An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Saint Johnís College, De La Salle,
Ballyfermot, Dublin 10
Roll number: 60510M
††††† Date of inspection: 28 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St Johnís College 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 four subjects and in the Junior Certificate School Programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects and programme. (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.
St Johnís College is an all-boys voluntary secondary school operating under the trusteeship of the De La Salle Brothers. Since its establishment in the 1950s the school has been an integral part of the community in Ballyfermot. A strong sense of connectedness with the local community remains evident in the school today.
The school has an enrolment of 435 students who come almost entirely from the Ballyfermot area. The school receives additional resources as part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme. Figures for the next two years suggest a slight reversal of the downward trend in the school population experienced in recent years.
The ethos of St Johnís College is underpinned by the educational philosophy of St John the Baptist de la Salle which aims to provide ďan education receptive to the needs of the timesĒ.† The school seeks to provide a holistic education programme that facilitates the academic, personal, spiritual and social development of each student.† Inclusive practices underpin the work of the school. School management and staff seek to do their best for all students who attend St Johnís College. In keeping with the trusteeís ethos and tradition, a commendable focus is placed on supporting students who experience significant levels of disadvantage.
There is a strong shared vision across the school community. Staff members are highly committed to their work and a climate of care and support for all members of the school community is evident. In keeping with the La Sallian ethos, St Johnís College aims to carry out its work in a spirit of partnership. Effective links with many local external agencies, businesses and past pupils ensures that the school remains an integral part of the community. The establishment of the parentsí council and studentsí council, together with the work of the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator and the supports provided by the school completion programme further facilitates the partnership model of care and student support espoused in the school ethos.
The educational philosophy and general ethos statement for a La Sallian school is communicated through the staff handbook and is evident in a number of school policies and documents. The patron is actively involved in effectively supporting an awareness of this ethos through the provision of induction courses for new teachers, staff workshops and training courses for school principals and student councils. To enhance this work, it is recommended that school management, in consultation with representative sections of the school community, devise a short mission statement specific to St Johnís College. This statement, which will be underpinned by La Sallian ethos and tradition, should be communicated to the entire school community and should be clearly linked to an overarching school plan and all revised school policies.
The current board of management was established in October 2007 and is constituted in accordance with the Articles of Management for voluntary secondary schools. The specific expertise and experience of individual board members is a major asset in leading and managing the future development of the school. Three members of the current board were members of the previous board. This has proved beneficial in terms of providing continuity and experience to the work of the board. All members have received training for their role from their respective organisations. To build on this good practice it is recommended that the board now receive collective training to support their role in strategic planning.
There is a very good working relationship between the board and the patron of the school. Trustees provide a significant level of on-going financial, advisory and educational support and this is very much appreciated by the whole-school community. It was noted from the meetings held during the evaluation that members of the De La Salle order contribute an impressive level of knowledge, experience and generosity of time to supporting the work of the board and the senior management team.
In keeping with the La Sallian ethos, the board is committed to providing a holistic education programme that meets the needs of the students of St Johnís College. The board demonstrates an awareness of its responsibilities and has taken an active role in the management of resources, appointments of staff and in the implementation of the code of behaviour. Meetings are held on a regular basis with additional meetings organised where necessary. Draft minutes and an agenda are distributed in advance of each meeting. This good practice facilitates effective continuity between meetings.
A concerned and collaborative approach is evident in the decision-making procedures adopted by the board. The board, in managing the school, is keen to conduct its business in an open and consultative manner.† It is commendable that an agreed report is issued to staff and displayed on the staff notice board after each meeting. Representatives other than staff report orally to their respective organisations. In the interest of enhancing the effectiveness of communication between the board and all stakeholders, it is recommended that consideration be given to issuing the agreed report to all those organisations represented on the board. This would ensure that the same message is delivered to all groups. Furthermore the board should establish procedures for informing parents on matters in relation to the work of the school.
The board has been heavily involved in managing a period of rapid change at senior management level since 2005. While the board has had some intermittent involvement in the development of school policies, there is a need to nurture a culture where the board adopts a more proactive role in leading the development of a school plan and facilitating the systematic review of school policies. The board recognises this and wishes to become more centrally involved in planning for educational developments in the school. As a first step, it is recommended that the board, in line with section 21 of the Education Act, makes arrangements for the immediate preparation of a school plan. This plan should outline clearly the vision, aims and priorities for the future development of the school together with the appropriate action plans. The services and advice of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) would prove beneficial in this regard. Information is also available at www.sdpi.ie
As a means of encouraging two-way communication in planning for educational matters in the school, the board intends to meet with personnel from the middle management team and from support agencies working in the school. This should be pursued. To support this work and establish effective school planning and review procedures, it is recommended that the board also seeks an annual progress report on the operation of the student support systems in the school. This report would provide an opportunity for personnel involved in the implementation of guidance and counselling, pastoral care and other student support initiatives to outline their achievements and discuss the challenges faced in the provision of such supports in the school. This information will be a useful in drafting an accurate and reflective annual report on the operation of the school.
Very good efforts are made to support the school as a learning community. The board, with the support of the schoolís senior management team, actively facilitate and encourage staff to participate in appropriate professional development courses. This has impacted positively on many aspects of school life including the development of student support systems, pastoral care, as well as on the successful implementation of new curriculum programmes and the on-going development of many subject areas.
The current principal was appointed in an acting capacity in 2007. The position was made permanent in September 2008. The deputy principal was appointed in September 2008. Both members of the senior management team were established members of the teaching staff prior to their appointments and therefore have a long-standing association with and understanding of the school. The very good level of engagement in relevant continuous professional development (CPD) by the senior management team has enabled them to fulfil their respective roles and further professional development priorities have been identified. The on-going support of the trustee representatives in enabling the team to settle into their individual roles is acknowledged and commended.
The senior management team displays clear leadership and management qualities. They demonstrate a shared vision and passion for the school which is very student-focused and in keeping with the ethos of a De La Salle school. The provision of a broad and balanced curriculum that effectively meets studentsí needs is a key focus of their work. As part of their on-going reflection on the work of the school, initial key priorities have been identified which include a laudable focus on improving student attainment, encouraging high expectations and developing systems that will enhance the school development planning process.
The principal and deputy principal work together as an effective team and very good systems are in place to facilitate effective communication. Initial duties have been defined. The principal and deputy principal maintain a visible presence throughout the school and operate an open door policy to all members of the school community. This fact was acknowledged and commended by many staff members at meetings held with the inspectors. In keeping with the schoolís ethos, continuing efforts are being made to cultivate additional community links to support the work of the school. The time has now come for the principal and deputy principal to refine some of their duties. Therefore it is recommended that duties among the senior and middle management teams be reviewed to allow time for senior management to become involved in planning strategically for the future development of the school.
In keeping with the La Sallian ethos, a partnership approach to managing the school activities is very evident. The relationship between the senior management team and staff is characterised by mutual respect, care and a shared focus of doing what is best for students. Very good working relationships are being cultivated with all sections of the school community. A culture of teamwork is being fostered through the effective working of various key teams such as the care team, year head team and education care team as well core teams for curriculum programmes such as the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). This positive practice is a commendable means of distributing responsibility for leading and managing school operations among all members of the teaching staff.
The middle-management team comprises nine assistant principals and thirteen special-duties teachers. In the meetings held with members of the middle management team there was evidence of a shared vision for the school which was in keeping with the La Sallian ethos. Members of the middle management team recognise their valuable role in contributing to the overall management of the school. The current schedule of posts has evolved over many years. Post-holders are involved in a range of duties supporting school administration, staff deployment, curricular programmes, and most notably, pastoral care. The senior management team recognises the need to review post duties regularly to build capacity among the team. The manner is which some of the post duties have been adjusted over the years displays a commendable level of willingness among post-holders to take on revised duties or to further develop their role to meet changing needs. Post holders are actively facilitated to engage in relevant training to support them in their work. This is good practice. Even though some tweaking of post duties has taken place, it is recognised by staff that some gaps remain in current post schedule. From reviewing the schedule it is evident that there remain instances where the duties attached to a post are quite onerous when compared to the level of responsibility. †In light of these issues it is recommended that a comprehensive review of the schedule of posts be carried out following the analysis of the needs of the school. This re-configuration should be led by the board, involve all staff, and be carried out with reference to the key development priorities identified in a school plan. Systematic procedures should also be put in place to monitor and review, on an annual basis, the duties attached to each post to ensure that the duties remain evenly distributed and the workload of the post is commensurate with the level of responsibility.
Senior management meets with various groups of middle management in plenary session. This has proved effective in developing a teamwork dimension to the work of post-holders. Commendably, staff members are aware of the management structure in the school and the schedule duties assigned through the information provided the staff handbook.
As evidenced by the composition of the student cohort, St Johnís College welcomes, respects and strives to accommodate students from all backgrounds and abilities. The schoolís admission policy is due for immediate review following advice from a number of sources. In reviewing the admissions policy, particular attention should focus on ensuring compliance with all legislative requirements. A clear link between the redefined school mission statement, ethos and single-sex status should also be evident.† As part of the review process the order of events in relation to the admission of students in the event of over subscription and in instances where students have additional learning needs should be clarified to reflect all the very good practice happening in the school.
School management is committed to ensuring that the students work in a safe, secure, calm and affirming environment. To this end a holistic approach is taken to the management of student behaviour. The year head system, in the dual role of monitoring student behaviour and attendance, as well as supporting studentsí welfare, is an integral and necessary element of the student support system.† Co-ordinated interventions of personnel from the student care team are apparent from documents reviewed during the course of the evaluation. This is very good practice. It is commendable that staff members have regular opportunities to discuss and share understandings about student behaviour at staff meetings and through a recent round of school-based in-service.
The code of behaviour was revised in 2006/07 following a commendable level of consultation with parents, staff and students. The code sets out clear expectations for student behaviour and a standardised system of tracking matters relating to behaviour is apparent. Such matters are effectively communicated to staff, parents and students. However, at present the operation of student sanctions is underpinned by a points system. While the penalty points system is clear and easy to operate, and supports a ladder of intervention, it does result in a linear escalator system with few opportunities for students to get off the escalator within the academic year. This ultimately results in the significant use of short-term suspensions as a sanction.† This needs to be reviewed. School management has prioritised a review of the code of behaviour in response to the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) publication Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools. Therefore the code should be initially reviewed using the audit tool available from the NEWB website (www.newb.ie). As part of the review, further strategies which slow down studentsí progress along the continuum of acquiring penalty points should be prioritised. Suspension should only be applied to students as the ultimate sanction by the school for very serious breaches of the code, and when all other interventions have been tried and exhausted. The use of suspension as a sanction for issues relating to student punctuality should be avoided. The revised policy should reflect the natural justice element of current school practices. As part of systematic planning procedures it is recommended that the board reviews regularly the use of short-term suspension as a sanction in the school.
Student participation and achievement is celebrated though the annual awards evenings and celebration events for JSCP students.† The schoolís commitment to encouraging positive behaviour is evident from the work of class tutors and year heads as well as by the appointment of special-duties teachers to oversee the attendance and behaviour challenges organised for junior cycle students. These initiatives are commendable and appear to be proving an effective means of promoting good behaviour. The effectiveness of the attendance challenges needs to be tracked and quantified and the feasibility of individual student attendance awards could be explored.
Student attendance and punctuality is tracked a number of ways. However it is recognised that difficulties remain with some studentsí punctuality and attendance. These difficulties impact negatively on levels of student achievement. To meet the requirements of the Education Welfare Act 2000, it is recommended that the attendance strategy be drafted by management in consultation with the whole-school community as soon as it is practicable. This strategy should outline the roles and responsibilities of all staff in the tracking and monitoring of student attendance and acknowledge the role of the additional supports now available in the school. Early response mechanisms particularly in senior cycle need to be identified. As part of this process the effectiveness and efficiency of the current procedures for daily roll call should be reviewed.
The studentsí council is advised and supported by two designated liaison teachers.† Agreed procedures are in place for the selection of officers but there is no agreed term of office and council membership is not open to first of second year students. These practices should be reviewed to make membership as inclusive as possible for future elections and to ensure that a term of office is clearly defined.† Good lines of communication are evident between the council and its constituents as well as management. Information on student council representatives is displayed on the dedicated council notice board and all members wear student council badges. These are laudable practices. The council meets on a regular basis outside of class time. To date the council has played an active role in enhancing school accommodation and has had some input into the development of the current code of behaviour. An admirable achievement has been the erection of a memorial to a former principal of the school. At the meeting with the studentsí council, the members were particularly appreciative of the support offered by management, staff and trustees.† It is laudable that training was provided last year in association with another local school. This good practice is designed to enable students from different schools to share ideas. School management is very conscious that the council needs to have a more structured role in the school.† It is recommended therefore that further training be provided to enable the council members to grow into their role in the school community.† A calendar of events and action plans could be planned in consultation with management at the beginning of each academic year. To enhance communication between the council and the general school community, an agreed report should be displayed on the studentsí notice board after each meeting and a section for the studentsí council could be included on the school website currently under development. The council is advised to consult the following publication for further ideas and advice: Second Level Student Councils in Ireland: a study of Enablers, Barriers and Supports (2005).† It is available through the National Childrenís Office, or the website at www.nco.ie.†
Parent involvement in the life of St Johnís College is actively encouraged. In discussions held with the board of management during the course of the evaluation, the chairperson paid tribute to the parent body for their unwavering support for the school and the De La Salle order over the years.† A parentsí council was established in the school in 2006. The assistance and advice of school management and the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator in supporting the steering committee in drawing up a constitution is acknowledged and commended. The council makes a valuable contribution to school life through its role in assisting in the organisation of school events such as the annual sports day and information evenings. It is particularly laudable that the council takes an active role in planning for the advancement of school facilities and curriculum design and has been consulted during the drafting of some school policies. The council is at an advanced stage of becoming an affiliated member of the National Parents Council (Post-Primary). Additional training could then be sourced to support the future work of the council.
One notable feature of the work of the parentsí council is the production of a newsletter. Plans are in place for the studentsí council to contribute to this commendable project. In order to promote the councilís good work and encourage other parents to take an active role in this work, consideration could be given to other initiatives such as developing a parentsí section on the school website or having a stand at the open evenings. To foster and cultivate the partnership approach espoused by management, arrangements could be put in place for the board of management to occasionally meet with the parentsí council and studentsí council. This would provide an opportunity to discuss issues of common concern.
In discussions between the inspectors and the parentsí council, parents were very complimentary about the lines of communication that exist between school and home.† The school operates an open-door policy to encourage parents to become involved in their childís education.† This policy is effectively supported by the very good work of the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator, class tutors, year heads and the care team. General information is communicated through letters and yearly calendars. In order to enhance communication between the school and the general community, a school website is in the final stages of design.† This is a highly commendable project. The commitment and enthusiasm of those involved in the website design, and their willingness to give so generously of their time and expertise, are acknowledged and commended.†††
Reports on studentsí progress are given at parent-teacher meetings and through school reports that are posted home on a regular basis.† The student journal and JSCP post cards are another important means of communication with parents.† From observations made during the evaluation, there is further scope to exploit the student journal as a home-school communications tool. Teachers are encouraged to use the journal more regularly as a means of providing balanced feedback to parents on studentsí progress. Parents are also encouraged to make greater use of the journal as a means of communicating directly with teachers.
A culture of self-evaluation focusing on student outcomes is becoming evident in the school. It was noted positively that senior management now presents an analysis of student outcomes as evidenced by their results in the Leaving Certificate examinations to the board of management. The board has welcomed this initiative and reported that the emerging issues will now inform some priorities in the school plan. A review of subject planning folders also indicates that this is standard practice in some subject departments. It is recommended that the results of the analysis of student attainment in state examinations be used to inform planning in all subject areas with a view to raising student expectations and overall levels of attainment.
The school calendar with respect to the number of teaching hours per week is compliant with Department regulations. The staffing allocation for the current academic year including concessions is thirty one wholetime teacher equivalents (WTE). Teachers are, in the main, deployed in line with their qualifications and expertise. All permanent whole-time teachers are timetabled for at least eighteen hours though few teach the maximum of twenty-two hours.
Additional hours granted by the Department are used for their specified purpose. It was noted positively that a systematic approach has been adopted by school management over many years in planning for the deployment of appropriately qualified staff to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum. However, at present the lack of a qualified subject specialist in the area of Physical Education (PE) is impacting negatively on the schoolís ability to timetable PE in junior and senior cycle. In the interests of providing a holistic education programme for students it is recommend that the board of management plan for the appointment of a qualified PE teacher as a matter of priority.
Staff members demonstrate a high level of commitment and positivity for the future development of the school. New members of staff are well supported in settling into their new environment through the very good induction and mentoring programme. The co-ordination of this programme forms part of a special duties post.† New teachers spoke highly of the efforts made by the senior management team, induction co-ordinator and individual subject department teams in supporting them to settle into their role in the school. The trustees also provide valuable in-service on the ethos of a De La Salle school.
Staff members are facilitated to attend relevant CPD. In order to enhance the provision of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), senior management should plan for the systematic upskilling of a core team of teachers of SPHE and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). This will support the development of a SPHE plan that demonstrates a balanced coverage of the ten modules of the curriculum framework. Further information is available on the SPHE Support Service website at www.sphe.ie
Ancillary staff members are very committed to their work in the school. They are very positive about St Johnís College and it is evident that they make a significant contribution to the smooth running of the school.
The school buildings and grounds are very well maintained. A proactive approach to enhancing resources is evident and the trustees continue to play a pivotal role in this regard. Funding has also been secured to develop a school library. This should be located, if at all feasible, in a central location in the school. The provision of a school gym and re-furbishing the parentsí room and boysí toilets are considered immediate priorities. In order to support the maintenance of school accommodation, the holding of an annual stock take would prove useful in order to ascertain future resourcing needs in terms of repairs, renewals and upgrades. The management of various resources could also be factored into the revised schedule of posts.
It was noted at the time of the evaluation that a significant proportion of grants paid by the Department for the upgrade of specialist rooms in Materials Technology (Wood) and Science had not been used entirely for that purpose but were used for other educational purposes within the school. †This has led to difficulties in these two subject areas and resulted in administrative issues relating to the drawing down of remaining portions of grant monies. However it was noted that this issue is being proactively addressed by school management. Moving forward, it is recommended that the board of management take an active role in overseeing the use of future Department grants to ensure that they are used for their intended purpose.
Specialist rooms and subject departments are generally well resourced and management is supportive of requests made for additional resources to support teaching and learning. Some work has been carried out in upgrading the science laboratories and further structural work is planned. To complement this process it is recommended that an audit of each science laboratory be carried out to clarify any remaining resource needs in terms of specialist equipment and consumables. Particular reference should be made to an original claim that was submitted under the terms of Department circular M7/03 and to the indicative resource list for science laboratories that is available on the Department website.
Very good progress has been made in enhancing the information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in recent years. A significant investment was made in hardware and a new computer room has been established. This room will be relocated to a more appropriate location next year. In terms of planning for further investment in ICT it would be important that resource acquisition be underpinned by the principle of enhancing teaching and learning. Therefore resource purchases should be within a framework that demonstrates concrete action plans and strategies that enhance teaching and learning. To this end, it is recommended that an ICT plan be developed by a sub-committee of key staff in consultation with the relevant stakeholders. This plan should outline key objectives in relation to the proposed infrastructure model, learning opportunities for students and teaching modes to be used. Steps taken to achieve these objectives should then be outlined. Proposed actions with regard to a purchase schedule, arrangements for maintenance, upgrades and software selection, connectivity and staff training should also be included. This plan should be reviewed regularly. Such a policy will also prove a useful basis of carrying out a quantifiable evaluation of the effectiveness of ICT in enhancing teaching and learning.
There are two specialist rooms for Materials Technology (Wood). In the current academic year funding has been secured to update the dust extraction system in each room. As part of the planned upgrading of resources for this subject area,† it is recommended that a complete review of health and safety issues be carried out in each woodwork room in line with the guidelines provided in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary schools (2005). An action plan to address the concerns raised needs to be devised by the board of management in consultation with the subject teachers, senior management team and the trustees. Particular reference should be made to Department circulars PBU 5/05 and PBU 85/06 in carrying out this audit.
While the school has no gym there is a good range of recreational facilities on the school campus such as, sports fields, hard court areas and an in-door general purpose area. Very good use is being made of these facilitates to support the excellent extra-curricular programme in the school. In addition several productive links have been developed with local leisure facilities. In this context, and as the provision of PE is a requirement for schools, it is recommended that the board of management explore what is feasible within the good range of resources that is available in the school and locality.
It has been some time since the whole-school health and safety statement was reviewed. Therefore it is recommended, that as a matter of priority, an appropriate up-to-date statement be devised by specialist personnel. This statement should be based on a risk assessment and should be communicated to all staff, students and visitors. The expertise of the local fire officer should be sought to provide advice in relation to fire exits, muster stations and appropriate signage throughout the school.††
The process underpinning school planning has evolved over many years. At the time of the evaluation structures to facilitate systematic collaborative school development planning were at an early stage of development. In the past, when a policy was needed, this duty was delegated to a member of staff. Due to the absence of systematic procedures there was a considerable lack of clarity at the time of the evaluation as to what older policies were ratified or reviewed and what level of consultation occurred during the initial drafting. However, the recent development of the code of behaviour involved a laudable level of consultation and this has proved successful in cultivating a sense of shared ownership for the implementation of this policy.
The more recent developments will improve the effectiveness of a collaborative school planning process. A special-duties teacher has recently been assigned responsibility for co-ordinating future planning and some sub-committees are in place. The process underpinning the development of the homework policy is particularly laudable. A sub-committee has been formed and an initial staff questionnaire was circulated. It is planned to distribute questionnaires to parents and students as part of this process. Given the specific issues pertaining to homework this very good idea should be pursued to facilitate collective ownership and responsibility for the success of this policy. †
In light of the considerable progress that needs to be made in the area of whole-school policies and in the development of a school plan, it is recommended that the process underpinning school planning be refined further. It is recommended that consideration be given to the formation of a discreet and identifiable school planning team that could be led by the school planning co-ordinator. The remaining duties assigned to the special duties post that are not related to school planning could also be re-examined. The future development of all policies should include consultation with relevant stakeholders. To facilitate cyclical reviews, the board should develop procedures to facilitate the systematic monitoring of the implementation of action plans and of whole-school policies. This would ensure that written polices reflect current practice and comply with subsequent legislative changes.†
Some initial planning priorities have been agreed in consultation with members of staff. These include raising student attainment, development of a homework policy and strengthening the profile of SPHE in the school. However, it is recognised by the school management that there is a need to develop a set of agreed planning priorities for the school in consultation with all of the stakeholders.
In the next phase of school planning the school plan should be developed as recommended in section 1.2 of this report. The targets set in the plan should form the basis of the action plan that will be developed by the school as part of its participation in DEIS.
A number of policies have been developed and are being implemented. However, there is a lack of cohesion in the format and implementation strategies for some of these policies. In a number of instances, polices are out of date and do not reflect the very good practices in the school. It is recommended that school management carry out an audit of existing policies and establish a hierarchal list of what polices need to be developed or reviewed. In planning a programme of policy review, priority should be given to those that are required by legislation or to comply with Department circulars. Each revised policy should be dated and clearly linked to an agreed mission statement for the school. The content of each policy should be equality proofed and clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders. Other relevant information such as the contribution of curriculum programmes or staff training schedules should also be included.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
A key achievement of school planning to date has been the continued development and adaptation of the curriculum programmes to address changing needs. Subject planning is well established and has proved beneficial in the promotion of collaborative planning and professional dialogue among teaching teams. Some departments are more advanced than others in terms of focusing on student learning outcomes and maximising attainment. There is scope to share expertise among staff particularly in relation to curricular and resource planning, homework strategies and suitable teaching and learning methodologies. The planned development of subject resource areas on the school website is a very worthwhile initiative. As identified by management, enhancing student attainment should be at the core of all future planning and development in the school.
It is established practice in St Johnís College to adopt a proactive approach to curricular planning. Over time, school management systematically and effectively planned to broaden the range of subjects and programmes offered in the school in order to continue to meet the needs of its student cohort. This is an excellent example of how the school continues to provide ďan education receptive to the needs of the times,Ē as espoused in the La Sallian vision.
Today the school offers a very good range of programmes and subjects. The successful adaptation of the curriculum has increased student retention rates and students have reacted positively to the experiential learning strategies underpinning the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Future curricular priorities identified by school management include the possible introduction of a Transition Year (TY) programme, broadening the range of subjects offered in LCA and a further extension of the technology subjects. The feasibility of providing TY as a means of enhancing senior cycle provision and addressing particular studentsí needs merits consideration only after appropriate levels of consultation. Consideration should be given to tracking the initial destinations of past students. This information would prove useful in informing on-going curriculum planning and organisation.†
There is a very good level of compliance with the programme requirements for LCVP, JSCP and LCA. However at present PE is not timetabled for junior or senior cycle students. The absence of a qualified subject specialist and school gym present challenges for management. In accordance with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools it is recommended that the board of management, as a matter of priority, explore different implementation models for PE and investigate what is feasible within the good range of resources that is available in the school and locality. Planning for the appointment of a qualified subject specialist from within the general teacher allocation is paramount to addressing this situation.
All junior cycle students are timetabled for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in accordance with the requirements of Department circular M11/03. However, there is a need to enhance the provision of RSE in senior cycle. To complement this work and in accordance with Department circular 27/08, it is recommended that a Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy be developed by a sub-committee of relevant staff in collaboration with parents and students. Further information and advice on drafting a RSE policy and developing a RSE programme is available on the Departmentís website. (www.education.ie)
The need to enhance studentsí ICT skills was expressed at several meetings held during the course of the evaluation. This needs to be considered following consultation with relevant stakeholders within the school community. When the ICT room is moved to a more suitable location, supervised access to this facility such be maximised for all subject areas.
An informed approach is evident in planning for LCA, JSCP and LCVP. It is commendable that core teams are facilitated to attend dedicated team meetings and that there is a good level of engagement with relevant CPD to support the implementation of each programme. Programme co-ordinators demonstrate a high degree of enthusiasm for the on-going development of each programme. Systematic procedures are in place for the organisation of work experience. As there are now two senior cycle programmes with a work experience component a database of work experience placements should be compiled and the effectiveness of procedures with regard to the timing, organisation and supervision of placements should be closely monitored. To support the delivery of LCVP, the guidance counsellor should contribute to the delivery of the Links Module.
Some good practice is evident in reviewing curricular programmes. Of particular note are the strategies used in LCVP to include students in the review process. As the LCA programme is due for another review, consideration should be given to including students and parents in this process.
Good practice is evident in timetabling. Generally classes are well distributed throughout the school week. This good practice facilitates regular contact between the students and their teachers which in turn assists effective continuity in teaching and learning. It is laudable that teachers and programme co-ordinators are consulted in relation to specific timetabling requirements and very good efforts are made to accommodate all requests. In the context of future timetabling, the number of class periods allocated to each subject should be reviewed and any shortfalls, such as those highlighted during the subject and programme evaluations, should be †addressed.
The school has now moved to a position where all students have equality of access to all subjects regardless of their ability or class groups. This student-centred practice is a commendable means of allowing students to pick subjects that will enable them to develop knowledge and skills in line with their interests and potential career paths. In addition they have the opportunity to build up knowledge and skills in subjects that they may want to select for their Leaving Certificate. These revised arrangements are conducive to optimising student attainment.
The parent information evenings and careers information evening that are held in the school supports informed decision making. The very good transfer programme that is available for incoming students at the end of June is another laudable initiative to support informed decision-making. It acts as a valuable support to parents and students in making the transition to secondary school. In order to further encourage parental involvement, consideration should be given to the compilation of a transfer pack that would be delivered to parents of incoming first-year students.† The pack could include information on school activities, school polices and practices, study and homework routines.
It is laudable that senior cycle option bands are generated from an initial survey of studentsí preferences. In the interest of enhancing the mechanism for subject selection at junior cycle, consideration should be given to the development of a short taster programme to support parents and students in making informed subject choices. It is good practice that student demand for subjects informs on-going curriculum review in the school. Therefore, if a persistent strong demand for a subject exists, this can be borne in mind when planning capital projects and in the future deployment of staff when a teaching vacancy arises.
Commendable changes have been made to the organisation of junior cycle classes. However, decisions with regard to taking the ordinary and foundation levels should be deferred until as late as possible in all subject areas. To support this strategy, the arrangements of the mainstream classes in first year should be modelled on a mixed ability setting for as long as possible to facilitate collaborative planning and common assessments, and result in improved attainment. The practice of concurrent timetabling in senior cycle is a commendable means of facilitating student access to levels within subjects. To support the schoolís focus on student attainment, the possibility of concurrent timetabling of some core subjects in junior cycle should also be explored.
Incoming students are assessed using a range of diagnostic tests for literacy and numeracy. Additional testing is done in the early stages of first year. Consideration should be given by the guidance department to the administration of aptitude tests in third year or fifth year. Department circular 08/07 contains a list of suitable tests that could be administered in the school. In order to maximise student attainment there is also a need for closer collaboration between the guidance department and individual subject departments to ensure that students are appropriately placed in the correct programmes, subjects and levels.
An excellent extra-curricular programme is available in the school. The programme could not operate without the superb commitment and the great spirit of volunteerism evident among staff members who are involved in co-ordinating, planning and supervising these activities.†
One notable feature of the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme is the very good links that have been established with the community and national agencies to provide expertise and advice in a number of areas. Past students also play a significant role in supporting and mentoring students in the school. †This work is highly commended.
The efforts, commitment and innovation displayed by staff in providing such a wide range of activities are highly commended.† This work is highly valued as a core school activity by the students, parents and the school management.
St Johnís College has engaged in the process of embedding a collaborative planning ethos. Commendably, subject and programme planning in the curricular areas evaluated is well established. In addition to the regular informal meetings that take place, the management facilitates regular formal meetings of subject departments and programme teams. This laudable practice facilitates the sharing of good practice among the team. As evidenced in planning documents, agendas are set for meetings and minutes are recorded and made available to management. This is good practice. While the co-ordination of programmes is recognised as a post of responsibility subject departments have voluntary co-ordinators. Co-ordinators show dedication and commitment to their role. Where the role of co-ordinator is voluntary, it is recommended that the role be rotated in order to distribute leadership and share the onerous responsibility of co-ordination.
The level of progress achieved in the development of some subject and programme plans is very good and the continued development of others is ably supported by committed individual department teams. There is good practice in evidence in a number of plans where specified timeframes are set for the delivery of the content of agreed yearly schemes of work. This practice should be adopted in all subject areas. In order to tailor the content more closely to the needs of the students, it is recommended that departments develop and agree a framework of the expected learning outcomes for the different levels and year groups. The agreed expected learning outcomes should then be used to plan for individual classes and to set assessment criteria for class tests and house examinations. In the interest of sharing the good practice evident in a number of areas, it is recommended that subject and programme teams include learning and teaching methodologies and strategies as an item for discussion on the agendas of formal meetings. Subject departments should also consider accessing the primary curriculum at www.curriculumonline.ie to ensure that planning for their subjects builds on previous experience.
It is noted that initial steps have been taken in developing a culture of self-evaluation as regards learning and teaching and this development is commendable. A common theme that emerged during the evaluation was the need for the subject departments to focus on planning to improve student attainment and move towards greater levels of participation at higher level in both the junior and senior cycle. In the context of planning for assessment, it is therefore recommended that the results of the analysis of student attainment in state examination be included as an item on subject and programme department meetings. This information, together with the information supplied in chief examiners reports should inform planning with a view, in particular, to raising student expectations and increasing student participation and attainment levels in examinations at the higher level.
The need to plan for differentiation was highlighted. A framework of expected learning outcomes as recommended above should be used to differentiate content delivery in the classroom. Department planning and policy should be consistently implemented in all classes irrespective of level or ability, with appropriate differentiation being practised in content, teaching strategies and assessments undertaken. There should be a clear focus on the needs of the more able students.
Individual teacher planning and preparation in the lessons observed was in line with subject department plans and was very good in most instances. Planning for the use of resources, including ICT, in teaching and learning was of a very good standard in the majority of instances. Where students have individual learning plans, the setting of expected learning outcomes would benefit from a greater level of collaboration between the education care team and individual departments and teachers.
A variety of teaching methods was observed during the inspection. The different approaches used by teachers included: whole class teaching, small group and pair work, individual student activities guided by customised lesson plans, the use of the whiteboard and the overhead projector as well as the successful integration of ICT. These various approaches contributed to lessons that provided students with a range of learning experiences and opportunities that actively engaged them in their own learning.
Student behaviour in all of the lessons observed was good and this, aligned with positive teacher attitudes, contributed to a very constructive and warm classroom atmosphere. Management of planned learning activities was effective with best practice being observed when appropriately high expectations for student engagement and contribution were set at the outset of the lessons. Monitoring of student attendance and punctuality was appropriate in most instances. However the practice of calling the roll at the beginning of class should be adopted uniformly.
Teachers were supported by special needs assistants (SNAs) in many of the classes visited. They provided their designated students and the teachers with very effective support in many instances. However there is a need for more formal consultation between individual teachers and the SNAs to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly spelled out and to guarantee that the assistance given to designated students is suitably structured so that the students develop independence while gaining access to their education in an inclusive and sufficiently challenging manner.
The structure of the lessons observed was good. The material covered was appropriate and the pace of the lessons was suited to the studentsí needs and abilities. To enhance learning it is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on sharing the lessonís goals and learning outcomes with the students at the outset and in setting time aside towards the end of the lesson for reinforcement.
The quality of learning was good and there was admirable emphasis on the development of the studentsí skills and knowledge across the range of subjects inspected. In particular there was a laudable commitment to developing the studentsí literacy skills and in the use of posters to assist the students in identifying key words and in building their vocabulary. The more successful lessons were characterised by the inclusion of a variety of teaching approaches which effectively accommodated studentsí different learning styles. This approach made learning more interesting, and made studentsí learning experiences more manageable.
Teacher questioning was good and served to elicit factual responses from the students, to generate topics for discussion and to enable participative learning. Reducing the reliance on global questioning, making maximum use of the target language, engaging the students in speculation and in developing higher-order thinking and analytical skills, could further enhance this practice.
Ongoing student assessment is achieved through participation in class, teacher questioning, homework, class tests and formal examinations. Some good individual teacher practice was evident regarding assigning and correcting homework. The school has undertaken to develop a homework policy as a matter of priority. It is recommended that the policy should outline the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders.
All subject departments should have agreed homework and assessment procedures that incorporate the good practice of using detailed formative comments when correcting homework. Furthermore consideration should be given to the most appropriate form of homework to be assigned to students participating in JCSP. Teaching teams should explore allocating non-traditional types of homework, for example, research, recording observations, analysing television programmes and gathering samples of everyday materials for use as learning supports in lessons. Classroom practice regarding the setting of learning outcomes should inform the development of an assessment policy and due cognizance should be given to the assessment of identified skills and to the use of assessment outcomes to inform planning.
Non-examination classes sit formal examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays. In some instances common papers with agreed and common marking schemes are set for students taking the same level. This good practice should be standardised where appropriate. Examination classes sit formal tests at Christmas and sit mock examinations early in the second term. Students in receipt of reasonable accommodation in the state examinations are provided with similar support in the mock examinations. This is very good practice.
Good practice in relation to recording student performance in class tests and formal examination in the teachersí diaries was in evidence. Reports issue to parents after each formal and mock examination and when necessary formal letters are sent informing parents of any concerns regarding student performance or behaviour that may arise during the course of the year. Each class group has one parent-teacher meeting per year and private meetings between teachers and parents can be organised at any time.
The school makes good use of the designated resources allocated for providing support to students with additional education needs. This work is led primarily by an education care team which comprises three core members, two of whom hold post-graduate qualifications in the area of special education. This team is assisted by five teachers who have been allocated resource hours and a number of special needs assistants (SNA). The level of shared expertise and commitment to providing for studentsí needs is highly commendable.
A very good range of resources, including ICT, is available to support the work of the education care team. The recently re-furbished resource area will enhance shared access to specialised resources for all team members and provide a suitable environment for meeting parents, students and staff from outside agencies. Good procedures are in place to store confidential student files and effective links have been established with relevant external agencies to support this work.
Students who would benefit from learning support are identified through the first year assessment tests and through consultation with parents and staff from the feeder schools. Assessment procedures, including examinations in English, Irish and Maths and diagnostic tests, are used to screen students for potential difficulties. As a means of enhancing the assessment procedures it is recommended that sixth-class teachers in the feeder primary schools be consulted in relation to the setting of the examination papers in English, Irish and Mathematics. Additional diagnostic tests are administered in the first term. The results of these tests, together with feedback from class tests determine a studentís need for on-going learning support. This is laudable practice.
Additional education support is available to junior and senior cycle students who are in receipt of resources hours. In deploying staff, commendable efforts are made to align teachersí specific expertise with subject-specific needs of students. Individual or group learning plans are in place for all students who receive additional support.
Additional support is provided using a variety of approaches. The recent adoption of team teaching provides a commendable mechanism for maximising inclusion. There are some very good collaborative practices between the learning support co-ordinator and mainstream teachers. Of particular note is the fact that the learning support co-ordinator attends core team meetings for LCA and JSCP.† Some informal communication mechanisms take place with subject teachers. In order to enhance inclusive classroom practice and promote a whole-school approach to supporting students with specific needs, it is recommended that communication between subject teachers and the education care team regarding studentsí individual learning plan be strengthened. This will inform the selection of teaching strategies to maximise learning. More formal consultations should take place between individual teachers and SNAs to ensure that students are only provided with the appropriate level of support based on the criteria outlined in their learning plan.
A learning support policy is in place. At the next review stage this policy should be incorporated into a whole-school policy on inclusion.† Further advice and support on this area in available in the Department publication Inclusion of Students with Special Education Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines. As part of this policy, it is recommended that procedures in relation to the deployment of SNAs in lessons be included in order to clarify their role and act as a guide for all members of staff.
As part of the schoolís engagement with school planning, strategies need to be explored to augment supports for the more able students. This issue was highlighted by parents and staff at a number of meetings held during the course of the evaluation. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publication Exceptionally Able Students, Draft Guidelines for Teachers may assist in providing support across subject areas.
Guidance is long established in St Johnís College and is viewed by management and staff as an essential support for students making transitions, choosing subjects and programmes and planning career paths. As part of the schoolís participation in DEIS the number of hours allocated by the Department for Guidance has recently being increased to 1.25 WTE. This increased allocation provides good opportunities for Guidance to play a very crucial role in providing a range of education, personal and career supports for students. It is recommended that management allocate all of the hours for the purpose of Guidance and Counselling in the school. This allocation can be shared between a team of suitably qualified staff.
The guidance department demonstrates a strong commitment to CPD. Management facilitates the attendance at relevant in-service and attendance at such events is very good. A range of resources is provided to support the guidance department in the school. An office is equipped with a dedicated phone line and computer with internet access. However the current office is not ideally located in the school. This fact is recognised by management and a new guidance office in a more accessible location within the school is being provided. This new location will facilitate easier access for parents and students. It is recommended that the guidance department relocate to the new office as soon as feasible. There is a careersí notice board in one of the social areas. However, a careers library has not been developed. A section of the new school library should be developed into a careers library. Once the ICT room moves to its new location further supervised student access to computers should be facilitated to enable students to engage in independent research for third-level colleges and to visit relevant career websites.
The current use of the allocation reflects a clear imbalance between one-to-one and group contacts for students. †At the time of the evaluation Guidance was timetabled as part of the LCA programme with the remaining time used to provide one-to-one career guidance support. To maximise the use of this guidance allocation it is recommended that school management, in consultation with the guidance department, carry out an immediate review of the use of the guidance allocation to devise a more appropriate balance between group and one-to-one contact. In addition to LCA provision all senior cycle programmes should include timetable provision for Guidance, perhaps using a modular methodology. To provide earlier guidance interventions at junior cycle, links should be established with the SPHE team to enable the guidance department to have occasional class contact time to support students in making transition from primary school, in developing self-management skills and when selecting subjects.
The careers information evening and co-operation with the New Era access programme operated by University College Dublin, are commendable initiatives in the school and are key components of the guidance programme in the school. The commitment of all staff involved in organising these activities is highly commendable. To enhance these practices the guidance department should now establish contacts and organise for the school to participate in the access programmes of other third-level colleges.
A qualified school counsellor, employed under the School Completion Programme (SCP),
makes a valuable contribution to the student support system. There is a standardised system of student referral for those who are attending one-to-one appointments with any member of the care team or guidance department. This is very good practice. The commendable level of shared experience and expertise of the school care team effectively support a holistic approach to student care. It was noted positively that the guidance counsellor and school counsellor are part of this team. This very good practice supports an integrated approach to guidance and counselling. However, there is further scope to integrate the work of the guidance department with all the student supports in the school through the adoption of a closer collaborative approach in the work of the guidance department.
The home-school-community liaison co-ordinator is a great asset to all areas of activity within the school. Deliberate efforts are made to foster positive relationships with parents through the hosting of a variety of courses and regular home visits. It is evident that the school takes a very proactive approach in establishing links with relevant external agencies to assist in providing high quality student support structures.
School activities funded by the SCP contribute constructively to the creation of a positive school experiences for students. The breakfast and lunch clubs are well attended and appreciated by students. The school is currently exploring the feasibility of organising a homework club. This should be pursued. Trustee-funded scholarships also provide valuable assistance to students participating in third-level education.
A guidance plan was developed by the guidance department about four years ago. As the guidance department is now joined by other staff members in supporting students, it is an opportune time to re-draft the guidance plan. The work of the guidance department should be fully integrated with the work of the care team, home-school-community liaison co-ordinator and personnel employed through the SCP. Therefore the guidance programme needs to be planned in a way that dovetails with all educational, pastoral care and personal supports provided. In order to plan this approach it is recommended that the board makes provision for the development of a revised whole-school guidance plan.† This work should be undertaken by a small sub-committee of relevant staff following an analysis of studentsí needs and consultation with staff, parents and students.† The plan should clearly show how all of the guidance allocation is used to support studentsí personal, social, educational and career choices. The plan should contain a guidance programme for each year group and school programme and a timescale for the completion of each activity should be clearly indicated. Once the plan and programme have been completed, the plan should be presented to management, staff and parents again for consultation. Once ratified by the board the plan should be reviewed annually and adjusted to meet changing needs. Assistance to complete this work can be accessed from the School Development Planning Initiative website www.sdpi.ie and the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE). Two documents that have been circulated to schools should also be consulted Planning a School Guidance Programme (NCGE, 2004) and Guidance for second level schools on the implications of Section 9c of Education Act 1998, relating to studentsí access to appropriate guidance (Department of Education and Science, 2005) Both documents can be accessed at www.education.gov.ie.
The pastoral care of students is given high priority and seen as being the responsibility of all staff in St Johnís College. Year heads and form tutors play an integral part in supporting students. Given the valuable role that form tutors make, consideration should be given to the extension of the tutor system into senior cycle. As the role of form tutor is a voluntary position, a schedule of tutor responsibilities could be agreed among staff.
Some key polices relating to the care of students have been developed and are being implemented. The pastoral care policy should be reviewed to reflect current practices. At the next review of the anti-bullying and substance misuse policies, clear links should be made with subjects such as SPHE that aim to support the development of positive behaviours and attitudes in these areas.
It is laudable that student achievement is celebrated through awards nights, the endeavour awards schemes and sports days. Achievements are also recognised through photographic displays around the school. Year group assemblies occasionally take place though the practice varies across year groups. Further consideration should be given to scheduling dedicated year group meetings in order to cultivate and nurture a sense of year group identity. School management is encouraged to explore the possibility of introducing a student prefect or mentor to develop leadership skills.
In accordance with the ethos of a De La Salle school, the spiritual development of students is supported effectively by the calendar of liturgical services, retreats and RE lessons. The oratory is a great asset to the school and acts as a focal point for the whole-school community.
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:
∑ The board of management should make provision for the development of a school plan. As identified by management, enhancing student attainment should be at the core of all future planning and development in the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published, June 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report†† ††
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 wishes to make the following points: