Whole School Evaluation Report

Whole-School Evaluation: Management, Leadership and Learning

A whole-school evaluation of management, leadership and learning (WSE-MLL) was
undertaken in April 2013 in St Paul’s Community College. 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, and
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.

Introduction

St Paul’s Community College was founded in 1976 to serve the growing community in the
western suburb of Waterford City. Changing demographics and challenging socioeconomic
factors have impacted significantly on the school in recent years, resulting in a
decrease in student enrolment. The school is also the only mainstream provider of second
level education for students with autism in Waterford City. The school currently
participates in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) initiative. The
board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the
findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be
found in the appendix of this report.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER
DEVELOPMENT

Key Findings

• St Paul’s Community College has the capacity for meaningful school improvement.
• The board of management is committed to the provision of inclusive education for
all.
• The commitment and work of the senior management team contributes to the
effective management of the school.
• Assistant principals carry out significant duties to support senior management.
• The school is welcoming and inclusive; a strong ethos of care permeates all aspects
of school life.
• A very broad curriculum is offered to meet the varied needs and interests of the
student cohort.
• The school provides well for students with special education needs (SEN) and work
is in progress to extend supports for higher-ability students.
• The overall quality of teaching and learning was good with examples of very good
or excellent practice.

Recommendations for Further Development

• The Board of Management should ensure that its composition and term of office
are in accordance with the articles of management for VEC schools.
• Interrelated priorities identified for development should be clustered together and
strategic plans should be developed for each cluster.
• The senior management team should further develop its leadership role, to progress
the school at a time of significant change.
• Senior management and staff should explore ways in which middle management
duties and responsibilities can continue to be fulfilled within available resources.
• Current deficits in instruction time and timetabling should be addressed.
• Initiatives to support higher-ability students should be progressed.
• Systems to mentor and track students’ academic progress should be considered to
complement the high quality pastoral supports in place.
• Teachers should ensure that an appropriate balance is maintained between teacher
instruction and active student engagement.

1. QUALITY OF SCHOOL MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP

1.1 School ownership and management

The board of management is keenly aware of the school’s mission to provide inclusive
education for all students living in Waterford and its hinterland. Members are kept
informed of all that is happening in the school through the principal’s report. Other matters
discussed include policy ratification and disciplinary decisions. However, while the
principal’s report forms the basis of most board meetings, there was little evidence of active
discussion arising from these reports and leading to key decisions. The pertinent points
from such discussions should be included in the minutes of board meetings. An agreed
report should be drawn up at the end of each meeting for dissemination to the teaching staff
and to the members of the parents’ association. The Board of Management should also
ensure that its composition and term of office are in accordance with the articles of
management for VEC schools.

School management has identified a wide range of priorities for development. These
include increasing student engagement with the curriculum, improving retention and
academic attainment, further developing student supports, and promoting student and
parental educational motivation. Other priorities identified involve developing the
inclusiveness policy, improving in-house staff support systems, developing the curriculum,
promoting the school and maintaining or increasing the number of girls in the school.
Given that these are all significant priorities, many of which are interrelated, it is
recommended that they be clustered together, categorised and prioritised. A strategic plan
should then be developed for each cluster, outlining specific action plans that are
measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, student engagement with the
curriculum, academic attainment, student and parental educational motivation could form
one such cluster. Work in this area could also support desired improvements regarding the
student cohort and could be worked on in tandem with action plans to increase the number
of girls and higher-achieving students.

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.

The small but highly committed parents’ association is cognisant of the value of parental
support in promoting educational progression. Members have carried out significant work
in recent years managing the school’s book rental scheme, organising talks and events for
parents and responding to consultation regarding whole-school school policies.

1.2 Effectiveness of leadership for learning
The principal and deputy principal maintain daily consultation and communication with
each other and have a visible presence in the school. This co-operation contributes to the
effective management of the school. The principal’s strong commitment to the school is
demonstrated in her ongoing work to promote good staff and management relationships. She
is supported in her work by the deputy principal who, in addition to day-to-day
administrative tasks, leads school planning and development, with a particular focus on
literacy and numeracy development. The challenge now for the members of the senior
management team is to further develop their leadership roles, bringing the school forward at
a time of significant change due to recent retirements, reduced staffing allocations and
redeployments.

Year heads, all of whom are assistant principals, carry out a range of significant duties to
support senior management. Their work in the management of students is twofold: a
disciplinary role, and an advocacy role liaising with parents, the educational welfare officer
and community workers. Special duties teachers carry out a range of co-ordination duties
which also contribute to the effective management of the school. Senior management and
staff should explore a range of ways in which student management duties and
responsibilities can continue to be fulfilled into the future within available resources.
Continuing professional development (CPD) in recent years has focused on literacy and
numeracy and the development of comprehensive policies and strategies to support
improvements in this regard. In-service has also been provided to support differentiation.
This is of particular importance given the mixed-ability nature of the student cohort. Subject
departments should continue to progress this work, integrating identified strategies into their schemes of work for daily teaching and learning. When planning for further professional
development consideration should be given to assessment for learning.

Good communication systems are in place including internal email, a texting system for
parents and a well designed school website. Good links have been forged with the local
community, local business and Waterford Institute of Technology for the purpose of
supporting students’ progression through and beyond school.

The school has an open and inclusive admissions policy and there are currently 387
students in the second-level section of the school. Efforts to improve enrolment have
included working with the local primary schools, organising open days in the school and
investigating bus routes that would facilitate greater ease of access to the school. This has
resulted in an increased number of student applications for the forthcoming school year.
The school welcomes and supports students of all abilities and very good practices are in
place to enable students with special education needs (SEN) including students with autism
to progress both academically and socially. Provision for students with SEN includes
individual or small group tuition or team teaching within the mainstream classroom.

Students with autism receive individual tuition, but are also integrated effectively into some
mainstream lessons with the support of a special needs assistant.

The school recognises the benefits of having a student cohort representing the full spectrum
of ability. Concerns in this regard have resulted in a number of teachers engaging in an
initiative entitled ‘Equality of Challenge’, to identify and support higher-ability students.
Much of the work done to date has focused on raising teachers’ awareness of such students
and how they might be supported. The project should now be progressed to a pilot stage
whereby a number of teachers would implement the strategies promoted in this initiative
and evaluate them with a view to integrating them successfully throughout the school. The
school’s engagement with this project should be communicated to the wider community.

The school offers a range of programmes to meet the varied needs of the student cohort.
The success to date of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in supporting
student progress and retention has resulted in a recent decision to offer it to all students in junior cycle. The very good work carried out by the JCSP library service with its range of
supportive and creative resources and initiatives has contributed to this success.

The school’s DEIS plan is now in the final year of its three-year cycle. Much of the work to
date has focused on literacy and numeracy, attendance and retention. It is recommended
that due attention now be given to areas such as educational progression, attainment and
partnership with parents, as these targets will support the educational priorities identified
for development. Ongoing vigilance in relation to attendance and a review of the school’s
attendance strategies are also recommended, as the initial improvement has not been
sustained.

Transition Year (TY) is compulsory for all students who intend to take the established
Leaving Certificate programme. In addition to curricular subjects, students undertake a
work experience programme, go on outings and complete a wide range of once-off sporting
and community activities. While these activities greatly enhance the students’ social and
personal development, designated time should be allocated on the timetable to ensure
minimum disruption to core subjects.

A very broad curriculum is offered and option bands are formed on the basis of student
choice. This results in some subjects having very small numbers in classes. While it is
commendable to support students in this manner, this level of provision may not be
sustainable into the future. It is therefore recommended that a representative board of
studies be created to consider a range of issues including the sustainability of current
curriculum provision, curricular possibilities to support the higher-ability students and ways
in which desired changes could be implemented. Such a body could also serve to identify
and instigate appropriate short school-based courses as part of Junior Cycle reform and in
this way continue to support provision for minority subjects.

Teachers are deployed in accordance with their subject specialisms. The deployment of
school guidance personnel to the delivery of Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
is commended as it will support continued guidance provision within the framework of
more limited guidance resources. A review of timetabling for the current year indicated that
some of the assistant principals’ timetables fall below the required minimum teaching
hours. This needs to be addressed to ensure full compliance with departmental regulations
and to maximise available resources.

The school operates a 28.5 hour week, with forty-five lessons of thirty-eight minutes’
duration. There is currently a significant deficit in instruction time for sixth-year, TY and
LCA students. This should be addressed forthwith. A timetabled pastoral care lesson is
provided in junior cycle and in Transition Year. To ensure that pastoral care lessons can be
counted for the twenty-eight hour instruction time requirements, the tutors from each year
group should work together to develop learning outcomes for these lessons. These
outcomes could support some of the strategic plans in progress. The current erosion of
instruction time due to in-school meetings should be minimised.

The school’s code of behaviour, with its merit system, endeavours to promote a positive
student environment. Furthermore, the school’s engagement with the National Behaviour
Support Service significantly benefits students with challenging behaviours. A dynamic
care team works to identify and support all students experiencing difficulties.

School management has identified improved academic attainment as a priority for
development. This is supported by an analysis of student outcomes in the Certificate
examinations. It is recommended that a high-quality system for tracking academic progress
be developed in parallel with the high quality care system already in place. To this end,
systems to mentor and track students’ academic progress from entry into the school,
coupled with initiatives to raise student and parental expectations should be considered.
The good work currently in place to assess incoming students’ abilities and literacy
development could provide a useful point of departure.

Students are given good leadership opportunities through the student council with its
representation from each year group. A highly valued mentoring system where TY students
support the first-year students is also in place.

1.3 Management of facilities

The school is well maintained. Recent building developments include the autism support
unit. The care and concern for students with SEN is also evident in the partnership with
Ballybeg Community Development Project to build a sensory garden for these students.
Machinery for some of the practical subjects has been recently updated. The corridors are
adorned with posters and photographs acknowledging student success over the years. The
very well resourced JCSP library provides an oasis for students wishing to read or to source
information for their class-work. The library is also used to house resource materials for
teachers including their subject planning documentation.

The vast majority of classrooms had good displays of subject-specific materials, in addition
to displays of students’ projects. All classrooms have appropriate information and
communication technology (ICT) facilities and an ICT assistant is currently employed
under the Job Bridge intern scheme to support the effective integration of ICT into the work
in the classroom. To complement the work of senior management and staff in maintaining
the school to a high level, students should be made more aware of their environmental
responsibilities by establishing a green school committee and working towards a green flag.

2. QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING

2.1 The quality of learning and teaching

Responses to questionnaires administered to parents and students indicated a good level of
satisfaction with the quality of teaching in the school. The majority of students responded
that they are getting on well with their school work and that teachers tell them how they can
improve their learning and encourage them to work to the best of their ability. Building on
these positive findings, subject departments should place due emphasis on high
expectations in relation to students’ attitudes and assessment outcomes.

Twenty-three lessons were observed during the evaluation, including all year groups, levels
and programmes and covering core, optional, practical and non-examination subjects. The
quality of teaching and learning was good in the majority of lessons. Examples of very
good or excellent practice were noted. In a small number of lessons, there was scope for
development in the use of methodologies to engage students more effectively in their
learning.

Most teachers began by sharing the learning intentions with students. In some lessons, they
were communicated as learning outcomes and were written up along with homework on the
whiteboard reminding students of the purpose and expectations for their learning. Some
teachers also revisited these outcomes in order to summarise and to assess learning. These
good practices should be incorporated into all lessons.

The varied methodologies observed were most effective where there was a good balance
between teacher input and student activity. Questioning was used in most lessons to
develop understanding and to assess learning. In some lessons an appropriate combination
of global and directed questioning and of lower-order and higher-order questions supported
learning by challenging students to their full potential. These good practices should be
extended to all lessons.

There was very good use of supplementary materials to support active learning in some
lessons. These included visuals and electronic resources such as audio and short video
clips. Other lessons would have been significantly enhanced by the use of ICT. In such
instances, it is recommended that teachers seek out the expertise of the ICT intern in the
school in order to build up confidence and competence in the use of ICT to support
teaching and learning.

Differentiation for ability was good in lessons where teachers provided individual support,
graded worksheets and questioning appropriate to the level of ability of the student. This is
an area for development in many lessons. Subject departments should consider revisiting
this area of pedagogy as a means of supporting all students. The Equality of Challenge
initiative should provide an appropriate framework.

Opportunities for active student learning were facilitated through independent or
collaborative tasks and problem-solving, particularly in lessons with a practical focus.
While excellent practice was noted in some of the more academic subjects, greater use of
strategies such as purposeful group work, student note-making and discussion is
recommended to ensure better student participation and engagement.

Appropriate attention was paid to the development of literacy and numeracy skills in a
number of lessons and there was good use of subject-specific terminology. There is scope
for greater use of the target language by teachers and students in many of the language
lessons observed. Some teachers made explicit reference to relevant key words and
encouraged students to use in their discussions and answers to questions. This good practice
should be extended throughout to ensure the effective integration of literacy into all lessons.

Oral feedback was frequently used in lessons to guide students and improve the quality of
their work. Homework was regularly assigned and monitored in almost all lessons
observed. Good practice was noted where teachers provided regular formative feedback on
students’ written assignments. To build on this practice, consideration should be given to
the use of a broader range of in-class strategies to correct homework assignments, such as
self-assessment, peer correction and feedback through the application of established
criteria, in addition to the established practice of teacher correction and feedback.
Classroom management was effective and students’ behaviour was good in the lessons
observed. Teachers demonstrated a good knowledge of their students and promoted a
positive rapport and atmosphere in their lessons.

3. IMPLEMENTATION OF RECOMMENDATIONS FROM PREVIOUSEVALUATIONS

Eight subject inspections have been carried out since 2006. Recommendations common to
many of the subjects evaluated related to issues of curricular provision, improvements in
subject planning, increased use of ICT to support teaching and learning, and assessment
practices.

3.1 Management

Many of the recommendations relating to whole-school support and provision have been
implemented. However, the recommendation relating to the provision of a more targeted
language programme for TY students of French still needs to be progressed.

3.2 Learning and teaching

While improvements were noted in some subject plans, further development of common
schemes of work, setting out the topics, learning outcomes, methodologies, resources and
assessment practices is recommended. Progress has been made in many of the aspects of
teaching and learning identified in subject reports. However, there is still scope for
development in the use of ICT and an integrated approach to language development.
Further work in the development of comprehensive assessment practices is recommended
in some instances.

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

School management and staff have indicated their capacity and willingness to embrace
school improvement. During the course of the evaluation many teachers expressed their
openness to new ideas and identified aspects of school life which they felt could be further
enhanced. This openness was also demonstrated in the willingness of all teachers to engage
in a professional dialogue following lesson evaluation. The school has embraced the school
self-evaluation process, initially through its participation in the DEIS initiative and the
subsequent development of literacy and numeracy policies.

The findings and recommendations from this evaluation, and the outcomes of the student
and parent questionnaires, provide further evidence of the school’s strengths and areas for
development. The strengths should be harnessed to progress and achieve the priorities
identified for development. A judicious focus on key priorities relating to student
attainment is now recommended, with reflective practices and initiatives such as Equality
of Challenge guiding overall school improvement.