An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Terence MacSwiney Community College
Knocknaheeny, Cork City
Roll number: 71123Q
Date of inspection: 27 April-1 May 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Terence MacSwiney Community College was undertaken in April 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects and in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects/programmes. (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.
Terence MacSwiney Community College was built, in 1978, on the North side of Cork City to service a very disadvantaged community. The area in which the school is situated is geographically located on a hill top and surrounded by City Council social and affordable housing. At its peak the school had an enrolment of almost 800 students. Over the years the area has changed demographically and a number of years ago a City Council Scheme which allowed residents to purchase housing outside of the area impacted negatively on the area. Knocknaheeny is currently designated as a Revitalising Areas by Planning Investment and Development (RAPID) area. The school has had a good relationship over the years with the community and is represented on a number of multi-agency initiatives to target problems in the area.
In 2002, to address falling student numbers and perceived community needs, the school introduced a Further Education (FE) section to give adults in the community a chance to pursue Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses. This has developed over the years and at present the school has 193 post-primary students and 173 FE students. The school operates an open enrolment policy welcoming all comers.
In line with the drop in student numbers at post primary level the ability levels of the students decreased with many more able students tending to opt for schooling outside of the community. The levels of literacy and numeracy of students entering the school has lessened over the years and in recent times there are very few students in the junior cycle with reading ages matching their chronological ages. The provision for those with special educational needs is a high priority within the school. The school has benefited over the years from many initiatives designed to target disadvantage including Traveller supports and Stay in School Initiatives. The school is currently a participant in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative and the additional resources received are used effectively in the support and retention of students.
The school has strong links with other organisations providing supports and services in the community and the school has provided accommodation for a number of these on its grounds. The site currently houses a Youthreach campus, a Health Services Executive (HSE) Family Support Services Centre, a Youthlink facility (Ogra), Childcare Services and a Family Resource Centre operated by the Daughters of Charity.
Throughout the evaluation there was evidence of a caring and committed treatment of the students in the school from management and staff who over the years have been patient, flexible and adaptable in their approach to education for the benefit of the whole school community.
The school, through its structures and attitude, is very supportive of students. The aims of the school, as set out in its mission statement, are ‘To recognise the personal and developmental needs of young people in the provision of an appropriate educational service and to encourage educational attainment as a means of personal fulfilment and growth’. The school is clearly committed to achieving its mission. The positive, supportive and caring attitude of staff towards students was observed and commented on by all inspectors. The beneficial effects on learning, teaching and students’ welfare can be deduced from the comments of inspectors in their subject evaluations, which accompany this report. Clear evidence was presented that the aspirations of the mission statement are central to the core vision of management. They are being persued through a process of consultation, especially with staff, and have been supported by the board of management (BOM) with the approval of the Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). The school management, staff and BOM are aware of the special circumstances of the student and parent base and of the need to go above and beyond what is usual in the care of a school community.
The qualities of the school, especially in the management and support of students, were clearly observed during the whole-school evaluation. The staff handbook places particular emphasis on the care of students within the college along with coverage of procedural and policy issues. This is of value to all staff and, in particular, to staff undergoing induction into the school as it reflects the positive atmosphere and productive relationships that the school is attempting to achieve. The efforts of management and staff to create a positive working environment and avoid or minimise situations of conflict, occasionally in difficult circumstances, is central to the role that the school sees for itself. The school accesses resources from a number of agencies to support its efforts in this regard.
The school is a non-designated community college under the patronage of the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee (CCVEC). The board of management is formed under the instrument and articles of management of a vocational school and has been in place since 2004. The board is a sub-committee of the VEC and is formally appointed by the VEC. The board comprises three VEC members, two teachers’ representatives, two parents’ representatives and a nominee of the local Catholic bishop.
The board is properly constituted and is, under its terms of reference, actively involved in the management of the school. Five or six meetings are held each year. Good records are kept of the proceedings at meetings and it is evident from the records and from discussion with the board that members are aware of the context of the school, the needs of the students and their own statutory obligations. Existing policies have been discussed and ratified by the board in accordance with those obligations. The drafting of policies and plans is directed through the school development planning process currently operating in the school in consultation with the board. The physical upkeep of the school has been seen as a pressing and urgent need over the past four years following a period where little development work was done to the fabric of the school building. The boilers, windows, condition of furniture, the absence of a science lab, the condition of the roof, the absence of adequate and appropriate IT equipment have all been addressed, with the support of the VEC, along with the improvement of the physical environment.
The good practice of comprehensive record keeping was another notable feature running through this evaluation. From the keeping of board minutes to communications with parents through newsletters and flyers as well as through the recording of meetings and in the maintenance of records related to assessments, it was clear that this practice had filtered to all levels in the school. The school’s systems of communication are generally very good. The essential contribution of administrative staff to the process, both in the day school and in the FE section is commended.
Members of the board speak of their high regard for the work of teaching staff in catering for the educational and emotional needs of all students. It is acknowledged by the board that the principal has a pivotal role in this regard and was praised by members of the board for her effective visionary and inclusive leadership style.
The principal and deputy principal have a positive working relationship. The principal has held the position for the past five years whereas the deputy principal is filling the role in an acting capacity. In the current year the principal and deputy principal share a vision for the school. They work together as a team and while each has some defined roles, these overlap seamlessly to complement the other’s work and further support the running of the school. The principal and deputy principal communicate effectively, having meetings at the end of each school day that are supplemented with significant informal communication during the day. The roles of the principal and deputy principal are clearly set out in the staff handbook. In practice, the principal views her role as centrally concerned with dealing with the care of students and staff and the disciplinary system in the college. The deputy principal assists in this role as well as facilitating communication between all groups in the college and the principal. In many instances the two roles overlap and both are comfortable with this. Senior management highlighted the importance of maintaining a high level of visibility around the school and this was evident during the course of the evaluation.
Following ongoing difficulties over a number of years the school’s current scheme of posts was put in place in 2007. The school has a total of eight assistant principal posts and a further thirteen special duties posts. A number of these posts are being filled in an acting capacity and it is reported that a small number of posts are currently outstanding. Assistant principals are assigned to either year-head duties along with other areas of responsibility or to a number of administrative and pastoral duties. Each week there is a timetabled meeting involving the principal, deputy principal and the assistant principals to discuss issues relating to the management of the school. This is positive as it creates a clear, coherent, inclusive and proactive middle management structure within the school. It also ensures that the caring and inclusive vision of senior management for the school is shared and included in management decisions. The assistant principals bring experience and commitment to their posts and the range of administrative, pastoral and year head duties helps to ensure that a broad spectrum of the involvements of the school in students’ education and care is included in these decisions.
The special duties posts consist of some administrative roles, with others dealing with extracurricular, pastoral or more directly educational tasks. These posts have been found to reflect the needs of the school, although these needs may well change in the coming years. Senior management is applauded for its awareness of the requirement to review posts when practicable to do so. Another positive feature of the post structure is that where appropriate certain related special duties post duties are coordinated and overseen by an assistant principal.
An ethos of care and concern for the overall welfare of students is central to the work being done in the college and clearly thought out structures to support this are in place and documented. The school operates a class teacher system on a voluntary basis. Much good work has been done on clarifying the role such tutors can play as a link between the college and students and parents, while remaining mindful of the voluntary nature of the position. The work done to date on developing the class tutor role is commended as it provides a very important element of positive student management, in tandem with the student support services, care personnel, year heads and senior management, in terms of formalising the balance between pastoral and disciplinary structures. To add to the good work already being done it is suggested that the current positive behaviour structure be extended to incorporate more short-term goals, rewards and strategies to develop student engagement.
Management and staff of Terence MacSwiney Community College are conscious of the importance of their role as education providers to all those who choose to attend. The school operates open and welcoming admissions practices which are in keeping with its caring and inclusive ethos. Every effort is made to retain students in education for as long as possible and to ensure that they are present for State Examinations be they written, practical or oral. No student has been excluded from the school in the last five years.
Among the issues facing the school is student motivation as increasingly academically challenged students react with an increase in apathy and a lack of vision or hope for the future. There is awareness among the staff of the need to demonstrate that these critical concepts are achievable. The school is also challenged by the growing lack of parental control, increasing social problems and deteriorating student attitudes which result from the complexities arising from learning difficulties, behaviour problems and larger societal issues. There was evidence that staff are enthusiastic and resourceful in their commitment but it is important to acknowledge the frequency and severity of the learning and behavioural problems encountered on a regular basis.
A Student Council has existed within the school for a number of years. Representatives from each class group are elected to the council and the process is co-ordinated by a member of staff. It is seen as a challenge within the school to promote membership and participation by students. The goal is for students to take responsibility for proactive activity. Members gain good experience from the formality of meeting and from taking part in any forum of discussion as this in itself is a new experience for many of them. The council have been involved over the years in fundraising and assisting in the running of school events. They also produce a Valentine magazine every year.
There is a school attendance strategy. Year heads and tutors are viewed as central to the management of this issue, with attendance remaining constantly on the agenda of meetings with senior management. Attendance and lateness are checked by year heads on a daily basis and students present absence notes on their return to school. Teachers check student attendance at the beginning of each lesson. Year heads also maintain links, through the care team, with any pastoral care issues which may be impacting on particular students’ attendance. When a student’s attendance is becoming problematic, a letter is sent to the student’s parents. A range of pastoral care supports is also in place which may be used to support students experiencing difficulties which in turn might lead to poor attendance. Good attendance among first-year students is rewarded at a special awards ceremony. In the current year a trial short-term attendance drive between first year classes has been put in place and has had some success. The school liaises with the local Education Welfare Officer (EWO) regarding students whose attendance is particularly poor. All of this is most praiseworthy and it is clear that staff and senior management have been proactive in addressing the area of school attendance. Nevertheless, the number of students absent for more than twenty days per annum is high. A particular issue has arisen in the current year where a small number of second year students leave the building early in the school day on a regular basis. It is therefore recommended that all partners in the school community work with and support senior management and staff in further developing the significant work they have already undertaken in supporting students’ regular attendance in the school.
Documentation produced by the school is appropriate and of a high quality. Formal recording of meetings is seen as particularly important in the school and it is clear that this practice is common for meetings at all levels. Examples of good practice were observed in documents and literature associated with, among others, management meetings, care team meetings, school planning groups and meetings with outside agencies. Clear evidence was found, both in the literature and during meetings that internally in the school and communication with parents, the community and with external agencies is good.
The home school community liason (HSCL) role in the school is very active and promotes a very powerful and positive ethos of respect and regard for parents and for meeting their needs. In the current year a new parents’ room has been opened following the conversion of a large unused classroom. This is a fine space and has a comfortable relaxation area, a social area and a suite of computers allowing courses to be run. Parents engage in a number of ways with the school and partake in Maths for Fun, Paired Reading, parent/teacher meetings and a number of courses designed to meet their needs. Parents have not been willing over the years to partake in a formal Parents’ Council forum. It is reported that only one parent attended at the parent meeting held to nominate Parent Representatives for the Board of Management and a second parent had to be asked to fill the role. The school endeavours to keep good levels of contact with all parents was evident in parent meeting books and other documentation. The school also communicates with parents through a variety of other means. These include home visits, phone calls, the student journal, reports on student progress, and a newsletter which is produced twice per year. The school should continue to seek ways to involve parents in the ongoing process of change within the school. The development of a school’s website is another means of communicating with the school community and it is recommended that one be developed. Such a website has the potential to be useful in the area of policy development and communication, with the possibility of, school policies and the school plan being easily accessed.
Current timetabling arrangements for students are not in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M29/95, with students not having access to the stipulated minimum of twenty-eight hours. Therefore, it is recommended that management address this issue, rectify the above situation and ensure compliance with the terms of the circular letter.
Timetables provided to the inspection team during the whole school evaluation period indicated that a number of permanent wholetime teachers (PWT) were timetabled for less than the required minimum eighteen hours class-contact time. These timetables should be adjusted accordingly and it is recommended that all PWT teachers should be timetabled for a minimum of eighteen class contact hours. Optimal use should be made of the school’s teaching resources. This should be done, not least, to protect all staff’s incremental salary entitlements.
In the current year Terence MacSwiney Community College has a teaching allocation of thirty five point six permanent wholetime (PWT) teacher equivalents. These include the ex-quota position for the principal and allocations for HSCL, guidance and counselling, Travellers and learning-support among others. The ratio of non-permanent to permanent staff is high although many of the non-permanent teachers have worked in the school for a number of years. This is a cause for concern within the school for the coming year. Due to changes in the overall allocation of teaching staff to the VEC many of these posts may be filled through redeployment from other schools in the scheme. This will result in the loss of a wealth of experience gained through working in the particular environment of the school.
The school is applauded for the commitment of management to supporting continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers in recent years, with a substantial record of attendance at in-service training being maintained and including several sessions provided in the school by external facilitators.
The role of special-needs assistants (SNAs) within classrooms contributes to enhancing learning opportunities for students. There are currently three SNAs in the school, all of whom have integrated seamlessly into school life. The school employs two secretaries. Each has quite clearly defined duties but also plays a vital front-line role in day-to-day school life. The caretakers are also on hand and perform duties including maintenance and some security issues in an efficient and pleasant manner. Furthermore, auxiliary staff members are very well integrated into the social aspects of school life. In many instances, the length of service that these personnel have given to the school speaks volumes for their commitment to the place and its students.
The schools’ library facilities form an integral part of the supports which are provided for students. This resource is part of the JCSP Demonstration Library Project which provides a high quality, fully stocked and equipped modern library along with the services of a professional librarian who has received specialised literacy training from the JCSP support service focusing on literacy development at second level and the JCSP Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. It is reported that the library is having a positive impact on the educational experience and outcomes of the students and has become an integral part of the fabric of the school. There is a wide range of projects associated with the library designed to aid in developing literacy and numeracy skills. These include Reading Challenges, Word Millionaire, Storytelling, JCSP Readalong, JCSP Make A Book Exhibition, Family Literacy Programmes, Clubs, Numeracy Programmes, authors visits and residencies and information-skills classes. Teachers can bring their classes into the library for particular class periods and the library is also available to students at lunchtime and after school. All involved are applauded for the high standard of the service provided by and in this facility.
Commendable effort has been devoted to ensuring that the building remains suitable for the purpose for which it was built. The Further Education and second level sections are both accommodated within the same building but access between the centres is limited. Following a period of neglect, the VEC and current school management have prioritised the refurbishment of the interior of the school building and significant progress has been made on an annual basis on improving the fabric and appearance of the building. Despite setbacks due to vandalism and arson attacks both the PLC and second level sections of the building are well laid-out and maintained. Boilers, windows and roofing have been replaced and sections of the building have had the old floor covering replaced. During the evaluation plans were being put in place to extend this to other rooms and corridors in the building.
The school has developed a number of computer rooms over the years, with a post holder assigned duties in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) coordination. The school has recently received a boost to its ICT resources through a Department of Education and Science grant for technology subjects (t4). The use of ICT can significantly enhance teaching and learning and the provision of access to such equipment in as wide a spectrum of classrooms as possible is desirable. While the problem of security is acknowledged the possibility of having a number of mobile stand-based units for classroom use, similar to that used with television and video equipment currently, would be of benefit provided that these could be securely stored when not in use. With most classrooms now networked and having satisfactory broadband access, the availability of ICT facilities for use in ordinary classrooms is recommended.
Following a survey of the premises and activities, a health and safety policy was devised and adopted. This is positive. The school had allocated part of a post of responsibility to health and safety co-ordination, including fire drills and review of areas of need.
Terence MacSwiney Community College has been involved in the school development planning (SDP) process since the 2004/2005 school year. It has maintained contact with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) throughout this period. The principal attends cluster meetings organised by the SDPI on a regular basis and has played a central role in advancing the SDP process in the school. This is commendable. For a number of years the principal was assisted by a post holder in this endeavour. Given the central role played by the principal in so many areas of school life it is suggested that the coordinating role for SDP should be devolved to an individual or small group within the school.
The whole-staff involvement which has featured in the SDP process is most worthwhile and to be encouraged. Staff members are consulted on topics to be addressed through the medium of SDP and assign themselves to the areas that hold an interest for them. Priorities for the following year are identified and generally policies are produced within that year. Policies are routinely referred to the whole staff, for inputs, and the BOM for consideration and adoption. This is sound practice, ensuring the views of the school community can be heard during the planning process.
It is noteworthy that other planning needs have been integrated into the overall process such as work on the DEIS three year strategy plan and the Quality Assurance documentation and procedures for Further Education have also commenced. Commendably there is an awareness of the longevity of service of many members of the management team and planning initiatives in recent times have taken acciunt of the need to upskill younger members of staff with a view to sharing expertise and ensuring smooth transitions in the future.
Management and staff are well disposed to outside inputs which may positively impact on their work within the school. Recently the school was selected for the pilot ‘Solution Oriented School’ (SOS) training and at present five facilitators, representative of the staff profile, from within the school have been trained to pursue a solutions oriented approach to school life and its issues. This project focuses on identifying an area for improvenent and focusing on how the entire staff can become involved in achieving this. As an initial project the staff selected a reorganisation of the staffroom. This was ongoing during the evaluation and a pleasant and appropriate space for work and relaxation has been created. The next phase selected will concentrate on the prompt movement of students among classrooms during the school day.
The permanent section of the school plan is well developed. All of the recommended policies have been drafted and ratified by the board. A significant number of other policies have also been ratified. However, care should be taken to ensure that ratification dates are on all policies, as this is not currently the case. Consideration should be given, at the time of ratification, to also specifying the planned review date on all policies, as was observed in some instances.
Planning priorities in the current academic year have been identified by staff and management, and include the development of policies on Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), homework, projecting a positive image of the school in the community along with FE policies. Recent work focusing on how the school can provide for the most at risk and most behaviourally challenged students and still maintain a positive profile within the community is a significant challenge for the school community.
It is commendable that planning groups have focused on special educational needs, a whole-school guidance and counselling policy and attendance and enrolment policies. These are all sensible priorities for planning and fit well with the school’s efforts to change and adapt to the needs of its students. All of this work is facilitated by occasional formal meetings and regular informal ones.
The school is not in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M45/05 and 0062/2006, as the board of management has not formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). While these guidelines were discussed at BOM level they were not formally adopted. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP are in place but have not been ratified in line with the requirements of the guidelines. It is strongly recommended that the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools be adopted by the Board of Management and be brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures be provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management ensure that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. It is suggested that the child protection procedures be included both in the teachers’ handbook and the students’ journal to ensure that new students and their parents, and new staff become familiar with the protocols.
The focus on planning to date has appropriately been on whole school issues. Therefore it has not been possible to advance all subject planning at a similar pace. Subject plans have been developed to a variety of levels. It is recommended that the focus of future subject planning should be directed towards, as far as possible, the core issues of teaching and learning. Among the issues which should be discussed at subject planning meetings are, feedback from in-service attendance and how this could influence teaching and learning and identifying motivational strategies to encourage students capable of following higher level courses. The sharing of teaching ideas and methodological approaches, pooling resources, promoting differentiated teaching strategies and simply promoting a collaborative approach to teaching and learning are also all worthy of discussion.
Terence MacSwiney Community College offers the following curricular programmes: Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate Schools programme (JCSP), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. These programmes are delivered in line with programme requirements and guidelines. Since 2007 all first year students follow the JCSP programme up to their Junior Certificate examination. This is appropriate in the context of the current school enrolment but should be reviewed annually to ensure that all students continue to satisfy the criteria for the programme.
Historically the school has availed of additional supports to implement its curriculum including the School Completion Programme, HSCL, SCP Demonstration Library, ACCESS programme for UCC, Bridging the Gap (UCC), Traveller Support, NEPS and a Laptop Initiative. In the past Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) were offered in the school but due to declining post primary numbers these programmes were no longer viable.
The school timetable provided the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and the breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. Timetabling arrangements in terms of distribution of lessons are appropriate in most cases. A few timetabling issues are apparent on the timetable however. In both junior and senior cycles, a double period is provided for all optional subjects. This has a particular relevance for subjects in which practical work is required and is therefore applauded. However in a number of non-practical subjects, double periods or two periods in the same day are on the timetable thus reducing exposure to the subject across the week. In the interests of fairness and equality, care should be taken in future timetabling to ensure as far as is possible, that lessons for all class groups in all subjects should be distributed evenly across the week and that timetabling slots include morning and afternoon lessons. Time allocated for subjects in junior cycle and in senior cycle is generally satisfactory. Both CSPE and SPHE are timetabled once per week, as is required in the relevant circular letters.
In each year up to junior cycle one class group, comprising students with learning difficulties operates on a restricted timetable without subject choice. It is recommended that this provision be reviewed in particular in the light of suggestions made in the report on Special Education Needs which accompanies this report. The other classes have built in option blocks with one set of options designed to focus on vocational subjects and the other set focusing on academic subjects. This strategy has been found to meet the needs of the students within the school community. Commendably there is a short period at the beginning of first year where students have an opportunity to experience each of the subjects before choosing their options.
It is laudable that all students, even those who might in some circumstances have an exemption, study Irish as a core subject. The other core subjects in the first year include: Irish, English, Maths, French, Civic, Social & Political Education (CSPE), Physical Education, Religious Education, Social, Personal & Health Education (SPHE). Optional subjects include Home Economics, Metalwork, Technical Graphics, Business Studies, Science and Material Technology Wood (MTW) In addition; History and Geography are offered as optional subjects in alternate years.
Ongoing commitment from the school contributes to the effective delivery of the LCA programme. Examples of this are contained in the programme evaluation report accompanying this whole-school evaluation report. The dedication of and teamwork between the co-ordinator and entire staff is acknowledged in the success of the LCA programme in the school. Effective programme co-ordination and planning are the hallmarks of the LCA. A broad and balanced curriculum is offered, the design and implementation of which takes cognisance of students’ needs, interests and abilities. A written LCA programme is available, incorporating subject plans in almost all areas. Systems are in place to meet programme objectives and to facilitate the enhancement of the underlying principles of the programme.
The numbers of students taking the traditional Leaving Certificate programme are small and generally comprise one class group. It is positive that within this group split classes are created for Irish, English and Mathematics. While it is not possible to offer full subject choices as wide a range of options as possible is offered, tailored to meet the needs of the students. Commendably these options are reviewed annually by staff.
Students are afforded support and assistance in selecting subjects for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate and in choosing LCA/Leaving Certificate options. Guidance is provided to students and parents in assisting them in choosing programmes and subjects, including information on the implications of these choices. Parents are given appropriate, timely and comprehensive information on the options available. This includes some written documentation and information nights.
The school is praised for the range of subject choice provided and for the diversity displayed in framing the curriculum given the limited number of students enrolling each year. The school should continue to follow best practice with regard to prioritising the views of the students when designing subject-options, keeping in mind their broad educational welfare and the teaching resources at the school’s disposal.
Recent school inspection reports have suggested that the school look at ways of increasing the numbers of students willing to take subjects at Higher levels. It is reported that it is planned to have this on the agenda for next year as an issue to be tackled on a formal footing. Work has already commenced and extra tuition is being provided after school and in the evenings for second year students in Mathematics and Science to promote Higher levels. Supervised study every evening for exam classes also serves to promote and facilitate learning and ambition within the school.
The school provides an array of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, all of which contribute to the holistic development of participating students. The range of opportunities to participate in activities outside of the classroom is acknowledged by parents, students, teachers and management. These include cultural, aesthetic, community, social and sporting activities.
Co-curricular activities such as Gaeltacht trips, theatre trips and debating complement and enhance the teaching and learning of related subjects. Students’ interests and talents in art, photography, drama and music are also well provided for in the school. Further activities such as the annual fund-raising fashion show also provide an outlet for showcasing the talents of students, both within and outside the school. The ‘Totem Pole’ at the school entrance is a symbol of what efforts in this area can achieve. Such wide-ranging activities require the cooperation and understanding of the whole school community. This level of provision and involvement is applauded.
Many community groups including Ogra, the Justice Programme and We The People operate after school clubs for students of the school. The SCP team offerq breakfast clubs each morning and lunchtime clubs for boys and girls three days a week.
In the current year the school community has also become involved in fundraising for and participation in a scientific expedition to the Antarctic. Following the fundraising, two students were included in the expedition and travelled to the Antarctic. On their return, the students gave presentations and talks to classes in the school and the community on their experiences. This experience has led to the setting up of an ‘Adventure Club’ in the school and the planning of more trips. The fundraising and the students’ participation and relating of their experiences are worthwhile.
Students are encouraged from an early stage to engage in activities. First-year students are made aware of the range of sporting activities available in the school and are encouraged to become involved. This is coordinated as part of the wider mentoring programme which will be elaborated on at a later stage in this report. Contact with the local newspaper ensures that the achievements of individuals and groups from the school are available in the community. This is good practice as it encourages students to become involved and highlights the positive effect of participation.
Staff, students, parents and management are fully supportive of the positive impact of this provision, with all groups highlighting the very favourable contribution that an involvement in co-curricular and extracurricular activities makes to overall relations. Management and staff are encouraged in their efforts to sustain and develop this very important and significant part of school life.
There is good collaboration between teachers in the area of planning. Subject coordinators have been appointed. Where the role of subject coordinator is currently connected to a postholder’s duties, it is recommended that this should be discontinued. Rather, a rotational system should be adopted, whereby different members of the team take on the coordinator’s duties. Such an approach will help with the development of leadership experience within subject departments. The role of subject coordinator should be agreed within departments and set down in the subject plan. There are regular formal subject department meetings, as well as informal meetings among teachers. Minutes of formal subject department meetings are recorded and this is positive. Good practice with regard to self evaluation emerged in a number of areas, including the annual review of certificate examinations results along with the annual evaluation of the year’s activities as a means of aiding the review of a programme. Early engagement with students’ primary schools, prior to their entry to the school informs planning for students with special educational needs, along with standardised and diagnostic tests. Teacher observation further informs subsequent interventions once students have joined the school in first year. Collaborative planning with regard to cross-curricular links was also reported and this is praised. In one area it is recommended that the outcomes of planning for cross-curricular course elements should be included, with review arrangements, in the programme plan.
Considerable work has been undertaken with regard to subject and programme planning. This is commended. It is recommended that this work continue, with specific recommendations regarding strategies which should be adopted outlined in the individual subject and programme evaluations which are appended to this whole school evaluation report. The level of commitment displayed by teachers in accessing training opportunities was commended. Beyond this, the considerable expertise and experience of teachers was frequently recognised in reports and led to recommendations that a focus on teaching and learning should form a key element in the subject planning process. Furthermore, opportunities for teacher-led inservice training opportunities, as has occurred in the past, should be grasped. The consolidation of good teaching and learning practice through the staff handbook was also suggested. One report pointed out the importance of the subject department maintaining a focus on identifying students capable of participating in the higher level certificate examinations and of nurturing students’ ambition with regard to this goal along the way. Inspectors commented favourably on individual teacher planning, with one particularly highlighting the significant levels of preparedness which ensured that group working tasks were managed with the minimum of disruption.
Planning for differentiated teaching strategies was also commented on favourably by inspectors. In a number of instances the careful selection of texts to cater for the particular needs of students studying the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate was commended. In one case, the subject department was encouraged to extend this good practice regarding the selection of texts to all programmes. The good links between subject departments and the special educational needs department were also noted. It is recommended that the school establish a student register with regard to students with additional needs. Such a register would assist with ongoing developments with individual and group plans and may be particularly informed by the formation of individual education plans for students in receipt of low-incidence hours. The inclusion of all roles regarding special educational needs in the school’s commendable staff handbook is praiseworthy.
In the past, the school pioneered team-teaching activities. A number of reports noted this and commented favourably on the practice. In recent times there has been less emphasis on using teaching resources in this manner due to particular strategies undertaken to enhance students’ literacy and numeracy skills. Teachers reported, and students concurred, that team-teaching was their preferred mode of delivery, as they viewed it as supportive of individuals in the collective setting. Consequently, it is recommended that the school revisit its allocation of hours and examine how their optimum use may facilitate an extension of team-teaching arrangements. The good practice, which the school has long adopted, of consistent and simultaneous timetabling of additional teaching hours in tandem with construction of the main timetable is affirmed.
Planning for the use of a range of resources to support students’ learning was noted in a number of reports. In one area the use of resources from the real world to add to students’ learning experiences was particularly commended. A number of reports recommended the further expansion of planning with regard to the integration of ICT in teaching and learning activities. It is recommended that key assignments and tasks be formally recorded and stored centrally on completion, perhaps at the end of each session.
Classroom management was of a good standard in all subjects evaluated. Students were encouraged to remain focused and did so, assisted by very good teacher direction and facilitation. The learning environment of most classrooms was pleasant, with good levels of stimulus material and displays evident in many rooms, including some use of keyword charts. Some significant efforts by teachers to create subject-specific environments have been applauded. Discipline was sensitively maintained by teachers in all instances and good affirmation of students’ work and efforts was the norm, with team-teaching situations having the added support of modelling cooperative practice for students in some classes. Desk layout and general classroom procedures were also supportive of good classroom management overall. A wide range of resources was used in many lessons, and textbooks, worksheets and learning aids were all woven seamlessly into lesson delivery as needed. Sometimes, teachers retained stocks of textbooks and these were distributed as required in an organised manner. Some good student-generated posters and projects have been noted in classrooms and it has been suggested in some subjects that a greater emphasis on their deployment would also be worthwhile. Where relevant, classroom whiteboards were well used. Very good ICT, DVD and overhead projector use was applauded in some lessons and urged for consideration in another instance.
Interaction between teacher and students involved a significant emphasis on questioning. This was well managed by teachers, with a good mix of lower order and higher order questioning used as appropriate. In a number of cases, teachers placed very good emphasis on getting students to explain and justify their answers and made good learning opportunities out of what were initially incorrect answers. A focus on getting students to show what they knew rather than what they did not know was commended in several instances. In a small number of instances, recommendations have been made to place a little more emphasis on student responsiveness and less on teacher direction. Where questioning sought to encourage students to work in pairs or small groups on particular tasks, this was also commended as a further support to learning and collaboration. A significant emphasis on increasing students’ self confidence and self-esteem was evident all through in the interaction within classrooms, for which teachers are commended.
The degree to which differentiated approaches to lesson delivery have been adopted has been commended in a number of subject areas. A degree of variation in students’ ability levels was evident in most lessons and teachers adopted a range of verbal, visual, aural and active learning strategies to suit students’ needs. Directed activities related to texts (DARTS) and writing frames were used commendably in several lessons. There was an evident emphasis on ensuring that all students had a sense of success on completing tasks within lessons, which is highly commended. A very good emphasis on tailoring lesson content to students’ interests and on using situations based on real life to make subjects relevant has been noted. Human interest anecdotes, hands-on learning opportunities based on problem solving, and resources drawn from the everyday world were all gainfully employed in this regard. These and other means were very appropriate in both subject delivery and also in supporting the development of literacy and numeracy more generally. A good focus on language has been observed in lessons, and a frequent emphasis on literacy and numeracy, including the variety of language uses possible, was commended. The supports offered to teaching and learning by the JCSP demonstration library project have been highly commended.
A good degree of student learning has been observed in the subject areas relevant to this evaluation. Students were purposeful and cooperative in all instances. Good levels of student understanding and knowledge were found in lessons, and a fine focus on the development of personal and social skills has been applauded. One recommendation has been made, seeking that clear learning intentions and outcomes be identified orally and visually for students as lessons begin. However, the overall commitment of teachers to clear explanations, the patient working through of any difficulties that arise and the encouragement of student engagement have been strongly commended. Very good learning opportunities were provided for students in all subject areas evaluated, and teachers and students are applauded for a strong commitment to learning in the classroom.
Assessment takes many forms in the school, all of which are designed to assess learning and inform teaching. Students’ work is regularly monitored and they receive constructive feedback from their teachers with formative assessment often to the fore. In many instances one-to-one inputs within the classroom setting as well as more general feedback to the whole class group were used to good effect. The most common form of assessment employed in the lessons observed consisted of oral questioning. This was used in all lessons and involved almost all students in an active manner, with teachers using mainly lower order questions to elicit student knowledge.
The school does not have an assessment policy. This is worthy of consideration, particularly with a view to identifying ways of using differentiation in informal assessment practices and including an outline of various ways of presenting schoolwork and homework, including the value of peer and self-evaluation before presentation. Some department plans include a homework policy for the subject. This is positive and recognizes that homework plays an important role in the learning process.
Homework was assigned in the majority of lessons observed. In general, homework was appropriate in terms of the quantity and relevance to the work done during the lesson. In some instances assigning written homework has been a difficulty. In these instances, the suggestions made during the inspections in respect of homework and assessment should be implemented.
It is reported that some common assessment material is used with certain classes. This is good practice. The practice of having common assessments or appropriate common questions within levels should be introduced within year groups where feasible. Formal house examinations are held at Christmas for all students and at the end of the academic year for students in first year, second year and fifth year. Students in third year and in sixth year participate in formal pre-examinations in February. There is a strong culture of record keeping within the school. Teachers record students’ progress, attendance, performance in assessments and evidence of the completion of key assignments. In one instance it was recommended that the LCA team decide on a standard practice regarding submission, recording and storage of key assignments. Beyond this, key assignments are completed in LCA groups while students participating in the JCSP complete subject statements.
There is close monitoring and systematic recording of students’ attendance in all year groups. Timely warnings are issued in the case of absence and the school keeps up-to-date records on student-retention levels.
There is a wide range of modes of communication between the school and students’ homes.
These include JCSP postcards, the involvement of parents in paired reading activities, celebrations of students’ achievements, phone calls and letters home. Information regarding students’ progress is provided via an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group and use of the student journal. In addition, parents are facilitated, on request, to meet with teachers. Parents also receive reports from the school on their children’s progress twice per year following formal assessments. Where appropriate, students participate in common examinations. Continual assessment is also used by teachers in classes.
The school also adopts a systematic approach to arranging reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations (RACE). Students are facilitated in becoming familiar with the relevant accommodation provided.
This use of assessment to inform and determine the learning needs of individuals and groups of students and the good practice of retesting students in literacy and numeracy skills are commended.
A team approach is adopted to meeting the needs of students. Good structures are in place which allows the school to respond to the above average concentration of needs by engaging collectively in above average practices. These practices are constantly reviewed and are suitably flexible so as to meet individual student needs in the collective setting of the college. A systematic approach is adopted in identifying and meeting individual needs with a well coordinated and dedicated support team in place. This resource team is at the heart of all that the college does and seeks to do. Consequently all staff members are encouraged to play a key role in supporting the inclusion of students with additional educational needs. Resources are used for the purposes for which they are intended and are centred on improving the quality of learning and teaching for all students. The extension of existing practices, in the form of a student register, to track the allocation and impact of resources is recommended. The ongoing review of service delivery models, such as team-teaching and/or intensive literacy and numeracy sessions, is also recommended. Senior management, including VEC personnel, are deserving of much praise for their leadership in promoting an inclusive school and for their ability to support and promote leadership among staff and students alike.
The school’s senior management, teaching staff and ancillary staff are deserving of praise for striving towards the creation of an inclusive environment for students which is consistent with the school’s ethos. There has been significant whole-staff training in the area of special educational needs. This is positive. In addition, students who are availing of reasonable accommodations in the certificate examinations are similarly catered for in mock examinations and some house examinations.
There is a committed home-school-community liaison co-ordinator who is actively involved in creating links between the school and parents. The co-ordination involves a range of roles such as taking part in meetings of the school care team and involvement in organising a wide range of activities involving parents and students along with working with organisations active in the community. Input regarding the scheme is regularly included at staff meetings. Initiatives currently underway include a homework club, paired reading, Maths for fun, JCSP celebrations of students’ work all of which include parental support for students. Regular home visits to parents and attendance at a variety of cluster meetings with other co-ordinators also form part of the role. All of this is positive and the HSCL service is viewed as a key element in the school’s care structures. A further initiative underway to benefit students who might not progress to third-level education is the UCC Plus programme which includes supplementary teaching hours for students which are used as extra supports in students’ progression to third level.
The school has a large proactive and involved care team. A large group of the staff in the school has volunteered to attend a meeting each week to identify, and plan for the needs of specific students within the school. Communications with the remainder of the staff in relation to these discussions are effective and where appropriate other agencies are also involved.
The School Completion Programme initiative is working with a number of primary schools in the locality along with Terence MacSwiney Community College and forms part of the well planned support structure provided for students within the school. The resources provided by this programme are targeted at students who are identified as potential early school leavers. Support begins at primary level and the transition to post primary level is monitored and assisted. At post primary level both breakfast and lunchtime clubs are provided to concentrate on students’ activities, nutrition and socialisation. Input, in the form of a ten-week module, to the schools SPHE programme is in place and some one to one counselling is also available where deemed necessary. Another feature of the programme is the provision of a short term ‘time out’ centre. Where instances of confrontation are developing in a classroom situation, students with the permission of senior management can be removed to the centre for a limited ‘cooling off’ period, before returning to class.
A further initiative has seen the introduction of a ‘behaviour modification’ process into the school where a more long-term intervention is targeted at a small number of students to enhance their interaction with the education provided in the school. The inclusion of such initiatives is positive and helps to ensure that all students can derive benefit from their schooling
The school currently has a number of Traveller students and these are allocated the appropriate number of hours for education support. The school has taken the positive step of allocating hours to a Traveller support teacher to co-ordinate the work being done with this group. The role involves supporting the students and liaising and maintaining contacts with parents and organisations working with Travellers in the area and the local visiting teacher for Travellers (VTT).
The school is involved in working with representatives and organisations engaged in community initiatives. These include HSE programmes, Justice Programmes, Health Action Zone and Ogra along with community groups such as NICHE and ‘We the People’ as well as the Juvenile Liaison Officer (JLO), RAPID coordinator and the VTT.
Terence MacSwiney Community College has a formal allocation of sixteen and a half hours for Guidance and Counselling. The hours are appropriately used in providing personal, educational and vocational guidance for students. The guidance counsellors have an office which is equipped with ICT and internet access. A guidance team has also been formed, involving a core group of staff, and this team played a central role in the formalisation of the whole-school guidance plan. This involved steering the development of the guidance policy followed by a wide-ranging consultation of staff. This approach emphasised the inclusive-whole-school nature of the guidance policy and is praiseworthy. The plan is partly informed by the other policies which have been developed in the area of guidance and care within the school. There is also a positive sense that all members of staff are involved in some way in the guiding of students. This can involve encouraging students to remain in school and providing advice in relation to subject, career and further education choices.
One possible area for development is to document the response that the school has had to adopt in situations that have arisen when a critical incident has occurred. Unfortunately a number of such incidents have arisen but have been dealt with effectively by management and staff. A written plan drawing on the experiences gained to date and including the formation of a school response team if such an incident arises is suggested.
The guidance counsellor has produced a subject plan. This is a comprehensive document, with clear identification of time allocations, guidance curriculum and resources, as well as guidelines for meeting with parents and students, information on the testing of students, details of internal and external links and other areas relevant to guidance and counselling. It is also appropriate that the guidance counsellor is a member of the care team at the school and is facilitated in attending the regular meetings of this group.
Beyond the range of activities already mentioned the guidance counsellor also provides individual support for students. This is available on request or through referral via the school care team or senior management. Evidence of considerable planning and evaluation in the area of Guidance was presented to inspectors and is an indication of the high level of commitment which is brought to the role.
A further essential part of student guidance and support is the year head and class tutor system. Year heads maintain contacts with senior management, the care team and the education-support team regarding students in their year group. Year heads are also assigned to teach some classes in their year group, which is positive, and they liaise informally with class tutors. Both class tutors and year heads play an important role in monitoring students’ attendance and their overall welfare. These formal roles and the communication channels which have been established in the area of guidance and care are praised.
As a further initiative to help in the transition of students from primary school the school has developed a mentoring programme. This is a very worthwhile endeavour, through which senior students are involved in the induction and mentoring of new first-year students. Students apply for and receive training for the role of mentor to first year students during their senior year.
Provision for guidance and care is very good. The school adopts a reflective and well-organised approach to this area. The school community is praised for the range of structures, outlined above, which support this provision.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with a representative of the 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 school would like to thank the inspection team for the very positive experience of the WSE within the school. The effort and commitment of the inspection team to understanding the context and work of the school gave staff great confidence.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
A number of actions have been taken as a result of the recommendations and findings. The length of the school day has been altered to reflect the requirements of circular letter 1729/95.
All permanent teachers are timetabled for 22 hours and post holders timetabled for a minimum of 18 hours.
A presentation is to be made at the November BOM meeting with a view to adopting the Child Protection guidelines. This was proposed and minuted at the October ’09 meeting.