An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

Directorate of Regional Services

 

Evaluation in the Context of Expenditure Review of

Youth Encounter Project Schools

REPORT

 

Saint Paulís School

Main St, Finglas, Dublin

Roll number: 19594N

 

Date of inspection: 28 April 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006

 

 

 

1 School Context and Ethos

1.1 Context

1.2 Distinctive character and atmosphere

1.3 Supports for students

1.4 Links with the community

2 Quality of School management

2.1 Role of board of management

2.2 Administration of the school

2.3 Programme and curriculum organisation

2.4 Staff deployment

2.5 Accommodation and resources

3 Quality of school planning

3.1 School plan and policies

3.2 Planning process

3.3 Implementation of plan

4 Quality of teaching and learning

4.1 Planning and preparation

4.2 Teaching methodologies

4.3 Assessment of studentsí progress

4.4 Outcomes and standards

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 


This School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of St Paulís School. †The evaluation is being carried out in the context of an expenditure review of those schools which were originally designated ĎYouth Encounter Project Schools. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal and with the staff of the school. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with teaching staff and learners in the school, examined studentsí work and conducted an interview with a representative group of students. The inspector also reviewed relevant school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation, and met the schoolís board of management (board of management) and parents. †Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and staff of the school and to the board of management.† The board of management of the school 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. †

 

 

1 School Context and Ethos

 

1.1 Context

 

St Paulís School is located in what was formerly a bank on Main St, in Finglas village.† It was established in the late 1970s and was classified by the Department of Education and Science (DES) as a Youth Encounter Project (YEP).† Four other YEP schools were established during this period.† Their mission was, and remains, to cater for the educational needs of a small minority of students for whom mainstream education was deemed inappropriate.† Although they are primarily drawn from the Finglas area, some students come from surrounding areas such as Ballymun, Cabra and Blanchardstown.† There are currently twenty-four students enrolled in the school.† Some of the staff in St Paulís have very significant experience in the school and describe the changing nature of many of the students.† One of the challenges of the past is described by staff members as dealing with students coming from very impoverished backgrounds.† Students of today, however, are described as being much less likely to suffer material deprivation.† More frequent instances of students coming from dysfunctional homes, criminality and, in some cases, drug addiction among students represents the greatest challenges presented by current students.

 

St Paulís, though located in very unsuitable accommodation, operates very successfully as a school.† It operates under the patronage of Catholic Youth Care (CYC).† The students co-operate very well with the routines of the school day which is structured appropriately according to their needs and capabilities and to the previous experience of the teachers and staff.† Thus, the students are exposed to formal lessons, in which the development of their literacy and numeracy skills is addressed to the point that many acquit themselves well in Junior Certificate examinations.† They are also offered a good range of informal learning opportunities including horse riding, horse care and soccer.† The balance between formal and informal learning is very good in St Paulís and is very suited to the needs of the students.†

† †

 

1.2 Distinctive character and atmosphere

 

There is a strong and commendable emphasis on the holistic development of the students in St Paulís.† This is evidenced in the balance achieved in the preparation of students for State examinations with the opportunities given to allow them to grow in responsibility through participation in structured, though informal learning programmes.† In interviews with students, they clearly identify the fact that they are learning at their own pace and with appropriate support as being positive experiences.† They feel valued, they are appreciative of the efforts undertaken to support them and strive, as a minimum, for success in the Junior Certificate examination.† They are also cognisant of the challenges that their behaviour presents to staff in St Paulís.† Equally, however, they affirm that difficult situations are managed effectively and efficiently.† Observation confirms this opinion.† This view of the distinctive character of the school is very much supported by parents, who expressed strong support for and affirmation of the work of the school.† They are involved with their childrenís education and state that the school provides the best opportunity to their children to be retained in the education system and to avoid criminality.†

 

There is a very positive atmosphere in the school.† For the most part students interact with each other and with staff in a respectful manner.† This is a considerable achievement for which the school is highly commended, particularly in the light of the cramped accommodation.† In the course of the evaluation, the students demonstrated an ability to listen and to learn.† They were engaged in purposeful learning activities and were experiencing success.† Overall, St Paulís is a school which values its students, engages with them positively and with respect and ensures that significant efforts are undertaken to support students and their families.

††† †

 

1.3 Supports for students

 

The referral process in St Paulís provides good support for students in that their immediate needs are well known to the school.† Typically, students are referred to St Paulís by other local schools, by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) or by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).† This can occur at any time during the course of the school year.† Of necessity, the school has excellent links with local schools, evidenced by the presence of a former principal of a local primary school on the board of management.† A significant part of the referral process is the attention given to the assessment of the studentsí needs.† Following a process of consultation, the community worker in St Paulís is tasked with providing as much relevant information as possible.† Thus, when students commences in St Paulís, a suitable programme is ready for implementation.† Similarly, as the student progresses in the school, the attention paid to monitoring his/her progress constitutes a support.† This monitoring encompasses progress made in educational, behavioural and social arenas.† Much of this work is done informally through careful observation at meal times and recreation periods when students congregate and interact with each other.

 

The expertise of the staff is a significant support for students in St Paulís.† There is a good balance of experienced and less experienced staff in the school.† The manner in which they interact with each other and with students sets the tone for the school and positively influences studentsí behaviour and achievement.†

 

Appropriate supports are in place to support the studentsí attendance.† They realise and accept that the school will actively encourage them to attend and that their parents will be contacted if they do not arrive in school by a certain time.† There is acceptance among the students that the school pursues their attendance for the correct reasons.†

 

The structure of the school day is a support for the students.† It is most unlikely that the students would be capable of attending up to nine formal lessons each day, as would be the case in many post-primary schools.† The balance between formal and informal learning manifest in the current structure of the day is correct.† Much of the evidence for this lies in the manner in which students attend appropriately to assigned tasks during formal lessons and the interest they demonstrate in informal learning activities.† ††††††††

 

 

1.4 Links with the community

 

Strong and commendable links between the school and parents are apparent.† The community worker is a key member of the school staff and provides an invaluable link between the school, the studentsí homes and the community in general.† In some instances, there is daily contact between the school and the home, much of this conducted in an informal manner.† This approach ensures that parents are likely to be more supportive of the schoolís efforts to resolve particular difficulties and challenges.† There are also more formalised links between the school and the home through attendance at parent-teacher meetings.†

 

The school has links with a wide array of organisations and agencies operating in Finglas and its environs.† The school makes regular contact with An Garda SŪochŠna, through the offices of the Juvenile Liaiaon Officer (JLO).† The school is also in regular contact with sections of the Department of Education and Science (DES), local schools, local Area Partnerships, state training and employment agencies and with youth services.†

 

The school has no current access to psychological support from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).† Given the degree to which many students in the school have learning difficulties and, in some instances, significant behavioural difficulties, the lack of consistent support from NEPS, or from other clinical psychological support services, represents a particular difficulty for the school.† It is recommended that the school pursues this matter with the DES and with other service providers including the Health Services Executive.†

 

As is the case in all of the YEP schools, a particular difficulty for St Paulís is its official classification as a primary school.† As a result of it being classified as a primary school, curriculum support is available through the offices of the Primary Curriculum Support Service (PCSP).† The provision of a generic model of support in primary curriculum areas does not allow for the specific challenges faced by the teachers in St Paulís to be met.† As the vast majority of its students are of post-primary school going age, access to second level support services would be of greater benefit to the school.† A second difficulty is the fact that the students express strong views that they should not be in school in June.† However, as the school has to follow the primary school year, lessons continue through June.† A Ďsummer programmeí offered to students who are not completing the Junior Certificate examination resolves this particular issue.† Only one member of staff is primary trained, the other teachers holding a range of qualifications in post-primary subject areas.† There is a significant need for access to training in the development of studentsí literacy and numeracy skills.† The nature of in-service support offered by DES agencies to the school does not allow the school to address particular difficulties in these areas.†

 

 

2 Quality of School management

 

2.1 Role of board of management

 

The board of management has a very clear vision of how it can contribute to the school, its operation and its development.† It meets very regularly during the course of the school year and is fully informed of issues.† The board concerns itself with the progress made by the students, their welfare and the welfare and professional development of the staff.† In that regard, a range of courses have been completed to beneficial effect by staff members in recent years including Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) and regular attendance at Junior Certificate Schoolsí Programme (JCSP) in-service.†

 

Of most pressing concern to the board at present, however, is the inadequacy of the school building.† Moving from the current location to one which will better meet the needs of the teachers, staff and students is regarded as the schoolís main priority.†

 

The constitution of the board of management was discussed at the post-evaluation meeting with the board.† The board has the benefit of being in the position to draw on the expertise of members who are experienced in youth work and in education.† Although there are good links between the school and parents, there were no parentsí representatives on the board at the time of the evaluation.† In order to recognise the potential contribution of parents to school life, it is recommended that the school expands the membership of the board to include two representatives of the parents.† At the post-evaluation meeting, it emerged that the school had acted on this recommendation and had co-opted a parent onto the board.† This is a very welcome departure and will bring benefits to the school.† ††

 

 

 

 

 

2.2 Administration of the school

 

Given the accommodation in the school, there is no room for a secretaryís office.† In the absence of secretarial support, a significant burden is placed on the principal in administering the school.† The school day is structured and the successful adoption of routines by the staff ensures that the students are very well managed in classrooms and in informal settings.† A good example of this is the routine that the students follow on arriving in the school every day.† Whereas most schools are managed on a day-to- day basis by a principal, this school has a principal.† This title gives some indication of the nature of the role and the demands placed on the post-holder.† Carrying out this role effectively involves addressing the studentsí welfare as much as their educational progress.† This role is very competently carried out in St Paulís.† The principal and the other members of staff engage very effectively with the parents and students.† The schoolís informal programmes run very effectively. †In that regard, considerable time is expended on liaison between the school and other agencies, much of this being routine in nature.† Of particular note is the quality of links established with parents.† The appointment of secretarial support would allow for further consideration of the studentsí learning needs.†

††

2.3 Programme and curriculum organisation

The school implements its programmes and curriculum very effectively.† The studentsí limited ability to engage in prolonged, purposeful, formal learning activities influences the type of curriculum offered.† Students who are in their third year in the school and who are sitting Junior Certificate examinations spend considerably longer than younger students in formal class settings.† The commitment of the staff in preparing students for examinations is noteworthy, the students frequently being retained for tuition after the official end of the school day.† It is apparent that the students appreciate this commitment.† The curriculum followed for most students is flexible and takes account of their needs and abilities.† The greatest challenge facing the teachers relates to the development of the studentsí literacy and numeracy skills so that they may be in a position to achieve success, for some, in the Junior Certificate, or for others in the JCSP.†

 

The provision of a range of informal learning activities is one of the reasons behind the success of the school.† These are provided most days of the week after lunch and are varied and interesting to the students.† They play football, where they are encouraged to participate in a self-controlled manner.† Other examples of informal learning activities include care of horses.† The board of management and staff have appropriately achieved a balance between the development of the studentsí academic needs and their exposure to programmes that ensure personal and social development occurs.† The students themselves recognise this and claim to have benefited significantly from informal programmes, to the extent that one student wishes to become a blacksmith as a result of his attendance at a course on the care of horses.

††† †

2.4 Staff deployment

 

There is a genuine commitment among the staff to bettering the lives of the students they teach and work with.† They are accepting of the fact that working in St Paulís is unlike working in mainstream schools, in that there is always the potential for an outburst by a student.† It is very evident, however, that such outbursts will be suitably controlled and managed by the staff.† In that regard, though led effectively by the principal, the staff operates very much as a team.† Consultation among staff members to resolve potentially difficult situations is a positive feature of practice in the school.†

 

The staffís training needs are known to the school authorities, who endeavour to provide suitable training and professional development opportunities.† In that regard, it is evident that the staff holds the updating of their own knowledge and skills in high regard.

 

 

2.5 Accommodation and resources

 

The standard of accommodation in this school is very poor.† The school building was formerly a bank and contains rooms on two floors.† The three classrooms are located upstairs and are very unsuited to the needs of the teachers and students.† They are cramped and there is little or no potential to reorganise them to ensure the provision of greater space.† Downstairs, there is a principalís office, a resource room and a kitchen and dining area.† Although relatively small, this area is well-maintained.† The dining area provides suitable opportunities for the teachers to engage informally with the students at meal times and at recreation times.† They share meals and discuss issues of the day in a relaxed manner.† Good emphasis is noted on the inclusion of all students in this activity.† At the rear of the school, there is a very small yard space.† It is not sufficiently large to engage in formal Physical Education activities.† It is used primarily as a smoking area by those students whose parents have requested permission for them to smoke.†

 

The teachers are commended for their provision of a wide range of supplementary teaching resources.† In addition, the efforts undertaken to provide a stimulating learning environment add to the overall effectiveness of the school.† Considerable attention is paid to the provision of concrete materials and resources for the students.† This includes the provision of appropriate reading schemes which will sufficiently challenge the student, while also being age appropriate.†††† ††

 

3 Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School plan and policies

 

The issue of child protection was discussed with the management of the centre. Evidence was provided to confirm that management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the management of the centre has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Department of Health and Children guidelines.

 

Many of the schoolís plans and policies are influenced by guidelines emanating from its patron body, CYC.† They are also influenced by custom and practice in the school.† Of particular note is the schoolís code of discipline which is positively stated and encourages students to take responsibility for their own actions.† Clear, concise and appropriate reporting procedures are laid down in the event of a serious breach of the code of discipline.† The school has also found it necessary to develop a re-engagement policy.† This operates where students, for whatever reason, may have experienced a prolonged absence from the school.† In order to re-engage successfully with the school, the studentís re-admission is dependent on strict adherence to agreed criteria.† It is evident that the school engages in a process of self evaluation.† This is a continuous process and has informal and formal aspects to it.† It is suggested that current practices and procedures in this area be formalised to the extent that the school produces an annual report.† This may be done under the auspices of the board and should be presented to the parents and the school community.††

 

Very good consideration is given to the development of literacy skills among the students.† An agreed policy relating to this issue has been developed and is the subject of ongoing review.† This policy offers teachers the opportunity to develop their studentsí capacity for development in literacy in a manner which is non-threatening.† In that regard, this schoolís recent experiences could inform practice in other YEP schools.† It is recommended that a similar in-depth analysis of numeracy needs commence with a view to informing future practice in this area.† Other curriculum areas addressed include SPHE, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), and Home Economics.† These are clearly influenced by the prospect of students sitting state examinations. †

 

 

 

3.2 Planning process

 

It is evident that appropriate consideration is given to the planning process in St Paulís.† Sufficient time is given to planning for future development and to the needs of the students.† Teachers and staff are consulted accordingly.† Parents are involved in planning for individual students needs, particularly at the referral stage, though this involvement could be broadened to include regular consultations in the development of individual education plans (IEPs).† It is also evident that the school prioritises areas for development.† Current priorities include the development of an assessment policy and dealing with the Ďexplosive child.í† Of particular note is the manner in which the school has compiled its policy for the development of literacy among the students, particularly those entering the school with limited ability and skill in this area.†

†††

 

3.3 Implementation of plan

 

There is a clear and definable link between the schoolís published code of discipline and the manner in which the students manage their own behaviour.† The positive tone of the written document is borne out in the classrooms, in the expectations laid down by teachers and in their interactions with the students.† Commendable emphasis is also apparent on monitoring and reviewing of school plans and policies.† This is particularly evident in the policies relating to the management of unruly and difficult students.† These are subject to change in the light of further training and experience.† It is also evident that the JCSP learning targets and the Junior Certificate syllabus influence learning activities in classrooms.† Teachers are cognisant of what they are striving to achieve with the students, how they are going to achieve this and what procedures are in place to review the effectiveness of the programme followed.† Similarly, the approach adopted with younger students, some of whom are still of primary-school age, is influenced by the need to develop a positive attitude to literacy.††

 

 

4 Quality of teaching and learning

 

4.1 Planning and preparation

 

The teachers provide suitable written preparation for their work.† This is heavily influenced by the whole-school plan for the particular subject area.† Suitable consideration is given to the compilation of objectives and methodologies.† The teachersí plans are also influenced by JCSP learning statements and the Junior Certificate syllabus and textbooks.† Appropriate consideration is given to the preparation of material resources which are used in the teaching process.† Given the lack of age-appropriate materials for the student cohort, much of what is produced is made by the teachers.† These materials add to the effectiveness of lessons.†

 

 

4.2 Teaching methodologies

 

Students assemble in the school from 8.30am and often gather under supervision in one of the upstairs room where they play pool.† A cooked breakfast is provided up to 10am.† Most of the students avail of this opportunity.† Of note is the polite manner in which they order their food, receive it and bring used delph and cutlery back to the kitchen.† The three classes are then divided and sent to their rooms, whereupon formal lessons commence.† All of this is managed in an orderly process and sets a calm tone for the day.† Teaching methodologies are heavily influenced by the stage students are at in the school.† The oldest students follow the Junior Certificate syllabus in subjects such as History, Business Studies, English and Mathematics.† Those subjects that are currently offered are well-prepared and well taught throughout the school.† For the middle and senior classes, whole-class teaching is the predominant teaching methodology utilised, with good questioning techniques evident.† The students attend to assigned written tasks enthusiastically and revel in the fact that they experience success.† For younger students, there is a greater focus on the development of their literacy skills.† Individualised programmes are the norm at this level, thus placing greater demands on the teacher.† These programmes are necessary because of limited student engagement with assigned tasks.† It is recommended that team-teaching with the schoolís resource teacher be utilised as a formal methodology in tackling literacy deficits among the students.† This would require the teachers in question to plan, implement and evaluate a programme of work which is of interest to the students.† The classrooms are print-rich with charts which are of interest to the students on display.† Some good examples of work completed by the students are also displayed.† A good range of books and other reading material is available for use.† As a means of further developing a positive regard for literacy in the school, consideration should be given to implementing ĎDrop Everything and Read,í (DEAR), Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR) or other such whole-school approaches.

 

Due to the severe limitations of the building, the only practical subjects the school can offer are Home Economics and Art.† These subjects are tackled very enthusiastically by the students who produce high-quality work.† The further expansion of the range of vocational subjects offered by the school should be considered as a priority in the event of the provision of more suitable premises.† Consideration could be given to the further involvement of the students in the production of food for mealtimes.† Involving the students on a rota basis in the design of a daily menu, the purchase and preparation of the ingredients and the presentation and cleaning up process has the potential to act as a very good learning experience for the students.†

 

Informal learning activities are pursued by most students each afternoon.† The overarching aim of these activities is to develop in the students a sense of responsibility.† Appropriate behaviour during formal class time is rewarded by informal activities.† Among the favourites cited by the students are soccer and horse riding.† As some of the students own horses, this is an excellent way of ensuring responsible care of their animals.†††††

 

 

4.3 Assessment of studentsí progress

 

Student progress is carefully monitored in a number of ways.† A small number of formal assessments are carried out each year using internally available funds.† As previously described, informal observation during recreation and meal times is an important task for each staff member.† Teacher observations of student interaction and behaviour form the basis of discussion at weekly staff meetings.† Most of the students settle well into the school.† Those who experience difficulty in making a successful transition to St Paulís are appropriately supported and every effort is made to ensure that the individual studentís needs are met.† A range of diagnostic testing is employed, initially to ensure that IEPs focus on the studentís most pressing need and subsequently to ensure continued progression in targeted areas.† In that regard, the IEP itself forms an important element of the assessment process in St Paulís.†

 

As the students progress through the three classes, achievement of JCSP learning statements and, ultimately, achievement in the Junior Certificate are regarded as indicators of success.† Term reports are issued twice a year to parents and offer commentary on student progress, both academically and behaviourally.†

 

 

4.4 Outcomes and standards

 

The fact that the students attend St Paulís on a regular basis is cited by parents and teachers alike as the most positive outcome of their enrolment in St Paulís.† One studentís assertion of his appreciation of St Paulís is coloured by his belief that Ďno other school would take me.í† St Paulís enrols students who experience significant difficulties in their previous schools and ensures that everything possible is done to provide successful learning outcomes for them.†

 

It is very evident that improved behaviour by students is an outcome of the studentsí attendance in St Paulís.† This is achieved through setting high expectations of them in terms of their behaviour, and achieving a good balance between formal and informal learning activities.† The academic standards achieved are generally commensurate with student abilities, as tested diagnostically.† Positive behaviour on the part of the students in St Paulís ensures that they are more likely to achieve success in State examinations.

 

Thus, there is significant evidence to support the view that the school successfully educates the students in an holistic manner.† They are, for the most part, retained within the education system.† Students who fail to complete their Junior Certificate or achieve JCSP learning statements in St Paulís are in a small minority and generally do so because of circumstances extraneous to the school, these students often transferring to residential high support units.† Progression to further training and employment is evident for the majority of students in St Paulís.† Forty-one of seventy-six students who have left the school in the past ten years have progressed to FAS, Youthreach or have moved directly to employment.† Unlike most of the other YEPs, a small number of students have left St Paulís to return to mainstream post-primary education.†† ††

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:

 

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and teaching staff at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 


 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

NEPS

 

 

IN-SERVICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

BOM

 

 

 

BUILDING

 

 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES NEEDED

 

 

CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT