An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Mary’s National School
Virginia, County Cavan
Uimhir rolla: 16083T
Date of inspection: 23 October 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St Mary’s National School, Virginia was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on aspects of the school’s provision including management, teaching and learning, planning and supports for pupils, with a particular focus on the provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL). The board of management 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 Mary’s National School is located in the town of Virginia, County Cavan. The school caters for boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class. Enrolment has been steadily increasing in recent years and the school is to be commended for the proactive approach it has taken to accommodating the increasing numbers, which include many newcomer pupils. The continual need to provide additional accommodation has been an on-going challenge for the school authorities. While attendance levels generally are good, it is reported that some newcomer pupils take extended holidays to return to their home countries.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Total number of teachers on the school staff
Number of mainstream class teachers
Total number of teachers working in support roles
Number of language support teachers
Special needs assistants
Total number of pupils enrolled in the school
Number of pupils with English as an additional language
The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Kilmore. The school’s mission statement commits to creating an environment in which all pupils feel safe, valued and respected. Based on evidence obtained during the evaluation the school has been successful in realising the vision in its mission statement. A purposeful, ordered learning environment has been created where pupils are well known by teachers and a positive attitude is taken to promoting their learning.
The school actively seeks out educational initiatives that provide opportunities to enrich pupils’ learning. Participation in the Socrates-Comenius programme has enabled the school to work on curriculum and school development projects in partnership with other schools in Europe. Among the school-based initiatives that offer pupils throughout the school opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills they have developed are: Seachtain na Gaeilge, write-a-book week, the Green-Schools Programme, a photography week and the holding of an annual art exhibition.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets regularly. A review of the minutes of recent meetings confirms that meetings are conducted in accordance with agreed guidelines. A financial report and a principal’s report are presented at meetings. The chairperson regularly visits the school. He has a good understanding of the operation of the school and is familiar with staff and pupils. Members of the board demonstrate a commitment to the task of managing the school. A range of policies has been developed to respond to the needs of current legislation. A review of school planning documents features regularly at board meetings. The principal, on behalf of the board, manages the inclusion of newcomer pupils and provision for their needs. Further discussion at board meetings of educational provision and standards of pupils’ attainments in the school would enhance members’ ability to assess the overall effectiveness of the school.
The main concern of the board at this time is the provision of suitable accommodation for staff and pupils through extending the current school building. Over the past number of years the board has worked hard to get funding to provide permanent facilities at the school. Members expressed their frustration at the lack of success of their efforts in securing these permanent facilities and at the increasing amount of pre-fabricated buildings.
The quality of leadership in the school is very good. In leading and directing the work of the school the principal displays conscientiousness, a capacity for reflection and an ability to inculcate a collegial work environment. He demonstrates a good knowledge of how the newcomer pupils are interacting in the classroom, in the playground and during extra-curricular activities. The principal has been involved in developing the whole-school policy for EAL.
Areas of responsibility have been assigned to all members of the in-school management team. In general, duties attaching to posts meet the requirement that they encompass curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities. Duties are reviewed annually in order to address the current priorities of the school and members expressed their willingness to take on duties as required. Formal meetings of the in-school management team are not convened. The work of the team would be enhanced by adopting an action planning approach to those duties that are of a developmental nature. Regular meetings of the principal and post-holders would maintain a sense of team responsibility for the management of the school.
Responsibility for co-ordinating provision for EAL has been assigned to a special duties teacher. Effective use is made of a home-school journal which encourages pupils and parents to work together in reinforcing what has been learned in school.
The management of staff, including teachers of EAL, is good. The formation of class groupings demonstrates a good awareness of pupils’ needs and time-tabling ensures good use of teachers’ time. Both withdrawal and in-class support are provided for pupils needing support in EAL. There is on-going communication between teachers of EAL and mainstream teachers with the intention of optimising learning for pupils.
While no specific in-service training has yet been provided for all staff with regard to EAL, teachers of EAL have been proactive in engaging in continuing professional development in the provision of EAL for newcomer pupils. As part of this provision, an opportunity was taken to view provision for EAL in another school and to become a member of the English Language Support Teachers’ Association (ELSTA).
The quality of accommodation in the school is not satisfactory. While there are a few classrooms in the main permanent building, most classes are accommodated in various prefabricated rooms around the site. This results in pupils having to go outdoors to access other parts of the school. Inclement weather during the evaluation highlighted the unsatisfactory nature of this arrangement. The spread of classes on the school site militates against the development of a whole-school celebration of pupils’ work and achievements and is not sustainable in the long-term. Ancillary accommodation for staff is very poor and consists of an exceptionally small staff room and minimal toilet facilities. Despite the severe limitations of the accommodation, every effort is made to provide clean, warm and attractive learning environments for all pupils.
The school is effectively resourced to promote teaching and learning. All classrooms and support settings present as stimulating learning environments with display being used to good effect to consolidate and celebrate learning. In addition to a wide range of teacher-devised resources, the board and parents have funded the purchase of a number of interactive whiteboards that are well used to support pupils’ learning. The school makes effective use of resource material issued from the Department of Education and Science to support the teaching, learning and assessment of pupils receiving support in EAL. The school environment supports cultural and linguistic diversity through signs and notices of welcome in different languages.
The quality of parental involvement in the life of the school is good. There is an established parents’ association that actively supports the work of the school through fundraising for resources and organising social events that create links between parents and the school. Representatives of the parents’ association are playing an active part in the drive to develop the school building and grounds.
Clear channels of communication have been established between the parents’ association, the board and the principal. Members of the association met with the inspectors during the evaluation and expressed their satisfaction with the quality of education provided for pupils. Parents feel welcome at the school and are happy that issues of concern to individual parents are addressed appropriately. Parents have the opportunity of meeting formally with their child’s teacher once a year and can make contact with teachers on other occasions should they so require. Parents are happy with these arrangements although they would welcome discussion on the timing of the annual parent-teacher meetings.
The school is seeking to further develop channels of communication with parents of newcomer pupils. Recent events organised to promote the inclusion of pupils receiving support in EAL and their parents include a coffee morning for parents and an intercultural day for pupils.
The management of pupils is very good. A pastoral care team from amongst the teachers fosters the holistic development of pupils. A students’ council has been created to enable pupils to play an appropriate role in the development of aspects of school life. Newcomer pupils are assigned to classes appropriate to their ages. In a focus group interview, pupils receiving tuition in EAL commented favourably on the welcome they received to the school and their ease in making friends with other pupils. A clear procedure is in place for the induction of new pupils. This provides for an annual information meeting for parents and a school information booklet.
The quality of whole-school planning is good. The school has a well-developed process of policy formulation with the review of existing plans being particularly highlighted. All policies required by current legislation have been developed and ratified by the board. Plans are clearly written and easily accessible and take account of the changing needs of the school. The process of policy development within the school would be enhanced by a greater emphasis on action planning, where priorities are formally identified, practice is formally reviewed and targets set out for the improvement of practice. While school plans are available to the general body of parents and a booklet is available for the parents of new pupils, no particular provision is made for the communication of school policies to parents of newcomer pupils.
Considerable thought has been put into the development of the whole-school plan for English with a specific focus on identifying learning objectives and activities for each class level. However, there is a need to provide clearer guidelines for teachers with regard to the regularity and type of learning activities to be undertaken to achieve these objectives.
The plan for Mathematics has been informed by the principles underlying the Primary School Curriculum (1999). The plan clarifies the discrete mathematical language to be taught at each class level and emphasises the use of activity learning methods and the environment. The whole-school approach to teaching various number operations is very clearly outlined. To further develop the plan a whole-school approach to mental arithmetic and problem-solving should be agreed. The assessment and analysis of results leading to differentiated learning tasks for pupils of various ability levels could also be clarified.
The quality of whole-school planning for EAL is good. A policy on EAL has been developed taking good account of Departmental guidelines and support material particularly in terms of identifying clear procedures for the initial assessment and on-going monitoring of the progress of pupils receiving support in EAL. Some aspects of provision for EAL need further elaboration, most notably how the cross-curricular language demands faced by newcomer pupils should be addressed and how provision for the development of their language skills should be co-ordinated between the support setting and the mainstream setting.
A scrapbook system for communication between mainstream teachers and support teachers is in use for the consolidation of vocabulary work encountered in the classroom context. Workbooks have been devised to provide on-going consolidation in the mainstream setting of work undertaken in the support setting. There was little evidence, however, of formal long-term planning between teachers of EAL and mainstream teachers to prepare pupils receiving support in EAL for activities to be done in the mainstream class.
The quality of classroom planning is satisfactory with scope for development in some instances. All teachers provide short-term and long-term planning to support their teaching. While some individual long-term planning is set out in clearly delineated time-frames, other long-term plans are very general and do not facilitate the co-ordination of work programmes between class teachers and support teachers. A good quality template is in use on a whole-school basis to assist teachers with their short-term planning. In general, this short-term planning, documents activities to be undertaken in sufficient detail. However, some short-term planning is not sufficiently specific in terms of providing sufficient detail regarding differentiating for various ability levels and assessing pupils’ progress. The whole-school approach to maintaining monthly progress records consists of ticking off content taught on the short-term planning template. This approach does not easily facilitate the tracking of pupils’ learning from year to year.
While all plans refer to general strategies for differentiation there is a need to record specific learning activities to ensure optimum learning for all pupils. General assessment strategies are identified in teachers’ plans. To ensure that assessment informs pupils’ learning, specific tasks that will evaluate pupils’ learning need to be clearly identified. While there is evidence of consultation between mainstream teachers and teachers of EAL and there is evidence of some differentiated activities, there is a need for this to be developed further and to be formalised.
Many teachers maintain individual pupil profiles and checklists that record pupil attainment in the context of specific criteria in English and Mathematics. Individual education plans (IEPs) and individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) are developed for pupils in receipt of supplementary support. In general learning activities are in line with pupils’ needs and are set out clearly. There is a need to develop a whole-school approach to the setting out of individual learning plans in which specific, time-bound learning targets are identified and progress is recorded. There is a need also to agree and clarify a process for tracking the progress of individual pupils’ learning on an on-going basis.
Planning for pupils receiving supplementary tuition in EAL is informed by the outcome of the initial assessment and is detailed and specific in terms of learning targets and activities to be undertaken.
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.
The quality of teaching and learning in English is good. Content-rich lessons create stimulating and well-paced learning experiences for pupils. Questioning is effective and suitably challenging. Whole-class teaching was the main method of lesson delivery observed during the evaluation. While teachers display an awareness of the individual learning needs of newcomer pupils and pupils with other learning needs and actively seek to involve them in lessons, an over-emphasis on whole-class teaching limits the opportunities for addressing the individual learning needs of pupils. A good variety of activities and resources was evidenced during lessons observed to support the development of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.
Pupils are very attentive during lessons. They demonstrate good listening skills and particularly enjoy listening to teachers read. In the junior classes initiatives such as ‘Listener of the Week’ are effective in inculcating in pupils the habits of good listening. However, in general, there is a need to focus more explicitly on the development of pupils’ listening skills through discrete lessons.
Pupils throughout the school recite rhymes and poems with clarity and enthusiasm and this provides pupils with a rich range of vocabulary and sentence structure. Class discussion is generally managed effectively with pupils eager to participate. In some classes, however, there is a need to ensure that a broader range of pupils partake in discussion and that a greater emphasis is placed on the use of open questions to encourage more comprehensive responses from pupils.
Print-rich environments have been created in many classrooms and these are very effective in developing pupils’ sight-word vocabulary and providing them with examples of sentence structure. In the infant classes, large format books are used very effectively to teach reading. Auditory discrimination skills are emphasised as a means of teaching letter sounds and pupils have a good knowledge of a range of appropriate letter names and sounds. Word recognition skills and comprehension skills are developed systematically and Drama is used effectively in consolidating these skills. Whole-class lessons are supported by individualised reading programmes that focus on reading sentences from the large-format books that are displayed prominently in the class libraries. It is recommended that all infant classrooms have libraries that are stocked with a broad range of attractive books.
In the junior, middle and senior classes, reading activities are based on a textbook reading programme, individualised reading programmes, library books and initiatives such as sustained silent reading. In general learning activities are managed effectively and provide pupils with a structured approach to the development of their reading skills. However, the regular use of a class reader during whole-class reading lessons militates against more able pupils being sufficiently challenged and less able pupils being effectively supported. Some of the extracts from these class readers do not allow for the development of a broad range of reading skills and, as such, their role in the development of reading skills should be reduced. In general, because of the range of ability levels in each class, greater differentiation is required in the use of class texts. Where individualised reading programmes are used, it is important that records of pupils’ progress be carefully maintained. .
In the infant classes, fine motor skills are effectively developed as a preparation for teaching penmanship and pupils’ handwriting throughout the school is generally of a good standard. Writing samples are used in the junior and middle classes to provide pupils with a focus for their writing. In junior, middle and senior classes, a good attempt is made to develop pupils’ awareness of genre and writing style. It is particularly effective that pupils’ understanding of genre and writing style is developed over a number of lessons where pupils have sufficient opportunity to apply their learning in a number of different pieces of writing. Pair work could be used more frequently as a means of stimulating ideas for writing and for developing pupils’ ability to evaluate their own writing. Conventions of writing, grammar and punctuation are taught systematically. However, a writing task completed by some middle and senior classes would suggest that some pupils need more explicit guidelines in applying their learning in grammar and punctuation to their independent writing. Pupils generally display a good knowledge of spelling conventions. In the junior classes, pupils’ independent writing would be enhanced by the development of a spelling strategy which pupils could apply to new words they wish to write.
There is some evidence that writing activities are effectively differentiated to take account of differing learning and language abilities. However, this practice needs to be developed throughout the school. Greater co-ordination between class and support teachers would enhance the capacity of pupils with learning or language needs to participate in class writing lessons.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. A suitable range of visual resources and ICT resources is well used to introduce and situate new concepts within the context of pupils’ existing understanding and to build a rationale for subsequent learning. Dedicated mathematics areas in classrooms support the reinforcement of conceptual understanding and the displays of mathematical language facilitate the acquisition of discrete mathematical terminology.
Lessons observed were carefully structured and suitably paced. Learning is well linked with the pupils’ own environment and an understanding of data is developed through surveys of pupils’ interests and aspects of the local environment. While explicit attention is paid to teaching and using mathematical language in most classes, pupils in some classes would benefit from an enhanced focus on the use of specific mathematical terminology. Talk and discussion feature prominently during lessons and very good pupil participation was evident. The practice of starting mathematics lessons with appropriately challenging mental work is commendable. In some classes open questions are used very effectively to promote higher-order thinking skills and consolidate conceptual understanding. Concrete materials are used to good effect in group-work and pair-work and pupils collaborate well during learning activities. In some classes teachers might focus on encouraging more detailed responses in their interactions with pupils in group settings.
Overall pupils display a good understanding of mathematical concepts across all strands of the curriculum. In some classes, however, further attention to the development of problem-solving skills is required. Pupils’ written work is clearly recorded and very carefully monitored. Additional support for individual pupils experiencing difficulty with conceptual awareness or with English language deficits is provided by class teachers and in some classes support teachers work in collaboration with class teachers to assist pupils. In most classes pupils undertake common learning tasks and support is provided to pupils as required. The use of differentiated learning tasks and mini lessons would enhance the quality of pupils’ learning experiences and develop their independent learning skills.
A variety of assessment modes is used, including teacher observation, checklists, screening tests, standardised tests and diagnostic tests. Checklists are particularly effective in the infant and junior classes in monitoring the acquisition of letter sounds, sight words, spellings and recording library books read. In some classes, these are expanded into assessment rubrics to monitor progress in reading and writing and this is commendable. It is suggested that these rubrics be adapted to monitor progress in oral language. Personal folders are effective in documenting pupils’ work. Pupils’ written work is generally well monitored although more frequent use of personalised comments would add to its impact on teaching and learning. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered annually to pupils from first class to sixth class and results are recorded systematically. There is scope for the results of these standardised tests to better inform teaching and learning in the classroom in order to more comprehensively accommodate the varying needs of pupils.
The school policy on supporting pupils with special educational needs provides for the early identification of pupils experiencing learning difficulties. Teacher observation in infant classes and the results of the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST), administered to pupils in senior infants, inform judgements regarding pupils requiring additional support. Two learning support teachers and two resource teachers provide supplementary tuition to pupils with special educational needs. While most support is provided through the withdrawal of pupils, in-class support in collaboration with mainstream teachers is also provided. Specific learning targets are set for most pupils and learning activities observed were designed to meet these targets. Lessons are generally well structured and suitably paced and are delivered in an affirming manner. Pleasant and stimulating learning environments have been created in withdrawal settings and pupils engage with enthusiasm in the learning activities. Some individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) require the identification of specific time-bound learning targets. Provision also needs to be made in these programmes for the development of pupils’ oral language skills. On-going collaboration between support teachers and mainstream teachers needs to focus on co-ordinating learning programmes, leading to a more coherent learning experience for pupils, especially in the development of comprehension and writing skills.
‘The Primary School Assessment Kit, issued by the Department, is used effectively to provide an initial assessment of pupils’ language abilities. Pupils’ progress is monitored on an on-going basis with examples of pupils’ work being collated to provide an overview of pupils’ progress. At the time of the evaluation, a system of formal meetings between support teachers and the parents of pupils on receipt of EAL support had yet to be initiated. Plans for such meetings for the current school year are in place. Teachers of EAL report the tendency for some pupils to take extended holidays to allow families return to their home countries and that this impacts negatively on pupils’ progress. Planning demonstrates that teachers have a good understanding of how learning in EAL should be structured. Where planning delineates activities across the range of language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, it is particularly effective. While teachers of EAL and mainstream teachers communicate on an on-going basis, more formal collaboration in terms of planning would enhance learning opportunities for newcomer pupils in the mainstream setting.
An effective and stimulating print-rich environment has been created in the support learning settings for EAL. Interesting, well-paced lessons make good use of active learning methods. Topics for lessons include the locality, the school and aspects of pupils’ everyday lives, and seek to make a connection with topics being addressed in the mainstream classroom. Pupils enjoy their lessons. An emphasis is placed on both the acquisition of vocabulary and its application in sentence structures. Pupils are encouraged to provide comprehensive responses to questions. Care is taken to consolidate vocabulary learnt at the conclusion of lessons. Pupils’ writing is displayed and is of an appropriate standard. There is scope to provide pupils with further examples of sentence structure through the monitoring of their written work.
Overall, pupils in receipt of support in EAL are making good progress and display a knowledge of English commensurate with their length of time in the school and their receipt of language support.
A small number of pupils requiring additional support are enrolled in the school. The interest demonstrated by all teachers in each individual pupil’s welfare and progress ensures that the needs of these pupils are identified and met with due care and sensitivity.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
§ A positive, purposeful and organised learning environment has been created within the school where the management of pupils is very effective and content-rich lessons create stimulating and well-paced learning
experiences for pupils.
§ In leading and directing the work of the school, the principal demonstrates conscientiousness, a capacity for reflection and an ability to inculcate a collegial work environment.
§ The process for developing whole-school plans is well established. School plans are regularly reviewed and are effective in taking account of the needs of the school.
§ In the teaching of Mathematics very good use is made of visual resources and technology to introduce and situate concepts within the context of pupils’ existing understanding, and to build a rationale for
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· Teachers’ individual planning needs to more effectively address the varying needs of pupils within class groups.
· Communication between class teachers and support teachers needs to be more formalised at the planning stage to provide pupils in receipt of additional support with a more coherent and co-ordinated learning
· The over-reliance on a class reader in the teaching of reading needs to be reduced in order to provide pupils with learning experiences that are more aligned with their learning needs.
· The work of the in-school management team would be enhanced by adopting an action planning approach to carrying out duties that are of a developmental nature.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board have started the process whereby work has commenced to rectify the key recommendations that will further improve the quality of education in our school.