An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Brendan’s National School
Cartron, Sligo Town
Uimhir rolla: 19826I
Date of inspection: 21 November 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St Brendan’s National School was undertaken in November, 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, Mathematics and 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 Brendan’s National School is located in a housing estate on the northern side of Sligo town. It is a co-educational school which caters for all classes from junior infants upwards. The school participates in the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative where pupils in fifth and sixth classes learn French. The school is known for its school choir and this year the school will present the musical ‘Oliver’. It is participating in a Comenius project which is funded by Léargas and involves working collaboratively with schools in Europe. An after-school care facility which opened in September 2007 is located within the school.
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
St Brendan’s National School is a Catholic school under the patronage of the Bishop of Elphin. The characteristic spirit of the school provides for a child-friendly, secure environment catering for the needs of all pupils. The school is inclusive and respect is fostered in a culture which values and celebrates diversity and difference.
The board of management works very effectively. It is properly constituted and is supportive of all school-related activities. The school operates a three-year strategic plan for curricular, organisational and accommodation matters and this is particularly noteworthy. The board in conjunction with the parents’ association has recently extended the senior school playground, replaced windows and doors and installed CCTV, a public address system and a computer facility. It has facilitated the setting up of an after-school service by the parents’ association. It supports the professional development of staff. The board is conscious of its statutory obligations and has discussed and ratified many school policies. It manages effective inclusion and educational provision for all pupils, including EAL pupils. Board members are commended for their ongoing commitment to the school.
The principal can be described as a transformational leader. She commenced her duty as a principal in September 2007. She leads and manages the school very effectively. She has a clear vision of maintaining high standards of teaching and learning. She acts as an outstanding role model both as a teacher and as an administrator. Communication in the school is very good. She produces regular newsletters, presents a principal’s report at staff meetings and board meetings and reorganised the filing systems. She is supported productively by a very capable secretary. The principal has spearheaded a tidying up process and the development of a school garden. She has initiated regular meetings with the parents’ association and drafted and reviewed numerous policies. The principal is also very ably supported by a highly dedicated, professional and conscientious deputy principal who gives generously of her time to support the principal in all school matters. School records and official documents are meticulously maintained.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, deputy principal and four special duties post holders, each of whom undertakes tasks that contribute to the efficient running of the school. Responsibilities are delegated prudently and according to individuals’ interests and strengths. The team meets regularly and each post-holder promotes a different curricular area. Two of the post holders jointly co-ordinate whole-school approaches to EAL very effectively. The strengths of the in-school management team include their collective expertise and their willingness to provide the best for pupils. They communicate very successfully with the diversity of parents, the community and outside agencies through the wide variety of activities they provide for the pupils; such activities include a school talent show, a Christmas concert, a science fair and a homework club.
The teachers demonstrate impressive levels of energy, enthusiasm and professionalism. The staff members are adaptable to new changes and willingly share their expertise. Staff meetings are conducted in a very efficient manner. All the support staff work collaboratively with mainstream teachers in classrooms and are successfully co-teaching language to EAL pupils. The support teachers facilitate differentiation in all subjects. This is very good practice and worthy of dissemination to others. The support teachers also work with children very effectively on a withdrawal basis.
The quality of school accommodation both internally and externally is very good. The building comprises a general purpose room, nine classrooms, six of which are used for classroom teaching, one for support teaching, one as a computer room and another room to house the after-school facility. Classrooms are warm, comfortable and well maintained. The school also has a sensory room, secretary’s office, two support rooms and a principal’s office. The loyal and committed caretaker ensures that the premises are cleaned adequately.
Carefully selected resources are centrally stored and used appropriately. A variety of visual aids, software, games, posters, maps and diagrams supports the teaching and learning for EAL pupils. The teachers have collected a number of resources that celebrate different cultures such as the Watato Pack. It is recommended that the school augments such resources, as outlined in the school’s intercultural policy. Overall, the school has a range of interactive, stimulating and colourful resources for all subject areas.
The quality of parental involvement in the school is very good. The parents’ association established the successful on-site Sunset Aftercare facility for pupils enrolled in the school. The association worked tirelessly to fund the enhancement of the junior playground and to provide suitable climbing equipment. The school is used frequently by the residents for association meetings, adult classes and some EAL parents use it to celebrate religious traditions. The association gives dedicated support to the gardening project and the Green-School Programme and it has engaged in successful fundraising activities. The school hosts an induction day to assist parents and pupils in familiarising themselves with the school. An informative school booklet is issued to all parents, at the time of enrolment. The impressive school website and the regular newsletters ensure very good communication to the parents and the community. An initial meeting has been held to set up a parent-teacher association to replace the parents’ association.
Staff members aspire in their intercultural policy to encourage more parental involvement through parents sharing their expertise and culture with the pupils. The school is welcoming to all parents and it hopes to host an intercultural day during the year. The principal and deputy principal facilitate meetings with EAL parents when required. The impressive array of after-school activities which takes place in the school hall is well supported. All pupils including EAL pupils can avail of the menu of activities such as hip hop, gymnastics, golf and football.
The pupils are managed with care and skill. Teachers interact with their pupils in a supportive manner. The dedicated special needs assistants support the pupils by promoting independence and enabling them to participate in class activities. The teachers involve the pupils in a wide array of experiences such as the Irish club, extra-curricular activities, educational trips and historical visits. Assemblies are conducted effectively and contribute to the reinforcement of a sense of belonging to the school community. It is noted that the school managed a number of critical incidents sensitively and effectively in line with its critical incident policy. It is recommended that the school explores the optimum use of the senior yard to ensure the active involvement of all pupils.
The quality of whole-school planning is very good. The staff has completed an extensive range of organisational and curricular policies within the past two years in a collaborative manner. The school plan is a comprehensive document and credit is due to the present staff for bringing the school planning process to its current state of development. The policies are impressive as they are both detailed and practical. There are some modifications required as discussed at the post evaluation meetings which include the insertion of formulation, review and ratification dates on all policies. In the interest of health and safety, it is recommended that the school fully implements the arrival and dismissal policy and modifies its supervision policy.
A comprehensive whole-school plan has been developed to support effective curriculum implementation in English. It is thorough, detailed and is a user-friendly document. It commendably acknowledges the varying levels of language development and needs of pupils. Approximately ten percent of the pupils in the school learn English as an additional language. One noteworthy aspect of the policy is the outline of the many aspects of spoken language including listening, naming, categorizing, describing, denoting position, sequencing and reasoning. It outlines clear strategies to develop the various strand units of oral language, reading and writing. It notes a variety of methodologies and activities to support oral language development. The quality of the policy is very good. However, the handwriting policy needs to be reviewed.
The school plan for Mathematics is very good. The short-term aims outlined in the initial school policy await full implementation. These include the compilation of a number of mathematics trails and greater development of problem-solving strategies. It also needs to plan for linkages across the strands to support the pupils’ learning. It has all the important elements of a very good, well-planned policy. The whole-school approach to the teaching of mathematical language is commendable.
The school has developed a detailed policy on intercultural education which sets out to embrace diversity. It delineates its aims which are to ensure equality of respect, access, participation and outcomes for all pupils. This policy sets out a range of strategies to cherish and celebrate this cultural diversity. It outlines a comprehensive list of useful resources including internet sites which support the teaching and learning of EAL pupils. It gives clear guidelines on assessment, homework, and liaison with parents and staff development. This policy has yet to be fully implemented. Members of staff, in particular the EAL co-ordinators, are commended for their input to the content of this well-crafted policy.
All teachers undertake both short-term and long-term planning and work in a diligent manner. Both the content and the quality of the plans vary. It is recommended that the staff devises a common short-term planning template in line with some very good samples observed during the evaluation. These noteworthy samples outline the content objectives, methodologies, resources, activities, skills, differentiation, assessment, linkage and integration. It was noted that overall the staff planned for differentiation; this practice should continue in order to cater for the varying needs within classrooms. It is also recommended that staff devises a common template for the recording of monthly progress reports. The effective use of the flipchart in all classrooms is commendable. It provides for revision and consolidation of work.
The planning for all pupils including EAL pupils is very good. The staff actively avails of every opportunity for the EAL pupils to participate in a balanced and broad curriculum. For example, the school magazine in 2007 enabled EAL pupils to write about Christmas in their own countries, pupils planted trees during tree week to represent the countries in the Comenius project and a volunteer from the Kenya Build charity presented a slide show to senior pupils outlining the work the charity undertakes. It is evident that the staff plans effectively for the involvement of all pupils.
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 teachers prepare stimulating, creative and interesting lessons. They use a wide array of resources such as information and communications technology (ICT), games and visual stimuli to bolster lessons and they employ a range of successful methodologies such as pair work, group work and circle work.
The quality of teaching and learning in English is of a very high standard. The pupils’ confidence and competence in listening, speaking, reading and writing are systematically developed throughout the school. Oral language development is correctly emphasised, both as a discrete element of English lessons and as the basis for work across the other strands. Some further attention to receptive language acquisition is recommended. This will enable pupils to assimilate and attend more appropriately to what they hear and develop an appropriate listener-speaker relationship.
Teachers are acutely aware of the stages of language acquisition for EAL pupils from the silent phase, to social interaction and to developing academic language. The planning and delivery of very effective in-class support ensures that the needs of all learners are met in a satisfactory manner. In some classrooms, pupils recite well-chosen poems with pride and enthusiasm while in other classes poetry is explored through discussion. In the infant and junior classes, the development of phonological awareness is suitably addressed through the use of a structured programme. Large-format books are skilfully used in these classes as a springboard for developing pupils’ vocabulary, comprehension and prediction skills. Reading skills are nurtured in the middle and senior classes through the use of reading schemes, library books and classroom novels. In some lessons observed, drama is well-integrated to consolidate comprehension skills. In the senior classes, pupils make very good use of dictionaries, word games and the thesaurus to further develop their skills. The meaningful integration of reading with science activities and other subjects is particularly praiseworthy. The use of active methodologies, collaboratively planned in-class support, pictorial representation, clear communication and group work enable EAL pupils to benefit at a level appropriate to their needs during all reading lessons.
Pupils benefit from the emphasis based on the writing process and functional writing. There are impressive examples of writing in a commendable range of genres in all classrooms. Pupils write confidently and competently for a wide range of audiences. They draft and edit their work and very good use is made of ICT in some classrooms to display pupils’ stories and poems. There is some variation, however, in the standard of written presentation and penmanship. It is recommended that a whole-school approach be adopted to foster a more consistent approach in this area of English. All classrooms and circulation areas have noteworthy displays of a cross curricular nature including samples of work to celebrate the achievements and the diversity of the pupils.
The quality of teaching and learning of Mathematics is very good. The close collaboration between the class teacher and the assigned support teacher ensures effective teaching through in-class support and withdrawal where necessary. All classrooms have an appropriate number-rich environment. Mathematics areas in all classrooms encourage pupils to engage in mathematical activities during the day. It is commendable that mathematics displays are features in corridors. A positive attitude towards Mathematics is fostered throughout the school.
Mathematics lessons observed were well-organised and appropriately paced. The integration of Mathematics with Science and Geography scaffolds the transfer of vocabulary, skills and concepts and reinforces cognitive development for EAL pupils effectively. Concept acquisition is facilitated in all classrooms through the use of a wide range of concrete resources. Lessons are well designed with an array of activities while making effective use of the textbook as a resource. Mental arithmetic is an integral aspect of most lessons and well-structured discussion is employed successfully on a school-wide basis to explore a range of mathematical concepts. A particular aspect of lessons observed during the evaluation was the appropriate consolidation of the learning at the conclusion of the Mathematics lesson. This is a commendable practice.
In a number of classrooms, pair and group work was features of the lessons observed. The use of station work is commended as a means of concept development through active learning and peer interaction. In this context, EAL pupils are appropriately supported in accessing the mathematics curriculum at a cognitive level through peer tutoring. Some variation was noted in teachers’ approach to linkage across the mathematics strands. A consistent approach at whole-school level to linkages and the development of mathematics trails is recommended. This would further enhance the well-planned and effectively delivered lessons evidenced in all classrooms. Some variation in the approach to the application of problem-solving strategies was also noted during the evaluation. It is recommended that the range of strategies outlined in the school plan be adopted at class level to further enhance the many aspects of praiseworthy practice observed during the evaluation. There is a consistent approach to the monitoring of pupils’ copy books. The attainment levels of the majority of pupils in the most recent standardised tests in Mathematics are very good
A wide range of assessment instruments is employed successfully in the school. Testing is carried out systematically. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered to senior infants pupils to identify those pupils who require support in their early years. The school administers standardised tests in Mathematics and English, using the Sigma-T and Micra-T from first class upwards. In addition to these tests, the school also administers the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) to second and sixth class pupils each year. Standardised test results indicate very satisfactory pupil achievement in reading and comprehension in English.
A comprehensive special education needs (SEN) policy has been developed which clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of the resource teachers and the learning support teacher in the school. The quality of group and individual education plans is impressive. These plans provide for the social, literacy and numeracy skills that need development. The quality of provision is very good. Lessons are highly structured, well-resourced and contain an appropriate number of tasks and activities. A commendable lesson was observed where the teacher used appropriate resources to motivate the pupils to read and develop their appreciation and competence in functional literacy. This lesson developed oral language and skills effectively, used a range of interesting methodologies, and provided differentiation and assessment for the varying needs within the group. Another notable lesson included the use of ICT to revise nursery rhymes. The quality of the teaching for pupils with special educational need is very good.
Support is organised effectively to accommodate learning needs within the school. The staff has initiated a collaborative working arrangement in September 2008 where each support teacher including the EAL teacher works alongside a certain class level. The quality of documentation on pupils in receipt of supplementary support including testing, pupil profiles and records of meetings is exemplary. The support rooms are attractive and provide a secure environment for pupils. These rooms facilitate group work, circle time and provide a space for focused work. The teachers maintain a bank of useful resources that can be used in classrooms. The support teachers modify the programme to meet the pupils’ needs. Progress is carefully monitored. Pupils are making progress in accordance with their capabilities.
The school has one EAL teacher who works as part of the support team. However, as outlined above the four support staff all work with EAL pupils. There are twenty-one pupils requiring support at present and there are eight others who have received two years of support. A programme of work is in place for each pupil. Language skills are assessed using the Primary School Assessment Kit which provides a picture of the pupils’ prior learning. The profiles and the programme of work for the EAL pupils are commendable. The support staff plan alongside the class teacher and the work carried by them mirrors the work in the classroom.
The quality of support-teaching is very good. Teachers teach through the use of visual stimuli including diagrams, charts, pictures and models. However, it is recommended that greater use of the digital camera and the local environment be made to enhance the learning for EAL pupils. It was observed during the evaluation that support personnel had modified the scientific language being used in senior classes to enable the EAL pupils participate in lessons. This is a very good approach. Pair work is promoted and used effectively to support the EAL pupils in classroom settings. EAL pupils research projects in their own language on the internet before working on a project with their peers. Senior pupils with the same language as other EAL pupils provide translations for them. The teachers recognise the silent phase that the pupils undergo on first arrival to the school. Pupils, who have moved from that phase and who can now participate well in class, were identified during the evaluation. Members of the EAL team have attended initial training. The principal and the EAL co-ordinators are commended for the time and energy they devote to helping EAL parents and reporting the pupils’ progress to them.
The school avails of the services of a home school youth liaison officer and School Completion Programme personnel. Grants from the School Completion Programme are used to fund the successful after-school homework club. There are a number of pupils enrolled this year from the Traveller community. The school will soon have support from a resource teacher for Travellers who is based in another school. The school has a very inclusive ethos and ensures that all pupils are catered for adequately. Teachers endeavour to be as supportive as possible to specific family situations.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
• The principal leads and manages the school very effectively; she has a clear vision for maintaining high standards of teaching and learning.
• The board of management fulfils its role in a dedicated and committed way and it actively supports the work of the parents’ association.
• The practice of collaborative team teaching in the school is commendable.
• The quality of whole school planning is very good.
• The quality of supplementary support for all pupils is very good.
• The quality of teaching and learning in English is of very good standard.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
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
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wish to acknowledge the very positive report from the Inspectorate in relation to our school and thank the Principal and staff for their continued hard work and efforts to provide the best education possible for our pupils. We acknowledge the thorough and professional manner in which the inspection was carried out and are delighted that the whole school community has been affirmed in its work.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
In relation to the key recommendations the following steps have been taken by the school:
A common template for Cúntas Míosúil has been compiled from existing templates and adopted by all teachers.
An advisor from the PPDS has visited the school and helped the staff to consolidate and plan strategies for the development of listening and comprehension skills throughout the school. Existing resources have been gathered and collated and this area has been earmarked in our three-year curricular plan for priority development.
We have completed and/or revamped the maths trails produced by teachers and classes throughout the school and again this methodology has been given priority in our three-year maths planning.
The arrival and dismissal procedures have been discussed at staff meetings and we have already implemented a number of changes.
We are continuing with our existing strategies to improve handwriting throughout the school i.e. continued use of a common cursive handwriting scheme throughout the school; rewards for best or most improved handwriting in various classes and a continuation of our annual in-school handwriting competition. We have examined our policy and are currently developing additional strategies to improve handwriting throughout the school.