An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Scoil Mhuire Náisiúnta
Corofin, Co. Clare
Uimhir rolla: 18227 E
Date of inspection: 14 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
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 Scoil Mhuire Náisiúnta. 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 structured interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Senior pupils and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. Drawing on the evaluations undertaken in the schools nationally, the Inspectorate will publish a composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE in primary schools. Data from the questionnaires will be aggregated for the composite report. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Scoil Mhuire Náisiúnta is located in the
Scoil Mhuire Náisiúnta is a very welcoming, child friendly school. There is very good rapport in evidence among teachers, staff and pupils and among the pupils themselves. Discipline in the school is of a very high order and pupils are considerate, courteous and well behaved. Attendance at the school is good. The board of management, principal and staff are commended for their efforts in promoting a welcoming inclusive school.
Scoil Mhuire Náisiúnta is very well maintained and is in very good decorative order. The lawn and flowerbeds at the front of the school are a very pleasant feature. There is a large tarmacadam play area to the rear of the school and a number of smaller play areas are also provided. The school has the use of a playing field situated adjacent to the school yard for games.
The classrooms are bright, well ordered and all areas are maintained to a very high degree of cleanliness. Displays of the pupils’ work and photographic displays of their achievements in the classrooms and on the corridors celebrate the pupils’ successes and present a stimulating, learning environment. The school is also provided with a well equipped computer room, staff room, secretary’s office and appropriate toilet facilities. Due to growing pupil numbers a new classroom was added in 2005. The board is commended for its efforts in this regard. The school will require further classrooms in the near future due to the projected growth in numbers. The board of management has made a grant application to the Department of Education and Science in order to refurbish some of the smaller classrooms and to provide additional classrooms for the expected extra numbers.
Five class teachers including the acting principal are appropriately deployed to mainstream and support-teaching contexts. This is comprised of. the services of two learning-support/resource (LS/RT) teachers are deployed effectively to augment the school’s provision in English for pupils at stage two and stage three of the support continuum. One post is provided by the Department on a full-time basis and the other post is currently provided on a shared basis with a local school. As the school’s enrolment continues to increase, the board should investigate the possibility of having both posts provided on a full-time basis. The acting principal and all of the teachers are commended for the professional and conscientious way they carry out their duties.
The school is well equipped with resources for learning in SPHE. In developing their lesson plans the teachers draw from a range of programmes including Walk Tall, Stay Safe, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Prim-Ed Health programme, Bí Folláin and Alive O. A range of posters and videos is also available and there is some good use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enhance lesson presentation. The school also avails of resources from the wider community and all such external support is well planned. In the recent past the school had a visit from the road safety and fire prevention officers. The school also has links with the Tidy Towns Committee, the local development association, the local Gaelic Athletic Association club and the arts officer of the County Council. The school is actively involved in a range of community projects including Burren Beo and Clare Heritage Centre. The school also participates in the WOW transatlantic reading initiative. The school ensures that all of the pupils are involved in projects and in other extra-curricular activities. The parents’ association is also involved in a number of activities run by the school including the annual Sports for All day.
In conjunction with the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme the teachers deal sensitively with social and personal issues. The programme is delivered conscientiously throughout the school and pupils in sixth class receive additional guidance from an outside speaker.
A wide range of resources is available and is used effectively to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in English. Teachers provide well-stocked libraries, with appropriate reading materials in a variety of genres, in all classrooms. The school’s supply of books is augmented by books from Clare County Library and through visits to the local library in Corofin. The school also participates in a transatlantic reading initiative sponsored by Clare County Library and this has been instrumental in fostering a reading culture in the school. An attractive supplementary reading scheme has been introduced at the infant classes to enable pupils to develop reading capability at their own pace. It is planned to extend the use of this scheme on a gradual basis throughout the school. This is a positive development for which the teachers are to be commended. The school presents an admirable print and picture rich environment which encompasses the appropriate celebration of children’s writing. Teacher-produced and commercial materials are prominent in all classrooms and are used effectively to scaffold the development of reading and writing skills. Children frequently use word processing software to publish their creative writing work and samples of the pupils’ writing are attractively displayed throughout the school. ICT is also used effectively to assist the systematic development of the children’s reading skills. The school is currently in the process of introducing a sophisticated ICT package which provides an individually differentiated reading tutorial for all pupils as they progress through the school. This will mean that the school is very well-resourced to implement the English curriculum on a whole-school basis.
The comprehensive SPHE plan was developed by the staff in cooperation with the board of management. This plan was ratified in June 2004 and was reviewed in June 2007. The plan is based on the structures and principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and the programme is delivered over a two year period. The school’s vision for SPHE is to provide opportunities for the individual child to develop a framework of values, attitudes, understanding and skills aimed at informing his/her decisions and actions now and in the future. The school also strives to enable each pupil respect and relate to self and others and to become an active and responsible citizen in society. The plan outlines a variety of teaching approaches and methodologies as well as integration strategies to be used in delivering the SPHE curriculum. Other areas developed in this plan include parental involvement, community links, and support for pupils with different needs, equality of participation, teacher planning and a variety of assessment strategies. Other policies that support the implementation of SPHE include policies on child protection, enrolment, code of behaviour, ant-bullying, health and safety statement, healthy eating and care of the environment. A comprehensive RSE plan is in place. This plan is reviewed regularly by a steering committee comprising of members of the board of management, parents and teachers.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
A comprehensive whole-school plan for English has been developed collaboratively by the teachers. This plan was ratified by the board of management in 2005 and was reviewed earlier this year. The plan provides for an agreed whole-school approach on a broad range of issues, including teaching methodologies, differentiation, parental and community involvement, phonics and phonological awareness. Inspection visits to each classroom indicated that the plan is being consistently implemented throughout the school.
The teachers’ individual classroom preparation is also of good quality and all teachers provide long and short-term plans using a common template which was introduced this year. This template is adapted by each teacher to provide a monthly record (cuntas míosúil) of the extent to which these plans are implemented. Very detailed planning in the form of individual education plans and individual profile and learning programmes for pupils with supplementary teaching needs are provided by the LS/RT teachers in consultation with mainstream class teachers and parents. This planning contributes very significantly to these pupils’ access to the English curriculum.
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.
A positive, welcoming, school climate is in place in this school and there is a high degree of respect for all stakeholders. Pupils show respect for themselves, the teachers, visitors to the school and the school and its environs. Discipline is carefully managed and the pupils apply themselves diligently to their class work and strive to give of their best at all times. The introduction of a pupils’ council is commended as it successfully enhances the participatory nature of the pupils in the very efficient running of the school. The school also sought the opinions of parents through a questionnaire and the responses showed a very positive attitude towards the education provided in the school and indeed towards all aspects of school life.
The quality of teaching and learning in SPHE is very good throughout the school. All teachers implement the SPHE curriculum and SPHE is timetabled as a core curricular subject. It is evident that during the year, teachers use their discretionary time to further develop aspects of the SPHE curriculum. The formal SPHE lessons are presented with skill and with confidence. Teachers are encouraging and affirming of their pupils and all teachers work hard to ensure the maximum participation of the pupils in the learning process. Whole-class teaching is the predominant strategy and talk and discussion is also a key methodology employed. Pupils are ably encouraged to ask questions, give opinions, explore ideas and formulate responses. Good use is made of resources to assist in this teaching.
The lessons observed were based on the curricular objectives as set out in the teachers’ planning and in the whole-school SPHE plan. All the classes observed responded well to the tasks and topics set for them and all pupils were given ample opportunities to participate. In the infant classes, the pupils receive beneficial training in circle time activities. In the junior classes, stories and topics are introduced with skill and to good effect. In the middle classes, the pupils discuss the topics with confidence and understanding. In the senior classes pupils talk about their lessons knowledgeably and precisely. Even though the school delivers a very satisfactory programme in SPHE a greater use of group activities would broaden the pupils’ experiences. An outline of a more specific list of topics to be developed in the two-year cycle might also benefit the school.
The quality of provision in English 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 five mainstream classroom settings and in the two support teaching settings. In implementing the English curriculum in the school, all teachers employ a range of teaching methodologies, including whole-class teaching and co-operative group work. Lessons are well-prepared, structured and thoughtfully paced. Linkage and integration are common features of the approach employed by all teachers.
Appropriate emphasis is placed on oral communication and the pupils demonstrate a good capacity for expressing their thoughts and feelings effectively using a wide and varied vocabulary. Oral language activity permeates all aspects of curriculum input in the school and is effectively used to develop pupils’ cognitive abilities as well as their emotional and imaginative responses. Discrete oral language lessons are taught in most classes and in some instances clear provision is made for all five contexts for developing oral language. This approach could be usefully extended on a whole-school basis by providing pupils with a broader range of contexts within which to develop speaker and listener relationships (e.g. preparing and conducting interviews, presenting oral reports, preparing constructive arguments as part of class debates and representing knowledge, thoughts and ideas through dramatic sketches).
The emphasis placed on achieving high levels of reading attainment throughout the school is commendable. In particular, the school’s efforts to maximise the achievement of pupils with lesser abilities, is striking. A wide variety of strategies and methodologies is employed to promote very good standards in the teaching of English reading. Prevention of the onset of reading difficulties is emphasised by the development of phonological awareness and individual phonics lessons are taught at first, second, third and fourth classes by the learning-support teacher. Large-format books and word-recognition exercises are used effectively in the infant classes to develop early literacy skills. The skills of skimming and scanning text and effective dictionary use are taught consistently in the junior and middle classes. Engaging class novels are utilised to promote reading in middle and senior classes and the school’s efforts in developing a reading culture is laudable. The conventions of literature are well taught and the strands of the curriculum are thoughtfully linked. Pupils are exposed to a wide variety of suitable independent reading and their achievements are logged and celebrated. The extended use of the supplementary reading programme introduced at infant level and the implementation of the ICT-based Accelerated Reading Programme will consolidate and build on the school’s very good provision in this area.
Pupils are given frequent opportunities to write creatively and functionally in different genres, using an age-appropriate register of language. Written work is neatly presented and regularly corrected in all classes and due care is given to the development of handwriting skills. A cursive style of writing is introduced at second class. Pupils are facilitated in the drafting, re-drafting and editing of their work and ICT is used appropriately to enhance the presentation of the final product. Pupils’ written work is attractively presented and well celebrated throughout the school. Collaborative group writing is effectively employed in the senior classes and it is noted that some junior pupils write independently to a high standard. Samples of pupils’ work are carefully filed in individual folders and this practise enables pupils to celebrate their progress and achievements. While the school’s provision for the writing strand of the curriculum is good and some excellent examples of narrative writing and poetry were observed, it is felt that the school could usefully develop this area even further. In this regard, the teachers might consider introducing emergent writing at an earlier stage in the pupils’ development and broadening the range of writing genres to which the pupils are introduced as they progress through the school.
The main strategies used to assess pupils in SPHE are teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, regular monitoring of pupils’ homework and the maintenance of individual pupil folders. Pupils’ progress is discussed by teachers informally and at staff meetings and indeed, the teachers have excellent insight into their pupils’ overall development and progression in SPHE. Teachers meet parents formally once per year to discuss pupils’ progress. Written reports including a section on the pupils’ social and personal development are sent to parents at the end of the school year. This section outlines how the pupils are progressing in the areas of self-confidence, attitude to school, general behaviour, how the pupil relates to other pupils and the pupils’ involvement in school activities. This assessment section could be extended by giving further consideration to the use of checklists, pupil profiles and the use of anecdotal notes. Opportunities should also be provided for pupils to engage in self-assessment.
Various modes of assessment are employed to monitor progress in English. Teacher observation, checklists, work samples, teacher-designed tasks, diagnostic tests and standardised literacy tests are all used to good effect. The school deserves commendation for its long established implementation of standardised testing. The Middle Infant Screening Test is administered during the second term in senior infants and the school has begun to use the latest version of the Micra-T reading test during the third term of senior infants. Thereafter, the Micra-T and Drumcondra Spelling tests are systematically employed to monitor standards and identify pupils in need of supplementary teaching. Results of tests are analysed and a commendable system of individual profiling enables teachers to track pupils’ progress throughout their time in school. Parents are informed of their children’s achievement at parent-teacher meetings and through annual progress report forms. Again, the practice of issuing written progress reports is well established. As a further refinement of assessment procedures in the future, the school might usefully develop a system for recording and analysing outcomes at whole-school level so that overall trends in pupil achievement in literacy can be more readily discerned.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· Scoil Náisiúnta Mhuire succeeds very well in creating a positive, educationally stimulating learning environment
· The commitment of the principal, teachers and staff to delivering a broad and balanced curriculum enhances the holistic development of all pupils under their care.
· The high degree of collaboration and teamwork found among staff and the procedures in place to support the governance and operation of the school are commended.
· The pupils are developing very good interpersonal skills and they are commended for their enthusiastic and positive approach to their work
· The board of management and the parent body provide very good support for all school-based activities.
· A broad and balanced curriculum is implemented in SPHE.
· The school makes excellent provision for the teaching of English reading. The teaching of reading is very well-resourced and individual reading standards are closely monitored and supported.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· The assessment strategies used in SPHE should be developed further through the extended use of checklists, pupil profiles and anecdotal notes.
· In SPHE, it is recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on methodologies such as
pair work and group work.
· It is recommended that the teachers broaden the range of contexts in which the pupils are
given the opportunity to develop their oral language skills.
· It is recommended that the teachers consider the introduction of emergent writing at an
earlier stage in the pupils’ development and seek to broaden the range of writing genres to
which pupils are introduced as they progress through the school.
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal and teachers during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will be directly useful to the school as a basis for review and development of practice at school level. It is anticipated that the composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of SPHE.
Táthar fíorbhuíoch d’fhoireann na scoile as a gcuid tacaíochta le linn na hoibre seo.