An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Coachford College

Coachford, County Cork

Roll number: 70960D

 

Date of inspection: 28 November 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Coachford College was undertaken in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail and one subject was evaluated some weeks earlier; separate reports are available on these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Coachford College has witnessed many changes since its inception in the early 1950s. Founded by Muintir na Tíre, in association with County Cork Vocational Education Committee (CCVEC), Coachford Vocational School, as it was originally known, opened in 1950 for night classes only. Day classes began in 1951. Thirty students enrolled initially and one class of boys and one class of girls were formed. In 1952 enrolment practically doubled and four classes were formed. In 1966, new legislation allowed the introduction of Intermediate and Leaving Certificate courses to vocational schools, aiding further expansion. In January 1991, the ‘Model Agreement’ between CCVEC and the Bishop of Cloyne was signed, making the school a designated community college to provide co-educational, second-level schooling.

 

The school is situated on a ten-acre site adjacent to Coachford village. Today it caters for 580 female and male students with mainly rural backgrounds, from a wide catchment between Macroom and Ballincollig. Enrolment has increased steadily over the years, peaking in 2006 at 603. Coachford College is a prominent school in the CCVEC scheme. It demonstrates an annual record of high achievements in the Certificate examinations, with several students recognised at the annual CCVEC awards.  

 

 

1.         quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

In organisations, it is normally the predominant vision that gives rise to the characteristic spirit. It was found that the predominant vision for Coachford College, as openly communicated to the general public, is that of academic achievement which more often than not relates to success in the Certificate examinations. However, when various members of the school community were asked to describe the spirit of Coachford College, words such as the following were used: ‘inclusive’; ‘caring’; ‘welcoming’; ‘positive teacher/student relations’; ‘supportive’; ‘holistic’; ‘a community’. The sense of spirit invoked by these words was reinforced to the inspection team in discussions held with board members and members of the teaching staff, over the course of this whole-school evaluation. It would appear therefore, that there is a discontinuity between the communicated vision and the actual spirit, as fostered and created in the main by the day-to-day interactions of staff with their students. It is the considered opinion of the inspection team therefore, that the communicated vision of Coachford College is one that is not shared by all. That said, it is important to emphasise that the teaching staff demonstrate an obvious desire to support students in their pursuit of academic success, but within an environment that places appropriate emphasis on support and care, and on the holistic development of all. This desire, and the related practice, which in essence has given rise to the characteristic spirit of the school, needs to be communicated to the general public with the same emphasis that is placed on the school as a place where students should ‘expect to achieve’. Given this, and the holistic nature of much of what actually happens in Coachford College, there is a need for the school’s emphasis on, and appreciation of, other aptitudes, intelligences and talents to be expressed more overtly, both within and outside of the school. This requires the development of a vision for Coachford College which is actively and truly shared by all. This can only be achieved through the facilitation of meaningful communication, involving all members of the school community, with the objective of agreeing a shared understanding of the vision for the school today and going forward. It is strongly recommended that all members of the school community engage in this process as a matter of priority. The personnel associated with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) may be able to offer some help and support to the school during this process.

 

A very concise mission statement has been prepared. It was found that the statement lacks clarity but, more significantly, it also lacks comprehensiveness. This appears to be a symptom of the discontinuity which was discussed in the preceding paragraph. In conjunction with the recommendation above regarding shared understandings and a shared vision, the mission statement should be re-drafted. This should include a re-visitation of previous drafts of this mission statement, in order to look at the possibility of reincorporating elements removed or lost in the process of refinement. This exercise should demonstrate how the addition or removal of a word or phrase has actually changed the scope of the school’s statement. It is strongly suggested that the language of the school’s mission statement be examined and that words which could be deemed to be prescriptive are replaced with words that are aspirational in nature. The school’s mission statement should be displayed in a predominant location in the school and should feature on all relevant school publications, including the prospectus, website and all documents which detail school policies and practice.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

The current board is in the second year of its three-year term of office. The board is properly constituted, comprising twelve members who are appropriately representative of all nominating bodies. The composition of the board illustrates an obvious respect for gender balance. In the past, the board availed of the scope provided in the instruments and articles of management for the nomination of one more member, a board’s nominee. There is an obvious openness to the reinstatement of this practice, with much enthusiasm being displayed by management in relation to the nomination of a suitably qualified student of Coachford College to this position. This is deserving of action. It is reported that the nomination and election procedures associated with the boards of management of community colleges, and as detailed in the instruments and articles of management, guided the establishment of the current board. Consideration should be given to making the organisation and management of the nomination and election of parents’ nominees a specific function of the parents’ group.

 

As secretary to the board, the principal is a direct link between the board and CCVEC. It is essential therefore that all opportunities to communicate with CCVEC personnel are fully availed of. As a result it is recommended that the principal, or his proxy, attends every principals’ meeting, as organised on a monthly basis by the CEO of CCVEC. This would prove invaluable in terms of further ensuring that school practice in relation to myriad management issues continues to be in line with CCVEC policy. Furthermore, it would also minimise the likelihood of gaps emerging between school practice and CCVEC policy and therefore would protect the school, its staff and its students. As they arise, opportunities to meet with other CCVEC personnel, in particular the Education Officer, and to get involved in CCVEC projects should also be availed of.    

 

The board meets three times a year. This is in line with the instruments and articles of management, which place a requirement on boards to meet ‘at least once a term’. In Section 15 of ‘A Handbook for Vocational Education Committees and Boards of Management of Schools and Community Colleges’, it is stated that the board shall meet regularly, at least five times during the school year. In order to further assist the board in the efficient and effective discharge of its functions, the latter is recommended. From the records reviewed as part of the whole-school evaluation process it can be concluded that board meetings are well attended. As required, board members are given seven days notice for meetings, together with an agenda and the draft minutes of the previous meeting. Systems which allow board members and their nominating bodies to make suggestions regarding items to be included on the agenda of board meetings are also in existence, although in some instances these require formalisation, particularly in relation to parents. Following each board meeting, the draft minutes, together with the adopted minutes of the previous meeting, are issued to CCVEC and to the Bishop of Cloyne. Feedback regarding the business of the meeting is provided to teachers and parents by their respective representatives, although it appears that this is provided on an ad hoc basis. It is advisable that the board prepares an agreed report to be delivered to both nominating bodies by their respective representatives.

 

A number of board members, but not all, have availed of training designed to assist them in the fulfilment of their role as board members. It is strongly suggested that members who have not already done so, access the training that is available through CCVEC, for members of boards of management of community colleges. In line with its statutory requirements under Section 20 of the Education Act 1998, the board has prepared an annual report for parents regarding the operation and performance of the school in the school year 2007/2008. It is commended that this report is published on the school’s website.

 

All of the legally required policies have either ratified by the board, or are at draft or review stages. This is commended. The board should consider providing ratification and proposed review dates on all school policies. The provision of review dates, and therefore the development of a review cycle, is emphasised for the self-evaluation culture that it supports and fosters. A number of the school’s ratified policies are available for review on the school’s website. This is also commended. In addition, the website plays host to a number of draft policies. It is strongly suggested that publication of draft policies should be suspended until all policies have passed through the development, review and ratification stages or, at the very least, that access to these documents be limited to parents for consultation purposes. The ePortal system in operation in the school may be able to facilitate this.

 

It is recommended that the board makes arrangements for the further development of the relatively permanent section of the school plan, which should also feature information relating to the school’s mission statement, its vision and aims, the school’s profile, including its history and socio-cultural context, a description of school structures and resources, curriculum provision, and all related policies. It is recommended that the board considers the significant role it should be playing in conjunction with the teaching staff, in terms of the identification of developmental priorities for the school. This, in turn, should feed into the development section of the school plan, which is the second part of the school plan that needs to be formalised. This section should house the school’s developmental needs; a list of the school’s development priorities and a set of action plans. To this end the board, in consultation with members of the whole school community, should develop a strategic plan based on the outcomes of a strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats (SCOT) analysis of the school.

 

According to the instruments and articles of management, CCVEC is responsible for the erection and development of college buildings while ‘the board shall be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the college premises and grounds out of the annual financial allocation provided for that purpose by the committee’, including the ‘carrying out of minor repairs’. The board ‘will also concern itself with the condition and state of repair of the College premises’. It is therefore recommended that the board prioritises the completion of an audit that is designed to identify the current, ongoing and possible future maintenance needs of the school. The identification of projects deemed feasible and which, when addressed, would significantly improve the school environment, should be given particular attention and consideration as part of this audit. The outcomes of this audit should inform the preparation, by the board, of a plan of action designed to address these maintenance needs on an ongoing basis, as well as in the short, medium and long-term.    

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The principal, who is in his twenty-fifth year as school principal, is very hard working and is highly dedicated to his job. He is committed to the maintenance of his personal vision for the school, which is firmly focused on students’ academic achievement. This vision is fully supported by the deputy principal, who states that he has learnt a lot from the principal over his six-year tenure. He recognises his key role as that of support to the principal.

 

The members of the senior management team demonstrate a good working relationship. A division of tasks has been agreed and this is reviewed constantly. This flexibility and adaptability is commended. In terms of addressing their professional development needs, the members of the senior management team find their involvement with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) invaluable. Other valuable sources of support, advice and information include the Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) programme and contact with other principals. In this context, the forging of stronger links with CCVEC should also be considered, for the obvious benefits that would accrue to both the principal and deputy principal in terms of their continuing professional development (CPD).

 

Regular daily meetings of principal and deputy principal foster and promote collaboration and co-operation at senior management level. Clearly, the senior management team has declared itself to be very proud of the school’s staff. It is important, however, that all opportunities to acknowledge and affirm work done are availed of and this includes direct delivery of positive feedback to staff members when it is deserved. A number of staff members spoke very favourably of the support offered and the understanding demonstrated by senior management if and when a staff member is experiencing some personal difficulties.

 

The roles and responsibilities of the members of the school’s middle-management team, eight assistant principals and thirteen special duties teachers, have been defined by management in consultation with each post-holder. There is a general awareness and understanding of each of these roles and their associated responsibilities amongst staff members. When assigning posts of responsibilities, every effort is made by senior management to match the needs of the school with an individual teacher’s talents and wishes. Senior management provides post-holders with significant scope to develop their roles and responsibilities. The principal and deputy principal recognise the contribution that assistant principals, and more particularly the year heads, make to the day-to-day management of the school. The role that special duties teachers make to the smooth operation of the school was also acknowledged by senior management. Post-holders carry out their assigned duties with a notable diligence and commitment. Not all of the assistant principals and the special duties teachers feel their roles constitute membership of a middle-management team. The development of a more positive outlook in this regard requires fostering by the senior management team; certain measures or strategies designed to promote this outlook amongst post-holders may need to be implemented. The provision of formal annual feedback by the senior management team to post-holders is an example of one such measure that could be further developed.

 

Discounting the minor modifications which are made to the post schedule on a constant and ongoing basis, it would appear that a major review of the schedule of posts in Coachford College has not taken place for some years. It is recommended therefore that a root-and-branch review of the school’s schedule of posts be conducted, and that the resulting revised schedule of posts finds as its basis the school’s current needs, as identified and agreed by both management and staff.

 

There is a weekly meeting of assistant principals, held at lunchtime every Monday. More often than not, the business of these meetings is focused on student management issues, which has particular relevance for the assistant principals who are year heads but, in terms of their posts of responsibility, does not have specific relevance for the other assistant principals. As a result, not all assistant principals attend these meetings, as it is their belief that the normal business of these meetings has little or no relevance to their assigned posts. Clarity and agreement is therefore required in relation to the purpose of these meetings, and the agendas prepared for such meetings need to reflect this agreed purpose. It is also strongly suggested that the timing of these meetings may need to be reviewed. In the interests of enhancing middle-management structures in the school, the involvement of all assistant principals and the two members of the senior management team will be required in order to reach a consensus on matters pertaining to these meetings. 

 

Informal communications between members of the teaching staff are supported by a very open and friendly atmosphere. In recent times a post-holder has introduced an optional SMS communications-based system which is intended to keep staff informed of activities and events on an ongoing basis. This low-cost, up-to-the-minute communications initiative is commended. Communication between senior management and staff is facilitated in a number of ways, both formal and informal. Many of the normal structures designed to promote communication in a school are in place, for example, three staff meetings per annum, school development planning task groups, meetings with individual teachers, as well as memos and staffroom announcements. In addition, the articles of management make provision for a staff advisory committee, and this committee has been put in place. However, despite all of these structures some issues have developed which require attention. Senior management needs to re-examine and augment the provision of space and time in which staff opinion can be openly voiced. In terms of communications with senior management from staff, there is strong evidence to suggest that, in the past, some of the proposals that came from staff were not addressed or given serious consideration. As a matter of urgency, the effectiveness of the communication systems currently in use in the school needs to be examined. This examination should include an identification of the following: the obstacles to communication; ways in which dialogue and discussions around issues that are pertinent both to the day-to-day management of the school and the development of the school into the future can be promoted; and, most significantly, the ways in which communication can be made more meaningful in the school. Whole-staff involvement in this examination is paramount, with the ultimate aim of this being to enable the whole school community to benefit from more effective leadership at all levels.

 

The school’s code of behaviour is currently under review. From discussions held over the course of the whole-school evaluation it became clear that the current code is placing significant demands on the time and energies of the school’s six year heads. As part of the review it is therefore strongly recommended that serious consideration be given to the introduction of additional measures which would assist year heads in the implementation of the code. There may be some scope for enhancing the role that the deputy principal and principal play in relation to the implementation of the code. Perhaps also, scope exists for a more stratified involvement of class tutors, although the voluntary nature of this role will need to be kept in mind. To enhance the informal efforts that are being made by subject teachers, class tutors and year heads in terms of promoting positive behaviour amongst students, the provision of regular year-group assemblies should be considered. Assemblies would foster the development of even more positive relations between year heads and the students assigned to them, thus allowing for a greater balancing of the pastoral role with that of disciplinarian.  

 

Much time and energy goes into recording, monitoring and reporting of students’ attendance. Two special duties teachers have overall responsibility for monitoring attendance, both of whom gratefully acknowledged the assistance of the administration staff. Every morning subject teachers are required to input, via a room-based computer, information relating to attendance. The school uses a system known as ePortal to store and interpret this information and has recently piloted a similar attendance recording session in the afternoon. This measure is commended and further encouraged. The system is proving invaluable in terms of supporting class tutors who have a key role to play in the tracking of poor attendance, in conjunction with the year heads. Parents can access, via ePortal and the internet, data relating to, amongst other things, their children’s attendance patterns. This is highly praised for the level of communication with parents that it supports and fosters. School reports also provide extensive detail about non-attendance and late arrivals. The school is in the process of developing an attendance policy. At the time of the whole-school evaluation, this policy only identified the responsibilities of parents and students with regard to attendance. As per the requirements of Section 22 of the Education Welfare Act, 2000, it is recommended that the policy should also include a statement of the school’s strategies and measures that will seek to foster an appreciation of learning among students, and that will encourage regular attendance.

 

Coachford College welcomes all students. The fact that the school does not seek a registration fee is positive, and so the reference in the school’s enrolment policy to the opposite practice should be removed. The requirement on parents of students with special educational needs to make an earlier application, as detailed in the same policy, could be deemed as inequitable. This requires amendment. Management is also encouraged to address gaps in the policy. For example, a list of prioritised criteria that will apply if the number of applications exceeds the number of available places has not been provided. The 2009/2010 school prospectus is careful not to indirectly discourage students with limited academic aspirations, a criticism which previous versions of the document attracted.

 

After three attempts the school has established a parents’ group. Management’s efforts in this regard are noted and praised. It is very commendable that management views the group as providing a consultative forum for parents in relation to school policy documents. As a matter of priority, it is recommended that the parents’ group formalises its existence by affiliating with either the National Parents’ Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges (NPAVSCC) or the National Parents’ Council Postprimary (NPCpp). Such a move would provide parents with the necessary supports and information required to constitute the parents’ group in the way that is intended in the Education Act 1998. The immediate election of a full committee is also recommended. The group’s stated intention to form stronger links with the students’ council is fully encouraged.

 

The school boasts a long tradition of facilitating parents who wish to discuss aspects of their children’s education. While parents are encouraged to make appointments, unannounced visits are also welcomed. Communication between the school and home is facilitated in a number of other ways including ePortal, letters home, memos, newsletters, the occasional home visit, and the annual parent-teacher meetings.

 

A students’ council has been in place for approximately five years, the work of the council being overseen by a liaison teacher. The council has developed a constitution which has been ratified by the board. This details the council’s operating principles and defines the roles of council members. This is commended. Democratic elections are held annually in order to elect representatives for all class groups. It is good to note that there is an appropriate emphasis on gender balance in the nomination process, as evidenced by the almost even representation of girls and boys on both the executive council and the general council. The students provided a number of examples of their involvement as a council in meaningful activities, including contributing to the policy development process. The latter is particularly praised. The preparation by the council of student-friendly versions of policies is something that could be considered going forward. Clear reporting structures have been identified in the constitution and a notice board helps the council to ensure that every student in the school knows about its activities. Lines of communication have been established by the council with the senior management team. The forging of greater links between the council and the board, and between the council and the parents’ group is encouraged. 

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

Timetabled provision for students generously meets the requirements of Circular M29/95. It should be noted however that under this circular study periods, timetabled in the school as tutorial periods, are not recognised as ‘instruction time’. This will need to be addressed when timetabling for senior-cycle students in the future.

 

In general, senior management seeks to assign teaching staff to subjects and class groups according to their qualifications, expertise, experience and interests. Teachers are facilitated by management to attend in-service courses available to them. It is management’s stated intention to instigate a programme of whole-staff CPD. As to date there is little evidence of the whole staff receiving in-house support and assistance from external agencies, these plans should be actively advanced. It is paramaount that all sessions planned and provided for find their basis in needs as identified by the whole staff.

 

Currently the school operates what is essentially an informal staff mentoring programme. Having recognised the shortfalls in this approach, a working group was established in August 2008, whose remit is to design and eventually implement a school-specific induction programme for newly qualified teachers and new staff members. This move is commended. Serious consideration should be given to the development of a dignity in the workplace charter that would seek to guarantee the right of every employee to be treated with respect and courtesy and to have their individuality valued. An accompanying policy which outlines, amongst other things, the school’s grievance procedure, should also be developed.  

 

Over the years, numerous small extensions and renovations have been carried out in the school. Two major extensions were also constructed, the first in 1990 and the second in 2001. The latter almost doubled the floor area of the building. Ongoing structural problems with the roof are a constant source of frustration in the school and, to date, a number of efforts have been made to rectify the situation. Currently, the school is somewhat compromised by a lack of space. This has given rise to the need on some occasions to timetable specialist rooms for general use. Every effort should be made to minimise this practice. Student toilet facilities, although basic, were clean and appropriately equipped. Considering the size of the student cohort, and the manner in which facilities have been divided up for use by junior and senior cycles, and by boys and girls, it is inevitable that some of the available toilet facilities are in excessive demand at certain times. It is strongly suggested that current arrangements around students’ toilet facilities be examined in more detail by management and staff. This examination should also involve representatives of the student body.

 

Due to an apparent under-investment in, or perhaps under-prioritisation of external maintenance projects, and despite the ongoing efforts of the caretaking staff, the school grounds look tired and somewhat neglected. The board should address this on both a short term and a long term basis in the action plan to meet the maintenance needs of the school which is recommended in section 1.2 of this report. The provision of signage designed to direct visitors to, for example, the school’s reception area, should also be considered.

 

The stumbling blocks to the full and further development of the school playing field must be more proactively tackled by all concerned. This involves monies given by the Glebe trustees in 1999, the use of which has been held up by planning complications, the reported difficulties of accessing matching funding, and the apparent failure to progress the proposals of a staff committee. Regardless of the difficulties associated with the Glebe donation, other developmental matters relating to the provision of relatively inexpensive but important supports to outdoor sporting and extracurricular facilities need to be addressed in the short term. This includes, for example, the refurbishment or upgrading of the existing goalpost, the provision of a second goalpost, the replacement of the rings on the outdoor basketball court and the proper marking and fit-out of the second outdoor court. School facilities are made available to the local community, although the use of the hall by community groups has to date been limited.

 

The school is well resourced in terms of facilities for specialist subjects with, according to the senior management team, ‘most of the subjects wanting for nothing’. That said, according to the guidelines issued by the Department, the art room was found to be not fully equipped. This needs to be addressed. There are ongoing problems with the dust extraction system which was installed in the materials technology (wood) room approximately eight years ago. It is noted that efforts by management to seek to rectify the situation are ongoing. Management has yet to implement a recommendation provided in a 2007 subject inspection report that related to storage facilities adjacent to the physical education hall. This recommendation needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. While subjects are not allocated budgets, requests for resources are favourably considered when and where budgets permit.

 

The school houses approximately eighty computers. These are spread between the school’s computer room, the design and communications graphics rooms, and general classrooms. A small number are also housed in the room that is used to provide resource and learning support to students. In addition, approximately twelve of the thirty available classrooms have been provided with room-based data-projectors. This is commended. All computers are networked, have broadband access to the internet, and are linked to the school’s administration network. A student network has also been put in place, providing students with secure password access. Linked to this is a network which allows teachers to distribute work to students and collect completed work. The use of ‘Moodle’ has been initiated in the school and plans are underway to develop its use further. This is commended.

 

Much work has been completed by management and staff regarding health and safety. This is summarised in the school’s health and safety statement and the related appendices. The school’s health and safety officer completes an annual audit of the school’s facilities. The approach adopted here, which provides for the identification of hazards, the degree of risk attached to each hazard, the action or areas requiring attention, and the date when each hazard was addressed, is commended. The outcomes of this exercise are reported to the principal. A review of audit sheets would suggest that a number of hazards remain to be addressed. These shortfalls need to be addressed as soon as is practicable. In addition, the health and safety officer organises two fire drills each year. With a view to enhancing the school’s health and safety statement, the inclusion of subject-specific health and safety statements is recommended. In recognition that some hazards are not necessarily rectifiable, it is important that these statements would include an identification of possible hazards when each room is fully operational. This in turn should inform the drafting of subject-specific rules by individual subject departments. These need to be communicated to students and displayed in the relevant rooms. The situation relating to parking on the school grounds has been identified by the inspection team as a potential hazard, particularly if emergency vehicles should be required at the school. This needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.

 

A recycling initiative is up and running in the school. An initiative such as this would tie in very well with the Green Schools Programme. It is recommended therefore that some serious consideration be given to the establishment of a Green Schools committee. This is the first step required in order that the students and staff can work towards achieving Green Flag status for Coachford College. It would also seek to provide an extracurricular activity that caters for the needs of the school’s budding environmentalists. The school-image working group plans as its next venture, to seek to tackle the ongoing problem with litter in the school. This could also be linked to the school’s participation in the Green Schools Programme.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

A co-ordinator has been appointed to oversee school development planning (SDP) activities in Coachford College. Management’s support for SDP is also apparent in the provision of four half-day planning sessions each year for SDP activity, including subject department planning. There is evidence of some engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). It is suggested that there is scope for facilitating the continued and ongoing support of this service. Furthermore, the school is encouraged to seek the assistance of other qualified external personnel as a means of informing and supporting school personnel in the development of policies or in addressing development priorities that have been and will be identified. SDP is positively perceived by the majority of staff members who view it as ‘something that is well worth nurturing’.

 

To date, SDP in Coachford College has been focused on the development of policies and subject department planning. The inspection team was informed that SDP in the school is now moving into another phase, with a key focus on transforming teaching and learning. It is envisaged by senior management that this will be facilitated, in the main, through the use of technology in the classroom. There was no evidence of any recent whole-school review in order to determine the future direction of SDP. Greater evidence of consultation with staff on this issue needs to be forthcoming. The feasibility of this vision is also questioned as while, relatively speaking, the school is well equipped in terms of ICT, access to the related resources is better in some subjects and in some classrooms, and therefore in some departments, than it is in others. Further thought and discussion is recommended, to identify ways of transforming teaching and learning that can be adopted by all staff members. Following the recommended whole-staff discussion, should the use of technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning be considered the way forward by the teaching staff, there will be a need to plan and provide for associated staff CPD so as to ensure that the ICT facilities are actively utilised to achieve the intended aim. 

 

All staff members are involved in planning task groups. It is commendable that all task groups are encouraged by management to maintain minutes for all planning sessions. It was very clear that some task groups appear to be making much more progress than others. In instances where progress is slow or interrupted, the stumbling block appears to centre on the absence of communication between the task group and the senior management team, which in at least two instances resulted when submissions were made by the task group to senior management. This needs to be addressed with a view to strengthening staff support for school planning.

 

Consideration ought to be given to the introduction of a system of action planning at task-group level. This would help to ensure progress in all areas and feed into the development section of the school plan which needs to be formalised. Action plans might, for example, specify responsible persons, targets and desired outcomes, tasks, timeframes, resources and remits, and arrangements for monitoring and evaluation. Some provision would need to be made for the formal and documented review of these action plans and of the general progress being made in the school on the school plan and the SDP process. To this end, some consideration ought to be given to the establishment of a steering committee to support and work alongside the SDP co-ordinator. The board of management should also consider the part it would have to play in the evaluation of action plans.

 

To date, seventeen policies have been developed and ratified. Work is in progress in relation to thirteen others. All concerned are commended for this work. In the review of the school’s code of behaviour, management and staff are encouraged in their efforts to seek to ensure that the resulting policy will be in line with the advice and recommendations provided in Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools (National Educational Welfare Board, 2008). While it is noted that a number of the school’s policies have been reviewed since they were originally drafted, in some instances policies may pre-date templates which have since been provided by the Department of Education and Science. This is true of the school’s admissions, anti-bullying, internet, substance misuse and student council policies. As part of the cycle of review, consideration should be given to the review of these policies based on the templates which have now been provided. 

 

It was stated that whole-staff involvement in policy development is facilitated in one of two ways: a draft policy is either circulated to individual teachers for consideration and feedback, or it is discussed as part of a staff meeting. It was suggested by staff members that the time allocated for the review and discussion of policies at staff meetings is often inadequate. This should be addressed. Policies make little or no reference to the school’s mission statement. This leads one to question the influence of the mission statement on the school’s planning process and also, as to whether the vision the statement represents is clear enough to have this desired influence and impact. This deserves some consideration by management and staff.

 

At this point, it is strongly suggested that it is time to reflect on, review, embed and, most importantly, acknowledge the work completed in SDP. This should also provide the opportunity to communicate the outcomes of all task groups to the whole staff, and in doing so to provide for whole-staff familiarisation with the emerging and the emerged agreed policy and practice in relation to the various aspects of life in Coachford College.

 

In the more permanent section of the school plan the adoption of a recording system is recommended, to summarise, on an annual basis, the completed elements of the plan and the remaining areas requiring development or policies. A more formal and documented involvement of the whole-staff in the identification of development priorities requires consideration so as to ensure that the vision for the school is shared by all. To this end, and as referenced previously, it is recommended that in the short term a whole-school review be undertaken.

 

It was evident, from a review of documentation relating to subject-department planning, that departmental structures with appointed co-ordinators are in place for almost all subjects. Where this is the case, subject-specific plans and common programmes of work are being developed. Teachers’ work in this regard is commended. It is recommended that the current system, whereby subject departments formally convene within a two-year cycle, be reviewed by management and staff. This system, which saw ten departments convene in the first two-year cycle, 2006-2008, and fourteen more from 2008, gives rise to two predicaments. Firstly, a number of subject departments have not yet formally embraced the concept of collaborative subject department planning. Secondly, this system means that, for the majority of subject departments, formal subject department planning, which should be ongoing, is taking place on an on/off basis. This could result in the process having a reduced impact.  

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

In addition to the Junior Certificate and established Leaving Certificate programmes, senior-cycle students of Coachford College are also provided with the option of choosing to participate in the school’s Transition Year Programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Preparation programme.

 

Staff involvement in the area of curriculum planning and organisation is apparent in a document arising out of a review of the school’s curriculum, and dated 2007. This provision made by management for the involvement of staff in such a review is highly commended. Arising from this review, mixed-ability teaching has become more prevalent and therefore currently, all first-year, class groups are organised on a mixed ability basis. Thereafter, mixed ability base classes are formed, with setting by ability for English, Gaeilge, French and Mathematics. This approach to class organisation is applauded, although a widening of the range of student abilities in class groups for Gaeilge is recommended in the subject inspection that forms part of the this whole-school evaluation. The review also recommended that setting by ability in Transition Year (TY) should only take place where it is absolutely necessary. However, current arrangements in TY see students allocated to a class group for all subjects, as determined by the teachers of English, Gaeilge and Mathematics. Streaming of this type is not consistent with good practice at the best of times, but particularly in TY. Every effort should be made to ensure that this practice is not reciprocated in future years.

 

A large number and range of subjects are offered as part of the curriculum in Coachford College. First-year students study thirteen compulsory subjects, plus two of a possible five optional subjects. This option suite comprises Art, Craft and Design, Home Economics, Metalwork, Music, and Materials Technology (Wood). Second-year and third-year students study ten compulsory subjects, plus three of the following eight optional subjects: Art, Craft and Design, Business, French, Home Economics, Metalwork, Music, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technical Graphics. Fifth-year and sixth-year students study four compulsory subjects, plus four of a possible fourteen optional subjects. Some provision is also made, although not for all students, for Physical Education, Careers and a tutorial class. Applied Mathematics is also offered to students; however, it would appear that students who choose to study this subject are not therefore able to access Religious Education, Physical Education and Careers. It is recommended, therefore, that an analysis of current provision for fifth and sixth year students should be undertaken to ascertain the extent to which all such students have access to the essentials of a broad and balanced curriculum and that changes, as appropriate, are made to the options on offer. French is the only modern European language offered in the school. Some consideration could be given to investigating the need to offer another language. The school’s provision for Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) from junior cycle through to senior cycle needs to be formalised. Management and staff are mindful of the importance of mobility and therefore facilitate movement between classes so as to ensure that as many students as possible take higher-level papers. The concurrent timetabling of English, Gaeilge, Mathematics and French, in all years apart from first year and TY, provides much scope for this practice.

 

In the main, subjects were found to be timetabled as per syllabus recommendations and as per best practice. That said, some areas for development were identified, including the need to reduce the incidence of teachers sharing class groups and to avoid the timetabling of doubles over lunch breaks, particularly when the subject has a practical element. Efforts should also continue towards reducing the concurrent timetabling of two or more class groups for the one specialist room so as to ensure an equality of access to specialist facilities for students and teachers alike. Regular, weekly access to information and communication technology (ICT) facilities for students who are undertaking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is also desirable.

 

In terms of day-to-day running, the TY and LCVP programmes are co-ordinated effectively. Work experience is arranged for TY students on an ongoing basis, where up to three students each week are released from normal classes to complete work experience. It is recommended that alternative and more established arrangements for TY work experience be examined, and that every effort be made to devise a model that will make the experience more beneficial to students. As identified by the TY co-ordinator, there is a need for further consideration to be given to the provision for areas of study and related activities that fit with the spirit and intentions of the TY programme and that can integrate very well with the subjects on offer. These include Art. LCVP students do not engage in work experience. Work placement or wok-shadowing in LCVP is recognised as an integral part of the programme nationally and of considerable value to learning in the programme generally. It is recommended that the provision of work experience or work-shadowing for LCVP students be introduced. LCVP students are under-provided for in terms of Religious Education and Physical Education. Both of these findings need to be addressed. The latter was also recommended in the previously referenced 2007 subject inspection report.

 

The school has considered the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. The curriculum review completed in 2007 found that LCA was not viable in the school. In view of the school’s mission to ‘offer an education of the highest standard to all students’ and therefore to cater for all students, consideration should be given again, at sometime in the future, to the introduction of the LCA programme.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

Approximately ten years ago it was decided to cease operating a taster programme for first-year students of Coachford College. The current system is one where, prior to entry, incoming students choose two of the three optional subjects they will eventually study to Junior Certificate level. Business, French and Technical Graphics, which from second year become optional subjects for students, are compulsory for first years. This is commended for the exposure to these three subjects that this system supports. While the decision to cease offering a full taster programme is respected, school policy concerning this practice should be reviewed on a regular and ongoing basis. This review should seek to involve all partners including teaching staff, parents and students. As part of the review process, some consideration should be given to seeking to analyse whether or not the current system is having any negative impact on uptake trends and levels in any of the optional subjects, but in particular in Art and Music. To enable informed decisions based on experience, it is recommended that further consideration be given to any practicable arrangements that would provide students with greater experience of optional subjects prior to decision-making for the Junior Certificate examinations. In the case of incoming first-year students, student surveys currently inform the arrangement of the five optional subjects into subject bands. This system of open choice is commended.

 

At the end of first year, students choose again. In this instance, and in an attempt to provide students with a more guided choice, pre-arranged or pre-set subject bands are offered to students. Students’ preferences influence the final design of both sets of subject bands. This flexibility is commended. That said, the system contrasts somewhat with that which is operating in first year, as subject bands are only partially generated around student choice. Some consideration should be given to having student choice fully determining the generation of subject bands in second year. Another more specific concern is the placing of French in just one option band, and then alongside a practical subject such as Metalwork or Materials Technology (Wood). This appears to be contributing to the relatively low number of boys choosing French in the school.

 

Pre-arranged or pre-set subject bands are also offered to senior cycle students. Similar concerns relating to students’ access to French arise in senior cycle. Once again, French is offered in just one option block, this time alongside Construction Studies and Engineering. A further senior-cycle concern identified by a cross section of partners, including board members and members of the students’ council, is the placing of senior cycle Art, Home Economics and Music in the same band, with none of the three subjects being provided for in any of the remaining two bands. A system of open subject choice would help to address such anomalies in the current systems. It is very positive that flexibility is exercised in the case of students who, on realising that their original choice was not necessarily the best one for them, seek to change from one subject to another.

 

The school’s guidance counsellor is a central figure in the administration and management of the system of subject choice. Class visits, individual appointments, information evenings for parents, career talks and subject-choice booklets are but some of the measures that have been put in place with a view to assisting parents and students in the very difficult task of subject choice and also, as applicable, programme choice. A guidance module delivered within the school’s first-year SPHE programme is another measure designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to make good subject choice. The TY and LCVP co-ordinators, together with subject teachers, also play a significant role in terms of providing guidance, information and advice to students about programme choice. A percentage of the school’s weekly guidance allocation is not used until the last term, at a time when subject choices are being made, for the employment of an additional guidance counsellor. Although this is creative, it is recommended that, in the interests of continuity of service and of relationship building with students and staff, these hours be used on a continuous basis throughout the year.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

The majority of the co-curricular and extracurricular activities that are provided for in Coachford College are done so on a voluntary basis by the teachers. For this teachers are highly praised. A small number of the activities engaged in are subject led and therefore planned and provided for by subject departments. This includes a TY French exchange and a TY Gaeltacht trip. Once again teachers are commended for this. There is scope within some subject areas, and with the support of management, for providing for further co-curricular activities. Students are encouraged by their teachers to participate in quizzes, debates and public-speaking events, as well as in other competitions. There is in fact a strong emphasis on competitive activities. It is suggested that scope may also exist for increasing the provision of activities simply for their benefits to students’ development.

 

Current management policy on team sports states that male students have the option of playing hurling or football, while female students can play camogie or basketball. Good programmes, which include provision for coaching, meetings and matches, have been put in place for each of these four sports. The students themselves expressed a desire to be able to play other sports, in particular ladies’ football, rugby and soccer. Perhaps these are areas that could be explored. The extracurricular activities proposal form, which is mentioned in the draft policy for extracurricular activities, could be used to facilitate some formal consideration of these desires. The school also has an equestrian team. Students can play golf and participate in athletic training and events on a seasonal basis.

 

All students are welcome to join the school choir, where an informal ‘no audition required’ policy operates. This activity serves as a very good example of a non-competitive, fun activity that is open to all. The choir provides entertainment at a number of school events. It is unfortunate that the tradition of a school musical has lapsed. Whilst recognising the huge time, effort and energy that goes into an event such as this, with some whole-staff discussion perhaps it is something that could be revived. It may even provide for that ‘whole-school celebration’ that staff members are so anxious to see instated. Students are encouraged to get involved in a number of different fund-raising activities. The development of this outlook in students is applauded.

 

The school is in the process of developing an extracurricular activities policy, which it was stated will ‘enable an extracurricular aspect in the school’. While it is noted that this policy is still only in draft format, certain elements of the draft suggest that it is more a proposal for what a policy might contain as opposed to an actual draft policy. As a result, it is suggested that the policy may need some additional work before it is ratified by the board.

 

 

4.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Across the range of subjects which formed part of the evaluation, planning and preparation at subject level has been significantly commended. Where facilitated in the school’s cyclical approach to subject planning, it is the norm for subject department meetings to occur, formally and informally, with most subjects reporting the appointment of a co-ordinator position, rotated from time to time, and the maintenance of meeting minutes. In almost all subject areas, both lists and stocks of resources have been developed for common use as required. In almost all areas, subject and curricular plans, including yearly and termly schemes of work, have been agreed upon. Some very good linking between short-term, medium-term and long-term planning has also been praised by inspectors. Some department plans have been commended for focusing on specific issues, such as strategies for the inclusion of students with special educational needs, the incorporation of ICT in planning and teaching, or specific planning for cross-curricular work in TY. Good lists of subject-specific terminology, developed at department level, have been commended as additional supports for students where observed. The development of both department and whole-school guidance planning teams has also been commended in this overall context.

 

In terms of general planning recommendations, in most subjects inspectors have urged a greater focus on learning outcomes as teachers and departments formulate subject plans. In some subject areas, a more sequenced approach to skills development, or an increased emphasis on cultural awareness and appreciation has been urged. Some specific recommendations have been made, one seeking to move a subject plan in TY away from over concentration on Leaving Certificate content. Another department is asked to consider the possibilities of engaging in a SCOT analysis to assist with future planning. Finally, within the commended departmental collaboration outlined, the maintenance of a significant focus on teaching and learning issues in meetings and discussions should remain a priority.

 

Individual teacher planning is commended. Many teachers presented written plans for individual lessons, while almost all had termly or yearly plans in line with subject department and syllabus parameters. Some imaginative ideas have been noted in the choice of lesson themes in several subjects, with good consideration given to appropriate lesson development strategies and to providing opportunities for students’ self-direction. A fine commitment by teachers to preparation for lessons generally is supported by having teacher-based classrooms and facilities for good visual displays. The significant development of materials and handouts for use in classroom contexts was widely evident in the subjects evaluated, and is applauded.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

The overall quality of teaching and learning was very good. A notable feature of all lessons observed across the subject range was the positive and supportive classroom atmosphere. Students and teachers related to each other very well, with high levels of student engagement and participation. In almost all lessons, clear outlines of lesson aims were given and lessons followed a clear and logical structure. Teachers showed significant evidence of good planning for lesson delivery, with strategies like group work and student activity well provided for in a number of lessons.

 

In most lessons, a very good focus was evident on the promotion of integrated learning strategies. Very good connections were made between previous learning and the new topics for study, while some very effective examples were observed of teachers encouraging students to link their own general knowledge or their awareness of other areas of a syllabus to the lesson content. In language learning, the key skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing were given due emphasis. Some recommendations have been made on the further promotion of student-student dialogue, while some excellent pair work has also been commented on. Elsewhere, similar successful approaches were employed, allowing for students to listen, write and do things for themselves during lessons.

 

General interaction between teachers and students was at a high level in all subjects evaluated. Questioning featured very strongly in lessons, with teachers mixing lower-order and higher-order questions and spreading such questioning across a broad range of students. Teachers were also comfortable in making supportive comments to encourage students further. Where applicable, the language of classroom interactions was geared towards the promotion of target-language use, or sought to integrate appropriate subject terminology into the general vocabulary in use. The degree to which students overall were encouraged to see lessons as opportunities for learning with the teacher rather than passively from the teacher has been commended in a number of instances.

 

In all lessons observed, a very good use of resources and supports was evident. Where appropriate to lesson delivery, a laptop computer, data projector, audio equipment and practical equipment were all used to good effect. A number of lessons also saw the deployment of flash cards and handouts to promote learning. Many of the teacher-based classrooms have been commended for the focus on print-rich and visual displays designed to enhance student engagement and learning.

 

Some recommendations have been made on the desirability of promoting student note-making in a structured manner and a little less emphasis on the dictation of notes. Otherwise, good reinforcement strategies, involving discussion on the meaning of questions, and of answers, have been commended. The focus on getting students to apply their learning, in language or in practical classes, has been widely commended as a further support to student learning in the longer term.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

A very comprehensive assessment system has been established at whole-school level. All classes have formal Christmas and summer tests, with classes due to sit Certificate examinations in a given year also having monthly in-class assessments and mock examinations in February. TY students undergo assessments at the mid-terms in both autumn and spring. These formal assessments are complemented by annual parent-teacher meetings for all year groups and the maintenance of comprehensive records by teachers of students’ attendance and progress across the subject range. A more recent innovation at whole-school level which has been very well received is the real-time reporting facility available to parents through the school’s ePortal system.

 

Assessment strategies are equally thorough from educational needs and guidance perspectives. Students are assessed in a standardised manner prior to entry and again in the spring of first year, with very good co-operation between the guidance and learning support departments. Diagnostic testing for specific educational needs, aptitude testing in fifth year and the development of interest inventories are all examples of the good practice noted by inspectors. Equally, it is commended that the level of record keeping and post-Leaving Certificate tracking which is employed are further very good supports to school assessment and reflection. 

 

A homework policy and an annual review by school management of results in State Examination Commission (SEC) examinations are further whole-school supports to assessment. In some instances, subject departments have adapted generic homework policies more specifically to subject needs. This is commended and a similar approach is recommended across the remaining subject departments, as is the analysis by individual subject departments of SEC outcomes. At individual subject levels, some disciplines have been more proactive than others in engaging with comment-based marking of homework, which is recommended for wider use where practicable. The practice in some subjects of combining practical or oral assessment components with written ones in order to arrive at overall grades is commended. So too is the use of project-based assessment in some TY subject programmes, while individual recommendations have been added to promote peer assessment, oral and journal assessment across the cycles as relevant.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Much evidence was found during this whole-school evaluation that Coachford College welcomes students with special educational needs. A teacher with a specialist qualification in the area co-ordinates the school’s provision for students with special educational needs. A second teacher is being facilitated by school management to also qualify in the area. Both of these findings are positive. To make optimum use of the expertise and experience of the co-ordinator, the very heavy timetabling of this staff member to teach general junior and senior cycle classes should be reviewed.

 

A large number of teachers are currently assigned to assist in the delivery of learning support or resource teaching. It is recommended that serious consideration be given to the establishment of a smaller, core team of self-selected teachers, who are committed to the delivery of learning support or resource work. Furthermore, it is recommended that all known learning support and resource hours be assigned to teachers when the main school timetable is being devised, as this would help reduce the numbers of teachers involved. A smaller number of teachers would also facilitate provision of formal and regular meetings of the key personnel involved in this work. Regular, formal meetings are recommended so that all concerned can plan programmes of work, discuss and review students’ progress and provide guidance and support to one another on specific teaching and learning approaches.

 

The collaboration of the guidance and special needs departments facilitates an integrated approach to student induction, assessment, and monitoring and to continuing supports for students throughout their schooling. A range of standardised assessments is used, especially as part of the process of induction of new students. This begins while students are in primary schools, providing valuable information that supports the formation of classes of mixed ability in first year and promotes the early identification of students with special needs. Testing continues through first year in order to monitor students’ progress. All of the above is commended. Further diagnostic testing is carried out by the special educational needs department to provide for the individual learning and educational needs of students is and this is also praised. The further development of a student register, providing information about the student’s abilities, needs, hours, the teachers involved in providing support and the progress being made is recommended. This would allow for a more efficient self-evaluation of the school’s provision for these students. Work has begun in relation to the development of individual education plans (IEPs) for students in receipt of learning support and resource hours. This is highly praised.  

 

Best practice in the deployment of staff for the delivery of learning support and resource hours is where a student’s needs are matched with the expertise of the available staff and where the minimum number of teachers are involved in the provision of support to an identified student, for whatever number of class periods the student is entitled. It would appear that this ideal isn’t always achieved in Coachford College to the extent possible. All concerned are encouraged to address this finding. Provision is on the basis of individual or small group withdrawal, with the formation of smaller teaching groups in subjects such as English, Gaeilge and Mathematics. All concerned are encouraged to look at alternative models of provision, for example, in-class support and team teaching. It came to the attention of the inspection team that, for example, on some occasions where another teacher is absent, those assigned to provide learning support or resource to students have been re-assigned by senior management to supervise a class. This has resulted in the students eligible for learning support having to return to their regular class. This practice is unacceptable and needs to be discontinued. Furthermore, the classes students are withdrawn from should be rotated so as to ensure that students are not deprived of an education in any particular area.

 

Mechanisms to formalise communication between the core support team and the subject teachers should be considered. It is understood that the co-ordinator has offered on numerous occasions to provide input at staff meetings. Offers such as this are deserving of full consideration. Furthermore, management is encouraged, as part of the planned introduction of a whole-staff CPD programme, to provide opportunities for whole-staff engagement with external presenters, for example personnel from the Special Education Support Service (SESS). A resource library has been developed and provides valuable information on a number of learning difficulties, and houses an array of resource materials. The development of this resource, which is open to all teaching staff, is commended.

 

The school’s special educational needs policy is currently under review. All concerned are directed to Section 2.4 of Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs – Post-Primary Guidelines (Inspectorate, Department of Education and Science, 2007) for guidance on whole-school policies and procedures in the school plan. The role of the school’s very committed group of special needs assistants also requires clarification. It was inappropriate that when the special needs co-ordinator was absent earlier this year, one of the special needs assistants assumed some of the co-ordinator’s responsibilities and duties. All concerned are referenced to Circular 12/05.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The school is commended for viewing Guidance broadly and therefore for seeking to use the guidance allocation to provide personal, educational and vocational guidance to students. The guidance programme is well balanced between provision for students in the junior cycle and those in the senior cycle, with structured programmes being delivered to all year groups. A satisfactory level of contact with all class groups is facilitated, with inputs tending to be more focused on senior-cycle classes and students. A good balance has also been achieved between working with students individually, in small groups, and in classes. Referral services, which are availed of as required, are used sensitively. 

 

The school houses a well developed and appropriately equipped guidance office. It includes provision for a small library of guidance-related information, with further supplies made available to students in an adjacent classroom and in the school library. It is suggested that some consideration be given to the question of student access to these materials, especially in areas regularly used or timetabled for other purposes. Furthermore, in enabling access to other sources of guidance information, for example web-based interest questionnaires and inventories, it is recommended that ICT access and use be included in the deliberations of the whole-school guidance planning task group so that they may be integrated into the ICT elements of the school plan.

 

There is evidence of engagement by the guidance counsellor with continuing professional development in a variety of forms. It is recommended that provision be made by management to enable attendance at sessions organised on a regional basis by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. The school’s guidance counsellor also acts as year head. Considering the role of the guidance counsellor in its entirety, it is recommended that the duties associated with the post of responsibility held by the guidance counsellor be reviewed and managed, so that any possible conflicts between the roles of year head and guidance counsellor are avoided. 

 

A whole-school guidance planning task group has been formed. In addition to meetings scheduled as part of SDP, the group also meets weekly. The inclusion in the group of the key student-support staff and other interested subject teachers, including a representative of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) department, is commended. Such an approach widens the scope of student support and places it more firmly at the core of effective teaching and learning. A whole-school guidance plan is being prepared.

 

Teachers of SPHE work with the guidance counsellor in the delivery of the aspects of the subject which are common to Guidance. There was no co-ordinator or convenor of the SPHE department at the time of the inspection. It is recommended that, in order to simplify the task of integrating the work of the two departments, and in order to ensure ongoing planning for SPHE, arrangements be made by the SPHE department to appoint a co-ordinator. As per the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03, all junior cycle students are timetabled for one period of SPHE per week. The team of teachers involved in the delivery of SPHE tends to change from one year to the next. It is recommended that management prioritises the development of a core team of teachers, with every effort being made to encourage male as well as female staff members to teach SPHE. The establishment of a core team would facilitate the desirable practice of teachers retaining the class group assigned to them in first year, through to second and third year, which has happened in the past but is not a constant in the school’s provision for SPHE. In addition, management should seek to ensure that all teachers of SPHE either have or will be facilitated to complete the required minimum two-day introductory training. The inclusion of SPHE in the subject-department planning schedule would assist teachers in their efforts to provide a well-planned SPHE programme that is developmental in nature.

 

The student-support team, composed of the guidance counsellor, the special needs co-ordinator, the chaplain and the religious education co-ordinator, forms the backbone of the student-support structure. Year heads and class tutors, with the assistance of all subject teachers, monitor the personal development, academic progress and participation levels of all students in their care. Contact with parents is a significant feature of this monitoring process. To enhance wider communications that relate to student support and care, it is suggested that a formal arrangement be made to facilitate attendance by the guidance counsellor, and/or members of the student-support team, at middle-management meetings. It is clear that all staff members are very conscious of the pastoral element of their role, with teachers’ interactions with students being recognised as notably positive. An induction day, designed to ease the transition to a new school, is organised for incoming first-year students. The involvement of TY students on this day is commended. The inclusion of a mentoring programme for new entrants to the school is under consideration. The effort and support that will be required to bring this to realisation is fully encouraged.

 

Despite the fact that there is no written student support programme or policy, it is clear that very good attention is given in the school to the care and support of students. The development of a corresponding written programme or policy to reflect the school practice is recommended. While the support systems that are already in place are recognised as very good, the vision which was presented by the student-support team extends well beyond this. In order for this vision to be fully realised, the student-support team will require further support from management.

 

The spiritual development of students is addressed, in the main, through the school’s programme of Religious Education. The existence of a school chaplain, working in collaboration with the religious education department, presents further opportunities to address the spiritual development of students in a more inclusive and comprehensive manner. This is acknowledged by both parties, who have a number of ideas as to how this vision might be achieved. This could include, for example, the provision of: class liturgies and whole-school liturgies; a thought for the day during, at a minimum, the highpoints in the liturgical calendar; and the reinstatement of the oratory, a space dedicated to reflection and prayer. Considering the obligation placed on the board in the Articles of Management by the following statement, ‘The board shall ensure that there is religious worship and religious instruction’, it is recommended that management gives some serious consideration to seeking to provide for the spiritual development of students in a way that extends beyond the classroom.

 

An annual awards night recognises the academic and sporting achievements and accomplishments of past students. A TY awards night is also organised which in addition to the recognition of students’ academic and sporting successes also acknowledges other aspects of students’ development and progression. As a mean of further promoting positive behaviour, some consideration ought to be given to the introduction of year-group awards.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

7.         Related subject inspection reports

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

 

 

 

 

Published November 2009

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

                                                                                                                               School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

 

The Board is pleased that the Report highlights in the introductory paragraph that the school demonstrates an annual record of high achievements in the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate examinations.

 

The Inspectorate finds that “Coachford College welcomes all students”. The Board is pleased with this finding as it is with the Inspectors’ comments in relation to the Parent Council and the Student Council. The Report states that “the school boasts a long tradition of facilitating parents who wish to discuss aspects of their children’s education” and, in relation to the Student Council, states that there is an “almost even representation of girls and boys on both the executive council and the general council”, a balance reflected also in the school’s enrolment.

 

The Board is particularly pleased that the Report found that the school “generously meets the requirements of Circular M29/95”, the Time in School circular which specifies both the minimum number of teaching days per school year and the minimum number of instruction hours per week. The length of the school week at this school is 28 hours and 40 minutes, an outcome that the Board has sought at all times to maintain, given that “research findings indicate that the amount of time that students spend in organised learning activities has a critical bearing on their academic performance and all-round development. (M29/95)”

 

The Board is pleased that the Report finds that School Development Planning is “positively perceived by the majority of staff”. The Report finds that “To date seventeen policies have been developed and ratified. Work is in progress in relation to thirteen others. All concerned are commended for this work”. The Board also welcomes the findings in relation to subject department planning, including “…subject-specific plans and common programmes of work are being developed. Teachers’ work in this regard is commended.”

 

The Report states “…mixed-ability teaching has become more prevalent and therefore currently all first-year class groups are organised on a mixed ability basis. Thereafter, mixed ability based classes are formed, with setting by ability for English, Gaeilge, French and Mathematics. This approach to class organisation is applauded”. The Board welcomes this finding and the following extracts “…A large number and range of subjects are offered as part of the curriculum in Coachford College”, and also “Management and staff are mindful of the importance of mobility and therefore facilitate movement between classes so as to ensure that as many students as possible take higher-level papers. The concurrent timetabling of English, Gaeilge, Mathematics and French, in all years apart from first-year and TY, provides much scope for this practice.”  The Report continues “The majority of the co-curricular and extra curricular activities that are provided for in Coachford College are done so on a voluntary basis by the teachers. For this teachers are highly praised.” The Board regards it as important that this contribution is recognised.

 

The Report states “The overall quality of teaching and learning was very good. A notable feature of all lessons observed across the subject range was the positive and supportive classroom atmosphere. Students and teachers related to each other very well, with high levels of student engagement and participation”. The Board is particularly satisfied with this finding. In relation to assessment, the Report finds “A very comprehensive assessment system has been established at whole-school level.

 

The Board notes with satisfaction that the Inspection team state that:

“Much evidence was found during this whole-school evaluation that Coachford College welcomes students with special educational needs.

“The School is commended for viewing Guidance broadly and therefore seeking to use the guidance allocation to provide personal, educational and vocational guidance to students.

“It is clear that very good attention is given in the school to the care and support of students.

The Board expects to refer to this document frequently in the years ahead and looks forward to working with its educational partners to maintain and consolidate what is good, while seeking to develop and improve other aspects of school life. The Board wishes to thank the Inspectorate for this thorough and conscientious report.