An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
F.C.J. Secondary School
Bunclody, County Wexford
Roll number: 63550Q
Date of inspection: 24 October 2008
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
A whole-school evaluation of FCJ Secondary School was undertaken in October, 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in five subjects were evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects. (See section 7 for details). The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) first came to Bunclody in 1861. Some sisters taught in the national school while others worked in the newly founded boarding school for girls. In 1926, the first day students enrolled in the secondary school and in 1969 the school became co-educational. The boarding school was closed in 1986. The school’s first lay principal was appointed in September 2008.
The school, located on the outskirts of Bunclody, attracts students from the town itself, its vicinity and from neighbouring areas of Wicklow and Carlow. Priority for enrolment is given to local students. Well over half of the school’s population travel to school by bus and the majority of students attending the school come from a rural background. Enrolments in the school have increased to the current figure of 783 students.
1. quality of school management
1.1 Characteristic spirit of the school
Our School is a Christian community of learning and companionship in which each student and member of staff experiences and is responsible for the development of person centred, holistic and enjoyable education.
There was very strong evidence throughout the evaluation that the above mission statement is the guiding principle of the whole school community and that every effort is made by all to live out each word in the mission statement. There was also much evidence that each aspect of the wide-ranging goal of the staff and board of management, which aims towards “providing an educational programme of the highest academic standards… in a caring, co-operative and challenging environment”, is achieved. An atmosphere of respect permeates the school at every level. Great efforts are made to develop the whole person as seen in the supports available for students, the attention to individual students, the great knowledge of and interest in the students demonstrated by the staff and the overall atmosphere and strong work ethic to be found in the school.
The school motto is Mol an óige ’is tiocfaidh siad and, again, this motto is lived out in reality. The school celebrates its students’ achievements in a myriad of ways: for example, through the bi-annual certificates which are presented to the best achiever and best attender in each subject in every class in the school; the annual prize-giving ceremony; the annual ‘Good Fellowship’ award, presented to the sixth-year student who demonstrates leadership qualities, good interpersonal skills and support for school values. Celebrations of students’ achievements and of the student body in general adorn the walls of the school. Nevertheless, there is a belief among members of the Student Council that awards should also be presented to the greatest improver in each class as an incentive to the student who tries hard but might never achieve an academic award. It is suggested that consideration be given by the staff to this idea, perhaps similar to the Sporting Endeavour Award and the fourth-year ‘Spirit of Transition Year’ award.
A sense of companionship and friendship was palpable among the student body, among all members of staff and between staff and students as the unique characteristic spirit of the school, in keeping with the FCJ ethos. There was evidence of a strong pride in the school by students and all other stakeholders. The positive atmosphere in the school was commented on by all during the course of the evaluation and this sense of goodwill, friendship and collegiality is one of the great strengths of the school. The tri-annual school Masses are reverent school occasions which the entire school community attends and which emphasise the ethos of the school. The ethos of the FCJ order and the school mission underpins all school documents and the school recently participated in a range of events to celebrate the Jubilee in France of the FCJ foundress. The school is also involved in a number of fundraising activities for the FCJ sisters’ missions abroad. There are strong links between the school and the FCJ convent, which is situated on the same site. For example, a member of the FCJ order supervises Saturday study and study during school holidays in the convent for sixth years and supports students in many ways throughout the school.
1.2 School ownership and management
The FCJ order is soon to join the Le Chéile Trust and, to help smooth the transition between FCJ and Le Chéile trusteeship, the order has appointed an education development officer. This role is a very useful support to the principal and the board of management and a strong link with the trustees. Training has been provided for all FCJ chairs of boards of management in the FCJ ethos and the new Le Chéile charter which has been formally adopted by the FCJ order. There are also plans for the principals of the four FCJ schools to work together as a network within the Le Chéile structure. The board of management and the entire school staff, including ancillary staff, have had training on the new trustee charter.
There has been a board of management in the school since the early 1990s. There was evidence that the board is properly constituted and fulfils its statutory requirements. It was also clear that there are very good and structured links with the trustees; for example, there has always been a member of the FCJ religious order on the board.
At the time of the evaluation, a new board had just been formed with some continuity of membership, including the position of chair, with the previous board. This safeguarded corporate memory and ensured that the board would continue to be led very well. There are plans for the new board to receive training in the implications of the change of trusteeship and to receive training from the Joint Managerial Body in its duties and functions. The board meets frequently and all board members showed a strong interest in education and a keenness to be involved with the school community. Those who have had children in the school expressed a strong wish to give something back to the school. All members of the board are aware of their shared management role. Communication from board meetings to staff regarding board business is via an agreed written report. The Student Council has communicated with the board on certain issues. Board members attend school events. It was clear that the newly-formed board is willing and able to support the principal effectively.
There was much evidence that the board of management is a strong board, that it takes its role seriously and is prepared to make difficult decisions in order to maintain the good name of the school and to protect each individual student. Decisions are reached through discussion, debate and consensus. The board has identified clear priorities for development: a review of the school’s code of behaviour; updating existing policies and introducing new policies; supporting the principal, staff and parents in ensuring continuation of the existing ethos as the school moves into Le Chéile and dealing with the issue of inadequate staffroom space. One of the issues that the board has discussed in the past is the demise of the Parents’ Council in the school. Efforts have already been made to reactivate the Council but with no success. It is recommended that this be given immediate priority by the board. The documented role of the previous Parents’ Council needs review prior to such reactivation and it is further recommended that a clearly defined role for the Parents’ Council, other than just a fundraising role, be considered. Up to now there has been no financial sub-committee of the board of management although the accounts, which were prepared by the principal, were signed off by the board and sent to the trustees on a monthly basis and audited and certified annually in keeping with the requirements of the Education Act (1998). It is recommended that a financial sub-committee of the board of management be set up so that more collective responsibility for their preparation is secured.
A very noticeable feature of the board of management was its awareness of and input into all aspects of school life. The board has had a large input into existing policies, including the draft homework policy and the admissions policy and it was clear that it takes its role in relation to policy review and adoption very seriously. It is recommended that the board alter some of the wording of the school’s Admissions policy, including rewording the term “Entrance test” and the clause stating that the principal decides what the necessary resources are to provide for the needs of students. A rationale for the list of feeder primary schools should also be included, in order to make the policy clearer and more secure.
1.3 In-school management
The principal and deputy principal are only in their existing positions in the school since 1 September. They inherited a school with excellent structures and systems in place and there was compelling evidence that the school is in very good hands with the current incumbents. Both members of the senior management team were fully aware of their roles and responsibilities and there was evidence of a smooth transition from former to current management. Both have clear priorities for the future and there was evidence that staff share these priorities. Already, good progress has been made on many of these issues.
The principal has a strong leadership role. She is the ultimate decision taker in the day-to- day running of the school and demonstrates great willingness and capacity to take on responsibility. She ensures that the structures are in place to facilitate the smooth running of the school. She has a visible presence throughout the school and is a support to as well as a leader of staff. The deputy principal has an equally strong presence in the school, is a very good support to the principal and has a wide range of management duties. As well as having separate duties senior management also share certain tasks. Both are in regular formal and informal communication with each other on a daily basis. The work ethic of both members of the senior management team is strong. In addition, both have an open door policy and are seen as being very approachable by staff.
Senior management delegates many functional and organisational duties to post holders. Many of the posts of responsibility at assistant principal (AP) and special duties level are necessary for the effective day-to-day running of the school. This is commendable as it allows management to focus on leadership and larger management issues. There are ten posts of responsibility at assistant principal level and fifteen special duties posts in the school. An in-school management review of posts commenced last year and has yet to be completed. This review indicated that some posts of responsibility may no longer be necessary and that many of the duties attached to posts are fragmentary and disparate. The whole-school evaluation team agrees with these views. In some cases the responsibilities of assistant principal do not seem any greater than those of special duties teachers. Circular letter PPT29/02 states that “the duties attached to the posts of Assistant Principal and Special Duties Teacher respectively should have a level of responsibility and workload commensurate with this category”. This will need to be taken into account in any further review. Therefore, it is recommended that the review of posts continue as soon as is feasible with a view to making the posts more equitable, identifying posts that meet the needs of the school and streamlining other posts.
The APs are often consulted on an individual basis by senior management for advice. However, it is recommended that formal consultation be held between APs and senior management as a group in order for assistant principals to have a greater middle management voice in the school.
The position of year head for each year group in the school is not part of a post of responsibility position. Each year head receives a time allowance of one class period each day to fulfil his/her duties. It was evident that the year heads take on considerable responsibility and have a middle management role in the school through their management of students and through the weekly consultation meeting with the principal and deputy principal. The system of year heads was observed to be working very well in the school. However, there is an anomaly in that the role of assistant to a year head is part of a post of responsibility while the role of year head is not. This anomaly should be taken into consideration in the review of posts.
Management and staff actively pursue solutions and improvements as seen on many occasions during the evaluation. For example, after a discussion among staff on the need for an improved fifth-year work ethic, a working group of fifth-year form tutors and the relevant year head discussed and implemented a range of strategies to motivate these students. Following a discussion on first-year student practices regarding litter last year, a points system was put in place as a motivation for first years to become more vigilant about litter.
The systems and structures in place in the school are highly commended and have been carefully worked out and reviewed over the years. In particular, there was evidence of very good systems of communication among stakeholders in the school. The principal visits all of the feeder primary schools to obtain relevant information about all students enrolled into first year. Any relevant information is then communicated to the first-year year head. Such clear lines of communication are a huge strength of the school and there was evidence that the staff is always working on ways to improve communication and tighten up systems. Staff has an input onto the agenda of staff meetings. The staff breaks into smaller groups to discuss specific issues at staff meetings and this ensures that all staff members have a voice. The staff handbook is a ready reference for key policies and practices. The school has many notice boards for different activities and events. It was clear that key decisions are made through consultation and collaboration with all parties, allowing all to take ownership of these decisions.
The school operates on the principle that “if it looks after the little things the big things will look after themselves”, and this principle was in evidence on a daily basis. Each day a different year head meets with his/her form tutors during the registration period and morning break. The attention to detail given at these meetings was noteworthy and a strategy was put in place for managing or helping each student who was brought to the attention of the year head. Each week the year heads meet as a group with senior management where issues in each year group are discussed as well as school management issues. It was evident from observation of these meetings that there are clear lines of communication from the form tutor/year head meetings to the year head/senior management meetings and vice versa. To improve these systems further, there are plans for a newly established care team to meet on a weekly basis. Issues discussed at these meetings will be communicated to the year heads and can in turn be communicated to the form tutors.
Another strength of the school is the excellent mentoring and induction programme which is run for all newly qualified or newly employed teachers throughout their first year in the school. A highly commendable induction booklet which contains practical and useful advice as well as a description of key policies and practices has been compiled for this purpose. The regular meetings with the mentors are used to discuss issues such as classroom management strategies and how to deal with different scenarios that may arise. In addition, a recent innovation is that new teachers are facilitated by some staff to observe their lessons. In addition to promoting a sense of belonging and an awareness of the school’s ethos and structures, the programme ensures that all teachers are consistent in their implementation of systems. In true FCJ tradition, the programme is evaluated at the end of each year.
FCJ Bunclody has a very good and deserved reputation for good discipline. Students were observed to be extremely well behaved throughout the school and displayed great respect for all members of staff. In addition, they moved around the school in a mannerly and calm fashion. No student is allowed out of the school grounds at lunchtime. Students are very well supervised at this time by a team of teachers and supervisors. Of particular note is the fact that supervisors cover the same area daily so that they get to know the students. The principal plans to continue the tradition of meeting all first-year class groups and to meet every student in the school to discuss results in house examinations.
The discipline structure is clear and all teachers are aware of how this structure works. There is a specific role for class teacher, form teacher and year head and relevant documentation and referral forms have been created to assist this structure. The fact that there is a consistent approach to discipline by all teachers and year heads is a great strength. Plans are underway to review the Code of Behaviour to make it dovetail with the National Educational Welfare Board’s Guidelines for Developing School Codes of Behaviour, to engage all stakeholders in this review and to make the code fairer. This review is to be welcomed as the present Code of Behaviour does not always reflect the positive nature of the school and may not be equitable.
The school’s attendance strategy is very effective. Students’ attendance is checked electronically and manually each morning and afternoon. If students come late to school they must sign a late book. If students are absent parents may be called or texted. Parents are also contacted if it is noticed that there is a constant pattern of absenteeism. Positive measures for improving attendance are also in place including the presentation of certificates for those who have full attendance. It was reported that these measures have been very successful in improving attendance.
The school retains the vast majority of its students from junior to senior cycle and to completion of Leaving Certificate.
Another noticeable feature of the school is the explicit efforts made by the school to raise the attainment of boys and ensure parity of achievement. There are awards for the highest achieving boy and girl in each subject; the school tries to ensure an equal balance of boys and girls as prefects, Meitheal leaders, members of the Student Council and as editors of the school magazine, ‘The Inside Story’.
Students are given a strong voice in the school through the recently established Student Council, the class representative system and the prefect system. The election of the Student Council is exemplary. Students who stand for election have to make a speech to their entire year group and these students are elected through the system of proportional representation. The Student Council has a well-defined constitution and roles, and there are strong lines of communication between the general student body and the Council. A liaison teacher attends the Council meetings and acts as a link with the staff. The Council has made submissions to the board of management, has been consulted by the principal about certain policies and is carving out an important niche for itself in the school. The prefects too have a specific role in the school including being watchful for vulnerable students, representing the student body at school events and organising specific events.
There is very good communication between the school and the parents and the school is highly commended for the frequent information meetings held for parents. Two are held in the months prior to enrolment to brief parents on the school and to assist with enrolment. Prospective first-year students accompany their parents at the second of these meetings where they are informed about subject choices and other relevant issues. Further meetings are held for first-year parents of each class group in September where they meet with the year head, guidance counsellors and form teachers and are introduced to their students’ friends. An open day has been held in the school every four to five years and there was anecdotal evidence that much work has gone into the organisation of this event. Consideration should be given to hosting a ‘scaled down’ open day or night on an annual basis in the school. A parent-teacher meeting is also held annually for each year group in the school. Parents have a strong sense that their children are safe in FCJ Bunclody and expressed huge pride and satisfaction in the school.
Very effective links have been established with the local community who are reported to be extremely supportive of the school in terms of sponsorship and attendance at school events. The school also makes use of many of the facilities in the community.
1.4 Management of resources
The school has an overall teaching allocation of 51.92 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE). The staff is, in the main, effectively deployed within their areas of qualifications and expertise and good practice occurs in that all teachers are given the opportunity to teach all levels and programmes on a rotational basis. However, the issue raised in the PE inspection report in relation to the deployment of non-qualified PE teachers should be addressed. There is good whole school provision and support for subjects in the school. In addition, every effort is made by management to facilitate subject department requests in relation to resources.
The school operates a teaching timetable of twenty-seven hours and thirty minutes each week. Along with this, there is a ten-minute registration period each day when the form tutor deals with pastoral care and organisational issues. This period was observed to be useful and instructive. It is suggested that this period on the school timetable be renamed Pastoral Care to reflect its instructional value.
It was reported that senior management had considerable difficulty with the computer package for the timetable this year. As a result certain timetabling anomalies occurred, including the creation of some lunchtime lessons. These are unlikely to happen again. Efforts should also be made to facilitate a more even spread of lessons across the week for all subjects. In addition, the issue of timetabling study periods for Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and non-LCVP students must be addressed so that all students receive their entitlement to a minimum of twenty-eight hours instruction time each week in line with circular M29/95.
A number of ancillary staff including cleaners, supervisors, secretarial, gardening and caretaking staff are employed by the school and the school is very well maintained both inside and outside. The school is currently considering becoming involved in the Green Schools initiative and this is to be encouraged. A handout on best practice has been agreed between senior management and the supervisors and this is highly commended. The secretarial staff is very meaningfully employed, has clear delineation of duties and contributes very effectively to the efficient running of the school.
An examination of the history of the school provides evidence of its long tradition of responding to the changing needs of the student cohort and supplying additional resources to meet these needs. A number of new buildings and up-to date facilities funded by the FCJ order and by the Department of Education and Science have been provided. In addition, each year group is housed in different parts of the school campus, giving each a sense of ownership and security, and allowing for ease of supervision. The school also has a number of pitches and tennis and basketball courts and its own concert hall for production of musicals, dramas and performances.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was seen to be effectively integrated into many classrooms in the school. There is one computer room in the school which was reported to be heavily in demand. Each subject department also has access to a laptop and the school has installed up to ten data projectors in classrooms in the school. These efforts to improve ICT facilities for teaching and learning are commended. The school also has an excellent website which gives detailed information about the school and is regularly updated.
There are presently no student lockers. Students instead leave their schoolbags on purpose-built racks in their classrooms and some operate a two-schoolbag system which allows them to bring home only the books they need. However, in the interests of safety and security, it is recommended that the school community consider the reintroduction of school lockers. There was evidence that careful safety rules and procedures have been drawn up for each area of the school and for each classroom.
The board of management funds access for teachers to courses and membership of subject associations. In addition, school management facilitates teachers to attend in-service courses. Members of senior management are participating in Leadership Development training and in other managerial courses.
2. Quality of school planning
2.1 The school plan
A culture of self-review and self-evaluation is in evidence in FCJ Bunclody. It is obvious that the focus is on the betterment of the students and on improving student outcomes. There is a tradition of school development planning and review in the school dating back to the early 1990s when a facilitator was brought into the school to begin the formal process of school self-evaluation which led to the first school development plan in 1995. The same system was repeated in 2003. Since that time the process of review and planning has continued on a more informal basis and there is much evidence of achievement and tangible results. The planning process includes consultation with all stakeholders in the school: ancillary staff, board of management, parents, teachers and students.
Recently, the main focus of formal planning has been on subject planning which has been a great success in the school. However, in order to formalise school development planning and give it a structure, a post of responsibility for co-ordination of school development planning has been recently created. There was evidence that there are clear plans in place to move the area of school development planning forward through this post and by the fact that expertise has been sourced to advise the school in this priority area.
The school plan, which is distributed to all first-year parents, is a highly commendable document which outlines the structures in the school and the various roles of all partners and also includes the key policies. The school has an anti-bullying policy and a substance abuse policy. However, both these policies should be reviewed and developed so that they actually reflect the very good work that is taking place on the ground in the school and in order to clarify the procedures to be followed in the event of instances of bullying or substance abuse taking place.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
3. Quality of curriculum provision
3.1 Curriculum planning and organisation
The school has proven itself innovative in introducing new programmes and subjects to suit its cohort of students and a range of subjects is offered. As well as the traditional core subjects, Science and French are also compulsory in junior cycle. The school has a deservedly strong reputation for Music and although it is offered outside the normal school day in second and third year, there is a very good uptake for the subject. Third-year students also have timetabled lessons of Guidance which is good practice. Although there is a comprehensive social, personal and health education (SPHE) programme for first and second-year class groups, SPHE is not explicitly on the third-year timetable but is instead taught in modular form through different subject areas. This is not in compliance with Circular M11/03. SPHE must be timetabled throughout junior cycle for the coming school year. Irish and Mathematics are concurrently timetabled in third year to allow for movement between levels and this is good practice.
There are three class groups in Transition Year (TY) with a total of seventy-two students. There was evidence that TY is a very well run programme with worthy aims and objectives and offers a wide range of opportunities to the student cohort. In keeping with best practice, there is a TY core team which meets with the TY co-ordinator on a weekly basis and which constantly monitors and reviews the programme. The TY programme in the school consists of whole-year and modular subjects and teachers have opportunities to introduce new subjects such as car maintenance, dance and Japanese onto the timetable. Students also participate in a wide range of workshops and trips.
The school has had considerable success with the TY mini-companies and participates in in-school, county and national competitions. Students are well prepared prior to work experience and are well debriefed after their two-week work experience placement. Among the laudable features of the TY programme is the innovative points system whereby students can lose or gain points depending on their level of participation, behaviour, punctuality and work ethic. Students are also assessed at the end of the year through an interview on their TY portfolio and a diary of their activities. The tradition of review is also built into many of the TY subject areas and staff and students formally evaluate the programme at the end of the year, and this is excellent practice.
A range of senior cycle subjects is offered to students including the three core subjects which are banded on the timetable to allow for movement of students across levels. Generally, students can choose from about fourteen optional subjects. The school is currently pursuing the introduction of Applied Mathematics and Religious Education as examination subjects at Leaving Certificate. In fifth and sixth year, students are given the choice of doing Physical Education, Music or Computers. It is recommended that this be reviewed so that Physical Education is timetabled for all students.
Currently, there are over 120 students following the LCVP in senior cycle. It was reported that LCVP has benefited many students greatly and facilitated them to go on to third level. Good practice takes place in that LCVP students complete their work experience over the mid-term break. The majority of students in fifth and sixth year follow this programme if they have the right subject combination unless they are studying Music which is timetabled opposite the Links Modules. The school has considered introducing the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme but has found that not enough students would benefit from the programme to make it sustainable.
FCJ Bunclody is proud of its academic reputation and promotes this reputation through its policy on academic standards. The school is very proud of the fact that all the students do well in terms of their individual capability and students are encouraged to reach their achievable and full potential. The majority of students go on to pursue third-level courses. Subject departments review their own results and there is evidence of very fine achievements; for example, students have come first in many subject areas in their Junior and Leaving Certificate state examinations. It is suggested that management review the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and compare uptake and results to national norms to identify very good practice and any emerging trends.
There is one top class in each year of junior cycle. These students are placed in the same class group for most core subjects. The remaining students are placed in mixed-ability class groups taking into account gender balance and subject choice. It is recommended that the issue of the top class be reviewed on a regular basis so that the case for its retention is continually evaluated and so that there is a clear and consistent rationale for its existence.
3.2 Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes
Incoming first-year students must choose one subject each from two pre-set option bands: Home Economics or Materials Technology (Wood) or Technology; and Art or Business Studies or Technical Graphics. The information provided to students and parents about the optional subjects and programmes in the school is excellent and there are many information sessions for parents and students organised throughout the school year. The school has considered offering taster subjects to first years for part of the first term but decided that it is more important to have the appropriate number of teachers in place in order to cater for the number of students who wish to take up different subjects. In the past they also gave students an open choice in first year as opposed to having pre-defined option bands. It is recommended that students be given a more open choice in first year again. This might also assist in reversing the current gender imbalance evident in some practical subjects. Third-year and TY students choose five subjects from an open list of optional subjects and the school then arranges these in the most popular blocks. It was reported that there is a ninety-eight per cent satisfaction rate among students with their final subjects.
Other information evenings are held for parents in third year and TY at the time that subject or programme choices have to be made, and for sixth-year parents to inform them about the Central Applications Office (CAO) procedures. The guidance and counselling department is to be commended for the excellent advice they give to parents and students at these sessions and the information given to students about the consequences of their subject choices. Students are also facilitated to change their subject options and again there is a structured system in place for this to happen.
3.3 Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision
The range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities offered by the school is highly commended. Every second year the school stages a musical which is very much a whole community activity. The school also stages a drama or a school concert on an annual basis. There is a junior and a senior brass orchestra in the school and both are very popular among students. The orchestra has performed in the National Concert Hall and abroad.
Students are brought on regular field trips both locally as part of their courses and abroad and they also embark on exchange programmes. Different subject areas organise events in the school and the school participates with much success in various subject exhibitions and competitions. In addition, visiting theatre groups are brought into the school. The school also is involved in fundraising activities. For example, Operation Christmas Child is a big undertaking in the school and there are also a lot of fundraising activities to help the FCJ order’s missions abroad and to assist other charities that are close to the school’s heart, including fundraising for Cystic Fibrosis research. Retreats are also organised for year groups.
The school offers a wide range of sports and has excelled in many, including winning the All-Ireland senior B hurling colleges’ final in 2007 and winning a range of other provincial and county finals in other sports. Sports offered include athletics, basketball, camogie, football, ladies football, hockey and hurling. The school also organises indoor and outdoor soccer leagues. It was reported that at least two-thirds of all students are involved in some extra-curricular activities. Students’ achievements outside school in various sporting and other activities are also supported and celebrated. All students’ achievements are celebrated in the school newsletter “The Inside Story” which gives a great insight into the many activities organised in the school and which is edited by staff and students in the school and is sent to all stakeholders in the school four to five times a year.
There is much support for co and extra- curricular activities among the staff of the school and this is highly commended and very much in keeping with the mission of the school.
4. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects
4.1 Planning and preparation
Planning within subject departments in FCJ Bunclody is excellent. All subject areas inspected showed considerable evidence of detailed, comprehensive and collaborative planning. Planning time is provided for all subject areas, and includes at least one meeting per term. Minutes of these meetings are recorded and forwarded to management and this is very good practice. There was evidence of strong teacher commitment to the planning process and high levels of informal contact and collaboration among teachers. Each subject department has developed a subject plan using the School Development Planning Initiative template and in some subject areas this plan is reviewed and updated annually. This is very good practice. The plan sometimes included provision for teacher reflection which is also very good practice. While subject planning was of a consistently high standard, it is recommended that in some subject areas further development of the subject plans be undertaken to include students’ expected learning outcomes or to plan for the strategic development of the subject. Good planning for students with special educational needs (SEN) was evident and this is highly commended.
The co-ordination of a subject often forms part of a post of responsibility in FCJ Bunclody. It is recommended that consideration be given to rotating the position of subject co-ordinator among all members of each subject department. This would give all teachers the opportunity to gain experience of co-ordination and would be in line with best practice. The duties of co-ordinator include convening meetings, recording minutes, ordering resources and liaising with teachers and management. It is recommended that the duties allied to the role of subject co-ordinator be documented as part of all subject plans.
There was evidence of good planning for teaching and learning in TY. While individual TY subject plans contained many instances of exemplary practice and a wide diversity of activities, it is recommended in some subject areas that elements of the TY plan be reviewed or amended.
Many teachers submitted individual plans and planning folders during the course of the subject evaluations. These plans showed careful and effective preparation for classes. There was evidence of very good efforts to implement recommendations made in previous subject and programme inspections.
4.2 Learning and teaching
A high standard of teaching and learning was observed in the subjects evaluated in FCJ Bunclody, and some instances of exemplary practice were referred to. In all subject areas inspected, lessons were well structured and sequenced with relevant materials available. In many cases, the focus of the lesson was clearly established and the overall aim of the class was shared with students. This could be improved on by some teachers, and it is recommended that the learning intention be shared with the students at the beginning of each lesson. This should serve to enhance the purposeful engagement of students in the lessons.
The positive learning environment in classrooms was commented on favourably in all subject areas and it was reported that students in all classes were engaged and enthusiastic about the subject and about their own learning. Teachers were affirming of students’ efforts and there was excellent classroom management in subject areas evaluated. An atmosphere of mutual respect prevailed.
Question and answer sessions formed part of all lessons and a range of questioning methods was observed, leading to student engagement and a better understanding of the topics being covered. It was noted in some subject areas that efforts to link topics with students’ own lives and experiences proved extremely successful. In many subject areas the use of a variety of methodologies, including pair and group work, was commended. This led to active and co-operative learning. It is recommended to some teachers that more co-operative learning methodologies be used so that students could learn experientially and therefore think more independently.
The effective use of correct terminology in relevant subject areas was commented on during evaluations. The learning environment in classrooms was also commended and visual supports to enhance student learning were referred to. Overall the facilities in the school for the different subject areas were seen to be very satisfactory. A wide range of resources was used in many lessons observed and the overall provision of and access to up-to-date resources in most subject areas was very favourably commented on by inspectors. Very good use of ICT was reported in many of the subject areas evaluated and designated laptops and data projectors were effectively used in some lessons observed. In subject areas where ICT is not widely used it is recommended that planning for the incorporation of this technology into lessons be commenced.
Students are encouraged to aim for higher level in state examinations, where at all possible. Inspectors commented favourably on high participation rates at higher level and overall good student achievement in state examinations and there was strong evidence of student learning in all lessons.
There were effective systems of monitoring student attendance and participation in classes. Students’ progress was monitored regularly through formative assessment including oral questioning, observation, homework assignments, quizzes, assignment of practical project work and action projects and monitoring of student journals.
It was reported that homework is regularly assigned and corrected and an examination of student work showed that students were making appropriate progress in their learning. The evidence of substantial and frequently imaginative assignments for students was favourably commented on. Feedback was given to students through teachers’ constructive comments in copybooks and through oral feedback. The development of student portfolios of learning was recommended in one subject area.
Third-year and sixth-year students sit Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations, which are internally corrected. All year groups sit Christmas examinations and first years, second years and fifth years sit summer examinations. TY students are formally assessed in the summer through interview, when each student must make a portfolio presentation of his/her work. TY students also receive a progress report at the end of year as well as TY certificates. In-house examination papers are prepared to state examination standard and examination conditions for house examinations are strict so that students are used to the formal structure. Such practices are commended. Contact with parents is maintained through the use of the student journal, twice yearly school reports and annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group.
5. Quality of support for students
5.1 Inclusion of students with additional educational needs
The provision of additional support to students with learning support or special educational needs (SEN) is an area that is developing very well. The school has an allocation of one WTE for learning support and of 2.98 WTEs for resource hours. There is a core team of three teachers delivering most of the learning support and resource teaching in the school. All three teachers either have or are pursuing qualifications in this area. The good practice of having a small core team for delivery of SEN teaching is highly commended and there was evidence that SEN is very well coordinated. If students need extra support in specific subject areas a subject specialist is timetabled to deliver this support and this specialist is briefed on suitable strategies for teaching this student. This is very good practice. Students receive support if needed right through until sixth year. The learning support department made a presentation to staff on strategies for helping the special needs student in the mainstream classroom and on individual educational plans (IEPs) and this is also highly commended. Further good practice takes place in that a folder is available to all teachers in the staffroom which describes how teachers can support SEN students in different subject areas and there was evidence that there is very good liaison between the mainstream teachers and the SEN department.
Good strategies are in place to identify students with additional needs. Incoming first-year students who may require additional support are identified through tests which are held on two different dates prior to enrolment. Students are also identified through the psychological reports and the information received from the primary schools.
Management timetables a learning support teacher at the same time as Irish and French to each class in junior cycle where there are SEN students so that these students can be withdrawn for support if they are exempt from Irish or if there is agreement with parents that they do not do French. Otherwise, students are withdrawn for extra support from non-examination subjects. It was reported that parents and students are fully aware of the career implications of not taking a modern language. Support is generally provided in small group settings to students of similar ability and needs in areas of literacy, numeracy and in any subject areas where the students are experiencing difficulties and this is very good practice. Extra Mathematics teachers are also timetabled in each year so that less able students can be taught in smaller class groups. This is highly commended. Good practice takes place in that a reading programme is run for students who fall into the category of having learning support needs. These students are retested to ascertain improvements at the end of this programme and it was reported that they make considerable improvements. The school pays for a counsellor to provide support for students in areas such as social skills and appropriate class behaviours. This is delivered on a one-to-one basis. Such a range of supports for students with additional needs is highly commended. To build on this good practice, consideration should be given to introducing team teaching as another method of supporting these students in the classroom.
The school has a comprehensive learning support plan in place. In reviewing the plan, it is suggested that it be renamed as a policy on inclusion and that strategies for assessment of students in need of additional support be documented in the plan. IEPs are prepared for all students in receipt of additional support and good practice takes place in that these IEPs are prepared in conjunction with the students and are communicated to the class teachers.
5.2 Guidance and student support in the whole-school context
There is a comprehensive guidance plan available which details how guidance is delivered in the school. The provision of guidance and counselling is highly commended in the school. Students are provided with this service prior to entering first year right through until after leaving school. Counselling is also offered on a one-to-one or group basis to students in the school. The process of reviewing the guidance plan to make it a whole school document and to develop a care team in the school has commenced. In addition, although the guidance and learning support departments already meet on a regular basis, plans are in place for regular meetings of the expanded care team. A task group of interested staff members is to be established to further the area of guidance as a whole school activity and the group has established clear aims in furthering their work. Such work is highly commended.
The school has a guidance allocation of 1.36 WTEs and there is a clear division of tasks between the two guidance counsellors in the school. A comprehensive guidance and counselling programme is available for each year group. Very good practice takes place in that guidance and counselling is available to each year group and individual and it is timetabled as a subject for third and sixth years. The guidance counsellors meet first-year class groups twice in the first month to address relevant issues. The guidance counsellors also take TY class groups for a module of guidance at the time of making subject choices. Year heads may refer students to the guidance counsellors and students may also make appointments with the guidance and counselling department. Clear systems are in place for such referrals.
Study skills seminars are organised and provided for senior cycle class groups. Third-year students are provided with study skills as part of their timetabled guidance classes. In addition, the form teachers work with their students on organisational and study skills and the SPHE programme also addresses several relevant issues. Students also sit the DATs test in third year to ensure that they are making the right choices and fifth and sixth years take career interest inventories. The school also destination tracks each school leaver. Students are given the opportunity to attend career seminars. The guidance and counselling department has clear plans for areas which it would like to develop as it is constantly reflective and evaluative.
There is a Pastoral Care policy which outlines the many excellent pastoral care systems and supports in the school. The school also has a critical incident policy and has proven quick to respond to such incidents. The school provides a Rainbow programme for bereaved students and has established close links with related agencies to support the students in the school. It also discreetly supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds financially. There are no students with English as an additional language in the school.
The school supports students in many other ways. First-year students have an orientation day where they meet their Meitheal leaders at the beginning of the school year. It was reported by first-year students that one of the great strengths of the school was the Meitheal leaders. The prefects are in the process of setting up a similar mentoring programme for second-year students.
One of the greatest supports for students is the form tutor/year head system which was observed to work very well. The form tutors have a pastoral, organisational and discipline role and meet their class group on a daily basis. Good practice also takes place in that every effort is made to timetable the form tutors to teach their form class and to stay with their class through each cycle. They spot-check journals and deal with low-level discipline incidents. The year heads also have a discipline and pastoral role. Year heads hold assemblies at regular intervals to communicate with students and to celebrate achievements. The whole system is highly commended as the year heads and form tutors know their students well, have a strong presence around the school and manage issues to do with their class or year group very well.
Teachers and ancillary staff are vigilant about detecting any possible issues of bullying and a questionnaire about bullying and use of drugs is completed by every student in the school early in the school year. There was evidence that any issues that arise from the questionnaire are taken very seriously and that the questionnaire itself is kept under review. In addition, the Meitheal students are vigilant about looking out for bullying. The fact that the staff has such knowledge of their student cohort means that incidents are dealt with quickly.
Overall, students are very well supported and cared for in the school and this allows for teaching and learning to take place in an orderly environment.
6. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
- The mission statement is the guiding principle of the whole school community.
- A positive atmosphere of respect and a strong work ethic permeate the school at every level.
- A sense of companionship and friendship was palpable as the unique characteristic spirit of the school.
- The board of management is strong, is aware of all aspects of school life and has identified clear priorities for development.
- The senior management team inherited a school with excellent structures and systems in place, and the school is in very good hands with the current incumbents, who display great leadership and managerial skills.
- Many functional and organisational duties are delegated to post holders.
- Management and staff actively pursue solutions and improvements.
- Very good systems of communication are in place in the school.
- Key decisions are made through consultation and collaboration with all parties, which allows all to take ownership of these decisions.
- There is an excellent mentoring and induction programme for new teachers.
- Students were observed to be extremely well behaved throughout the school.
- There is a consistent approach to the discipline system in the school.
- There is a very effective attendance strategy in the school.
- Students are given a strong voice in the school and the election of the Student Council is exemplary.
- There is a tradition of school development planning and review in the school and there is much evidence of achievement and very tangible results. A culture of self-review and self-evaluation is in evidence with a focus on improving student outcomes.
- The school has up-to-date and well maintained facilities.
- ICT was seen to be effectively integrated into many classrooms in the school and the school has an excellent website.
- The school has proven itself innovative at bringing in new programmes and subjects to suit its cohort of students.
- Students are encouraged to reach their achievable and full potential.
- Many useful information sessions are held for parents and students throughout the school year.
- The range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities offered by the school is highly commended including the musical, orchestra events and sports.
- All subject areas inspected showed considerable evidence of detailed, collaborative and comprehensive planning.
- A high standard of teaching and learning was observed.
- There was a positive learning environment in all subject areas.
- There is good provision for students with additional needs in the school. The provision of guidance and counselling is very good.
- Overall, there are excellent pastoral care systems and supports for students in the school and great efforts are made to develop the whole person
- The form tutor/year head system was observed to work very well. Students are supported and cared for in the school and this allows for teaching and learning to take place in an orderly environment.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
- The revival of the Parents’ Council and a review of its role should be given priority by the board.
- A financial sub-committee of the board should be formed.
- Some aspects of the Admissions policy, Anti-Bullying policy and Substance Abuse policy should be reviewed.
- It is recommended that the review of posts continue as soon as is feasible.
- Formal consultation should be held between APs and senior management as a group in order for assistant principals to have a greater middle management voice in the school.
- It is recommended that the school community consider the reintroduction of school lockers.
- It is recommended that first-year students be given a more open choice of optional subjects.
- SPHE must be timetabled for the coming school year in third year. Efforts should be made to facilitate a more even spread of lessons across the week for all subjects and the issue of timetabling study periods for LCVP and non-LCVP students must be addressed. PE should be timetabled for all students in senior cycle.
- The formation of a top class in junior cycle should be reviewed on a regular basis so that the case for its retention is continually evaluated and so that there is a clear and consistent rationale for its existence.
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 CSPE 21 October 2008
- Subject Inspection of English 24 October 2008
- Subject Inspection of Home Economics 20 October 2008
- Subject Inspection of PE 23 October 2008
- Subject Inspection of TG/DCG 7 October 2008
Published June 2009
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management, Senior Management and staff of FCJ Bunclody welcome the Whole School evaluation report. The process has been a positive and affirming experience for the entire school community. The report highlights the excellent standard of teaching and learning in the school, the high level of student attainment, the positive attitude and strong work ethic that permeates the school at every level and the palpable sense of companionship and friendship that underpins the characteristic spirit of our school. The report recognises the excellent pastoral care system and supports for students in the school and the great efforts that are made to develop the whole person. The Board is very pleased with the excellent subject reports and wishes to commend the P.E., English, C.S.P.E., Home Economics and D.C.G. / Technical Graphics departments in the school.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board welcomed the recommendation made by the Inspectors. Already, the Parents Council has been revived, the Finance Subcommittee has been formed and policies have been reviewed. Timetabling issues for 2009/2010 are currently being addressed in so far as they can be with the restraints imposed by budget cutbacks. The few remaining recommendations will be addressed in due course. The Board wishes to thank the Inspectors for their professional and courteous manner during the Whole School Evaluation.