An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole-School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Franciscan College

Gormanston, County Meath

Roll number: 64420I

 

Date of inspection: 1 May 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of curriculum provision

Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

Quality of support for students

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

Related subject inspection reports

School response to the report

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Franciscan College, Gormanston was undertaken in the last week of 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 three subjects was evaluated in detail. The quality of teaching and learning in two additional subjects was evaluated prior to the whole-school evaluation. Separate reports are available on these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Introduction

 

Franciscan College, Gormanston is a fee-paying, Catholic secondary school under the patronage of the Franciscan College Gormanston School Trust. It is situated in the east of County Meath about thirty-two kilometres north of Dublin. The school is also commonly referred to as Gormanston College. It was originally established as a school for boys in Multyfarnham, County Westmeath in the late nineteenth century. In the 1950s the school transferred to its current location when the Franciscan Order purchased Gormanston Castle and Estate.

 

The school caters for both boarding and day-boarding students. Day boarders attend from 8.25am until 7.30pm on weekdays and from 8.25am until noon on Saturdays. The school day in Franciscan College, Gormanston, includes allocated periods for study. Girls were admitted to the school for the first time in 1998 and they can be enrolled as day-boarders only. Currently, girls make up ten per cent of the student population. It is noteworthy that approximately twenty per cent of the students come from outside of Ireland. These students constitute half of those who avail of full boarding facilities. The majority of the international students come from Germany and Spain, but Austria, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are also currently represented. In contrast to earlier periods in the school’s history, at present there is a very diverse student population.

 

There are currently four hundred and seventy-seven students enrolled in the school. In addition to the international population, students come from the local primary schools in the immediate catchment area which includes the parishes of Balbriggan and Stamullen and from a number of counties in Ireland. In the last four years, enrolment has decreased by almost nineteen per cent. During the evaluation, management reported that falling enrolment is an ongoing concern for the school. Management cited the decline in the economy as one of the main factors for the recent decrease in student numbers.

 

The school has an active past pupils’ union.

 

 

1.         Quality of school management

 

1.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

It is evident that great emphasis is placed on the happiness of the students in Franciscan College, Gormanston. For example, a ‘clann’ system is an important feature of life in the school. On arrival, each student is assigned to one of five clanns and they remain with that clann for the duration of their stay in the school. A ‘caomhnóir’ acts as housemaster for each clann and is a point of contact between the school and parents. The caomhnóir is assisted by two clann prefects who are sixth-year students. The role of the caomhnóir and of the clann prefects includes looking after the well-being of each clann member, organising inter-clann competitions and monitoring behaviour.

 

Inspectors noted the good relationships and rapport between students and staff. In describing the characteristic spirit of the school, some of those who met with the inspectors described the school as a community. Reference was also made to the friendliness and openness of students. Board members mentioned the attention given to developing well-rounded students and to the Franciscan values of love, forgiveness and humility.

 

The trustees have a very visible presence in the school due to the fact that the Franciscan Friary is on campus. The school’s mission statement, which is underpinned by the philosophy of the Franciscans, is displayed at the front entrance of the school. It is also printed in the student journal and in official school documents. This statement has been in place for a considerable length of time. Some members of the current board of management indicated that it had been reviewed in recent times. However, evidence that a review process involving all the relevant partners had taken place was not forthcoming.

 

There was no evidence that there is a shared vision for the school, now and into the future. In the context of the falling enrolment and the changes in the profile of the student population, and given the aging profile of the current Franciscan community, it is essential that a clear vision for the future direction of the school be developed as a matter of urgency. This vision should be agreed and supported by all members of the school community. The development of the vision could incorporate a review of the current mission statement. This work should be carried out as a central part of the school’s development planning process with the active involvement of all partners.

 

1.2          School ownership and management

 

A board of management was formed in 2006 to replace the school’s board of governors. The current board of management is composed of four members nominated by the trustees, two elected teacher representatives and two selected parents. It is planned that the parent representatives who will join the board in 2009 will be elected by the parents. This is a welcome development and it is in accordance with the Articles of Management for Catholic Secondary Schools.

 

During this evaluation the inspectors were informed that the school is actively planning to move from a board of management to a board of directors in September 2009. Currently, a company is being established under the Companies Acts 1963 to 2006 by the trustees. It is intended that the newly formed board of directors will discharge the functions of the board of management. In preparation for this move, articles of management have been drawn up by the trustees in conjunction with the board of management and advice has been sought from a consultancy company. It should be noted that there are two potential difficulties with this proposed change. Firstly, it represents a departure from the statutory policy laid out in section 14 of the Education Act 1998 which requires the establishment of a board of management in line with procedures agreed between the education partners. Secondly, and more fundamentally, once a board is established in accordance with the Education Act 1998 it can only be dissolved by a patron (on his or her own initiative) in accordance with section 16 of the Act. Section 16 requires (inter alia) that the patron has good and valid reasons for dissolving the board of management and also requires Ministerial consent. Even then, the patron is bound to re-establish a new board within six months (section 16 (7) of the Education Act 1998). It is therefore strongly recommended that the plan to dissolve the board of management and replace it with a board of directors to discharge the functions of the board of management should be reconsidered.

 

The board reported that it has a very strong relationship and good communication with the trustees. The board members expressed their pride in the work of the school and indicated that the board is very conscious of its role in promoting the school’s ethos.

 

The current members of the board of management have not had any training for their roles and responsibilities on the board. Some of the members have considerable experience in education and the board accesses information from the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) on an ad hoc basis. Board members stated that their awareness of legislation occurs on a “need to know basis.” In order to support all members of the board in carrying out their duties, consideration should be given to sourcing appropriate training for the board of management, perhaps drawing on the training available from the JMB.

 

In recent times the board ratified policies on admissions, acceptable usage of the information and communications technology (ICT) in the school, vetting of staff and the establishment of the parents' association. The board also approved the review of the code of behaviour and this work has begun. However, as outlined in section two of this report, school development planning is an area that requires attention. In order to meet the requirements of section 21 of the Education Act 1998, it is recommended that the board of management should become more involved in the planning process and adopt an active leadership role in the development of the school plan. This should include prioritising the development of policies required by legislation and by Departmental circulars. As part of this process, the board should also identify the key development priorities to be achieved over its tenure and prepare a plan of action for same. The development of the school plan should involve consultation with all partners.

 

The establishment of a parents' association is a welcome development. Arrangements for the establishment of the school’s first parents' association began in the 2008/09 school year and an interim committee was formed. It is good to note that a draft constitution has been developed. The parents' association will be formally established in September 2009. In discussion with the inspectors the parents' association indicated an enthusiasm which has potential to be very supportive to the school. To date, communication between the board of management and the parents' association has been limited. In order to meet the requirements of section 26 (3) of the Education Act 1998, it is recommended that the board should actively support the establishment and the work of the parents' association.

 

Evidence collected during the evaluation indicates that the channels of communication between the board and parents, and the board and the teaching staff, are not as effective as they should be. It is strongly recommended that the board of management should review the effectiveness of its methods of communication with parents and the teaching staff and devise ways of bringing about improvements.

 

1.3          In-school management

 

The school has undergone significant change in the past twelve years. This included the move to co-education and the appointment of the school’s first lay principal in 1997. It is clear that these changes have been hugely challenging, given the school’s strong traditions. It was apparent to the evaluation team that the trustees have not really faced the fact that Franciscan College is no longer exclusively a full boarding school and that a lay principal whose function is now specified in legislation is in place.

 

It was evident during the evaluation that the current rector who is a senior member of the Franciscan community and a former principal plays a very prominent role in the management of the school. While there is no difficulty in principle with a board of management assigning another person to assist a principal in the performance of his or her duties, the role of the rector should not interfere with, erode or otherwise undermine the role of the principal as it is outlined in sections 22 and 23 of the Education Act and relevant Departmental circulars such as Circular Letters 03/98 and 04/98. Under section 23(2)(b) of the Act, one of the functions of the principal is to provide leadership to the teachers and other staff of the school, which would include the rector. During the evaluation the inspectors found considerable evidence that the leadership function of the principal is currently underdeveloped in Franciscan College.

 

It is strongly recommended that greater clarity should be provided as to the role of the rector. In particular it should be clear that the position is subordinate to the role of principal, and that the principal holds overall responsibility for the day-to-day management of the school. It should also be clear that it is the principal who is accountable to the board of management of the school. It is absolutely essential that there is a clear separation of the two roles, that the roles are expressed in writing and that the trustees, the principal and deputy principal, the board of management and the teaching staff are very clear about these roles.

 

The current senior management team of principal and deputy principal has been functioning in an acting-up capacity for a considerable period of time. Given that these positions are temporary, capacity for change and development has been limited. The plans of the board of management to recruit a permanent senior management team, which were ongoing during this evaluation, are welcome.

 

The middle management team comprises eight assistant principals and thirteen special duties teachers. It is noted that currently eleven of the twenty-one posts of responsibility are allocated to the management of students through the year head and deputy year head system. It is recommended that serious consideration should be given to whether the assignment of eleven middle management posts to the management of students in a school of this size represents the best deployment of post holders in terms of output, value for money and the needs of the school.

 

The role of the year head is developing and as a result the process of distributed leadership has begun. This is a positive development. Currently all year heads are assistant principals. At the beginning of the 2008/09 school year, deputy year heads were appointed from amongst the special duties teachers. The position of deputy year head has replaced the voluntary role of class tutor which no longer exists. The year head and the corresponding deputy year head work together and share responsibility for morning registration which includes the checking of students’ journals. The year heads reported that they have a key role in discipline and in monitoring academic progress. It is commendable that the year heads meet with the principal and deputy principal once a week.

 

Other than the year heads, teachers who are post holders do not consider themselves a part of the management structure in the school. To ensure that all post holders recognise their role in contributing to the overall management of the school, it is recommended that opportunities should be created for all post holders to function as part of the middle management team.

 

In the last year senior management revised the schedule of posts. As a result there is some unease amongst post holders regarding the allocation of duties. It is recommended that senior management, in collaboration with the whole teaching staff, should carry out a needs analysis to determine the current and future needs of the school. This analysis should then inform a review of the posts and the duties of post holders. In reviewing the schedule of posts, reference should be made to Circular Letter PPT 29/02 to ensure that the duties reflect the grade and level of responsibility entailed by the post, taking into account the size and needs of the school. Part of the task should also include the identification, agreement and recording of duties attached to all posts.

 

While some individual staff members acknowledged the open door policy of, and the support received from, the members of the senior management team, it was very evident during the evaluation that there are difficulties and tensions amongst the staff. While all staff members presented as very committed to their students and to the school, morale is clearly very low in the case of a significant number of staff members. It is evident that these tensions, which centre on relationship difficulties, a sense of powerlessness, frustration and exclusion, and lack of collaboration and communication, are having a negative impact on some areas of school life. As the teaching staff is one of the most important resources in a school it is essential that all members are enabled to work in a safe, healthy and supportive atmosphere. It is strongly recommended that the issues regarding staff relations and staff morale be identified and addressed. In order to do this serious consideration should be given to investing in outside facilitation. It is further recommended that a dignity in the workplace charter should be developed, adopted and adhered to.

 

Students are admitted to the college following attendance at a familiarisation day. The school has an admissions policy. It is recommended that aspects of the admissions policy need to be reviewed to ensure that it is clear and easily understood by parents of prospective students. Particular items requiring attention include the insertion of the closing date for applications and the amount of the reservation fee. Greater clarity on the criteria used when considering applications and the order in which criteria will be applied if the number of applicants exceeds the number of places available should be provided, and the procedures for admission of students other than to first year should be outlined. The policy should also be dated.

 

As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the Franciscan Order in Ireland, thirteen bursaries were made available for students from the local feeder schools who have enrolled for the 2009/10 school year.

 

The school’s code of behaviour is printed in the student journal. A working group composed of teachers, parents and students is currently reviewing the code of behaviour to ensure a more positive tone. This is most commendable. It is good to note that the document Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools is being used in the review of the code.

 

The school operates a marks system to encourage good behaviour. Positive behaviour is rewarded with “good marks” while “black marks” are awarded for negative behaviour. Where there are breaches of the code of behaviour during the school day, teachers complete a “class indiscipline report form” which is passed on to the relevant year head who has responsibility for the allocation of the black marks. Evidence collected during the evaluation indicates that there is some inconsistency in the implementation of the code of behaviour and with the marks system. While the year heads have a role in discipline, reports of students’ misdemeanours and the associated black marks are passed on to the dean of residence. The rationale for this is that the marks system is tied into the clann system. It is absolutely essential that there is a clear separation of the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the implementation of the code of behaviour during the school day and those involved after classes end at 3.30pm. In reviewing the code of behaviour, serious consideration should also be given to reviewing the implementation of and indeed the effectiveness of the marks system across all year groups. This is also important given the intended positive focus of the code of behaviour.

 

An analysis of the school’s recent returns to the National Educational Welfare Board indicates that the number of students absent for twenty days or more and the number of students suspended are low.

 

Leadership is fostered in students through the prefect system. In their roles as prefects students have been allocated a very wide variety and range of responsibilities. It is good to note that fifth-year students are also given the opportunity to act as mentors for first-year students.

 

The school has a student council. However, the council consists solely of twelve sixth-year prefects. Each year the members of each clann elect two senior students as prefects of the clann. In addition, two other senior students are nominated as college prefect and college vice-prefect. These twelve prefects constitute the student council. It is noted that a student must be a boarder to be a clann prefect or a college prefect. As a result it is not currently possible for day boarders and female students to be elected onto the student council. Neither does this system allow for students from each of the other year groups to be elected to the council. The terms of reference of the council, which are printed in the student journal, indicate that the council is also composed of “the rector, the principal, the deputy principal, the dean of studies.” The chairperson and convener of the council is the college prefect and the secretary is the college vice-prefect. The terms of reference also state that “the council shall meet at least once a month. The rector shall appoint a convener of such meetings.”

 

It is strongly recommended that the current structure of the student council be reviewed. All students and year groups should be represented in a democratic fashion. The council and its officers should be elected by the student body and the council should be run by the students only. Apart from a liaison teacher there should be no staff members or members of management in attendance at council meetings unless requested by the council. In reforming the student council consideration should be given to accessing the supports available through the Citizen Education Support Team (http://cspe.slss.ie) as well as documents available to download on the websites of the Department of Education and Science (www.education.ie) and Student Council Support (www.studentcouncil.ie).

 

1.4          Management of resources

 

The school operates a six-day working week with classes held on Saturday until noon. Class finishes at 1.15pm on Wednesday to allow for clann activities. Evidence collected during the evaluation indicates that, in some instances, the level of absenteeism from class on Saturdays is high. An examination of the school’s roll books also indicated a number of instances in each year group where roll calls had not been recorded on Saturdays. These matters are in need of attention.

 

The current weekly instruction time allocation to students is twenty-seven hours and forty minutes, involving a shortfall of twenty minutes from the twenty-eight hours weekly entitlement as set out in Circular Letter M29/95. There is also an erosion of the school year due to the practice of long weekends throughout the year. In some instances, class finishes at noon on the Friday and resumes on the following Tuesday. This results in a loss of two full days of instruction time during long weekends. In other instances there is a loss of one day. In the 2008/09 school year there was a total loss of nine school days as a result of these practices. It should also be noted that where particular class groups are timetabled for a subject, for example, for one double period on a Saturday and the second double period on a Monday, there is a significant loss of instruction time for that subject at long weekends. While the reasons for the long weekends are acknowledged given the large cohort of boarders, management should examine how the timetable could be organised to avoid the loss of instruction time throughout the year. It is strongly recommended that the school complies with the requirements of Circular Letter M29/95 with regard to weekly instruction time and the number of teaching days in the school year, in all future timetabling.

 

Given that the school is no longer exclusively a seven-day boarding school, and bearing in mind the rates of absenteeism and loss of instruction time referred to above, it is strongly recommended that it is now timely to review the rationale for and more importantly the educational value of a six-day school week. In reviewing the six-day school week consideration should also be given to how it impacts on the teenagers and on family life. This recommendation is made notwithstanding the fact that new arrangements might have to be made for boarders on Saturdays. This review should involve all partners: management, teachers, parents and students.

 

Teachers are generally deployed to teaching duties in line with their qualifications. In recent years there has been a high turnover of staff. A high turnover of teachers impacts on teaching and learning. As an example, particular students might have three different teachers for the same subject over the three years of the junior cycle. In the current school year, almost all of the assistant principals are timetabled for less than eighteen hours of class contact time. A number of special duties post-holders are also timetabled for less than twenty-two hours. It is recommended that optimal use should be made of the allocation of teaching resources which the school receives from the Department.

 

The ancillary staff provides effective and valuable support for the day-to-day running of the school. Approximately fifty people are employed in areas such as administration, infirmary, maintenance, grounds, domestic and catering. The extensive school grounds and gardens are maintained to an exceptionally high standard. The school prides itself in providing excellent sporting facilities which include playing pitches, a swimming pool and gymnasium and a nine-hole golf course. The assembly hall has recently been refurbished to a very high standard. As a means of raising funds, the school leases its facilities, including the sports facilities, to outside groups and for summer courses. Such events include an annual course for beekeepers.

 

Some of the facilities inside the school building, including the classrooms, study halls and the girls’ toilets, are in need of refurbishment. Discussion with the board of management indicated an awareness of the need to refurbish sections of the school and its facilities. It plans to carry out this work as finance becomes available. Apart from the practical rooms, currently all classrooms are student-based. In this school, this practice has some disadvantages, including the fact that teachers have to bring resources from room to room. It is also challenging in terms of the provision of a stimulating learning environment in each classroom and of accessing and using ICT in teaching and learning. The fact that students are in the same classroom all day is also a factor to be considered. The current sixth-year students, for example, are in classrooms in the basement of the school. In recent times, a working group of staff members made a proposal for teacher-based classrooms but this was rejected. Bearing in mind the aforementioned challenges it is recommended that the school should now seriously consider the benefits of teacher-based or subject-based classrooms for all concerned.

 

The school has one computer room and the hardware has recently been upgraded and broadband provided. Some portable ICT equipment is also stored in a resource room. However, access to ICT for teachers and students is limited. A move to teacher-based classrooms would provide opportunities, as funds become available, to provide classroom-based resources for the integration of ICT in teaching and learning and to make greater use of some of the portable ICT resources that are already available. It is good to note that the ICT co-ordinator recently provided staff with in-service on how to use ICT in the classroom.

 

The maintenance manager is the school’s health and safety officer. Fire drills are organised by the dean of residence. The health and safety statement was prepared in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989. However, there is an urgent need to update the health and safety statement and it is strongly recommended that it be updated in line with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. As part of this update an audit of the health and safety procedures should take place. This should include a risk assessment and hazard analysis in all areas of the school and this should be documented and action plans devised as necessary.

 

 

2.         Quality of school planning

 

2.1          The school plan

 

The formal process of school planning began in this school in 2004 with the appointment of a co-ordinator and the development of working groups composed of staff members. They began with the development of a critical incident policy, followed by the development of policies on teacher-based classrooms and uniform. However, staff reported that none of the policies were accepted; consequently these policies did not proceed to ratification stage. Understandably, staff became disheartened and refused to get involved in any further policy development. The planning committee was reduced to the co-ordinator. During the evaluation a document entitled The School Plan and a number of policies, some of which have been ratified by the board of management, were presented to the evaluation team. There is no evidence of staff involvement in the development of these documents.

 

Due to a change in the duties of some post-holders, a new planning co-ordinator was recently appointed. As outlined in a previous section of this report, the current focus is on the review of the code of behaviour. A working group has been established to progress this review and good work is ongoing.

 

It is good to note that the previous and current planning co-ordinators have attended some of the regional meetings organised by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). However, there have been no whole-school planning days in recent years. There has been no engagement at a whole-staff level with the specialist services provided by the SDPI.

 

It is strongly recommended that the school should engage as soon as possible with the school development planning process. This should be done in collaboration with the board of management as already outlined in section 1.2 of this report. As a first step, the SDPI should be invited to work with the whole staff. The school should also access the planning guidelines and information available on the website of the SDPI (http://www.sdpi.ie/guidelines). Parents and students, through their representative bodies, should be given the opportunity to contribute to policy development and review. In the review and development of policies, the current anti-bullying policy is in need of attention. Priority should also be given to the development of updated policies in the areas of relationships and sexuality education and substance use. The templates and materials on the website of the Department of Education and Science should prove useful in the development of the latter three policies.

 

Subject planning is evolving. Many subject department plans and the plan for the Transition Year programme (TY) were made available during the evaluation. These plans are at varying stages of development. Further information on subject planning is available in section 4.1 of this report. Specific details on planning in each of the subjects evaluated as part of this whole-school evaluation are available in the subject inspection reports that accompany this report.

 

To date, a culture of self-evaluation has not been established in the school. In the 2009/10 school year a new leadership team will be in place. This presents an ideal opportunity for the whole school community to work together and begin the process of self-evaluation as part of the planning process. The outcomes of such a review could help in the development and prioritisation of action plans for the school in the short term and into the future. As part of this process, cognisance should also be taken of the findings and recommendations of this whole-school evaluation report. During this evaluation it was noted that very few recommendations from previous subject inspections have been implemented. It is strongly recommended that these reports be revisited and that the issues identified be addressed.

 

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 and school staff and that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. However, during the evaluation it was very evident that a number of new staff members have not received any input on the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools. In addition a number of staff members including senior staff in both the school and boarding section did not know who the DLP was. It also emerged in discussions that the non-teaching staff, including those who are working with the boarders, have not had any briefing on the child protection guidelines.

 

It is strongly recommended that a briefing session on the child protection guidelines should be provided for new staff members who have not yet received it, and for all of the non-teaching staff. In effect this means that every person working in the school including those working with the boarders, whether in a paid or a voluntary capacity, should be given the required briefing on the child protection guidelines, should have a copy of the procedures and should be familiar with them. Given the high turnover of staff, it would be worth giving the briefing session for all staff, as a revision, at the beginning of each school year. All staff should also be reminded of the DLP and the deputy DLP. The child protection procedures should also be brought to the attention of parents.

 

 

3.             Quality of curriculum provision

 

3.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

Franciscan College currently offers the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year programme (TY) and the Leaving Certificate. The TY is an optional programme and uptake is very good.

 

In the current school year a new co-ordinator has been appointed for the TY. A second teacher is year head for TY. Both teachers reported that they work closely together. The schedule of posts indicates that there is a further position as assistant TY co-ordinator. However, it was unclear what duties are attached to this post and how they are fulfilled. It is recommended that the necessity for this post should be re-examined as part of the review of the schedule of posts suggested in section 1.3 above.

 

Currently overall planning of the TY programme is the responsibility of the co-ordinator. Plans for the individual subjects and modules that are delivered as part of the programme have been developed by the relevant subject departments. An analysis of these subject plans indicates that in some cases the content is very similar to the Leaving Certificate programme. It is recommended that, where Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study, this should be on the clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way, in keeping with the rationale of the TY programme (Transition Year Programme: Guidelines for Schools, pages 5 and 6, issued by the Department of Education and Science). Teachers might find it useful to refer to part two of the document Writing the Transition Year Programme when developing the TY plan for their subject.

 

Given that the TY teaching team changes from year to year, teachers who are assigned to teach the programme should be given an input on the principles of the TY programme at the beginning of each school year. Consideration should also be given to the establishment of a small core team to support the planning of the overall programme.

 

In an effort to broaden the curriculum, it is commendable that Classical Studies was introduced into the senior cycle in the 2008/09 school year following on from a module offered as part of TY in the previous year. For the same reason it is notable that Technical Graphics was introduced into the junior cycle in the 2007/08 school year and it is still offered as part of the curriculum. However, the facilities for this latter subject are poor.

 

Some subjects such as Art, Agriculture Science and Religious Education (for examination) are provided outside of the school timetable. However, in these cases, there are challenges with regard to provision of the recommended amount of time for the subjects. Art for Leaving Certificate students, for example, is provided on one evening per week. It is recommended that the school should review its curriculum provision, particularly the range of subjects available and the capacity to provide them.

 

An analysis of the timetable reveals some discrepancies in relation to the timetabling of subjects. It is recommended that the number of class periods assigned to subjects be reviewed. As an example, with regard to the core subjects for the Leaving Certificate, Irish is currently allocated five periods per week, English six periods and Mathematics seven periods per week. Similarly, there is some discrepancy in the time allocation in junior cycle for the three optional subjects of Music, Business Studies and Technical Graphics. Currently, each of these three subjects is allocated two periods per week in first year. In second year and third year, four periods per week are allocated to Music and Technical Graphics, while three periods are allocated to Business Studies in second year and in third year. The normal allocation for Business Studies is a minimum of three periods per week in each year of the junior cycle or its equivalent over the three years of the cycle.

 

With regard to the junior cycle subject currently called “Health,” it is recommended that this subject should now be given its proper title Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) as outlined in CL M11/03. All junior cycle students are timetabled for this subject, however, there is no core teaching team or subject co-ordinator. The team of teachers changes every year, so students have a different teacher for the subject in each year of the junior cycle. Some teachers who met with the inspectors indicated that they depended on the students to tell them what had been covered in the previous year. This is not satisfactory. It is also noted that individual teachers are responsible for organising the programme that they teach to their assigned class group. It was not clear whether these individual programmes are based on the approved SPHE Curriculum Framework for the Junior Certificate. There is no school programme for SPHE.

 

Many of the teachers teaching the subject have not had the opportunity to attend the specialist in-service for SPHE. It is recommended that the school should prioritise the development of a core team and a co-ordinator for SPHE. It is further recommended that a programme should be developed for SPHE for the three-year junior cycle. This programme should be based on the SPHE Curriculum Framework for the Junior Certificate and it should contain all ten SPHE modules, including Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).

 

It was also difficult to find evidence that RSE is being delivered in senior cycle, apart from some aspects which are taught as part of the religious education programme. There is no school programme for RSE. In order to ensure compliance with Circular Letter 0027/2008 and the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (section IV, rule 20), it is strongly recommended that the school should prioritise the development of a policy for RSE and a programme for RSE in senior cycle. Consideration should also be given to ensuring that a core team of teachers is trained to deliver the RSE programme. There is scope to involve parents and students in the development of the RSE policy and programme for the school.

 

3.2          Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

The introduction of mixed-ability classes in first year to replace the previous practice of streaming is a very positive development.

 

All first-year students take English, Irish, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science, Music, Business Studies, Technical Graphics, Health, Religious Education, Civic, Political and Social Education (CSPE) and Physical Education. Following a short taster programme at the beginning of first year, students choose between French and German. At the end of first year, students are required to choose two subjects from Music, Business Studies and Technical Graphics. Consideration should be given to this arrangement and to how it impacts on the time available for the completion of the Junior Certificate syllabus with regard to the two subjects selected by students at the end of first year. It is noted that, when choosing optional subjects, there is no information evening for parents or students nor does the guidance counsellor have any input at this time.

 

In addition to English, Irish and Mathematics, senior cycle students are initially offered a list of optional subjects including French, German, History, Geography, Accountancy, Business, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Music, Religious Education, Classical Studies and Applied Mathematics. Students must choose four of these subjects for study for the Leaving Certificate. Following collation of all students’ choices, subjects are made available on the curriculum for a particular year group based on demand. It is very positive that subject option bands for the optional subjects are formed based on students’ choices. The final arrangement of the option bands follows a very thorough process designed to ensure that the highest possible number of students get their preferred choices. One of the year heads is responsible for the organisation of this process. It includes a meeting with the parents and students and ongoing contact with them until the process is completed.

 

An information evening for parents of prospective TY students is organised by the TY co-ordinator and the TY year head. While advice on subject choice is provided to senior cycle students, it is noted that there is no formal guidance input at the parents’ information evening for senior cycle subject choice. It is essential that there is a formal guidance input at all information evenings when students are making choices regarding subjects and levels.

 

3.3          Co-curricular and extracurricular provision

 

There is a wide variety of co-curricular and extracurricular activities on offer to students in the school. These activities are of a sporting, cultural, artistic, community and social nature. This provision is reliant on the ongoing generosity and dedication of staff members, and is supported by the caomhnóirí, the clann prefects and a number of coaches employed by the school. In particular, the wide range of sporting activities available and the organisation of sports through the clann system, which allows students to earn points for their clann through their involvement, ensure very high participation rates in sport in the school.

 

The school is justifiably proud of its sporting reputation and indeed of the successes achieved by many students in a wide range of sports. In addition to soccer, Gaelic football, indoor football, hurling, basketball and badminton, students also take part in rugby, tag rugby, handball, tennis, athletics, table tennis, swimming, water polo and golf. The recently formed equestrian club provides further opportunities for students. The school’s excellent sports facilities are a wonderful resource.

 

In addition to sport, students have the opportunity to develop and display other talents though participation in, for example, the clann féis and the school musical. The charity committee is also an important part of the extracurricular activities. The very high quality Franciscan College Annual records and celebrates the activities and achievements of the school and its students. All concerned are applauded for their efforts. The current 2008/09 annual is the fifty-ninth edition.

 

 

4.             Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

While this section of the report is based mainly on the evidence gathered in relation to Mathematics, Gaeilge, German, Science/Biology and Guidance, it is recommended that these findings and recommendations should be considered by all of the subject departments as part of a process of subject review and evaluation.

 

4.1          Planning and preparation

 

Management is supportive of and facilitates staff involvement in continuing professional development for their subject areas.

 

In most subject areas, a subject department structure has been established and subject co-ordinators have been appointed. In almost all instances the duties of the subject co-ordinator are not part of a post of responsibility. Where it is not already the case, consideration should be given to rotating the role of co-ordinator amongst members of each department, perhaps on an annual basis. This approach ensures that all members have the opportunity to assume a leadership role in the development of the subject department. It also means that the responsibility and the workload are shared. It was good to note that some subject departments maintain a record of decisions taken at subject meetings. This practice should be extended to all subject departments.

 

There was evidence of some collaboration in the development of subject department plans. Subject plans were presented for all of the subjects evaluated. In one subject area, the standard of planning was excellent. In most cases, the plans contained programmes of work which outlined a list of topics to be completed within a given timeframe. In the case of subjects not being evaluated, almost all subject areas presented a subject planning folder. The quality of this planning varied considerably. In almost all cases, there is scope to develop the subject plans to ensure that the focus is on learning as well as on teaching, thus the inclusion of learning outcomes, appropriate methodologies and resources as well as planning for assessment would enhance the subject planning process. There is merit in sharing good practices in this area amongst and within subject departments. It is also important that the subject plans should be used as everyday working documents rather than considered as end products.

 

It is recommended that in planning for TY, teachers should ensure that the content and methodologies are in keeping with the principles of the TY programme and thus avoid an over-reliance on material from the Leaving Certificate syllabuses.

 

4.2          Learning and teaching

 

In some of the lessons observed, teachers shared the learning objectives with the students. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons. The sharing of learning objectives provides students with a structure for the lesson and they can be used as a tool against which students can measure their progress.

 

While traditional-style teaching predominated in some lessons, a commendable range of learning strategies and methodologies was observed in a number of lessons resulting in a high level of student engagement in class work. Given the variety of students’ learning styles it is recommended that teachers incorporate a greater variety of active learning into lessons. Consideration might be given to a whole-staff focus on teaching and learning and the sharing of some of the very good practices within and between subject departments. The potential benefits of ICT in teaching and learning should also be explored. In a small number of lessons there was evidence of the effective use of differentiation. This is an important consideration in all lessons to ensure that the lesson content and the lesson activities are accessible to all students.

 

In some lessons, good efforts were made to present knowledge in a style that related to students’ everyday lives, stimulating interest and encouraging engagement. Lessons in general were well structured and presented at an appropriate pace. Instruction was clear and teachers moved around the classroom to support students as necessary.

 

Effective classroom management was evident in the lessons observed. An atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed and students were affirmed for their efforts.

 

4.3          Assessment

 

There was evidence of some good practices with regard to the setting and monitoring of homework and the provision of constructive feedback to students. In general, students’ work was of a good standard.

 

It is commendable that common test papers are used in some subject departments. It is recommended that where subjects have a number of assessment components, teachers within subject departments should agree on the percentage allocation of marks to be awarded for each component as part of the common test papers in the in-house examinations.

 

Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the school journal, parent-teacher meetings and when the results of formal examinations are sent home. Progress reports are also available to parents on a regular basis. In the main, teachers keep good records of students’ progress.

 

There were a few instances of the effective use of formative assessment through the principles of assessment for learning. It is recommended that this approach to assessment be explored and further developed in all subject departments. This is perhaps a topic that would merit some input at a whole-staff level.

 

 

5.         Quality of support for students

 

5.1          Inclusion of students with additional educational needs

 

Currently, there are very few students with special educational needs attending Franciscan College. Discussions during the evaluation indicated some ambiguity over an application by the school to the National Council for Special Education for additional teaching support in respect of an individual student. It is important that the school accesses and follows through on all the supports available for students with special educational needs, which are available through the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO).

 

A co-ordinator of the special educational needs department was appointed in 2005. Currently the co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor and another member of staff, who has responsibility for co-ordinating the reasonable accommodations for the certificate examinations, comprise the special educational needs team. They report that some meetings of team members have taken place. As was already recommended for the subject departments, a record should be kept of all decisions taken at these meetings. One member of the team is pursuing a qualification in special educational needs. This is a praiseworthy development for the school and management is commended for facilitating this process. The team acknowledged the support received from the school’s newly assigned psychologist from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).

 

As the school does not receive an allocation for learning support from the Department, students who need help with literacy and numeracy are supported in the mainstream classrooms and through the provision of extra supports outside of timetabled classes. The co-ordinator passes on essential information about the learning needs of these students to the relevant subject teachers. It is recommended that the school should consider a whole-staff in-service on a topic such as differentiation that would support teachers in dealing with the range of abilities in their classrooms. The Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) provides a variety of services to schools in the area of special education.

 

A draft policy on special educational needs was presented to the evaluation team. This policy was developed by the co-ordinator a few years ago. It is recommended that this policy should be reviewed and developed. In carrying out this task, the school should consider expanding the scope of the policy and re-naming it a Whole-School Policy on Inclusion with reference to section 2.4 of the publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs (Department of Education and Science, 2007). This policy could then provide guidance on a whole-school response to supporting all students with additional educational needs, including newcomer students and the exceptionally able. This work should be completed as part of the school development planning process. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) publications Exceptionally Able Students: Draft Guidelines for Teachers (NCCA, 2007) and Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: Guidelines for Schools (NCCA, 2006), are also useful sources of advice.

 

Due to the large number of international students attending the school, those who have an exemption from Irish are provided with extra periods of English when Irish is timetabled. The school reports that language proficiency is determined by the principal when students enrol in the school. While students may have a good working knowledge of English and therefore do not have an entitlement to English as an Additional Language tuition, teachers reported that a number of these students experience difficulties with the language and specific terminology of a range of subjects. Consideration should be given, at a whole school level, to how these students can be supported in the subjects that they are studying. It is also important to differentiate between students who need learning support as a result of a deficit in literacy skills as opposed to those who need language support. It is recommended that the school should use appropriate tests to measure the language proficiency of students for whom English is not their first language. Appropriate supports should then be put in place to help these students to access the school curriculum. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (www.ncca.ie) is currently hosting resources for language support from the former Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). These resources include assessment kits which are available to download. It should also be noted that all post-primary schools were supplied with a post-primary assessment kit towards the end of the 2008/09 school year.

 

5.2          Guidance and student support in the whole-school context

 

The school is currently receiving an allocation of twenty-two hours for Guidance. However, the full allocation is not being used as the guidance counsellor is timetabled to teach another subject. This issue was also highlighted in the subject inspection of Guidance which was conducted in 2008 but the situation has not yet been addressed. It is recommended that the full guidance allocation should be used for the purpose for which it was intended. This would also help address the current imbalance in guidance provision between junior cycle and senior cycle.

 

While one member of the teaching staff is responsible for organising the subject options for fifth-year students and a large number of individuals provide support to students, there is not a whole-school approach to the delivery of Guidance. A guidance plan has been developed in the main by the guidance counsellor. The guidance plan has not progressed since last year. As recommended in the subject inspection report for Guidance (2008), in order to build on the work that has been completed to date, a committee should be established to progress the guidance plan.

 

It is recommended that students and their parents should receive input from the guidance department at the times of key transitions in their schooling. The success of the first information evening for students and their parents on the Central Applications Office (CAO) system, which was organised recently, is noted.

 

Facilities for guidance are good and comprise an office and an adjacent classroom which also doubles as a careers library. However, there are no ICT facilities in the guidance classroom and hence students are unable to access websites such as Qualifax for independent research. This also poses challenges in terms of completing the CAO forms on line. It is recommended that, as resources become available, management should explore how access to ICT could be enhanced in the guidance classroom.

 

The guidance counsellor provides personal counselling to students. It is good to note that the guidance counsellor is facilitated to attend the local counselling supervision sessions for guidance counsellors. It is noted that a number of other people involved in the care of students are also involved in the delivery of counselling in the school, albeit on an informal basis. It is recommended that the school should review the use of unqualified counsellors in the delivery of counselling to students.

 

The school has three nurses. A doctor visits the school three times a week and is available on call from the local surgery.

 

The focus on care of students is a central part of the school’s ethos. The clann system, led by the caomhnóirí and clann prefects provides a framework for the care of students. In addition to the caomhnóirí and the prefects, a large number of people have responsibility for the care of students including senior management, the year heads and deputy year heads, the nurses, the deans of residence and the dean for girls. However, there is no formal care team structure.

 

It is essential that there be a clear separation between care for those students who are full-time boarders and the day boarders. Serious consideration should also be given to the particular needs of the large cohort of international students who are away from home for long periods. It is recommended that a care team structure should be established to facilitate the effective transfer of information on students and the early identification of those in need of extra support. This should include regular minuted meetings as well as the identification of roles, and liaison among all of those involved in the care of students. It is also important that there are opportunities for the team to link with the guidance department.

 

The critical incident team consists of the rector, the dean of residence, the principal, the deputy principal and the maintenance manager. A critical incident plan was presented to the evaluation team but this has not yet been ratified by the board. Neither was there any evidence of staff involvement in the development of this plan. Many staff members were not aware of its existence. It is recommended that the critical incident plan should be reviewed and further developed. In doing so the school is advised to consult the revised version of the document Responding to Critical Incidents: Guidelines for Schools (Department of Education and Science, 2007). The school should also access the supports from NEPS in reviewing the plan and in developing a critical incident management plan. It is further recommended that the composition of the critical incident team should be reviewed to include, for example, the guidance counsellor. Consideration should also be given to liaising with other schools in the surrounding area.

 

 

6.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         All staff members presented as very committed to their students and to the school. Good relationships and rapport between students and staff were noted.

·         The role of the year head is developing and as a result the process of distributed leadership has begun.

·         The review of the code of behaviour and the representation of all parties on the working group is a positive development.

·         The wide range of sporting activities available ensures very high participation rates.

·         A commendable range of learning strategies and methodologies was observed in a number of lessons across the subjects evaluated, resulting in a high level of engagement in class work.

·         Effective classroom management was evident in the lessons observed. An atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed and students were affirmed for their efforts.

·         The focus on care of students is a central part of the school’s ethos. The clann system is an important feature of Franciscan College and student leadership is fostered through the prefect system.

 

 

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

 

·         It is essential that a clear vision for the future direction of the school is developed. This vision should be agreed and supported by all members of the school community.

·         The board of management should review the effectiveness of its methods of communication with parents and the teaching staff and devise ways of bringing about improvements.

·         It is absolutely essential that there is a clear separation of the roles of principal and rector and that the principal holds overall responsibility for the day-to-day management of the school.

·         Issues regarding staff relations and staff morale should be identified and addressed as a matter of priority, as they impact on areas of school life.

·         The rationale for, and more importantly the educational value of, a six-day school week should be reviewed.

·         It is essential that a briefing session on the Child Protection Guidelines be provided for new staff members who have not yet received it, and for all of the non-teaching staff, whether working

      in a paid or a voluntary capacity. All staff should also be reminded of the DLP and deputy DLP.

·         There is an urgent need to update the health and safety statement in line with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

·         The school should engage as soon as possible with the school development planning process. The subject plans should be developed to ensure that the focus is on learning as well as

      on teaching. The issues identified in previous subject inspections should also be addressed.

·         Given the variety of students’ learning styles teachers should incorporate a greater variety of active learning into lessons. The potential benefits of ICT in teaching and learning should be explored.

 

 

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:

 

·         Subject Inspection of Gaeilge – 3 April 2009, published November 2009

·         Subject Inspection of German – 29 April 2009

·         Subject Inspection of Guidance – 25 April 2008, published November 2008

·         Subject Inspection of Mathematics – 27 and 28 April 2009

·         Subject Inspection of Science / Biology – 29 and 30 April 2009

 

 

 

 

Published March 2010

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

8.         School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

 

Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

School vision and mission statement being revised. Range of stakeholders consulted.

New Prospectus launched.

BOM members have attended training.

SDP underway. School strategic priorities have been established.

Communication channels have improved.

A formal process to redefine the role of the Principal and Rector has begun.

Posts of responsibility have been revised with sharper focus. Formal review from September 2010.

Statutory policies currently being updated.

Teacher based classrooms now a reality.

Child Protection Guidelines formalised to staff, including new staff and Board of Management.

Significant IT funding secured to update classrooms with a PC and ceiling mounted projector.