An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Saint Patrick’s National School
Chapelizod, Dublin 20
Uimhir rolla: 15622S
Date of inspection: 21 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science undertook an evaluation of the teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and English in a sample of schools nationally.
This evaluation is the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the primary curriculum and is part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide information on the extent of curriculum implementation in SPHE and English. The evaluation focuses on the teaching and learning in SPHE and English and on the quality of pupils’ achievement. This evaluation identifies and affirms good practice, and makes recommendations for teaching and the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Saint Patrick’s National School. The evaluation involved the observation of teaching and learning in different class settings, a review of planning and policy documents, and an evaluation of the progress of pupils, including those receiving supplementary teaching in English. A school questionnaire was administered and interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Pupils in senior classes and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. 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.
This primary school is located in Chapelizod village on a prominent triangular plot, which overlooks a bridge across the river Liffey. The current building was constructed in 1969 and replaced an older school building on the same site. The three storey school is positioned to one side of the site and is surrounded on four sides by a tar macadam yard used by the pupils during yard time. Well planted flower beds have been introduced at the corners of the yard. These contribute greatly to the general aesthetic of what is predominantly a built environment. The school’s catchment area includes the village of Chapelizod, its environs and an adjoining section of Ballyfermot. In addition, some pupils are drawn from the greater Dublin catchment area as the school is on a direct commuter route to Dublin city. The school caters for the educational needs of 208 boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class. The enrolment trend over the past three years indicates a fluctuating pattern in enrolment. The school is going through a stage of transition. International students represent a significant portion of the school’s enrolment and are contributing positively to the overall educational context. A second language support teacher was recently appointed. The school has approval for an extension to the current building, which will comprise an office space for the principal teacher and four rooms to accommodate the provision of special education teaching and language support teaching. The additional accommodation will be located within the current site. Pupils are interested in their work and overall achievement levels are good. The average level of attendance for the previous term is good. Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress through the annual parent teacher meetings. They are invited to participate in the formulation of the school’s plans and policies. A notice board is positioned on an outside wall to inform parents of current events. The school has no formal parents’ association, though it did previously. The re-establishment of a parents’ association should be actively encouraged by the board of management of the school. Parents support the school through holding fund raising events such Bingo nights among many others. In addition, the staff organises events such as art exhibitions which are actively supported by the parents in the school. The staff represents a balance between experienced teachers and those newly qualified. Furthermore, the staff benefits from a good representation of teachers who have served in the school for a long time. This adds stability and continuity to the teaching and learning in the school. This is particularly important at the moment as the school is going through a period of transition. A positive caring atmosphere exists in the school. The principal promotes the school as a community in which each child feels safe and valued. This is confirmed by conversations held with senior pupils in the school.
The school has made good use of Department of Educational Science grants provided over the years. A range of educational resources is available for SPHE, which supports the implementation of the Walk Tall and Stay Safe programmes, among others. All classrooms have educational charts which support teaching and learning in SPHE. Good use is made of the open plan areas situated on each of the first and second floors in celebrating the work of the children across a number of curriculum areas. The layout of the children’s desks in most classrooms supports group work. Although some excellent examples of individual displays were observed, the overall standard of display requires improvement. Greater use should be made of information communication technology (ICT) in supporting these displays in classrooms, corridor areas and in entrance spaces. The principal requires a designated office space in which to carry out her duties. Space should be allocated for this purpose at the earliest opportunity from within the existing accommodation.
While very good work is acknowledged in the creation of flower beds along the perimeter of the school yard, more use should be made of the school environment as a whole. The standard of signage in the school needs improving. While the name of the school is displayed prominently on an external wall, the entrance to the school is not clearly marked. An entrance sign needs to be positioned which clearly indicates the entrance door to the school for visitors. All classrooms should have a sign which indicates the name of the class teacher and the class setting therein. In addition the overall management of yard usage and supervision needs review. At present, staff’s cars are parked on site alongside the school building. Pupils and teachers arrive on foot and in cars respectively via the only entrance to the school, which itself is situated at a major road junction with traffic lights. The current practice of allowing simultaneous access to the yard by pupils and cars needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency as it has safety implications for children and for all drivers parking in the school yard. The management of yard usage and supervision, inclusive of the transition of pupils from classroom to yard, needs review. This review should delineate discrete supervised areas for children’s play separate to that occupied by parked cars. Furthermore, it should include a review of the adult to pupil ratio on the yard during supervised recreation times, so that the children can remain within adult visibility while playing in the yard.
The management of human resources which support the provision for teaching and learning in SPHE and English is as follows. The staff comprises an administrative principal, twelve assistant teachers and one part-time resource teacher. One special needs assistant works part-time in the school, assisting with two pupils. Eight of the twelve assistant teachers work in mainstream classes; two work as learning support teachers and two are employed as language support teachers teaching pupils whose first language is not English. The second language support teacher is recently appointed. The school has the services of a part-time secretary and a part-time caretaker. The school is cleaned regularly by three cleaners. Teachers and support staff demonstrate a caring approach to the pupils in the school.
The school is reasonably well resourced for the teaching of English and a variety of suitable books and reading material is readily available. Attention is paid to the development of oral language skills through the use of a variety of teacher-generated and commercially produced illustrative material such Chatterbox and Letterland and reading scheme language charts and resources which allow for an integrated language experience for pupils in some classes. The creation of a print-rich environment incorporating labelling and word walls in the classrooms and the availability of a range of big books and displays of books in well stocked classroom libraries foster pupils’ impulse to read and provide access to a variety of reading material.
The oral language programme could be further enhanced by the acquisition of a wider range of language charts related to particular themes and by referencing learning activities more closely to the objectives set out in the curriculum. The creation and effective use of language experience charts in the infant and junior classes could be facilitated by the acquisition of flip charts and the more frequent use of whiteboards. The proper use of ICT in displaying the pupils’ written work in some classes is recognised and welcomed and should be extended to all classes.
A school policy exists which details the school’s approach to planning for the implementation of the SPHE curriculum in the school. The document sets out clear aims, approaches and methodologies to be implemented by the whole staff. A major strength of the school’s plan is its approach to the implementation of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme. This programme is taught by staff members as opposed to being taught by adults not on the staff of the school. This is highly praised. The Stay Safe, Walk Tall and Action for Life programmes are also taught by staff members. Work is clearly delineated over a two-year cycle in accordance with best practice. A uniform approach to the design and layout of this work and that of the recording of the monthly progress reports should be devised to facilitate teachers when planning from year to year. The plan was fully implemented in the period 2004-2005. A date should now be set for review of the implementation of the current school plan as part of the cycle of school improvement. There may be need for the creation of an action plan to bring the findings of the review, once completed, to fruition. It is recommended that a review of the duties of the post holders be undertaken in the current school year, in order to support the implementation of the recommendations made in this report. The staff is aware of the content of the school plan and works as a unit in its implementation. The SPHE curriculum has a high priority in the life of the school, which is testament to the leading work of the principal in this regard. The link between school planning and classroom planning should be strengthened. In most classrooms the work is planned in accordance with the structure of the curriculum and its objectives. A variety of methodologies is observed, inclusive of circle time and active participative approaches suitable for the curriculum area. Teachers working with children with special educational needs are aware of the content of the SPHE programme and integrate it with their work for the most part.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of 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, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The whole school plan for the teaching of English has recently been reviewed and the revised plan addresses the broad aims of the three strands of the curriculum, oral, reading and writing. It provides practical guidelines and direction in relation to teaching the various aspects of the programme and includes extensive listings of resources that are of assistance to teachers in planning at different class levels. However, this plan merits immediate review to ensure that clarification for whole school provision in a number of areas is provided for all class teachers. The revised plan should include evidence that the teaching staff has given consideration to teaching methodologies and approaches and to identifying the key skills to be acquired at each class level. These skills should include the development of phonological and phonemic awareness, the school’s approach to emergent reading and the systematic teaching of reading skills, the differentiation of the curriculum for children of differing abilities, and the assessment and evaluation of pupil progress in order to reflect continuity and progression in teaching and learning. Attention should also be paid to the teaching of oral language, to identifying specific topics and themes and to considering how these might be explored in the strand units of oral language, reading and writing in a developmental manner throughout the school.
The collaborative participation of all teachers in the development of the plan has provided them with the opportunity to become familiar with the principles underpinning the curriculum. However, in many cases, this whole-school plan has little impact on individual teachers’ planning at classroom level. Clear teaching objectives and learning outcomes for the teaching of oral English in particular, which parallel those of the primary curriculum, should be stated in teachers’ long-term and short-term planning. In addition, there is little or no evidence of differentiated planning to cater for the diverse learning needs and styles of the pupils presenting in the classrooms. There is a priority need for teachers to plan differentiated teaching targets and to use differentiated teaching strategies to suit the learning needs and styles of the individual pupils.
The quality of provision in SPHE was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in four of the mainstream classrooms. The overall level of achievement in SPHE is good. Class rules are displayed in all classes. At infant level a very positive atmosphere is created, the print-rich environment indicates and promotes a culture of care and respect. Class rules are clearly displayed and self-esteem is enhanced thereby. The multi-disciplinary approach observed fosters active pupil learning. Children’s interest is maintained by the excellent use of appropriate teacher-made resources. Pupils are engaged and pupil achievement is of a very high level. At junior level, pupils are actively engaged in the work of the class, through the use of circle time and group work. More use should be made of ICT when creating classroom and corridor displays, which would be indicative of an SPHE-rich classroom environment. At middle level, group work is underway, which provides opportunities for the development of themes such as bullying. The challenge now is to allow the opinions of the individual child to be heard and to be developed in a structured, teacher-led manner. At senior level, good work is underway in media education, through well guided instruction set at an age appropriate standard. Pupils’ learning is commensurate. Pupils are confident and as a result they articulate their wide-ranging opinions with self-assurance.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work, interaction with pupils in four of the mainstream classrooms and in five support teaching settings. There is a general consciousness among the staff of the importance of the development of oral language. The development of oral language skills is encouraged throughout the school through the use of the support programme of the reading series and the discussion of the daily news. All teachers plan for oral language on an individual basis. Approaches to teaching of oral language vary from class to class. Class discussions are reasonably well managed and pupils are encouraged to participate. However, the school now needs a more focused and resolute approach to the development of oral language skills and to use a much wider variety of approaches to oral language development across the classes. Generic oral language skills should be identified and developed and pupils given the opportunity to develop oral competence across a range of topics through the delivery of specific language lessons that are developmental and incremental in nature. To ensure consistency across classes, discrete oral language time needs to be allocated and timetabled for all classes. This will allow for the development of specific oral receptive and expressive language skills, incorporating pair work and the development of language centred on specific contexts and themes. Appropriate classroom planning based on the English curriculum, would provide for consistency in terms of approach and progression. The inclusion of specific weekly themes and issues targeted at the children’s range of interests which are used for discussion purposes, examples of the vocabulary to be developed through each theme and the recording and reinforcing of this vocabulary, using charts and word-lists, should be part of each teacher’s planning. The use of language experience charts and a structured oral language programme should feature regularly in the delivery of the English curriculum.
Emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ emergent reading skills in the infant and junior classes. Teachers create print-rich environments in their classrooms and good use is made of visual, tactile and audio-visual material in developing phonological awareness. The Letterland series is used to provide a structured and sequenced phonics programme and throughout the school pupils, in general, can readily identify phonemes. Flashcards are used for the development of sight vocabulary and word-building exercises, and large format books are used to cultivate an interest and enthusiasm for reading and facilitate activities to develop reading readiness. Teacher modelling of reading provides a foundation for the teaching of reading.
However, as recommended in the curriculum, it is not expected that children in junior infants would engage with a structured reading scheme and this practice should be reviewed. Instead, emphasis should now be placed on ensuring a solid language base and a competency in oral skills before the introduction of formal reading. There is scope for the further utilisation of large format books and experience charts to assist with language development and the development of phonological awareness. The development of sight vocabulary should be addressed in other meaningful contexts. The school needs to develop a coherent policy on cultivating emergent reading skills and, in particular, to agree on a programme for the development of phonological awareness which will ensure a consistency of approach for pupils as they progress from one class to the next.
Pupils in junior classes, where a print-rich environment is created, display age-appropriate phonological and phonemic awareness. Their sight vocabulary is extended, they have a good knowledge of frequently used words and proficiency in word identification strategies is also noted. Comprehension skills are fostered effectively through picture interpretation and word identification. Pupils’ skills of contextual analysis and understanding of word meaning are developed during lessons on the class reader. In middle and senior classes the class reader is used extensively, monthly oral language themes are derived from the class reader and comprehension skills are fostered. The class reader is supplemented by the reading of a novel. A more extensive use and development of the novel would greatly enhance the reading culture throughout the school and would provide opportunities to read and experience a broader range of quality literature. Pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure, facilitated by the provision of a well-stocked library. There is scope for improvement in the standards attained in English reading in the school and more emphasis should be placed on the consistent development of reading skills to achieve higher standards. The development and extension of oral language skills and the extension of teaching strategies to develop pupils’ reading fluency and reading experiences through the provision of a broader range of reading material should be aspects of this programme.
Functional writing skills are developed at each class level and much of the work is based on comprehension and grammar activities in workbooks. Some opportunities are provided for the pupils to write imaginatively, but, in general, pupils would benefit from a much greater emphasis on the development of the writing process. Planning for writing should be based on the curriculum and should ensure that the children experience a classroom environment which encourages the development of personal writing in a variety of genres for a variety of audiences. The use of the school’s extensive ICT equipment would further enhance the writing process. Children’s written work should be displayed and celebrated more frequently. Pupils experience poetry in all classes but further work on listening to, reciting and writing poetry is suggested.
The section dealing with assessment in the school plan for SPHE states that assessment is based on a variety of modes. In the classrooms informal teacher observation in the most commonly used method of assessment. Some teachers maintain individual profiles on pupils’ progress, which is praiseworthy. This practice should be expanded throughout the school. While the practice of assessing children’s progress through teacher observation is valid, the challenge now for the school as a whole is to formulate some means of recording those informal observations as part of the reporting of pupils’ progress. The school’s policy on assessment further states that teacher designed tests and tasks, plus the use of portfolios and projects, will contribute to individual assessment in SPHE. These latter approaches should now be adopted more frequently throughout the school. Individual pupils’ progress in SPHE is reported to parents through the standard end of year report card. Innovative ways of recording the information gained from using an extended range of assessment modes should be explored by the staff.
A range of assessment strategies for English that include formative, diagnostic and summative dimensions is in evidence throughout the school. Individual pupils’ work in all classes is regularly monitored and teacher observation and teacher-devised tests are some of the assessment modes used regularly throughout the school to review progress. In some classes portfolios of examples of pupils’ work are also maintained. These are complemented by the administration of the standardised Micra-T test each May. The results are used to target pupils for additional testing by the learning support teacher. The Middle Infants Screening Test (MIST) is also administered to pupils in senior infants. An individual report file is kept on each pupil detailing progress in various subject areas including English. Information is readily shared with all relevant parties with a view to enhancing teaching and learning. The data on pupil attainment and performance is documented, records are maintained in a consistent manner and parents are appropriately consulted and advised of results at the annual parent-teacher meetings. However, in the context that there is scope for improvement in the standard of attainment in reading throughout the school, it is recommended that the results for each class and for the school as a whole be tabulated so as to facilitate their depiction in statistical graph format which would more easily describe the development of trends and facilitate comparison with national norms. This analysis should be used to guide teachers and to inform curricular planning. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of the Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) in order to identify and select pupils for supplementary teaching support.
The general level of learning and teaching of SPHE in the school is good. The school policy is in place. Work completed to date forms a good base for the implementation of the recommendations being made in this report. Pupils are respected and good communication exits between pupils and teachers alike. Boys and girls are treated equally. Pupils at the end of their time in the school demonstrate a good understanding of themselves and their role in the wider world. The principal and staff work for the benefit of the whole child. Pupils report that they are secure and happy in the school. The school as part of its self-evaluative process notes that the area needing further development in SPHE is media education. This report concurs with the school’s review.
While the general level of learning and teaching of English in the school is reasonably good, this report and the results of standardised testing indicate that there is scope for improvement in the levels of attainment in all aspects of the subject area. The school plan in English needs to be reviewed to include planning and teaching strategies which will be reflective of a more full and targeted implementation of the curriculum. This will require the establishment of an integrated language experience in mainstream classes throughout the school commencing at junior infant level. Specifically, the introduction of a formal textbook needs to be deferred until senior infant standard. Instead, emphasis should be placed on the development of oral language skills based on selected topics and pre-reading skills should be gradually introduced through the appropriate use of big books and experience charts. The continuous development of oral language skills should be enhanced through the school by allocating discrete oral language time and specifying weekly oral language topics which are based on the objectives of the curriculum. This in turn should facilitate the development of the creative writing process across a wide range of genres. The results of standardised reading tests should be analysed and focused and targeted teaching and learning strategies should be devised so as to remedy deficits in word recognition and in comprehension which will in turn enhance reading fluency.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development the following key recommendations are made:
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal, teachers, pupils and the entire school community during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will assist the school in reviewing practice at school level and in identifying priorities for future development.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The report is misleading in relation to supervision. It implies that teachers are not available. In fact supervision duty was increases to three teachers/lunch break from September 2006.
There were two teachers in the yard during the inspection but only half the school were out.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
We have rezoned the school yard into three play areas with a teacher supervising each area.
We consider this to be a practical solution to the question in a situation where the shape of the yard can reduce teacher’s visibility