An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Mary Immaculate Secondary School
Roll number: 62000W
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Mary Immaculate Secondary School was undertaken in April 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The quality of teaching and learning in six subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School , a co-educational school, was founded in 1949 by the Sisters of Mercy as a secondary school for girls. Boys were subsequently admitted in 1955 and Mary Immaculate Secondary School became the second co-educational school to be formed in the country. The school is located in Lisdoonvarna and the catchment area includes all the national schools from Ballyvaughan and Fanore in north Clare to Kilfenora and Kilshanny in the south, and from Doolin in the west to Carron in the east. Currently, the school has disadvantaged status, but is not a participant in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme. The school’s first lay principal, the current incumbent was appointed in 1993.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School has an inclusive student intake and its current enrolment incorporating both post-primary and Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) students stands at 265. The school seeks to accommodate and cater for the educational needs of all enrolled students. At post-primary level, it brings together, in a single institution, an academic style education and some practically orientated subjects, so students can access a broad, general curriculum. Students attending the school come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and are diverse in their age, ability and educational needs. The school is very much rooted in the community that it serves and is the main provider of adult and lifelong learning in the greater area of North Clare.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School is a Catholic school, but welcomes and accepts students of all faiths. Catholic iconography on display within the school is part of the school’s ethos. Its Christian philosophy permeates all aspects of school life. The trustees, Catholic Education An Irish Schools Trust (CEIST), determine the ethos of the school and in conjunction with the board of management and the staff, strive to form a community in which ‘pupil, teacher, parent and management aim to live by Christian values, recognising the dignity of each individual’. It is lived out in a day-to-day manner in an exemplary way thanks to the leadership of school management and the co-operation of staff, students and parents.
The school’s mission statement is clearly written down and is communicated to the school community. It expresses the school’s desire to help each student ‘to mature as a whole person whose spiritual, educational, intellectual, emotional, social, cultural, moral and physical potential is encouraged to develop to maturity in an atmosphere of Christian care and concern’. The school emphasises the spiritual formation of its students with many activities aimed at developing students in their faith and spiritual lives. Through its wide curriculum and its range of extracurricular activities, including a broad range of sports, the school lives out its mission statement in its daily activities.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School aims to serve the whole community in active partnership and this is clearly evident in the day-to-day running of the school. Key words used during the evaluation were that the school is ‘caring, rooted in the community and has a warm friendly atmosphere. The Christian ethos is evident in other ways. For example, the pastoral care system cares for and respects each student and the school aspires to provide for all the needs of all students. There is a clear sense of community in the school coupled with a good sense of order and discipline and students are actively encouraged to take part in community outreach activities. This corresponds with what is noted as one of the school’s most positive attributes, that is, the overall level of care provided to the students.
The school’s Catholic ethos is celebrated throughout the year at regular masses and liturgical celebrations such as retreats. The students engage in a variety of social projects including fundraising for charity and working with the elderly people in Stella Maris Day Care Centre.
The Mercy Sisters, who were the trustees of the school since 1949, transferred their trusteeship responsibilities to CEIST on 16 May 2007. Systematic and regular communication is maintained with the trustees. This is achieved through continuing liaison by the chair of the board, who is a Mercy sister, ongoing communication by the principal, who also furnishes a comprehensive annual report and the receipt of, for example, information on the school’s budget and minutes of board meetings. The trustees provide support and advice where necessary. This level of communication is commended.
The current board is in its first year of operation. It is appropriately constituted, supported by trustees and the principal acts as secretary. Regular meetings are held, with agenda and draft minutes being circulated prior to each meeting. This is consistent with the articles of management, which place a minimum requirement on boards of voluntary secondary schools to meet at least five times during the school year. It is through training and presentations on legislation, undertaken by all board members, and the fact that most board members have served a number of terms of office that the board is aware of its role and responsibilities. As part of its role the board supports senior management. The board fulfils its functions and responsibilities professionally.
Consultation and partnership are clearly evident at board level. Decision-making procedures are open and clear and taken with regard to the best interests of the school community and with regard to the ethos of the school. A finance sub-committee oversees budgetary issues and provides a finance update at each board meeting. Other subcommittees of the board have been put in place as necessary. For example, a sub-committee was convened to initiate the development of a policy on job sharing and career breaks.
The board is supportive of school development planning. The board discusses, contributes to and ratifies all school policies and seeks advice as necessary. Due cognisance is taken of the school’s mission statement in the development of all policies. The board has adopted legally required policies and statements on admissions and participation, behaviour and discipline, child protection and health and safety. In addition the board in conjunction with in-school management and staff identifies developmental priorities on a year-by-year basis. For example, priorities in the area of policy development for the school year 2007-2008 included the completion of the policy on special educational needs, the development of adult education and Transition Year (TY) policies and the review of the pastoral care policy. This is good practice.
The board communicates with the wider school community through its agreed report that is made available to all staff and the parents’ council following each meeting.
The board has identified the school building and enrolment as developmental priorities. Of immediate concern to the board is the lack of sports facilities in the school. The board commended the school’s senior management and staff for the development of strong links with local sports organisations whose facilities are used to sustain ‘the school’s strong sporting tradition’.
As representatives of the parent body, the parents on the board of management were met with during the course of the evaluation. The parents’ council is actively engaged in the life of the school. Parents indicated their satisfaction with the levels of communication within the school, both with the board of management and the staff. The representatives that were met spoke very positively of the relationship between the principal, teachers and the parents’ council and stated that the school is fully supportive of the needs of their children. The parents’ council sees its role as a supportive one for the school. Parents spoke warmly of the very good education their children were receiving, mentioned the positive atmosphere in the school and commended the successes achieved by the school in sport.
The principal and deputy principal work together in a complementary manner, sharing day-to-day management. They have a visible presence in the school and are readily available to the school community. The principal’s effective and inspirational leadership empowers management and staff at all levels and has resulted in the expansion of the curriculum to include programmes such as TY, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the introduction and subsequent development of the adult education programme. The deputy principal’s contribution to overall school leadership and management and the energy she brings to her role enhances the quality of senior management. Senior management share a student-centred, community-focused vision for the school. As a result of their leadership, combined with support from staff, parents, the board, students and the community, the school has adapted to the changing educational needs of the community over the last number of years.
Senior management actively fosters a collaborative approach with staff in agreeing on and achieving the aims of the school. All staff members are aware of the management structure of the school. Staff meetings that are minuted are held a number of times each year. A draft agenda is posted on the staff notice board to facilitate staff input. These meetings also provide an opportunity for presentations from teachers on specific issues such as updates on in-service attended, reporting on the role of year heads and describing the mentoring program.
Formal lines of communication between management and staff are facilitated by regular staff meetings and use of staff notice boards. This is supplemented by significant informal communication in the open and friendly atmosphere that exists in Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna. This very good rapport among the staff and management is very obvious to any visitor on entering the staffroom, where he or she is welcomed openly and warmly.
Support for new teachers includes a tour of the school and receipt of school policies. In addition, teachers receive a comprehensive teacher induction booklet outlining various aspects of school procedures and suggestions and advice for specific scenarios. This is commended.
Members of middle management are highly committed and exhibit a huge sense of care and concern in the manner in which they approach their responsibilities. There is regular communication between senior and middle management. During the evaluation process the school was finalising a whole-staff review of the schedule of posts to ensure that the school’s current and emerging priorities for development are being clearly targeted and supported. This process was assisted by the working committee that comprised representatives of management and staff and advice was sought from the School Planning Development Initiative (SDPI). In addition the principal has met each post-holder on an individual basis to discuss his or her interests. This approach is highly commended. A speedy finalisation of the whole-staff review of the schedule of posts was urged. It was further recommended that duties should continue to be agreed in order to maximise teachers’ expertise and interests. Commendably it was reported that this process has been completed following the evaluation and that contracts for the new posts were being signed by the post-holders. It is desirable that each post-holder furnish an annual written report in relation to the work completed, the challenges and the resources required. In addition post-holders should identify any support and training needs in order that the duties may be carried out to as high a standard as possible. Looking to the future, a regular review of the schedule is suggested in order to continue to meet the school’s needs.
Teachers have roles in the development of various aspects of the life in the school. These roles include discipline, pastoral care and mentoring, and these various groups of teachers meet on a regular basis. The structures and approaches used in the management of students are very good. Class tutors undertake the role voluntarily. They have an important role in the care and management of students. Year heads have responsibility for two year groups. Their duties include ‘administration and promotion of the positive aspects of good discipline and behaviour’, communicating with parents and students and liaising with class tutors, the guidance counsellor, the home-school-community liaison teacher (HSCL) and senior management as appropriate. In addition the care and school management teams meet on a weekly basis where items pertinent to students are discussed and followed up.
An admission and participation policy for all students, including those with additional educational needs has been devised. Commendably, the school has sought advice from the trustees and the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) with regard to its content. It is recommended that the admission and participation policy should be amended to remove the restrictive clauses as advised by the NEWB and as discussed by the board. Senior management implements the admission and participation policy of the school in a fair, transparent and equitable manner and in compliance with all relevant legislation. Structures for the monitoring of students’ attendance and academic progress have been established in the school.
A structured policy for school behaviour and discipline is operated in parallel with students’ support systems. It was approved by the board of management in 2007. The code of discipline and behaviour is in a format that is accessible to parents and students. The code incorporates three stages and includes grievance procedures, on report, suspension and expulsion, with clear guidelines outlined at each stage. In addition the code provides for the setting up of a three-person discipline committee that may meet parents and make recommendations to senior management. A version of the code exists in the school’s induction booklet and the school rules are signed by both the student and parent. It is suggested that the school develop a positive behavioural programme in parallel with its existing care system and code of discipline and behaviour. Elements of this positive behavioural programme could be included in code of discipline and behaviour in a future review of the code.
Students are provided with the opportunities and skills to become active in the operation of the school. Examples include the TY organisers, the students’ council and peer mentors. The students’ council is elected by and representative of the student body, a gender balance being maintained among the representatives in each year. It is effective in promoting the involvement of students in the affairs of the school, and senior management and the liaison teacher encourage students in bringing about particular changes to school life, through a partnership approach. To-date, the students’ council has received an explanatory document from the liaison teacher in order to gain an understanding of its role. During the course of the evaluation it was stated that formal training would be sought for the students’ council of 2008/2009. This is encouraged. It is noteworthy that the students’ council has a constitution that is incorporated in the annual report for the board of management. Contact is maintained with the student body through the representatives and by means of the students’ council notice board. This is laudable.
There is ongoing communication with parents encompassing all aspects of school life. Parents receive information on students’ progress by means of written reports four times during the year. In addition, students’ journals, letters, telephone calls and newsletters are used to provide important information throughout the year. Formal parent-teacher meetings are organised in line with agreed procedures. The school also facilitates and encourages contact with parents with regard to individual student’s progress. The HSCL teacher effectively bridges the gap between the school and the community.
A wide network of links has been established between the school, appropriate outside agencies, and the community. During the evaluation it was reported that the school is ‘rooted in the community’. This contact and co-operation seeks to support students and facilitate their needs, supporting work experience and the delivery of certain modules within TY. For example, the school uses the facilities of local sports clubs for all students and other local facilities for some aspects of the adult education programme. Close communication is maintained with local primary schools. The principal and HSCL teacher visit the schools within the catchment area and the school hosts an open day for sixth-class students and their parents. In addition, TY students run a science workshop for primary school students. This level of involvement with the local community is commended.
The original school was housed in Tivoli House in Lisdoonvarna, but due to increasing enrolment a new school was constructed and formally opened in 1964. This is a two-storey construction to which extensions were built in 1985 and again in 1996. Whilst the extensions have provided the school with much needed accommodation, concern was expressed about the restricted space in the school and the lack of sports’ facilities such as a full-sized gymnasium and sports’ pitches. Management has ongoing contact with the Department of Education and Science in order to progress the schedule of accommodation agreed in 2001.
The maintenance of the school buildings and grounds is generally to a high standard and this helps to create a positive teaching and learning atmosphere. Commendably, management has continued to enhance facilities over the last number of years. For example it was reported that the electrical provision was updated and modernised in September 2007. The school has many good teaching and student-support facilities and the campus has been developed as a pleasant, student-centred environment. Facilities include a laboratory, a home-economics room, an art room and a construction and woodwork room, all of which are generally well resourced. Effective use is made of all available space. The display of students’ work both in the classrooms and along the corridors celebrates students’ sporting, academic and cultural achievements and is highly commended. In addition the many posters provide a stimulating learning environment.
The school has made very good progress on enhancing the ICT provision in the school. This includes the provision of a broadband-enabled school with data projectors and DVD players in all classrooms, in conjunction with two well-resourced computer rooms and the recently refurbished design and communication graphics (DCG) and technical graphics computer room. In addition a small resource room has a number of computers as has the room that houses the resources for special educational needs and is a base for the special needs assistants (SNAs). A password log on system has been put in place for students and teachers. It is recommended that all staff further develop and utilise electronic resources to support the teaching and learning process. The school has a formal system for keeping stock of existing resources and for identifying and acquiring up-to-date resources.
The teacher allocation from the Department of Education and Science includes some additional concessions to maintain the current breadth of the curriculum on offer and to meet the needs of the present student cohort. School management is cognisant of the current and future staffing requirements of the school and endeavours to safeguard the school’s ability to provide appropriately for students’ needs. Additional teacher resources are being used for the purposes they were allocated in almost all instances. The use of a number of hours for special educational needs is unclear. It is recommended that the full allocation of resources be used for their intended purposes in accordance with the Department’s publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines. Almost all of the school’s guidance allocation is being used for its intended purpose. The allocation amounts to 0.64 WTE. The use of the hours for Guidance should be re-assessed in the context of utilisation of all allocated hours for their intended purpose, in particular when the current working arrangements of the guidance counsellor revert to normal.
The school principal has attempted to deploy the teaching staff as effectively as possible. Analysis of individual timetables revealed that teachers are timetabled appropriately commensurate with their post, except for class tutors whose timetables contain a weekly period named ‘RSE’. This is not class-contact time for the teachers. The school has agreed to amend these teachers’ timetables in order to reflect the class-contact time that is in operation on the ground. In almost all cases, teachers are deployed only in the specialisms for which they hold recognised qualifications and it is recommended that the school continue to follow this practice as much as possible given the present restrictions. In a number of cases, teachers are timetabled to provide learning support or resource for individual or small groups of students who may have an exemption from Irish and who may require literacy, numeracy or subject specific support.
The school is very well-served by its administrative and cleaning staff, SNAs and caretaker. The administrative staff has detailed job descriptions. These job descriptions should be reviewed in order to streamline their duties. For example, completing students’ reports is not the best use of the time of the administrative staff. Delegation of this duty to administrative staff should cease when access to the computerised reports has been fully accomplished. The administrative staff participates in a broad range of school activities. They also hold third-level qualifications and have a significant role in the adult education programme and provide substitution when necessary. In addition they have a key responsibility in monitoring students’ attendance. Given their all-encompassing duties, it is recommended that the administrative staff attend meetings of the whole staff. The commitment, enthusiasm and dedication of all the support staff in the school was evident during the evaluation process and is highly commended.
Teacher participation in in-service and continuing professional development (CPD) courses is encouraged and facilitated by the school. Whole-staff CPD has been organised on topics such as mixed-ability teaching and risk assessment. Individual teachers have attended in-service in a broad range of areas both subject specific and generic, including co-operative learning. The use of internal expertise for staff training in information and communications technologies (ICT) is commended. Furthermore, management and staff attend meetings of professional associations and professional network bodies. This is good practice. Building on the CPD that has already taken place, it is recommended that additional whole-staff input on special educational needs should be provided to further enhance teachers’ expertise. It is suggested that a policy on the operation of professional development be devised that incorporates a five-year plan. The utilisation of internal expertise is further encouraged.
The school-planning process involves the collaboration of the board, senior management, all teachers, the students’ council, and the parents’ council. All partners believe that they are enabled to contribute ideas, express concerns and make suggestions in an open and constructive manner. This is commended. The school has benefited from input by SDPI personnel, as well as other qualified personnel. A whole-school review has resulted in the selection of priority areas and school planning is currently co-ordinated by the deputy principal. Building on this is very good practice, the school should consider putting in place an ongoing representative school-planning staff group to co-ordinate all future aspects of school planning.
A significant degree of progress has been made in the area of general school planning as is evident in the large number of school policies already in place. The health and safety statement was reviewed by school staff in March 2008. Different task groups consisting of teachers and senior management have devised the policies. The involvement of the teaching staff as a whole is facilitated through advance reading of draft policies, followed by discussion at staff meetings. All draft policies are discussed by the parents’ council and in many instances the students’ council prior to discussion and ratification by the board. The policies are also viewed by the trustees and their advice is sought prior to ratification. This approach of involving all partners in policy development reflects very good practice and is to be encouraged.
The school is commended on the work done in devising a broad range of policies, most of which have been ratified. In addition the setting up of a shared electronic folder for planning documents is highly commended. It is understood that the school intends to review and adopt draft policies in the areas of adult education and lifelong learning, and TY. Furthermore, the necessity to look at including RSE in the senior cycle was reported. The school should continue with policy development in the priority areas identified. For example, a critical incident policy should be developed. It might be timely to review the substance abuse policy to ensure that it conforms to the more recently devised school policies. In addition, timeframes should be agreed for the finalisation of policies currently in draft form. Furthermore review dates should be incorporated into all policies for ease of ongoing planning.
Building on the good practice in relation to planning, a written school plan needs to be compiled. Distinct permanent, developmental, and action-planning sections need to be established within it. The SDPI or Department templates might be a useful mechanism for organising documents in each section. The school should also consider publishing the school plan or sections of the plan on the school web site to facilitate dissemination.
School management is commended for initiating and supporting the process of formal subject-department planning. The recent appointment of subject co-ordinators, who act on a voluntary basis, is commended. Single teacher departments are encouraged to link with other one teacher departments in planning common issues. This is very good practice. Teachers should ensure that in these instances time is also factored in for subject-specific planning in areas that are not common between the subjects.
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). A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed and the procedures are outlined in the teacher induction booklet. This is commended.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School offers a wide-ranging, broad and balanced curriculum, addressing the needs of the student population in terms of the development of its moral, spiritual, emotional, social, physical and intellectual growth. The curriculum provided also reflects the aspirations of parents and the profile of the student intake in general. This is apparent through the school’s provision for both practical and academic subjects. Programmes offered include the Junior Certificate programme, TY programme, the established Leaving Certificate programme and the LCVP. It was reported during the evaluation that while the school acknowledges the benefit of introducing the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA), the current enrolment does not facilitate this when cognisance is taken of best use of resources. The school is content in the knowledge that the present programme provision in the school is providing for the needs and interests of the current student cohort.
The school timetable provides the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and the breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. Following a detailed analysis of the timetable supplied to the evaluation team in advance of the WSE, a few points of merit are made. It is noteworthy that the total time allocated weekly for instruction, for all year groups complies with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science Circular Letter M29/95. Whole-school support for the provision of subjects at all levels is good. It is school policy that year groups have daily contact with Irish, English and Mathematics where required. In terms of timetabling, subjects have an appropriate time allocation and the distribution of lessons across the week is satisfactory in almost all instances. A few very small timetabling issues are apparent however. There is uneven distribution of lessons across the week in second-year and in third-year Geography as these are timetabled on consecutive days, and in first-year History which is timetabled for a double lesson in one instance. Taking cognisance of timetabling constraints, management should endeavour to avoid this where possible in future timetabling.
The provision of double periods for practical lessons is laudable. First-year classes are of mixed ability and concurrent timetabling is used in second, third and fifth years in the core subjects, thus facilitating students’ access to all levels. This is commended. All optional subjects in both junior and senior cycles are of mixed ability. A similar process operates in senior cycle. The flexibility in the timetabling of both junior and senior cycles to meet the varying needs of all students is to be highly commended. Management is commended on the provision of all subjects at each level and students are encouraged and supported to take their subjects at the highest examination level possible.
It is recommended that management consult with the education support team (see section 5.1) during the timetable construction process with regard to maximising the benefits that would accrue from the best use of the hours allocated for students with special educational needs. Reference should be made to Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines.
The LCVP is well-established and fully implemented. Support for the implementation of the programme from school management is very good as is evident in the appropriate timetabling of the link modules. Compliance with regard to students’ uptake of a modern language is adhered to. It is understood that on the rare occasion it has been necessary, arrangements were made to provide an ab initio language module for students not taking a language to Leaving Certificate level. It was reported that every two years the teachers of the vocational subject groupings meet to discuss cross-curricular links. This is laudable. Building on this good practice, it is suggested that other strategies for further raising the profile of the LCVP among staff in general and the enhancement of cross-curricular links be investigated.
Strong links are maintained with local industry and community enterprises, particularly through work experience in both the TY and LCVP programmes.
The TY programme that is optional is in keeping with TY philosophy. It incorporates a number of experiential learning activities and approaches into learning. For example, co-curricular activities such as two-day song writing workshops, the one-day Public Access to Law programme, Young Social Innovator, and the Burren workshop provide students with learning experiences that are outside the traditional Leaving Certificate. In addition modules such as Safe Driving Enterprise and ICT are also components of the programme. Building on the work done in the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education (RE) programmes in junior cycle, a significant element of the TY programme is focused on personal development. TY students have autonomy in choosing some activities and are involved in organising events, thus facilitating students in developing leadership, decision-making and organisational skills. Preparation for the working world comprises, for example, guidance lessons on the preparation of curriculum vitae and interview techniques, and work experience. The provision of all of these modules is highly commended. However, the balance of provision in the traditional Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate subjects is not equitable. For example, Home Economics and ‘Woodcraft’ each have three periods per week, while History is only a half-year module and there is no Technical Graphics on the programme. Best practice is a balanced taster system of all optional subjects. It is recommended that the school’s TY programme be reviewed to ensure balance and equity across the subject areas, as it is essential that balance be maintained given the diversity of students’ needs and interests and to enable students to make informed choices for the Leaving Certificate. Support for the whole-staff could be sought from the TY Support Service. The involvement of TY students, the TY organisers, in directing and administering events facilitates students in developing leadership and organisational skills. This is an approach that is highly commended.
It is good to note that a written TY plan has been put in place. Individual teaching plans feed into this programme of work. The TY plan should be further developed to include distinct sections: the curriculum (core), the modular aspect and the calendar aspect. Having these sections of the programme planned in advance would help to minimise the disruption to other subjects. In addition timeframes should be built into all aspects of the programme. Furthermore alternative assessment modes should be included. Strategies similar to the LCA key assignments and project, practical and portfolio work that are employed in some instances could be utilised in assessing students’ achievement. It is understood that parents and students are encouraged to complete an evaluation of the TY programme and that these evaluations feed into a review of the programme. This is commended.
Mary Immaculate Secondary School is the main provider of adult and lifelong learning in the greater area of North Clare. The adult education programme has developed over the years and the school now provides multiple educational opportunities including Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses (Childcare, Business and Secretarial Studies), Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) courses and self-financing classes (e.g. FÁS safe pass course). Support and guidance are given to PLC students to ensure that modules necessary for FETAC Level 5 certification are undertaken. It is understood that management proposes to review the PLC modules on offer in order to continue to meet the demands of the adult community. This is encouraged. The success of this all-encompassing programme is a consequence of the commitment and dedication of school management and the active adult education department, including the director and administrative officer, to lifelong learning and to meeting the needs of the community as a whole.
Having a curriculum policy that effectively collates all the work that has already taken place and includes programmes on offer, subject choice arrangements, supervised study, class size, subject planning and co-ordination, and planning for ICT would be beneficial. In addition, the homework policy that is currently in existence could also be incorporated into this policy. Furthermore, subject-department planning could feed into this overall curriculum planning and organisation. This approach would aid the school in continuing its work on focusing key issues in relation to teaching and learning. Commendably, since the evaluation, management has set up a curriculum team to advise on curriculum issues.
A guiding principle of Mary Immaculate Secondary School is that each student should be provided with all the support and help needed to develop his or her ‘spiritual, educational, intellectual, emotional, social, cultural, moral and physical potential’. This principle informs the school’s approach to the process of subject option choice. All junior cycle students study the core Junior Certificate curriculum in addition to Science. Almost all students study French or German. The other optional subjects offered are Art, Materials Technology Wood, Business, Home Economics and Technical Graphics. Music is offered after school hours.
Subject choice is student driven. Students choose their optional subjects in advance of entry into first year and the option blocks are subsequently devised based on students’ input. Students are provided with the opportunity to study all the option subjects in the format of a two-month taster system, following which final decisions are made. The provision of a subject taster system in first year is praiseworthy as it enables students to experience subjects previously unknown to them and assists them in making informed subject choices for Junior Certificate. The school is to be highly commended for offering as comprehensive a curriculum at junior cycle as resources permit as this allows all students access to a range of choices at senior cycle. Students’ and parents’ views are obtained by means of a questionnaire with regard to the taster system. This partnership approach is highly commended.
Almost all students study one foreign language, French or German. The school itself is mindful of the fact that the current mechanism prevents students studying two modern languages. Strategies could be explored that would provide students with the opportunity of studying two foreign languages.
The school considers that ICT is an important component of students’ education. ICT is timetabled in first year, second year and in TY, and students have the opportunity to take the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) examinations.
All senior cycle students study a core curriculum of RE, Irish, English, Mathematics and PE. In addition all students take the LCVP link modules, irrespective of whether their subject choices fit into the vocational subject groupings. During the course of the evaluation concern was expressed with regard to the lack of interest of a small minority of those students who do not fit into the vocational subject groupings. It is recommended that strategies be explored to address this issue. Students’ initial choices are also used to create a “best-fit” model for Leaving Certificate optional subjects. The fact that Leaving Certificate subject pre-selection does not occur in advance of TY is commended as it allows students an extra year of experience and maturity before making subject choices.
An extensive support programme is in place to support subject choice and programme choice. Commendably, this is outlined in the subject plan for Guidance. This involves for example, information meetings for parents, meetings with class groups, and individual students as well as receipt of relevant documentation. Presentations are given in the first instance to the parents of first-year students in advance of entry, in conjunction with an information pack and a copy of the preliminary subject options form. In addition, parents receive input on two evenings during the students’ first month in the school outlining subject options and the implications of subject choice.
Appropriate guidance and parents’ information nights for third-year and TY students facilitate the process of informed programme and subject selection for senior cycle. Students opt for TY or Leaving Certificate.
It is noteworthy that all students are aware that the guidance counsellor operates an open door policy and all students may receive advice, support and counselling on an individual basis. The careers’ reference library, that is housed outside the fifth-year and sixth-year rooms provides up to date information on career guidance and contains prospectuses for various third-level colleges and PLC courses. Information on individual careers is available both in written and electronic formats. The guidance notice board on display is also a valuable source of information. The commendable practice of ensuring parental awareness and approval of students’ programme or subject choices and change of options or subject level is noted.
The management and staff of the school are commended for the care and attention they exercise in ensuring that the students’ educational welfare and personal preferences determine the design of subject option groups.
The level of provision for co-curricular and extracurricular activities in Mary Immaculate Secondary School is excellent and wide-ranging. These activities offer opportunities to students that endorse the vision expressed in the school’s mission statement. All students, including those with special educational needs, are included and encouraged to participate in the school’s co-curricular and extracurricular activities. A healthy level of student interest and participation in these activities is reported.
Cultural activities include participation in Féile na hÍnse in, for example, the music, poetry and art categories, in which students have achieved success. Involvement in the Comenius project Plants in our Lives has facilitated students in school exchange and working on a project with students from both the Netherlands and Poland. Other cultural activities include art tours, Euroscola trips to the Dáil and Strasbourg, theatre trips and participation in writing and art competitions. Students have obtained awards at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and the UK BA Crest Science Fair and participate in the STARS project. Musical productions such as Oliver allow students to utilise a range of skills including acting, singing, orchestral, cosmetics and organisational skills. This is very good practice.
Students’ commitment to the environment is evident by their ongoing and active involvement in the Green Schools’ Initiative. The school is very actively involved and the committee comprises students, teachers and a community member. The green flag has been renewed for the fourth time and a green school’s notice board is utilised to facilitate communication with the school community. The undertaking of a green school review and the resultant green school action plan for 2007/08 is highly commended. The Green School theme for 2007/08 is ‘to raise the awareness of the importance of reducing our carbon footprint’. The work in this regard is highly commended.
The development of leadership skills among students has been facilitated through for example, training students to act as coaches in volleyball, and they have subsequently coached students in local primary schools. TY students develop, organise and demonstrate a practical workshop for primary school pupils incorporating physics, biology and chemistry experiments. They produce a workbook of the experiments, a copy of which is given to each primary school. In addition to strengthening the links with primary schools, this is significant in facilitating the development of the students’ scientific and organisational skills. This is highly commended.
Students can partake in a range of sports, on a recreational and competitive basis. Games include volleyball, basketball, football, soccer and athletics for both boys and girls, and students participate in a vast array of competitions. The school has experienced sporting success in these areas over the years.
An important aspect of students’ educational experiences in Mary Immaculate Secondary school is spiritual development and the development of community awareness. Activities that are more specifically focused on the spiritual development of students include retreats, bereavement mass, class masses and the graduation ceremony. In March 2007, the HSCL teacher organised a week of activities focusing on ‘care, courtesy and consideration’ to promote an awareness of and respect for others. Other activities such as Trócaire fasts and no uniform charity days also enhance students’ social awareness, in addition to contributing to creating and enhancing a sense of ‘giving something back’ among the students. This active development of students’ personal and social skills is laudable. Furthermore these activities are in accordance with the school’s mission statement that states the ‘Christian ethos permeates all disciplines.’
Newsletters and notice boards acknowledge, and promote the very important facet of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Staff and students are very aware of the positive impact of the provision in the lives of the students. The voluntary contributions of staff and management are unstinting. Staff and management are highly commended for their dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm in offering this excellent level of provision that significantly enhances students’ learning experiences in the school and augments the holistic development of the students.
Formal subject-department planning has taken root in the school during the current academic year. Subject inspection reports that have been included in the whole-school evaluation (WSE) refer to the need to formalise planning in these subjects. It is evident from the subject inspections carried out as part of the WSE that the recommendations in these reports have been addressed by the school and extended to the work of other subject departments. This is commended.
Subject departments have developed subject plans that set out policies and practices in relation to the organisation, provision, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subjects. They have also drawn up long-term schemes of work that outline topics to be covered in each year. The more detailed shorter-term plans that have been drawn up should be further developed so that among other things they include reference to expected learning outcomes and a section for comments on students’ and classes’ progress in attaining the learning outcomes. Students’ homework and class work should be monitored so as to identify both the strengths of classes and the areas in which development is required.
Good quality, effective teaching and learning were observed over the course of the evaluation. Short-term planning for lessons that included the prior preparation of materials for lessons was good. Lessons were structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses. The content of lessons was appropriate and most were focused on achieving a particular learning outcome. Very good practice was observed when the intended outcome was shared with learners at the outset of a lesson. This helped students connect new learning with previous work and also invited them to share responsibility for the lesson.
A range of appropriate teaching methodologies to support students’ learning was used during lessons observed. Teacher-led approaches were seen to be less effective. Best practice was observed where opportunities were included for students to actively engage in the learning process. The good use of a wide variety of teaching resources was observed. Teachers’ instructions and explanations were precise and accurate. Effective questioning strategies that stimulated students’ interest and that structured the learning activity were used in most of the lessons observed.
During practical work teacher demonstrations enabled students to observe the proper execution of procedures, processes, and skills, and provided them with a model to guide their independent work. As the students worked in groups, teachers circulated and offered individual support and direction where appropriate while students were completing assigned tasks. This approach to supporting students’ individual learning needs is commended.
Classrooms were very well organised and planned activities were well managed. Ordered learning environments were created and classroom routines were evident during lessons evaluated. In most lessons observed, teachers had made efforts to create stimulating environments to support their teaching and students’ learning.
Very good rapport between teachers and students, based on mutual respect was evident in classrooms visited. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses and integrated them in lessons. Students were engaged in their learning in the main and displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skill development with regard to the subjects evaluated, relative to their class groups and levels.
All subject departments have developed homework policies in line with the whole-school policy for homework. Regular assessments are given throughout the year in all subject areas. A range of assessment modes is used to assess students’ learning and progress. These modes are compatible with the aims and objectives of the subject syllabuses.
In most instances students’ tasks and assignments are used to consolidate and assess learning. There was evidence in most instances of careful planning for and the incorporation of regular homework, revision and assessment, in order to maximise the learning experience of students by teachers. With regard to formative assessment, there was evidence of some very good practice. When used appropriately it provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done and reflected the principles of assessment for learning effectively.
Appropriate records of students’ attendance and progress are kept. In keeping with good practice, the school regularly informs parents of students’ progress in subjects.
Significant commitment is given to the care of and provision for students with special educational needs. The school has a Department of Education and Science allocation for special educational needs, including learning support. A significant number of teachers have been assigned by the principal to assist in the delivery of learning support and resource. Every effort is made by the principal to match the needs of the students with the expertise of the available staff. Generally the same teacher administers support to identified students in specific subjects. Subjects supported include English, Irish, Mathematics, French and Art. This is good practice.
Special needs assistants (SNAs) have a pivotal role in supporting students’ learning. A handbook has been produced that is a very good guide in supporting the SNAs in their work. This is commended. The SNAs have regular minuted meetings to discuss issues related to their work. They meet with and report back to the deputy principal. To build on this good practice and to formalise the communication between the SNAs and the special needs team, it is recommended that at least one representative from the SNAs attend the meetings of the special needs team. This would more easily facilitate two-way communication of appropriate information. The SNAs’ enthusiasm and dedication is illustrated by their ongoing participation in CPD. This is laudable.
Currently, the school has three teachers who are qualified in special educational needs. Members of the special educational needs team have been facilitated by the board of management in completing a post-graduate diploma in learning support and resource, and in attending other shorter CPD courses. The commitment and dedication of staff and management in upskilling themselves in this area is commended. The support team and the whole school should continue to seek support from the Special Education Support Service, www.sess.ie as appropriate.
A formal core team has been established in the school to facilitate planning for and delivery of additional educational supports to students. Regular meetings of the core team facilitate planning. In view of recent statutory and other changes in special educational needs, it is recommended that co-ordination be reviewed in the context of whole-school planning. Best practice indicates that co-ordination should be performed by trained personnel and personnel who are teaching learning support and resource. In the absence of this, it is recommended that co-ordination personnel undertake CPD to remediate this situation. Following the evaluation it was reported that this issue would be addressed. It is suggested that links between the special needs team and the guidance personnel could be strengthened.
Supports that have been established in the school for students with additional educational needs include a room in which the special needs assistants are based and which is equipped with specialist resources, including computers with literacy-development software and reference texts. A lift has been installed to facilitate access to the upstairs practical rooms for students with physical difficulties. The school actively seeks additional material resources and reasonable accommodations in State examinations to meet the physical and educational requirements of students with additional educational needs.
A draft special needs policy has been prepared. The reviewed draft policy should be extended in line with the Departmental publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines. For example the written policy should specify circumstances in which students with special educational needs may be withdrawn from mainstream classes. In addition the school’s arrangements for allocating teachers and the effective strategies for teaching and learning should also be incorporated. The policy could also include assessment scores and the methods for tracking students’ achievement of learning outcomes.
The provision of support for students with educational needs is in the form of withdrawal and small group teaching and provides appropriate support for students in the main. There is evidence that a flexible approach is utilised when necessary in order that the needs of individual students are met. This is commended. In advance of finalising the special educational needs policy, the school should expand the current range of the provision for additional support for all students. In addition to withdrawal and small groups, strategies such as team teaching should be considered. For example groups who currently have support outside school hours could be supported in this manner.
It was reported that the special educational needs department has initiated the development of learning plans for individual students. This is commended. It is suggested that the development of learning plans for individual students could be extended further to include inputs from parents and students in line with best practice.
Early identification of students with special educational needs is a positive feature in this school. A system has been established by the school for the identification of incoming students with additional educational needs. Management communicates with the special educational needs organiser (SENO) and management and the HSCL teacher visit local primary schools. While acknowledging that the special educational needs co-ordinator is available to support parents at information sessions in advance of the students’ entry into first year, it is suggested that the school includes a member of the special educational needs team in the visits to primary schools.
Department of Education and Science schemes for students at risk of early school leaving and from disadvantaged backgrounds are operating in the school. These include for example the study club and the provision of lunch vouchers for junior students, in addition to the book rental scheme that operates for all students. While acknowledging the current very small number of students with English as an additional language in the school, looking to the future the school could consider commencing work on a policy for these students.
It is clear that the guidance programme and provision is a whole-school endeavour, with significant input from the guidance counsellor. Documentation clearly illustrates the whole-school nature of Guidance. A very good whole-school guidance plan has been developed. The regular evaluation of the programme is highly commended. As a support for students with regard to subject choice a short account of the content of the subject and the potential uses of the subject in future careers has been devised in almost all subject areas. The school is encouraged to build on this very good practice and develop similar documentation for all subject areas.
The school’s guidance counsellor is committed to her work and discharges her duties professionally. The guidance department has been facilitated in undertaking CPD in Guidance. Commendably, the guidance counsellor is currently upskilling herself in the area of adult guidance in an effort to meet the continuing needs of the school. The guidance department has produced a very good programme of work incorporating the educational, career, personal and social aspects of Guidance. The programme includes for example, mock interviews for senior cycle students, the use of aptitude tests, an induction programme for first-year students and study skills development. Extensive links have been developed with an array of outside agencies in order to provide students with an all-encompassing experience of Guidance. This is commended. As is good practice and in keeping with school policy, communication with parents is ongoing and regular and includes surveys and invitations to information sessions.
All fifth-year and sixth-year classes are timetabled for one lesson per week of Guidance, while TY students have two timetabled lessons each week. Inputs into junior cycle classes are arranged in consultation with teachers and are focused on issues related to major events and transitions such as examination preparation and study, programme and subject choice. In line with its stated intention, the school should plan for providing junior cycle guidance lessons. It is suggested that they are delivered in conjunction with the school’s SPHE department and programme.
Counselling is available to students at all levels. Students are referred to the guidance counsellor by staff, particularly through the pastoral structure of class tutors and year heads, and by self-referral. The approach to counselling is student-centred.
An ethos of care for students permeates all aspects of the school. All staff members have a clear awareness of their care function both within the classroom and in all school activities. The school has a well-established care team that meet on a weekly basis and pro-actively resolves a good deal of potential difficulties for students. Regular meetings of the care team take place with desirable levels of formality including the recording of minutes. Clarity of purpose is achieved at such meetings, enabling the recognition of issues and the identification of actions to be taken and of individuals responsible for the actions. This is commended. In addition links between the care team and the special educational needs team are facilitated through the deputy principal and the HSCL co-ordinator, each of whom are members of both teams. Building on this good practice it is recommended that the care team be extended to include a teacher who is qualified in the area of special needs and involved in devising the education plans.
The voluntary work performed by class tutors is a vital support to students’ emotional and academic development and is highly commended. The school’s understanding of the role is ‘to support the student in a pastoral care role in accordance with our mission statement’. The strategy of timetabling the class tutors in junior cycle for SPHE assists the tutors in this work. In addition the SPHE programme forms a central element of student support.
The use of peer mentors is an excellent support for first-year students. Acting as a peer mentor provides students with the opportunity to further develop on a personal level. These students complete a training course towards the end of fifth year and subsequently administer components of the beginning-of-year induction programme for first-year students and provide ongoing advice and assistance. The work of the students in this regard is highly commended.
As previously mentioned in section 1.3 of the report, the pastoral care structure runs in parallel with the discipline process. The school has a draft policy for pastoral care. A code of practice in accordance with the draft policy on anti bullying is an integral part of the school’s pastoral care provision. This draft policy, along with the school’s pastoral care policy should be reviewed to ensure the removal of details not congruent with the school’s individual context.
The school’s HSCL co-ordinator increases parents’ awareness of their own capacities to enhance their children’s educational progress and helps the school address some of the factors that influence the participation of students in the learning process. Her dedication, enthusiasm and commitment were evident by, for example, home visits, the development of links with the local committee and attendance at meetings of the County Clare co-ordinators. Parents have been actively encouraged to participate in school life. The school is effective in facilitating and supporting the involvement of parents in their children’s learning and study. The setting up of a local committee of parents to develop and design a brochure “Supporting Your Student’s Learning” is an example of involving parents in developing links between student support and teaching and learning. The involvement of parents in this endeavour is highly commended. The school and in particular the HSCL co-ordinator work in close co-operation with outside agencies in relation to the pastoral care of students, when the need arises. These agencies include the Health Services Executive, the Stella Maris Day Care Centre, social workers from ClareCare and the North Clare Family Resource group.
It is important to acknowledge and re-affirm the major, if informal pastoral role played by school administrative staff, and the SNAs in the lives of students who often seek assistance on various matters.
The spiritual development of students is addressed in an inclusive and comprehensive manner and is reflective of the characteristic spirit of the school. Relationships and communication within the school community are characterised by openness, and effectiveness. The quality of care in the school community clearly reflects the lived ethos of the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The Catholic ethos of the school is reflected in special events such as the masses and other liturgical celebrations and in the Catholic iconography on display in the school. The Christian ethos is lived out in a day-to-day manner in an exemplary way thanks to the direction of school management and the co-operation of staff, students and parents.
· The board and trustees are supportive of the work of the school. A collaborative and collective approach is fostered by the board and senior management.
· Senior management provides dynamic, affirming and innovative leadership and is committed to the successful planning, organisation and development of the school. The principal’s effective and motivating leadership and the deputy principal’s contribution to leadership and her energy enhance the quality of senior management and facilitate them in working together in a complementary manner, sharing day-to-day management.
· Middle management structures commendably support the work of senior management. The school has recently carried out a review of post-holders’ duties in order that the assigned duties would more successfully reflect the emerging needs of the school. Post-holders are enthusiastic and committed to their work.
· Mary Immaculate Secondary School is an inclusive school. It welcomes, respects, and accommodates students from all socio-economic backgrounds and all ability levels. Management of students is effective.
· The school maintains well-developed links with the local community and a very good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents and the community as a whole. Both the parents’ council and the students’ council are actively involved in a range of school activities.
· The school has many good teaching and student-support facilities and the campus has been developed as a pleasant, student-centred environment. The maintenance of the building and the cleanliness of the environment are excellent and reflect the diligence of the caretaking and cleaning staff.
· Management’s commitment to continually upgrading the campus is evident by the significant level of ICT that has been installed to support teaching and learning.
· Time and energy have gone into the development of a myriad of school policies as part of the school planning process. All partners were included in this process.
· The whole-school curricular plan is underpinned by the concept of open choice and access to all subjects and programmes, the maintenance of small classes and high academic expectations for all students. An extensive array of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is also available to students and the commitment of staff and their unstinting voluntary contribution in this regard is highly commended.
· The school’s commitment and dedication to the provision of education for the whole community is evident by the range of adult education programmes on offer in the school and is enhanced by the enthusiasm and work of the personnel involved.
· The holistic education of students is central to the work of Mary Immaculate Secondary School. The development of leadership skills among students has been facilitated through for example, training students to act as coaches in volleyball, the work of the TY organisers, the facilitation of a science workshop for students of local primary schools by TY students and peer mentoring.
· Individual planning and preparation by teachers is of a good standard and there is increased recognition of the value of teachers working collaboratively in subject-based departments, as is evident by the appointment of subject co-ordinators. Single teacher departments are encouraged to link with other single teacher departments in planning common issues.
· Lessons observed were found to be well structured and the quality of both the teaching and of the learning was good. Displays of subject-related material provided a rich learning environment.
· A variety of assessment modes was in place which attended to both formative and summative assessment.
· A major strength of the school is the importance it attaches to the care of students, and the supports it provides them, including: full-time HSCL co-ordination, early identification of students in need of learning support and resource, the establishment of a care team, year head and tutor system and the use of an induction programme and peer mentoring for first year students.
· A very good whole-school guidance plan has been developed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The full allocation of all resources should be used for their intended purposes in accordance with the Department’s circulars and guidelines.
· Building on the good practice in relation to planning, a written school plan needs to be compiled.
· Management should consult with the education support team during the timetable construction process with regard to maximising the benefits that would accrue from the best use of the hours allocated for students with special educational needs.
· The school’s TY programme should be reviewed to ensure balance and equity across the subject areas.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal, deputy principal, 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:
· Subject Inspection of Irish – 14 May 2007
· Subject Inspection of German – 18 September 2007
· Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry – 6 November 2007
· Subject Inspection of English – 30 April 2008
· Subject Inspection of Home Economics –28 April 2008
· Subject Inspection of Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics – 29 April 2008
Published November 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 : Observations on the content of the inspection report
· The board welcomes the positive report on WSE in Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna.
· We will implement the recommendations.