Piloting the Ethos of an ETB School

Image of person who wrote the blog.
Carmel Mulligan, Deputy Principal, Deele College, Raphoe.

Carmel Mulligan is one of our Deputy Principals in our Raphoe school, Deele College and over the past year has been leading a national pilot project in the school with Dublin City University (DCU) examining the application of the principles of School Self Evaluation (SSE) to ethos. In this blog she tells us more about it.

Over the past ten years the ETB sector has engaged in an extensive consultation process exploring and developing the ethos of ETB schools. The ETB Ethos Statement affirms that ETB schools are state run, co-educational and multi-denominational schools underpinned by the core values of:

  • Excellence in Education
  • Care
  • Equality
  • Community
  • Respect

It is envisaged that a coherent approach will be adopted by all ETB schools in promoting these core values so that there is a clear understanding by all of what ETB schools represent.

What is Ethos?

Ethos is how we live, work and engage with each other in our school community. It relates to shared core values, to the hidden curriculum, to decision making processes and to the relationships that underpin the daily life of a school.

Ethos and the Principles of School Self Evaluation (SSE) in Deele College

All schools in Donegal ETB are involved in the rollout of ETB ethos and additionally, Deele College participated in a national pilot project with DCU examining the application of the principles of SSE to ethos.

Like all schools within Donegal ETB, Deele College established an Ethos Leadership Team (ELT) comprising one Deputy Principal, three teachers and one Special Needs Assistant (SNA). A Professional Learning Network (PLN) for Ethos was established within Donegal ETB comprising one representative from each school. This PLN group met regularly with Eamon Ryan the Ethos Coordinator to share best practice.

Deele College was very much guided by DCU in applying the SSE process. One member of the team attended four information sessions with representatives from DCU throughout the year. Each information session was held a few days before each ELT meeting within the school. We were provided with very clear guidelines of how to conduct each ELT meeting. We were provided with an agenda for the meeting, how much time should be provided for each section of the meeting, resources required for the meeting and templates of task lists. Each ETB in the country had representatives in attendance at these sessions. They proved to be very informative and a great means of sharing good practice.

Step 1 – Identifying a focus

The initial focus for year 1 was on raising awareness and understanding of ETB ethos with all members of the school community.

Step 2 – Gathering evidence

We surveyed all members of the school community with surveys provided by DCU, including school management, teachers, students, SNAs, parents and the Board of Management via email along with a short presentation on ETBI core values and we also sent the surveys via text message with this medium proving most effective in getting responses. A Google Classroom was set up for all students with the student survey attached to it. During one class we made a short virtual presentation to all students and they completed the student survey during that class. Both quantitative and qualitative data was gathered. While the surveys were quite detailed, the majority of questions were multiple choice with two open ended questions at the end of each.

Step 3 – Analyse and make judgements

We had a lot of information to analyse as we received responses from forty-seven teachers, nineteen SNAs, 480 students, 231 parents, seven Board of Management members and three members of the senior management team. Each ELT member was assigned a group and they collated their responses under each domain. This step in the SSE process was time consuming but proved to be very worthwhile as we received very valuable and constructive feedback; the open-ended questions at the end of each survey gave the participant the chance to voice their own opinions regarding ethos and the implementation of the core values within our school which made for very interesting reading.

Step 4 – Write and share report and improvement plan

The DCU team were a great help in carrying out this part of the SSE process: they provided samples and blank templates for writing up the report and the improvement plan. We knew exactly what type of language to use in completing the documents, the amount of information each document required and how to set SMART targets when completing the School Improvement Plan (SIP).

 Where we’re currently at

In Deele College the ELT has completed four out of the six steps in applying the SSE process to promoting awareness and understanding of ETB ethos with all members of the school community which was enough work for one year. We have identified effective practice that is currently ongoing within the school and we have pin pointed areas that we need to improve on.

Step 5 – Putting the improvement plan into action

This is the most important step of the SSE process. It is important that a school undertakes this step after staff have had a break from the SSE process and feel rejuvenated. We will begin implementing our SIP as early as possible in the new school year and will evaluate the impact our actions have had on promoting awareness of ETB ethos within our school community by the end of the 2022/23 school year.

The help and guidance we received from DCU during this process was immeasurable. We were guided meticulously through each step. The knowledge team members have gained from being a part of this process has given us a much clearer understanding of the whole SSE process which will in turn benefit all staff members.

I would like to extend a special word of thanks to Eamon Ryan Ethos Coordinator who was an amazing support throughout the process and always answered emails and phone calls punctually. Also, a huge word of thanks to Ms. Mary Crawford our PLN representative who did Trojan work on this process throughout the school year.