An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Douglas Community School

Clermont Avenue, Douglas, Cork

Roll number: 91396R

 

Date of inspection: 19 – 23 January 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Douglas Community School was undertaken in January 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. As part of the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects/programmes. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Douglas Community School is located in the southern suburbs of Cork city. The post-primary school, which was established in the 1920s as a novitiate of the Presentation Brothers, has grown from a traditional Presentation Brothers Secondary school to an all-boys’ community school. When the Presentation Brothers withdrew from managing the school in 1974, the management of the school was transferred to a locally representative board running the school as a community school under the joint trusteeship of the Bishop of Cork and Ross and the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The present chairperson of the board of management is also chairperson of the City of Cork VEC. As the school had a large number of boys, and as there were three girls’ schools in close proximity, a decision was taken not to offer co-education at that time.

 

The school welcomes students from all backgrounds, cultures and faiths and from across the spectrum of all abilities, including students with special educational needs. A very high proportion of students continue their studies to third level. The student cohort, which currently stands at 567 students, is reflective of the broad social and economic spectrum of the catchment area. The school offers the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) together with the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and Transition Year (TY) programmes.

 

The school has a well-subscribed adult education programme, with 2,212 continuing education students enrolled in evening classes this year. Links with the local community are very strong, with the school’s facilities being availed of by many local clubs and societies.

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The school has a mission statement which was reviewed about three years ago. This places particular emphasis on developing the full potential of each student and working in partnership with students, parents and the community: Douglas Community School is a Christian school which works to develop the full potential of each student. We promote the integration and wholeness of the individual and work in partnership with students, parents and community to enhance the self-esteem, self-discipline and motivation of each student. During the evaluation visit, inspectors noted that the students were friendly, well behaved and courteous and that the atmosphere within the school was one of calm and relaxed industry. The values and ethos of the school’s mission statement are reflected in the day-to-day life of the school. The code of behaviour, pastoral-care systems and well-documented roles of senior management, year heads, class tutors and guidance counsellors provide a very strong framework for student support.

 

The open and inclusive nature of the school is evident, not only in school documentation relating to the admission and participation of students in the life of the school, but also in practice. All students are welcomed, and the genuine care for individual students on the part of the members of staff was particularly noticeable during the evaluation. The quality of relationships within the school, between staff, management and students, and among staff members, is good, based on mutual respect. School policies reflect the spirit of the mission statement and are developed with input from all of the partners, which is commended. The school maintains very strong links with the local community, not least through its flourishing adult education programme.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

A review of the school’s relationship with the trustees was undertaken in July 2008 and a sample protocol for communication with the joint trustees has been tabled and is under discussion. As a result, more formal links with the trustees will be put in place. The board of management is appropriately constituted, with three VEC nominees, three members nominated by the Bishop of Cork and Ross, two teacher representatives and two parent representatives. Members of the board demonstrate a strong commitment to the school and are proactive in acting in the school’s best interests. The principal acts as secretary to the board, with the deputy principal acting as recording secretary. Many board members have served on previous boards of the school, with the current chairperson having served on all boards since the school’s inception. The combination of long-serving and new members provides a broad range of experience and knowledge about school matters.

 

The board of management meets regularly, approximately seven times every year, with other meetings as the need arises. The principal maintains regular contact with the chairperson of the board. Prior to each meeting, an agenda is circulated and minutes of meetings are given to each board member. Teachers’ and parents’ representatives can include items for the agenda which will then be discussed at board meetings. All of this is very positive. Matters of concern to the parents’ association and staff are communicated orally through the representatives on the board to the relevant bodies. It is recommended that the board consider making an agreed written memorandum of its meetings available to members of staff and the parents’ association.

 

Communication between the board of management and parents is generally through the board representatives of the parents’ association and a report is given by the principal at the parents’ association annual general meeting (AGM), giving a review of the school year. The parents’ representatives also report to the parents’ association at the AGM. The general body of parents get school newsletters three times a year, giving details of school events and achievements. In order to fulfil the requirement of the Education Act, Section 20, 1998, which states that the board should establish procedures for informing all parents of students in the school about matters relating to the operation and performance of the school, with particular reference to the achievement of objectives as set out in the school plan, it is suggested that the school’s website could be used to publish a report of school planning activities for the general body of parents.

 

An independent external audit of all school accounts is conducted each year. Four members of the board form a sub-committee for finance and report back at every board meeting. A sub-committee for school policy, consisting of four members, has also been established. Commendably, members of the board have accessed appropriate training and demonstrate a good awareness of education legislation.

 

The board has been involved in the recruitment of staff and the appointment of post-holders. However, some concern was expressed by some members of the board regarding the possible lack of board representation in appointment procedures, as at present the trustees, together with the VEC, nominate their representatives for selection committees. It was felt by members of the board that, given the board’s responsibility for the teaching staff in the school, a more representative interview panel would be desirable.

 

The board has been very supportive of the teaching staff and, commendably, has contributed additional funding for the development of facilities and resources, particularly in relation to information and communication technologies (ICT). Repair and maintenance needs of the school building are assessed on an ongoing basis and much work has been carried out over the years in maintaining the building to a high standard. The board’s contribution in this regard is applauded.

 

The main stated priority of the board is to support the teaching and learning in the school and to ensure that all students reach their full potential by responding to the diversity of the needs of the students. Board members are also conscious of the importance of the rich links which exist between the school and the local community. A member of the teaching staff carries out the role of director of adult education in the school and reports annually to the board. The board formally approves teachers for the adult education courses in the school.

 

The board supports teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) by encouraging attendance at in-service and other courses and has expressed its intention to continue to support teachers with course fees and ICT resources. A laptop computer has been provided to each teacher and two interactive whiteboards have recently been acquired for the school. The board reviews progress of subjects within the school, monitors state examination results and identifies any issues of student performance. It has been actively involved in the development and ratification of school policies and is proactive in looking to the future of the school. All of this is highly commended.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The school has seen significant changes in recent years as many teachers have recently reached retirement age and a cohort of new teachers has been appointed to the school. This places the school at an interesting stage in its development. A high level of leadership is evident on the part of senior management in the school. Both principal and deputy principal are long-standing staff members and have worked together over a considerable period of time throughout their years in the school. They have a partnership approach to school leadership, effectively communicate as a team and show a high level of commitment to the school. Managerial duties are shared by both principal and deputy principal on a day-to-day basis. Both make themselves available to staff, students and parents, and have a visible presence in the school. It is evident that they are very supportive of the teaching staff and actively foster a collaborative management approach. They meet regularly every day, although they do not have a specific meeting time. It may be opportune, within the time constraints of the immediate demands which arise during the school day, to formalise a regular specified meeting time with a view to looking at long-term issues and to consider how the school is progressing in terms of developmental planning.

 

It is evident that members of the staff in the school are a professional and dedicated group of people, who show care and concern for their students. Currently, among the teaching staff, there are nine assistant principals and fourteen special duties post-holders, together with three posts linked to adult education provision in the school. The valuable contribution which these post-holders make to the day-to-day life of the school is acknowledged and commended. A recent review of post-holders’ duties is seen as a very positive step and an annual review of these is planned to ensure that the needs of the school are being met. Post-holders see themselves as middle management in the school and describe discussions between senior and middle management as democratic and open. It is evident that there is good communication between senior and middle management. The duties of post-holders are matched to teachers’ skills and interests. Post-holders’ duties are clearly defined and each post-holder meets the principal at the end of each year to discuss his or her role. In order to develop self-evaluation of middle management roles, it is suggested that all post-holders should put into writing a report of what has been achieved throughout the year and how their roles could be developed. This good practice has already been adopted by some post-holders in the school. Recently post-holders who have similar areas of responsibility have been encouraged to work together and this is encouraged.

 

Comprehensive induction processes for new teachers to the staff and Post-graduate Diploma of Education (PGDE) students are in place, and mentors are appointed to both new teachers and PGDE students. The staff handbook which is given to all members of staff provides very useful information and guidance on student-management strategies and the code of behaviour. The approach towards student management emphasises the positive rather than the negative, an example of which can be seen by the use of the word ‘correction’ rather than ‘punishment’ when describing sanctions.

 

A year-head system is in place, with year heads taking their particular year group from first year to sixth year, thus ensuring continuity of student care. Year heads meet their year groups through taking a roll twice daily, in the morning and afternoon before class. A class-tutor system is also in place and good liaison between year heads and class tutors is in evidence. Regarding the pastoral care of students, the roles of principal, deputy principal, year heads, class tutors and subject teachers are well documented. Very good communication between year heads and senior management and among year heads has been established through formal weekly meetings. Two year-head meetings (one for junior cycle and one for senior cycle) and a pastoral care team meeting are held each week, with senior management attending these meetings. Minutes of meetings are recorded. Year-head meetings deal not only with discipline matters, but also with the pastoral care of students, students’ academic progress, health issues and other matters relevant to the welfare of students. It was evident during the evaluation that these meetings, which are also attended by the guidance counsellor, the school chaplain and where relevant a representative from the learning-support team, provide a forum for discussing how best to cater for the welfare of each individual student. This is excellent practice.

 

Each year, a staff advisory committee, comprising the principal, deputy principal and five teachers elected from staff, is formed, with a view to looking at various aspects of the school, for example, staff development training and planning for the future. Issues of concern are highlighted and staff can feed into discussions of the advisory committee. A specified time is set aside for this group to meet. This committee has, in effect, played the role of a school developmental planning group and could be instrumental in implementing some of the recommendations to be found in the school planning section of this report.

 

Three formal staff meetings are held during the school year, together with an extended staff meeting at the beginning of the year. The latter usually includes some aspect of staff training or professional development, and some time is given to subject department planning. Staff members can contribute to the agenda for these meetings, which are usually chaired by the principal, and minutes are recorded. While day-to-day communication among members of staff, and between management and teaching staff, is working well,   some difficulties can arise when a member of staff has to communicate information to a large number of colleagues within a short time frame. It is therefore suggested that ways of improving effective communication, such as weekly notice bulletins, news sheets or through the e-portal system, should be investigated.

 

The CPD of staff is actively supported and encouraged by both senior management and, as previously mentioned, the board of management. Many members of the teaching staff have furthered their professional development through a variety of post-graduate and in-service courses with the help and support of the school. Whole-staff in-service training has been provided on a variety of relevant topics, including differentiated teaching techniques, Assessment for Learning and information relating to students with special educational needs. All of this is very positive.

 

Interaction between students and staff is very good. Fairness, equity and clear and consistent rules are emphasised in documentation relating to student management and the positive effects of this are evident. A well-documented and graduated disciplinary process is in place and this is regularly reviewed and amended. A system of cards is in place where a ‘first step’ monitoring card is issued before progressing to a disciplinary yellow-and-red card system. This is very positive. A student evaluation form is utilised when necessary to provide feedback from all subject teachers and to give a clearer picture of the student’s overall performance. The students’ journal provides immediate contact with parents and this is signed by parents regularly. Clear guidelines regarding the code of behaviour of the school are disseminated to students, parents and staff, and each incoming student agrees to, and signs, a copy of the code of behaviour. Currently, a review of the code is being carried out in light of the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) guidelines, with input from parents and students.

 

Some steps have been taken in the recent past to highlight positive student behaviour, such as acknowledging this through the students’ journal, assemblies and intercom announcements and this is greatly encouraged. An annual awards night recognises students’ positive contribution to school life as well as academic and sporting achievements. It is recommended that the current revision of the code of behaviour include a greater emphasis on a systemised and documented positive reward process. Suggestions include having a folder in the staffroom to record students’ positive contributions and behaviour, and presenting awards at regular intervals. Assemblies are held on an ad-hoc basis at present and some suggestions have been made that more regular year-group assemblies should be held. This is encouraged, both to provide an opportunity to affirm and applaud students’ achievements and to give students a greater sense of being part of the school community.

 

Student absenteeism is closely monitored by year heads and relevant data sent to the NEWB. A computerised system, where each teacher records attendance in the morning and afternoon, gives immediate data to year heads so that appropriate action can be taken. All subject teachers monitor attendance in their classes. All of this is good practice.

 

The issue of a small number of students with poor attendance and performance has been raised at staff meetings and steps taken to try to address this. Some of the suggestions included an emphasis on positive behaviour, and insisting on high standards of work and homework from students. It is felt that there is scope for a whole-staff action plan in relation to homework, where teachers could look at ways of ensuring that the regular setting, monitoring and assessing of homework could bring about a real improvement in students’ work.

 

Some members of the mathematics department have been involved in an Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative and it is planned that this be expanded to other subject areas. This is a very positive development. An in-service presentation was recently provided for the whole staff on AfL strategies, with input from staff members who have been involved in the initiative. As the AfL initiative relates not only to assessment but to a whole approach to teaching, these strategies will be of great practical benefit in the learning process. The AfL emphasis on engaging students to take more responsibility for their own learning should have a positive impact on student motivation. 

 

Another very positive initiative which has recently been introduced to the school involves a third-year student-mentoring system which has been put in place to motivate a number of students through academic monitoring. Skills such as study techniques, analytical skills and time management are discussed through regular meetings with individual students.  Students are helped to develop a study plan and techniques for studying. The school also provides supervised after-school study on three days each week and this is open to all students, but mainly taken up by certificate-examination classes.

 

As previously mentioned, the school has an open and inclusive admissions policy, which was revised in the light of recent legislation and has been adopted and ratified by the board of management. It is excellent practice that all students have access to all subjects and programmes and that, for example, students with special educational needs are encouraged to study a modern European language. It was noted that while enrolment documentation includes mention of an annual student fund contribution, there is no mention that this is voluntary. While it is evident that in practice this is waived if necessary and that this fund provides for costs related to the successful running of the school, it is recommended that the voluntary nature of this contribution be clearly stated.  

 

A students’ council, dating back to 1974 and which has changed in format over the years, currently consists of two representatives from each year group who are democratically elected by their peers. A constitution sets out the aims of the council. A staff member supports their work and officers meet regularly with the principal. The council meets every week. Commendably, the student council is consulted regarding school policies which relate directly to the student body. Further development of this is encouraged. To date, students’ councils in the school have been involved in discussion around the installation of school water fountains, new rugby jerseys, the new school jacket, reducing the availability of ‘junk food’ in the school shop, the organisation of a talent show and currently, a review of the school’s code of behaviour. As at present, members of the students’ council communicate with the general body of students on an informal basis, it is recommended that structures be put in place to improve the profile of the students’ council and to ensure that the council engages with and involves the full student community in the school. All students should be aware of the activities of the council and be able to contribute items for inclusion on the agenda for council meetings. A specially designated notice board or the school website would be of benefit in this regard. Useful resources and advice on running a student council can be found in the Second Level Student Councils Resource Pack produced by the National Children’s Office. The Department of Education and Science’s publication Student Councils: A Voice for Students gives practical guidance on the operation of students’ councils, and ideas for meaningful projects and activities can be found on the website www.studentcouncil.ie. The latter also gives clarification of the roles and duties of the officers of the students’ council. It is suggested that this year’s council should pick a particular project which will contribute to school life, such as the Healthy School or Green School projects, and involve the whole student body in this endeavour.

 

Leadership training is provided every year for a group of TY students who wish to become part of a Meitheal group in fifth year. Members of a Redemptorist team visit TY classes to promote Meitheal and all students who wish to apply are interviewed. A team of six to eight students is then selected to form the Meitheal group. The chaplain acts as support teacher for the group which aims to be of service to the school community. The Meitheal group provides support for first-year students and helps their integration into the school by organising a five-a-side soccer competition. Their contribution to school life is commended.

 

A long-standing parents’ association, which was a founding member of the Parents’ Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS), meets once a month and has contributed greatly to the life of the school over the years. It has been very active over the years in the development of the school building and sporting facilities. Members have provided speakers for careers talks and interviewers for mock interviews of students. They have been involved in the organisation of parents’ information evenings, sometimes in conjunction with other schools in the area, where speakers are invited to make a presentation to the general body of parents. An executive committee meets monthly and the principal attends meetings and reports to the parents’ association on school developments. The association plays an active role in policy formation and review, and members are currently contributing to the review of the code of behaviour. A link on the school website provides the general body of parents with contact details for the association and details of the AGM are sent to all parents. One of their main aims at present is to have some representation from parents of newcomer students on the association.

 

The general body of parents is informed about school activities through letters, newsletters and the website. Parents are regularly updated regarding their sons’ progress, both academically and generally. Reports on students’ progress are sent home four times per year and an annual parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group. The students’ journal provides a regular point of contact between subject teachers and parents. The parents of incoming first-year students are met individually prior to the students’ entry to the school and two induction meetings are held in September of their sons’ first year. Parent-teacher meetings for first-year students are held in first term so that any problems can be addressed at an early stage. Meetings with individual teachers, year heads or class tutors can be arranged by appointment and, in general, parent representatives expressed satisfaction at the high level of communication between school and home regarding their sons’ progress.

 

Links with the community are very strong, with a broad-ranging programme of adult education classes provided by the school and school facilities made available to many local sports clubs and societies. Transition Year students and students taking the LCVP complete work experience modules with the support of local businesses, and speakers have been invited into the school to talk to students on a variety of topics. Community work in the locality is undertaken by TY students as part of their programme and this also contributes to the very positive links which exist between the local community and the school. Links with outside agencies such as the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist, the education welfare officer (EWO) and the visiting teacher for the deaf (VTD) are strongly maintained.

 

The school demonstrates a strong culture of self-evaluation and review. It is evident that this is ongoing and involves the members of staff, management and the board. Student outcomes are considered against national norms and inform planning decisions. All of this is very positive.

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school operates a short teaching day on Wednesdays to facilitate sporting activities but has ensured compliance regarding the required 28-hour contact-teaching time. Members of the teaching staff in the school are appropriately deployed and good emphasis is placed on subject-specific CPD for members of staff. In total there are forty-seven teachers employed in the school, including the principal, deputy principal and school chaplain. Thirty teachers are employed on a permanent whole-time basis, four on a temporary whole-time basis and nine on a part-time basis. There are four teachers with contracts of indefinite duration on the staff and management has planned well for their deployment. In the context of the recent cutbacks in education, one of the main challenges for the board is to maintain the present subject choice for students, as a temporary fall in enrolment numbers last year could result in a reduced teacher quota next year. Three special needs assistants (SNAs) are employed by the school and contribute to the care of students with special needs. Members of the non-teaching staff include two school caretakers, two school secretaries and a part-time housekeeper who all play major roles in the smooth running of the school. During the evaluation, representatives of the parents’ association expressed their appreciation of the help and support provided by the administrative staff in the school.

 

Most teachers have their own base classroom, with ample storage facilities. This provides an excellent opportunity to have students’ work, subject-related posters and charts displayed on the walls of the classroom. In many of the individual classrooms, teachers have taken full advantage of this to create rich, colourful and stimulating learning environments. This is greatly encouraged as a way of further motivating and interesting students in their learning. Teaching resources for subject departments are accessed through a formal requisition process and all reasonable requests are facilitated. Subject areas are, on the whole, very well resourced. As previously mentioned, senior management and the board have been proactive in providing information and communication technologies (ICT) for the teaching staff. It is commendable that all teachers have been supplied with their own laptop computers and that all classrooms have been equipped with data projectors, televisions and video or DVD players and audiovisual equipment where necessary. The school has broadband internet access throughout the school building. A post-holder has been appointed to further the development of ICT in the school and staff in-service on the use of the two newly acquired interactive whiteboards has been facilitated. It is good practice that in-house expertise in this area is being shared with other members of staff. The school has installed an e-portal system which provides for the recording of information on examination entries, students’ progress, attendance and punctuality. Further development of this is planned to facilitate online access for parents to students’ individual records and examination results.

 

The school is airy and bright, providing a pleasant working environment. Construction of the present school building began in 1971, with an extension completed in the late 1970s. Commendably, much work has been undertaken over the years to ensure that the school building is well maintained and updated. Some of the work over the years has included having the roof and windows replaced, a fire detection system installed, the lighting and flooring replaced, new toilets, a new kitchen, a new zoned-heating system, updated electrical wiring, upgraded equipment in the woodwork room, the refurbishment of the sports hall, two new computer rooms, wired internet and wireless broadband network throughout the building, new student seating in the social areas, water-cooler fountains, soundproofing in the sports hall, data projectors in all rooms and the upgrading of the school library.

 

The school has three fully equipped and well-maintained science laboratories with store rooms attached. The board of management has identified a need to upgrade the physics laboratory and hopes to avail of the Department’s summer works scheme to enable this work to be carried out. Practical rooms include a well-equipped engineering room, a technical drawing room and a bright and airy woodwork room, with a newly assigned cutting room and dust extractor. A large art room is equipped with a pottery kiln and potting wheels. The school has three computer rooms, including the newly fitted-out t4 computer room for technology subjects. The large, well-stocked library has been revamped in recent years and now provides a comfortable and attractive space, with computers available for students’ use. A designated room for special educational needs is well equipped. One of the guidance counsellors has his own office and the school also has a careers room with a careers library and internet access, where students can access information on courses. The school also has a prayer room which can be used by small groups of students. Specific areas in the school are designated as social areas for the different year groups and good planning has provided year heads with their own offices, complete with phones, in these designated areas. A work room attached to the staffroom provides additional working space for staff members and there are staff lockers in the roomy staffroom. A small shop provides snacks for students and teachers at break times. An attractive courtyard garden area, complete with water feature, has been developed by Transition Year students as a millennium project.

 

Sporting facilities in the school are good. They include an all-weather playing field, two grass playing fields, two tennis courts and a large multi-purpose sports hall. It is commended that joint projects with local clubs have been undertaken over the years to improve the sporting facilities in the school. Current negotiations include a proposed Astroturf pitch and the development of a gymnastics training facility in conjunction with the local gymnastics club. Such collaboration with the local community is greatly encouraged.

 

A notable feature of the school is the number of photographs, certificates, posters and trophies displayed throughout the school, representing students’ participation and achievements in many different fields of activity dating back through the years. The trophy cabinets show evidence of the many impressive sporting successes of teams in a variety of different sports and activities, helping to create a sense of pride and ownership within the school of students’ achievements over the years.

 

The school has a safety policy, outlining safety procedures for staff members and students. A post-holder has been designated as the school’s health-and-safety officer. A health-and-safety committee, consisting of the deputy principal, the school health-and-safety officer, one of the school caretakers and representatives from the science and practical departments, has been formed and meets with the principal concerning issues of health and safety in the school.  A comprehensive health-and-safety audit was carried out by an outside agency in 1997 and all recommendations were carried out subsequently. An annual internal audit is carried out, with a room safety inventory completed by all teachers. All of this is good practice. However, it is suggested that the safety policy should include details of how often safety audits are to be carried out and give details of how often the committee meets. The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency/Department of Education and Science) gives guidelines relating to health and safety in schools and suggests that classroom safety inspections should be carried out once a term. It also recommends that safe operational areas around machines in practical rooms should be identified and markings set down on the floor demarcating safe operational areas. Management is strongly urged to act upon these guidelines.

 

A post-holder has been assigned the role of environmental officer and the school operates a recycling system with help from TY students. One of the stated long-term aims of the environmental officer is to participate in the Green School initiative and this is encouraged. During the evaluation visit it was noted that the school environment and buildings were very well maintained. The contribution of TY horticulture students was particularly noted in the impressive array of crocuses and daffodils appearing through the snow.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

Douglas Community School has engaged in school development planning and work, to date, includes the development of a wide range of school policies which have been formulated in collaboration with the board, parents and teachers, with some input from students. This is very good practice. Most legally required policies are, commendably, in place and have been ratified by the board of management. These  include policies relating to: admissions and enrolment; pastoral care; bullying; substance abuse; critical incidents; bereavement; code of behaviour; learning support; disciplinary, appeals and complaints procedures; suspensions and expulsions; health and safety; and social and personal health education (SPHE). It is suggested that all policies should be incorporated into one folder to form the permanent section of an overall school plan. Some policies are available on the school’s website and policies relating to student welfare are disseminated to parents and students, which is commended. It is hoped to put all of the school policies on the website eventually and this is encouraged.

 

Some very good work has been carried out in preparation for the development of a whole-school guidance policy and it is reported that work is also ongoing on a special educational needs policy. A group meets regularly to work on the whole-school guidance plan and progress to date shows an excellent understanding of what is involved. It is suggested that input into this process from the SPHE department would be beneficial. A review of other policies, such as the code of behaviour and procedures for critical incidents, is ongoing. It is reported that a relations and sexuality education (RSE) policy has been prepared but has not yet been ratified by the board of management. The school is encouraged to formalise this policy in the near future. It is also recommended that, in line with data-protection legislation, a policy on the management, storage and access to data records be prepared. The school has begun to include dates of ratification and dates for review on prepared policies and this good practice is encouraged for all policies.

 

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.

 

All subject departments have been engaged in the process of subject planning and the file of subject plans which has been compiled shows evidence of good work. Subject convenors for each subject have been appointed and, in most subjects, this role is shared among members of the team over time, which is recommended practice. Individual subject plans are at various stages of development and are based around the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), giving details of teaching resources, curriculum content and themes to be covered by each year group, homework and assessment policy for each subject area, and class-organisation details. The good work to date is commended and it is to be hoped that all subject areas will be able to progress this valuable work further. Time is allocated at the beginning of the school year for this process and subject departments can arrange other meeting times if requested. It is felt that more time is needed over the course of the school year to really bring this process forward. It is recommended therefore that designated time be allocated to structured subject-planning sessions during the regular whole-staff meetings which are held throughout the year. The fact that many members of staff are involved in a number of subject areas has proved problematic in that they cannot attend all planning meetings. This problem could be somewhat alleviated by having smaller core-subject groups and this is again alluded to in Section 3.1 of this report. Some of the perceived benefits accruing from the subject-planning process include the sharing of teaching resources and more co-ordination of curriculum content.

 

One of the current priorities highlighted by the board of management and senior management during this whole-school evaluation is the need to focus on teaching and learning, with a view to maintaining student achievement at a high level. Some of the subject inspections which form part of this whole-school evaluation have highlighted a need to focus on learning outcomes and teaching strategies to increase students’ active participation in lessons and to encourage independent learning. The subject-planning process can provide a very useful vehicle for subject teams to investigate ways in which different methodologies can be incorporated into classroom practice to promote student engagement and achievement. It provides a forum for the sharing of expertise and successful practice. It is recommended that subject planning should focus on learning outcomes and specific teaching and learning strategies, with these aims in mind. In order to ensure progress, it would be important to specify action plans and time frames. It is suggested that a whole-staff approach could be taken initially, developing into subject-department areas working together to share ideas and methodologies. A small core team of members of staff could be formed to look specifically at teaching and learning and help disseminate findings from ongoing research, to be incorporated into classroom practice. Planning activities could include a day on teaching and learning, where subject areas focus on ways of promoting active-learning methodologies in their subject area with a view to improving overall student achievement. The Second Level Support Service (SLSS), who have been availed of in the past for whole-staff in-service, can provide further practical whole-staff and subject-department support in teaching and learning methodologies. Follow-up on this could then be facilitated by providing designated time for subject groups to work together. The previously mentioned Assessment for Learning initiative, undertaken by members of the mathematics department could feed into this process by providing some useful insights into classroom practice.

 

School self-review has been ongoing for many years in Douglas Community School. State examination results are analysed by the board of management, senior management and subject teachers with a view to informing planning. As previously mentioned, the staff advisory committee has effectively acted as a school planning team to date, in that it has played a major role in looking at priorities for the school. The committee, in recent years, has had a weekly scheduled meeting time and some priorities to date have included the ongoing promotion of the school and the development of a student-tracking system. This committee is well placed to play a central role in future school development planning activities.

 

It is very positive that a school development planning (SDP) co-ordinator has been appointed for the first time this year, following the review of post-holders’ duties, as the need for a more co-ordinated approach to SDP was identified during that review. The co-ordinator has attended several cluster meetings in relation to his post and, at present, liaises with subject convenors on an informal basis. It may be worth investigating more formal lines of communication in order to move the subject planning process forward. It is suggested that specific training in SDP could be accessed by a member or members of staff who have a particular interest in this area. Further information on the post-graduate diploma in school development planning and on SDPI summer schools is available on the SDPI website.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school offers a broad curriculum both at Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate levels, with a very good range of subjects, including a wide choice of practical subjects and a choice between two modern European languages. Apart from a learning-support class, students are in mixed-ability groupings, with some setting in the core subjects. All students take the fourth-year TY programme. Take-up of the LCVP programme is strong, with approximately forty per cent of the Leaving Certificate cohort taking up this option. As previously mentioned, students with special educational needs are offered the opportunity to study the full range of subjects, including a European language, which is good practice. It is to be commended that all students are encouraged to take higher-level courses for the certificate examinations and follow this level for as long as possible. The school introduced the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme about ten years ago but decided to discontinue this due to a lack of uptake. As one of the stated aims of the mission statement is to develop the full potential of each student, it is recommended that the school consider the possibility of reintroducing this programme, which provides an alternative for those students who may find that the established Leaving Certificate programme does not suit their needs. It would be important to ensure that the advantages of such a programme are communicated to the parents of those students who could benefit from the programme.

 

The curriculum is regularly reviewed by senior management and, over the years, curricular provision has been expanded to include new programmes and courses. Currently, junior cycle subjects on offer include Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science, Religious Education (RE), Physical Education, Computer Studies, SPHE, CSPE and either French or German. Optional subjects include Art, Craft and Design; Business Studies; Technical Graphics; Materials Technology (Wood) and Metalwork. Senior cycle subjects include the seven core subjects of Mathematics, English, RE (either as an examination or non-examination subject), Irish, Physical Education, Computer Studies and either German or French. Optional subjects at senior cycle include Accounting, Business, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, History, Art, Architectural Technology, Engineering Technology, Design and Communication Graphics, Construction Studies, Applied Maths and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.

 

It is very positive that, although Music is not offered as an examination subject in the school, students’ musical talents are nurtured through a yearly musical production by TY students and through the school choir, who have represented the school at carol services and choral festivals. The contribution which members of staff make to provide this is applauded.

 

The senior management team of principal and deputy principal carries out the task of organising the school timetable. In general, timetabling provides sufficient and suitable class-contact time for most subjects, in line with syllabus requirements. However management is aware that in some core subject areas, such as Maths and English, class-contact time in junior cycle falls short of the recommended allocation. While cognisant of the difficulties in drawing up a timetable to provide for all subject areas, particularly in junior cycle, it is however recommended that continuing efforts be made to ensure that sufficient time is allocated to the core subjects of Mathematics and English. Students who opt to take the LCVP in fifth year are timetabled in the same block as Physical Education and Leaving Certificate Religious Education. As a result, they have only one single lesson of Physical Education during fifth year. Although it can be difficult to organise the timetable in such a way that students do not lose out on some subject area, it is suggested that this arrangement be kept under review. It is good to see that sixth-year LCVP students are provided with a double period of Physical Education.

 

All teachers are qualified to teach in their subject areas and are suitably deployed. Subject teachers are timetabled to take their class groups through from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year, thus providing continuity for students. In some subject areas, teachers are rotated from year to year to ensure that all members of the subject department have the opportunity to teach the subject to all years and at all levels. This good practice should be extended to all subject areas to ensure a wide skills base and to maintain a common pool of expertise. It was noted during the evaluation that some teachers are involved in teaching a large number of subject areas. This has resulted in quite large teaching teams in some subjects. While acknowledging that part of the reason for this is due to the very valuable provision of in-class support for students with special educational needs, it is nevertheless suggested that planning for a smaller core team of teachers in subject areas would facilitate specialisation and subject planning.

 

A programme co-ordinator has been appointed, with responsibility for both TY and LCVP. The TY year head supports the co-ordinator in the organisation of TY, which is very well established in the school. The programme was introduced into the school in the late 1980s and became compulsory about fifteen years ago. It is suggested that the compulsory nature of the TY year should be kept under ongoing review to ensure that this suits the needs of all students. The programme offers students a wide variety of activities, including work experience, community service and involvement in an annual musical production. A very positive feature of the year is that ongoing review of the programme content can result in changes from year to year in response to students’ preferences and interests.

 

Educational and vocational guidance form part of the TY programme as students have the opportunity to look at future career directions. Students undertake to engage in community service for a few hours each week during one half of the TY year, in a variety of local organisations. They also complete two weeks’ work experience and while this is supervised by the TY co-ordinator, they are responsible for finding their own placements. Students’ community service and work experience are well organised, with appropriate preparation and subsequent student reflection. Job-searching and communication skills form part of the work-experience preparation and students complete work-experience and community-service diaries. The co-ordinator visits students at their places of work. The suggestion has been made that some of the co-ordinator’s workload could be shared by other members of staff who may be interested in visiting students during their work or community-service placements. It is also suggested that, as part of educational guidance, a learning-to-learn module, getting students to think about how they learn, could be a very beneficial addition to the TY year as a means of encouraging senior cycle students to become more self-directed learners.

 

TY students have the opportunity to complete modules in a variety of activities. These have included first aid; horticulture; arts and crafts; car maintenance and safety; film-making; fitness training; an extra language such as Spanish, Italian or Russian; self-defence; music workshops; dance workshops and creative writing. Other options include taking part in a mini-company where students come up with a marketable product to sell, a safe-food module and completion of the European Computer Driving Licence. During the evaluation, the very real benefits of links with the local community were observed in a Log on Learn for Older People lesson, where TY students were teaching older members of the local community computer skills. It was evident that both groups were benefiting greatly from this initiative. One of the highlights of the year is the production of a musical drama, where all TY students become involved in some aspect of the production, from constructing sets to playing the accompanying music. After the musical, students hold dance and music workshops for visiting primary school children. Other activities in which TY students participate include hill walking and outdoor pursuits. All of these provide a rich and varied learning experience for students.

 

Students study seven core subjects throughout the year and take three-week ‘taster’ modules in the other senior cycle optional subjects, three of which they can go on to choose for the Leaving Certificate. This provides students with the opportunity to experience the different subjects before deciding on their options, which is very positive. Choices for Leaving Certificate are made at Christmas during TY and students then continue to study the subjects which they will be taking for their Leaving Certificate examination. The fact that choices for Leaving Certificate are made after first term in TY can impact on lesson content and teaching methodologies for the rest of the year. While in most subjects the content of the TY subject plan was in line with the aims and spirit of the year, in a small number of subject areas concern was expressed that the TY plan was based solely on Leaving Certificate material and not in line with ethos of TY.  The Guidelines on Transition Year issued by the Department of Education and Science (1994), and highlighted in Circular M1/00, state that: A Transition Year programme is not part of the Leaving Certificate programme, and should not be seen as an opportunity for spending three years rather than two studying Leaving Certificate material……where Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study it should be done so on the clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way in which it would have been treated in the two years to Leaving Certificate. Care should be taken in all subject areas that teaching and learning in TY reflects the emphasis on developing independent learning through activity-based learning and innovative teaching methodologies.

 

The LCVP was introduced into the school ten years ago as the school formed part of a pilot group of schools. The school programme co-ordinator liaises with the teachers of the link modules in the organisation of the programme and students complete a work-shadowing programme during the second term of fifth year. One of the guidance counsellors is timetabled for class-contact time with the students to cover the career aspects of the link modules. The LCVP programme includes visits from outside speakers, visits to local enterprises and contact with local charities. The healthy uptake of LCVP is evidence of a well-organised and successful programme.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Good procedures have been put in place to ensure that students and their parents are well informed regarding subject choices. An open day is held for prospective students and their parents in the year prior to entry, with input from a representative from the parents’ association and students’ council. Parents are interviewed individually with their sons to discuss subject choices and the student’s aptitudes and needs in general. First-year students choose two options from a list of Art, Craft and Design, Business Studies, Technical Graphics, Woodwork and Metalwork prior to entry into the school. All students study the remainder of subjects, including either French or German to which students are allocated. While recognising the need to ensure that both languages remain viable within the school, it is suggested that this latter arrangement should be kept under constant review to ensure that students study the language of their choice. It is also suggested that the possibility of offering a short ‘taster’ period to first-year students prior to choosing their options is something which the school may wish to reconsider at some stage in the future. 

 

At the beginning of the year, an induction day is held for first-year students and this includes a tour of the school given by the Meitheal team of students and meetings with their class tutor and year head. Commendably, a ‘buddy’ system has been introduced where all fifth-year students are twinned with first-year students to help the new cohort of students integrate into the school. A football league is organised by the Meitheal team to help students make new friends. In first term, two induction meetings are held for parents to give advice and information on their sons’ transition to post-primary school. The school holds the first-year parent-teacher meeting in first term to ensure that any settling-in problems are dealt with in the early stages of the students’ time at the school. All of this is very positive.

 

TY students are interviewed individually by the guidance counsellors regarding subject choices for senior cycle and an information evening is held for parents to further inform decisions. Career implications are clearly explained before students make their choice of Leaving Certificate subjects after first term of the TY year. The special educational needs team liaises with the guidance counsellors and, where relevant, has a significant input into this process. Regarding career and third-level choices, students and parents can make individual appointments with the guidance counsellor on request. Students are facilitated to attend open days for further information on third-level courses. All of this is very good provision. It is evident that guidance and support for students at the various stages of transition in the school is very good.

 

Senior cycle students choose from option bands which tend to stay the same from year to year. Efforts are made to facilitate all students and it is reported that the majority of students get their choice of subjects. It is, however, suggested that management should investigate the possibility of introducing a system whereby students are offered an open choice of subjects which would then inform timetabling.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

The extensive range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities provided by a dedicated staff is one of the great strengths of Douglas Community School.  The variety of activities on offer ensures a high level of participation among students. Among the many co-curricular activities provided are visits to the Blackrock Observatory, theatre, galleries, museums, cinemas, libraries, the Dáil, local enterprises, science exhibitions and lectures. Students have successfully participated in many competitions and quizzes relating to different subject areas, such as Science Olympiads, the Young Scientist and Technology competition, Young Social Innovators, the President’s Gaisce awards, a robotics competition, photography competitions, cookery competitions, art competitions, metalwork competitions, German debates, public speaking and debating competitions, and maths and business quizzes. History and Geography fieldtrips form part of the curriculum in those subjects. The German department has been involved in a student exchange with a partner school in Köln since 1997 and an annual skiing tour is also organised.

 

Extracurricular activities include athletics, basketball, golf, soccer, hurling, tennis, badminton, swimming, gaelic football, table tennis, rugby, pitch and putt, fitness training and chess. Over the years, students have represented Ireland in athletics, soccer, golf, rowing, sailing and swimming, and have played on Cork teams for hurling, football and soccer. The school has a policy of ‘sport for all’ encouraging participation in a large variety of different sports where all students can find a sport which suits their interests and skills. As a result, a very high proportion of students are actively involved in extracurricular activities. A great many successes have been achieved in a variety of sporting activities. Fundraising is another activity in which the school becomes involved from time to time, providing Christmas hampers and raising funds for projects in Uganda and Kenya. Students can also join a Trocaire group within the school and recent projects have involved research on developmental issues. The annual Gradam awards night celebrates students’ participation and achievement in co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Great praise is due to the teachers for their contribution to such a wide range of activities.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

It is evident that good progress has been made in collaborative subject planning, which is ongoing in the school. Appended subject inspection reports commended the level of collaborative planning to date. Although the school has had limited engagement as yet with the SDPI support service in relation to subject planning, subject teams are using SDPI resources to further this process. Subject convenors have been appointed, usually on a rotational basis, which is recommended practice. This role involves preparing the minutes of meetings, looking after the induction of new subject teachers and co-ordinating the subject plan. The good practice of keeping electronic records of planning meetings is commended, as is staff involvement in updating and sharing resource material, including electronic resources. Planning for resources in all subject areas was of a high standard.

 

Good work has been carried out on the preparation of subject plans which include aims and objectives, details of cross-curricular planning, resource lists and long-term plans for year groups and levels. Teachers are to be commended for their collaboration in the compilation of these plans, particularly as some of the plans have advanced to the stage of focusing on teaching and learning in the classroom and the development of teaching methodologies. Specific recommendations for the further development of these plans in each subject area are given in the appended subject inspection reports. In all subjects evaluated, teachers are encouraged to further develop subject planning to include a focus on learning outcomes, modes of assessment and teaching methodologies. They are also urged to share their individual skills and teaching strategies, particularly in relation to engaging the range of students’ abilities and learning styles.

 

Apart from the scheduled planning meeting held at the beginning of the school year, some subject areas meet informally on a regular basis and this is commended. In order to further develop the subject planning process, it is recommended that more designated subject-planning time be incorporated into whole-staff meetings during the year, to allow for the discussion of key areas such as teaching methodologies, learning outcomes, and modes of assessment. 

 

While in some subject areas, planning for TY content is in line with the aims and spirit of the year, it is recommended in some of the appended subject inspection reports that planning for the TY programme should include the incorporation of innovative teaching approaches and the inclusion of material which is not solely preparation for the Leaving Certificate examination. As mentioned in section 3.1 of this report, teaching and learning in the TY year should aim to develop independent learning through activity-based learning.

 

The standard of individual planning for lessons is commended in all subjects. The preparation of worksheets, handouts, visual presentations using ICT and other teaching materials helped to enhance the quality of the lessons and had a positive impact on students’ learning.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Overall, there was evidence of good teaching and learning in the subjects evaluated and many examples of good teaching practice were observed. In the classes where teachers set high standards of expectation for their students it was noted that students responded to these expectations. The good practice, on the part of teachers, of setting out a clear learning intention and identifying the learning outcomes at the beginning of lessons was commented on in a number of subjects. Such an approach assists in mapping out a lesson for students, consequently raising interest and making explicit the objective of lessons for students’ benefits. Subject reports also highlighted other strategies associated with Assessment for Learning, such as peer assessment, explicitly stating success criteria, the use of plenary sessions and the sharing of learning outcomes with students at the end of lessons. It is recommended that these practices be adopted across subject departments.

 

A range of resources was used effectively in lessons. These included ICT, the whiteboard and other visual stimuli. In one subject, the practice whereby teachers downloaded material from the internet for use as a teaching aid was praised, although it was suggested that care should be taken that such material is checked with regard to its clarity when being presented to students. It was also suggested that further internet resources could be accessed to support the acquisition of specific skills on the part of students.

 

Questioning was used frequently in lessons, with good practice seen where students were named, questions targeted and answers affirmed. Question-and-answer sessions were also successfully utilised at the beginning of lessons to examine students’ learning and to consolidate previously learned material. In one subject, a move to more varied questioning techniques, rather than just teacher-directed questioning was advocated, while in another subject a movement from the ‘how’ of subject skills to the ‘why’ was highlighted as an area for development. In several subject areas, good linkage of lesson content with the students’ everyday life and interests, making the topic relevant and tangible, was noted and commended.

 

A range of methodologies was used in lessons during the course of the evaluation. The most effective methodologies focused on the active engagement of students during lessons. Where a variety of stimulating and engaging tasks was integrated into the lessons this was commended. The use of pair work and interactive classroom discussion was praised. In one subject area, good practice was noted where continued reinforcement of students’ understanding occurred through intermittent questioning, short student activities, illustrations and teacher demonstration. In another instance, the inspector noted that some flexibility in the use of teaching methods was, commendably, suited to the needs of students. In some lessons it was commented that, while lesson content was delivered effectively, the lesson was overly teacher-directed and students were largely passive and not always fully engaged in their learning. A feature of inspectors’ comments was the need for greater emphasis to be placed on the incorporation of a range of teaching methodologies which would more actively engage students in class. Some possibilities mentioned in reports include more open questioning strategies, the use of student-generated questions, pair work, small-group work, investigation, more student practical and oral work, discussion, consolidation and quiz activities. It is therefore recommended that subject departments focus more on the development of active-learning methodologies which will give students more responsibility for their own learning. This could be enhanced, as previously mentioned, through the discussion and sharing of successful strategies between members of each subject-teaching team as part of the school development planning process.

 

Overall, students demonstrated a good level of understanding and learning. In a number of subjects, students’ ability to apply procedures and skills learned to particular problems was noted. In one subject area, the impressive ability of students to engage with higher-order skills and questioning, demonstrating their level of understanding of the topics being studied, was highlighted. Students answered questions well in most cases. Learning was also demonstrated through engagement with class discussions and other classroom activities.

 

Classroom management was good in all cases. In general, students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process. Where rooms were decorated with maps, posters and samples of students’ work, creating a rich learning environment, this was commented upon favourably. Classroom seating arrangements were organised to facilitate classroom activities. Discipline was maintained in a sensitive manner and, where two teachers were involved in teaching, this was done seamlessly, succeeding in promoting students’ learning. Inspectors also commented on the positive manner in which the needs of individual students were attended to in some classes.

 

Inspectors universally commented very favourably on student-teacher interactions and on the general atmosphere in classes. The courteous and respectful attitudes displayed during lessons were noted and commented upon. In one instance, the manner in which students displayed sensitivity to the views of others, along with a clear understanding of the issues being discussed, was praised. Overall, the affirmation provided by teachers to their students was commendable and resulted in a very good rapport between both groups.

 

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Comprehensive assessment procedures are in place in the school. Formal house examinations are held at Christmas for all but TY students. Certificate-examination classes have pre-examinations in March and non-examination classes, including TY, have house examinations in the summer. The outcomes of these are reported to parents through written school reports. A report also issues to parents of TY students at Christmas. Continuous assessment is carried out in all subjects and this feeds into mid-term reports to parents during the first two terms of the year, so that parents receive four annual reports in all. This is very good provision. Parents are facilitated to make appointments with individual teachers or year heads as necessary. Records of students’ progress are maintained electronically by subject teachers. In many subjects, agreed common assessments are used in junior cycle and this allows students to change levels with ease. TY students’ progress is further assessed through the presentation of project work and portfolios. Annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group are organised to discuss students’ progress. In the areas of languages and practical subjects, oral or practical assessment forms part of the overall assessment for some year groups. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all year groups. It is to be commended that, following the recent science inspection, practical work has been included in the overall annual assessment of students’ progress in junior cycle.

 

Students are informally assessed in lessons through oral questioning, the completion of classroom tasks and through the setting of homework. Homework was assigned and used within the teaching-and-learning process in many of the lessons observed. In some lessons homework tasks were monitored and corrected by teachers on completion of topics for study as they progressed through their teaching programme. There was clear evidence in lessons of the monitoring and correcting of homework, project work and practical notebooks by teachers. It is recommended however, that teachers focus particularly on the quality of assessment of homework. This focus should be centrally concerned with the learning outcomes arising from homework tasks and on the quality formative feedback provided to students to progress their learning. Homework should be used to assess learning and provide students with clear feedback and direction on how to progress and improve their learning. In some cases, it was recommended that teachers should ensure that students have the correct version of answers or solutions to tasks in their copybooks to facilitate improvement and revision. The emphasis on learning outcomes and formative assessment will complement the high expectations of teachers for their students and the strong uptake of higher levels that is clearly evident in many subject areas. It will also ensure the continual monitoring and improvement of achievement of students in some subjects.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Overall provision of support for students with special educational needs in the school is very good. All students identified as having special educational needs are encouraged and facilitated to participate fully in the life of the school. Good communication is maintained between mainstream teachers and the special educational needs team to ensure that all teachers have the necessary information regarding students’ needs. Links with local primary schools regarding students with special needs are timely and effective so that incoming first-year students have the necessary supports in place. Regular links between the special educational needs team and the pastoral care team provide for the holistic care of students with special needs. The school liaises regularly with parents and maintains effective links with appropriate outside agencies in meeting the students’ needs.

 

Prior to entry into the school, assessments are carried out to ascertain students’ educational needs and the results of these are used sensitively in planning suitable learning programmes to meet the requirements of these students. Models of support are matched to students’ needs. Mostly, these consist of in-class support or team-teaching, the creation of small classes in junior cycle, and withdrawal where necessary. A team of teachers is involved in providing in-class support for students in the small mainstream classes in junior cycle and works closely with the subject teachers to support students in their learning. This system is working very well. Guidelines for in-class support and the setting of homework have been prepared by the learning-support team for the whole staff. All of this is very good practice. The special educational needs team keeps a register of all students with special needs and their progress is recorded. Where students are withdrawn from class, resource teachers enter updated progress sheets into student files, which are kept in the designated learning-support room. It is suggested that, over time, it would be of benefit to formalise this process. An electronic register, giving details of students’ hours, how these are implemented and the teachers involved, the students’ strengths and feedback from individual teachers, would provide an overall picture of how students are progressing. It is reported that the development of individual education plans for relevant students is underway and this is encouraged to ensure input from all relevant parties

 

Two experienced, appropriately qualified and dedicated teachers form the main learning-support team in the school. They have spent many years working together and co-ordinate the assessment and identification of students’ needs between them before deciding how best to support these students. They have a regular weekly timetabled meeting. Apart from a formal planning meeting at the beginning of the year, they liaise with other teachers informally and when necessary. Information and practical teaching guidelines regarding students with special needs are given to all teachers involved.

 

Resources for learning support in the school are very good. The designated special educational needs room is bright, airy and well equipped. Some students have been assigned laptop computers and all students have access to ICT. To date, a learning-support policy has been prepared, and it is reported that preparation of a whole-school special educational needs policy is ongoing. It is suggested that the Department publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines (2007) should further inform its development. The school is urged to progress this in order to formalise the good practices already in place. Three special needs assistants are employed by the school and their duties are well documented. Their contribution to caring for students with special educational needs is acknowledged and commended.

 

Management’s commitment to providing for students with additional educational needs is evident in the efforts which have been made to facilitate whole-staff professional development on additional educational needs over the years. It is to be commended that the board of management has ensured that students with physical disabilities can be accommodated throughout the school building. Provision for students requiring English-language tuition in the school is good, with the use of appropriate assessment procedures and teaching resources. English language support for parents of students of English as an Additional Language (EAL) is provided through the adult education programme in the school. It is suggested that the policy for EAL could include the school’s policy on the acknowledgement and promotion of students’ home languages. Good awareness of the needs of gifted students is apparent in the supports provided by the school. In line with the mission statement, all students from minority groups or disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged and facilitated in all aspects of school life. Supports for students from disadvantaged backgrounds are sensitively provided and it is suggested that the good practices in relation to these students should be put in writing.

 

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The appended inspection report on Guidance commends the high quality of guidance provision in the school. Good communication and leadership have ensured the provision of a very strong student-support system. The well-planned and documented programme for Guidance includes good provision of personal, educational and vocational guidance for students at all stages in the school, from incoming first-year students to sixth-year students.  The guidance department plan provides very good support for students at the various stages of transition, including the induction of new students into the school, the choice of optional subjects and programmes and transition from school to higher and further education and training. As outlined in section 3.2 of this report, comprehensive systems are in place to advise students and their parents regarding choice of subjects and programmes, and these include information evenings, class inputs and individual appointments with guidance counsellors. Vocational guidance input into the TY and LCVP programmes is also provided by the guidance team. Other guidance inputs at class level are arranged on a planned intermittent basis. Student referrals to the guidance department for individual personal counselling are dealt with immediately and referrals to external agencies are managed by senior management in collaboration with the student-support team.

 

Two appropriately qualified guidance counsellors, one of whom is employed in a part-time capacity, are involved in the delivery of Guidance in the school. The school’s allocation for Guidance is twenty-eight hours. Resources for Guidance in the school are very good, with two designated rooms provided. One serves as a guidance library, with ICT provision, photocopier and display facilities, and the other, conveniently located, office is also well equipped with ICT provision, storage facilities, telephone and office equipment.  Students’ access to guidance information is facilitated through internet access in the library and computer rooms in the school. As broadband access is available in all classrooms and, as previously mentioned, teachers have been provided with laptop computers, students have no difficulty accessing information.

 

Excellent work is ongoing in the preparation of a whole-school guidance plan. One of the guidance counsellors attends the modular guidance planning course managed by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). Work to date shows evidence of reflective practice involving the core student-support staff. The whole-school guidance planning team, which includes the chaplain, a representative from the special educational needs department and the pastoral care team, meets regularly to carry out this work. A recommendation has been made in section 2.1 of this report that the SPHE department should also have input into this process. Ongoing communication between guidance counsellors, year heads, the pastoral care team and special educational needs department is good. The inclusion of a guidance counsellor at weekly year-head meetings and at student-support team meetings is indicative of the school’s holistic care of its students. It is to be commended that management facilitates professional counselling support for the guidance team and that counsellors are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.

 

The school has an excellent system of care for students. While it is evident that all members of staff see themselves as being involved in the care and support of students, the roles of class tutors and year heads combine to create a formal system for the holistic care of individual students. The fact that the year heads’ offices are situated in the social areas of their year groups and that they have contact with the students both morning and afternoon is of particular benefit. Class tutors play an important role in the early identification of students with difficulties or potential problems. While management ensures that they have regular teaching contact time with their assigned class groups, a designated tutorial time with the class is no longer possible due to timetabling restrictions, but the current system seems to be working well. Both class tutors and year heads maintain contact with parents and are available to parents who wish to meet them. The year head meets subject and class teachers, class groups and individual students regularly. As previously suggested, more regular year assemblies would provide a further opportunity to affirm positive behaviour and celebrate students’ achievements. The roles of both year heads and class tutors are clearly defined and very good guidelines are given to teachers new to the roles.

 

The existence of a long-established pastoral care team, which comprises the principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, chaplain and learning-support co-ordinator, shows further evidence that the school prioritises the welfare of its students. This group meets weekly and regularly liaises with teachers and year heads regarding the welfare of individual students. In addition to this, two weekly year-head meetings are held, one for junior cycle and one for senior cycle. Senior management and the guidance counsellor also attend these meetings.

 

The chaplaincy plays a major role in fostering the ethos of the Christian community and the spiritual life of school. Liturgical celebrations take place at regular intervals throughout the year and links with the local parishes are actively encouraged. The chaplaincy is also involved with the organisation of a wide range of school activities, such as the Meitheal and Trocaire student groups, the ‘buddy’ system and soccer competitions for first-year students and activities for charities within the school.

 

All students in fifth year undertake training to act as mentors to first-year students and this is a very worthwhile system to support incoming students during their first year in the school. Together with the previously mentioned group of students who volunteer to form the Meitheal group, the contribution these students make in supporting new students is commended.

 

A large group of teachers is involved in the teaching of SPHE. A departmental planning meeting is held at the beginning of the year but the group do not meet formally thereafter. A co-ordinator has been appointed and liaises with new members of the team and the principal. It is suggested that there is a need for this group to meet on a more regular basis to co-ordinate planning.

 

Senior management shows very good awareness of the need to support members of staff and it is reported that the guidance counsellors, the chaplain, the principal and deputy principal are available to support staff members when necessary. Critical incidents in the recent past have shown that the level of care for the welfare of staff members as well as of students is of a high standard.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

§         It is recommended that an agreed written account of board-of-management meetings be made available to members of staff and the parents’ association.

§         It is recommended that the voluntary nature of the annual student fund contribution be clearly stated in school documentation.  

§         It is recommended that safe operational areas around machines in practical rooms be identified and demarcated.

§         It is recommended that the whole staff should focus particularly on the quality of assessment of homework and to investigate ways in which the regular setting, monitoring and assessing of homework can bring about a real improvement in students’ work. Assessment for Learning strategies could complement this work.

§         It is recommended that designated time be allocated to structured subject-planning sessions during the regular whole-staff meetings which are held throughout the year.

§         It is recommended that subject department planning should focus on learning outcomes and on the development of active-learning methodologies with a view to increasing student participation and independent learning.

§         It is recommended that the school consider the possibility of reintroducing the LCA programme to provide an alternative for those students who find that the established Leaving Certificate programme does not suit their needs.

§         The good practice of rotating teachers across levels and year groups should be extended to all subject areas to ensure a wide skills base and to maintain a common pool of expertise.

§         Care should be taken in all subject areas that teaching and learning in TY reflects the aims and ethos of the year, in accordance with TY Guidelines and Circular M1/00.

§         It is suggested that management should investigate the possibility of having a system whereby students are offered an open choice of subjects at senior cycle.

§         It is suggested that the arrangement whereby students are allocated to either French or German classes should be kept under constant review to ensure that students study the language of their choice.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management welcomes the Whole School Evaluation Report.

 

The Board is pleased that the WSE affirmed the inclusive and welcoming ethos of our school. The Board notes with satisfaction that the report confirmed that our values as set out in the mission statement and pastoral care policies are carried into practice. The Board welcomes recognition of the good relationships within the school between management, parents, pupils and staff together with good relationships with the wider community identified in the report.  The Board notes with satisfaction that the in-school management structures involving the Principal, Deputy-Principal, Assistant Principals and other post of responsibility teachers are well designed and effective.

 

The Board welcomes the affirmation of the Adult Education service provided to the community by the school.

 

The Board notes with satisfaction that the curriculum available to all students is commended.  The Board acknowledges and thanks the teaching staff for the wide range of extracurricular activities provided by them on a voluntary basis. The Board believes that this provision, curricular and extra-curricular, is a significant contributor to the good relationships between students and staff in Douglas Community School.

 

In welcoming the reports on teaching and learning in a number of subject areas the Board notes that many of the recommendations made in the reports are already being implemented in the school.  The Board notes the support in the report for the Board’s policy of promoting and supporting the continuing professional development of the teaching staff.

 

The Board welcomes the affirmation of the good work done by the Board, The Parents’ Association, the Students’ Council and the various representative and planning groups of the teaching staff. Their school development planning work is vital to the future success of the school.

 

The Board welcomes the recognition of the excellent facilities, buildings and Information Technology developed by the school over many years.  The Board acknowledges the assistance received from the Department of Education and Science in providing these facilities. The Board continues to plan for improvements in all areas of teaching and learning and in the physical resources of the school.

 

The Board of Management acknowledges the courtesy and professionalism of the team of Inspectors during the WSE process. 

 

 

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 Board of Management adopted all the recommendations made in the WSE Report.  Many of the recommendations were planned as part of school development plans already underway in the school.

 

Most of the recommendations have already been implemented and the remaining ones will be implemented over the school year 2009/10.