Whole School Evaluation 2006
The school is located in Rochestown, a relatively affluent, suburb of Cork city about eight kilometres from the city centre. There are no major housing developments in the immediate vicinity of the school and the vast majority of students therefore come to school by bus or by car. The school has no direct feeder primary school and is forced to complete with several large community schools for student enrolment. In the late nineties the school was in danger of closing due to falling numbers. Through the commitment of all members of the school community enrolment numbers are steadily increasing and St. Francis College is now a vibrant school. Staff morale is high and its profile is of a young team with solid core of experienced teachers led by an able and forward-looking principal. The school is focused on its core values and is ready to embrace the changes anticipated with, and concomitant to, rising enrolment.
Characteristic Spirit Of The School
The school Mission Statement identifies the key tenets of the educational philosophy of the Capuchin Order and is central to all aspects of school life in St. Francis College.
The spirit of collaboration and partnership between students, parents, teachers, trustees, management and the community at large is also emphasised and there is a real sense that these core values are at the centre of all educational and pastoral decisions taken in the school.
The genuinely positive atmosphere in the school is acknowledged by all sections of the school community and is palpable upon entering the school.
A sense of fairness and natural justice permeates throughout the school community and each person is valued as an individual.
The community ethos of the school is a living embodiment of the special way in which St. Francis lived the Gospel and is regarded as a key influence of the trustees. Making sure that the personal care and attention to the welfare of each individual student is never compromised due to increasing enrolment numbers is regarded as one of the key challenges facing the school going forward.
School Ownership and Management
The Board of Management is well balanced in its composition and very committed to the welfare of the school. It is also very supportive of the work of all staff in the school.
The interest of the trustees and the ethos of the school is safeguarded by the fact that one of the Capuchin members of the Board reports directly to the Provincial Council of the Capuchin Order.
The Provincial of the Order pays one official visit to the school annually as well as several informal visits.
The Board members wished to record their sincere gratitude to the Capuchin Order for its support in the running of the school and contribution to all aspects of school life.
A healthy culture of openness and transparency exists with regard to the operation of the Board of Management and indeed with regard to Management structures generally in the school.
There is a policy of “open access” between teachers and parents in the school and this is a feature of the relationships between the two.
The Board was reminded of the necessity to have a clearly defined enrolment policy particularly in the context of increasing enrolment numbers.
The Board believes that the results in state Examinations the increasing enrolment numbers and the quality of relationships in the school are good indicators that the school is operating effectively.
The Board expressed the view that the Department of Education and Science needs to be proactive in responding to the needs of this school based on the projected enrolment figures for the future.
St. Francis College was one of the first schools in the country to found a Parents’ Association in 1970. Since then the links between the school and parents have strengthened.
In School Management
The school has a current enrolment of 241 boys and expects to have an additional hundred within two years. This has to be regarded as a testament to the commitment of all members of the school community and to the dedication and managerial skills of senior management. The principal and deputy principal are adamant that this expansion does not lead to any reduction in the quality of education being provided and that the expansion comes with added value for the whole school community. Maintaining and strengthening the Capuchin ethos in the school is also seen as a priority. The recruitment of new staff is therefore given serious consideration as newly appointed staff are expected to make a contribution to the school community both inside and outside the classroom.
The school Code of Behaviour is based on the principle of responsible behaviour. When a reprimand is being applied an explanation is normally given to the student. This is a highly commendable practice as it helps the maintenance of a positive atmosphere towards discipline in the school and helps students to realise that their actions have a direct impact on the well-being and learning of others.The student’s council feel that they are well supported by management and teachers.
It is agreed by both senior and middle management that staff in the school are very supportive and carry out work well above and beyond the call of duty in relation to posts of responsibility. It is suggested that the duties allocated to post holders be kept under regular review so as to ensure that these duties meet the evolving needs of a school that is growing and to ensure the post holders are carrying out duties commensurate with the type of post which they hold.There is a good level of communication both within the school and between the school and the wider community with the “open door” policy of senior management attested to by all. Parents in particular feel that they have access to the principal should the need arise and the parents association feel that the principal listens to their concerns. The creation of a website can be expected to further enhance the flow of information from the school and it is suggested that this be regarded as a priority.
Management of Resources
Though the main building itself is over 100 years old it is still in good repair with all of the windows having been replaced within the past five years. There are specialist rooms for Science, Library, Music and Guidance and Counselling. The school has a well equipped I.C.T room with an interactive network system. Students are happy with the general accommodation. They feel that there are sufficient specialist rooms to cater for their needs and they expressed particular satisfaction with the recreational facilities, especially the large physical education hall.
Continuity is seen as a priority in the timetabling of staff from one year to the next. Teachers regularly rotate between higher and ordinary level.
Physical Education and Art have a designated budget while resources for other subjects are provided on a needs basis and senior management makes every effort to facilitate the requirements of all subject departments.
Quality Of School Planning
The School is regarded by senior management as being at a hugely exciting stage with regard to school development planning. There is a sizcohort of young, new teachers who are ready to embrace change and there is a feeling that everyone has a role to play in the process.
Subject department planning is regarded as having been very successful. In this context the focus has primarily been on teaching and learning, particularly with regard to the teaching of mixed ability groups which was introduced with considerable success some years ago. Other key policies in the area of the school’s Mission Statement, assessment and Code of Behaviour are having a palpable, positive impact on school life.
Quality of Curriculum Provision
Curricular planning is based on the availability of teaching resources. Student’s needs are regularly monitored to make sure that the curriculum is meeting their requirements. There is considerable breadth and balance in the curriculum within the constraints imposed by the size of the school.
Practical subjects such as Materials Technology (wood), Metalwork and Technical Graphics are not available and it is recommended that the school continue to remain open to the possibility of providing these subjects at some point in the future.
Timetabled allocation for all subjects is in accordance with Department of Education and Science guidelines. It is commendable that three class groups are formed for Irish, English, Maths, Science and French in first year as this is regarded as affording additional support to students who may experience difficulties. Students are encouraged to take the highest level possible in all subjects and high expectations are set for all.
A compulsory Transition Year has been in operation in the school for many years and this is operating effectively. All of the systems of monitoring and evaluation of different aspects of the Transition Year Programme are considered very worthwhile and the coordinator is commanded for the significant efforts being made in this regard.
It was observed during some of the subject inspections that took place that there is some common ground between the material being covered in Transition Year and that, which is also part of the Leaving Certificate syllabus. While there is no absolute prohibition on covering material that may have relevance to the Leaving Certificate syllabus it is essential that such occasions are kept to a minimum.
It is commendable that, in advance of subject combinations being formed students are canvassed regarding their preferred subject choices. Option blocks are then formed so as to maximise student choice. Students are happy with the range of information given to them regarding subject choice and the career implications of these.
Co-Curricular and Extra – Curricular Provision
Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision in the school is excellent, with all members of the school community acknowledging the significant, voluntary contribution of staff. The variety of activities provided allows students to participate at all levels and students are encouraged to feel success but also a sense of fun. It is particularly commendable that, with regard to the school’s sporting involvements, the emphasis is placed on participation and on taking pride in representing one’s school rather than an over-emphasis on competitive success.
Quality of Learning and Teaching
Four random subject areas were evaluated as part of the whole school evaluation. History, Gaeilge, Music and Guidance were the chosen areas.
High standards of teaching and learning in an atmosphere of care and co-operation were observed in all subjects. Inspectors were impressed by the expertise of teachers not only in the details of their subjects and in their teaching capacity but also in their approach to students. It has been noted elsewhere in this report that the values of the Capuchin Order were in evidence in the school. This observation can also be made regarding the work being carried out in the classrooms. A friendly spirit was apparent in all classes. Coupled with respect for teachers and students, this attribute enabled the core work of teaching to progress unhindered. Teachers called students by name and had, in most cases, some information about their personal interests and interacted with ease with them. Students responded well and with respect.
Teachers showed a thorough grasp of their subjects. In all cases the framework of the syllabus was in evidence but it’s relationship to the lives of students was regularly averted to.
Similarly, when students were questioned their responses showed understanding, a good grounding in the subjects, and interest in them.
Lessons were well planned and paced and teachers regularly checked that the rate of progress was appropriate.The use of imagination and higher order thinking was noted in many classes.
Assessment and Achievement
The school has put in place structures for the regular monitoring and reporting of student’s assessment and achievement. Inspectors have noted that the system of student monitoring and the concern shown for individual needs of students are excellent.
The school encourages students to aspire towards taking higher level in certificate examinations whenever possible. The ultimate decision is left to the student and parents with guidance from the subject teacher.
A variety of methods of formative assessment were observed during the subject inspections. Some examples included students project work, completion of worksheets, a strong commitment to oral questioning and regular homework assignments.
Inspectors noted that teachers were affirming of students’ work and that constructive comments were often written for students’ folders, workbooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and in many cases this was of a very high standard. Such demonstrations of student’s engagement with subjects inspected were found to be common and were commended. Student achievements, academic sporting and social, are formally recognised at the school’s annual awards night.
Quality of Support for Students
The comparatively small size of the school, the attention to detail and caring attitude of staff help to make sure that everyone is aware of any student who is experiencing difficulties and that the appropriate measures are taken. This policy is a further embodiment of the schools’ caring ethos and a genuine commitment to the combating of disadvantage in all forms.
Students who may be at risk of marginalisation are dealt with in an unobtrusive and sensitive way.
St. Francis College has a long tradition of catering for the personal, social, educational and vocational development of students. The high priority given to a personalised service to students has resulted in a system in which communication is excellent and responses to students needs are rapid and consultative. The management of change has been effective, strategic and forward looking in this regard.
The school strives to promote a whole school approach to pastoral care and the easy interaction observed between students and teachers is testament to this. The stated aim of the pastoral care system is to look after and care for both students and staff and the school models itself on being a Christian, caring community.
Parents have strong links with the school and are involved, through the Parents’ Association, in policy decisions regarding pastoral care. In addition there is open access and communication between parents and class teachers.
The thoughtful implementation of the schools’ care policy has ensured that all students with pastoral care needs have been identified and their needs catered for.