An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Carrickmacross, County Monaghan
Roll number: 72180K
Date of inspection: 27 November 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Inver College was undertaken in November 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail. One subject was evaluated in advance. Separate reports are available on these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Inver College is one of three post-primary schools in Carrickmacross. It is the only co-educational school and is under the trusteeship of County Monaghan Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The school was founded in 1930 when it was known as Carrickmacross Vocational School. It moved to its present site in 1958 and the school building was extended in 1969 and 2000 to cater for increased enrolment. The school was renamed Inver College in 1990. Recent developments include the provision of new playing pitches and upgrading of specialist workshops and information and communications technology (ICT) facilities. The school draws its students from twenty-six feeder schools from both the town and surrounding rural areas.
Students come from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Inver College recognises the principle of equality of access. It has an open admissions policy and students of all levels of academic ability are catered for. A number of newcomer students attend the school. Enrolment figures have recently shown a recovery from a previous dip to the current year enrolment of 527 students, 321 boys and 206 girls. The school is included in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), the action plan of the Department of Education and Science for educational inclusion and it participates in the School Completion Programme (SCP).
The policies and practices of Inver College give clear expression to the school’s mission statement that puts the student at the centre of everything the school does. The mission statement has recently been reviewed and as a means of making it more widely accessible there are plans to display it in classrooms and at the school’s entrance. This is good practice.
A warm and friendly atmosphere was evident in the school during the evaluation and this was supported by comments of members of the board of management and the parents’ association. Students were greeted by their teachers on corridors and in their interactions with inspectors they were courteous and confident. During the evaluation it was evident that the school operates in a well-organised manner and with a clear sense of purpose. By providing a wide range of programmes and subjects the school caters for the educational needs of the community it serves in that young people of different backgrounds are educated together in a co-educational Christian atmosphere. Students described the school as being friendly, accepting and having a positive and relaxed atmosphere.
The VEC supports the school in policy development and has provided training for members of the board of management. There is very good communication between the school principal and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the VEC who regularly visits the school.
The current board of management was formed within recent weeks, and is properly constituted as a sub-committee of the VEC. Members of the board of management demonstrated an awareness of its role and responsibilities and plan to engage fully in the management and governance of the school. Some members of the current board have served on previous boards and bring a wealth of experience which will support the board in its management of the school. The eleven members of the board plan to meet regularly in line with previous practice where four or five meetings were held annually.
The board identified a number of priorities for the future development of the school, including the development of the physical infrastructure and the need to maintain student enrolment. Members of the board stated that they would like to develop excellence amongst the students in all aspects of school life and identified the provision of first class facilities as a necessary step to achieve this. The board is keen to support improvement in student achievement. Policy development and curriculum provision will be the ongoing focus of the board’s attention with a view to continuous improvement, for example the completion of the DEIS action plan and a review of class organisation in the junior cycle. In establishing priorities for the school the BOM should do so within the context of set timeframes. The board intends to promote greater engagement between the student council and the board and between students and the VEC.
The board acknowledged the commitment of teachers to their students and confidently expressed the view that while the quality of teaching and learning is a priority for the board it is the least of its concerns. The extensive range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities provided for students was also appreciated by the board.
Proper procedures are in place for board meetings. Minutes of meetings were provided to the evaluation team. These indicated that agendas are provided prior to meetings and decisions are arrived at by consensus following lengthy discussions and ensuring that decisions where in line with current legislation. The principal makes a report to each board meeting including a financial report. An agreed report to be communicated to staff and parents should be issued after each board meeting in line with best practice. This will ensure uniformity of communication with all stakeholders.
The principal has a clear vision for the future development of the school. He is committed to supporting the staff and he encourages the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of school life. Managing the day-to-day operation of the school, increasing enrolment and giving direction to the future development of the school were identified as key areas of the principal’s role. The support and active involvement of the whole-school community is seen by the principal as crucial in building a school where the focus in on the welfare of students and where the ideals set out in the mission statement inform school policies and practices. He enjoys the confidence of the board, parents’ association, teaching staff and students.
The principal and deputy principal work well together as the school's senior management team. Their different talents and interests complement each other and this is recognised and appreciated by both. They share a commitment to developing individual students’ strengths and they want students to be proud of their school. Their relationship is characterised by a willingness to discuss issues as they arise and a desire for openness and co-operation. They maintain a prominent presence on corridors and in the staff room. They meet after school every day and there is ongoing communication throughout the day. It is suggested that the senior management team sets aside some time to focus on planning for the medium and long-term development of the school. Both members of the senior management team are relatively recent appointments. The principal was appointed in September 2008, while the deputy principal has held that position since 2006. Since the appointment of the principal the senior management team members have been developing functions in relation to their respective roles. It is recommended that the senior management team reviews what they have achieved to date and that its members agree a clear set of duties appropriate to their respective roles.
Good communications, both formal and informal, exist between the senior management team and the rest of the teaching staff. Notice boards in the staff room contribute to this. One is used for daily announcements and a weekly bulletin of upcoming events is prepared by the deputy principal. These are some of the ways of maintaining contact between teachers and the senior-management team. Both teachers and parents expressed appreciation for the ‘open door’ and supportive approach of principal and deputy principal. Staff meetings are held six times during the school year and teachers are invited to submit items for discussion. Teachers are also able to raise issues under any other business and this reflects the open attitude of the senior management team. The principal welcomes open discussions and expressed faith in the staff to make decisions that keep the interests of the students to the fore.
The work of the senior management team is supported by the middle-management team of seven assistant principals, seven special-duties teachers and a programmes co-ordinator. At the time of the evaluation the middle management team was depleted by the recent retirement of two assistant principals and four special-duties teachers. The school is currently engaged in a review of the post of responsibility structure. A number of non-post holders have assumed responsibility for roles previously undertaken as part of post of responsibility duties by teachers who are now retired. This has been appreciated by senior management. An example of this is the co-ordination of the Transition Year (TY) programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). It is recommended that the review of the post of responsibility structure be completed as a matter of priority and that the current needs of the school be prominent in the identification of post duties. This will require flexibility on the part of existing post holders. In this review clear duties attaching to each post should be identified and care should be taken in relation to the range of duties and the levels of responsibility attaching to the different posts. Assigning teachers to posts should be on the basis of the school’s needs but should also take into account the interests and talents of teachers with a view to building capacity within the school. In discussions held with post holders it was suggested that there is need for a teacher who would assume responsibility for providing support for newcomer students especially those students for whom English is an additional language. In line with best practice it is recommended that the schedule of posts be reviewed on a regular basis so as to ensure that the changing needs of the school are catered for. It is good practice that, where appropriate, holders of posts of responsibility should consider the production of a development plan for their individual areas of responsibility.
A timetabled meeting of assistant principals with the principal and deputy principal is held each Monday. This in effect is a meeting of those who are year heads and assistant principals who have other duties may attend as appropriate. However, there is no weekly timetabled meeting at which all assistant principals attend. There is need to maintain minutes of these meetings as a means of recording decisions arrived at and to facilitate future planning. It is considered by the principal that assistant principals as well as carrying out specific duties also have a significant input into the development of the school. Senior management meets post holders informally in relation to specific duties. The principal is keen to develop a culture of distributed leadership amongst all post holders. As a means of developing this meetings of all post holders should take place perhaps as part of school planning days.
Inver College has in place an admissions policy which was ratified by the board in May 2009. This policy reflects a policy on admission to second-level schools developed by County Monaghan VEC. In line with best practice this policy is open and inclusive. It clearly sets out enrolment procedures, prioritised admission criteria, arrangements for the transfer of students and sets out the grounds for the refusal to admit a student. Copies of a student enquiry form, student enrolment form and application to transfer form were provided to the evaluation team. It is necessary to customise this generic policy to the specific circumstances of Inver College, for example by providing a list of its feeder schools.
Representatives of parents and students expressed satisfaction with the implementation of the code of behaviour. They stated that issues were dealt with promptly but with sensitivity and that teachers are supportive. The code of behaviour is currently being reviewed and a copy of the existing code was provided to inspectors. The publication of the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools will be useful in carrying out this review. The current code of behaviour reflects the school’s mission statement. In the preamble to the code it is stated that it was formulated to ensure that every student benefits to the maximum from attendance at Inver College. The code recognises that appreciation and reassurance are more effective motivators than punishment or blame.
A significant development in the management of students was the appointment of a positive behaviour liaison (PBL) teacher and the setting up of a strategy group to initiate, plan for and actively support strategies for positive behaviour within a whole-school context. Record keeping by this group is impressive as was evident in minutes provided to the evaluation team. The establishment of a care team on the initiative of the strategy group will further support students and is referred to in section 5.1 of this report. The commitment and dedication of this group has resulted in a number of very positive initiatives which have resulted in improved student engagement with the school. These initiatives include a red card system to be used when students are out of class with permission, a blue card system to create league tables between classes to ensure students bring required materials to class, commendation cards to recognise positive contributions by students to school life and a postcard system to acknowledge and celebrate students’ effort. A notable feature of this is the design of postcards by students.
Inver College has a student council in place that is drawn from senior students and it is at an early stage of development. A head boy and head girl is elected by a vote of students and staff. There is a commitment by school management to extend representation on the council to all years and the appointment of a council-liaison teacher should support the development of the council’s role in the school. The council meets weekly and minutes are kept. Student council members have been involved in planning for a ‘debs’ celebration at the end of the year, see themselves as representing students’ views and recognise their responsibility in providing appropriate role models. There are plans to provide a post-box for students where they can provide suggestions. Members of the council have asked for storage facilities for school bags which could prove to be a health and safety issue by being left on corridors and for hand dryers to be installed in toilets. Badges are to be provided and council member photographs are to be displayed in the school as a means of enabling the general student body to recognise members of the council. The board expressed the wish to have members of the council attend parts of some board of management meetings. To benefit from this worthwhile initiative students will need to be clear as to the purpose of the meeting and to be prepared to make a constructive input. The following suggestions are made in relation to enhancing the role of the council in Inver College: students could contribute to the school’s newsletters, a brief report on council activities and items for inclusion on agendas could be discussed at morning assemblies. Plans to develop a constitution for the council will be supported by resources provided during the evaluation. Further support is provided by the Student Council Second Level Support Service (www.studentcouncil.ie). A subcommittee of the council could engage with the Green-Schools programme. This would be a means of further increasing the profile of the council and of increasing environmental awareness in the school. The acquisition of a Green Flag would further stimulate environmental awareness.
Attendance, which has been identified as a serious problem for the school, is monitored both in the morning and afternoon and initiatives of the strategy group referred to above have been successful in achieving improved attendance Teachers also monitor attendance by keeping records in their individual classes. Returns are made as required to the NEWB and support for monitoring attendance is provided by the school’s participation in the SCP. Students coming late for school are also monitored and are required to report to the main office to sign a late book. Information supplied by the school shows that retention rates have improved in recent years and that initiatives introduced to support student retention are having positive effects.
A parents’ association has been in place in the school for some considerable time and a new committee is formed annually following an annual general meeting. The committee meets six times per year. The parents’ association has played a key role in fundraising activities which made a major contribution to the development of sports facilities and to the re-development of one of the engineering workshops. Members of the committee have also been involved in policy formation, notably in relation to the school uniform, substance abuse policy and child protection policy. As a means of increasing the profile of the parents’ association in the school it is recommended that the committee be invited to contribute to the school’s newsletter. Members could also play an active role in welcoming parents to the school on enrolment night.
Parents indicated that they are welcomed in the school and expressed their appreciation for the care and concern shown for students by management and staff. They also expressed appreciation for the co-curricular and extracurricular programme. Parents stated that students are happy in school and when issues arise they are dealt with promptly. They welcomed the introduction of Agricultural Science as a means of providing a subject with particular relevance to the local farming community. There is a commitment by the principal and the staff to building positive and supportive relationships with parents and this was acknowledged by parents’ representatives. Teachers are proactive in contacting parents if concerned about students’ welfare. Communication with the parent body will be further enhanced by the recent appointment of a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator to fill a vacancy arising from a recent retirement. The school website provides a further means of communication with the wider community.
The school’s mission statement refers to serving the local community and the school has developed positive relationships with that community. The provision of adult education classes, notably English as a foreign language reflects the school’s desire to serve the needs of the local community. School awards are sponsored by local businesses and a bursary is provided by a local industry for Leaving Certificate students of Business and Accounting and those students taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. The provision of work experience placements in the local community is appreciated by the school. The school makes its sports facilities available to some local sports clubs.
Inver College has a dedicated and well-qualified teaching staff whose members are committed to implementing the ideals set out in the school’s mission statement. They regularly engage in continuing professional development (CPD) and a number of teachers hold or are pursuing post-graduate qualifications. Teachers are allocated to the school by the VEC in accordance with resources available to the VEC and with the needs of the school. In addition to its general allocation based on student numbers, the school is in receipt of additional staffing resources in respect of students with special educational needs, Traveller students, and language support for students whose first language is other than English. The school also has a HSCL co-ordinator post, teacher allocations for the programmes on offer in the school and a guidance allocation. The deployment of teachers complies with Department regulations and requirements and takes into account teachers’ qualifications, expertise and experience. The school uses its allocations to support teaching and learning very effectively. Teaching time for subjects is allocated in accordance with syllabus recommendations for various subjects and programmes. The school benefits from the presence of two full-time special needs assistants.
An examination of the school’s timetable indicated that it is five minutes short in terms of complying fully with the requirements of Circular Letter Time in School, M29/95. An assembly time of ten minutes each morning is used for roll call and for discussion of a variety of topics, sometimes relating to the implementation of school directives. It is suggested that part of this time could be used for reports on student-council activities or for students to deliver a thought for the day.
Support for new members of staff is provided in Inver College. The range of supports includes an induction process and the provision of an Induction Guide to Inver College, which includes a copy of Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary schools. Although there have been a significant number of new appointments to the school in recent years due to retirements, there is an evident sense of collegiality amongst staff as they work together across the many facets of school life.
Members of the secretarial, caretaking, cleaning and canteen staff provide invaluable support for the school in general and for school management in particular. They operate as an integral part of the school community.
Accommodation in Inver College is provided in the original school building dating from 1958 and in a number of additions since then, including a number of prefabricated classrooms. The buildings and grounds are well maintained although the board identified concerns in relation to structural problems in the original school building and discussions have taken place with the VEC in relation to the replacement of this structure. Impressive door signs, in Irish, designed and made by the collaborative efforts of a number of subject departments are displayed on classroom doors. A notable feature of the school is the range of specialist rooms available and the recent upgrading of these rooms. There are improvements planned for a woodwork room and a new science laboratory is considered, by school management, to be necessary to cater for the number of students studying the sciences. Some shortcomings in relation to Home Economics still exist, however. The introduction of teacher-based classrooms has been used by teachers to create stimulating learning environments and in line with best practice students’ work is displayed and celebrated in both classrooms and on corridors. The decoration of the school by art students for festivals such as Halloween and Christmas help to create a positive and engaging atmosphere in the school. The school also has a sports hall with storage and changing facilities. A canteen where breakfasts and lunches are served as part of the SCP supports is available to all students.
The development of information and communications technology (ICT) is a priority for the school and this is reflected in the assignment of responsibility for ICT co-ordination to an assistant principal. The school has two computer rooms one of which has been upgraded recently to cater for Design and Communication Graphics (DCG). ICT facilities are provided in the staffroom, in the school library and data projectors have been provided in a number of classrooms. It is clear that investment in these resources is worthwhile particularly as teachers and students are using them for research and presentation purposes.
A health and safety policy based on the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989 is in place and an external audit is carried out annually. Some information in the safety statement is out of date. It needs to be reviewed and updated, taking into account the particular circumstances of Inver College and more recent legislation. A log is maintained in the office for fire drills and accidents. At the time of the evaluation, no fire drill had been held so far in the current school year. It is important that fire drills take place periodically.
The school community has effectively engaged with the school development planning initiative (SDPI). The planning process is supported by the provision of planning time by school management, by the appointment of a planning co-ordinator in December 2008 and by the establishment of a steering committee to oversee the planning process in the school. Support for the planning process is also provided by the VEC through the work of the education support officer. The co-ordinator using school records identified and recorded developments over the five year period from 2004 to 2009. This exercise identified what progress had been made and formed the basis for the development of a plan for the next five years which is in the process of being prepared. Use was made of the diagnostic-window technique to identify staff concerns and these included: school uniform, timetabling issues and in-house examinations and the school musical. Steering committees were formed to address these issues and membership was open to all members of staff, thus reflecting the inclusive ethos of the school. A stated aim of the board is to focus on and to improve the academic standards of students. The teaching staff has been surveyed in relation to this with the intention of establishing clear measurable goals by which progress can be achieved. In developing a plan for the future development of the school clear achievable targets should be identified to be delivered within set timeframes. The planning process has been inclusive involving staff, parents and the board of management. Parents had an input into discussions around school uniform. The review of the code of behaviour and the anti-bullying policy will provide a further opportunity to engage parents and members of the student council in the planning process. Other areas currently the focus of planning were identified including completion of the DEIS three-year action plan and the review of the schedule of duties attaching to posts of responsibility.
A copy of the school plan was provided to the evaluation team and this indicated that planning at a whole-school level is taking place. Commendably this begins with the school’s mission statement and contains policy documents and information relating to the organisation and key roles within the school. A list of policies ratified by the board and those under review is also included in the plan. Those polices ratified include the admissions policy and the substance use policy while those under review include the code of behaviour and anti-bullying policy. The board has also adopted a number of policies provided by the VEC, for example those relating to data protection and dignity at work. The good practice of including the date of ratification and the date for the planned review on policy documents is noted. It is recommended that this plan be reorganised into permanent and developmental sections.
Planning documentation provided to the evaluation team in relation to the various curricular programmes being offered by the school indicates that the delivery of these programmes is being appropriately planned. This reflects a committed approach to the co-ordination and delivery of these programmes. Subject department planning is well-advanced and plans for subjects were provided during the evaluation process. Subject co-ordinators are in place for most subjects and work collaboratively with the members of the subject departments. All subject departments should have co-ordinators and this role could be rotated amongst the teachers. It was noted that in some subject department plans learning outcomes were outlined and these were then linked to curriculum content. This is very good practice as it places the student at the centre of the planning process. Some subject department plans also contain specific targets for the development of the subject. This should be included in all subject department plans. Subject departments have begun to evaluate student outcomes as part of the planning process and this is commended. It was noted during the evaluation that recommendations made in previous subject inspection reports have largely been implemented and this deserves to be acknowledged.
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. All members of the school community, teaching and ancillary staff should be provided with a refresher session on these guidelines periodically.
Inver College offers a very broad range of programmes and subjects to cater for the needs of students enrolled in the school. This reflects the inclusive ethos of the school and its desire to provide for the diversity of its students. All curricular programmes available are provided in the school: the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
Guided by the ideals of its mission statement and its desire to provide an appropriate curriculum for its students, the organisation of the junior-cycle teaching programme has been monitored and reviewed in recent years. This is a true reflection of the school’s commitment. In the current school year and a new approach, four class groups were created in first year. One class group follows the JCSP programme and has a restricted curriculum in order to provide extra support for literacy and numeracy in line with aims of the programme. Students in the other three groups were placed in mixed-ability classes in September. Following a mid-term assessment these three class groups were divided into two bands. One band consists of two class groups of mixed ability and the other band contains one class group with educational support needs. Reorganising the class structures at this early stage may not give students sufficient time to come to terms with their new subjects and to settle into post-primary school. It is recommended that mixed ability, with ‘setting’ introduced for some subjects at appropriate points, be retained as the method of class organisation in the junior cycle. Setting would enable students to be grouped according to ability for some subjects. The introduction of setting should be guided by the differing subject requirements. Reflecting the recommendations of the subject inspection reports, setting should be introduced for Irish at the end of the first term in first year and for English and Mathematics at the end of first year. The arrangement for allocating students to class groups should be kept under review and adaptations made when appropriate until the optimal position is reached.
A copy of the school’s plan for SPHE was provided to inspectors. SPHE is appropriately timetabled with one period per week being provided for each junior cycle class. A Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy statement was made available and this indicates that RSE is being delivered within the SPHE programme in junior cycle and within the Religious Education (RE) programme in senior cycle in accordance with Circular Letter 0027/2008. Other subjects such as Science and Home Economics will also provide additional support to the RSE programme. Senior students also receive a half-day workshop from an external agency and positive feedback has been received from students in relation to this.
A policy document on JCSP in Inver College was provided to inspectors. This policy and discussions held during the evaluation indicated that the programme is being co-ordinated effectively and shows many examples of good practice. Some examples of good practice include the criteria used to select students for the programme, the involvement of parents, the supports provided by the SCP and ongoing monitoring and review of the programme. The paired reading programme involving students from TY and the introduction of team-teaching are important initiatives in supporting students’ literacy development.
To ensure the centrality of students’ needs and aspirations the school should continue to operate flexibility in the organisation of the JCSP. The school should ensure that if JCSP students are in a separate class group they should have some opportunities to participate with other students in some classes, for example in the optional subjects or in SPHE. The school should monitor and review the range of subjects offered to JCSP students so as to ensure they have a sufficiently broad and balanced curriculum and experience success in their studies. In reviewing the JCSP reference should be made to Building on Success: An evaluation of the JCSP published by the inspectorate.
On completion of the junior cycle, students are offered four optional programmes for senior cycle. Students can choose the TY programme or on entering fifth year can choose between the established Leaving Certificate, the LCVP or the LCA. These senior cycle programmes are planned for and organised in accordance with regulations and programme guidelines. The school deserves to be acknowledged for offering the widest possible range of curricular programmes at senior cycle and in so doing is catering for the needs of the diversity of its students.
The inspection team found that the TY, which has been offered in the school since 2005, provides many examples of good practice reflecting a committed approach to the co-ordination and delivery of the programme. The current group of students consists of a good balance between boys and girls and commendably all applicants have a discussion with the co-ordinator as part of the application process. It would be useful to clarify the criteria used for admission to this programme. The programme is evaluated and reviewed and this has resulted in the addition of Music to the planned teaching programme. The good practice of evaluation was evident in some subject areas; this should be extended to include more aspects of the programme.
The LCVP has been offered in the school since 2001. It is delivered by the collaborative efforts of the business studies teachers, the guidance department, ICT teachers and the programmes co-ordinator and it shows many features of a well-organised programme. .Students are encouraged to follow this programme where possible. To encourage this ab initio French is provided and the addition of Agricultural Science may also improve uptake. The members of core team meet informally on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that some time be set aside for the team to meet formally so as to plan for and to review progress. Minutes should also be kept of all formal meetings as a means of recording progress and to facilitate planning. The good practice of review has resulted in some changes in the programme, for example the career investigation recorded interview is now placed on tape as this method is more suited to the students’ abilities.
The LCA is also effectively co-ordinated and planned. Parents and students are appropriately informed about the LCA and students who would most benefit are selected and offered places. Support for students is provided through the SCP and through liaison between the LCA team and the learning-support department. The vocational specialisms currently on offer are Graphics and Construction and Engineering although these are reviewed and changed from time to time. There are only a small number of girls taking the LCA and as a means of addressing this it is recommended that the vocational specialisms offered be reviewed so as to make these more attractive to girls.
Work experience is co-ordinated by the programmes co-ordinator with support from the TY co-ordinator and the guidance department. Students in most cases acquire their own placements. Students are appropriately prepared and receive feedback on their work placement based on an evaluation form provided by the school to employers. Contact is made with employers during the placement time to ensure attendance and to discuss any problems which may have arisen. This is good practice.
For the Leaving Certificate the core subjects provided to students are: Irish, English, Mathematics, RE, Guidance and Physical Education (PE). They then choose four subjects from a wide range of subjects. This broad range of subjects has resulted from the school’s decision to plan an appropriate curriculum to cater for the abilities and interests of its student body and to create an inclusive school community in line with its mission statement. There are a number of students who are repeating the Leaving Certificate through a one-year enrolment in current sixth year in Inver College. Discussions held during the evaluation indicated that these students would benefit from the appointment of a dedicated liaison teacher. The evaluation team considers this to be a worthwhile development.
Students and parents are well supported in making educational choices in Inver College. There is close liaison with primary schools through the SCP and the principal usually visits the feeder schools in November, speaks to pupils and distributed the school prospectus. A transfer programme is delivered by the SCP in some primary schools. An open night is held where parents and students visit the school. Enrolment takes place in February and students are assessed shortly afterwards.
In the current school year first-year students made some subject choices prior to entry. Students choose three subjects from the following list: Materials Technology (Wood), Metalwork, Technical Graphics and Home Economics. This required students to choose subjects without any prior knowledge or experience of the subject and required them to choose from this set list of subjects rather than from the full list of subjects on offer in the school. They then studied a wide range of subjects until October when they chose subjects to study for the junior certificate. An information evening is held for parents in October to support subject decision making. While the school has a broad range of subjects available, the organisation of the junior-cycle curriculum at present impacts negatively on the breadth of the curriculum programme studied by students, for example students may study one subject only of History or Geography. It is recommended that the junior cycle curriculum provision in the school be reviewed so as to ensure that all students have as broad and as balanced curriculum as possible.
A support programme for students in relation to moving into the senior cycle is also in place. Students undertake aptitude tests in the second term in third year. This is undertaken by the guidance department. The guidance counsellors meet each third-year student in relation to programme and subject choice. For those students in TY the guidance counsellors again provide support and advice in relation to subject choice. An information evening is held for parents and students to discuss senior-cycle options when the guidance counsellors and programme co-ordinator make presentations. The inclusion of parents and along with students in this information evening is good practice. Students are also provided with a booklet with information on individual Leaving Certificate subjects. As mentioned earlier in this report admission to the various programmes is based on student choice and on what programme would best suit the individual student’s interests and abilities. Application forms are reviewed by the relevant year heads and programme co-ordinators. Students are provided with an open choice of subjects for the Leaving Certificate. This is evident in the changing structure of the option bands from year to year. A bonding trip is held for TY and LCA students in September and this is praiseworthy.
All students are encouraged to become involved in some of these activities which are seen as a means of building pride in the school, of fostering co-operation amongst staff and students and of supporting the inclusive ethos of the school. All of this is in keeping with the school’s mission statement of fostering the full human potential of students. At the same time high standards of achievement are aspired to in the many sporting activities provided by the school. It is noteworthy that the range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities is provided both within school hours and after school. These activities include cultural, artistic and sporting dimensions. It is noteworthy also that a social awareness dimension is included as ‘Inver Social Action’. Students raise funds for local and international charities through various activities.
Team and individual sports for both boys and girls, school musical events, BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, the establishment of a school bank, the decoration of the school for seasonal events, cookery competitions, Seachtain na Gaeilge events, homework club, trips of an educational and cultural nature both within Ireland and abroad all play their part in providing rich learning and enjoyable experiences for students.
Subject inspection reports indicate predominantly positive findings in regard to the development of planning within the five areas inspected. In each case there is acknowledgement of the progress made to date. This ranges from the very positive findings of well-developed planning, to a more tepid acknowledgment of some progress. The main shortcoming in planning relates to a failure to reflect adequately in the planning documentation the very good work that is taking place in teaching and learning on a day-to-day basis.
Reports are highly affirming of teachers’ attachment to their subjects and to their enthusiasm for developing the subject departments. The cohesion evident among the teachers is noted along with a good collaborative spirit and high level of collegial support that prevails within the subject departments. The good practice of rotating the position of subject co-ordinator is noted in some reports and forms a recommendation in another as a means of improving professional development and encouraging the contribution of fresh ideas for the improvement of the subject.
It is noted with approval that subject department meetings are held regularly whether formally within a whole-school schedule or informally during non-class-contact time. The good practice of maintaining minutes as a record of matters discussed and decisions taken is noted. It is recommended that copies of records of subject department meetings be provided to senior management.
Subject plans were provided to inspectors in all cases. From the descriptions provided these appear to follow a common template setting out the organisation, planning, delivery and assessment of each subject. Schemes of work or programme plans for each year group form the most substantial element of the subject plans and this central focus on teaching and learning is commended. Syllabus-referenced plans are noted with approval along with urging that a focus on the aims of the syllabus is retained in the plans for certificate-examination years. Recommendations on the further development of the plans are made in all cases.
It is notable that subject inspection reports ascribe best practice in the writing of schemes of work for teaching and learning to the subject programme plans for TY, JCSP and LCA. A further development of a focus on learning is recommended in most of the plans. A recommendation common to most reports is the exhortation to describe course content and topics in terms of learning outcomes for the students, specifically what students should know or be able to do at the end of a topic or practical activity.
The inclusion in planning documentation of teaching methodologies, the resources necessary and the modes of assessment is recommended in some instances. This recommendation is again made in the interests of bringing the written planning documentation into line with the very good practices already operating. Reflection and review of the subject plans is noted as features of current practice in some instances together with attention to the benefits of ongoing review and a need to include reflection and review as a distinct section of the subject plan. The intention in this recommendation is to provide internal evidence in planning documentation of attention to maintaining plans as current, relevant and true to the approaches and methodologies acknowledged to be operating.
Subject inspection reports conclude that reflection and review of the subject plans would be better achieved by a collaborative consideration of teaching methods and the sharing of ideas and personal experiences as a regular item of subject meetings. The high quality of relations and collegiality among the subject teachers and attachment to their subjects identified in the subject inspection reports indicates that this is a natural area for development. It can contribute a great deal to the school’s ongoing concern with improvement, specifically with the whole-school commitment to raising student expectations and academic achievement.
In this context a recommendation is made in one instance for consideration of agreeing an action plan for the subject. This is a challenging move that goes beyond the areas normally associated with subject department planning. Such a plan would have the aim of raising the standing of the subject in the school and communicating that message beyond the school. The self-confidence and cohesion among the team of subject teachers concerned suggests this is a viable and attainable goal.
In almost all of the lessons observed, the teachers communicated the planned learning outcomes of the lesson to the students at the outset. This is a good practice which should be extended to all lessons. Communicating the planned learning outcomes to the students provides a clear focus for the students and helps them take responsibility for their own learning.
There was evidence of good short-term planning and the preparation of some well-chosen resources for the lessons observed. This resulted in lessons that had a clear structure and a logical sequence and, generally, lesson pace and content were appropriate to the level of the students. Teachers created links with previous lessons and this served to provide a context for new learning.
Teachers went to great efforts to ensure that students understood the concepts and processes of the lessons. In some instances there was a very good focus on the use of subject-specific key terminology. A number of lessons provided students with opportunities for the application of knowledge. A range of teaching styles and strategies helped to stimulate and maintain student interest and there were some very good examples of the successful use of active learning methodologies. Active learning was most successful when all students engaged with the task on hand and when the strategies chosen resulted in a good balance between teacher input and student activity. In order to facilitate the varying learning styles of students and to reduce the amount of teacher-led learning activities where students may remain passive, it is recommended that greater use should be made of active learning methodologies. Such activities also help students become independent learners.
In a number of subject areas evaluated inspectors recommended that teachers should raise expectations for students and challenge them to a greater degree. This would be consistent with the whole-school focus on taking steps to improve the academic standards of students.
Classroom management was very good and there was evidence of a good rapport between teachers and their students. Student participation was encouraged and were appropriately affirmed for their efforts.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and at the end of the summer term for students in first year, second year and fifth year. Common questions are set as appropriate for class groups within each year. This good practice allows comparison of students’ progress while facilitating careful planning to meet their needs and is commended. Assessments are held three times during the school year for TY students. Third-year and sixth-year students also sit mid-term assessment tests at the end of October and these are followed in the spring term by pre-certificate examinations.
Teachers maintain very good records of students’ achievements and these inform reports sent home to parents. Parents are also kept informed of their children’s progress through a variety of means, including the homework journal, which is used as a mode of communication between home and school. Annual parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group and parents may request a meeting with teachers to discuss their children’s progress.
Students’ progress is closely monitored by teacher observation. Questioning is well used throughout lessons to check on understanding, learning and students’ previous knowledge. The use of a range of higher-order questions provides students with opportunities to think, to form opinions and to apply their knowledge. There is scope to further develop this practice. Students’ progress in subjects is regularly reviewed in the context of the appropriateness of class level placement and this information is shared among teachers as a regular item of subject planning meetings. It was evident from the review of student copybooks and folders that the standard of presentation of student work is generally high. Teachers routinely monitor student work and this contributes to these high standards.
It is good that, for some subjects, each student is provided with the programme of work for their year group and level. This is a very valuable approach as it enables students to break the course into manageable sections and helps to prevent students from becoming overwhelmed particularly in the preparation for examinations. Students of some subjects are also given relevant sections of marking schemes from past certificate examination papers. These practices help them prepare for the examination by developing proficiency in the interpretation and answering of various styles of examination questions.
Appropriate homework is set and corrected regularly. Work is assessed through the provision of oral feedback on skills development, this occurs in particular in the case of practical subjects. In some cases advantage is taken of Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices, where helpful teacher comments provide students with affirmation and, where necessary, suggestions for development. It is recommended that the use of AfL principles be extended to all subject areas. Further information on AfL is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
A more thorough analysis of statistical data relating to student participation rates at the various levels in the subject and student achievement in the certificate examinations is urged. Such information can help in subject department self-review, in providing a fuller account of the standing of a subject in the school, and in identifying attainable targets for improvement.
Inver College has in place a comprehensive range of measures to support the educational, behavioural and psychological needs of its student population. The range of supports provided include: a class tutor, year head, a guidance department, a positive behaviour initiative and ‘Learning Zone’ classroom, SCP, HSCL co-ordinator and a rewards system. The SNAs cater very effectively for the care needs of students.
The school has established a behavioural support classroom under the guidance of the National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS). Two experienced teachers are engaged full time in the unit known as ‘the Learning Zone’. They ensure overall co-ordination as well as ongoing communication with senior management, parents, subject teachers and outside agencies. Entry into the class is decided following discussion by a team established for this purpose, consisting of the teachers who manage the support classroom, year heads, PBL teacher and senior management. Students follow a four to six week programme and are then reintegrated into mainstream classes. The provision of a dedicated room, which is appropriately furnished and decorated, has enabled students to be supported and to develop coping strategies which will facilitate their return to mainstream classes. The teachers involved are commended for their level of commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to the students in their care.
A care team has been established in the school as part of the positive behaviour programme and the work of this team is very well supported by the whole staff. The primary purpose of the team is to offer appropriate support to students in need of such support and to make staff aware of students who are experiencing difficulties and may need attention. This role of the care team is communicated to parents by letter and students are made aware of the members of the care team through notices posted in the school. To ensure all parents are aware of the existence and function of the care team the care structures in the school are explained to first-year parents on enrolment night. The purpose of the care team is also explained to teachers, the board and the parents’ association. The level of communication is very good practice.
Through the work of the care team clear structures are in place to make teachers aware of students who are experiencing difficulties. The care team meets weekly, and minutes are maintained of meetings. The members of the team undertake to meet individually with identified students who are in need of support. Records should be maintained of all interventions with students. A psychologist funded by the NBSS works therapeutically with students on three days per week. Students are brought to the attention of the care team by year heads, class tutors, by other students and students may self refer. Links have been established between the SEN team and the care team, a guidance counsellor is a member of both teams and this is very good practice as it ensures a comprehensive approach to supporting students. The commitment and dedication of the members of the care team was particularly evident to inspectors during the evaluation and this deserves to be acknowledged. The care team also links with outside agencies as a means of providing further supports to students, for example the Health Services Executive (HSE) and Barnardos. Extra support is delivered through the SCP, including a student support worker who works in class with targeted students and helps in the after-school homework club.
The school has begun to develop a care policy which will form part of the code of behaviour, currently under review. It is recommended that the development of a care policy should encompass all the good practices in the school and centre on achieving an integrated approach to the care of students.
A clear ladder of referral is in place in the school. Discipline issues are situated clearly within a caring context. In line with best practice documents provided indicate that there has been a clear definition of the roles of year head and class tutor. The year head position is clearly seen as playing a key role in the management of students and in working with all staff in creating an effective environment for learning. The class tutor working with the respective year head aims to provide a caring support for students. An anti-bullying policy is in place. An anti-bullying committee delivers training to first, second and third years annually, and the SCP provides drama workshops on this theme.
A draft policy in relation to students with special educational needs was provided to the evaluation team. This will be a general policy for the VEC to meet legislative requirements and then appendices will be used to customise this for Inver College. This draft policy reaffirms the school’s desire to be an inclusive school and sets the policy within the context of the school’s mission statement. It is recommended that in further developing this policy reference should be made to the documents Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines issued by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science and to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) document Exceptionally Able Students: Draft Guidelines for Teachers.
A learning support co-ordinator has been appointed who manages very effectively the work of a small core group of teachers who deliver support to students. The core team meets on staff days and there is ongoing informal communication between members of the core team and other members of staff. A number of teachers hold or are in the process of acquiring specialist qualifications in the area of special education or in teaching English as a second language. Whole staff in-service has been provided in this area. A number of models are used to deliver support to students and the introduction of team teaching has proved to be effective. In line with best practice teachers are provided with information in relation to students with special educational needs in their classes and have been provided with a booklet outlining appropriate teaching strategies. Students are assessed prior to entry and information is also supplied by parents and through the SCP. Some diagnostic testing takes place after entry. The SCP also provides a classroom assistant and organises the homework club as a means of providing support to students. There are good links with external agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the special educational needs organiser (SENO) and reasonable accommodations are sought from the State Examinations Commission (SEC).
The school welcomes students from outside Ireland and during the evaluation two such students were enrolled. It was evident that these students were welcomed in the school as teachers and students began to provide practical support. Copies of the school’s code of behaviour have been translated into Polish and Lithuanian and were available at the school’s entrance. This is further evidence of the inclusive ethos of Inver College. Students receive language support by being withdrawn from Irish and RE class. It is recommended that the focus on language teaching should be on enabling students to access the curriculum and not just learn English as a second language. All subject teachers should keep in mind the literacy needs of students and to ensure that the language register used is appropriate. This is particularly important in the case of EAL students. The school is commended for implementing recommendations made in the English subject inspection report in relation to teaching English as a second language.
Inver College receives an ex-quota allocation of twenty-two hours per week for Guidance and a further allocation of eleven hours under the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). Two qualified guidance counsellors, one of whom is shared with another school, deliver the guidance programme. The guidance counsellors are allocated 31.5 of these hours to deliver the guidance programme. Schools are expected to allocate all of the ex-quota hours received for Guidance for that purpose and this issue has been raised in the subject inspection report on Guidance related to this report.
There is close liaison between the guidance counsellors and other members of the school community. In addition to providing group and personal guidance to students the guidance counsellors contribute to many aspects of school life including support for the LCVP and the care team. The guidance department also plays a role in a parenting programme delivered in the school. It is planned to review the effectiveness of the guidance service at the end of the current school year and commendably this will include ascertaining students’ views.
A guidance plan and a critical incident response plan have been developed and in the next review the inclusion of members of the local business community was identified as an objective. The critical incidence response plan was completed four years ago and was reviewed in September 2009. Priorities identified by the guidance department include making students aware of the vocational challenge facing them and the need to plan future careers. The guidance department sees itself as being not just an information service but as a means to develop life skills in students which will enable them to cope effectively. Further recommendations in relation to the guidance provision and planning in Inver College are contained in the Subject Report of Guidance included with this report.
Students’ achievements and efforts are acknowledged and celebrated by the holding of a number of awards ceremonies toward the end of the school year. The highlight of these ceremonies is the formal graduation of sixth year students when parents attend. Awards ceremonies are also held for each year group and for the TY students. Student achievement is also celebrated on an ongoing basis by school announcements and displays.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A parents’ association is in place and has played a key role in fundraising and in policy development.
· The school has a dedicated and well-qualified teaching staff whose members are committed to implementing the ideals set out in the school’s mission statement.
· There were some very good examples of the successful use of active learning methodologies in the classrooms visited. In the lessons observed there was positive, affirming and mutually respectful
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the review of posts of responsibility be completed as a matter of priority and that the current needs of the school be prominent in the identification of post duties.
· It is recommended that mixed ability, with ‘setting’ for some subjects, be retained as the method of class organisation in the junior cycle.
· To ensure the centrality of students’ needs and aspirations the school should ensure maximum flexibility in the organisation of the JCSP. In particular, the school should monitor and review
the range of subjects offered to JCSP students.
· The wider use of active learning methods and teaching strategies is recommended. The further use of differentiation will support the delivery of the curriculum in mixed-ability classes.
· It is recommended that the development of a care policy should encompass all the good practices in the school and centre on achieving an integrated approach to the care of students.
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 June 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board is very pleased with the Report. We wish to acknowledge the time and dedication shown by the inspection team. They made the inspection process a worthwhile exercise in reflection and not something to be feared. Their support and advice is much appreciated.
As highlighted in the report, Inver College is dedicated to meeting the needs of all its students and will continue to grow and improve in all areas of school life.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· The Senior Mgt Team meet regularly and will review their roles during June 2010.
· The POR Review has taken place and formal meeting will be held once a term with the Special Duties Teachers as a complement to the weekly Assistant Principal meetings.
· Timetable planning for 2010/2011 is looking to offer a broader range of subjects to 1st Years. All 1st Years will do History and Geography as core subjects.
· The JCSP programme is reviewed annually in order to meet the specific needs of the students involved.
· The Student Council has done a great deal of work in the past 6 months. They have reviewed the school mission statement and have undertaken to create a suitable visual medium for its display throughout the school.
· Since the report the physical environment has been further developed. All rooms now have access to IT facilities and a specialised Hair and Beauty room has been installed. Further development is planned for next year – including a new Science Lab.