An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Saint Clare’s NS
Tubberclaire, Athlone, County Westmeath
Uimhir rolla: 18505G
Date of inspection: 22 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation: Social, Personal and Health Education and English
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 St. Clare’s 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 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 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.
St Clare’s is a very progressive co-educational national school situated mid way between Athlone and Ballymahon in the parish of Tubberclare. This beautifully maintained school is a prominent landmark within the community and it enjoys the goodwill and support of all the people. Pupil numbers have remained steady over recent years and the popularity of the area, which includes the village of Glasson, as a residential location will secure continuity of enrolment in the years ahead. The school has won many environmental and conservational awards over the years, culminating in a second Green Flag award earlier this year. Current staffing comprises a principal, ten mainstream class teachers, two full-time special needs teachers and two part-time teachers of pupils with special needs. The school also enjoys the support of three special needs assistants (SNAs) and a part time secretary. Contract cleaners are employed by the board of management and the lavish grounds are carefully tended by a local landscaper. Other trades people are readily available when called upon for specific maintenance or emergency repairs. Parents are eager to support their children in their passage through school and their close engagement with St Clare’s is most appreciated by the staff. Pupils are well prepared for enrolment in the school and their full participation in the various activities within a broad and balanced curriculum is highly commended. Excellent habits of study and conduct are inculcated and a happy learning environment is palpable at all levels of school endeavour. Pupils achieve very high standards and many opportunities for broadening their horizons are created. Teachers are highly qualified and they are constantly engaged in further courses to update their knowledge and methodologies. They have been selected as tutors on many occasions and, in recent times, the school has been chosen for pilot programmes in Science, Physical Education and modern languages. Special courses in Information Technology are often provided in the school for staff members and for parents and courses for the wider teaching community are also hosted in conjunction with Athlone Education Centre. Wider community involvement is the hallmark of St Clare’s and recent initiatives include Speech and Communication Skills in conjunction with Westmeath Arts Council, cycle safety, science and physics workshops, Goldsmith Summer School poetry programme, Write a Book Project, Tidy Towns awards, local history project, Food Dudes Initiative, Active School Week and the Green Flag Awards.
The board of management, principal and teachers are highly commended for the extensive range of attractive and purposeful resources available throughout the school to enhance teaching and learning across all strands of the SPHE and English curriculum. These resources are managed proficiently, and used gainfully in lessons. A whole-school inventory of resources is maintained and regularly updated by the co-ordinators of these subjects and they organise augmentation and replenishment of supplies as required. The school is highly efficient and prudent in its use of Departmental and other funding and at all times the spending is focused on the betterment of provision for pupils and their learning.
While some resources are specifically dedicated to the promotion of SPHE, much valuable teaching of the subject is affected in conjunction with other curricular areas. Resources documented and used in the teaching and learning of SPHE include those provided by the HSE, Dublin West Education Centre, Prim-Ed Health Series, Walk Tall Programme, RSE resources, Action For Life, Bí Folláin, Be Safe Manual, Stay Safe Programme, Healthy Eating Guidelines and the Primary School Curriculum. The School also avails of a very comprehensive supply of reference materials in the form of books, videos, CDs, DVDs, and packages for Music, Drama, Physical Education and SESE. Many websites are visited in a professional manner to secure up-to-date information and to enhance the planning and implementation of curriculum. The immediate surroundings of the school provide excellent opportunities for teachers to develop several aspects of SPHE and their potential is explored very creatively by the teachers on a daily basis. Pupils’ appreciation of wildlife and nature is further enhanced through their experience of the bird feeder outside the infant rooms. Other features of the locality including rivers, lakes, woodlands, sporting facilities and historic and natural monuments provide ample supply of easily accessible stimuli for the development of the subject in an integrated fashion. The teaching staff, under the guidance of the principal and subject co-ordinator, takes overall responsibility for the development and implementation of SPHE in the school. However the whole school approach as fostered in St Clare’s secures the wholehearted involvement of special needs assistants, secretary, parents, board of management and pupils with very favourable outcomes. Visiting tutors are often invited to assist the school community in its work and, of late, they have given support in such topics as circle time, child protection, anti-bullying and curriculum planning.
The walls of all mainstream and learning-support classrooms are decked with an appealing variety of teacher-designed and commercially-produced visual aids to create a stimulating, print-rich environment, conducive to developing age-appropriate oral and literacy skills. An extensive array of posters, charts, pictures, books, games, and computer software is utilised creatively, in infant and junior classes, to engage pupils in confident and spontaneous oral discussion. A similar range of more advanced visual, concrete, and electronic resources is used in middle and senior classrooms to extend and enrich vocabulary, and to enhance articulacy, fluency, and assertion in the use of language.
In infant and junior classrooms, illustrative materials, word walls, large-format books, and a variety of computer programs are used to promote letter and word recognition, phonological and phonemic awareness, accumulation of a wide sight vocabulary, and familiarity with the conventions of print. This print-rich milieu is continued and extended in middle and senior classrooms to facilitate the extension of pupils’ vocabulary, the reinforcement of appropriate conventions of grammar and syntax, and the extension of independent reading and writing. A well-stocked library is a central feature of each classroom. At the junior end of the school, libraries contain an age-appropriate supply of alluring, colourful small and large-format books. The range is gradually extended throughout middle and senior classes to include a wide assortment of fiction, factual and reference material, appropriate to the age, interest and ability of the pupils. In addition to classroom libraries, a central school library contains a vast supply of books, which enables teachers to refresh and replenish the stock in classroom libraries regularly. A commendable range of class novel sets has been accumulated. The teachers acknowledge the generosity of the parents in their munificent support of the school’s bi-annual book fair, which provides considerable funds for the provision of books. The Westmeath county library also supplements the school’s supply of books each year.
The school has a well-equipped computer room, which contains eighteen computers. Most classrooms have a computer, and a number of laptops and a multi-media projector are stored centrally for shared use. The school has acquired a plentiful supply of computer software programs to develop skills in listening, phonics, auditory discrimination, word recognition, and comprehension, at various levels. These are stored in the computer room but are available for teachers to use in individual classrooms, if required. Very effective use of technology was observed, in a number of SPHE and English lessons, during the evaluation.
The quality of whole-school planning in SPHE and English, evident in documentation and practice observed during the evaluation, is exemplary. A very comprehensive whole-school policy has been formulated to facilitate effective, developmental implementation of the SPHE and English curriculum throughout the school. The support of Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and School Development Planning Support (SDPS) was utilised to complement the expertise of the staff at the preliminary planning stage. All teachers contributed collaboratively to the compilation of the plans and to ensuring that they are tailored and contextualised to suit the learning needs of the school. Under the leadership of the principal, the work was directed and co-ordinated by the very competent special-duties teachers with responsibility for the subjects. The co-ordination of work in SPHE, English and special needs is particularly effective due to the high quality planning, information gathering, continuous professional development, whole-school collaboration and dedication to duty that characterises St Clare’s. Very attractive information booklets are provided for new families to the school and all relevant policies are distributed. The school website puts an excellent overview of the school in the public arena and is a further indication of the Board’s desire to foster communication. Educational outings and local studies are arranged with maximum attention to curriculum reinforcement and consolidation of learning. Health and safety is always afforded priority in the planning of work especially when it involves travel or outdoor activity. Individual schemes in SPHE are well thought out and balanced on the basis of the two-year cycle and they are in accord with the framework set out in the school plan. Teachers are commended on their involvement of pupils in the selection of topics for inclusion in the SPHE lessons and on the latter’s participation in decision making at many levels of school business. The detailed delineation contained in the plans with regard to specific content and methodologies for each class, in each of the strands and strand units, testifies to the level of deliberation and collaboration engaged in by the teachers.
The section of the school plan on oral language outlines a graded series of activities to ensure that pupils acquire early confidence in the use of language and that their vocabulary, fluency and comprehension are constantly extended through suitably interesting and thought-provoking activities. An excellent programme of sequential auditory activities is set out to develop phonological and phonemic awareness, through syllable blending, rhyme, and phoneme blending, segmentation, deletion and transposition. The reading section provides a graded programme to cultivate emergent literacy skills at infant level, and to systematically develop word identification, independent reading, analytical strategies and ability to retrieve and summarise information. A range of suitable reading material is identified for each class, to familiarise pupils with a diverse range of books and to foster an interest in, and love of reading, for both pleasure and purpose. The section on writing provides very clear direction for the systematic teaching of writing skills throughout the school. It outlines methodical activities to facilitate pupils’ progression from the development of pre-writing skills, to letter and word formation, sentence building, progressive introduction of grammar, punctuation and syntax conventions, and the eventual acquisition of the necessary skills to edit, publish and present written work competently, through a variety of genres.
Evidence in classrooms ascertains that the school plan is implemented consistently throughout the school. All teachers prepare comprehensive long and short-term schemes of work focused on delivering balanced content, suited to the age and ability of their pupils, through a blend of stimulating methodologies and suitably-challenging activities. Detailed monthly progress records are maintained by all teachers. Each teacher’s classroom planning is ratified and signed by the principal. All teachers are commended for the notable level of consistency, co-ordination and quality of classroom planning throughout the school, which, in turn, impacts very positively on the quality of teaching and learning.
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 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 five of the mainstream classrooms. Pupils achieve high levels of proficiency across the various strands and strand units of the SPHE curriculum and particular credit is due for the success with which pupils are active agents in their own learning. Excellent examples of teaching and learning were witnessed where the teacher, having launched the lesson in a whole class format and kindled the enthusiasm of pupils, proceeded to delegate roles and responsibilities to them and to create ideal opportunities for pair work and group activity. Teachers very skilfully explored the pupils’ own understanding and knowledge of the topics under consideration before alerting them to a range of possibilities for further development of the subject. In each classroom visited a happy working atmosphere was created and all pupils were engaged at a pace appropriate to ability. Classrooms were kitted out with an array of pupils’ work and other materials to provoke discussion. Teachers are particularly commended on their high quality planning and management of lessons, on the scope of the curriculum presented and on the consolidation and evaluation practices employed. Pupils demonstrated high levels of confidence in their responses and the feedback sessions were exemplary. Many of the lessons provided for cross curricular integration with Drama, Music, Visual Arts, Physical Education, language and Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) featuring prominently. Information technology was used very effectively as a learning tool, for recording purposes and to enhance the planning of lessons.
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 pupils in five of the mainstream classrooms and four learning-support rooms. The quality of teaching and learning is consistently high across the school. All lessons observed featured animated, innovative teaching and purposeful, active learning.
Oral language features centrally in all lessons. Focused activities are undertaken in all classrooms to facilitate systematic development of pupils’ receptive, communicative and expressive language skills. Interesting topics, stimulating methodologies, insightful questioning, discerning scaffolding for less articulate pupils, and receptive response to pupils’ oral input all impact positively on cultivating a high level of meaningful oral contribution from pupils. In junior classes, pupils engage eagerly in word games, circle time and discussion on stories, pictures and topics of general interest. In middle and senior classes, innovative activities are organised to motivate discussion, dialogue and debate in whole-class settings and in collaborative group activities with peers. The overall standard of confidence and competence in use of language is very high.
The print-rich environment created in every classroom facilitates early familiarity with the conventions of print, budding interest in books, and increasing enticement to explore a variety of age-appropriate reading material for pleasure and retrieval of information. In line with the school plan, a graded programme is used to develop phonetic and phonemic awareness, to extend word-attack skills, and to progressively develop pupils’ ability to read independently and to summarise, analyse and appraise the content. Large books, audio books and computer programs are used effectively in infant classes to develop emergent literacy skills. Word walls, class readers, and a wide variety of parallel readers and library books are used in junior and middle classes to extend pupils’ accuracy, fluency and comprehension. In senior classes pupils are introduced to a wide variety of reading material and are instructed and encouraged in the use of dictionaries, thesaurus and reference books. The selection of books in each classroom is appropriate to accommodate the range of ability from the reluctant to the very able readers. A number of sets of class novels have been accumulated, and very effective use of these was observed during the evaluation. It is evident from personal reading records maintained and from interaction with the pupils that widespread interest in reading has been generated throughout the school. In general, the standard of reading is high, and pupils’ ability to discuss and critique books they have read is commendable.
A comprehensive writing programme is delivered effectively throughout the school. Well-structured activities are introduced at infant level to develop pupils’ fine motor skills, manual dexterity and left-to-right orientation. Early writing tasks are closely monitored to promote accuracy and fluency in letter and word formation. These tasks are gradually extended to promote independent composition of captions and short sentences and to increase awareness of the conventions of punctuation and capital letters. A progressive programme of functional writing is continued throughout the school to extend pupils’ awareness of grammar and syntax and to enhance their mastery of the conventions of writing. Pupils are encouraged to write creatively from an early age. An extensive range of genres is introduced in middle and senior classes. Very impressive samples of stories, poems, reports, summaries, profiles, invitations, letters, articles, notices and book reviews were observed in classroom displays and in individual copybooks. The class anthologies of poems and stories, personal portfolios of pupils’ writing, and class news magazine, compiled in some classrooms, are noteworthy. Samples of work indicate that the writing process is used in middle and senior standards, and that pupils are familiar with the practice of drafting, editing and redrafting. The quality of penmanship is inconsistent across the school and it is recommended that this be addressed at whole-school level with a view to more consistent implementation of the school plan.
Pupils, in all classrooms, are introduced to an age-appropriate selection of rhymes and poems. Most pupils can recite a repertoire of poems from memory. In addition to those memorised, pupils are afforded opportunities to read, listen to, discuss and respond creatively to a wider range of poems. Poetry writing is undertaken in all middle and senior classes and the quality, creativity and range of pupils’ poetic works observed is noteworthy.
Pupils who present with special oral or literacy needs are afforded supplementary teaching by a member of the special-education team. The quality of teaching and learning observed during learning-support sessions was very high. The school has one full-time learning-support teacher, one full-time resource teacher, one temporary resource teacher, who attends for twelve hours each week, and one shared resource teacher who attends for seven-and-a-half hours each week. A comprehensive whole-school policy for special education has been compiled. This outlines clearly the criteria for selection of pupils and the staged approach to be adopted in delivery of support teaching, and assures a high level of liaison and co-operation between the relevant parties in planning, delivery and assessment of support programmes.
All members of the learning support team prepare conscientiously for their work. Suitable schemes of work and individual profile and learning plans (IPLPs) are prepared to ensure that realistic targets are identified and appropriate learning experiences are provided for each pupil. Each pupil’s progress is recorded methodically and there is regular communication and consultation with classroom teachers. At present twenty-nine pupils receive supplementary support for English. Most support is provided on a withdrawal basis, generally in groups of two to five and in some cases in-class support is offered in line with the Learning Support Guidelines. Occasionally, due to the specific nature of the pupil’s needs, support is given on a one-to-one basis. Despite the fact that, due to lack of appropriate accommodation, teachers have to work in shared areas and in very confined spaces, all learning support is delivered in a stimulating, print-rich environment. It is suggested that the further application of the in-class model of support would relieve some of the accommodation difficulties until the extension is constructed.
In all learning-support sessions observed during the evaluation suitable content and methodology was chosen to stimulate and challenge each pupil appropriately. Intuitive use of a wide variety of concrete and electronic resources ensures that pupils are thoroughly engaged in the tasks set. In all instances, it was obvious that a very pleasant teacher-pupil relationship has been established and pupils present as enthusiastic, happy and eager to succeed. Praise and reward systems are used constructively to acknowledge effort and success, and to build self-confidence.
The school plan outlines a wide range of assessment strategies to monitor and record children’s achievement. There is evidence of purposeful assessment in all classrooms and clear indication that results of assessment are used to inform future planning of appropriate learning experiences for the pupils. Teachers are most successful in their inclusion of pupils with special needs in the various mainstream activities and they are determined that all pupils achieve success in a stress free environment.
Throughout the year the progress of pupils in SPHE is monitored informally as they interact in many different settings. Teachers make valuable judgements on the basis of pupil participation, attitude, decision making, leadership, group work and team work and they test understanding of relationships and sexuality, charity, safety, equality, conservation and tolerance throughout the various curricular activities. Excellent samples of pupils work were displayed throughout the school and individual portfolios of work are maintained for future consultation, for the information of parents and to assist other colleagues. More formal assessment is conducted through dedicated worksheets, projects, and checklists. Just as pupils contribute to the formulation of classroom behaviour strategies they are also encouraged in a pupil-friendly manner to engage in self evaluation especially during certain feedback sessions. Pupils are very conscientious in their own recording of work completed and their copybook entries are admirable. Individual profiles are maintained by the teachers and their monthly progress documents reflect the scope of the programme and the achievement of pupils.
In English, at junior level, a range of check-lists is used to record language development, phonetic awareness, letter and word recognition and acquisition of early writing skills. In middle and senior standards, individual records of reading and writing indicators are maintained. Teacher-designed tests are administered regularly and results are documented. Standardised testing is conducted with all classes. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) is administered with junior infants in the third term of each year. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is used to test senior infants at the end of the first school term. The Drumcondra Primary Reading Test (DPRT) and Drumcondra Primary Spelling Test (DPSpT) are administered to all pupils from first to sixth class annually. The results of all standardised tests are analysed by class teachers and are discussed at whole-school level when identifying pupils in need of learning support. In some classrooms, lists of the most common errors emerging from the standardised reading and spelling tests are compiled and these are targeted for special attention in future lessons. This practice is highly commendable.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The board of management is highly efficient in the discharge of its responsibilities, especially in its support of whole-school planning, its promotion of communication and partnership and in its provision of safe, comfortable and well-resourced accommodation.
· The principal is a highly effective leader who secures the goodwill and collaboration of colleagues and promotes high standards in teaching and learning.
· Teachers employ high quality teaching methodologies; they regularly participate in further courses to update their skills and they are always open to new initiatives that would advance teaching and learning for the pupils.
· A happy learning environment is created in the school and all pupils are included in the various activities.
· Pupils are well behaved and are encouraged in good habits of study and citizenship.
· Parents are enthusiastic in their support of the school and their participation in many initiatives is appreciated.
· The secretary and special needs assistants collaborate most successfully in the team spirit that permeates all facets of school endeavour.
· The quality and quantity of visual, concrete, natural and electronic resources available to enhance teaching and learning in SPHE and English, and the purposeful use of these materials observed throughout the school, are commendable.
· The quality of whole-school planning, individual teachers’ preparation and record keeping in SPHE and English is very high.
· All strands of the SPHE and English curriculum are covered thoroughly and effectively, with apt attention to linkage and integration.
· Oral language is developed very successfully at all levels and pupils display a high level of confidence and competence in making oral contribution to lessons.
· Reading skills are cultivated progressively throughout the school and widespread interest in reading has been generated amongst the pupils.
· Pupils write very successfully through a wide variety of genres, and attractive samples of work are displayed.
· Pupils’ progress is assessed methodically and findings are used to inform future planning.
· The quality of supplementary teaching provided for pupils experiencing difficulty with English is very high.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of provision in English:
· Greater attention needs to be focused, at whole-school level, on developing consistency in penmanship in order to enhance the presentation of written work.
· An extension and refurbishment of school accommodation is necessary to provide adequately for the needs of staff and pupils and to ensure that the high standards of curriculum implementation are maintained and enhanced.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
· The Board of Management welcomes the recent Curriculum Implementation Evaluation report as it reflects and affirms the high standard of education being provided in St. Clare’s National School.
· The Board would like to acknowledge the dedication of the staff of St. Clare’s National School.
· The Board would like to thank the Inspectorate for the professional and courteous manner in which the evaluation was conducted.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
· Work on the recommendation in the curricular area has already begun.
· The Board of Management will continue to actively pursue its objective of obtaining the extension and refurbishment of the school.