The school is commended for the opportunity afforded to all students to experience such a broad range of subjects. However, senior management should also consider the possibility of offering a taster programme of shorter duration, thereby affording students more time for the subjects they intend to continue to Junior Certificate. Students have an open choice of subjects to choose from as opposed to choosing from pre-defined bands in both junior and senior cycle. This is very good practice. As a result, all students are guaranteed two of their three options at junior cycle and four of their five options at senior cycle.
TY students make their subject choices for senior cycle in Transition Year as opposed to third year. This is good practice as it supports ongoing student engagement with the full range of subjects offered in TY. TY students are also offered study skills seminars to support their successful reintegration into the desired work schedule at senior cycle, a practice which is highly commended.
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Both junior and senior cycle students are supported in their subject choices by senior management and the guidance department. Members of the guidance service meet with the relevant class groups to brief them about subject and career options. Students are also issued with a booklet containing guidelines for choosing subjects and a brief overview of each subject offered.
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Career opportunities arising from some subject choices are also included along with an information sheet for senior cycle students on the entry criteria for third-level courses. This practice is highly commended. An information night on making informed subject choices in addition to a brief overview of the different subjects on offer is also organised by the guidance service for parents of relevant year groups.
Care should be taken to ensure that the information disseminated to parents is in line with the information students receive from subject teachers. Subject-related field trips, language exchanges and cultural visits have taken place over the years both at home and abroad. In students from the school represented Ireland at the inaugural European day where they participated in a debate on third World development at a special sitting of the European Parliament. There is also a strong tradition of debating in the school. Students of science are encouraged to participate in the annual Young Scientist and Technology competition, with some students achieving significant successes over the years.
Students of Engineering have also experienced noteworthy successes in the National Young Engineering Competitions over the years. An annual Physics day is organised where a guest speaker comes to the school to give a workshop on a physics-related topic. Students who have a talent for or an interest in music can join the school choir. The choir participates in the Co.
Dublin VEC concert which is held annually in the National Concert Hall, in addition to taking part in all school liturgies and events. A wide range of both competitive and recreational sporting activities is made available to students, including Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, soccer, rugby, basketball and golf, athletics, kayaking and badminton. A significant budget is allocated by the school to support the pursuit of excellence in sport. The coordination of sporting activities forms part of the duties of an assistant principal, while some administrative duties are also assigned to a special duties teacher.
Every effort is made to organise competitive sporting activities on Wednesday afternoons, thereby avoiding a loss of tuition time. The school has built up a high profile over the years in achieving significant sporting successes and was recently awarded an award for its achievements in sport. The subject departments are well-organised, meet regularly and make a valuable contribution to the development of their subject areas.
Good records of the work of each subject department are maintained. Where minutes of meetings are not formally recorded, it is recommended that this would be considered by the relevant subject departments as a means of ensuring continuity of the developmental work of the subject department. Apart from formal meetings, it was evident that subject teachers work well together in a collaborative manner and frequently liaise on an informal basis to assist and support each other in delivering the curriculum.
This shared sense of responsibility and team spirit is to be commended. A good level of planning was evident in the subject plans which showed shared approaches within the relevant subject areas to issues such as teaching methodologies, assessment strategies, identification of desired learning outcomes and the overall organisation of course content. The linking or integration of the work of the subject departments with overall school development planning is to be commended. This is particularly seen in the current focus by subject departments on developing Assessment for Learning strategies.
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Planning for Transition Year courses or modules was generally very good and often included material designed to engage students in new, innovative and interesting ways. Where this happened it was highly commended. The level of planning for resources, as shown in the development of shared folders of teaching and learning resources such as worksheets, videos or DVDs, and planning templates is very good. A very high standard of individual teacher planning for lessons and course delivery was evident in the advance preparation of relevant resources and the organised manner in which teachers went about their work.
This was evidenced in the structure of the lessons, the pacing, clarity of communication, sharing aims and objectives with students, and the recapitulation of content at the end of lessons. A very positive atmosphere was observed in the lessons with students showing enthusiasm and interest in their learning. The supportive and positive relationship between teachers and students, observed across all subject areas, is to be commended. Students were focused on their work during the lessons and their contributions were sought and valued. Individual support to students was provided, when required, in a caring and sensitive manner.
The application of a variety of teaching methodologies facilitated effective teaching and learning. Good use was made of practical activities, pair and group work, higher-order questioning, and real-life examples in engaging students with the lesson content. Particularly noteworthy was the use of methodologies which challenged students to engage meaningfully with the content of the lessons in an active manner. This ensured that students developed a good understanding of the relevant topics and also enhanced their development of associated cognitive or practical skills.
In a few cases, greater use could be made of such methodologies to avoid over-use of a teacher-centred approach or of the textbook.
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Very good use was made of resources such as white boards, data projectors, worksheets and notes, and displays of student work, to facilitate student learning. Some good use was made of ICT to effectively complement the work of the teacher.
However, the sharing of good practice regarding the use of ICT in teaching and learning is an area which could be explored further in the future. Classroom management was effective. For instance, practical activities were generally well organised. Health and safety issues need to be reviewed in some practical subject areas. Students are encouraged to achieve at the highest level appropriate to their ability. This was shown in the care given to ensuring that students of all abilities were fully included in class activities and in the use of differentiated materials and approaches when appropriate.
Students demonstrated high standards of learning commensurate with their age and abilities and there was evidence that students were motivated by the lesson content and delivery. The use of Assessment for Learning strategies in many areas is to be commended. These strategies were evident in approaches such as the sharing of marking schemes with students, and the use of self or peer assessment. An excellent feature of the use of Assessment for Learning strategies was shown in the frequent use of formative and affirmative feedback to students, both verbally and in writing, which was observed in many lessons and subject areas.
The school is to be commended for introducing this focus on innovation in the area of assessment and it is suggested that a sharing of successful strategies or innovations across subject areas could be a useful means of enhancing and maximising the good practice observed. As part of ongoing curriculum development the school is currently reviewing the timing of the summer examinations which currently take place in mid May.
Such a review is timely as current practice may compromise the integrity of the school year. Current practices mean that students return to the classroom for a fortnight following their end of year assessments to engage in new learning. Some teachers reported an increase in the number of students absent during this last fortnight. This suggests that there may be a perception by students and parents that the work completed in this last fortnight is not important since it is not assessed.
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There are also six special needs assistants SNA. The coordination of learning support and resource teaching is a special duties post. The members of the learning support department meet as a department both formally and informally on an ongoing basis. There is a core team of five teachers involved in the provision of learning support, with a further small number of teachers providing individual or group tuition to students requiring additional supports. The policy of creating a small core team and involving a limited number of teachers in the provision of additional support is good practice.
Two of these members of staff have been accepted for block release courses for teaching students with Special Educational Needs SEN. Incoming first-year students also sit the Drumcondra and GRT tests for literacy and numeracy and complete some exercises in free writing.
This enables the learning support coordinator to further identify students with additional needs. First-year students receive learning support for English in small groups of between three and five students. They are usually withdrawn for this purpose from Irish if they have an exemption, from non-examination classes or from subjects which they do not intend to continue in second year. All efforts are made not to withdraw students from SPHE. Team teaching is the preferred approach for supporting students with learning needs in Mathematics.
However, individual tuition is also provided in the case of students with significant or specific needs. Given the benefits of a team teaching approach in supporting full inclusion of students with additional needs and the success of the approach for the teaching of Mathematics, the members of the other departments should consider piloting this method.
Support for students with additional needs from second to sixth year focuses on the demands of the curriculum and help is provided with projects, examination questions and preparation. In addition, organisational skills are developed in relevant areas, which enable students to gain greater mastery over the organisation of their work and the completion of assignments, thereby creating positive learning experiences for them and improving their self-esteem.
This is highly commended. There is good communication between the learning support department and subject teachers and any help requested is given. Given the knowledge and expertise that has been built up or is to be acquired in the forthcoming year in the area of learning support and resource teaching, consideration should be given to the sharing of best practice in relation to students with additional needs through the provision of in-house inservice. There are six SNAs working either full time or part time with individual students in the school. All SNAs have relevant qualifications and they liaise with the learning support coordinator in order to best meet the needs of the students they are assigned to.
The location of the school in an established residential area and the absence of international students and other minority groupings in the feeder primary school has meant that there are no newcomer students in the school for whom English is a second language, nor students from minority groupings. In order to avoid the duplication of services offered, it was decided to establish a care team to develop a more co-ordinated approach to support students, in particular those with SEN.
The team, which includes the learning support coordinator, the guidance counsellors, the SPHE coordinator, the school chaplain and the principal, meet each week to identify and discuss issues of concern and to coordinate a joint strategy for dealing with individual cases. Referrals to the care team can come from the year head, subject teachers or from students through the chaplaincy service. This team approach has been found to be very effective in accessing the supports and services of the relevant external agencies.
It also avoids a situation where parents of a student have to meet a number of different teachers. The inclusion of the SPHE coordinator means that some issues that are of concern to students referred to the care team can be dealt with in the SPHE lesson.