the school to increase the range of subjects provided.
This is an area of conspicuous strength. The very extensive range of both sets of activities provided is consistent with the school’s commitment to providing a holistic education that develops the talents of all students. This involves a great investment of effort by the school and apart from the nurturing of individual students’ talents it leads to the development of positive relationships between teachers and students. These activities include many in-school, intra-school, national and cross-border activities under various subject-related programmes and competitions. The participation of many teachers in these and other out-of-school hours activities is confirmed by senior management. The areas of activity include sport, school trips, the arts, music and drama, fundraising and subject-specific competitive activities.
The promotion of sport among students has a strong direction and is central to the very well structured physical education programme that complements the excellent sporting facilities at the school. Care is taken in the organisation of representative school sports to ensure that participating students secure advance approval from teachers that is dependent on good behaviour, good school attendance and application to studies. The rules in this respect are strict but fair. In no circumstances are students excused detention to represent the school in sporting activities, regardless of the likely consequences for the fortunes of the team. This is regarded as an important consideration in character formation and commitment to the school. An after-school programme of sports activities for senior girls permits the involvement of instructors in different sports and is well supported.
The annual Christmas musical show is among the high points of the school calendar since its introduction five years ago and most recently led to an invitation from RTÉ to audition for the Late Late Toy Show. Students interviewed in the course of the evaluation provided CD and DVD copies of the school’s musical endeavours that are now complemented by the addition of Music to the school curriculum. The TY and LCA programmes provide a number of outlets for student participation in co-curricular, community links and personal development activities. These include Gaisce – the President’s Award, BT Young Scientist and Technology competition, AIB Build a Bank Challenge, An Garda Síochána workshops on road safety, first aid courses, charitable fundraising and many more. Educational school tours, exchange and study visits with foreign schools are also provided.
The range and quality of co-curricular and extracurricular opportunities provided by the school complement the formal curriculum. These opportunities support the finding that Deele College makes good additional provision for its students to participate in and benefit from an appropriate education.
Subject planning is well established in Deele College. Subject departments meet regularly during the school year and summary minutes record the issues discussed. Teachers in all subject departments involved in the subject inspections showed high levels of awareness of the benefits of a collaborative approach to planning to meet syllabus requirements.
Subject plans presented during the evaluation were of good quality. Plans were generally detailed and comprehensive with each subject department having made good use of the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative to write the department plan. Best practice was observed where schemes of work contained learning outcomes for the topics to be taught which were linked to appropriate methodologies, methods of assessment and appropriate timeframes. The physical education plan mirrors this approach effectively. This good practice should be extended to all schemes of work. It was noted that on occasion the organising principle in some subject plans was the format of the certificate examinations, rather than the skills focus advocated in the syllabuses. In reviewing these plans, it is recommended that the knowledge, skills and understanding which the students are expected to acquire in each year should be identified. It is equally important that where appropriate, planning takes cognisance of the needs of more able students in order to ensure that they are suitably challenged and motivated to succeed to the highest possible level.
Planning for specific programmes is very good. In the case of LCA a comprehensive planning folder contained a course overview, aims and objectives of the programme as well as details of teacher induction, student induction, cross-curricular links, work experience, special consideration in examinations, resources, record keeping and assessment. Another feature common to planning, especially evident in two of the subjects evaluated, is the range of co-curricular and cross-curricular links and activities that enrich the teaching of the subjects and improve the learning outcomes for students.
There was a consistency across departments with good practice in respect to individual lesson planning. Individual, short-term lesson planning was seen to be comprehensive and in line with syllabus requirements. Teachers had prepared overheads, worksheets, audio-visual equipment, and customised materials that helped to ensure a high level of productivity and cater for the range of ability levels within classes. There was also some good practice in the use of ICT both as an aid to teaching and in providing additional materials to support students in their learning. This is particularly noted in the lesson plans for Irish and Business. It is recommended that teachers identify opportunities for team teaching, where appropriate, and for a greater sharing of experience and resources.
Lessons observed in the course of the evaluation were well structured and appropriately paced. The aims of each lesson observed were clear and, in many instances, were shared with the students at the beginning of the lesson. This helped to establish a good working atmosphere from the outset. It is recommended that this good practice should be extended to all subject areas. Additional learning and teaching resources were prepared in advance and these were used to develop and extend students’ understanding of their subjects. These resources were generally effective in supporting the work being done in class. However, in both English and Business, inspectors cautioned against providing too many notes for students. It is recommended that care should always be taken to teach students how to methodically appraise the value of information found in notes. They should know how to use them effectively, so that they do not simply transcribe notes uncritically.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed across the four curriculum areas evaluated. These included question-and-answer sessions, brainstorming, discussion and small group work. Inspectors cited a number of very good examples of experiential and active learning and commented on the levels of student engagement which these facilitated. In some cases, however, a limited range of methodologies was employed and greater use of more active and student-led methodologies is recommended in order to cater for the range of learning styles and ability levels within class groups.
Questioning was used extensively in the lessons observed. It allowed the teachers to gauge students’ level of understanding, to probe their responses and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter in the lessons. Teachers affirmed students in their contributions and continually encouraged student dialogue and discussion. This was particularly noted in Irish lessons observed, where the efforts of teachers to facilitate communication in the target language were commended. Appropriate links were generally established, where applicable, with existing understanding and students’ experiences. Teachers of Business, for example, demonstrated a high level of awareness of the links between their subject and the wider curriculum followed by their students. There was a commendable focus on ensuring that lesson content in the LCA had practical applications and was made relevant to students’ everyday lives.
Developing teaching methodologies that will engage students to take a greater interest in and responsibility for their learning are core considerations. Teachers are urged to continue to self-review and develop their teaching methodologies as one of the most valuable contributions that they can make to the school’s aim of raising the expectations of learners and the standards of student achievement.
Teachers were consistent in their approach to classroom management and routines were established to help students quickly settle down to work. These included roll call, revision of previous lesson material and an outline of the lesson objective. Inspectors commented on the respectful interactions and good rapport evident in many of the lessons observed and noted that teachers demonstrated concern for their students’ progress. Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained.
Students were enthusiastic, purposeful and co-operative in their work. Inspectors noted that they were confident and capable as they worked on their practical tasks and that, in many language classes, students were enjoying their lessons. Students maintained good homework copies or files and their written work was presented to a good standard.
Formal assessments take place in Deele College at Christmas and summer. Results are well communicated to parents through school written reports and in-school meetings. Parents of first year students are invited to the school after the first six weeks of the autumn term to review how their children are settling in. Parent-teacher meetings are held for all year groups during the year.
The quality of teachers’ record keeping in relation to the assessment of students’ progress receives favourable mention in accompanying subject inspection reports. Very good record keeping by all the teachers is noted in one of the reports with respect to attendance and formal assessments. Another report notes that teachers maintain appropriate records of students’ results in all cases and are knowledgeable about the progress being made by their students.
The regular use of a range of assessment modes is highlighted in a further report. A language report however, recommends a widening of the modes of assessment to include all of the skills relevant to the subject as an integral feature of assessment. Teachers’ use of oral questioning to check progress and understanding and to allow students express opinions is well documented in reports. The attention of teachers is drawn in one instance to the need to vary the form of questioning and to include student-directed as well as global questioning. The attention of teachers of all subjects is drawn to the recommendation that the questions asked by teachers should be sufficiently differentiated so as to challenge the more able students in the class also. The more active involvement of students in monitoring their achievements is recommended in one instance and should be borne in mind in the context of the aim of developing independent learners. This can aid teachers in identifying specific skills on which they should focus and allows them to target specific areas of difficulty when setting homework and to give clear feedback related to those criteria when marking assignments.
A whole-school policy is in place on homework. Reports indicate that homework is regularly set and corrected by teachers but diverge on the quality of feedback provided by teachers’ comments in homework copies. The good practice is cited in one of the subjects evaluated where teachers’ comments provide good developmental feedback which both identifies areas for improvement and affirms the work done. In another instance however, the absence of evaluative feedback is noted. This is balanced in the same report by commendation for the practice in some instances of the class teacher going through the homework to be assigned setting out its objective and suggesting approaches for completion. The further extension of this practice that provides students with a rationale and guidance in completing homework is recommended.
In one of the subjects evaluated, an examination of homework journals indicated better recording by girls than by boys. In order to encourage improvements in these areas, it is suggested that consideration be given to awarding a common proportion of the marks in junior class house examinations for the quality of work in the copybooks. A separate comment might be considered for inclusion in school reports on the quality of the recording of homework in the journals. While parents will be aware of this from signing the homework journal, its inclusion in the school report would provide a useful record.
Analysis of examination outcomes is undertaken at school level. Best practice was evident where these outcomes were used to inform the planning process in a subject department not included in the subjects evaluated. The outcome of such an analysis by the mathematics department resulted in the provision of extra mathematics classes as an after-school support. One of the accompanying reports recommends greater prominence in the subject plan for the statistics on student participation and achievement as a reference point in driving improvements in that subject. Similarly, another report recommends further analysis of examination outcomes in order to maximise the numbers taking higher level in the Junior Certificate examination. The attention of all subject departments is drawn to this recommendation.
Inclusion is a core feature of the philosophy and operation of Deele College. Subject department planning shows a clear appreciation of the inclusion of students with additional educational needs and of strategies required to better cater for those needs in teaching and learning. School management has supported staff in facilitating CPD in this area. A total of thirteen teachers, or one in three of all teachers, currently have specific responsibility for the delivery of resource teaching and learning support. There are also five special-needs assistants (SNA). The resource and learning support department comprises a core team of five teachers that includes personnel with specialist qualifications, each of whom is well experienced and deeply committed to their roles. The team includes the co-ordinators of the JCSP and LCA programmes and is complemented by teachers with a subject specialism background in Mathematics, English and Irish. Thus there is a depth of experience and knowledge of literacy and numeracy among the team. Management strongly supports the work of the team and provides the team with two common class periods per week for ongoing monitoring and review meetings.
The interests of students with special educational needs in Deele College are in very capable hands. The special educational needs team is well led by a co-ordinator who has a clear vision of the school’s mission for students with special educational needs. The co-ordinator connects very well with the general body of staff in encouraging the best approach and care for these students. Senior school management is fully supportive of the efforts of the special educational needs team. This is balanced with a concern to see special educational needs as well supported as resources permit, within a school where provision for this category of students is but one of the school’s commitments to providing an appropriate education to all students.
Identification and referral procedures for incoming students are thorough and include close co-operation with feeder primary schools, consultation with parents and with appropriate professionals in the educational, medical and social spheres. The co-ordinator provides a briefing to staff at the start of the school year on special educational needs provision. Documentation on students with special educational needs, including psychological reports and other confidential documents, is stored in the principal’s office. This documentation is available to mainstream teachers for consultation on request. It is recommended that the making available of all the documentation be reconsidered. The team is currently developing a booklet detailing the special educational needs specific to the students in the school and this may be a more appropriate form of information to provide in place of access to the entire individual student file of information.
Deele College currently receives an allocation of approximately five whole-time equivalent teaching posts for the delivery of support to identified students by way of resource teaching and learning support. An appropriate variety of models is used to provide this support including the formation of smaller classes in English and Mathematics, where concurrent timetabling permits the formation of three class groups from two base classes. Team teaching, small group withdrawal and individual withdrawal are other methods used by the school.
Student profiles are created, learning needs identified, progress monitored and reviewed and communication to staff is ongoing. Records are well maintained despite the absence of an office for the special educational needs co-ordination work. The presence of SNAs among the staff has also raised a wider awareness of students with special educational needs. The work of SNAs is well guided by the co-ordinator and other members of the core team. The whole staff has most recently been provided with CPD on differentiation in teaching and learning which is a strategy for application beyond students in this category. There is close monitoring of students’ performance and ongoing communication with parents. Good internal communication is evident in that the HSCL co-ordinator, on request from the special educational needs co-ordinator, visits parents and encourages them to assist in the home with the supports provided to children with special educational needs at school.
The key aim of access for students with special educational needs to all educational programmes is achieved at Deele College and the progression of almost one hundred per cent of students in JCSP classes through to senior cycle is an indication of the success achieved to date. Appropriate assistance is provided to the small number of students currently assigned support with English as an additional language (EAL). A small number of students from the Travelling community are enrolled and are fully integrated into school life.
The Deele College draft policy on special educational needs provides a very good picture of the thinking and procedures that guide the delivery of relevant supports within the school. The policy deserves wider dissemination among staff and parents before submission to the board of management for consideration for approval.
The school has an allocation of one wholetime position for Guidance. This is filled in a permanent position. The subject has a strong identity within the school and parents’ and students’ representatives indicated a good understanding of guidance provision and high satisfaction with the quality of the service. Much of this is credited to the commitment of the guidance counsellor who combines the duties of primary responsibility for providing the guidance service with a concern to achieve a coherent whole-school approach to supports that are provided to students. In both of these areas the quality of the work is high.
Guidance receives good timetabled provision in each of the three programmes in the senior cycle and attention has been paid to balancing the provision in the junior cycle. This is addressed through modules on Guidance delivered as part of the SPHE programme. Advice to students and parents on subject choice, subject level choice, and programme choice is well structured from the first encounter with Guidance provided to new students and their parents. An updated career booklet provided to parents is a helpful summary guide to subject choice decisions.
Students’ first encounter with Guidance is on the ‘Open Day’ that forms part of the transition programme provided to sixth-class primary school pupils intending to enrol in first year. Arrangements for the transition are thorough. The ‘Open Day’ takes place in February and is followed in May with a further two days of familiarisation to students who have at that stage enrolled for first year in September. Funded by the SCP, Deele College provides bus transport for the pupils to the school where they experience a preview of life as a first-year student. This includes an introduction to a variety of new and familiar subjects in a programme of lessons. They are advised on the organisation of the school and on the roles of year head, class teacher, subject teacher, breakfast club, extracurricular and co-curricular activities as elements of student support. They are also advised on the availability of the guidance counsellor to help any student with personal difficulties as well as with career and educational advice. The ‘Open Evening’ to parents that follows includes a guidance input that reiterates the services provided through Guidance and stresses the availability of the guidance counsellor to parents. The ‘Open Evening’ observed as part of the evaluation, provided a very helpful set of presentations to prospective parents from senior management, staff members and students. The challenges faced by students and the supports provided by the school were set out clearly and were both well delivered and well received.
The association of Guidance as an integral part of student supports at Deele College is strengthened through the visible presence and daily interaction of the guidance counsellor with students. In addition to responsibility for delivering the guidance programme, the guidance counsellor also undertakes pastoral duties as a year head and assists in the operation of the SCP breakfast club initiative for students each morning. These are significant contributions that clearly identify the guidance service with a caring and welfare profile beyond a narrower understanding of guidance as an advisory service with career choices.
The guidance service combines appropriate attention to the three strands of educational guidance, career guidance and social and personal guidance. While office space is at a premium in the school the guidance department operates an effective service. Indicative of the good links developed with the local community, Raphoe Family Resource Centre has offered ICT facilities as an in-town resource to students in career and educational research.
The overall aim identified in the guidance programme is to promote co-operation between all the supports in the school so that students can be supported and encouraged to succeed. This is being achieved in the work of the guidance planning team and the care team. Both of these initiatives date from the appointment of the current guidance counsellor in 2006.
The purpose of the guidance planning team is to develop a whole-school guidance plan that best meets the needs of students in Deele College. The team includes the principal and the co-ordinators of SPHE, HSCL, SCP, Learning Support and Religious Education. Both the guidance counsellor and SPHE co-ordinator also serve as year heads. This achieves the good practice whereby all offices within the school that have a specific brief for student care are represented on the guidance planning team.
Records of guidance planning team meetings provided indicate that the team has managed to convene on approximately three times a year since its formation in March 2007. The work of the team has been guided by a systemic approach to a review of guidance provision within the school beginning with first-year students. The emphasis has been on developing the guidance policy in response to identified needs. The survey of first-year student responses, for instance, provided the team with valuable insights. Amongst these were the students’ view that co-curricular and extracurricular activities were availed of by no more than fifty per cent of the first-year group, that forgetting to do homework was a worry for some, and that the majority of first-year students, if offered a part-time job, would accept. In response, the School Completion Programme offered an enhanced level of out-of-school and holiday-time activities to encourage greater student participation in self-esteem building activities. Year heads and class teachers operated a closer supervision of the correct use of the revised student homework journal, while SPHE classes contributed to encouraging students to concentrate fully on school life to the exclusion of part-time employment. The HSCL co-ordinator also concentrated on these themes in interactions with parents. This well co-ordinated approach to the identification of themes resulted in a co-ordinated plan of action across the school.
The work of the guidance planning team has led directly to a school critical incident policy achieved in co-operation with advice from the National Educational Psychological Service. The procedures set out in the policy have been tested, and guided all stages of the response to the school’s recent critical incident experience. It is recommended that the work of completing the whole-school guidance plan be advanced with time-bound targets for the completion of key stages.
The positions of year head and class teacher have a clear pastoral care dimension. Registration time is used to encourage and assess student engagement with school beyond the task of monitoring attendance. Year heads maintain ongoing communication with class teachers. A ladder of referral system operates for all teachers in this structure and subject teachers may relate concerns about any students in their subject classes through this structure. SPHE which is available to senior cycle students complements the pastoral care structure and the comprehensive positive mental health programme ‘Mind Out’ tailored for the school through association with the Finn Valley Alliance is a good example of this.
The care team, which has operated for the past three years, plays an effective and critical role in the pastoral care structure within the school and is charged with devising pastoral care interventions. Membership is set at eight staff members and includes representatives of all care supports in the school comprising Guidance, HSCL, Learning Support, SCP, and SPHE. The profile of the team is strengthened by the presence of both the principal and deputy principal as members. The purpose of the care team is to provide integrated supports and interventions with particular students with identified needs. These students come to the attention of the care team through referral or concerns relayed by staff members to any member of the care team. The care team is provided with a timetabled slot for meetings once per month. The proceedings of the care team are confidential and records provided indicated the identification of students by initials only. Follow-up action is included in all cases and the team is careful to protect the confidentiality of individuals and families discussed. Information is shared orally on a need to know basis with relevant staff. Although a cumbersome and time consuming process, due care is paid to maintaining confidentiality.
The religious instruction of students complements the care structure within the school and provides liturgical events as an integral part of school life throughout the year. This is possible due to the availability of local clergy, both Catholic and Church of Ireland. Events include ecumenical services for the entire school at the start of the school year and at the close for final year senior students. The morning registration time includes the reading of the Lord’s Prayer in spiritual reflection before the commencement of lessons.
The operation of the pastoral care system within the school has an evident whole-school approach. All teachers are well acquainted with the support structures that operate and have an appreciation of their own support roles and obligations as subject teachers. Students and parents are familiar with the student support structures. Communication and co-ordination among the key personnel in the student support structures is very well organised. The good communication to staff encourages vigilance and ongoing commitment to the school mission statement of creating a caring, safe and happy school as the first step in the development of each student’s potential. The involvement of senior management in the care structures underlines student care as a cornerstone of the school’s work. It is recommended that a school pastoral care policy be drafted that describes the aims and details of the complex and well co-ordinated operation that is currently working.
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.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Regarding 1 - RSE Policy
2 - School Website
3 - Length of School Week ( i.e. Shortfall of 1 hr 45 minutes)
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. RSE Policy at draft stage to be approved by the Board of Management
2. School Website constructed and being further expanded continuously
3. Length of school week now 28 hours as indicated to the Inspectors to take effect from September 2009