An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

 REPORT

 

Coláiste Phobail Ros C

Corville Road Roscrea County Tipperary

Roll number: 76069P

 

Date of inspection: 25 January 2008

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Coláiste Phobail Ros C was undertaken in January 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects and in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects and the programme. (See section 7 for details).   The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

Introduction

 

Coláiste Phobail Ros C, a co-educational community college, was formed in 1999 as a result of the amalgamation of the Sacred Heart Convent School, Roscrea Vocational School and the Christian Brothers’ School. To ensure the maintenace of values, ethos and mission of the three schools, a board of management was established in 1999 in accordance with procedures set down by the model agreement approved by the trustees of the three amalgamating schools. Trustees of each school have representatives on the board of management which operates under the auspices of Tipperary (North Riding) Vocational Education Committee (Tipperary (NR) VEC). The school’s motto ‘Mílaois Nua, Scoil Nua, Ré Nua is inscribed on a monolith at the school gate and encompasses the feeling of new beginnings which surrounded the amalgamated school.

 

Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré has an inclusive student intake and its current enrolment stands at 727. Enrolment figures show a steady increase since 2004 to the present time. Students attending the school come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and are diverse in their ability and educational needs.

 

Coláiste Phobail Ros C is an integral part of the life of the local community and has a substantial Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programme on offer as well as adult education provision. Whilst completed extensions have provided the school with much needed accommodation in the form of specialist and general purpose classrooms as well as a gym, the school reported that, as the ‘provider of post-primary education for the whole community’, they are unable to perform as they would wish’ in serving the educational needs of their pupils. Listed among the main priorities and identified challenges for the future of the school is the continued development of the school building. Management, in conjunction with Tipperary (NR) VEC, is currently planning for a school for around 800 students. Recent trends should see the school reach this target in the near future.

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The ethos and characteristic spirit of each school that was involved in the amalgamation has impacted tangibly on Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré’s mission and vision statement. The school’s mission and vision statements express its desire to provide a caring, supportive school environment where students and staff can achieve personal development through education and where community and cultural heritage are valued. Through its wide curriculum and its range of extracurricular activities, including a broad range of sports, the school lives out its mission statement in its daily activities.

 

Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré aims to serve the whole community in active partnership and this is clearly evident in the day-to-day running of the school. There is a clear sense of community in the school coupled with a good sense of order and discipline and students are actively encouraged to take part in community outreach activities.

 

The school’s Christian ethos is celebrated throughout the year at regular Masses and liturgical celebrations. In addition, the school has a full-time chaplain who is very active in, and committed to, school life. The students engage in a variety of social projects including fundraising for charity. A commendable respect for different faiths is promoted in the school.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The management of the school is shared between the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tipperary (NR) VEC, who has overall executive responsibility for the school, and the school’s board of management, which acts as a sub-committee of the Tipperary (NR) VEC. The powers of the board of management of the school are limited in that the board does not deal with staffing or financial issues. The twelve-person board is constituted in the following manner: three representatives of the VEC, three members nominated by the religious trustees, one representative from either the Church of Ireland or the Methodist Church on an annual rotational basis, two representatives of parents of the school, one male and one female and two representatives of staff, with the school principal acting as secretary to the board. A community representative is also on the board. The board benefits significantly from high levels of educational and leadership expertise among its members.

 

Members of the board have received training for their role and the board is fully compliant with relevant legislation, Department of Education and Science circulars and accepted good practice. The board meets approximately twice per term and meetings are well attended. Communication among board members and between the board and the school community is effective through the agreed report. The board has received the Irish Vocational Education Association handbook for members of school boards and training from Tipperary (NR) VEC. The board engages with its responsibilities and is fully aware of its statutory obligations. The board of management has approved all school policies in place. This is praiseworthy.

 

The board is very supportive of the interests of the school and sees one of its principal roles as the support of school staff in the area of discipline. The board is commended on this. It further seeks to support the school in achieving the school’s identified objectives. The most common issues dealt with at meetings of the board include policy formulation, policy ratification, the school’s buildings and facilities and its objective of attaining extra accommodation for the school. Decision-making at board level is by consensus. Members of the board support the characteristic spirit of the school through attending school functions and by its support of students’ achievements, disciplinary interventions and support of the taster programme in first year. The CEO of Tipperary (NR) VEC is also supportive of the school and was reported to be accessible and available to attend school functions.

 

The board also expressed its concerns about the capacity of the present school buildings to meet the future enrolment of the school in years to come. It is holding ongoing talks with the Department regarding new school buildings through Tipperary (NR) VEC. It has overseen some upgrading of the school’s facilities including a new canteen and oratory. Indeed, the trustees contributed a substantial amount to the oratory programme. In this context, it is suggested that the board prioritise the re-furbishment of classrooms that were identified as requiring up-grading in the subject inspection reports.

 

The board is very happy with the standard of teaching and learning in the school as reflected in the results obtained by students in the State examinations and commented very positively on the smoothness of the amalgamation due in part to the ‘outstanding co-operation’ from the three staff groups involved. It is recommended that school development planning should be included as a standard item on the agenda of board meetings. The board should evaluate and review key aspects of the school, including in-school management, planning, teaching and learning, curriculum, and student support.

 

The school promotes the involvement of parents through the parents’ association, which is affiliated to the national body. A newsletter is produced and distributed to parents during the school year and the usual parent-teacher meeting structure is also present. The use of the school website as a communications tool is recognised and commended and the school is encouraged to further develop links and contacts with parents and the wider school community through its website. The school also has a designated post-holder to act as public relations officer for the school via the local newspapers and this is praiseworthy.

 

At the meeting with the officers of the parents’ association a positive atmosphere in the school, characterised by friendliness and caring, was acknowledged. As well as fundraising, the parents’ association is also involved in the review of draft policy documents in the school. To date, it has been actively involved in the healthy eating, substance abuse and discipline policies. It was reported that there is high quality communication between the school and the parents’ association and that parents feel well informed about school life. The school’s senior management leads this welcome of parents in the school. The quality of the home-school relationship is a strength of the school.

 

The parents’ association is seen by management to fulfil an important role in the overall functioning of the school.  The parents’ association plays a consultative role in policy formulation, most recently the draft homework policy. It also provides an advisory role in highlighting concerns about developments in the school but does not regard its brief as one involving curriculum review. The support from the school in maintaining good communication links with the general parent body is commendable: for example, the list of representatives’ names and phone numbers is posted out to parents along with booklists during the summer holidays. The parents are most supportive in fund-raising to support the many extra-curricular activities in the school and have provided financial support for such facilities as the school canteen, the hurling wall, and the oratory. The parents’ association is currently fundraising for a portable stage to be used for school functions. However, the parents’ association commented that it would like to be involved in the choice of which student supports should be fundraised for in the future. The generous donations made by the local Credit Union were also acknowledged by the school community during the course of the evaluation.

 

Parents feel that, where they have complaints and queries, the school takes these seriously. The school has an increasing number of students whose parents do not have English as a first language and up to now no difficulty has been reported in communicating with them. However, it is recommended that the school should develop a policy in regard to communicating with the parents of these students. This should include an awareness of the challenges faced by these parents and guardians and it should seek to actively engage with them and actively support their participation in the parents’ association. In addition, the school could consider contacting local community agencies to seek the assistance of persons who are fluent in English and Russian, Polish or Latvian. Since the school’s adult education programme and its PLC also foster strong links between the school and its local community these links should be exploited with regard to persons who have English as an additional language living in the locality.

 

The practice in Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré with regard to admission of students has been admirable in its openness and inclusiveness. It has been the accepted practice that all students who apply for entry have been enrolled. It is strongly recommended, however, that the written admission policy be reviewed and, as part of this review, that conditions attached to the admission of students with special educational needs be removed.

 

As previously stated, the changing context the school is facing includes the increasing enrolment of students with special educational needs and students with English as an additional language. In order to sufficiently help staff prepare for this as part of their continuing professional development (CPD) it is recommended that the board encourage training in this area.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The principal and the deputy principal have been in their current roles for nine years and six years respectively. Whilst their roles are not documented, they are defined, with the principal’s duties ranging from interface with Tipperary (NR) VEC and dealing with finance-related matters to school development planning. The deputy principal’s duties primarily involve the day-to-day running of the school, including aspects such as timetabling, supervision and substitution and the monthly returns to Tipperary (NR) VEC. Both senior managers stated that they view themselves as a team and that there is a significant overlap of roles, particularly in areas such as discipline. Daily communication is maintained by a variety of means including working breaks, meeting each evening to discuss what is happening in the school and social meetings outside school. During the evaluation, the collegial and collaborative nature of their relationship was evident. Both are very effective in their roles and highly regarded by staff and the board of management. Indeed, the principal’s talent at facilitation was highlighted a number of times during the course of the evaluation in the school.

Throughout the school community distributed leadership and empowerment of groups and individuals is clearly in evidence. The principal has also demonstrated leadership in that he has ensured that recommendations made in previous Department inspection reports have been acted upon. This commendable leadership is praised.

The school currently has fourteen assistant principals and fifteen special duties teachers. This group of post-holders forms the schools middle-management group. Post-holders fulfil specified duties to facilitate the smooth running of the school. These include duties such as year heads, exam secretary and special needs co-ordinator. Assistant principal teachers are also aware of the need to act as principal or deputy principal if required, with one of them being the previous principal of Roscrea Vocational School.

Duties are allocated following a consultation procedure between the principal and the post- holder. A major review of post-holder responsibilities occurs whenever new posts come on line. At present, assistant principals have formal scheduled meetings with the principal and provide an annual report to the principal on their completed duties as post-holders. It would be important that, as a result of the review process, the full potential of the resource that is middle management should be developed to take a meaningful role in the future planning for the school. In addition, a review of duties assigned to post-holders should reflect the school’s changing needs, address some of the imbalances in the current post duties, raise experience levels of staff and enhance an understanding of what middle management is in the school. For example, there appears to be significant overlap in some duties assigned to a number of post-holders.

The growth in student enrolment to date and what is expected into the future will facilitate more staff to become post-holders and further increase the capacity of the school’s middle management. This should also be considered during the review process and assignment of roles and responsibilities. The use of CPD should continue to assist in the building of staff capacity to meet the changing needs of the school. This would reflect the mission statement which supports ongoing professional development of staff’. It is further suggested that the delineated roles and responsibilities of all post-holders, including the principal and deputy principal, should be fully documented and incorporated into the staff handbook.

The students in the school are represented through the students’ council and through a prefect system. A total of fourteen students currently form the students’ council and appropriate consideration is given to gender balance. This is commended. Class captains from each class run for election to the students’ council and these are nominated by teachers and elected by students. Leaving Certificate prefects are automatically included on the students’ council. The council meets approximately once per month and a post-holder is assigned to act as liaison officer.

 

An interview with members of the council revealed that they are articulate, organised, and committed to playing an active part in the life of the school. To date, however, whilst a constitution has been prepared for the council it has not, as yet, been ratified by the board of management. The council members feel that they have a good relationship with both the school management and school staff. The involvement of the students’ council on a task group for the substance abuse policy, along with recommendations made by them on the school uniform and the anti-bullying policy have been significant achievements of the council to date.

 

Whilst acknowledging the good work the students’ council has done in the school, from discussions during the evaluation it appears that, at a whole-school level, there appears to be a lack of clarity around the role of the students’ council and the prefect system and how they are to function in the school. Therefore, the recommendations are three-fold: first, the specific roles and functions of both the prefects and the students’ council should be documented and communicated to the whole-school population. Secondly, the student voice should continue to be developed through the students’ council into the future with the contribution and involvement of students incorporated into all policy formulation that affects them. Thirdly, from discussions with the present students’ council it became obvious that members are not well informed about the past history of the school’s previous students’ councils and therefore it is recommended that this should be addressed.

 

Senior management implements the admission policy in a consistent manner. A clearly-structured code of behaviour exists in parallel with a commendable pastoral system. In line with good practice, student attendance and retention are monitored consistently, in an organised and systematic manner. Commendably, an annual second year trip to Manchester and Anfield as well as a first year trip to Oakwood in Wales are organised as a reward for students. It is suggested that, as part of the next review of the code of behaviour, such praiseworthy rewards for positive behavior should be built upon and extended to include all year groups and to encourage students to self-monitor their behaviour. Specification of the types of behaviour that would be regarded as serious breaches of the code of discipline should also be included in new documentation.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

There are good practices in place that support the induction of new teachers. These include an in-school induction morning, a Tipperary (NR) VEC induction day for new staff members, the provision of a staff handbook on the school and informal, ongoing support for newly appointed teachers from subject colleagues. This last year has also seen the commitment of some staff members, on a voluntary basis, to a formal mentoring programme under the auspices of University College Dublin (UCD). In continuing to build on these commendable practices, it is advised that a formal mentoring structure and plan be put into place by the mentoring team under the direction of senior management. The team is advised to make contact with Tipperary (NR) VEC regarding the dissemination of information regarding the mentoring scheme. It is also advisable that dedicated time for planning for this programme should be included within staff meetings devoted to planning.

 

The school supports teachers’ CPD by facilitating attendance at relevant in-service education courses, by providing financial support for membership of subject associations and for teachers who undertake relevant further studies, such as the mentoring programme mentioned above. In addition, in-service education courses have been organised for the whole staff on relevant topics. However, there was an articulated need for more support for teachers in a number of areas: first, in their use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in an integrated manner in the classroom; secondly, strategies to help teachers address mixed-ability teaching and differentiated teaching and learning in the classroom; and thirdly, strategies to enable teachers deal more effectively with newcomer students with English as an additional language. Therefore, it is recommended that senior management should urgently utilise in-house expertise and peer coaching, where possible, and should seek appropriate support from outside agencies, as necessary, to provide the supports for teaching and learning in the school that have been identified by teachers as necessary.

It is laudable that support staff members make appropriate and effective contributions to the life of the school beyond the completion of their assigned duties.

The school has sports facilities that meet the current requirements for indoor sporting activities for the school. There is one small, external training area on the school grounds and a playing field directly adjacent to the school. It is commendable that the school is proactive in ongoing development of its facilities through its communications with the building and planning section of the Department.

 

The current schedule of classroom and specialist room accommodation operates at full capacity to meet the needs of the school at its present enrolment. Indeed, part of the library has been designated as classroom space and disused toilet and cloakroom facilities have been converted to classrooms. Some classrooms, particularly some of the learning-support classrooms, have a well-developed, visual learning aspect and the work done by teachers in creating a visually stimulating learning environment is to be commended. The provision for a student-centred canteen and oratory by the school is praiseworthy. It is encouraged that during the subject-planning process all teachers give consideration to how frequent displays of visual stimuli such as relevant charts, posters, and students’ work might support teaching and learning throughout all classrooms and specialist rooms in the school.

 

The school grounds and classrooms are clean and very well maintained. It is commendable that, during the evaluation week some teachers discussed applying for the ‘Green Flag’ in the interest of pursuing a ‘greener’ school environment. The staffroom is a busy space and there are limited storage areas for teachers’ books and no area in which teachers may work undisturbed. Broadband internet access is provided in the staff room. Students benefit from having a locker in which they may store their books and equipment as well as some innovative, school-designed, retractable shelving along some of the walls. While the office accommodation available meets the needs of the school, the space available for storage of guidance counselling materials and for access by students to dedicated ICT facilities for guidance counselling is inadequate. Inadequate also is the space available to store office supplies and materials. It is recommended that the board prioritise these issues for development.

 

Requests for resources are met on a case-by-case basis and teachers are satisfied with the level of resources available to them.

 

The school has good ICT facilities with four dedicated ICT rooms. All four are networked to a central server and this enables broadband internet access. There are timetabled computer classes for all year groups. Teachers may also, subject to availability, bring their classes to a computer room by booking it in advance. However, difficulties were reported in accessing the computer rooms due to the numerous PLC classes and timetabled ICT classes for TY students and all other year groups. Currently, students have no access at lunchtime. An introduction of a computer club was suggested by the ICT plan and it is recommended that this be further explored to allow students access to computers located in the computer laboratories and consider how it might further support students’ access to, and use of, computers outside of classes. The merit of providing students with designated computer classes in an isolated fashion was discussed during the evaluation. It is strongly suggested that management and staff should seek to integrate ICT across the curriculum.

 

Regular fire drills take place and this is commendable. The school, appropriately, has a health and safety statement which is reviewed on an ongoing basis. However, in light of the recommendations arising from the Science and Chemistry inspection, it is recommended that the school, as a matter of urgency, address the health and safety issues contained therein.

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

For Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré the school-development-planning (SDP) process began three years prior to its amalgamation through the Roscrea Amalgamation Steering Committee (RASC), which set the foundations for the operation and planning for the future requirements of the school. The amalgamation committee consisted of the principals of the three amalgamating schools, the trustees and union representatives of each school, the CEO of Tipperary (NR) VEC and an external union representative. As a direct result of such concerted planning efforts the amalgamation was a success and the transition period a smooth and productive one.

 

The collaborative and consultative practice modelled by RASC’s work ensured a genuine sense of ownership and empowerment for the entire school community. The challenge facing the school is to balance RASC’s aim of engaging all the school partners in a collaborative and consultative process to meet the requirements of both recent legislative and educational development. 

 

Staff and management are to be commended on what has been achieved in the area of school planning to date. The planning outlined above has been the development of a formal school plan, a copy of which was provided during the evaluation. Conforming to good practice, the plan is divided into permanent and developmental sections. Commendably, this plan contains an outline of agreed developmental priorities to date that were developed through established task groups. However, it is recommended that new developmental priorities should be identified to further progress planning at a whole-school level. These should include an acceptable use policy for ICT, a pastoral care policy and policies relating to students with additional educational needs with reference to Inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs – Post-Primary Guidelines (Department Inspectorate publication) and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School. It is recommended that action plans, a timeframe for implementation and the assignment of responsibility should be developed for each identified priority. Ongoing curriculum review and subject planning will undoubtedly facilitate a focus on key issues in the school in relation to teaching and learning.

 

In parallel with planning at a whole-school level, a planning process is in place amongst the teaching staff. This planning process, both formal and informal, has resulted in the production of subject department plans and plans for some programmes all of which were made available during the evaluation process. It is recommended that the progress made to date regarding planning should be utilised to its full potential and cognisance should be taken of the needs of all students in the school. To this effect, input from the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and Second Level Support Service (SLSS) would be of benefit to staff at a whole-school level. The experience and competence evident within the school’s special educational needs team should be utilised in line with Report of the Committee on In-service and Curriculum Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré (1999) p.7, as such input would be focused on actual school needs.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré offers a broad curriculum to serve the needs and interests of its students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), LCA and the established Leaving Certificate.

A year-long taster programme is currently in operation for all of the optional subjects with the exception of French and German. A curriculum review was held last year to examine the feasibility of shortening the taster programme in the two languages as teachers found that the taster programme length was impacting negatively on the time they had to deliver their subject. This academic year, students chose their modern language after mid-term. The positive impact taster programmes have on student choice is well documented and it is commendable that Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré operates one in the school. Nonetheless, it is recommended that management and staff should review the length of the taster programme in all optional subjects as a matter of importance, particularly since time for these subjects is below the recommended syllabus guidelines. School management should also address the issues referring to time allocation in the relevant subject inspection reports.

All first-year classes are of mixed ability and common examinations are held. Concurrent timetabling is provided in Mathematics and Gaeilge in second and third years for four out of the six class groups. The core subjects of Gaeilge, English and Mathematics are concurrently timetabled in senior cycle, thus allowing students the opportunity to take subjects at their preferred level. This commendable practice of mixed-ability classes in first year allows students to develop over the course of the year. However, at the end of first year, placement in a particular class group for all core subjects is based on the results achieved in examinations at the end of first year in those subjects. In this context, and in order to ensure that second-year and third-year students have access to all subjects at all levels, it is recommended that the current system should be reviewed again in depth at a whole-staff level. As part of this review, consideration should be given to extending mixed-ability classes into second year and third year and to discontinuing the current junior cycle structure. As an alternative, the practice of concurrent timetabling, that already exists in relation to senior cycle core subjects could be extended to junior cycle subjects. In advance of making any decisions, staff may wish to refer to the Report of the Committee on In-service and Curriculum Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré (1999), as the issue of student groupings is discussed in detail. The report discusses total and modified mixed-ability groupings as well as setting in core subjects. Whilst the school is ineligible to apply for the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) at this present time, it is strongly urged to contact the JCSP support team through the SLSS to adopt some of its very efficient literacy and numeracy strategies for use in mixed-ability settings to support students. The school may also wish to avail of the advice and support on mixed-ability teaching provided by the SLSS that can be contacted at www.slss.ie.

 

After the Junior Certificate examination parents receive formal letters of recommendation, collating advice given by the students’ entire roster of teachers, as to which senior cycle programme their son or daughter should apply. In the case of students who wish to embark upon TY and who do not receive recommendations, there is an alternative interview structure in place. This present structure, as it operates, does not facilitate equality of access to the TY programme. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the school review its current practice.

The TY programme allows students to experience many different curricular and non-curricular areas, and contributes to the maintenance of the breadth and balance of the curriculum. A high standard of organisation and planning is evident from the range of activities the students undertake as part of the programme. In addition, through the parents’ association, parents have regular input into designing the TY curriculum. For example, a driver awareness module has been incorporated into the TY curriculum. While informal review of the programme occurs regularly, it is recommended, that a formal review take place as a matter of priority since the last formal documented review was in 2000/2001. Further to this, it is advised when the various subject departments are contributing to the course content that they state specific learning outcomes for TY students with clear strategies as to how these will be achieved.

Following TY, or directly after the Junior Certificate for non-TY participants, students complete the established Leaving Certificate, LCVP or LCA. LCVP is growing in popularity in the school and it is the school’s stated desire that all students in senior cycle who qualify for the programme would complete it. The LCA programme is positively viewed by staff and management alike. Further details are to be found in the LCA report attached. Both the LCA and LCVP programmes are delivered in line with the programme requirements, guidelines and good practice. The curriculum at senior cycle consists of both compulsory and optional elements. Computer studies and Career Guidance are also present on students’ timetables. As previously suggested, management and staff should consider integrating ICT across the curriculum rather than timetabling standalone computer classes for all students.

A successful and long-established PLC runs in the school under the direction of its co-ordinator. The co-ordinator liaises on a constant basis with local employers and agencies to gauge the success of its modules and courses and to identify further areas for development. The co-ordinator is to be commended for her commitment to the provision of PLC in the school.

In general, whole-school support for the provision of all subjects is good. Management makes an effort to ensure that there is a good distribution of class contact throughout the week. This laudable practice facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. It is advised that school management examine the necessity for a reduced curriculum for some students and the impact this has on the learning outcomes for those students affected. In addition, the current provision of three thirty-five minute periods to Irish for first year students should be reviewed and also the practice of assigning only two periods per week to first-year History, which is also a core subject on the school’s curriculum.

 

In order to complement the draft ICT plan already developed, strategies should be explored to maximise the potential of ICT in learning and teaching. It is recommended that the draft ICT plan be developed further by a sub-committee of interested staff to include a strategic plan that demonstrates concrete actions and strategies for utilising and embedding ICT in teaching and learning practice in the school. One way this could be done is to furnish a base room in each subject department with ICT equipment so that subject teachers could use it on a rotational basis. The importance of ICT integration is acknowledged in the Report of the Committee on In-service and Curriculum Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré (1999) and the school is urged to re-visit this document. Further advice and support is available from the National Centre for Technology in Education at www.ncte.ie.  

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

There is a well-established induction programme for incoming first years. This includes initial visits to the feeder primary schools by the principal in advance of an open day for prospective students. A member of the management team and a resource teacher also visit all feeder schools in the catchment area to discuss the educational needs of potential students. Parents or guardians of incoming students are invited to an open evening held in February and teachers and students are available to discuss subjects and curriculum provision in the various subjects. A formal guidance input on subject options is provided by the guidance counsellor on the evening and parents are also invited to make an appointment with a member of the guidance team if they so wish. This is praiseworthy.

 

A taster programme, as described above, is in operation for all optional subjects. Students are supported by the guidance counsellor when making choices at the end of first year in the form of a presentation for each class group on procedures for subject options. Students are encouraged to speak to their subject options’ teachers and are advised to make an appointment with the guidance counsellor if clarification is required regarding their subject choice. Information evenings are organised to provide third-year students and their parents with information and advice in relation to choice of subjects and programmes for senior cycle. However, it is suggested that the guidance provision for junior cycle would be further enhanced if students were afforded dedicated time to explore career options at an earlier stage. This would further assist students in making their subject choices and in choosing levels for the Junior Certificate. It is also recommended that in most subjects choice of levels should be deferred to as late as possible.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

Both management and staff recognise the fundamental importance of sports and extracurricular activities in the development of the self-esteem of students in the school. Students are offered a variety of activities that are of a sporting, artistic, community, cultural and social nature. The activities are open to all students in the school and provision is heavily reliant on the ongoing generosity and dedication of many staff members and supported by a number of senior students.

 

Due to the numbers of students involved in sport, an informal policy is in operation whereby students who participate on school teams are limited to two sporting activities, in order to ensure their continued concentration on school work. The school is encouraged to formalise this as policy. Sports and extracurricular provision are a major strength in the schools provision and are supported by a large group of staff that willingly gives of its time and energy. 

 

Teachers realise that sports have a major part to play in aiding the socialisation and integration of students and, for that reason, students are actively encouraged to participate. For example, newcomer students are made aware of sports’ clubs within the school and soccer has proved to be a popular option with them. Students with special educational needs are also encouraged to participate in sports. The management of the school and the staff members who give of their time to sports are highly commended on their dedication in this area. The local community is involved through support for the school’s teams and through the provision of external coaching for rugby, badminton, hurling and camogie. Parents’ involvement is also recognised as they often volunteer to work with specific teams. Parents are also very supportive in helping to transport students to and from athletic events, while the parents' association makes important financial contributions to support this area of school life.

 

There has been a tradition of success in debating and public speaking but in recent years the emphasis on such activities has been in TY. Some members of the students’ council expressed a desire to re-invigorate public speaking in the school again as well as re-starting the lunch time film club for first-year and second-year students. Over the last few years, students have had visits to the Gaeltacht, school tours, participation in Seachtain na Gaeilge, and participation in a Tipperary (NR) VEC Irish competition among others. These organised activities provide students with enjoyable and challenging opportunities to extend their learning beyond the classroom.

 

The school also has a healthy musical tradition. The school concert and TY play as well as the ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition expose students to the world of theatre and stage. Gaisce, the President’s Award is long established in the school and provides students with opportunities to complete a variety of personal challenges. Participation in a Comenius project in 2005 enabled students to form links with partner schools in Czech Republic. TY mini-companies and the LCVP also help students to develop research, entrepreneurial and teamwork skills. It is highly commended that students are encouraged to save through the school’s branch of the Credit Union as it provides them with practical skills in preparation for life.

 

Students are encouraged and facilitated by the school to contribute to their local community, in particular, TY students are encouraged to visit designated centres in the town on a weekly basis and they have also established a branch of St. Vincent de Paul. Other activities designed to help students develop a social conscience about global issues include fundraising for Uganda and tsunami relief for Sri Lanka.

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Management has established a structured approach to the facilitation of subject-department planning as part of the overall school-planning process. The subject departments meet formally at the beginning of the school year and opportunities for additional meetings are provided also. Records of meetings are kept and reports are made to the senior management team on subject-related issues as necessary. Formal meetings are supplemented by frequent informal meetings throughout the school year.

 

Co-ordinators have been appointed in some subject areas but not in others and it is recommended, therefore, that co-ordinators be put in place for all subject areas. Such positions could then be rotated on a regular basis. This would further facilitate subject planning, would assist in developing a co-ordinated approach to planning for resources and would enhance the planning for, and the utilisation of, ICT within departments.

 

Good progress has been made in developing subject plans in some subject areas. In addition, teachers have developed their own individual subject planning documentation. A good level of planning was observed for individual lessons. In order to build on existing individual teacher planning, it is recommended that comprehensive subject plans be developed in a collaborative manner to facilitate uniformly strong subject-department planning. However, whilst subject-department plans were presented the level of planning evident in documentation was at various stages of development. Therefore, it is recommended that in the production of written plans teachers give further consideration to a clearer outline of learning outcomes and include reference to active learning methodologies.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Lessons were well-structured, the pace was appropriate, and varied supporting materials had been prepared by teachers in almost all instances. Where best practice was observed, learning outcomes for lessons were clear and shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning.

 

A range of teaching methods was employed throughout the inspection process. Effective questioning and explanation strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher-order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. In most lessons observed, there was evidence of good use of the board to highlight significant points and to model the organisation of information for students. When ICT was used in teaching, it was a particularly effective tool and it is recommended that this good practice be extended across all departments. Finally, while impressive active learning methods were impressively observed in a number of classes, this is an area where there is still scope for development. It is suggested that the school should be proactive in encouraging a gender balance in uptake of subjects which might be regarded as traditionally male, for example Metalwork.

 

Classroom management was very good, students’ contributions were encouraged and affirmed, and as a result, student-teacher rapport was very good. Students demonstrated levels of knowledge and skill appropriate to their abilities and levels in all subjects evaluated. Teachers had created stimulating physical environments for their classes in almost all instances. For contributing to students’ sense of motivation and of achievement, this practice is highly commended and it is recommended that it be adopted across all departments.

 

While teachers already use ICT in class preparation and to produce resources for class, incidental usage of ICT as a teaching tool in classrooms remains an area for development. Management should continue to encourage and support teachers’ efforts to integrate ICT to enhance teaching and learning in all subject areas.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

A range of assessment modes is regularly used to assess students’ competence and progress. In-house examinations are held for all classes at Christmas. In addition non-State examination classes have formal examinations at the end of year and State examination classes sit pre-examinations. In some instances class tests are administered as one of the modes of assessing students’ progress on an ongoing basis. This is commended.

 

It is recommended that the practice of assessing students’ practical, and project work, as a component of the end-of-term examinations and which is evident in some instances in a number of subjects, be extended to all year groups in appropriate subjects. Such practice is encouraged as it reflects the objectives of the syllabuses, and an aggregate mark that includes all components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of the student’s ability in the subject.

 

Homework is assigned regularly to consolidate students’ learning. Best practice was observed where formative feedback was provided on both class work and homework, as it provides valuable feedback to students on their work, giving both affirmation and advice on how to improve. It is recommended that this good practice be extended across all subjects and year groups.

 

Results of assessments are recorded systematically and are used to identify trends in students' achievement. The good practice of utilising assessment results to inform future teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners should be extended to all year groups in all subject areas. The school is commended on its policy of annually reviewing its outcomes in State examinations and of comparing them to national norms. The school should extend this to incorporate subject departments comparing the proportion of their students taking subjects at higher level in State examinations with national norms. 

 

Parents receive meaningful feedback on students’ progress via twice-yearly report and an annual parent teacher meeting. In addition they contact the school as required. This is good practice.

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

In practice, Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré is open and welcoming to all students including those with special educational needs. Whilst the school has accessed the resources to which it is entitled, some discrepancies were noted during the course of the evaluation in relation to appropriate utilisation of learning support and special needs hours allocated and in the allocation of staff to the area of special needs. Therefore, it is recommended that the school review current practice and utilise all learning support and resource hours appropriately.

 

There has been a recent appointment of a post-holder with overall responsibility in this area and she has begun to document, in a very comprehensive manner, the current procedures in operation in the school. This is commendable. It is recommended that this work should support the further development of a policy on the inclusion of students with additional educational needs, the contents of which should be used to review the school’s policies in relation to student participation and admission. Every policy formulated should comply with the advice and guidance outlined in the Department’s Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs – Post-Primary Guidelines. As well as constructive advice on whole-school planning for students with special educational needs, this document includes guidelines for the utilisation of resources and on teaching and learning strategies for the inclusive school. The guidelines produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessments (NCCA) Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School (2007) should also be of help in this policy development. Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) is a support service established by the Department specifically to support schools in this area. It is also recommended that the school should register with IILT as a matter of urgency. Relevant documents and contact details can be found on the websites www.iilt.ie and www.ncca.ie.

 

The area of learning support is facilitated on the timetable for the benefit of relevant students. Many teachers are deployed to varying degrees in this area. Some of these are qualified learning-support teachers whilst others, who are not qualified in learning support or resource teaching, are allocated one period of resource hours on their timetable. In an effort to provide greater consistency for such students, it is recommended that the school work toward limiting the number of teachers providing supplementary support to a particular student or group of students during each school year. It is also recommended that, when the timetable is being constructed, the individuals responsible for timetabling should remain cognisant of the importance of planning pro-actively, and as early as possible, for these students.

The school also has six Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), who have strong links with the school, are dedicated and committed to their charges and are pro-active in communicating with staff members and school management on issues concerning their students and areas of need.

It is acknowledged that the school endeavours to identify the individual educational requirements of students with special educational needs and engages in attempting to provide adequate support for them. Whilst some whole-school inputs have been initiated the school is encouraged to build on this into the future. A whole-school approach should be adopted in providing for students with special educational needs and, in this regard, appropriate training should be sought for all staff. It is suggested that the school utilise a twofold approach: in-house training and support from the SESS.

The school has established good links with external agencies such as the Visiting Teachers Service for Travellers (VTST), the Health Service Executive (HSE), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), and education welfare officers to support the diversity of students in the school. The information on incoming students gathered during visits to primary schools also helps to identify any students who may require additional supports. This is praiseworthy.

 

Commendable systems are in place for students who require discreet financial support. The school provides financial assistance through the book rental scheme, run by one of the year heads in the school, and a voucher system, whereby disadvantaged students receive free lunches and snacks on presentation of a voucher to canteen staff. This is monitored on a weekly basis by the deputy principal working in partnership with the canteen staff to ensure that students utilise their entitlements.

 

The range of students includes a growing number of international students. The school has recognised this by creating a part-post specifically for the co-ordination of support for such students. Whilst acknowledging the work done to date in this area, it is recommended that a greater level of awareness of the linguistic and educational needs of these students should be created at a whole-school level. The school should also actively support the participation of international students in the students’ council. Further activities to be considered are: multi-lingual copies of the school’s code of behaviour, admission policy and other important policies, translation of its standard letters and the creation of a students’ council newsletter with input from newcomer students.

 

 A small number of Traveller students are enrolled in the school. The school gains an additional allocation from the Department and accordingly provides supplementary tuition for these students. It is commendable that many Traveller students choose to remain at school and continue with their education after the Junior Certificate examination. The majority opt to engage in senior cycle study in school rather than move to attend Youthreach programmes. This is testimony to the school’s success in forging positive relationships with these students.

 

The school organises supervised study sessions in the evenings. In building on this, the school is advised to consider developing a homework support club that would run in tandem with the supervised study and that would assist students in the completion of their homework. The school is encouraged to consult with Tipperary (NR) VEC in an effort to obtain funding for such an initiative.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The school has an allocation of 1.5 Whole-time Teacher Equivalents (WTEs) for Guidance and counselling. Currently, the school has employed one qualified guidance counsellor. Whilst acknowledging the difficulties experienced by the school in hiring and retaining a qualified 0.5 WTE guidance counsellor, it is recommended that the school should again immediately seek to employ a second fully-qualified teacher in this regard. Whilst the guidance suite is broadband enabled, there is only one computer in the careers’ library section. It is recommended that further opportunities be presented to students to allow them to access career and guidance related topics on the internet outside of designated guidance class time.

 

A Guidance plan has been drawn up and significant work has been completed in this area to date. Guidance and counselling are essential to pastoral care structures in the school and Guidance plays an important role in student support and this is to be commended. Whilst it is acknowledged that the Guidance department liaises on a regular basis with the special education support team, in order to develop a supportive cross-disciplinary approach to assisting students on an individual basis, the formal establishment of links is encouraged to utilise the structures in place.

  

The ongoing development of guidance and counselling provision within the school is undertaken in a committed and professional manner. Clear and well-presented information about the school and its subjects is made available to parents. Cáirde, a formal induction programme for first-year students, where they are matched with Leaving Certificate students, has been established and this is to be commended. By borrowing classes from Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), study-skills lessons are taught to first-year students. This is commendable as not all students can avail of commercial courses due to financial restrictions. Students’ destinations are tracked after they leave school and this, too, is praiseworthy as it provides useful information that can support guidance provision in the school.

 

A strong sense of pastoral care for students and for staff was very evident among the school community during the evaluation. In junior cycle, care-sheets are distributed on a regular basis to enable students to voice their concerns in confidence. The pastoral-care system for students involves teachers, year heads, class tutors, guidance counsellor, chaplain, deputy principal and principal. From meetings during the evaluation, it was evident that the year head system is an effective and efficient arrangement for addressing both disciplinary and pastoral issues of the general student body in the school. However, there is no specific formal pastoral-care team in the school. The establishment of one would help further develop and implement the structures outlined in a co-ordinated manner and is to be encouraged. It would, for example, be beneficial if the students’ journal and staff handbook included details of pastoral-care arrangements in the school and a list of the personnel involved to ensure that all students have immediate access to information on pastoral care should a personal crisis arise. Commendably, the school has also developed a critical incident plan.

 

The school has a high quality chaplaincy provision, for both staff and students, which is carried out in a dedicated, committed and professional manner. The chaplain provides spiritual and faith guidance to the school community, is involved in pastoral-care issues, prayer services, celebrates liturgical seasons, and has a teaching role. Each of these functions is significant and contributes greatly to the life of the school.

 

The school has endeavoured to ensure that all teachers involved in teaching SPHE have undertaken appropriate training. The school should however strive to achieve gender balance, in so far as is possible, in the team of teachers involved in the delivery of SPHE.

 

One of the major challenges facing the pastoral-care structures in place in the school is that of catering for the needs of international students, particularly those whose cultural identity is different from that of the majority of students. In some cases, such students may have need of pastoral support and for immediate intervention and action when issues arise. In supporting a focused approach to students’ needs, a combination of Social Personal and Health Education and guidance classes could be built into all newcomer students’ programmes of study to help them articulate and resolve difficulties they may be experiencing as part of their transition to post-primary school and to Irish culture.

 

Members of the students’ council play a part in the life of the school and their work is exemplified by their participation at open days, fundraising events, and in contributing to policy formation. It is recommended that the council should be more visible in the school and should communicate with students through a dedicated notice board coupled with a newsletter. This newsletter could include articles representing all students’ voices. In addition, the provision of a comment box to allow for students to make observations about the school and how best to improve school life should be welcomed as it would further support the open nature of communication within the school.

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré aims to serve the whole community in active partnership and this is clearly evident in the day-to-day running of the school. It has an inclusive student intake and its current enrolment stands at 727.

·         The board is very supportive of the interests of the school and sees one of its principal roles as the support of school staff in the area of discipline. It further seeks to support the school in achieving the school’s identified objectives.

·         The board benefits significantly from high levels of educational and leadership expertise among its members.

·         The school promotes the involvement of parents through the parents’ association, the school newsletter and the school website. The quality of the home-school relationship is a strength of the school.

·         Both principal and deputy principal are effective in their roles and are highly regarded by staff and the board of management.

·         Throughout the school community distributed leadership and empowerment of groups and individuals is clearly in evidence.

·         For Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré the school-development-planning (SDP) process began three years prior to amalgamation. As a direct result of such concerted planning efforts the amalgamation was a success and the transition period a smooth and productive one.

·         Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré offers a broad curriculum to serve the needs and interests of its students.

·         There is a well-established induction programme for incoming first years.

·         This past year has also seen the commitment of some staff members, on a voluntary basis, to a formal mentoring programme under the auspices of University College Dublin (UCD). These practices are to be commended.

·         Sports and extracurricular provision is a major strength in the school’s provision and is supported by a large group of staff that willingly gives of its time and energy. 

·         Effective questioning and explanation strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher-order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning.

·         Classroom management was very good, students’ contributions were encouraged and affirmed, and as a result, student-teacher rapport was very good in almost all lessons. Students demonstrated levels of knowledge and skill appropriate to their abilities and levels in the subjects and programme evaluated.

·         A strong sense of pastoral care for students and for staff was evident among the school community during the evaluation.

·         Management and staff are praised for their openness and willingness to engage with the whole-school evaluation process.

 

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 junior cycle structures that are currently in place should be reviewed. These include: the taster programme, the equality of access to English, Gaeilge and Mathematics for all second-year and third-year students as per the recommendations made in this report, and the extension of mixed-ability groupings for all of junior cycle.

·         A whole-school approach should be adopted in providing for students with special educational needs and, in this regard, appropriate training should be sought for all staff. It is suggested that the school utilise a twofold approach: in-house training and support from the SESS. It is also recommended that the school review current practice and utilise all learning support and resource hours appropriately. Further to this, a policy on the inclusion of students with additional educational needs should be developed. The contents of this should be used to review the school’s policies in relation to student participation and admission. The school should also develop a policy in regard to communicating with the parents of students with English as an additional language.

·         It is recommended that the school return to RASC before it engages in future planning for the school. New developmental priorities should be identified to further progress planning at a whole-school level. It is recommended that action plans, a timeframe for implementation and the assignment of responsibility should be developed for each identified priority.

·         It is recommended that the written admission policy be reviewed and, as part of this review, that conditions attaching to the admission of students with special educational needs be removed.

·         The current structure, whereby parents receive recommendations from teachers as to which senior-cycle programme their son or daughter should apply does not facilitate equality of access to all senior cycle programmes. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the school review its current practice.

·         It is strongly suggested that management and staff seek to integrate ICT across the curriculum.

·         Management and staff should review the length of the taster programme in all optional subjects as a matter of importance, particularly since time for these subjects is below the recommended syllabus guidelines.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

  

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of Home Economics – 25 January 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry –  22 January 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Gaeilge 21 January 2008

·         Subject Inspection of TD, TG and DCG –  24 January 2008

·         Programme Evaluation: LCA  –  9 October 2007

 

 

Published September, 2008

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The report is comprehensive and accurate. We would like to compliment the team involved in drawing up the report. We feel that there was great engagement in the process by everyone concerned. We thank the team for drawing up this worthwhile evaluation of our school. We do believe that the whole process has been a positive experience and will ultimately benefit the development of the school.

 

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

 

It is our intention to implement the recommendations of the report as resources and opportunity permit over the course of the coming months and years: We have already addressed some major issues:

 

·         From September, we are swapping the banding of 2nd Years and will continue total mixed ability groups into 2nd year

 

·         We are addressing equality of access issues in 2nd Year by co-timetabling Irish, English and Maths.

 

·         Learning Support/Resource planning has become a high priority in the structure/plan of the timetable which will allow for a more efficient and appropriate use of the allocation.

 

·         Plans are afoot to introduce an e-portal platform to the school. This will form the major plank of our IT planning as it will facilitate IT access across the curriculum and will also provide access from home to school.