An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Maolmhaodhóg (Buachaillí)

Dundalk, County Louth

Uimhir rolla:  18504E

 

Date of inspection: 15 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of supports for pupils

Conclusion

School response to the report

  

 

 

 

WHOLE-SCHOOL EVALUATION

 

A whole-school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Maolmhaodhóg (Buachaillí) 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.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Total number of teachers on the school staff

15

Number of mainstream class teachers

8

Total number of teachers working in support roles

3

Number of language support teachers

3

Special needs assistants

3

Total number of pupils enrolled in the school

236

Number of pupils with English as an additional language

51

 

 

1.             Quality of school management

 

1.1         Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

 

A warm, happy and secure atmosphere permeates this school. There is an excellent sense of team. All staff members work very well together to ensure that the pupils have a good quality educational experience in a positive, child-friendly learning environment. The ethos of the school is reflected in the very warm and welcoming atmosphere that was evident during the period of evaluation. The principal and staff provide a stimulating and engaging learning environment for the pupils who are consistently courteous, well motivated and eager to learn. The diversity of the school population has changed significantly in the last two years. The whole school community is very supportive of this changing demography and a very warm welcome is afforded to all newcomer pupils. Attendance patterns in the school are very satisfactory.

 

1.2         Board of management

 

The work of the board of management is led by a dynamic and highly professional chairperson whose experience and expertise in the field of education are valued by all members of the school community. The board of management is properly constituted and is functioning in an effective manner. The board members display enthusiasm for and commitment to the school and to its pupils. Tasks are regularly delegated and a suitable record is maintained of all board proceedings. Board members identify the collaborative, supportive relationships that exist between the community, board and teaching staff as a significant strength of this school. The board is committed to ensuring compliance with Department regulations and seeks to fulfil its statutory obligations in accordance with the Education Act, 1998. The board takes an active role in school planning and policy development. The board has recently purchased a number of prefabricated buildings and improved car parking facilities. Commendable supports have been put in place for EAL pupils and their families.

 

1.3         In-school management

 

The in-school management team consists of the principal, the deputy principal and five special duties post-holders. The principal displays dedication and diligence in fulfilling both his administrative and teaching duties. He is energetic and progressive in his approach to school planning and displays very good organisational skills. He has fostered a warm, inclusive school atmosphere where the development of pupils in aesthetic, cognitive and creative dimensions of life is nurtured. He is committed to ensuring a quality educational experience for all pupils. He facilitates and leads effective school planning structures that provide for the needs of all pupils, including EAL pupils. The principal is a highly effective curriculum leader, successfully co-ordinating the whole-school planning process in which the contributions of all staff members are acknowledged and valued. The particular commitment shown to fostering a love of the Irish language amongst pupils is highly commendable. His commitment to sport is also in evidence through his initiative in re-igniting a long-established, but recently dormant, athletic event. The principal displays a deep interest in the welfare of all pupils including, in particular, those pupils for whom English is an additional language.

 

The deputy principal works closely and effectively with the principal in the day-to-day running of the school. The special duties post-holders have a variety of responsibilities which they fulfil with diligence and care. A very laudable balance exists in these roles in organisational, administrative and curricular issues. It is now recommended that responsibility for EAL provision be assigned to a post holder to further enhance provision in this area.

 

1.4         The management of resources

 

The teaching staff consists of an administrative principal, eight mainstream class teachers, two learning-support teachers, one resource teacher and three language support teachers. The level of dedication and diligence among the teaching staff is to be commended. Most support provision consists of withdrawal methods. An improved balance between in-class and withdrawal supports is now recommended. There is very good evidence of overall professional development for all staff in relation to EAL.

 

The work of the teaching staff, together with that of all the ancillary staff, contributes to the smooth running of the school. The school is cleaned to a high standard and the caretaker meticulously completes maintenance work. The grounds are well maintained and all concerned are highly commended for keeping the external environment attractive and free from litter.

 

The board provides a wide range of resources to support teaching and learning in all curricular areas. Curricular grants have been used in an appropriate manner. A wealth of concrete mathematical equipment is available and a very satisfactory selection of library and reference books is in evidence in all classrooms. The parent community has invested significantly in computer hardware and has helped to equip a computer room with computers and peripheral devices. Some interactive whiteboards are in use in very creative and purposeful manner.

 

The classrooms are bright and comfortable and are well furnished. The corridors are brightly decorated with samples of the pupils’ creative work. Playground and recreational space is satisfactory. Appropriate toilet facilities are available to pupils. However, it is noted with concern that there are no toilet facilities for female personnel and they have to use the toilets in St Malachy’s Girls’ Senior School, which is located in the same building. This situation should be addressed.

 

While there is some evidence of an attempt to support cultural diversity, particularly in the form of maps and photographs of EAL pupils displayed on corridors, there are further opportunities for more active celebration of linguistic diversity. A display of word lists, pictorial representations of curricular themes, dual-language books, notices and pictures of diverse cultures should be considered. In this regard the school should attend to the recommendations laid out in the guidelines on interculturalism issued by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

 

1.5         Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Maolmhaodhóg (Buachaillí) is located in the oldest Catholic school building in Dundalk, encompassing a rich history of Dominican participation in education in this area. There is a great sense of pride in the school and its achievements. The parents’ association plays an active role in the life of the school. The board is currently encouraging more parents to become involved in the parents’ association and to seek to broaden the function of the association. The involvement of EAL parents in the life of the school is in the early stage of development. It is recommended that additional planning for increased involvement of EAL parents be instigated.

 

Parents’ representatives on the board report that communication systems put in place by the principal are very effective. There are regular letters and newsletters issued to parents and they cite the homework diary as a particularly effective communication tool. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually and it is reported that there is usually full attendance. Written progress reports for all pupils are sent to parents at the end of the school year.

 

1.6         Management of pupils

 

The management of the pupils is very good. The board and the teaching staff have devised a code of behaviour and an anti-bullying policy that are both consistently implemented. The teachers are to be commended for the very positive, child friendly school climate that exists in the school. The school engages in a wide range of competitions, projects and events and makes excellent use of the playing field at their disposal. EAL pupils are fully engaged in the life of the school and are placed in age-appropriate classes. An assembly was held during the evaluation in which EAL pupils were wholly representative.

 

 

2.             QUALITY OF SCHOOL PLANNING

 

2.1         Quality of whole-school planning

 

The school has engaged creatively and dynamically in the whole-school planning process. The board of management has been active in drafting, ratifying and considering the highly satisfactory and thoughtful administration/procedural policies and curriculum policies that are at the core of teaching and learning in this school. The principal has had a central role in facilitating the development of the process and the product of collaborative planning and the subsequent implementation of this planning in classrooms. Effective strategies are in place to foster linkage between whole-school and individual planning; the overall school plan is clearly reflected in teachers’ short term and long term planning. Documents in organisational areas are well developed and the policies which relate to specific subjects are firmly linked to the Primary School Curriculum (1999). Whole-school planning in subject areas provides an excellent framework to support a structured and developmental approach to the teaching of these subjects. This planning plays a significant role in ensuring that there is continuity and progression from year to year and consistency in approach and emphasis from class to class. 

 

2.2         Quality of whole-school planning for EAL

 

The quality of whole-school planning for EAL is in the process of development. There is full commitment to assessing children according to the Integrate Ireland Language and Training Framework (IILT) and adequate procedures are in place to classify children’s language competencies. It was noted during the evaluation that a small number of children were participating in EAL classes who had no apparent linguistic need of this provision. It is necessary to review initial assessments within the context of the supplementary provision which the child has previously received to ensure appropriate progression in provision relative to the pupils’ linguistic needs. Policies are communicated to parents in accessible formats. No translation service is deemed to be needed, as yet, given that the home language of the majority of pupils is actually English.

 

2.3         Quality of classroom planning including planning for EAL

 

Both short term and long term planning are based on the specific objectives of the curriculum and reflect the continuity and progression in teaching articulated in the school plan. These objectives are derived from a thorough engagement with the curriculum and a clear knowledge of the stage of development of pupils in each class. Key methodologies are described and carefully attention is paid to ensuring that these active methodologies, supported by the use of well-targeted resources, are a core part of practice at both planning and implementation stages. Teachers’ plans delineate content, objectives, teaching methodology and desired learning outcomes. Many aspects of the school plan are seen to inform individual teachers’ long-term planning in English, particularly with regard to the approaches adopted to teach reading and writing.

 

Care is taken to ensure that planning for individual pupils and groups of pupils is undertaken so that class instruction meets their differentiated needs. In some cases, team teaching between the support teachers and the classroom teachers is used as an effective methodology. Planning for this type of delivery is at an early stage of development. A monthly record of progress is maintained in every class. Copies of these progress records are kept centrally.

 

Excellent use is made of displays to support teaching and learning. The language-rich and print-rich environments that have been created in many of the rooms are of a very high standard and are particularly suitable for EAL pupils. There is insufficient evidence, however, of differentiated planning to meet the needs of EAL pupils. In some cases, however, these pupils are fluent speakers of English and no specific differentiation is required.

 

2.4         Child protection policy and procedures

 

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.

 

 

3.             Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1         Teaching of English and English as an Additional Language

 

The quality of teaching learning in the English lessons observed during the evaluation was very good. Children are very engaged with lesson content. A range of effective teaching methodologies, using many classroom resources, is being used to engage children actively in their learning of English. There is very effective focus in this school on pupils’ learning with understanding. Creative use of information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance the development of language and literacy is a feature of almost all classrooms and supplementary teaching environments. The language environment created in all classrooms is excellent. Effective questioning is a particularly positive feature in all classes, allowing teachers to assess the extent to which individual students understand and can engage in the learning process.

 

Classroom practice reveals that all of the strands of the curriculum are thoroughly explored. The structure of lessons also ensures that a balance is maintained between oral and written work. Teachers are keenly aware of the need to provide for multiple activities in order to consolidate learning across the language skills. Pupils are provided with opportunities to learn using concrete materials and they are encouraged to learn co-operatively and actively. Regular discrete oral language lessons provide ample opportunity for expansion of vocabulary and development of pupils’ ability to question, summarise, describe, predict, sequence and compare. There is evidence of the effective use of linkage and integration, which facilitates the reinforcement of concepts. Pupils demonstrate effective word attack skills and teachers in all classes promote strategies to help pupils read with meaning, understanding, fluency and expression. Reading and spelling are differentiated within each classroom. Novels are used very effectively in all classes to promote reading and pupils’ ability to respond to text. Written work is presented very carefully and this is regularly monitored by the teachers. Pupils are engaged in enriching experiences to develop their independent writing skills through a wide variety of genres. Punctuation and editing skills are promoted very well through school. A whole-school approach to the improvement of pupils’ handwriting is in place and good standards are noted in this regard.

 

Regular, and very informative, analysis of assessment results in English takes place and teaching is adapted as a result of this analysis. Very effective use is being made of visual resources to enhance meaning and learning in English classes, and this approach is of particular benefit to EAL pupils. Interactive white boards and music are being used very effectively to bring aspects of interculturalism into classrooms in a vibrant and engaging manner. Some very effective listening activities are in place to enhance language development. Further development of listening skills and auditory sequential memory is, however, required to extend the language learning opportunities of EAL pupils in particular-for example, listening stations and comprehension activities based on listening exercises could be used.

 

Some areas which should be considered for development within English include the need to prioritise the further development of poetry throughout the school. Whilst interesting poetry lessons were observed, there remains room for development in this area, to include the need for additional focus on poetry for memorisation, poetry to develop listening skills, poetry to promote language for emotional development. This approach is particularly necessary for EAL pupils. The further development of library reading materials which reflect multi-cultural backgrounds of pupils in classes is recommended. Some effective in-class provision was observed, but this model needs to be extended and become more targeted in order to maximise the benefits for pupils.

 

3.2         Mathematics

 

Overall, the standard of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. Pupils show interest in the subject and enjoy a wide range of mathematical topics. Teachers adopt a variety of teaching methods, most notably whole-class teaching. Lessons have very good pace, direction and focus. Lesson content is effectively and creatively linked to the experience and environment of the pupils. Pupils are actively involved in these lessons, with very good provision for reasoning, estimating and communicating skills. In some cases, teachers make creative and effective use of group, pair and collaborative problem solving. Pupils are often encouraged to design and critique their own problems. Resources are used to good effect, with pupils being given varied opportunities to engage in hands-on activities with concrete materials. Most pupils show very good understanding of place value and application of number operations. There is a need, however, to give greater attention to the teaching of multiplication facts. Many teachers ensure that they carefully teach the language that is essential for understanding the concepts of Mathematics. This approach is of particular benefit to EAL pupils and should be extended even further. A very laudable whole school emphasis on problem solving was noted and teaching in this area was of a very high standard. A significant number of pupils could explain the rationale for working out complicated problems. Teachers made very good use of visuals to support the teaching of Mathematics-for example, the interactive white board and 100 square were availed of effectively in lessons observed. In general, exemplary use is made of concrete materials to facilitate activity-based learning. Differentiation of mathematics activities, as well as appropriate emphasis on consolidation and revision, ensure great clarity in learning outcomes for pupils. The further development of in-class support models to promote activity-based pair and group work for all pupils is recommended.  

 

3.3. Assessment

 

There is evidence of effective, progressive work in the assessment of English and Mathematics. This is a significant strength in the school. There are a number of different practices worth noting. These include the used of compilations of children’s work and the reflective manner in which formative assessment notes are used. A particularly notable aspect of the overall approach in this school to assessment is the manner in which the findings of assessment are considered in terms of planning and content and methods of subsequent teaching. Equally, the manner in which the assessment results have been tracked over the last few years is highly praiseworthy. IT graphs outlining pupils’ achievements have been devised. This very innovative approach is highly commendable. Copies of assessment results are sent to parents annually with the relevant information as required by Circular Letter 0138/2006. It was reported at the post-evaluation meeting with the staff that the results of additional EAL pupils’ assessments have been recently analysed with a view to restructuring aspects of the provision for some pupils.

 

 

4.             Quality of supports for pupils

 

4.1         Pupils with special educational needs

.

Provision for pupils with special needs and for pupils with additional learning needs in literacy and numeracy in this school is very good. In general, the support rooms available to pupils are well resourced and are bright and attractive learning environments. One room, however, is located in an old prefabricated building and, its current form, is unsuitable for this purpose. Another room is located to the rear of the stage and its relatively isolated location renders it unsuitable as a location for support teaching.

 

In general, a common approach to planning exists across the whole are of support for pupils with special educational needs. Individual education plans (IEPs) for children with special needs are developed arising from diagnostic tests and appropriate input from parents and class teachers. A number of children receive support in small group contexts in both literacy and Mathematics. Individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) are available in respect of all such pupils. Appropriate short-term records are retained of material and activities covered with the children during supplementary teaching. Weekly lesson programmes are formulated and focus on consolidation, teaching priorities, reading, writing and numeracy tasks. Planning, in general, is clear and there is a broad commitment to regular review and assessment that is linked to the content of subsequent teaching. Appropriate short-term records are retained of material and activities covered with the children during supplementary teaching. Laudable emphasis is placed on the identification of clear learning targets for all priority areas identified. Clear time-bound leaning targets are used to structure teaching and learning.

 

There is a plentiful supply of resources to support teaching and learning in this area. Highly effective teaching approaches methodologies and practices are being used. Activities are clearly laid out and purposefully support children’s learning needs. Supportive and positive teacher-pupil interactions are in evidence in withdrawal contexts and a range of suitable approaches, using both visual and concrete materials is used effectively during teaching and learning sessions. A holistic approach is adopted by all teachers aimed at developing the confidence of pupil, using social skills settings, affirmative language and positive feedback. Pupils receive ample opportunities to develop skills at their own pace and level. Regular informal collaboration with mainstream teachers is a very positive feature of support teaching. Some very effective in-class work was observed during the evaluation. This approach should be extended.

 

The quality of assessment is exemplary, with the support teachers using varied assessment tools to assess children’s abilities, interests and capacities. These assessment results are being used enthusiastically to plan pupils’ learning. The monitoring of progress and the interpretation of results feeds clearly into planning at pupil, class and school levels. The process of tracking, collation and interpretation of these results over a period of time, as has been conducted by one member of staff, is highly praiseworthy.

 

4.2         Pupils with English as an additional language

 

There is a strong commitment to supporting EAL pupils within the learning community of this school. Some research into various nationalities and linguistic patterns of EAL pupils has been conducted by one EAL teacher and this analysis has been a useful tool in planning linguistic provision for these pupils. Teachers are respectful of the pupils’ culture and home language(s). Further development of interculturalism through the visual displays within the environment of the classrooms is, however, recommended. IILT materials are diligently used in planning the pupils’ individual language programmes. EAL teachers’ short-term classroom planning effectively addresses the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Achievable learning targets are identified for pupils that focus on the consistent progression of the pupils’ language skills. Individual language profiles are compiled in respect of each pupil and their progress is recorded, monitored and assessed. Detailed and informative records are kept for each EAL pupil and records of pupils’ progress are shared with parents, class teachers and other professionals when necessary. At times, however, a mismatch exists between the content of the linguistic input and the perceived linguistic abilities of pupils. In some cases, the planned language outcomes are insufficiently challenging for some pupils.

 

Very structured teaching is evident in withdrawal contexts where supplementary language provision is given. This teaching allows pupils to experience active learning approaches, involving peer interaction and language development. In some contexts very effective use is made of visual resources to enhance meaning and learning for EAL pupils. Good practice in evidence includes a wide range of resources and teaching methodologies that includes direct instruction, play, games and group work. Poetry and singing could be used further as learning media. Some use of listening activities to enhance language development of EAL pupils is a feature in some withdrawal classes, but this practice needs to be extended. Some very good pre-teaching of language essential for learning concepts and skills in Mathematics was observed and is highly commendable. Pupils are prompted very well through the use of gestures and key visual aids and are given adequate time to respond and to speak. Much attention is given to extensive and intensive word level work, but this is sometimes insufficiently linked to sentence level contexts. In general, the teaching of absolute beginners was effective, with good use of IILT framework noted in this regard. Relevant and achievable learning targets are identified for pupils that allow for consistent and systematic progression of the pupils’ language skills. Language themes, language benchmarks and assessment scores in respect of the EAL pupils are shared with class teachers.

 

Outcomes of assessments inform and enhance the teaching and learning for EAL pupils. Some pupils require tuition at a more challenging level, and some pupils do not appear to need supplementary tuition at all. The pacing of lessons is sometimes too slow and does not reflect the pluri-lingual abilities of many of these children. Language games are in evidence, but the communicative purpose of these games is sometimes insufficiently clear. A mismatch is occasionally noted between the language ability of children and the language input in class contexts. The work in EAL contexts is sometimes at a level and pace more suitable for learning support. There is a need to review the needs of all EAL pupils to ensure appropriate correspondence/alignment between the pupil’s individual needs and level of supplementary tuition provided.

 

Some effective in-class provision is in place where the role of both mainstream teacher and language support teacher are very clear. This provision should be extended further with a view to promoting language essential for learning in other curricular areas. There is very good evidence of informal collaboration between class teacher and resource teacher and this is currently being formalised even more. This collaboration will include more regular review of the EAL pupils’ progress, in consultation with all relevant personnel, including parents, to ensure that the programme targets are relevant to the pupils’ linguistic needs.

 

4.3         Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

 

All pupils are cherished and a tangible sense of belonging permeates this caring school. The inclusive environment of the school ensures that all pupils have equality of access to the full range of school activities

 

 

5.             Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

  • Pupils attainments’ in English and Mathematics are very good and are testimony to very good to teaching, commitment to high standards, and to effective implementation of the curriculum.

 

  • The principal plays a central role in leading curriculum change and in developing a caring, nurturing school ethos and spirit.

 

  • The board, led by a dynamic chairperson, is particularly progressive and hard working.

 

·         The analysis conducted around standardised test results is of an exceptionally high standard and this work is put to very good use in planning learning for pupils.

 

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

  • Some infrastructural changes are required in respect of some learning support rooms and there is a need to provide toilet facilities in the school for female personnel.

 

  • Provision for EAL pupils is at an early stage of development and requires some modification, especially in terms of ensuring that there is a match between the language capacities of the children and the language programmes being followed by them, both in support contexts and in mainstream classes.

 

  • It is necessary to ensure that language-based activities for EAL pupils are sufficiently challenging.

 

  • It is recommended that initial assessment information for EAL pupils be reviewed thoroughly to ensure that appropriate provision, relative to the pupils’ linguistic needs, is put in place.

 

 

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 April 2009

 

 

 

Appendix

 

6.             School response to the report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

On behalf of the Board of Management of St. Malachy’s B.N.S. and all the education partners involved with our school, I wish to acknowledge the thorough nature of this W.S.E. and the professional manner in which it was carried out.  I accept the findings of the report and I am heartened by the endorsement of the excellent work which is ongoing in our school.

 

I am particularly pleased with the commendations of our core subjects Mathematics and English.  The area of E.A.L. provision is a more recent element of the modern school and as such is in its early stages of development both at school and Department level.  I welcome the constructive recommendations made by the Inspectorate and we will strive to embrace these and all modern approaches to this burgeoing dimension of curriculum provision.

 

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

 

Unfortunately recent fiscal constraints at Department level have dictated that our EAL tuition will no longer be supported by the placement of extra staff.  All EAL provision will now be within the ordinary classroom.  While this places considerable pressure on the school team, I am confident they will respond in the professional manner in which they face all such educational challenges.