An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Malahide Community School

Malahide, County Dublin

Roll number: 91325R

 

Date of inspection: 29 February 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school planning

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 Malahide Community School was undertaken in February 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. Prior to the evaluation, three subjects had been evaluated. Separate reports are available on all these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Malahide Community School was opened in 1976, when Scoil Íosa, a convent school for girls under the trusteeship of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus was assimilated into the community school system. Malahide’s population expanded rapidly since then. Recent census returns indicate that the population of Fingal, where the school is located, has increased by twenty-two percent in the inter-census period 2002-2006. Enrolment has grown from just over five hundred in 1976 to over one thousand in each of the last ten years. Currently, enrolment stands at 1169. This growth in population has necessitated the expansion of educational provision and a new school building was completed in March 2007.

 

Malahide Community School is the only post-primary school in the town, but other post-primary schools are located in neighbouring areas. The school draws its students from five feeder primary schools within its catchment area. The number of newcomer students has increased in recent years and these have been welcomed into the school community. In addition to providing for post-primary education the school also has a special unit for students with mild to moderate general learning disability and an extensive adult education programme.

 

 

1. quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school

 

In line with its mission statement Malahide Community School’s ethos, policies and practices foster the development of its students in a holistic way and the school has created an environment that promotes all types of abilities and talents. The mission statement recognises the complementary roles of parents and teachers in educating young people according to Christian principles. In its policies and practices the school has created an inclusive environment where all are welcomed. The mission statement is printed in the school plan and in the Student Planner and Diary. The broad and balanced curriculum and the development of a range of support structures for students provide evidence of the implementation of the school’s mission statement. It is suggested that the mission statement be displayed in the school foyer as a means of making it more widely available to the school community.

 

The school is very conscious of its responsibility to provide continuing education and leisure activities for the local community. It does this very effectively by providing a wide range of adult education courses and by making its sporting and other facilities available to local interest groups. The school is, in turn, very well supported by the local community in the provision of sports venues, work experience opportunities and sponsorship. This support was acknowledged by many members of the school community during the evaluation. In a very real sense this is a school of, and for, the community of Malahide.

 

During the evaluation, various members of the school community welcomed the move to the new school building and regarded this move as an opportunity to renew their commitment to provide the high quality education for students. The school was described by members of the parents’ association as having a calm atmosphere. This atmosphere was evident during the evaluation and it was facilitated by the spacious building and a very well organised daily regime.

 

1.2 School ownership and management

 

The board of management is properly constituted under the Articles of Management for Community Schools. The board is very effective and committed and has engaged fully in the management and governance of the school. The board stated that it aims to facilitate the provision of a first class education for students and that the welfare of students is the main priority. The chair is nominated and elected at the first meeting in September of each school year. The current chair’s effective management of board meetings and his contribution in facilitating the move to the new school building were acknowledged by board members. The current board was established in September 2005 and it meets every six weeks during the school year or more frequently if needs arise. Proper procedures are in place, agendas are provided prior to meetings, one of the deputy principals has been acting as recording secretary since 2004. Minutes of board meetings were provided to the evaluation team. It was reported that issues are fully discussed and decisions are arrived at by consensus. The board is commended for establishing sub-committees to investigate issues that arise and whose reports have informed board decisions. Members of the board report back to their respective sections of the school community. It is recommended that an agreed report be prepared after each board meeting and that this be communicated to the various sections of the school community by their respective representatives.

 

Members of the board reported that they are aware of the legislative requirements of their role and have, when necessary, sought legal advice. All members have availed of training and receive encouragement to attend the annual conference of the Association of Community and Comprehensive School (ACCS). The board is committed to strategic planning and has identified a number of priorities for future development. Amongst its concerns are: increasing numbers for enrolment, subject uptake by students with additional educational needs, provision for students with exemptions from Irish and newcomer students. The board is also concerned about the areas of job sharing, secondment and career breaks and tries to ensure a balance between teacher requests and the obligation to cater for the curricular needs of the school. These concerns reflect the commitment to maintain an inclusive school ethos where equality of opportunity is provided. The board is highly commended for its approach to future planning for the needs of the school. There are also plans in place to renovate a hall and basketball courts. A school canteen will come into operation in the near future.

 

The board expressed its confidence and pride in the school principal and described him as a very effective educational leader who sets high standards by his own example and dedication to the school. His leadership of the school over the years and his focus on implementing the mission statement were acknowledged. There is a very positive and supportive relationship between the board and the senior management team. The board described the teaching staff as the greatest single resource available to the school and encourages and supports financially continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers. It is noteworthy that some of this CPD has focused on pedagogical issues and this is commended. The school also uses its own in-house expertise to develop the capacity of the staff and this is commended. Funding provided by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) has been availed of to support teacher education in information and communication technology (ICT). The board is aware of, and greatly appreciates, the very wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities provided by members of staff.

 

The school has in place a parents’ association, known as Cairde Phobail Scoil Íosa, which was established in 1978. A constitution, last amended in October 2006, provides for the organisation and operation of the association. Committee members are elected at an annual general meeting. Meetings of the committee are held monthly during the academic year and, commendably, are attended by the principal and deputy principals. Parents expressed their appreciation for the work of the senior management team, the student support structures, the quality of teaching and learning and the extra-curricular programme. Concern was expressed at the increasing enrolment numbers and the impact this might have on the quality of educational provision.

 

The association plays an important and constructive role in the life of the school. Its activities have included the following: consultation on policy development notably in relation to homework and school uniform, the organisation of school discos, information evenings for parents. Through its fundraising it has supported the school in a wide range of activities, notably the development of a school canteen. Minutes of association meetings indicate the wide range of activities and show the collaborative efforts of teachers, students and parents. This is further evidence of the inclusive ethos of the school and of its desire to reach out to the wider community. This approach is highly commended. In order to include parents who are new to the area it is suggested that the parents’ association form a ‘welcoming committee’ as a means of supporting and involving parents. This would complement the parents’ efforts to communicate with parents through the association’s newsletter, copies of which were provided to the evaluation team.

 

Documents made available indicated that there is on-going communication between the school and parents about a variety of issues. School reports, parent-teacher meetings and the Student Planner and Diary are also used to communicate with parents. Year heads and tutors maintain regular contact with parents. There are plans in place to use the school’s ICT facilities as a means of communication between all sections of the school community.

 

1.3 In-school management

 

The senior management team consists of the principal and two deputy principals. The principal, who has considerable experience in educational management, provides very effective leadership for the school community. He has actively promoted the introduction of school development planning, the expansion of the curriculum, the development of the care structures and encouraged the creation of an inclusive and caring school ethos. He played a major role in overseeing the construction of the new school building.

 

The members of the senior management team work closely together and their differing talents, interests and experiences complement each other. Their roles and duties are clearly defined but these are flexible in meeting the needs of the school. They share a common commitment to providing high quality education in an inclusive school and to fulfilling their remit as a community school. The priorities they have identified for the future development of the school include: differentiated learning, raising academic standards, monitoring of attendance and punctuality, and concern about increasing enrolment. It was evident from discussions with teachers, parents and students that there is a very strong commitment to placing the welfare of students at the heart of Malahide Community School.

 

The principal and deputy principals meet every morning and again at the end of the day to plan and to review issues which may have arisen. They maintain a prominent presence throughout the school and are available to students and staff. They play active roles in outside agencies including the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and ACCS. This contact has facilitated the introduction of new ideas into the school and is clearly very beneficial.

 

Good communications, both formal and informal, exist between the senior management team and the rest of the school staff. Senior management is keen to develop the idea of distributed leadership and have made significant progress in this regard particularly in relation to the role of year heads and it is hoped to develop a similar culture of leadership amongst all post holders. A staff advisory committee is in place. This provides a forum where issues and topics raised by teachers can be discussed and minutes of these meetings are posted on the e-portal system. Notice boards in the staff rooms and on corridors are also used to keep the school community informed about developments.

 

Senior management is supported in its work by a middle management team of eighteen assistant principals and twenty-one special duties teachers. A programme co-ordinator and a director of adult education have also been appointed. The current schedule of posts was arrived at following an analysis of the school’s needs and involved a collaborative approach by the staff. Duties attaching to posts support school administration, curriculum development and the care of students. It is suggested that, where appropriate, holders of posts of responsibility should consider the production of a ‘development plan’ for their area of responsibility. Meetings of post holders are held at the start and at the end of the school year where the needs of the school are discussed and post duties reviewed. The creation of a post of responsibility for attendance is the result of such a review. Teachers are provided with documentation by school management to facilitate a self-review of their post duties. This may form the basis of a discussion between the principal and the post holder. Commendably teachers have been facilitated in changing their post duties as this helps to build capacity within the system and provides an outlet for teachers’ interests and talents.

 

Regular staff meetings are held, usually six per year. The staff is given prior notice of meetings and members are invited to contribute to the agenda. The draft agenda is also discussed at the weekly meeting of year heads. Minutes are kept, copies of which were provided during the evaluation, and meetings are usually chaired by a member of staff. This is further evidence of the collaborative and inclusive ethos of the school. Particular reference was made to the effectiveness of the school’s ICT facilities as a means of communication.

 

Support for new members of staff is provided in Malahide Community School. One of the deputy principals facilitates an induction day for new teachers and they are supported on an ongoing basis by an assistant principal who has responsibilities in this area. Commendably the school has also developed policy for the support of trainee teachers. A Handbook for Teachers is a further support to all members of staff and this is commended.

 

The admissions policy is reflective of the inclusive ethos of the school. However, in the light of concerns expressed concerning the increasing enrolment numbers it is recommended that the enrolment/admissions policy be reviewed so as to establish clear and prioritised criteria for admission to the school and to ensure that the policy conforms to all current legislation. Very strong links have been developed between the school and its feeder primary schools and this is commended. Members of staff visit the primary schools prior to transfer and students in the Transition Year programme (TY) are involved in a school-link programme where students act as classroom assistants in the local primary schools.

 

The school’s code of behaviour based on respect and safety is reviewed annually. Students contribute to this annual review and, at a meeting with the student council they expressed satisfaction with the implementation of the code. Commendably, the code of behaviour recognises the rights and responsibilities of both students and teachers and stresses the importance of developing positive and affirming relationships and of students becoming more personally responsible for their behaviour. All school rules are encapsulated in the phrase: ‘respect yourself, respect others and respect for your environment’.

 

The student council in Malahide Community School occupies a prominent position in the life of the school. Commendably, in the move to the new school the council has been provided with its own office and ICT facilities. Two students, one boy and one girl, are elected from each year group and officers are chosen by the elected representatives. The council meets every two weeks and is supported by a liaison teacher who attends meetings which are usually held at lunchtime or after school. Following discussions in Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) classes in 1998 a Charter of Students’ Rights was drawn up, elections to the council were organised by one of the deputy principals and a constitution was put in place. Since then the council has contributed to the development of a range of policies and issues, notably the code of behaviour, homework policy, tutor system and the school canteen. Commendably, the council maintains contact with the student body by addressing school assemblies, by having a suggestion box outside its office and by posting minutes of meetings on the council notice board. Students expressed their appreciation for the support provided by teachers in the establishment and operation of the council. They also recognised the sense of community evident in the school which they attributed to the positive relationships between staff and students. A system of prefects is in place to support school management and to provide students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills.

 

An effective means of monitoring student attendance is in place and is overseen by a special duties post holder who has responsibility for tracking attendance and for providing reports to National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). Commendably, where attendance is a cause of concern the year head and, if appropriate, the care team is alerted. Teachers are required to keep a record of attendance for their classes and, each morning, roll call is taken and this is entered into the school’s e-portal system. The school is currently investigating the installation of an electronic means of tracking punctuality and attendance. Punctuality was identified during the evaluation as an area needing attention. It is recommended that student attendance should also be checked in the afternoon using the electronic system when it becomes operational.

 

1.4 Management of resources

 

Malahide Community School has a dedicated and committed teaching staff who engage regularly in professional development courses and who are committed to implementing the high ideals set out in the school’s mission statement. The school has a teacher allocation of 79.95 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE). This includes the ex-quota positions of principal, two deputy principals, two guidance counsellors, two resource teachers, a learning support teacher and a chaplain. The school currently avails of additional allocations from the Department of Education and Science for adult education, the guidance enhancement initiative, newcomer students, programme co-ordinator, redeployment concession, special needs and teaching council commitments. The school also benefits from the presence of five special-needs assistants. The school uses this allocation to support teaching and learning effectively. The principal consults with subject co-ordinators in relation to class allocation following discussions with subject teachers. and teachers are normally afforded the opportunity to teach their subjects to all levels. Teachers are also encouraged to discuss issues of concern with the principal. The allocation of teachers to resource teaching, learning support and language support is on the basis of qualifications and teacher interest. Commendably, timetables for the provision of additional educational support for students are available early in September each year.

 

An examination of the school’s timetable indicated that it is fully compliant with the requirements of the Circular Letter Time in School, M29/95. However, care should be taken to ensure that the printed timetable accords fully with the timetable as implemented on the ground. The school makes every effort to deploy the human resources available to meet the needs of students in the best possible way. This was evidenced in the challenges presented with the increasing number of students wishing to study Spanish. This approach is commended.

 

Members of the secretarial and caretaking staff provide invaluable support for the school in general and school management in particular. They operate as an integral part of the school community. They expressed appreciation for the provision of resources by school management. Contract cleaners have been employed to look after the cleaning of the school buildings.

 

Accommodation in Malahide Community School is provided in a new three-story building occupied since March 2007. The school has a wide range of specialist rooms, staff rooms, offices and stores. A central courtyard affords a social area for students while providing natural light to corridors. A lift provides access to all floors in the building. The school is commended for introducing ‘colour’ into the building by the display of pieces of art, photographs of students’ achievements and important events in the life of the school, notably the official opening in October 2007. The school has benefited from the Public Art: Per Cent for Art Scheme funded by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. A working group consisting of the principal, deputy principal, chairperson of the board, local authority officials, students and staff was formed to prepare a submission for this scheme. This is further evidence of the collaborative and inclusive ethos of the school and is commended. The very impressive artwork in the courtyard has resulted from this initiative. Physical Education is provided for in a sports hall and the school also uses another hall on the campus for a variety of activities including the holding of assemblies.

 

Teachers are classroom-based and they have taken the opportunity provided by the new building to create stimulating learning environments, by displaying charts, maps, photographs and commendably high-quality student project work. Specialist rooms have been provided with appropriate equipment and progress has been made in developing the school library.

 

The school is very well provided for in relation to ICT. The school’s ICT plan states that the goal is to use these facilities to their maximum potential for teaching, learning and administration. Details of staff training are included in the ICT plan. The school has two networks, one for administration used by staff and one for teaching used by students. There is a designated coordinating teacher for ICT who has been allocated an assistant principal post. In addition, two special duties teacher posts have been assigned to this area, thus reflecting the commitment of school management to exploit the potential of ICT to its fullest. Together these teachers manage the day-to-day running of the school’s ICT system. Technical support has been arranged with outside agencies.

 

There are three computer rooms and there is a networked computer with speakers on each teacher’s desk. Staff rooms are also provided with ICT facilities and every member of staff has an individual network login code and folder on the school’s server. In addition all members of staff have an email account. Subject departments are using shared folders to develop and share resources and laptops and data projectors are used by staff. All students are provided with a network account which gives them access to the NCTE School’s Broadband Programme. Students and their parents co-sign an internet acceptable use policy developed by the school, a copy of which was provided to the evaluation team. The school’s web site is being renewed and it is hoped that in addition to providing information on the school it will, in time, be used to support curriculum delivery and to celebrate students’ achievement.

 

A health and safety policy is in place and a special duties post holder acts as the school’s safety officer. Commendably, the policy statement contains a forward by the chairperson of the board of management and is dated June 2007. Fire exits are clearly marked and a fire drill was held before Christmas 2007. Some concern was expressed about ventilation in the science storage areas and this is detailed in the subject inspection report on Science/Biology associated with this report. Consideration should be given to providing signage at the entrance to the school indicating reception and staff and student entrances.

 

The cultivation of environmental awareness is a notable feature of Malahide Community School. The new school is set amongst open spaces with lawns. The planting of deciduous trees enhances the school surroundings and the use of this type of tree is commended. There was a notable absence of litter throughout the school and grounds and students commented that it was their wish to preserve the appearance of the new building. The school makes efforts to recycle waste by providing bins at strategic locations throughout the school. A most significant development has been the engagement with the Green-School programme facilitated by a member of the teaching staff. The school hopes to obtain the Green Flag within the next two years. Members of the evaluation team attended a meeting of the green-school committee where students presented the results of a survey on waste. The inclusive ethos of the school is again evident as teachers, students, parents and care-taking staff work together on this worthwhile project.

 

 

2         Quality of school planning

 

2.1 The school plan

 

Malahide Community School has over a long period of time engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and has developed a culture of school planning which is deeply embedded in the ethos of the school. Effective planning has take place, at whole-school level, for programmes and at subject department level. This was evidenced both from documents supplied and from discussions with members of the school community during the evaluation. Commendably substantial progress has been made in these areas. The inclusive and co-operative style of management adopted by the senior management team has facilitated the engagement of all partners of the school community in the development of whole-school policies. Following discussions with teachers and, where appropriate, parents and students policies are ratified by the board and dates for review are indicated on some policy documents. This is very good practice and should be extended to all policies. ICT support for whole-school planning is provided by the appointment of a special duties teacher with responsibility in this area. The effectiveness of this support was confirmed by teachers during the evaluation process. Planning documents are available to staff on a common server and consideration is being given to including all planning documentation both in relation to school policies and curricular plans, on the revised school web site. This is a further example of the school’s efforts to create an inclusive and well-informed educational community and deserves to be acknowledged. The school community acknowledged that very effective planning had taken place in advance of the move to the new school building and this contributed enormously to the smooth process that ensued.

 

The school plan, a copy of which was provided to the evaluation team, contains policies on areas including pastoral care, curriculum, organisation and workplace. It is recommended that the content of the plan be re-organised to reflect the permanent and developmental sections.

 

The opening of the new school building is seen as an enhanced opportunity to fulfil the mission statement of the adult education department. This has been done under the guidance of the director of adult education and a team of adult education officers consisting of three assistant principals and two special duties teachers. Significant progress has also been made in the planning for programmes for adults and for the introduction of Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) courses, levels three and four. These courses were first introduced into the adult education programme in 2004.

 

Subject department planning is very well advanced and plans for subjects were provided during the evaluation process. Subject co-ordinators, most of whom are special-duties teachers, are in place and make a major contribution to planning for the development of subjects by working collaboratively with the members of the subject departments. It is recommended that the comprehensive approach to subject department planning be developed further by providing statements of learning outcomes as well as curricular content. This should then be linked to appropriate timeframes, teaching methodologies, resources and assessment.

 

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with post-primary Circular Letters 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. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. It is recommended that protocols be established to ensure that those who are new to the school community or who join during the school year are made fully aware of the child protection guidelines. It is also recommended that all teaching and non-teaching staff be periodically reminded of these procedures.

 

The focus on planning within the school is now moving from the development of required policies to focus on teaching and learning. This is being addressed both at whole-school level and at subject department level. Differentiated learning, the development of students as effective learners and the development of policy and procedures to cater for the needs of exceptionally able students have been identified as priorities for future planning. Support for the latter can be accessed from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) document Exceptionally Able Students: Draft Guidelines for Teachers. Re-engagement with the Irish Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI) at Dublin City University is being considered. The fuller integration of ICT into teaching and learning is also a planning priority. Management and staff are highly commended for this work and are encouraged to continue this programme of innovation and development.

 

 

3. quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school offers a broad and balanced curriculum to serve the needs of its students and adult learners in the community. The programmes currently on offer in the school are: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year programme (TY), the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). A Department of Education and Science designated unit for students diagnosed with mild to moderate general learning disabilities was established in 1987. Students from this unit attend some mainstream classes, for example, in Art, Religious Education, Physical Education, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and computers. To cater for their needs the school in 2007 introduced level 3 and level 4 FETAC courses. This is a further example of the school’s inclusive ethos and is highly commended. The school has previously considered the appropriateness of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), a distinct, self-contained two-year programme aimed at preparing students for adult and working life. Given the size and diversity of the student population and the commitment of the school to address the needs of all students, it is recommended that the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) be re-examined as a possible extension of the curriculum currently on offer.

 

To fulfil its remit as a community school a very wide range of adult education courses has been developed. Courses provided reflect both requests from the local community and the availability of suitably qualified personnel. Information in relation to courses is provided in a very high-quality brochure, through local media outlets and the school’s web site. The range of programmes on offer includes adult literacy classes, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and courses that qualify for internal funding from the school. Some programmes are run in conjunction with Fingal Adult Literacy Service. The provision of such courses reflects the school’s proactive approach to addressing community needs and it supports the school’s ethos of inclusion. In addition, courses are provided in a range of academic, sporting and special interest subjects. The support of school management especially in the provision of office accommodation and secretarial support was acknowledged by the adult education team. An awards ceremony is held for those who complete accredited courses and this is good practice. Adult education provision conforms to the quality assurance required by FETAC and a certificate to this effect is displayed in the school. Further developments are planned with an on-line enrolment facility and the provision of refreshments when the school canteen is opened.

 

There is a very wide range of subjects on offer to students throughout their studies. At junior cycle, students study ten core subjects. The core subjects are Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science, Religious Education, Physical Education, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE).In addition, all first-year students are timetabled for Choir and Computer Studies.

 

The SPHE programme, based on the approved curriculum framework, is clearly documented for each of the three years of the junior cycle. Class tutors deliver the SPHE programme. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in junior cycle is included within the SPHE programme and within the religious education (RE) programme in the senior cycle. Where a teacher might not be trained in or comfortable with some elements of the programme, the current approach provides for an RSE ‘task team ’to take responsibility for the delivery of those particular aspects of RSE.

 

CSPE is delivered by a core group of teachers and a subject co-ordinator is in place. There is scope to expand the size of the CSPE team so as to encourage a greater engagement of the staff with the promotion of active citizenship.

 

The inspection team found that the TY programme provides many examples of excellent practice reflecting the commitment of the co-ordinator of the programme. Although optional, over ninety per cent of the students, comprising six class groups in the current year, complete the TY. This reflects the degree of satisfaction with the programme. Securing gender balance in TY is considered in assigning students to classes. A formal induction process is held in September to provide an appropriate orientation for participants. Students experience a balanced curriculum between core and modular subjects and between traditional academic and innovative TY courses. The core curriculum consists of Irish, English, Mathematics, Physical Education, Religious Education, Computer Applications, Life Skills and Modern Languages. There are four modules, each with eight or nine subjects. Students choose one subject from each module first in September and again in January. The exact subject make-up varies from year to year depending on staff availability and this was identified by the TY coordinator as a matter of concern as it may restrict the scope of the modules on offer to students. Lesson periods are borrowed in TY by the guidance counsellors to provide a module on subject and programme choice for senior cycle. Currently class groupings in the TY are of mixed ability although this is being reviewed in relation to Mathematics and Irish. It is recommended that in this planned review care should be taken to ensure adherence to the spirit of the TY programme and, in particular, to guard against it becoming part of a three-year Leaving Certificate course.

 

Additional elements also offered to students include the production of a musical, various trips and short courses. Some of the innovative ideas in TY include: the operation of a ‘buddy programme’ to support first year students, ‘School Link’ whereby some students act as classroom assistants in local primary schools and a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. TY students produce a year book and a newsletter ‘Blue News’. Assessment within the TY is based on a system of credit accumulation and certificates are awarded at distinction, merit and pass level. Commendably credits are available for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. A graduation ceremony is held as a formal conclusion of the year. The evaluation of the programme is ongoing and informs planning. For example, a system is being developed to get students to reflect on their experiences and to become independent learners. Some students are keeping a reflective journal on their TY experiences and it is hoped to extend this practice to all students in the light of an assessment of current practice. The school is commended for this innovative idea of encouraging students to reflect on their experiences and to learn from this reflective practice.

 

Curricular plans for core subjects and modules within TY were provided to the evaluation team. Commendably these outline aims and objectives, curriculum content, lists of resources, the identification of teaching methodologies and methods of assessment. However, there is need to ensure that the curricular plans for TY as set out in the subject department plans are reflected in the TY curriculum plans for the current school year. Where Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study it should be done on a clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way. (Transition Year Programmes: Guidelines for schools.) Circular Letter M1/00. It is important that the TY programme is not seen as an opportunity for spending three years rather than two studying Leaving Certificate material. There is further scope for development in some of the subject plans within TY for the greater integration of ICT into teaching and learning.

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The organisation of work experience contains many examples of excellent practice and procedures for the delivery of this key element of the TY are clearly set out in the work experience plan. Students are extremely well supported in the preparation for, the execution of and reflection on their work placement. Documentation in relation to all these aspects was provided to the inspection team. The organisation and preparation is done by the work experience co-ordinator. The de-briefing is carried out primarily by the teachers delivering the life skills programme. It is recommended that the school reviews and evaluates the de-briefing process. In line with best practice it is recommended that students, parents and teachers evaluate the operation of the TY on an annual basis.

 

The LCVP is managed by a team of two teachers who collaborate closely in planning their work on an ongoing and informal basis, meeting at break time and during lunchtime as required. They engage in a range of activities to support the programme and have attended in-service. A copy of the LCVP plan was provided to the evaluation team. The school should facilitate the holding of formal meetings on a regular basis between key members of the LCVP team. These meetings should be facilitated by the appointment of a co-ordinator for the LCVP.

 

Given the very broad range of subjects available in the school, students can meet the programme requirements for the LCVP under both the specialist and services groupings. However, the numbers taking this programme have declined and it was reported that it has proved difficult to get students to undertake the LCVP. In discussions held by inspectors with students it was evident that they didn’t seem to appreciate fully the educational benefits of this programme. Current timetabling arrangements require students in sixth year who have opted for the LCVP to miss class time from Physical Education to facilitate the delivery of the link modules. It is, therefore, recommended that steps be taken to inform all members of the school community of the educational benefits of the LCVP and that timetabling provision for this programme be reviewed. Whole-school support and wider staff engagement will prove useful in this regard and contact with the LCVP Support Service will facilitate this engagement.

 

In the senior cycle the core subjects on offer to students are: Irish, English, Mathematics, Computers, Religious Education, Careers and for most students Physical Education. Students choose four subjects from Accounting, Art, Biology, Construction Studies, Business, Chemistry, Economics, Engineering, Geography, History, Home Economics, the languages group, French, German and Spanish, Music, Physics, Design and Communication Graphics and Technology. The provision of such a broad range of subjects is commended and it is further evidence of the school’s desire to provide a board and balanced educational experience for its students. During the evaluation it was brought to the attention of inspectors that recommendations made arising from previous subject inspections had been discussed and acted upon. This is very highly commended.

 

3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

A range of structures is in place to support students in the transfer from primary school and to facilitate subject choice. These include a visit to the primary school by the guidance counsellors, the year head and by members of the special educational needs team. An ‘open night’ is held for students and parents in October of the year preceding entry, when they can visit specialist rooms and discuss subjects with teachers and other students. A further meeting is held in May or June for parents where information relating to the school’s pastoral organisation, ethos and any other outstanding issues are discussed. Parents are introduced to the year head and learning-support teacher and are invited to make direct contact with the year head in the first few weeks of the new school year to discuss any ‘settling-in’ issues that may arise. The guidance counsellor also addresses parents in relation to the counselling service available to first year students.

 

Students choose their optional subjects prior to commencing school in September. The school operates a taster programme for first-year students in some subjects and final choices in relation to subjects to be studied in the junior cycle are made at the end of first year. Students are provided with a wide choice of optional subjects for the junior cycle. These are grouped into those taught in ‘ordinary classrooms’, modern foreign languages and Business Studies, and those taught in ‘specialist practical rooms’, Art, Home Economics, Metalwork, Materials Technology (Wood), Technical Graphics, Technology and Music. The school recommends that students take one ‘ordinary classroom’ option and at least one ‘practical option’. The optional subjects are arranged into two bands and students take one subject from each band which they study for half a year. However, in the case of the modern foreign languages and Business Studies, students continue the subject for the entire year. It is recommended that the school reviews the taster programme for first-year students so as to maximise opportunities for students to sample a greater number of subjects and to allow for more equal access to all optional subjects. This may also encourage a greater uptake of the technological subjects especially by girls, a concern identified by the school and in the subject inspection report on Metalwork/Engineering related to this whole-school evaluation.

 

Commendably all classes in first year are of mixed ability. Based on assessments at the end of the year and on teacher recommendations students in second year, are placed in mixed ability classes within two bands for Irish, English and Mathematics. This facilitates the creation of separate higher and ordinary level class groups. Commendably students are encouraged to aim for the highest academic standards and to delay the choice regarding the level at which these subjects will be examined until as late as possible. This is facilitated by the concurrent timetabling of some subjects. As a result the uptake of higher-level courses is very good. Commendably in second year and third year additional class groups are formed to provide additional support for students in Irish, English and Mathematics.

 

An information evening is held for parents and students in relation to senior cycle choices. The first part of the evening focuses on the TY and this is followed by a discussion of senior cycle subject options and their career implications. The principal, deputy principals, guidance counsellors, TY co-coordinator and LCVP teacher attend. Students in TY are provided with the opportunity to sample subjects not studied in the junior cycle and in some instances they can continue to study these for the Leaving Certificate; this is very good practice.

 

For Leaving Certificate classes, groups are set for Irish, English and Mathematics from the beginning of fifth year. Lessons in these subjects are timetabled to run concurrently for all class groups within each band in each year group in order to facilitate students’ choice. Commendably extra class groups are created when appropriate to provide support for students. Subject groupings for the optional subjects reflect students’ choices and vary from year to year. Some concurrent timetabling takes place where a subject appears more than once on an option line.

 

3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities include cultural, artistic and sporting dimensions and provide further evidence of the commitment of the staff to their students. These activities provide opportunities for the personal and social development of students. The importance attached to these activities is reflected in the appointment by school management of an assistant principal and two special duties teachers who have responsibility for co-ordinating and delivering the extra-curricular programme. The contribution of a large number of staff members, who do not hold posts of responsibility, to the delivery of such a comprehensive programme deserves to be acknowledged. At meetings with students and parents the broad range of activities was acknowledged and appreciation was expressed.

 

Student exchanges for language students are also provided. An outward-bound committee oversees all out-of-school trips and policy and procedures are in place in this area. This is good practice. It is commendable that the school encourages students to organise and run some of these activities independently. Notable examples are the ‘Battle of the Bands’ and a school variety show. Members of the evaluation team attended a rehearsal for the school play which was being organised by the students themselves.

 

Management and staff encourage all students including those with additional educational needs to participate in the many activities provided. Particularly noteworthy is the celebration of the diverse cultures in the school as part of the co-curricular programme. During the evaluation visit it was noted that the Chinese New Year had been celebrated and that posters advertised the upcoming Seachtain na Gaeilge.

 

 

4         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Subject departments have been established in the school and all have a subject co-ordinator, most of whom hold posts of responsibility for the role. Planning meetings are held regularly and minutes of these meetings were made available during the subject evaluations. Commendably, there is also a high level of informal communication within subject departments.

 

Collaborative subject department plans have been drawn up and some have progressed to schemes of work for each year group. This is good practice. All subject departments should develop the curriculum content of their department plans to include learning outcomes linked to appropriate teaching methodologies and methods of assessment.

 

Short-term planning was good with many teachers providing individual lesson plans. In many classrooms visited, the resources had been prepared in advance and were ready for use. Best practice was observed where resources had been developed by the individual subject departments and made available to all members. These resources included overhead transparencies, worksheets, tests, flashcards, role-play prompts, games, songs, listening extracts, and magazine or newspaper articles and differentiated written and listening tasks. Best practice was observed where these resources were shared amongst members of the subject department. The good practice of using ICT as a vehicle for the development, storage and dissemination of common resources has been introduced in some subject areas and could be further explored. A number of departmental plans included procedures and strategies for supporting students with additional educational needs and this is commended.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

Learning and teaching was of a very good standard in all areas evaluated. Lessons were most successful when they were well structured and appropriately paced. In lessons where the learning intention was shared with the students at the beginning, students were able to evaluate and take more responsibility for their learning.

 

A wide variety of teaching strategies was evident during the evaluation. These included individual and group demonstrations, translation exercises, pair work, brainstorming and experiential learning. This varied approach was apparent, for example, in a music lesson where a variety of methodologies was employed in order to maintain student focus. The methodologies included student completion of teacher-devised worksheets, a listening assignment, student participation in the expression of various rhythm patterns, group work and finally, a competitive element comprising a bingo game. This level of diversity and inventiveness is commended.

 

Questioning was optimal when differentiated according to student ability. This was made possible when teachers were familiar with the students’ abilities and varied their questioning accordingly. This good practice could be further developed by collaboration with the special educational needs coordinator in the identification of suitable strategies to support specific students.

 

In the two languages evaluated during and before the whole-school evaluation, students were encouraged to express themselves and to offer opinions throughout lessons. In doing so they demonstrated confidence and understanding of the subject matter. While there was evidence of use of the target language in all Spanish lessons observed continued effort should be made to maximise target language usage in order to further improve students’ oral and aural skills.

 

Subject departments have accumulated a number of resources and when integrated into lessons their use was effective in supporting student learning. Resources included photographs, models, charts, tools, equipment, musical instruments and ICT resources.

 

Good classroom management was evident in almost all lessons and a warm affirming atmosphere permeated throughout. By allocating a number of tasks to students at the beginning and end of lessons, the metalwork and engineering department has developed a sense of ownership of the classroom among their students and this has resulted in students taking pride in the organisation and upkeep of their classroom. 

 

4.3          Assessment

 

Both formal and informal assessment procedures are in place for all subject areas evaluated. Formal in-house examinations are held at Christmas for all year groups, for certificate examination classes in the spring and for non-certificate examination classes at the end of summer term. Where appropriate, common examinations are given to year groups and this good practice allows for comparison of students’ progress across a year group. Commendably, assessment includes the assessment of project work, practical work, aural components and where applicable and oral assessment. Teachers maintain records of attendance, homework and test results that inform discussions at formal parent-teacher meetings.

 

Application is made for reasonable accommodations in the certificate examinations for students who need them and efforts are made to provide similar accommodations during the ‘mock’ examinations, although it can be difficult to cater for all students in this way. Students who are studying FETAC modules undergo continuous assessment which is monitored by an external examiner.

 

Entrance tests for incoming first-year students are administered in the March prior to entry by the guidance counsellors, together with the special educational needs team, and the results are recorded. The achievement of students with special educational needs is tracked through records of class work and homework achievement, retention of work samples and occasional re-testing. The subject inspection report on special educational needs related to this whole-school evaluation recommends the development of a whole-school assessment policy which would focus on student outputs.

 

In all subjects evaluated homework is assigned regularly and a whole-school policy in relation to homework is in place. In most classes there was evidence that students’ copybooks were monitored on a regular basis. Where this was not the case, it is recommended that the level of monitoring of students’ work be increased. The use of comment-marking, providing students with constructive feedback and affirmation was praised in several subject areas and further expansion of this good practice is recommended.

 

In all subjects, teachers keep good records of students’ progress and profiles of students’ achievement and efforts are maintained. Parents are kept well informed of students’ progress through regular written reports and annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. Ongoing communication with parents is maintained via the student planner and diary. Certificate examination results are analysed each year by management and teachers to monitor student progress in relation to national norms.

 

 

5         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

In its mission statement and in its policies and procedures, the school endeavours to care for its student population and shows particular concern for students with additional educational needs. The recent appointment of an assistant principal with responsibility for special needs administration is further evidence of this concern. A draft policy for students in this regard has been developed with the support of the new co-ordinator. It is recommended that the draft policy document on special educational needs should be re-conceptualised and re-titled as a ‘Whole-School Policy on Inclusion’ with reference to the document Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines. The school uses effectively its allocation for students with special educational needs and for learning and language support. Two teachers work full time in the special unit for students with mild to moderate general learning disability.

 

Support for students in receipt of learning support is delivered by withdrawing students from class and by the creation of extra class groups in Mathematics, English and Irish. Students in need of learning support are identified through liaison with the feeder primary schools and during the incoming assessment process. Once identified, measures are put in place to ensure that each student receives support appropriate to the needs identified. Close liaison is maintained between the learning-support department and class teachers and some subject departments have in place a policy for supporting students with additional educational needs. Further detailed evaluation is contained in the separate subject inspection report on Special Educational Needs.

 

Malahide Community School has shown its concern for all its students by being proactive in welcoming students from other countries. Newcomer students enrolled consist of twenty different nationalities and come from all five continents. In its policies and practices the school strives to create an inclusive school and cultural diversity is celebrated. The co-curricular and extra-curricular programmes are seen as important ways of helping students integrate into the life of the school. Newcomer students are to be found in all year groups in the school. Their level of proficiency in English ranges from those for whom it is their first language to those at beginners’ level. Students are placed in mainstream classes and have access to the full curriculum. On a trial basis in the current school year first-year students in need of language support join students who have exemptions from Irish in a special class group. This has also facilitated the provision of extra tuition in Geography and Mathematics for those students. The effectiveness of this pilot arrangement is to be reviewed at the end of the year. Supports are provided where needed in other year groups. An experienced modern foreign languages teacher coordinates the English as an additional language (EAL) provision. This includes assessment, profiling students and organising learning support and language support as required. Consideration might be given to providing progress reports to parents where students are in receipt of learning support and language support. Further evaluation of the EAL provision is contained in the separate subject inspection report on English.

 

Student effort and achievement are acknowledged and celebrated by the operation of a merit award scheme and an annual presentation function. Commendably, recognition is given to academic, sporting, group and personal achievements both inside and outside the school. Student effort and achievement is also acknowledged by the display of photographs and trophies in the school.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

Malahide Community School receives an ex-quota allocation of forty-four hours for Guidance from the Department of Education and Science. This allocation includes five and a half hours provided through the Guidance Enhancement Initiative (GEI). The guidance provision is delivered by two qualified guidance counsellors and a trainee guidance counsellor. One of the posts is full-time and the other is shared between two job-sharers. Weekly meetings take place within the guidance department and there is ongoing liaison between the guidance and the chaplaincy departments which work closely together. A well-established and well-organised guidance service is operating in the school.

 

The school has moved to a whole-school approach to guidance. Whole school guidance planning began in 2005 when a guidance review committee was established. The committee identified issues of support for students and the school is now addressing these. For example, in order to make learning more effective for students a staff member with particular expertise in the area of student support has developed a programme which is delivered to fifth year and sixth-year students. This committee has now developed into the guidance planning group and the school guidance plan is well advanced. The guidance department now aims to consult in a more structured way with the school partners on how existing resources can be utilised and the guidance programme will be reviewed annually. This approach is commended. It is suggested that input from a member of the local business community into the planning process would also be beneficial.

 

The aims and objectives for each class group are clearly set out in the plan and a monthly delivery plan has been developed. A copy of the monthly plan is provided to the relevant year heads and to senior management so that they are aware of activities and events. The guidance department has an input into curriculum planning as well as into both the care and the special educational needs provision in the school. The guidance counsellors attend meetings of the special educational needs committee, which are held regularly, and bring any relevant information to the weekly year head meetings. This is a good model of collaboration and of efficient use of resources. The guidance department has developed procedures for referral of students both within and to outside agencies. The school reports good contact with and support from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist.

 

Guidance is targeted primarily in senior cycle where guidance is timetabled to enable the guidance counsellors to take classes or accommodate guest speakers. Lessons are borrowed in TY to provide a module on subject and programme choice. There are good cross-curricular links with SPHE and it is recommended that these links now be formalised to provide a document that will show how these interlacing supports operate. Information regarding subject choice is offered to parents as students make their choices for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. In this regard parents could also be referred to the information available on the Qualifax website (www.qualifax.ie ).

 

The school is moving towards addressing the imbalance in provision between the junior and senior cycles. Group work on anger management, study skills and self-esteem building are provided to second-year students. Recently a survey was carried out among second-year students which will inform the guidance planning process. This is commended. Information on programmes for senior cycle and subject choice is provided in third year. The guidance counsellors attend sixth-year assemblies to provide information to students and year heads

 

There is a high demand for personal counselling and while the guidance counsellors work with specific year groups on a rotation basis students may choose which guidance counsellor they wish to approach for counselling support. All three are members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC). The school facilitates attendance at career events and the two qualified guidance counsellors attend the local professional development sessions to support counselling. The trainee guidance counsellor receives similar support as part of the initial training course. Commendably, the school has completed preliminary work on a counselling policy. It is recommended that this policy now be customised to the needs of the school and include procedures and practices regarding counselling provision.

 

There are excellent facilities for Guidance in Malahide Community School which include two offices with phone, computer, broadband access, storage and record-keeping facilities. The guidance classroom is adjacent and contains a library of guidance-related materials and six computers which allow independent access for students. The guidance counsellors report excellent access to ICT for guidance delivery. Notice boards on the corridor display careers and college information.

 

Currently the guidance counsellors meet with individual students requiring help with study skills. Given the size of the student population the school should explore how other members of staff might contribute to this support and thereby enhance the availability of the guidance counsellors for core guidance activities. It is recommended that study skills be re-enforced by subject teachers, this would reflect a suggestion arising from one of the student surveys.

 

The guidance department encourages an open-door policy for parents and they are welcome to arrange individual appointments as necessary. The guidance counsellors attend all parent information sessions and all parent-teacher meetings.

 

During the evaluation it was evident that guidance is central to the whole area of student support and staff members are very aware of the role of the guidance counsellors. The guidance department provides support to students and to staff members and participates in a network to support neighbouring schools following critical incidents. This collaboration is highly commended.

 

The guidance department plays a key role in the transfer of students from primary school which includes visiting the feeder primary schools to explain subject choice, organising the assessment tests and collaborating with the year head to provide an induction day. Malahide Community School is currently piloting the Cognitive Aptitude Test (CAT) in collaboration with Dublin City University (DCU). Further information regarding testing is available on the Department’s website (www.education.ie) and on that of the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE).

 

A student care team, consisting of the year heads, guidance counsellors, chaplain and senior management, meets weekly to review and to plan for a whole-school response to issues as they arise. The guidance counsellors attend meetings of the special educational needs team and liaise between this team and the school’s care team to ensure supports are in place for students.

 

The school has engaged with the Cool School Programme, and has in place an anti-bullying policy. A buddy system is in place whereby senior students support first-year students during their first term. Year heads play a particularly important role in supporting students. They were described by senior management as the ‘six pillars of the school’ and are effectively assisted in their role by class tutors. The degree of personal commitment by teachers to supporting students with special needs deserves to be acknowledged and is a further example of the daily implementation of the school’s mission statement. As a means of supporting students and of recognising the needs of individual students fifteen teachers have agreed to make themselves available to students should the need arise. Their names are displayed on notices in corridors and commendably, there are plans in place to provide these teachers with appropriate training.

 

 

6         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         In line with its mission statement the school’s ethos, policies and practices foster the development of its students in a holistic way. The school has created an environment that is inclusive and nurtures all abilities and talents.

·         The mission statement recognises the complementary roles of parents and teachers in educating young people according to Christian principles.

·         The board of management is very effective in the management and governance of the school and has been involved in the development, ratification and review of a very large number of policies.

·         The senior management team is keen to develop the idea of distributed leadership and has made significant progress in this regard particularly in relation to the role of year head.

·         Year heads and class tutors play a central role in providing support for students and in the implementation of the school’s code of behaviour.

·         The school has a dedicated and committed teaching staff members of which engage regularly in professional development and who are committed to implementing the high ideals set out in the school’s mission statement.

·         A system of prefects is in place to support school management and to provide students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills.

·         The secretarial and caretaking staff plays an important role in supporting school management and students. The school building and grounds are very well maintained.

·         The cultivation of environmental awareness is a notable feature of the school and a most significant development has been the engagement with the Green-School movement facilitated by a member of the teaching staff.

·         A very comprehensive programme of adult education courses has been developed by the director of adult education who works collaboratively with the members of the adult education team.

·         The inspection team found that the TY programme provides many examples of excellent practice.

·         Learning and teaching was of a very good standard in all areas evaluated. An atmosphere of work permeated classrooms and students were affirmed for their efforts which contributed to a pleasant working atmosphere.

·         The school uses effectively its allocation for students with special educational needs and for learning support.

·         The school has moved to a whole-school approach to guidance provision and a guidance-planning group is developing a school guidance plan.

·         A student care team, consisting of the year heads, guidance counsellors, chaplain and senior management, meets weekly to review and to plan for a whole-school response to issues as they arise.

·         The guidance counsellors attend meetings of the education support team and liaise between this team and the school’s care team to ensure supports are in place for students.

 

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 2008

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The Board of Management and teachers welcome the Inspectors’ WSE report and gratefully acknowledge the Inspectors’ recognition that ‘in a very real sense this is a school of, and for, the community of Malahide’.

 

The WSE has given the school the opportunity to have an objective professional evaluation of the school’s service which has affirmed much of the good work of the school. In addition it has given us both the opportunity and the incentive to keep on improving the service which we provide to our community.

 

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 the recommendations from the WSE have already been implemented and all other recommendations are under consideration.

 

Those already implemented include:

 

 

Currently under Review

 

Through the use of a variety of teaching methodologies we aim to achieve a genuine understanding of mathematical concepts and in Irish we explore language and literature beyond the confines of the set Leaving Certificate syllabus.