Report shows flaws in running of top school
DEPARTMENT of Education inspectors have strongly criticised the running of a well known girls' secondary school under its former principal.
Much of their concern was on the "close control" management style of Sr Denise O'Brien, who was principal of Our Lady's Bower, Athlone, Co Westmeath, for 18 years.
A new principal, Sr Margaret O'Reilly, took over the running of the school last summer.
The lengthy report on a Whole School Evaluation, carried out in February 2010, was published by the Department of Education yesterday.
The inspectors praised much about the Midlands school, including the quality of teaching and learning.
But they expressed concerns about a range of issues, including inaccurate recording of attendance, absenteeism among some students and the infrequency of staff meetings.
The leadership style adopted by the principal was characterised by "close control and supervision of all aspects of school life", causing low morale among staff.
Among the report's recommendations were reviews of the style of management adopted and the responsibilities undertaken by the principal.
The report focused strongly on the poor functioning of the board of management, of which the principal was secretary.
The absence, or inadequate nature, of a number of important school policies such as child protection was also a source of concern.
Inspectors called for the code of behaviour to be reviewed after finding that even students expressed a need for an anti-disruption class policy to address misbehaviours that interfered with teaching and learning.
They also queried spending 75 minutes a week on morning assemblies, on top of the timetabled religion class, when not all students were receiving the minimum 28 hours' tuition a week.
The school, founded by the La Sainte Union order, has about 700 pupils, including 130 boarders.
According to the report, there was no "productive working relationship" between the principal and the board of management, and the board had not been able to execute its responsibilities.
The board had regular scheduled lengthy meetings, as well as numerous emergency meetings, where matters were discussed in a conscientious and comprehensive manner, but priorities had not subsequently progressed.
Board members were not consulted about a range of management issues and were not involved in decision-making.
The report also drew attention to the lack of a school plan and the absence of a comprehensive admissions policy.
The board subsequently reported to the department that it had, or was, implementing the inspectors' recommendations.