An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Cashel Community School
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 91497A
Date of inspection: 28 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Cashel Community School was undertaken in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Cashel Community School was established in 1994 as a result of the amalgamation of the Christian Brothers School, Presentation Convent and the Vocational School in Cashel. The school is the only second-level school in the town and caters for students from the primary schools in Cashel and from a wide range of of primary schools in the hinterland of the town. The school is co-educational and participates in the free education scheme.
The school provides a comprehensive system of post primary education open to all the children of the community. This is achieved through an open enrolment policy for all students, whatever their learning needs. A wide range of academic and practical subjects also contributes to creating positive learning opportunities for all its students.
In 2002 the school was the first in the country to put in place a special facility for students with high functioning autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) to support the second-level education of students on the Autistic Spectrum.
The whole-school evaluation process focused on school management, school planning, curriculum provision, learning and teaching and support for students. Meetings were held with staff members, management, the board of management, parents’ representatives and the students’ council.
The mission statement of the school states that “in valuing the rich traditions on which it is founded, Cashel Community School caters for diversity, embraces change, promotes mutual respect and partnership through a broad range of learning opportunities, which nurture the development of young adults.”
This mission statement is strongly reflected in the manner in which the school caters for the needs of its students. The promotion of the physical, creative and academic development of students through the curriculum, the host of co-curricular and extracurricular activities which form part of school life and the good relationships between staff and students which were clear during the course of the whole school evaluation play major roles in this regard. Students themselves, when interviewed by inspectors, spoke of their enjoyment of the school, their good relationship with teachers and the high level of involvement of teachers in school activities and sports. Parents also identified these and other strengths including the clear information provided by the school at key transition points in a student’s schooling and the good guidance and pastoral structure in the school. Within Cashel Community School a strong sense of community and care for students is actively pursued by senior management and staff.
As in other community schools, the appointment of a chaplain, in addition to the religion department, contributes to the caring and religious ethos in the school. The provision of a meditation and prayer room highlighted by a stained-glass window also supports the Christian ethos. The trustees support the school effectively in promoting the characteristic spirit, and regular communication between the trustees and the principal helps foster Christian values.
The board of management of Cashel Community School, as set up under the Deed of Trust for Community Schools, has as its trustees the Christian Brothers, the Presentation Sisters and the South Tipperary Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The board has been properly constituted and consists of three members nominated by the religious trustees, three members nominated by the South Tipperary VEC, two members elected by parents and two members elected by the teaching staff. The principal acts as secretary to the board and the deputy principal acts as the recording secretary. The current board of management was established in September 2008. A number of the board members have continued in their roles from the previous board.
The board meets approximately ten times during the school year, with additional meetings at the end of the academic year. Members of the previous board had been afforded the opportunity to receive training regarding their role, provided by the Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS). It is recommended that training for the new members of the current board who have not had access to this should be pursued. A finance sub-committee is in place, meets before each board meeting and reports to the board. The board is very supportive of in-school management in its day-to-day running of the school and views itself as a core element of the school community. In this sense it sees itself as a support to staff, management and students. Members of the board attend awards nights and other school functions as a means of affirming staff in their work and students in their achievements. The board has facilitated continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers.
Fulfilling the mission statement of the school and playing its part in what is done in school are stated priorities of the board. Staff representatives give a written report to staff members as soon as is practicable after board meetings, with the confidentiality of some board matters taken into account. Parents’ representatives raise relevant issues for discussion at subsequent parents’ association meetings. Policies have been developed through appropriate consultation between staff, the parents’ association and the board, and in some instances the students’ council. At the end of each school year the principal writes to each parent giving a report on activities and events during that year. It is suggested that this area of communication with parents be expanded to include an annual report from the board to the diversity of parents. This would be in line with the underlying objective contained in Section 20 of the Education Act and would help keep the body of parents informed of progress with school planning, areas for development in the coming year, and so on. Alternatively including such a short report from the board on the school’s website would also achieve this result. Website publication of the school plan is now also an achievable option.
The development of policies is initiated at school level, generally leading to an initial draft which is circulated to the board and parents’ association for consideration and comment. This consultation process continues and informs further drafts until a final draft is agreed and ratified by the board. Policies on admission, suspension and expulsion, behaviour, anti-bullying, child protection, critical incidents, safety and drugs have been adopted by the board. A revision of the behaviour policy has recently been concluded following an extensive consultation. Key developmental priorities identified include an updating of the substance abuse policy and a review of the curriculum at junior-cycle level.
The principal and deputy principal have a very good working relationship. The principal was appointed to the position at the establishment of the school and the deputy principal has been in situ for over seven years. The principal and deputy principal share a vision for the school. They work as a cohesive team and each has clearly defined roles that at times overlap to complement the other’s work and further support the running of the school. The principal and deputy principal communicate effectively, having meetings at the end of each school day that are supplemented with significant informal communication. The roles of the principal and deputy principal are clearly set out in the staff handbook. In practice, the principal views his role as leading and managing all the school partners and resources to create the best possible educational experience for the entire school population while the deputy principal deals with student issues. The two roles do overlap regularly and both are comfortable with this and see their roles as virtually interchangeable as the situation arises. Senior management highlighted the importance of maintaining a high level of visibility around the school and this was evident during the course of the evaluation.
The school has undergone significant changes in staffing in recent years following retirements and resignations. This is reflected in the profile of the post-holders within the school where a substantial number of recent appointments have occurred. Following consultation, management assigns duties to post-holders. The school currently has a total of ten assistant principal posts and a further twelve special duties posts. Some more special duties posts are currently awaiting appointments. Assistant principals are generally assigned to either year-head duties or to a number of administrative duties. These administrative duties include the co-ordination of programmes, evening study and stock control along with duties relating to information technology and in house examinations as well as student awards and student council activities. The special duties posts range across administrative roles particularly, with some dealing with extracurricular, pastoral or more directly educational tasks. In the main, these posts have been found to reflect the current needs of the school, although these needs may well change in the coming years. Senior management have put in place structures which facilitate team meetings where appropriate. These include regular year-head meetings and a review meeting for each post holder towards the end of each year.
The year heads also have an important function in the school’s middle-management structure, with each one of the six year heads responsible for the monitoring of attendance and discipline among the student cohort in each year group. These year heads bring commitment to their posts and maintain student records. Appropriately, the junior cycle and senior cycle year heads meet each fortnight, with the principal and deputy principal in attendance, to assist in the ongoing monitoring of students. Individual year heads also have a scheduled meeting with the deputy principal each week. Problems raised by teachers and class tutors with the year head are discussed and dealt with at these meetings. The fact that the year heads and management have such clear lines of communication ensures consistent enforcement of discipline and attendance strategies. It also establishes links between class teachers, tutors and senior management. These meetings have reinforced the year heads’ sense of forming a ‘middle management’ element within the school. This is applauded as it gives access to day-to-day management to a broader range of staff.
All post-holders have a meeting with the principal towards the end of the school year. This is positive. This allows each post-holder to review his or her duties during the year and to have an input on the needs of the school going forward. The principal also meets with the co-ordinators of each subject area at around this time. In some instances the duties of co-ordinator form part of duties associated with a post of responsibility. It is recommended that the role of all subject department co-ordinators would be detached from any post of responsibility duties. Ideally the role of co-coordinator should rotate between the members of a subject department. This will serve to ensure that a wide leadership skills base develops within the department. In the instances where significant responsibility for purchasing and safety duties form part of the role of co-ordinator, these duties could be retained as part of the post structure but separated from the coordination of the subject area.
The school has operated a class tutor system on a voluntary basis since its beginning. Much good work has been done on clarifying the function of the tutor. In the current year, a modified timetable operates one day a week to create a fifteen minute slot for each class to have time with its tutor. The work done to date on developing the class tutor role is praised. The class tutor is best described as filling a pastoral role, with some disciplinary functions, while year heads and senior management have some pastoral duties and most of the serious disciplinary tasks. The reviewed code of behaviour has created a very logical discipline structure where the roles and responsibilities of students, teachers, tutors, year heads and senior management are clearly laid out. In light of this the time is now opportune to add a positive behaviour structure which could enhance the discipline structure which the school has in place. It is recommended that investigation and formalisation of such a positive behaviour structure, suited to the needs of the school, would be undertaken. Such systems, incorporating rewards and strategies to develop student engagement have been successfully adopted in other schools. Information contained in the National Educational Welfare Board’s publication, Developing A Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools, could prove useful in this regard.
Attendance is monitored in an organised and systematic manner through a roll-call system during the first lesson of the morning and afternoon by class teachers. Attendance sheets are scanned at the end of the first lesson and a list of absent students is displayed in the staff room. When a student has not been in attendance, an absence form in the Student Record Book must be filled in by a parent. Monitoring of attendance has been further enhanced this year by the introduction of an ‘alert system’ for parents. Students who have missed a significant number of days by mid-term and holiday breaks are identified and parents are written to. This is commended.
As stated earlier, the school has an open and inclusive ethos. The school operates a clear open-door policy when it comes to admissions. However, the school’s written admission’s policy does not fully reflect this. The policy suggests that deferral or refusal of enrolment of students with special educational needs may be done on the basis of the allocation of resources by the Department of Education and Science (DES) or, in certain cases, even where the DES has provided additional resources. A minor alteration to wording, relating to enrolment being conditional upon resources being made available, would represent a more accurate indicator of the current good practice in relation to enrolment.
The parents’ association was established in 1994, shortly after the amalgamation, and is one of the main means of inclusion of parents in the life of the school. The parents’ association strives to represent and include parents and is affiliated to the Parents Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (PACCS). The full body of parents are invited to the annual general meeting and a working committee is formed. This committee normally meets once a month, at which time the members obtain a report from the principal on issues pertaining to the school. Parents play an active role in many aspects of school life. The association was consulted and has had an input into the formulation of the mission statement of the school, the recent review of the code of behaviour and the anti-bullying policy. The association liaises with staff and the students’ council through formal meetings at least once each year and this has resulted in progressing issues of mutual concern such as food facilities in school and concerns regarding school bus transport. Parents are also represented on the school ‘Debs’ committee and play a key role in this regard. They were instrumental in establishing a dyslexia support group which now exists independently of the association. The parents’ association is represented at certain information nights throughout the year and also participates in the annual open night. It runs one major fundraising venture each year. A major achievement of the association is the operation of a highly successful book rental scheme. This scheme is run on a voluntary basis by members of the parents’ association for the benefit of all parents and students in the school. This active involvement adds to the success of the school and is highly commended.
School management has established very positive and effective lines of communication with the general parent body. As already mentioned, information evenings for parents are held before students select subject options for second year and again before students select programmes at the end of third year and subjects for fifth year. The school has produced and regularly updates clear high quality brochures to add to the information available to students and parents. The annual report from the principal also adds to the information available to parents. Individual student diaries contain sections which facilitate parent-teacher communication. Appointments are facilitated for parents who wish to meet with a tutor or year head, while the deputy principal and principal are also readily available for consultations. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group annually and are in line with regulations.
Students are offered a distinct voice in the school through their involvement in the students’ council which was set up in 1997, following a period of consultation. There is a junior and a senior council. The councils are elected annually with the officers of the senior council being elected at the annual general meeting of the previous year’s council. Members of the senior council are chosen as officers of the junior council and pass on concerns raised to the senior council thus ensuring that the vioce of all students is heard. Class representatives are elected from each class group. In addition, year group representatives are elected. Representatives are elected early in the school year as part of Civic, Social and Personal Education (CSPE) lessons at junior cycle and during religion lessons at senior cycle. Opportunities are afforded to representatives during these subject lessons to report back to classes and consult the general student body. In cooperation with Tipperary Regional Youth Council the members receive training on an annual basis. The students’ council meets every two weeks. Two teachers are present for all meetings. The chairperson and secretary meet the principal after each meeting and provide a report on the business of each meeting. Class and year-group representatives raise issues brought to them by members of their class and year group at council meetings. There is also a student council area on the school website and opportunities to expand this should continue to be explored.
The students’ council was involved in the review process for the code of behaviour and also in the formulation of a mission statement. The council was also involved in the development of the anti-bullying policy and particularly in the production of a student-friendly version of the policy. This ‘user friendly’ version of the policy is the one contained in the student record book and is also prominently displayed in each classroom and at strategic points around the school. There have been a range of achievements by the student council over the last number of years. The student council has promoted issues such as green schools, hot food, uniform changes, facilities for students and other isuues which are of concern and benefit to the general student population. A variety of sub-committees are involved in organising matters such as the school ‘Debs’, yearbook, mural and an annual variety show. The students’ council is a very positive and active feature of school life and its role as a means for expression of the student voice in the school is strongly praised and encouraged.
There are numerous links with the local community. The school offers a programme of night-time adult education classes in the school. The school also seeks to facilitate various voluntary groups and sporting organisations by sharing facilities for meetings and events in which they are involved. These groups include local GAA clubs, drama groups and many other endeavours. Links with external agencies such as the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB), the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) are also maintained. Tipperary Institute provides training for students involved in the ‘Links Programme’, a mentoring programme by senior students for first year students. Local businesses provide work experience opportunities for students in the Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes. There are also significant connections with local primary schools, with an open day when primary-school pupils get an opportunity to visit and tour the school during a ‘normal’ school day. There are also good contacts in the areas of student support and special educational needs. Cashel Community School is thus very much a part of the local community.
Current timetabling arrangements for students are not precisely in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M29/95, with students having access to a maximum of twenty-seven hours and fifty-five minutes class contact time instead of the stipulated minimum of twenty-eight hours. Therefore, it is recommended that management address this issue, rectify the above situation and ensure compliance with the terms of the circular letter. Furthermore, in the timetable for sixth-year students, study is timetabled concurrently with Physical Education for one class period each week. Study is not ‘instruction’ and therefore the instruction time for students taking study is further reduced and does not comply with the circular letter.
The staffing allocation from the Department of Education and Science (DES) for the current year is 59.17 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE). This allocation includes the ex-quota posts of principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellors, learning-support teacher and chaplain. The school has also received concessionary hours to support the teaching and learning process. In addition to the teaching staff, the school employs four secretaries, some of whom job-share, two caretakers and cleaning staff. The work of these ancillary staff members is commended as they contribute in a significant manner to the work and environment of the school. The allocation of 8.5 whole-time equivalents for special needs assistants (SNAs) completes the staffing of the school. Given the relatively high level of change in the staff in recent years, it is good to note that there is an induction programme for teachers joining the staff, one permanent whole-time teacher having ‘staff induction’ as part of a special duties post. The principal and deputy principal also play an active role in this regard.
Cashel Community School is accommodated in a purpose-designed building provided by the DES. The main feature of the school building is the long wide central corridor with a single storey of classrooms on one side. The other side accommodates an upper and lower level. The facilities include general classrooms, four science laboratories, a science demonstration room, four rooms for the technology subjects, two art rooms, two home economics rooms, two computer rooms, a library and a music room. As previously mentioned, a meditation-prayer room has been put in place. The school sports hall is integrated within the building. This is good. The corridor area provides meeting space for the students and contains a number of notice boards celebrating students’ achievements, as well as information relevant to the student body. As many of the classrooms are teacher based, this facilitates the creation of stimulating, subject-relevant displays. Some fine examples of this were noted in a number of rooms, a practice that is encouraged. The building also accommodates a number of offices for use by the teaching staff.
The school has developed two computer rooms over the years, with a post holder assigned duties in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) coordination. The school has recently received a substantial boost to its ICT resources through a DES grant for technology subjects (t4). In recent years data projectors have been installed in some of the science laboratories, specialist rooms and general classrooms, with more planned. This is positive. There is no doubt that the use of ICT can significantly enhance teaching and learning and the provision of access to such equipment in as wide a spectrum of classrooms as possible is desirable. As was suggested during the evaluation a number of mobile stand-based units for classroom use, similar to that used with television and video equipment currently, would be of benefit and cost effective. With all classrooms now networked and having satisfactory broadband access, the availability of ICT facilities for use in ordinary classrooms is recommended, as finances allow.
There is a state-of-the-art sports hall, which is fully utilised by the school community. The school has two pitches on its grounds and has access to a further pitch nearby. The provision of new changing rooms through funding raised by the parents’ association has been the most recent addition to the sporting facilities. This work is applauded. Overall school accommodation is maintained to a high standard and is utilised to optimum levels in addressing the needs of the school community and in delivering the curriculum. The school management, staff and in particular, in this instance, the caretakers and cleaners, are commended for the care taken to preserve the physical environment of the school.
The school has taken steps in recent years to ensure the integrity of its building and grounds through the installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras. The school has sought and been granted planning permission for the erection of security fencing as a further measure in this regard. Funding for this worthwhile endeavour is awaited.
As a result of an initiative by the students’ council a green schools’ committee had been set up in the current year. Students have been working towards obtaining the Green Flag award and significant work had been done in raising awareness among the student body of the value of such an initiative.
Following a report based on an external survey of the premises and activities, a health and safety policy was devised and adopted. This is positive. The school had allocated part of a post of responsibility to health and safety co-ordination, including regular fire drills and review of areas of need. The post holder has recently retired and the post remains to be filled. It is recommended that the post of health and safety officer be filled as soon as possible.
Cashel Community School has been involved in the school development planning (SDP) process for the past five years. It has had contact with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) throughout this period. The principal and deputy principal have played a central role in advancing the SDP process in the school. Initially, following a whole-school review facilitated by the SDPI officer, staff members were involved in identifying topics to be addressed through the process of SDP and were assigned to ‘action groups’ in the areas that held an interest for them. Representatives from the action groups, along with the principal and deputy principal, formed a steering group to review and progress work. The addressing of key policy areas has since continued through the identification of priorities, the formation of further action groups, while the core steering committee for SDP monitors and encourages progress. Beyond this, each draft of policies is considered by the whole staff, the board, the students’ council where appropriate, and the parents’ association for inputs. This is good practice, ensuring that the views and opinions of these education partners can be included during the planning process.
A commendable amount of time and energy has gone into the development of school policies and processes. Following input from staff, clearer lines of communication between management and staff on day-to-day events in the school have been created through the use of notice boards in the staffroom. The conduct of staff meetings has also changed, with groups being formed to discuss issues and then reporting back to the main body of staff. These developments are seen as being positive within the staff.
The permanent section of the school plan is well developed. All of the recommended policies have been drafted and ratified by the board. A significant number of other policies have also been ratified. However, care should be taken to ensure that ratification dates are on all policies, as this is not currently the case. Consideration should be given, at the time of ratification, to also specifying the planned review date on all policies, as was observed in some instances. Policies on admissions, suspension and expulsion, dealing with critical incidents and countering bullying behaviour have been developed and ratified by the board. The school behaviour policy has been reviewed following a lengthy inclusive process. A whole-school guidance plan has also been completed.
The areas identified for future planning include the replacement of the schools’ drugs policy with a substance misuse policy. The curriculum at junior cycle has also been identified as a priority area that needs to be addressed.
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. It is suggested that the child protection procedures be included both in the teachers’ handbook and the students’ journal to ensure that new students and their parents, and new staff become familiar with the protocols.
Work done in planning to date has focused very much on whole-school issues. Therefore it has not been possible to progress all subject planning at a similar pace. Subject plans have been developed to a variety of levels. While the completion of SDPI-driven subject templates is applauded where it has been observed, it is recommended that the focus of current and future subject planning should be directed towards, as far as possible, the core issues of teaching and learning. Among the issues which should be discussed at subject planning meetings are common decision-making on syllabus options, identifying common needs from a budgeting standpoint, feedback from in-service attendance or subject association membership. The sharing of ideas and methodological approaches, pooling resources, promoting differentiated teaching strategies and simply promoting a collaborative approach to teaching and learning are also all worthy of discussion.
The idea of establishing a representative staff teaching-and-learning committee is worthy of serious consideration to direct and coordinate this important initiative. Over time, pedagogical innovations such as assessment for learning (AfL) and co-operative learning could be presented to the entire staff. Expertise from within the staff and outside agencies such as the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) could be utilized in this regard. Individual subject departments could then trial aspects of such innovations over a period of time, assess their impact and report back to the committee and the entire staff.
The aspirations in the mission statement of Cashel Community School to ‘cater for diversity… through a broad range of learning opportunities’ are reflected in the curriculum offered. The school provides a broad and balanced curriculum, seeking to fully cater to the needs of the diversity of students. The organisation of this curriculum complies with DES regulations. The following curricular programmes are on offer: Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TY), the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. These programmes are delivered in line with programme requirements and guidelines. The Junior Certificate School Programme is not an available option as the school is not currently part of the Delivering Equality in Schools (DEIS) initiative.
Time allocated for subjects in junior cycle and in senior cycle is generally satisfactory. This is not so in the case of Physical Education. All class groups have only one timetabled lesson of Physical Education each week. As was highlighted in the subject inspection in 2007, the allocation of a single period is not sufficient to allow any in-depth learning to take place in Physical Education. It is therefore recommended that the school revisit the timetabling arrangements for Physical Education and works towards the provision of two hours of Physical Education per week for all students, as recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. Both CSPE and SPHE are timetabled once per week, as is required in the relevant circular letters.
Timetabling arrangements in terms of distribution of lessons and the provision of double periods for practical lessons are appropriate in most cases. A few problems are apparent on the timetable, however. Some difficulties in the timetabling of Science are clarified in the attached subject inspection report. A number of class groups have some subjects on three consecutive days, thus reducing exposure to the subject across the week. Some examples of this include the timetabling of History, Geography, French, and German in the case of some but not all first-year classes. Lessons are more beneficial to students if they are distributed more evenly over the week. In both junior and senior cycles, a double period is provided for all option subjects. This has a particular relevance for subjects in which practical work is required and is therefore applauded.
Students have an opportunity to experience all available subjects in first year. They study a core group of subjects for the full year. Other subjects are experiences in half year modules so that students study one subject until Christmas and another subject for the rest of the year. Core subjects in the first year are: Irish, English, Maths, History, Geography, Science, Business, French, Religious Education, Civic, Social & Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal & Health Education (SPHE), Physical Education (PE) and Music. The subjects that students take for a half year are German, Art, Home Economics, Technical Graphics, Material Technology Wood (MTW), Materials Technology Metal (MTM) and Information Technology (IT). This arrangement, while allowing first-year students to sample subjects prior to making their subject choices at the end of first year, should be looked at as part of the overall junior cycle curriculum review mentioned elsewhere in this report. Thereafter all subjects are available at higher, ordinary or foundation levels as appropriate.
Students are allocated to classes on a mixed-ability basis in first year. In the case of Mathematics and Irish, two arrangements of three class groups are timetabled concurrently and an extra class group created in the arrangement. This good practice allows for the creation of smaller class groups in these subjects and can facilitate interventions for students with additional educational needs. Also a limited number of students are placed on a reduced junior cycle curriculum where the school, in consultation with their parents, deems that this is more appropriate to their needs.
At the end of first year, students’ progress is assessed based on their performance in the end-of-year assessments. In second year, students are assigned to two, and in some years, three bands for all of their subjects on the basis of this assessment. This system has worked satisfactorily from a timetabling perspective but it has the disadvantage of locking students into a particular band for second and third year. The possible negative impact that this can have on subsequent student progress is supported by the views expressed in Moving Up, published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in 2004. Within the current system, all class groups across second year are timetabled concurrently in Irish, and Mathematics but not English. In light of the review of curriculum suggested earlier and a rebalancing of the models of support for students with special educational needs which will be elaborated on in the accompanying report on special educational needs, it is recommended that the current banding system at junior cycle would form part of this review with the aim of discontinuing it.
A positive feature of the current timetabling arrangements is the concurrent timetabling of English, Irish and Mathematics in third year, fifth year and sixth year. This facilitates ease of student movement between levels and classes where necessary and is to be commended in light of the constraints that it places on current timetabling arrangements with regard to class organisation.
The TY programme has been on offer in Cashel Community School since its foundation in 1994 and is optional. A wide range of subjects is studied during the year. Core subjects of English, Irish, Mathematics, French / German, PE, Religion, Career Guidance and IT are taught throughout the year. Access to further subjects is on a three-way modular basis. These ‘short courses’ include Engineering, Construction Studies, Design and Communication Graphics, History, Geography, Drama, Music, Science, Home Economics, Business, Accounting, Economics, Spanish and Media Studies. Students are afforded an opportunity to explore a range of other activities as part of their TY programme. Included among these are three weeks of work placement, outdoor pursuits, workshops, a fashion show, guest speakers, participation in the school musical, outings and a graduation ceremony. The breadth of activities provided in TY is an indication of the high level of dedication and planning on the part of the current and previous TY coordinators. This is facilitated through frequent meetings with the principal. The guidance counsellor meets third-year students in their class groups and their parents at an information evening and speaks to them regarding their programme options. There is an induction process for TY students at the beginning of the school year. Subject-specific plans for TY were also presented to the inspection team and, again, considerable dedication was evident here. Voluntary community involvement is seen as a vital element of the TY programme. Students are expected to take an active part in local community institutions, primary and special schools. Activities include hospital visits and paired reading and maths programmes. The opportunities offered through the organisation of such programmes within the school should not be overlooked in choosing appropriate involvements in the future.
A written TY programme of work was furnished in advance of the evaluation. In keeping with TY philosophy, students are provided with opportunities to become more self-confident and competent. The majority of subject plans contain a template of how students will experience the content as well as the teaching and learning of the subject in a different manner, as is appropriate for this programme. However the outline of the mathematics course suggests that the year is concerned with covering Leaving Certificate material. Circular M1/00 The Transition Year Programme states 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.” It is therefore recommended that aspects of the Transition Year programme for Mathematics be reviewed to ensure compliance with the circular. Possible sources for this might be the Project Maths Development team’s website www.projectmaths.ie and the Mathematics Support Service website www.slss.ie/maths.
The LCVP is also offered to students as an option in senior cycle. Students who fit into the pre-determined subject groupings and who are therefore eligible to sit the LCVP examination are encouraged to participate in the LCVP. Time allocated to the teaching of link modules in the LCVP is appropriate and there is very good access to ICT for students participating in the LCVP. Support for the implementation of the programme from school management is good, as is the information provided to students and their parents prior to entering fifth year. The co-ordination demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the programme and its implementation.
The school includes the LCA programme as part of its provision. This is positive as it demonstrates a commitment to meeting the needs of all of students in the school. There is a dedicated LCA coordinator. The co-ordination involves, among other things, good communication strategies with other members of the school community. As a further support in this area, it is suggested that a number of formal meetings of the LCA teaching team should be held during the school year. The establishment of regular formal meetings of the LCA core team, or appropriate groups of teachers, is suggested to ensure that curriculum integration occurs in a planned and coherent way.
The range of subjects on offer for Leaving Certificate is also substantial, with three science subjects on offer as well as Agricultural Science, all three business subjects, two modern European languages, Design and Communication Graphics, Construction Studies, Engineering, History, Geography, Art and Music available, in addition to Irish, English and Mathematics. Again, all subjects are available at different levels as deemed appropriate.
Students in Cashel Community School are provided with a wide choice of subjects and programmes at key transition points in their school lives. Subjects are selected through an open choice system. This is good practice.
In the January prior to entry, prospective first-year students are invited to attend an open day to observe a range of classes and meet teachers and students. This is followed in February by an open night for parents. In second year, all students study a core group of subjects; Irish, English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Religion, PE, CSPE, and SPHE. Students select a further four from the remaining subjects. In order to help with this selection and to outline any implications that might arise from these choices, parents and students are provided with relevant information by the school. Towards the end of first year, there is an information night for parents and each student is given information to help in choosing the subjects that are to be studied for the remainder of the junior cycle.
At the end of third year, students are given information from staff and the guidance counsellors regarding the different programme options available to them, as well as guidelines on choosing their subjects. Their parents are invited to an evening presentation on the choices available to students. The guidance counsellors meet TY and third-year class groups to discuss their options in detail. All of this is good practice. In fifth year, Irish, English and Mathematics are core examination subjects, while there are seventeen optional examination subjects, along with the LCVP link modules for students taking the traditional Leaving Certificate programme. Students initially select four optional examination subjects to study. Subject option bands are then formed with a view to maximising the likelihood of catering for the students’ subject choices. Students are very well supported regarding their programme and subject choices in Cashel Community School.
Cashel Community School provides an excellent array of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, all of which contribute to the holistic development of individual students. The wide range of opportunities to participate in activities outside of the classroom is acknowledged and valued by parents, students, teachers and management. These include cultural, aesthetic, community, social and sporting activities. The activities offered to students in these areas reflect the broad range of learning opportunities mentioned in the school’s mission statement.
Co-curricular activities such as foreign tours, theatre trips, debating, etc., complement and enhance the teaching and learning of related subjects. Students’ interests and talents in drama or music are also well provided for in the school. Each year since its foundation the school has prepared and performed a musical. Such activities require careful planning and a great deal of behind the scenes effort from the teachers and stage-hands involved, as well as those who perform on the stage. This is evident from the fact that the staging of the recent show involved the efforts of over a hundred students. Further cultural activities such as drama, choir and the annual fund-raising fashion show also provide an outlet for showcasing the talents of students, both within and outside the school. Such wide-ranging activities require the cooperation and understanding of the whole school community. This level of provision and involvement is applauded.
In recent years the school community has also become involved in fundraising for and participation in the Niall Mellon Fund. Following the fundraising, six TY students will travel to Cape Town in South Africa for a week in November to see and participate in the building of houses in a township there. On their return, the students will give presentations to classes in the school and talk of their experiences. The fundraising and the students relating of their experiences raise awareness in the school of this cause and is worthwhile.
In sport, the school has a very proud involvement in a wide range of games. Facilities are of a very high standard, as already referred to and the extensive extracurricular sports programme provides for participation in a myriad of activities. Hurling, football, camógie, soccer, athletics and basketball are among the sports engaged in by the school, with some national and regional success in recent years across this spectrum. This diversity of activity is well managed with the coordination of training, and planning of activities and the use of a notice board in the staffroom to keep the entire staff informed. A further accepted part of extracurricular involvement is the requirement that students involved in school matches are automatically expected to get and complete homework assignments like every other student.
Students are encouraged from an early stage to engage in activities. First-year students are made aware of the range of sporting activities available in the school and are encouraged to become involved. This is coordinated as part of the wider ‘Links’ programme which will be elaborated on at a later stage in this report. Contact with the local newspaper ensures that the achievements of individuals and teams from the school are available in the community. Newspaper reports are also displayed on a student notice board. This is good practice as it encourages students to become involved and highlights the positive effect of participation.
Staff, students, parents and management are fully supportive of the positive impact of this wide-ranging provision, with all groups highlighting the very favourable contribution that an involvement in co-curricular and extracurricular activities makes to overall relations. Management and staff are encouraged in their efforts to sustain and develop this very important and significant part of school life.
Subject co-ordinators have been established in all subject departments. The practice in the school, in many instances, has been to align the role of subject coordinator to a post of responsibility. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed so that the subject co-ordinator’s role is adopted by different members of the team, on a rotational basis, each year. This approach will support the development of wider leadership experience across subject departments. It is also recommended that the role of the subject co-ordinator be set down in all subject plans.
Subject department meetings are held regularly, both formally and informally, across all subject areas to progress subject department plans. Minutes are kept of formal meetings. These form a comprehensive record of decisions taken. This is good practice. The school is to be commended for using an analysis of the Leaving Certificate results to inform planning. This analysis incorporates a comparative analysis of uptake rates at different levels against national norms and performance for each grades against national norms. It is recommended that to build on this good practice, an analysis of the Junior Certificate results also be undertaken. In the analysis of State examination results it would be useful to extend the existing practice to include a comparative analysis using the national norms. Other worthwhile exercises include an analysis of uptake rates at different levels against the national average and an analysis across similar cognitive areas.
In all subject areas, long-term plans were presented in the course of the evaluation. These plans show that a considerable amount of work has been undertaken in all subjects which were evaluated. It is recommended that these plans be reviewed and a common departmental approach to the delivery of both theoretical and practical content be agreed upon. It is recommended that planning for students’ use of ICT be formally documented in subjects where this has already not been done.
There was evidence of short-term planning in the lessons observed. Prior preparation of required materials, resources and apparatus was evident. It is recommended that short-term planning always be informed by a strong focus on students’ learning outcomes.
There is good communication among staff regarding planning for provision for students with special education needs. Teachers are given information regarding students with special educational needs at a staff meeting at the beginning of the year. This in turn informs planning. Individual education plans have also begun to be developed and their use as a further aid to communication between the special educational needs department and mainstream teachers is encouraged. Work has commenced on a Learning Support and Resource Plan. This worthwhile plan should continue to be developed with particular reference to the recent DES Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines. In the case of English, there are formal and informal meetings with the special education department. This practice could usefully be extended to include formal liaison between the special education department and other subject departments. In order to further develop the planning for the inclusion of students with special education needs and indeed all students in a mixed-ability setting, it is recommended that strategies for differentiation to meet the individual needs of learners be included in the long-term plan for all subjects.
In most subjects, inspectors commented on the manner in which teachers outlined learning goals at the beginning of lessons. Such an approach assists in mapping out a lesson for students, consequently raising interest and lowering anxiety levels. It also aids in making explicit the objective of lessons for students’ benefit. Similarly, a number of inspectors highlighted the adoption of a worthwhile strategy whereby teachers made explicit links with students’ previous learning when exploring new topics in lessons. In lessons in one subject, a brief introduction was followed by work being continued from the last lesson or, alternatively, classes began to work on a new topic. It is recommended that a clear introduction to the new topic or reinforcement of previously learned material should be added to this sequence, as an aid to the learning process. In another subject, while pacing was generally appropriate, it is suggested that, where time does not allow for the completion of lesson objectives, it may be necessary to consolidate completed work and continue with the topic in future lessons.
A wide range of resources was used in lessons, including photocopied handouts, overhead projector, ICT, textbooks and visual resources. This was positive. In one subject, the blackboard was used to focus students on work undertaken and in some lessons students were encouraged to replicate this work in their own copies. This was worthwhile. It is suggested that, in this subject area, the distribution of additional individual sheets, on which students could undertake complementary work, should be considered. This would promote independent learning and reduce students’ reliance on teacher instruction. In another subject, the effective use of the textbook was observed where it supplemented work completed in class. The challenge posed for some class groups, in this subject, where the textbook was used as a primary source of information was also noted, however. Consequently, alternative strategies should be explored in these instances. Questioning was a consistent feature in almost all subjects, serving to encourage, as well as to ascertain, student learning. Good distribution of questions across class groups, the use of directed questioning and the posing of higher-order questions were all noted as aspects of good practice in this area. In one subject, teacher questioning of students was infrequent and it is recommended that this area should be further developed. In order to improve the quality and quantity of questions, teachers should endeavour to link practical and theoretical learning outcomes in lessons.
The use of group work, pair work and other differentiated methodologies, as well as the usefulness of teacher mobility in serving different student needs, was praised as good practice in various subject areas. Inspectors advocated or recommended the further development of differentiated strategies and cooperative learning techniques. In one case it was noted that co-operative learning strategies would serve to simultaneously build on valued social skills such as teamwork and turn-taking, while also supporting other forms of learning. The potential for external and internal CPD to aid this development is emphasised.
Classroom management was good in all cases. Students were well behaved and the use of praise and humour in lessons was commented on positively. The good relationship between teachers and students was frequently noted, with a good atmosphere evident in classrooms. One inspector particularly emphasised the clear value placed by teachers on allowing students the time to talk, to plan and to be listened to, thus promoting students’ overall learning and self-esteem. The practice of displaying students’ work and subject-specific posters, along with the creation of print-rich classroom environments drew particular praise in a number of subject areas. These practices are commendable as they can foster a sense of being valued and of being part of a community among students. In one instance, it was suggested that this good practice should be set down and consolidated through the subject plan, while in another subject area it should be extended to all rooms where the subject is studied. In one subject, the effective management of tools and student project work on the part of teachers and their students was noted. In one instance, the inspector highlighted the need for handouts, worksheets and notebooks to be retained and organised consistently in order to aid retention of material by students to use in their learning. Monitoring of students’ notebooks was encouraged in this regard.
In a number of cases, students’ engagement with the subject being studied was clear through, variously, their knowledge of topics previously covered, good levels of comprehension, their recorded performance in assessments and their skill when carrying out practical tasks which had been assigned. The organising of practical activities or projects was noted in a number of subjects as a particular aid to students’ understanding of topics, along with its value in enhancing their practical skills. The continued development of these strategies is encouraged. In one subject, considerable variation in student learning was noted and it is recommended that, in order to promote students’ understanding, teachers should focus on the skills being taught and reinforce key points regularly throughout the lesson. In another instance, it was recommended that more time should be allocated to the consolidation of student learning in all lessons, as well as to their use of the target language.
The school has a formal assessment policy, which is good practice. Currently no formal homework policy has been developed. However, some departments have created their own to guide their practice which is applauded. All departments should explore this option, with the completed work helping to aid the formulation of a formal policy in this area for the whole school. In addition, inspectors suggest that the homework policy formulated should facilitate various modes of homework presentation, correction and feedback in a manner that maintains high expectations and differentiates for levels of ability. Inspectors observed that student written work was being corrected, signed and dated. In some instances comment-based formative assessment was observed. This is to be encouraged for all subjects as it will give quality feedback to the students on work completed. Inspectors reported that homework was assigned in the majority of lessons observed. This is good practice. There were particular instances of inappropriate homework which should be avoided as it can result in a negative impact on the students thus lowering their self esteem.
In some subjects, students are awarded credit for different components of the subject, for example practical and theory. This follows the state examination procedures for these subjects which is good practice. Such an approach should be considered for all subjects that have multi assessment components. Records of assessments were recorded and maintained by the teachers. In addition to assessments on completion of a topic, the school has formal examinations at Christmas and the summer. Examination classes have organised pre-examinations generally in February prior to their examinations. Parents are informed of students’ progress through school reports issued after all formal examinations. Parent-teacher meetings, in which student progress is discussed, are also held for each year group,. The school journal is used to inform parents of students’ progress. Teachers are also available to meet parents by appointment if required. Teachers may also contact parents if necessary. All these arrangements are worthwhile and should be maintained.
Cashel Community School engages in many inclusive practices that are of a high standard and which support all students, including students with identified special educational needs. The school values all students, and during the course of the evaluation, there was a strong sense of place and belonging evident among both staff and students. Good structures are in place, and some teachers have secured, and continue to secure, specific qualifications with regard to special educational needs. Effective lines of communication exist between these teachers and other mainstream colleagues, with good support and leadership being displayed by senior management. Indeed the school has often been to the fore in advancing inclusive practices, as witnessed in the establishment of the resource centre for students with Asperger’s Syndrome. The overall quality of learning and teaching for students with identified needs, was seen to be good. Some teachers personalised the learning experience for students through good use of differentiated practices.
The immediate challenges facing this school, no more than any other school seeking to meet individual needs in a collective setting, is how best all teachers can support one another in responding to the range of diverse student needs presenting. The school’s subject department structures are one avenue for greater collaboration. The development of an inclusion policy will help to clarify teachers’ roles and responsibilities. It will also address how students can access, participate in and benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum. A student register will also assist in monitoring the use and impact of individual students’ additional resource allocation. The school’s recent engagement with team-teaching is very much in keeping with DES policy and offers much promise in building on engagements between teachers, and extending the range of responses the school can employ in identifying and effectively meeting the needs of individual students.
A more detailed report on the quality of teaching and learning in special educational needs is found in the report on Special Educational Needs which accompanies this report.
The school has a number of students in receipt of hours for English as an Additional Language (EAL) and small-group classes in this area take place during school time. The school has made contact with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) and the Language Proficiency Benchmarks have been used to identify students’ level of need. The flags of the different countries represented at the school have been painted on a wall in the corridor of the school and it is reported that a world cuisine day is planned. These actions help to celebrate the different cultural traditions represented in Cashel Community School at this time and are worthwhile. Informal contacts between the classroom teachers and the EAL teacher help to allow students to access the mainstream curriculum. It is recommended that the school continue to investigate ways of promoting integration of newcomer students. These could include more use of home languages, directed activities relates to texts (DARTS) and the adaptation of the school ‘Links’ programme and the inclusion in the teachers’ handbook of information from the NCCA on intercultural education, highlighting the role of all teachers in ensuring access to the curriculum for all students.
Cashel Community School has a formal allocation of thirty hours for Guidance and Counselling. The hours are used in providing personal, educational and vocational guidance for students. The allocation is spread between one full-time guidance counsellor and another teacher who has part of her time directed to this activity. The guidance counsellors have an office which is equipped with ICT and internet access. A guidance team has also been formed and this team played a central role in the formalisation of the whole-school guidance plan. Impressive work had been done on this task, with the involvement and support of senior management and a core group of staff. The guidance counsellors, chaplain, senior management and teachers’ representative were involved in steering the development of the guidance policy followed by a wide-ranging consultation of staff and, where relevant, students, parents and board of management. This approach emphasised the inclusive-whole-school nature of the guidance policy and is to be greatly praised.
The plan is partly informed by the other policies which have been developed in the area of guidance and care within the school. Among the documents, in this respect, which have been developed is one which deals with the possibility of a critical incident arising. This document is comprehensive, well-planned and sensitive and includes the formation of a school response team if such an incident arises.
The guidance counsellors have produced a subject plan. This is a comprehensive document, with clear identification of areas of work, time allocations and resources, as well as guidelines for meeting with parents and students, information on the testing of students, details of internal and external links and other areas relevant to guidance and counselling. It is also appropriate that the guidance counsellors form part of the care team at the school and are facilitated in attending the regular meetings of this group.
Beyond the range of activities already mentioned, the guidance counsellors participate in and deliver a number of presentations to parents during the year. Students are aided in their choices for senior cycle through Differential Aptitude Tests (DATS), which are administered by the guidance counsellor. The guidance counsellor also provides individual support for students. This is available on request or through referral via the school care team. Evidence of considerable planning and evaluation in the area of Guidance was presented to inspectors and is an indication of the high level of commitment which the guidance counsellors bring to the role.
Another key role in the area of Guidance and student support is that played by the school chaplain. The chaplaincy service is viewed as one which collaborates with the management and staff in serving the spiritual and pastoral needs of the school community. It is involved in providing a wide range of liturgical services during the year, retreats and one-to-one meetings with students along with the co-ordination of much of the first-year induction programme. The service is available to students through an appointment system. A notable feature of the care afforded to the extended school community is that the chaplaincy maintains direct contact with and support for past students of Cashel Community School during their years at third-level college. All of these activities require significant levels of planning and speak to the high level of dedication associated with the role.
A further essential part of student guidance and support is the year head and class tutor system. Year heads maintain contacts with senior management, the care team and the education-support team regarding students in their year group. Year heads are also assigned to teach some classes in their year group, which is positive, and liaise informally with class tutors. Both class tutors and year heads play an important role in monitoring students’ attendance and their overall welfare. These formal roles and the communication channels which have been established in the area of guidance and care are praised.
As a further initiative to help in the transition of students from primary school the school chaplaincy and counselling staff have developed a ‘Links’ support programme. This is a very worthwhile endeavour, through which sixth-year students are involved in the induction and mentoring of new first-year students. Towards the end of their fifth year, students apply and are interviewed and receive training for the role of ‘Link person’ to three or four first year students during their sixth year.
Provision for guidance and care is very good. The school adopts a reflective and well-organised approach to this area. The school community is praised for the range of structures, outlined above, which support this provision.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published, November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management of Cashel Community School welcomes the report on the Whole School Evaluation undertaken in the school in November 2008. The members of the board, the staff and the entire school community believe that the inspection process was a very beneficial experience and was conducted in a very fair and reasonable manner. The board also believes that the evaluation process provided a very useful opportunity for all the education partners to review, reflect and evaluate the many dimensions of life in the school.
The board welcomes the report as a very useful and constructive health check on the school’s development and growth since its foundation in1994.The board is delighted that the report recognises and highlights the many and varied aspects of school life which distinguish the school and which are a source of pride and satisfaction for all associated with the school.
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 believes that the report will provide the board and the school community with guidance as they seek to progress the development of the school into the future. The formation of a teaching and learning committee during the second term of the 2008/9 school year and the subsequent review and modification of the structures for the second year of the Junior Certificate programme are an indication of the board’s intentions in this regard. Similarly the upgrading and provision of additional ICT equipment at the start of the 2009/10 school year together with the scheduling of a further staff inservice day facilitated by the SLSS on October 6th is confirmation of the school’s ongoing commitment to embracing change and implementing the recommendations in the report.. The report will be a very useful reference point for all the education partners in the school as they strive to ensure that Cashel Community School continues to develop and address the challenges of education in the twenty first century.