WHOLE SCHOOL EVALUATION REPORT 2012

A Whole School Evaluation of the Management, Teaching & Learning within Colaiste Mhuire was undertaken in May of 2012. The following is the resulting report from the Inspectorate. This report is also availabe on the Department of Education & Skills website. As you will see it is an extremely positive and affirming report which highlights the positive work being done within the school in all areas relevant to education and student support. Indeed, on the publication of the report, Ms Joan Russell (CEO County Cork VEC) was so impressed with the findings that she wrote a special letter of commendation to the school.

An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

Whole-School Evaluation Management, Leadership and Learning

REPORT

Coláiste Mhuire

Buttevant, County Cork

Roll number: 76067L

Date of inspection: 16 May 2012 2

Whole-School Evaluation Management, Leadership and Learning

A whole-school evaluation of management, leadership and learning (WSE-MLL) was undertaken in May, 2012 in Coláiste Mhuire, Buttevant. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the inspection team met with the school’s board of management, in-school management, groups of teachers, parents and students. Inspectors also reviewed a range of school documentation and responses to questionnaires and examined other data in relation to the operation of the school. As part of the evaluation, a range of lessons across a number of subject areas was inspected. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

Introduction

Coláiste Mhuire is a community college under the joint trusteeship of the Bishop of Cloyne and Cork County Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The school has been co-educational since 1997. It has a current enrolment of 213, a figure that has increased gradually since the late 1990s when 137 students were enrolled. Students are of a mainly rural background. Located in Buttevant since the foundation of the convent school in 1879, the school comprises a number of unconnected buildings constructed by the Mercy Congregation in the course of its educational and social commitment to the town and its environs. The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan for the inclusion of students.

Much change has been experienced by the school in recent years. In addition to the replacement of retired staff members and of those on maternity leave, the growth in enrolment has necessitated the employment of extra staff. Changes to the senior management team have included the appointment of a new principal at the beginning of the current school year and of the deputy principal during the last school year. It should be noted that, although at the time of this evaluation, the convent was in the course of closure, heralding the end of an era for the school, the process of building a new school had been initiated. An eight acre site had been purchased by the VEC, the design phase had begun and a completion date in 2014 had been proposed. In the interim, the current buildings, including some of the old convent, are to be retained for use.

1. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER DEVELOPMENT

1.1 Key Findings

„h The school is well managed and well led.

„h Positive attitudes among the school community are illustrated by the positive attitudes of parents and students to the school.

„h Planning is effective, well structured, and well co-ordinated.

„h The successful operation of the school is supported by an effective balance of formal and informal management processes, as is appropriate in a school of this size.

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„h The well-integrated systems of student support and student management, combined with good relationships and communication, have created an atmosphere highly conducive to teaching and learning.

„h The support and care of students are highly valued and are at the core of the school’s mission.

„h Effective self-evaluation is an integral part of staff practices.

1.2 Recommendations for Further Development

„h It is recommended that methods of formative assessment become part of teaching practice generally.

„h Subject-department plans should include a focus on self-evaluation as a further integration of good practice.

2. QUALITY OF SCHOOL MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP

2.1 School ownership and management – the Board of Management

Composition, functioning and fulfilment of statutory obligations

Coláiste Mhuire benefits from the considerable administrative and educational expertise of its board of management. The board is properly constituted and is vision-led. Board members are aware of their responsibilities under law and as required by the school’s mission. The board is particularly aware of its educational responsibilities to the local community. This is illustrated by the range of links that have been established between the board and the community in the interests both of the community and of the school. Five formal meetings are held annually and are supplemented by on-going informal contacts and additional formal meetings as appropriate. The board anticipates that the new phase of school development planning will require additional meetings, formal and informal, as necessary. Board members have been provided with training for their roles and are an effective corporate support to the school’s senior management team.

The school’s priorities for development

The board has clear objectives. Through active involvement in the development and ratification of plans and policies, it has identified the development of the new school and the continuing development of teaching and learning as its major priorities. Associated with these, the board has also prioritised its focus on academic attainment, including literacy and numeracy, on curricular provision and development, and on the maintenance of a whole-school ethos of support for students and staff. The board has succeeded in preparing the school well for its imminent structural development and for its focus on professional teaching practice. The role of the VEC in supporting these developments is acknowledged by the board and is an important factor in the high level of morale in the school.

Confirmation was provided that the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools without modification and that the school is compliant with the requirements of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools. 4

2.2 Effectiveness of leadership for learning

Leadership of staff

The principal and deputy principal form an effective and reflective leadership team. Both are experienced instructional leaders who, in the relatively short time since their appointments to their respective roles in 2011, have established a very good professional relationship as a team, and with the board of management. Their affirmative attitude to the school and to students and their effective communication skills have provided a firm foundation for their enlightened approach to school development. Collaboration with staff has established a learning environment that is well planned and targeted, and that is based on professional teaching practices.

Staff members share a common vision for the school. In applying this vision, there is an appreciation among staff of the need for some formalisation and structure to achieve clarity and efficiency in planning. Despite the relatively small size of the school and the effectiveness of existing informal processes, it is clear that the definition of roles and responsibilities, the documentation of plans and processes, and the commitment to regular review have occurred in an environment that is being further enhanced by these practices. The minutes of recent staff meetings show evidence of reflective approaches to teaching practice, methods of assessment and to child-centred education. Similarly, the acknowledgement, encouragement and facilitation of continuing professional development (CPD) as an essential component of good planning exemplifies the school’s high aspirations for staff members.

The middle management of the school is effective and has been devolved to staff as appropriate. Decisions regarding responses to the school’s needs are made in consultation with staff on an on-going basis. Support and guidance for the learning and personal needs of students are the major focus of the school’s responses. The collaborative climate that has been created in the school was acknowledged by all who contributed to this evaluation to be both the result of and a stimulus to good relationships and communication among the school community. In consequence, teachers and other staff feel well supported professionally and personally.

The continuing consideration of teachers’ professional practice has been achieved through the provision of time at regular structured meetings, such as staff meetings and meetings of the planning team, and through the participation by staff in significant CPD. On-going consideration is being given to issues such as formative assessment, whole-school approaches to literacy and numeracy, and co-operative learning. The establishment of teacher-based classrooms has enabled the creation of some very rich learning environments that were used effectively in the course of the lessons observed.

School planning has been well established as an on-going process. In establishing the planning process, the school benefited from its engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and from co-ordination of the highest standard. The plan includes a well-structured system of subject departments. These have been used effectively to encourage reflection on professional practice and through, for example, the rotation of co-ordinators, the development of expertise and collegiality among staff. The plan also includes regularly reviewed policies and procedures that have been ratified and approved by the board of management in accordance with statutory requirements. Good practice in this regard includes significant student involvement in the development of relevant policies, such as the code of behaviour.

Leadership of students

The procedures for admission to the school are clear and well documented. The participation of senior management and staff in communication with feeder primary 5

schools is ongoing, with particular focus on enrolment prior to entry. Appropriate advice is available to parents through the school’s website and each student, accompanied by parents, is interviewed by senior management during the spring term prior to entry.

The provision of programmes, such as the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and the optional Transition Year (TY), in addition to a large range of subjects, exemplifies the school’s aspiration to provide for the needs of all students. The timetable comprises a programme with a well-balanced allocation of time across the range of subjects. It is of note that, in addition to the range of subjects required by the Department of Education and Skills (DES), Science is a compulsory Junior Certificate subject at Coláiste Mhuire, in recognition of its importance to life skills. The school calendar indicates the provision of 167 days of tuition per school year and a weekly timetable that complies with Department regulations.

High attendance rates, a low rate of suspensions and the expression of positive attitudes to the school in a questionnaire for students, show clear evidence of student satisfaction with the school. The number of students with very low attendance records is small, confirming the effectiveness of the integrated range of supports available to them.

Among the outcomes of the planning process has been a focus on the regular assessment of students’ academic and personal progress. To this end, reports of monthly assessments are forwarded to parents. These complement end-of-term examinations and diagnostic and baseline assessments carried out on entry, and in relation to participation in DEIS.

The school clearly recognises the importance of effective supports for students and has developed an integrated system comprising inputs from, for example the guidance department, the additional educational needs department, the chaplaincy and the home-school liaison officer. The support system is well planned and co-ordinated, providing various structures and services, such as home visitation, counselling and learning support in support of the personal and learning needs of students. Regular, formal meetings of the student-support team are supplemented by ongoing informal contacts. It is clear that the intent and the consequences of such collaboration confirm the commitment of staff to the school’s mission of support and care for students.

Students themselves are included in the support system. A mentoring programme for first-year students operates for as long as is needed to enable adjustment to the school. New students are befriended by selected and trained senior-cycle students. The established channels of communication are used effectively to ensure rapid responses to any identified needs. Among other means, formal communication is effected through regular contacts between designated class-teachers and their classes and weekly assemblies convened for each year group and addressed by the principal. The effectiveness of communication within the school was frequently demonstrated in the course of this evaluation by teachers’ positive personalised responses when encountering students. An active students’ council, under the guidance of a staff member, has assumed a significant role in the school’s communication system and in its participation in the Green Schools programme.

The parents’ association contributes significantly to the management of the school. Although not affiliated to a national association, the parents association is well structured and well organised, having designated officers and regular formal meetings attended by the principal. The association has been active in campaigning for the provision of the new school and in funding the provision of scientific and electronic equipment, and of musical instruments. Among its other achievements has been the provision of a local hall for Physical Education (PE) purposes. Members of the association have engaged in CPD relevant to their roles. 6

2.3 Management of facilities

Although the convent is a mature building of character, most of the school is housed in additional, partially two-storey accommodation in its grounds. Despite its age and the necessity for ongoing monitoring, upgrading and maintenance, the building has been well maintained. Rooms have been upgraded to support the use of electronic technology and staff members have been active in providing a visually stimulating and print-rich environment. Notwithstanding the disparate locations of specialist rooms, such as the Music, Art and Construction Studies rooms, they are well provided with subject-specific resources and attractive visual displays.

Good use has been made of recent allocations by the Department. In particular, funds provided, through and with the advice of the VEC, have been dedicated to the installation of technology throughout the building that enables immediate access to and display of internet-based material. The benefits of such access were observed in the use of the technology, when fitting, in many of the lessons observed. Similarly, the school’s website is well maintained, current and clearly presented. A clear indication of good management and planning practices was noted in the success of the board in its planning for the provision of a new school building.

3. QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING

3.1 The quality of learning and teaching

The school’s engagement with the process of instructional leadership, supported by the VEC, has had positive effects on the teaching practices observed in the course of this evaluation. Among these have been examples of team-teaching observed in classrooms and of cross-curricular sharing observed in subject department plans. In addition, the supports available to students and adherence to good planning practice have added to the richness of the school and classroom environment.

The quality of teaching observed was very high, echoing the current priority being given to reflection on teaching practice. Some examples of excellent practice were seen. Teachers had succeeded in creating affirmative learning environments in which good relationships prevail. This enabled good communication and mutually respectful interaction in each lesson observed. Among the outcomes of such good practice have been the high achievements by students in the certificate examinations. Following the annual publication of results, the school analyses its outcomes as they relate to the national norms Regular reviews by staff, of these and of the results of school-based assessments, have contributed to the sense of pride observed among staff regarding the achievements of students.

Good practice was commended in all of the lessons observed. Lessons were well planned and structured. In most cases, the learning objectives of the lesson were stated at the outset. It was clear that students were familiar with the individual routines of teachers. Opportunities were given for collaborative learning. Very good use was made of the available resources including the whiteboard, ICT and the visual resources used to decorate the classrooms including, in some cases, students' own work. Clear directions and explanations were given in all cases. Student progress was evaluated continuously throughout the lessons. Questions were well used. The two-way communication that had been established enabled student participation and, in each case, student input was welcomed and encouraged. Students were active, engaged and well-mannered throughout. Teachers' competence in their subjects was observed to be high.

Some good examples of formative assessment were observed. The recent engagement by staff in CPD in this regard provides a good basis for extending this practice as appropriate. 7

It is recommended that such methods of formative assessment become part of teaching practice generally. The recapitulation of stated learning objectives, observed prior to the conclusion of some lessons, is recommended for widespread adoption as an inherent consequence of their statement.

Seven strategies had been agreed for adoption at a staff meeting, following recent CPD on literacy and numeracy strategies for use in the classroom. The results were clearly seen in the course of every lesson observed. In each case, teachers noted the aims and objectives of the lesson on the whiteboard and, prior to concluding, noted the homework. In most lessons, a list of key words used was noted on the whiteboard in the course of the lesson. Extensive displays of visually pleasing work were observed in many rooms and these were effectively used as appropriate in the course of some lessons.

Given the high standard of planning already in existence and the well-documented subject department plans, it is recommended that self-evaluation be included in those plans. This would integrate current good practice with the national focus on self-evaluation.

4. IMPLEMENTATION OF RECOMMENDATIONS FROM PREVIOUS EVALUATIONS

4.1 Management

The recommendations of previous inspection reports have been addressed as appropriate. Reviews of the school’s timetable have enabled the implementation of timetabling recommendations in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Irish and in the technologies. The development of the school’s ICT system has facilitated positive responses to the recommendations of the Music report. The responses of management to other recommendations have also been effectively implemented. These include a recommendations regarding support for staff CPD, the clarification of procedures used in the event of crises and the composition of the student support team.

4.2 Learning and Teaching

Responses to recommendations regarding learning and teaching have been addressed in a similarly positive manner. The emphasis on the development of oral skills in Irish, for example has resulted in a multifaceted approach that includes the incorporation of an oral test in end-of-year tests in the senior cycle, comments in the monthly reports to parents and trips to Irish-speaking areas. Although the recommendation was made in an Irish report, it was observed that a similar approach to the development of oral skills was being taken in the course of other language lessons. Similar cross-curricular responses were noted to recommendations made in the report on the technologies. This is very good practice.

The school’s openness to suggestions and recommendations contained in inspection reports illustrates the collaborative approach of staff and management to school improvement. In this, and in the actions consequent to its own self-review, the school proves the value of these processes in the provision of an educational service of high quality.

5. THE SCHOOL’S SELF-EVALUATION PROCESS AND CAPACITY FOR SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

5.1

Considerable work has been put into self-evaluation by staff on an on-going basis. Good planning has enabled the establishment of structures supportive of effective teaching. A range of policies has been devised and subject departments are in place. The school's 8

current focus is on teachers' professional practice. It is clear that both senior management and staff are committed to ongoing review.

The work of the school exemplifies the value of effective collaboration and management support in the provision of an environment conducive to the work of teachers and to positive outcomes for students, both academically and personally. In addition, the contributions of parents, and of students, to the process of school review are significant and in keeping with good practice. The quality of the outcomes to date and the current development trends are clear indicators of the school’s constructive capacity for self-improvement.

Published October 2012