An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Saint Angela’s Secondary School
Ursuline Convent, Waterford
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 27 March 2009
A whole-school evaluation of St Angela’s Secondary School was undertaken in March 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in three subjects was evaluated in detail and two subjects were evaluated beforehand. Separate reports are available on each of these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Angela’s Secondary School is located in Ballytruckle, on the outskirts of Waterford City and is set, along with the Ursuline Convent, in its own extensive grounds. The Ursuline Sisters came to Waterford in 1816 and established both a boarding school and a day school. These schools merged to become the current St Angela’s Secondary School following the introduction of free second-level education in the state. The boarding facilities closed in 1983. The school now caters for 857 girls and the trend in enrolment has been increasing gradually in recent years.
Three primary schools provide the majority of the enrolment while students from other schools can and do enrol in line with the criteria as set out in the school’s admissions policy. It is a noteworthy aspect of the heritage of the school that students enrolling in 2009 still walk the corridors and sit in some of the classrooms that have been used by students of the school since the early nineteenth century. The school has a long and vibrant tradition of serving the educational needs of girls in the area and is clearly an important element of the social fabric of the community.
The characteristic spirit of St Angela’s arises from the central mission of Ursuline education which strives to nurture a community where Christian values are respected, lived out and taught. The school’s mission statement outlines clearly that St Angela’s is a Catholic school and it aims to cherish the uniqueness of each individual and to foster her full development in a spirit of inclusivity. This mission stresses the dignity and uniqueness of each person, the importance of courtesy and kindness, and the fostering of courage and confidence to live in justice and truth. Within this mission the school community envisions the shared role of teachers, students, parents and management in educating active citizens for society within an inclusive school community.
The trustees, the Irish Ursuline Union, take an active role in supporting, promoting and maintaining the ethos of the school and in ensuring that the mission is lived out in the day-to-day activities and experiences of the students. This is achieved through effective and appropriate engagement by the Ursuline Education Office, which is based in Waterford and works with the four Ursuline primary schools and the five secondary schools in the country. The remit of the Ursuline Education Office is clearly set out in a document ‘Religious and Educational Philosophy of Ursuline Schools’ and forms the basis for training programmes for boards of management, staff members and catechists. An induction programme is provided for all newly appointed teachers and a training day is provided for students who take a leadership role in Ursuline schools. Significantly, the Ursuline Education Office also provides a support network for principals through regular meetings and workshops.
The ethos of the school, as reflected in the mission statement, finds its expression in the lived experiences of the members of the school community that is St Angela’s. It informs and underpins the work of the board and the senior management in both the planning and the delivery of the curriculum and in the management and leadership of people. It informs both teaching and learning in the classroom and is significantly evident in the commitment and professionalism of the teachers and in the courteous and mutually respectful rapport between the students and their teachers.
The board of management is appropriately constituted with eight members. Four members are nominated by the trustees, two are parents of students enrolled in the school and two are teachers. The principal acts as secretary to the board. Meetings are held at regular intervals and there is an appropriate level of communication between the chairperson and the principal. The trustees are well represented on the board through the commitment and dedication of the nominees in ensuring that the school ethos is upheld and that it informs board decisions. Equally the teacher and parent nominees contribute effectively and bring their day-to-day experience of the life of the school to their work on the board.
The board is engaged actively in its work and is aware of its function and its statutory obligations. Members have availed of the training provided for boards of management. There is constant and effective communication with the principal, acting as secretary, relating to agendas, minutes, draft documents and issues for discussion in advance of meetings. Following board meetings, minutes are drafted and an agreed report is communicated to the trustees, the teaching staff and the parents. The report from the parent representatives is delivered by the principal at the meetings of the Parent School Advisory Council (PSAC) which represents parents in the school and acts as a parents’ association. The parent representatives on the board, however, are not members of the PSAC and do not report to the council. Parent representatives on the board are nominated and elected by a poll of all parents in the school. Consideration should be given to regularising the role of the PSAC as the school’s parents’ association and to its affiliation to the National Parents’ Council (post-primary).
The board has an ongoing role in whole-school development planning. It has been actively engaged with modifying and adjusting the school’s admissions policy to ensure clarity, fairness and equity in all the processes around the entry of new students to the school. The board has also recently discussed and ratified an updated critical-incident policy. It is clear that the board sees the process of policy development as being initiated in the first instance by teachers and senior management with an appropriate input from students and parents. The board then discusses the draft policy, suggests amendments and, following redrafting, will normally ratify the policy. The board also has clear development priorities for the school. It has decided, in collaboration with the trustees, and without funding from the Department of Education and Science, to proceed with the building of a new science laboratory, a home economics room and a work room for staff. A further five classrooms are in the process of refurbishment. The board has also sanctioned and funded the refurbishment of a number of basement rooms in the former boarding school building, a very impressive wheelchair-accessible kitchen with adjustable worktop units and the upgrading of the information and communication technology (ICT) facilities in the school. These developmental priorities for the physical infrastructure of the school are also paralleled by the board’s commitment to upholding the school’s ethos in ensuring an inclusive learning and caring community where all are valued in an environment that provides for high academic achievement and a range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
The principal and the acting deputy principal are a very cohesive team and demonstrate very effective leadership of learning, of people and of the school as a whole. Their work is informed by the overarching guidance provided by the school’s ethos, as expressed in the mission statement, to provide a caring, safe and secure school environment within which all students can develop academically, socially and personally.
The principal, who has already held the post of deputy principal and has been a staff member for many years, has a clear vision for the future of the school. This vision is balanced by an informed awareness of the long-standing traditions and heritage of the school as it has evolved in its management structure and its procedures. The principal has worked to engage teachers within the school community in a shared journey informed by the values of academic achievement and care for the individual. The school has adapted to the changing nature and needs of its students and this process continues. The long-established structures in student support have been enhanced through the further development of the roles of class tutor and year head. These roles have empowered individual teachers, in most cases outside of the post of responsibility structure, to engage in leadership roles at class-group and year-group level. This student-support process is also complemented by the class-prefect, school-prefect and sports-captain structures that allow students to take leadership roles. These structures intertwine to provide a matrix of care and support for both the academic and personal development of students.
The leadership of the principal has also been significantly effective in achieving and maintaining the level of academic excellence that is evident in the school. This has been achieved though the encouragement and development of high professional standards among the very committed and engaged teaching staff. Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and facilitated where possible and appropriate. It is clear that the principal has the loyalty and support of the acting deputy principal, the teaching staff, the PSAC, the board and the students in the ongoing process of maintaining and developing this very effective school community.
The acting deputy principal fully and actively supports the leadership of the principal in the achievement of the shared vision for the school. Student care and discipline, balanced with high academic expectations for all, underpins the role of the acting deputy principal. The role involves managing the discipline and student-support systems that operate in the school. It involves the visible enforcing of high standards of behaviour as set out in the school’s code of behaviour. The acting deputy principal leads the student-support team by liaising directly with year heads and class tutors and takes appropriate actions as required. The role also includes managing the student-leadership structures, involving the class and school prefects and sports captains, combined with a visible presence on the corridors of the school. Communication is the key aspect to the effective performance of this role. It is clear that there are constant formal and informal contacts with year heads, tutors, the principal, students, parents, the guidance counsellors and appropriate outside agencies.
The management structure at in-school level is centred on the roles of the principal and the acting deputy principal. Both operate an “open door” policy and are available to respond to ongoing issues on a daily basis. Two key teams of teachers operate within this management structure. The student-support team of class tutors and year heads deal with discipline and issues of student engagement and achievement. Members of the team report directly to the deputy principal. A further team of special-duties teachers and assistant principals carry out an extensive range of duties appropriate to the posts of responsibility held by the various members. These duties have been delegated through a discussion process with the principal, based on the needs of the school and the skills, capacity and interests of the post-holders. This process is commended. These duties and their performance are reviewed annually through discussion with the principal.
Other important teams include the guidance team, the education-support team and the school-planning team. In each case, responsibility has been delegated from the principal to these key groups of teachers who carry out significant duties within the overall management of the school. Both the guidance and the school-planning teams have been in place for a significant period, while the education-support team has undergone a number of changes of personnel in the recent past and has been developing its role in the planning and delivery of supports to students with additional educational needs. These teams report to the principal on an ongoing yet informal basis.
Subject departments and programme teams have also developed within the management structure. This has advanced the subject and programme planning process, the induction of new teachers and the gathering and sharing of teaching resources. This process has also resulted in important developments concerning classroom practice, including the development of common teaching and assessment strategies and the development of extracurricular and co-curricular dimensions to many subject areas.
The individual teacher also plays an important role within the management of the school and has the key role of delivering the curriculum and facilitating students’ learning. Teachers are committed to very high standards of professionalism and give willingly of their time to provide all necessary supports for students’ learning. Individual teachers are also facilitated to have a voice in school management by placing items on the agenda in advance of a staff meeting and through the openness and accessibility of the school principal. It is clear that staff members have an obvious commitment to the care and well-being of students and to the achievement of the highest academic standards. This commitment and the resultant achievement of very good learning outcomes for the students are highly commended.
Student management is very effective and begins in advance of enrolment. Information is provided to primary schools and this is followed by an invitation to the school’s open night. Students then apply to enrol and the criteria as set out in the admissions policy are applied. A booking fee of fifty euro is required to secure a place. This fee is then offset against the voluntary contribution of the same amount that is requested annually from students. The school’s code of behaviour and the expectation that students will strive to achieve to the highest academic level within their abilities are central to the management of students as they progress through the school. The code of behaviour is embedded through the work of the class tutor and the year head. While expectations of conformity are high, the strict enforcement of the school code is balanced with both mutual respect and courtesy at all levels. The care and concern for the individual is central to the process. Attendance and retention of students also receives a particular focus by the student-support team and is co-ordinated by the acting deputy principal. Attendance is closely monitored and individual absences are followed up systematically.
Students also play an important role in supporting the student-management system. A “ceannaire” or “buddy” system pairs incoming first-year students with fifth-year students as part of a settling-in process. Each class group elects a class prefect and a further twelve senior prefects are elected from the senior year groups. Two senior prefects are assigned to each year group to support the work of the class prefect. They deal with problems and issues that may arise and assist in organising activities to build an esprit de corps among the students. Attention has been particularly focused on the risk of bullying. An important anti-bullying charter has been developed by the students and is on display throughout the school. Six sports captains are also elected to promote and organise sporting activities in the year groups. The senior prefects and the sports captains meet with the acting deputy principal on a regular basis. The prefects and the sports captains chair these meetings on a rotational basis. The head girl, senior prefects and the sports captains receive student-leadership training provided by the Irish Ursuline Union. The contribution of these students and the system within which they operate has a very positive impact on the school. They are engaged and enthusiastic about their participation in school activities and are courteous, respectful and assertive individuals who have a clear insight into the quality of support that they experience within the school. The success of this system is lauded by the students themselves, their teachers, the board and the members of the PSAC. It is clear that this impressive system is an important element of the traditions of the school and is very effective in building self-esteem and leadership, and in supporting students.
The school is planning to review the code of behaviour as one of its short-term priorities. Within this process consideration should be given to the meaningful inclusion of the voice of students in framing the revised code. Equally, within this revision, consideration should be given to focusing on a balance between rules and the consequences of breaking these rules and incentives towards positive student behaviour. The revision of the code of behaviour is timely and in this process school management should consult Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for School (2008), published by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB).
Communication with parents is very effective and well organised. All students and their parents or guardians are interviewed following enrolment to discuss subject choice, the school’s code of behaviour and any issues that may require attention in advance of entering first year. A coffee morning is organised in the first term for the parents of first-year students to allow for informal communication with class tutors, the year head and the principal and acting deputy principal in a relaxed social atmosphere. The home-school-community liaison co-ordinator calls to all homes during the first year to discuss specific issues that parents may have relating to their child in the school. Issues are communicated to the guidance counsellors and/or school management as appropriate and with due regard to confidentiality. The students’ journal, letters or phone calls are used to communicate with parents on issues of discipline or attendance and all receive the school’s newsletter twice each year. Formal parent-teacher meetings are appropriately organised and parents can access teachers and school management as required to discuss specific issues relating to individual students.
Parents also play an important and significant role in supporting the school community. The PSAC is the structure in place to allow parents to formally engage as partners in the school. Membership of the council is open to all parents and the principal presents a report at meetings and discusses issues and events as they arise. The group meets regularly, has a number of elected officers and has a written constitution. While the constitution states that “the council will act as an advisory body on major school issues”, it is clear that fundraising has been the primary concern of the council in recent years. While the achievements, loyalty and commitment of the council are laudable, particularly in raising much-needed funds, consideration should also be given to engaging the voices of this very supportive parent group in the areas of policy development and school planning, the revision of the school’s code of behaviour and in other appropriate areas including representation on the board of management.
The school complies with Department of Education and Science Circular Letter M29/95 in providing 28 hours of instruction per week for students on the school timetable. Also, the school calendar illustrates the planned provision of 167 instruction days in the current school year. Teachers are allocated the appropriate level of class-contact time within the staffing allocation to the school. Additional staffing allocations have also been provided through the Guidance Enhancement Initiative, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and for the support of students with additional educational needs.
The ancillary staff including the school secretaries, caretaker and cleaners, make a very significant contribution to the smooth operation of the school. This contribution is clear from the very positive interactions between all members of the school community and the school office and the very clean and ordered condition of the school buildings, classrooms and grounds. Equally, the special-needs assistants are also included in the school community and make an important contribution to the operation of the school when not assisting their assigned students.
The physical infrastructure of the school is steeped in history and centres on three adjoining buildings. St Joseph’s House formed the original boarding school established in 1816. The St Mary’s building was added in 1968 followed by Brescia, a further wing of the school completed in 1978 and named after Brescia in Italy, the birthplace of the Ursuline Congregation in 1535. As school enrolment expanded, the board placed an application for capital funding with the Department of Education and Science for the provision of an extension to the school. As this application had not been progressed, the board in conjunction with the trustees undertook to provide a number of additions to the school as mentioned in 1.2 above. The school community is highly commended for its advancement of this project based on funding generated by the school.
The school has an impressive range of facilities available to support high-quality teaching and learning. There are thirty-three general classrooms and a full suite of specialist rooms. Multi-functional spaces are also available including a refectory, a project room, a study hall and a general purpose hall. Small teaching and consultation spaces have also been made available for Guidance, learning support and home-school liaison. Impressive and well stocked senior and junior libraries are also available to students and teachers for study and research. Very useful resource storage areas for subjects are also provided. Surrounding the school on the well-maintained extensive grounds are a number of all-weather hockey pitches, green areas for other field sports, tennis courts and a large sports hall containing a well-equipped heath and fitness gym. School management and all members of the school community, including the trustees, are congratulated for the quality and the high standard of maintenance of all these school facilities.
School management has recently undertaken the upgrading of ICT equipment throughout the school. Twenty-six new networked desktop computers have been provided in one computer room while a second computer room has been developed with a further seventeen desktop computers. Integration of ICT into teaching and learning is developing in the school. Both computer rooms are available to class groups for individual lessons or at appropriate times for students in the Transition Year (TY) programme, LCA or LCVP. Laptop computers and digital projectors have been provided in three general classrooms and a number of the science laboratories, while a portable system is also available. All teaching areas have access to broadband. Computer facilities are also available for teachers in the staffroom. The members of the school community are commended for building on the support provided by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), by enhancing ICT provision in the school based on funding generated from within the school community.
Safety has received ongoing attention particularly in the day-to-day school activities and in classroom practice. A safety audit was completed in the school in the past and teachers in specialist classrooms and in practical subjects deal with safety issues as part of their normal teaching role. It is recommended however, that safety documentation be updated by the completion of a detailed safety audit and risk assessment across all areas of the school. This should be followed by a time-bound plan to address any hazards and the associated risks identified. Attention should focus particularly on the woodwork classroom that has been developed in a basement room in St Joseph’s House. The safety audit and risk assessment in this specialist area should be wide-ranging but should particularly focus on the location and usage of the large circular saw, the dust-extraction system, safety and hazard signage and the qualifications of the teachers involved in teaching the subject albeit as a module in the TY programme. Teachers using the specialist equipment and instructing students in this room should have the appropriate qualifications. Within this process detailed reference should be made to the ‘Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools’ a document produced jointly by the Department and the State Claims Agency.
Environmental awareness and stewardship has a long tradition and high profile in the school. Initiatives include the reduction, reuse and recycling of materials across the school. A green-school committee of students leads these initiatives in consultation with school management, the caretaker and the clearing staff. Building on long-standing achievements, the committee has forged links with local retailers and a third-level institution in relation to reusable technologies. The work of the group is guided by a number of staff members and environmental awareness forms part of the duties of one post of responsibility. The group aims to regain the “Green Flag” award for the school within the Green Schools Programme. The school has achieved this award in the past. This group, and the teachers who support its work, is highly commended for these worthwhile initiatives as they emphasise the personal responsibility of students for the local school environment and wider global environment.
There is an ongoing and long-established process of school development planning in the school. This process is directed by a steering committee and is guided by school management. Collaboration and discussion within the steering committee and at whole-staff level leading to policy development characterises the planning process to date. The process is clearly informed by the school’s mission statement and by the priorities identified by staff, the board and school management. While the required school policies are in place, it is unclear from the documents themselves when these policies were ratified by the board and when they are due for review. In some cases policy documents lack depth and do not reflect the quality and detail of the practice that is in place and that is impacting so positively on the lives of students in the school. The lack of detail in policy and procedures in relation to the very effective care and support systems in place for students is a particular example. The written policy and plan for the development of education support also belies the good practice that is in place and the commitment of the school to supporting students with additional educational needs. In both cases, review and re-engagement in the development of policy and the detailed outline of practice and procedure would help to formalise the processes already in place and would ensure their sustainability and impact into the future.
Policies have been revisited and reviewed based on issues that have emerged from day-to-day practice of the school. The focus, most recently has centred on the admissions policy and the critical-incident policy. The code of behaviour and the school-prefect and sports-captain structures have also been identified for review. The planned review of the health and safety statement is particularly timely and important. While it is clear that highly organised and very effective systems are in operation, it is recommended that all policy documents should be reviewed over time in the context of practice and with a view to formalising and developing detailed procedures into the future. The engagement of the PSAC and the voice of students, where appropriate, in policy development and in school development planning in general should be used to assist in this process.
Confirmation has 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.
The subject and programme planning process is also well advanced in the school. Subject-department teaching teams and programme teams have developed planning documents that arise from teaching and learning practices and experiences in the classroom. Equally, programme planning for the TY, LCA and LCVP is very well advanced. Detailed programme plans outline the content of the programme and the procedures that are in place for its organisation, delivery and assessment. The whole-school emphasis on assessment for learning (AfL) strategies has also been incorporated into curricular planning. As this planning process advances and plans are reviewed over time, subject departments are encouraged to focus on how the implementation of subject plans impacts on students’ learning. This good work, based on collaboration and enthusiasm for the development of teaching and learning in subjects and programmes, is encouraged and commended.
A full curriculum is provided to meet the needs of the students in the school. A wide range of subjects is available at junior cycle and provision in almost all subjects is in line with syllabus recommendations. All class groups are mixed ability in nature in first year while concurrent timetabling is used for Mathematics and Gaeilge to allow for the creation of higher-level and ordinary-level class groups as students progress through the second and third years of junior cycle. All students have access to subjects at higher level and decisions regarding levels are made in conjunction with students and their parents. In line with the high expectations of teachers, most students study the higher-level syllabus in subjects for as long as possible before making a decision on levels for the Certificate examinations. Appropriate provision is also made to support learning for students with additional educational needs.
Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Religious Education (RE) and Physical Education (PE) are all provided as part of the core curriculum at junior cycle in line with syllabus guidelines. The LCA, LCVP and the established Leaving Certificate are all available in the senior cycle as is a compulsory TY programme. While the TY programme has been in place over a prolonged period, a review of the senior-cycle curriculum resulted in the introduction of the LCVP in 1994, when St Angela’s was one of the pilot schools for the programme. This was followed by the introduction of the LCA programme in 1999.
The school provides a very impressive TY programme. Students study a core curriculum including Religious Education, Guidance and Social and Political Education and continue their learning in Mathematics, English, Gaeilge, French and Physical Education (PE). Students are then offered an extensive choice of modules ranging from Electronics and Philosophy to Beginner’s Cookery and Woodwork. Students also focus on language learning as they continue with their study of French and can also opt to study a module in Spanish ab initio or to build on their study of the language at junior cycle. The programme also has a significant focus on ICT across all subjects and modules. Students are assessed on completion of the ten-week modules using methods including project and portfolio work. Formal examinations are organised at the end of the summer term for the core subjects. Work experience and social awareness programmes are also provided and a range of external activities, including the “Gaisce” President’s award scheme are provided to students with the support of their teachers. The programme finishes each year with a graduation ceremony
On transfer into fifth year the majority of students opt to study the established Leaving Certificate programme with a small cohort of students opting for the LCA. In some cases students are permitted to transfer directly into LCA without taking the TY programme. The LCA programme is very well organised and delivered within an appropriate timetable with due attention to attendance, the completion of tasks, vocational specialisms and work experience. The care, encouragement and support provided to LCA students is very good and the standard of work produced by these class groups is of a very high standard.
The LCVP is undertaken by a small group of students and uptake has suffered from its marginality on the school timetable. While the link modules, Guidance and access to ICT are available to students, some of these aspects of the programme were provided at lunchtime and outside of the school timetable. School management has begun the process of integrating the programme into the timetable and in future students will be able to access all aspects of the programme within their normal school timetable. This is strategy is timely and should enhance the uptake of the programme in the future. To satisfy the modern language requirement of the LCVP, a Spanish language module is provided for students who enter the programme but who have not chosen a modern language as one of their Leaving Certificate subjects. This module is delivered currently by a foreign-language assistant who is on placement in the school. The school has been made aware that this arrangement is contrary to the terms of the language assistant scheme, where it is specified that foreign language assistants must not be assigned to teach all the language hours of a particular class. This practice should change.
The provision of the full range of senior cycle programmes significantly contributes to the educational quality delivered to the students by the school. It is clear that the programmes are very well delivered and coordinated by a very committed, enthusiastic and engaged group of post-holders. Their work, supported by a team of teachers is highly commended.
The post of programme co-ordinator, granted under Department of Education and Science Circular Letter 17/02, forms part of the schedule of posts available to the school. However, the role attached to this post does not form part of the current schedule of post-of-responsibility duties. Given the scale and quality of the programmes delivered in the school, the duties attached to this post should be assigned to an assistant principal post-holder as set out in the Circular Letter PPT 17/02.
The school timetable reflects both the extensive range of subjects and programme options provided to students and the ethos of providing for the needs of the individual student within available resources. The timetable is very well constructed and staff is appropriately deployed. However, a small number of issues of concern are apparent. The limited provision for PE should be addressed in line with the recommendations of the PE subject inspection that was conducted in advance of this whole-school evaluation. The teachers assigned to CSPE should also be timetabled to teach the relevant class group for another subject to assist in the completion of their action project and other activities. The provision of supervised study periods on the timetable for students, based on the number of subjects chosen for senior cycle should cease. In the context of these concerns it is recommended that some aspects of the timetable should be revisited and revised. The class periods currently assigned as study periods should be used to provide the recommended number of PE lessons for third-year, fifth-year and sixth-year students. Any remaining time could be used to increase instruction time in subjects or to assist in the integration of the LCVP link modules into the senior cycle timetable.
Transitions and related subject-choice processes are very well managed in the school. First- year students are required to study a core junior cycle curriculum of Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, French, History, Geography, CSPE, SPHE, RE and PE. They are also required to choose three optional subjects from Science, Art, German, Spanish, Home Economics, Business Studies and Music. This choice process takes place following enrolment but in advance of the beginning of first year. Information on these optional subjects is provided to students and their parents during an open-evening event and through contacts with the guidance counsellors, the principal and the acting deputy principal. While this system of subject choice in advance of first year is embedded in school practice, it is important to review the process regularly to ensure that these young students are making informed choices of subjects. It is critical that the choices made in advance of first year do not impede career paths that may require particular subject combinations for senior cycle.
The TY programme provides a very positive environment to inform subject choice for Leaving Certificate. Students have the opportunity to experience and thereby sample a range of subjects. Students can also use the programme to remediate particular issues or weaknesses in advance of the two-year Leaving Certificate programme. For fifth year, students are offered a core curriculum of Gaeilge, Mathematics, English, French, PE, RE, and Guidance. Students are then presented with four subject-option bands. These option bands are based on the subject-choice pattern of the previous year. Students are required to make their choice of subjects based on these bands. While these option bands can be adjusted to accommodate students’ choices that do not fit the pre-existing bands, this flexibility is limited.
Students can choose either two, three or four optional subjects, one from each of the option bands. A minority of students choose four subjects from the option bands and combine these with their four core subjects for Leaving Certificate. The majority choose three option subjects and therefore study for the examination in seven subjects; this is in keeping with Departmental recommendations. This system generates timetabled study periods for students. The number of study periods available to students is directly related to the number of optional subjects chosen for the Leaving Certificate examination. As outlined above, this practice of providing timetabled study periods should cease. It is also recommended that students should be offered an open choice of optional subjects without the constraints of the pre-existing subject-option bands used in previous years. This would ensure that the process builds, in the first instance, from students’ individual preferences. The subject bands should be created from these initial choices and students would then be polled again based on newly constructed subject-option bands.
The school offers an extensive and commendable range of co-curricular and extracurricular activities to enhance both the students’ personal and social development, and their learning. In the sporting area hockey, basketball and association football (soccer) are strongest with a significant number of students also engaged in swimming and athletics including both track and field events and cross-country running. In addition, the school also has active rowing and squash teams. Non-competitive sporting activities include step-aerobics, volleyball and rounders. The school’s senior sports captains have an important role in organising these events for students. The school gym is also available, under appropriate supervision, to senior students during their lunch break.
An extensive range of co-curricular activities also complements students’ learning in the classroom. Cross-curricular activities are in evidence to support language learning. Language exchanges are in place to enhance the learning of French and German. Music and Art and drama are used to provide an added dimension to Gaeilge. Students are engaged in debating, drama, projects and competitions across a large number of subjects. Students also work with local and international charities mainly through fundraising and voluntary support. An internal radio station is another novel activity that allows students to broadcast music and issues of interest throughout the school during break times. All of these involvements reflect the commitment of the school and particularly individual teachers who give of their time to enhance the social and personal development of the students. This commitment once again reflects the lived ethos of the school and is highly commended.
Very good subject department structures are in place. Teachers meet regularly on both a formal and an informal basis to engage in subject department planning. The provision of time for formal meetings is indicative of senior management’s support for the subject-planning process. Beyond this, members of subject departments frequently meet at times outside of those allocated by management. These arrangements are greatly praised. Minutes are kept of formal meetings. This is good practice.
There was evidence of good collaboration in all subject departments evaluated. Subject co-ordinators have been appointed. In a number of subject departments the position of co-ordinator forms part of the duties of a post of responsibility. Recently the possibility of devolving co-ordinators’ duties among other members of subject teams has been explored. This development is commended as best practice would indicate that the position of co-ordinator should be rotated between different members of each subject department. Doing this would help to ensure the development of a wide leadership skills base. The further advancement of such a system is encouraged.
Subject department plans have been developed in all subject areas and in most cases these were comprehensive. Best practice was seen where plans incorporated a sense of reflection with regard to the relevant subject. A focus on planning to cater for students with special educational needs featured in a number of departmental plans. Programmes had been adapted in some instances to cater for these students, while the adoption of relevant methodologies had been discussed in a number of departmental meetings. In one instance, the use of cooperative-teaching as a means of serving the needs of the range of students in class groups had been adopted. All of these efforts and initiatives by subject departments and individual teachers are highly commended.
There was also evidence of individual planning in all lessons and inspectors commented positively on the quality of this planning. The collection and storage of resources on the part of teachers and subject departments was also noted and commended. The commitment of teachers in planning co-curricular, cross-curricular or extracurricular activities to further enhance students’ appreciation of their subjects was also noted. The involvement of students in taking responsibility for the organising of a number of these activities is particularly commended as good practice.
In all the subject areas evaluated, very high quality of teaching and learning was observed and this is highly commended in the individual inspection reports. In general, the quality of explanations, instructions and, in Gaeilge the use of the target language, was excellent. Lessons were well structured, appropriately paced and took account of students’ interests, abilities and levels. The learning intention was shared with students at the outset of lessons and, in some cases the learning outcomes were specifically outlined. This practice was particularly commended. The review of previous learning often served as an introduction to new topics and this is lauded as good practice.
A range of methodologies was observed, often with an emphasis on encouraging active student involvement. Some excellent use was made of group tasks, and numerous opportunities for a range of interactive tasks were created. Active-learning methodologies were observed, as was the use of AfL strategies, self-directed learning and the encouragement of students to reflect on their own learning. These strategies are highly commended and their further application is encouraged.
Questioning was very effectively utilised in all lessons, with a mix of higher-order, global and directed questions in evidence. Tactics such as sufficient wait-time and subtle prompting helped students to express their views and ideas with confidence. Very effective use was made of a wide range of resources, including the use of visual prompts as an aid to learning. The good use of ICT, complemented by teacher input and questioning, is commended in some instances and, in other subject areas, further exploration of ways in which ICT can be used to aid learning is suggested.
A very positive classroom atmosphere was in evidence, exemplified by a climate of co-operation and a shared purpose. Student-teacher rapport was excellent in all instances. Classroom management was very good and teachers were universally affirming of students’ efforts. Students remained interested and focused throughout and readily engaged in the tasks assigned, showing a willingness to contribute and answer questions. Many classrooms provided a print-rich environment, with the display of posters, students’ work and subject-related visual supports. This is praised as an aid to learning and further development of the use of visual supports is encouraged.
It is clear that teachers have high expectations of students, and students are responsive to these expectations. A good awareness of the learning needs and styles of individual students was evident and the practice where teachers differentiated their methodology to cater for the needs of all students was particularly commended. Students demonstrated a high level of ability and competence, and it was clear in all subject areas that the quality of learning was very good. This is also reflected in high levels of achievement in the Certificate examinations.
A variety of assessment modes is used to evaluate students’ overall advancement and achievement. In the lessons visited, informal assessment of students was effected mainly by oral questioning. While some of this was lower-order nature, some teachers also encouraged students to think more deeply by asking higher-order questions and, as appropriate, by the introduction of empathetic questions. As appropriate, observation of student participation was also utilised as an informal assessment strategy. The use of peer evaluation was observed in one subject area, where students were expected to comment on each other’s work. This is very good practice and is suggested for consideration in all subjects.
A school policy relative to the formal assessment of students’ progress and attainment in all subject areas has been developed. This provides for the very comprehensive formal assessment of all year groups. A combination of formative and summative assessment strategies was used across all subject departments. In addition, it was observed that some subject departments have also prepared a brief, summary document which details an overall, subject-specific approach to the formal assessment of students’ progress and achievement. Both measures are commended. The practice of issuing common examination papers at key times during the school year is established practice in a number of subject departments, providing further evidence of solid departmental collaboration. It is equally positive that, in a number of subject areas, results in the Certificate examinations are analysed and compared with national norms.
The overall approach to homework is commended. A review of students’ copybooks indicated that homework is assigned on a regular basis. These same copybooks also indicated that teachers seek to vary the types of homework activities assigned. Textbooks were also used to give structure to homework tasks. In one subject, short reflective tasks, asking students to identify what they had learnt from lessons, was employed as a vehicle of assessment. Students’ copybooks also demonstrated an approach to monitoring that provided for the annotation of students’ work. These comments affirmed students’ efforts, whilst providing encouragement and direction for future activities. Teachers’ diligence in providing meaningful feedback to their students regarding their work is strongly commended. A further feature of the very good practice observed was the assigning of differentiated homework exercises to students.
In all subject areas, reporting to parents is supported by very good record-keeping practices. In addition to reporting to parents by post, an annual parent-teacher meeting is organised for almost all year groups. Parents may also arrange an appointment to meet a particular teacher. As an alternative to a parent-teacher meeting in TY, parents are met informally as part of the TY celebration night. The effectiveness of this reporting process in TY should be reviewed over time and a more formal process, possibly including the students in a formal parent-teacher-student meeting, could be considered.
Students with additional educational needs are well catered for, and are included in the school community. The school both welcomes and provides for the needs of these students. This is primarily achieved through the mixed-ability class groups that allow for the implementation of differentiated teaching and learning methodologies in lessons. Assessment of need is completed during the enrolment process through interviews with parents, contacts with primary schools and through assessment tests. Resources are allocated to students with assessed needs through the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) working with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). The school also provides a range of learning supports to students who are identified as needing additional support. These needs are identified through the work of the class teacher, tutor or year head. Supports are provided on an individual or group withdrawal system or through the extra subdivision of class groups during Gaeilge and Mathematics in the second and third year of junior cycle. Extra supports are also provided in the TY programme and at Leaving Certificate level. Students with special educational needs in many cases take a reduced curriculum and are often withdrawn during French lessons or during Gaeilge if an exemption for Gaeilge is in place. The nature of extra supports and decisions on the reduction of subjects are taken following discussions with parents / guardians and with class teachers, the special educational-needs co-ordinator and the principal.
The organisation of supports for students with additional needs is the responsibility of the principal, primarily through timetabling, and the special educational-needs co-ordinator in terms of organising the nature and extent of the supports provided. This organisation also includes the delivery of supports for students from minority groups and for those for whom English is an additional language. Extra supports are delivered by a large number of teachers in the school although a core group of teachers is identifiable. In many cases class periods for learning support are allocated to individual teachers to bring their weekly timetabled teaching hours to the required level. Special-needs assistants are assigned to support individual students. The core group meets formally on a number of occasions but operates and collaborates informally on a regular basis. Opportunities for the wider group of teachers involved in delivering these supports to meet are very limited. It falls on the co-ordinator to liaise with these teachers and with the subject teachers of individual students.
While the position of co-ordinator has been reassigned recently due to staff changes, a number of significant developments have been initiated and developed. Not least among these is the provision of an ICT-based literacy-support programme. This is timetabled throughout junior cycle and assists targeted student in both reading and spelling within a stimulating interactive computer programme. Students attend small-group lessons and self-direct their progress through the programme. Their progress is also monitored and recorded by the co-ordinator. A paired-reading programme is also organised to support reading recovery through reading practice between junior cycle students and volunteer TY students. Work has already begun on the profiling of learning targets of individual students and their achievement of these targets. It is planned to develop an electronic system to allow access to the learning profiles by all teachers of the student and not just those delivering additional supports. This will allow all subject teachers to access the individual learning targets and the outcomes achieved and to modify their teaching methodologies accordingly. With this information it will be possible to target more effective individual support and differentiate methodologies at whole-class level. These developments are both encouraged and commended.
It is clear that appropriate and good-quality education supports are provided to students in the school. It is also clear that there is an appropriate commitment to and leadership of this process by the teachers, the co-ordinator and school management. To build on the good practice already in place it is recommended that the school reviews the organisation of these supports to ensure formality in the process and continued effectiveness and sustainability. Within this review a number of areas should be addressed and prioritised. Foremost among these is the development of an in-depth policy document and plan for the support of students with additional educational needs. This should be developed in conjunction with the policy review recommendation within the whole-school development planning process. This policy document and associated plan should ensure a clear differentiation between the organisation and delivery of supports for students with special educational needs, for those who are exceptionally able, for those for whom English is an additional language, and for students from minority groups. Reference to the Department’s publication ‘Inclusion of students with special educational need: Post-primary Guidelines’ should assist in this process. In parallel with this planning process, school management should focus on the identification of a core team to deliver these supports and to limit the wider team to a smaller number of teachers. It should be possible within this structure to provide ongoing professional development for this group to build skills, capacity and expertise. This expertise should then be communicated to subject teachers generally to assist in the development of differentiated practice in classrooms to support the ongoing inclusion of these students in lessons.
Guidance and student support is very well organised in the school. There are two guidance counsellors who are engaged in the provision of personal, vocational and educational guidance in the school. A very good-quality suite of guidance facilities is in place and is centrally located in the school. A guidance plan has been developed that charts the rationale and process through which the guidance service is delivered in the school.
Guidance has a high profile among the students and parents, providing detailed information on subject choice and key transitions. The guidance team liaises with the student-support team and the SPHE team at junior cycle and timetabled guidance lessons are provided in TY and in fifth year and sixth year. Counselling based on referrals through the student-support structure is also provided. It is clear that the commitment of the guidance team extends beyond these key areas through their involvement in meetings with parents, student retreats, the awards night, evening events and other activities.
Guidance provides the very important link between the student-support, the education-support and school management. The guidance team liaises with the year heads and is involved in meetings of year heads, class tutors and the acting deputy principal. The guidance team is also centrally involved in organising the agendas for tutor time meetings. These are meetings with the tutor and their individual class groups to discuss issues of concern. A schedule of these meetings is organised throughout the year with the agenda varying between year-group specific issues, the review of examination results and student-support issues. The guidance personnel also liaise with the special educational-needs co-ordinator to monitor and discuss individual students’ progress and issues of support as they arise. Guidance is central to the care of students in the school.
Communication is essential in all of these processes. Very clear and effective communication takes place with school management, the year heads and class tutors, often on an informal basis as issues arise. There is also formal communication through involvement and inputs at team meetings and at staff meetings. Communication with parents takes place formally at key times during the school year relating to enrolment, subject choice and key transitions. The guidance team is also available on a needs basis to deal with issues as they arise. A key element of communication with parents is the ongoing link between the guidance team and the home-school community liaison co-ordinator. This position which is provided from within the school’s own funding is very significant in identifying and communicating difficulties that may arise for individual students. This service is seen as a further significant element to the school’s commitment to student care and support.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related subject inspection reports are available:
Published December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of St. Angela’s School welcomes the extremely positive report on Teaching and Learning in the school. It wishes to acknowledge and commend the teaching staff, students, parents, special-needs assistants (SNA’s), secretarial and caretaking staff for their continued hard work and commitment to the highest standards of an education and care, as evidenced in the report.
The Board believes that the process was a very beneficial experience and will allow all the education partners to review, reflect and evaluate the many dimensions of life in the school.
The Board, on behalf of all the education partners, wishes to acknowledge the courteous and professional manner in which the inspectorate undertook the process.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management acknowledges the recommendations made in the report. Some recommendations have already been implemented and, within the limits of its resources, the BOM is committed to the implementation of the remainder.