School reports show mixed picture of education system

‘Unresolved issues in professional relationships among staff’ in Gonzaga

 

A mixed picture of education standards in Ireland’s schools emerges in revised school inspection reports which measure the quality of schools on a sliding scale from “very good” to “weak”.

While most schools are typically found to have at least a  good standard of teaching and learning, inspection reports also highlight issues of concern in some high-profile schools.

In the case of Gonzaga College in Ranelagh, for example, they highlight “unresolved issues in professional relationships among staff” that have the "potential to detract from the focus on students".

St Kevin’s Community College in Clondalkin was found to have “weak management” and was not providing the minimum instruction time to pupils per week.

In schools such as Loreto College on Stephen’s Green, the leadership was rated as very good, as was the quality of learning.

At Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin 3, inspectors found students who were “ very well behaved, articulate, self- confident and critical thinkers who were overwhelmingly positive about their school and their learning experiences.”

While school inspection reports have been available for more than a decade, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said revised reports – introduced a year ago, but which are now evident in recent reports – are more meaningful for parents and teachers.

“Probably the biggest change for parents and teachers is the new inspection reports that have begun to be published over the last year,” Mr Bruton said.

“The new inspection reports contain clearer statements about the quality of the school’s work that is examined in each inspection. They also include information that helps readers understand the judgements that inspectors make.”

Whole school evaluation reports for individual primary and secondary schools are available on the Department of Education website. Our guide on how to read them is here.

Edited extracts of recent whole-school evaluation reports:

‘Unresolved issues in personal relationships with staff’

Gonzaga College,

Sandford Road Ranelagh Dublin 6

While aspects of school governance were highly effective, there were “unresolved issues in professional relationships among staff” that had the potential to detract from the focus on students.

Management led the school effectively, fostering a culture in which learning flourishes, with high expectations for student learning and participation in school activities.

However, it said the current post structure did not fully meet the needs of the school.

The student care structures and systems for academic monitoring were highly effective. Overall, the quality of teaching and learning observed was good, with aspects of highly effective practice, and some areas requiring improvement identified.

However, at the time of the inspection in May of this year, it said the school was not “fully compliant” with implementation of the Junior Cycle. This is likely to be a reference to the ASTI’s dispute - since suspended - in which teachers refused to take part in

‘Weak leadership and failure to ensure minimum instruction time’

St Kevin’s Community College,

Fonthill Road, Clondalkin Dublin 22

The overall quality of management and leadership in relation to key areas such as timetabling, teacher deployment, allocation of resources and curriculum provision is weak.

The school is not providing the minimum instruction time of 28 hours as stipulated under official circular, and the overall quality of timetabling is poor.

The librarian involved in children tanking part in a Junior Cert programme for at-risk children is, however providing an excellent service to students and it is evident that great progress has been made in fostering a love of reading among students.

The quality of teaching was good or very good in the majority of lessons with satisfactory practice observed in a small number of lessons

‘Quality of teaching and learning in most lessons was very good or good’

Loreto College,

St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2

The overall quality of leadership and management was very good.

The quality of leadership for learning was very good overall and the senior management team and board were receptive to innovation; there was scope to develop clearer long term priorities.

The quality of teaching and learning in most lessons was very good or good with some exemplary practice noted: in a few lessons, a greater focus on student participation in their learning with appropriately challenging learning intentions was possible.

The promotion and facilitation of the student voice, student participation and student leadership was highly developed.

Learning support was efficiently managed with a large team of teachers providing additional tuition to students: while no member of staff holds a special needs teaching qualification at present, this deficit is being addressed.

‘Strong sense of community and partnership with parents’

Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

The overall quality of school leadership and management was found to be very good.

Leadership roles were distributed at middle-management level and very good levels of commitment were evident; however, these roles required continuous review.

There was a strong sense of community in the school and partnership with parents was central to the school ethos.

There were very effective support structures in place to provide for students’ well-being,learning and individual educational needs

The quality of teaching and learning in the majority of lessons was good or very good; a minority of lessons were satisfactory with scope to enhance the quality of student learning.

Well behaved, articulate, self- confident and critical thinkers’

Mount Temple Comprehensive School, Dublin 3

During the evaluation, students were found to be very well behaved, articulate, self- confident and critical thinkers who were overwhelmingly positive about their school and their learning experiences.

School management and leadership was very effective in many areas; the school’s ethos is truly comprehensive, inclusive, tolerant and enabling.

The broad, balanced and innovative curriculum responded to students’ needs, although the deployment of some resources needed review.

The quality of teaching and learning in the lessons visited ranged from very good to good; there was scope to share the very effective practices observed with all staff.

‘A significant majority of students do not feel they have a say in how things are done in the school’

Castletroy College, Co Limerick

Management and leadership at all levels of the school was found to be of a very high quality, supported by an effective board of management and a very progressive senior management team.

While students undertook numerous leadership roles within the school, questionnaire findings indicated that a significant majority of students did not feel they had a say in how things were done in the school.

An exemplary standard of teaching was seen in a significant number of lessons and the overall quality of teaching was good or very good in almost all lessons; wider and more effective use of formative assessment practices was an area for development in a very small number of lessons.

The quality of learning was good or very good in most lessons; integrating active and collaborative learning effectively were areas for development in a small number of lessons.

‘Too many teachers involved in delivering learning support’

St Benildus College, Stillorgan, Dublin

Leadership and management in the school were very good at board, senior management and middle management level.

A culture of learning was fostered and high expectations were set throughout the school.

While the wellbeing of the whole school community was prioritised, too many teachers were involved in delivering learning support.

Overall, teaching and learning in the lessons observed was good, with some exemplary practice.

‘Teachers should share their expertise with each other’

Santa Sabina Dominican College, Sutton, Dublin 13

Overall leadership for learning was very good and the school was well managed, but there was inconsistency in the operation of some of the systems in place such as the year head and tutor systems.

Post holders were carrying out duties capably but the post structure did not meet all of the current needs of the school. There was very good practice in relation to promoting student achievement.

The quality of teaching and learning was good or very good in the majority of lessons and it would benefit the school for teachers to share their expertise with each other.

There had been good implementation of recommendations made in previous evaluations.

‘Planning for teaching and learning not adequately addressed by the board’

Newtown School, Co Waterford

The professional expertise and commitment of the board of management to Newtown School were found to augur well for school governance in the years ahead.

However, while strategic planning had focused on managing the school’s finances, addressing issues pertaining to the boarding school and managing the changes arising from moving from a fee- charging school to the free education sector, planning for teaching, learning and school improvement were not adequately being addressed.

The principal and deputy principal were found to manage the day-to-day running of the school effectively; however, action was required to further develop their own leadership roles and facilitate greater distributed leadership within the staff.

A positive learning environment was promoted through the school’s code of behaviour and the good range of educational and pastoral supports provided.

The quality of the teaching and learning ranged from good to very good in the majority of lessons observed, was satisfactory in some and required considerable improvement in a small minority of lessons.

‘A more strategic approach to planning for the future development of the school...is recommended.’

St Andrews NS Malahide, Co Dublin

The Church of Ireland co-educational primary school had 237 pupils at the time of the inspection and their attendance levels were very good. The inspectors found that pupils’ learning achievements were “of a very high standard”.

Overall, the quality of teaching was very good with some examples of “outstanding practice”. The use of role play and the facilitation of inspiring learning experiences had led to exemplary learning outcomes.

The report said assessment data should be used to identify and support cohorts of pupils for whom further improvement in literacy and numeracy was achievable.

“A more strategic approach to planning for the future development of the school, involving all members of the school community, is recommended.”

The inspectors also said support for pupils’ well-being was of a very high standard.

“A calm, caring and positive school culture is established where pupils are valued and respected. Very positive and mature relationships are in place across the school. Senior pupils support the younger pupils during breaks and, despite the limited space available, the school community works well together.” The report recommended that the board review its deployment of staff as it had deployed a teacher in a support-teaching role rather than as the ninth mainstream class-based post.

‘The student voice should be further developed.’

Gorey Community School, Co Wexford

GCS is the largest school in the jurisdiction with 141 teachers on staff and had an enrolment of 1,593 students at the time of inspection.

The quality of teaching and learning was very good or good in most lessons, while a small number of lessons were satisfactory with some scope for improvement.

The report said management and staff had embraced change and school development and had engaged well with school self-evaluation (SSE) although that engagement had been “somewhat diminished in recent months due to the impact of industrial action”.

“Students are well supported through a range of school-based initiatives, and support for students with special education needs is good, but the student voice should be further developed.”

The inspectors said the school plan was “comprehensive overall” but there was a need to provide more detail in relation to the operation of the Irish stream and to outline a vision for the stream into the future. The provision for students with special education needs was a recognised strength of the school, the report said. There was also a “vibrant, hardworking” parents’ association.

Considerable work had been done on evaluating and assessing the school’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to literacy and numeracy and this was commended. But the inspection report said teachers should discuss and implement the school’s strategies and targets for literacy. Work on the development of numeracy strategies was ongoing and while maths mentoring had been introduced in some years, there was a need to progress the implementation of whole-school approaches in numeracy.

‘School staff and management have embraced opportunities for change.’

Woodbrook College, Bray, Co Wicklow

The quality of teaching and learning ranged from “fair to very good”.

Inspectors found it was “good or very good in the majority of lessons observed and was satisfactory or fair a small number of lessons”. There were some instances of exemplary practice.

In-class support for student learning needs, assessment practices and teaching approaches required development in a small number of lessons.

Staff were “highly attentive to the care and wellbeing of students” but there was scope for improvement in the systems for monitoring students’ progress in learning support, student support and academic attainment.

Good progress had been made with many of the recommendations from previous inspections, the report said.

School staff and management had also embraced opportunities for change. The report said teachers had not availed of training in connection with the new junior cycle, and this was reported to be due to industrial action.

The inspectors said the principal and the board of management should review aspects of teacher deployment and timetabling. The overall quality of in-school communication was satisfactory with scope for improvement in some aspects, as noted in staff responses to a survey.

Positive approaches to behaviour management were being further developed and this was reported as having good impact on low-level misbehaviour and homework completion.

A wide range of important skills were developed across subjects, including problem-solving, practical and critical-thinking skills.

‘A majority of students are proud to be in the school and feel safe and cared for.’

Chanel College, Coolock Village, Dublin

The all-boys voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the Marist Fathers had 604 students at the time of inspection. Inspectors found school leadership and management at all levels to be very effective.

“Well-organised support for students with additional learning needs currently involves a large team of teachers. The quality of teaching and learning in the majority of lessons was very good: further sharing of good practice would benefit students.

Recommendations from previous inspections had been effectively implemented and the school had a very good capacity to manage and lead improvement, the report found.

Planning for DEIS provision was very effective; student attainment has improved but there was scope for further attention to this area. Some preparation for the new Junior Cycle framework had been completed but planning meetings were not taking place at the time of inspection due to industrial action. The inspectors said the school patron was “very proactive in establishing and maintaining a guiding vision for the school”.

The senior management team led and managed the organisational structures in the school very effectively.

“Survey findings indicate that a majority of students are proud to be in the school and feel safe and cared for. Students’ views are valued by the school and their opinions on specific issues, such as transition year, have been sought. At the time of the evaluation, the election of a new student council was being organised.”

Good information and communication technology (ICT) facilities were provided in all classrooms. But teachers indicated “some dissatisfaction with access to ICT facilities”. The inspectors said his issue should be further investigated by management.

‘Some aspects of the admissions policy may appear to be restrictive.’

St Raphaela’s Secondary School, Stillorgan

There were 565 female students enrolled in the Catholic school at the time of inspection. The board of management provided good overall quality leadership for the school, though some activities such as strategic planning needed attention.

“The quality of leadership and management from the highly committed senior management team is good; they effectively lead staff to provide a caring, welcoming and supportive learning environment for students,” the report said.

A key strength of the school was its effective pastoral care system and the commitment and dedication of staff to the operation of the school, though the organisation and workings of the special educational needs department merited review.

The overall quality of teaching and learning ranged from good to very good in most lessons, with some examples of highly effective practice observed. In a few lessons the quality ranged from “satisfactory to fair”.

The inspectors recommended the academic mentoring and tracking system should be further developed by teachers in order to enhance student learning.

“The school is an open and inclusive school and is welcoming of all students. However, some aspects of the admissions policy may appear to be restrictive and do not accurately reflect the inclusive nature of the school. The requirement of information regarding the special educational needs of prospective applicants being submitted as early as fifth class should be re-considered in any future review,” the report said.

In this school as in others, planning for and implementation of the revised Junior Cycle framework was limited at the time of inspection due to industrial action.

‘Students feel able to ask questions and contribute their opinions to class discussions.’

Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

The overall quality of leadership and management at the all-girls’ fee-charging school was very good and human resources were well managed for the most part.

The inspection report said the senior management team and board were receptive to innovation but there was scope to develop “clearer long term priorities”.

“The quality of teaching and learning in most lessons was very good or good with some exemplary practice noted: in a few lessons, a greater focus on student participation in their learning with appropriately challenging learning intentions was possible,” the report said.

The promotion and facilitation of the student voice, student participation and student leadership was “highly developed”.

“Learning support is efficiently managed with a large team of teachers providing additional tuition to students: while no member of staff holds a special needs teaching qualification at present, this deficit is being addressed.”

Throughout the evaluation students showed “an exemplary attitude to their own learning. While they approached their work seriously a level of enjoyment was also evident”.

“It was evident that students feel able to ask questions and contribute their opinions to class discussions. There was a consistent use of teacher questioning to check students’ understanding and, at a more probing level, to deepen and broaden their knowledge.”

The inspectors said, however, that teachers needed to be careful of the “over use of global questioning to ascertain students’ understanding as students in difficulty may be reluctant to respond”.

The school had made “great strides” with the use of technology as a learning, investigating and recording tool.

‘Too much focus on teacher-led discussion and questioning.’

Holy Faith Secondary School, Clontarf, Dublin

The overall quality of school ownership and management at the Catholic all-girls voluntary secondary school, with 637 pupils, was “very good”.

The principal and newly appointed deputy principal took “a partnership approach to leadership and day-to-day management, and are committed to providing a holistic education for all students in a caring environment”. There was a very good level of engagement with whole-school and subject-specific continuous professional development (CPD) among staff.

The overall quality of teaching and learning was good, but differentiation and the facilitation of student-led activity required attention. Student leadership was fostered strongly and a democratically elected student council was in place.

A code of behaviour set out clear expectations for all students. Again, some elements of the revised Junior Cycle programme were not being implemented due to industrial action.

The inspection report said that in a significant minority of lessons there was “too much focus on teacher-led discussion and questioning or giving information through teacher notes which students either copied down or highlighted in textbooks”.

“In these lessons, students were mainly passive recipients rather than active in their learning. It is recommended that teachers plan for differentiated strategies and the inclusion of student-led activities to appropriately challenge all learners and provide a greater level of learner autonomy.”