An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Saint Mary’s National School

Edgeworthstown Co Longford

Uimhir rolla: 20124 G

 

Date of inspection: 10 November 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 St Mary’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 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

 

St Mary’s National School is a co-educational primary school in the rapidly growing village of Edgeworthstown in County Longford. The school was established following the amalgamation of the local boys’ and girls’ school in 2000. Pupil enrolments in the school have almost doubled over the past three years, resulting from large scale housing development in the village. The increased pupil numbers includes a significant proportion of pupils for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL). 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

26

Number of mainstream class teachers

14

Total number of teachers working in support roles

6

Number of language support teachers

5

Special needs assistants

3

Total number of pupils enrolled in the school

372

Number of pupils with English as an additional language

99

 

1.             Quality of school management

 

1.1         Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

 

The school operates under the patronage of the Catholic bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. In its mission statement, the school promotes Christian values and commits to the holistic development of pupils and staff in a respectful, happy, safe and caring environment. The school’s policies refer explicitly to inclusion of pupils from a diversity of backgrounds and there is a commendable emphasis on integration of all pupils into the school community.

 

1.2         Board of management

 

The work of the board of management is commendable. The board is correctly constituted and members have been assigned specific areas of responsibility. Meetings are convened frequently and financial records are certified by an independent professional. The board has been particularly proactive in managing safety issues, inclusion, interculturalism, school expansion and accommodation needs. Members of the board have recently undergone training with regard to their role. The board has supported the continuing professional development of some teachers in relation to EAL and other areas of the curriculum. Board members are well-informed with regard to the educational provision and achievement levels within the school. The board has embraced the diversity of its pupils and cites this diversity as a strength of the school.

 

1.3         In-school management

 

The quality of leadership in the school is very effective. The principal is highly visible in all school activities and she provides leadership and motivation for pupils, staff and the school community. She communicates high expectations and fosters co-operation among the staff. The principal plays a key role in the enrolment and assessment of EAL pupils to ensure that their language needs are matched to available resources. The in-school management team also consists of two deputy principals, three assistant principals and eight special duties teachers. The members of the in-school management team fulfil a range of duties which have been prioritised for the effective running of the school. The in-school management team meets regularly and assists the principal very effectively. Collectively and in their individual roles, members of the in-school management team contribute very effectively to the co-ordinated provision of support for EAL pupils. The principal and the in-school management team communicate well with the school community and with relevant outside agencies.

 

1.4         The management of resources

 

The management of staff is commendable. The secretary, caretaker and the special needs assistants carry out their duties very conscientiously. Among the teaching staff, there is evidence of teamwork and collaboration between those with similar duties. By pooling their expertise and sharing tasks, members of the special education team serve the needs of the EAL pupils very well in a co-ordinated manner through the withdrawal model and some in-class support.

 

The quality of accommodation is adequate. The rapid expansion of the school population has created challenges with regard to classroom accommodation and many classes are now accommodated in prefabricated buildings in various locations around the school site. The board of management is very concerned about the accommodation provision and is rigorously pursuing its existing application for a new school.

 

The management of resources is very good. The school has built up and catalogued a useful stock of resources to support the teaching of Mathematics, English, EAL and special education. These resources are shared among teachers and are used effectively in lessons. In the school foyer and in some classrooms, there are intercultural displays, pupils’ home country flags, multilingual greetings and pictorial representations of commonly used terms. It is recommended that this good practice be further extended throughout the school.

 

1.5         Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

The quality of parental involvement in the life of the school is laudable. The board has supported the recent establishment of a parents’ association. This association is hoping to involve more EAL parents in its activities. The school communicates well with parents and with the wider school community and simplified text is frequently used to make newsletters accessible to parents of EAL pupils. It is recommended that consideration be given to translation of some documents into some of the common home languages of these EAL parents. English lessons for parents have been available for EAL parents through local organisations but uptake has been slow. Parents support the work of the school directly through involvement in initiatives such as shared reading, mathematics games, sports training and transport provision. The DEIS rural co-ordinator encourages parental involvement through her work with parents.

 

1.6         Management of pupils

 

The management of pupils is very effective and a co-operative and respectful atmosphere was noted in all classrooms. Classroom rules and the schools’ code of discipline outline a positive approach to behaviour. All members of the in-school management team carry out their pastoral duties very conscientiously and this maximises pupils’ inclusion in a variety of school activities such as religious services, intercultural events, Seachtain na Gaeilge, international week, the saving scheme and the Green Schools competition. EAL pupils are placed in age-appropriate classes and their integration into school life is encouraged by their teachers and peers.

 

2.             Quality of school planning

 

2.1         Quality of whole-school planning

 

The quality of whole-school planning is very good. A comprehensive, user-friendly school plan defines administrative and curricular practice across the school. The views of all partners are considered when administrative policies are being drafted. Completed policies are ratified by the board of management and are disseminated appropriately to relevant parties. The administrative section of the plan contains clear, focused policies, which comply with statutory and regulatory requirements and contribute to the efficient, successful running of the school.

 

All teachers are involved in the compilation of a whole-school plan for the different curricular areas and each one is furnished with a personal copy. The curriculum plans for English and Mathematics are well structured and outline school policy regarding methodologies, use of resources, assessment and support for pupils with special educational needs. An action plan for cyclical review and revision of policies would further enhance the effectiveness of the school plan.

 

2.2         Quality of whole-school planning for EAL

 

Focused planning for EAL is evident in the school plan. The policies on enrolment, interculturalism and anti racism affirm the school’s principles of inclusiveness, equality and respect for diversity. Appropriate criteria for selection of reading schemes, books and other resources are chronicled to accommodate positive portrayal of diverse cultural and ethnic perspectives and to preclude discrimination. A discrete policy on EAL outlines procedures for assessing the individual needs of pupils and for providing appropriate supplementary language support to enable each pupil achieve maximum benefit from the curriculum and to participate fruitfully in all aspects of school life. Considerations for an intercultural approach to mainstream teaching of each curriculum subject are also documented.

 

2.3         Quality of classroom planning including planning for EAL

 

The quality of teachers’ classroom planning is very good and reflects a high level of commitment and professionalism. All teachers prepare long-term and short-term planning for their teaching and they maintain comprehensive monthly progress records. The careful alignment of classroom planning to the whole-school curriculum plans is commendable. A common template for short-term schemes is used widely throughout the school. It is suggested that the inclusion of an additional section in this template, to accommodate clearer specification of learning objectives, should be considered. The positive impact of well-structured planning is evident in the high quality of teaching observed in the curriculum areas evaluated.

 

All planning for supplementary teaching is undertaken collaboratively by the relevant support and mainstream teachers. This ensures that areas where language deficit may impede pupils’ learning are targeted and addressed effectively in advance by EAL teachers. It is recommended that, in addition to contributing to the planning for supplementary support, mainstream teachers would include more specific reference to differentiation in their short-term classroom planning.

 

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 in English is very good. Lessons are presented skilfully with clear explanations, effective questioning and affirmation of pupils’ work. In all classrooms, pupils are exposed to a print rich learning environment comprising classroom displays, class libraries and language resources. Lessons foster participation of all pupils, including EAL pupils. English lessons are structured to facilitate social development among pupils and to equip newcomer pupils with the specialised vocabulary to learn in other subjects. Effective in-class support for English is provided by members of the special education team in a number of classrooms and there is a willingness among teachers to extend this practice to more classrooms. Further planning of differentiated group activities by mainstream class teachers would maximise the opportunities for co-ordinated in-class provision and for team teaching.

 

Oral language skills are fostered and promoted purposefully through the use of structured programmes and the encouragement of pupil contributions during lessons. Resources are used purposefully to stimulate oral responses. Pupils’ responses are affirmed, extended and incorporated into the lessons. Listening skills are developed appropriately and pupils are encouraged to listen carefully to their peers and teachers while they engage in class discussion.

 

Reading skills are developed in an age-appropriate manner in each classroom. The school’s approach to phonemic awareness, phonics, word attack skills, spelling and handwriting demonstrates continuity and consistency. Pupils have access to suitable and age-appropriate reading material in a variety of genres. Pupils’ class readers and novels are carefully matched to their abilities and interests and their progress in reading is monitored and recorded.

 

Writing skills are fostered effectively at all class levels. In addition to functional writing and comprehension exercises, pupils are encouraged to write in a range of genres and to write for various audiences. Pupils in some classrooms engage in the writing process by drafting and redrafting their own stories before presenting the finished product. It is recommended that pupils are encouraged to edit their own work in the remaining classrooms.

 

The quality of pupils’ learning in English is commendable. Assessment data indicate that pupils from all backgrounds are progressing well in English, relative to the length of time they have spent in the school. Pupils, including EAL pupils, engage well in oral discussion and express their opinions with a good level of confidence and clarity relative to their linguistic backgrounds. Throughout the school, pupils demonstrate very good sight vocabulary, word attack skills and phonemic awareness. Pupils read coherently and they demonstrate good comprehension of their reading material. High quality written work was noted in all classrooms and there is evidence that this work is carefully monitored and celebrated. Some final drafts of written work are presented through the medium of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Pupils explore and memorise and recite a variety of suitable poems at all class levels.

 

3.2         Mathematics

 

The quality of teaching in Mathematics is very good. A broad variety of teaching methodologies is utilised and an appropriate emphasis is placed on activity and discovery learning. Some very stimulating mathematical activities are organised to reinforce concepts. These activities are skilfully linked to pupils’ familiar environments and experiences. In some cases, their effectiveness could be improved through group work as opposed to the whole-class format. At infant level, early mathematical activities are integrated very successfully into free play and at middle and senior standards good progress is achieved in the consolidation of number facts through mathematical games. The vocabulary of Mathematics is well taught throughout the school and the maths-rich environment, evident in most classes, effectively reinforces the teaching of the subject. Commendable use is made of concrete materials and they are most effective where pupils are afforded opportunities to interact with them individually and in small groups. While EAL pupils are involved in all lessons, an increased emphasis on differentiation would further enhance their participation. It is therefore recommended that differentiation become a central feature of teaching and learning in Mathematics.

 

The quality of pupils’ learning in Mathematics is very good. Throughout the school pupils’ ability to recall number facts, to perform mental and written computation, to estimate, to solve problems and to explain the processes they employ in their mathematical work is good. In most cases pupils’ use the language of Mathematics accurately and their attainments in standardised tests are very good. Under the direction of the rural co-ordinator for disadvantage, Maths For Fun is organised for one class each year. Preliminary training sessions are organised for the parents who volunteer to assist with the implementation of the programme. One of these sessions was observed during the evaluation and the enthusiasm of the parents involved is commendable. The school is praised for the positive attitude to Mathematics that was very evident during the classroom visits.

 

3.3         Assessment

 

The quality of assessment is very good. Assessment of learning in the school is very well developed. All mainstream classes utilise a range of assessment for learning strategies, including portfolios and self-assessment, and in some cases assessment for learning was an integral part of lessons observed. The school should now consider updating the section on informal testing in their policy on assessment and evaluation in order to incorporate the good practice in assessment for learning evident throughout the school. Each teacher maintains clear records of class based assessments and at school level the results of the standardised and the non-reading intelligence tests are tabulated to enable comparison between each pupil’s attainments in English, Mathematics and non-reading intelligence. This good practice should be further developed to facilitate tracking children’s progress from class to class. The school has established procedures to report children’s results in standardised tests to their parents in line with the requirements of circular 0138 / 2006. Very commendable use is made of test results to inform teaching and learning in support classes. The special educational needs teachers, in conjunction with mainstream class teachers, also conduct a very worthwhile comparison between children’s attainments in standardised tests and the results of teacher observation and teacher-designed tests conducted throughout the year. The staff should now utilise this data to inform the process of differentiation in mainstream classes.

 

The language ability of EAL pupils is assessed on enrolment both informally by the principal and formally using the Assessment of Pupils’ Levels of Language Proficiency. Results of this test are tabulated and utilised to guide language support for the pupil. The language support team is currently exploring methods of re-assessing pupils’ language competency following a period of language support.

 

4.             Quality of supports for pupils

 

4.1         Pupils with special educational needs

 

The quality of support for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) is very good. The school has a well organised system in place to support pupils with SEN. This system is characterised by a strong sense of teamwork amongst the SEN teachers and the school is praised for the consistent approach to programme planning and implementation adopted by the support teachers. In line with the Learning-Support Guidelines (Department of Education and Science 2000) a strong emphasis is placed on early intervention and support is set within a specific time frame. At the end of each instructional term SEN pupils are assessed and support programmes are adapted to reflect assessment outcomes. While valuable informal contact occurs regularly between mainstream class teachers and support teachers, the school should now consider scheduling a formal meeting between class teachers and support teachers assigned to their classes in order to maximise the link between support programmes and class programmes. A range of support models is utilised in the school and teachers are commended on their initiatives in the in-class support work. They are encouraged to extend the in-class support in the context of increased emphasis on differentiated group-work throughout the school. The SEN teachers are also beginning to facilitate high-achieving pupils in literacy and Mathematics. The staff is encouraged to investigate ways of extending this good practice throughout the school. The quality of teaching and learning in special educational needs settings is very good and is informed by clear objective-based planning. Teacher-pupil interaction is positive and affirming. The school has a dedicated unit for children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) and currently one pupil is enrolled. This unit makes effective provision for her needs. In order to ensure a broad and balanced curriculum delivery in the unit, it is recommended that objectives contained in the long-term plans for all curricular subjects be reflected to a greater extent in the weekly targets.

 

 

4.2         Pupils with English as an additional language

 

The initial language assessment of EAL pupils is very effective in matching learning needs to available resource teaching. High quality planning and effective record keeping enables support to be targeted on specific goals such as building vocabulary to enable EAL pupils access the curriculum in Mathematics and Social Environmental and Scientific Education. The quality of support teaching is very good and pupils are making good progress in their social and curriculum English. EAL pupils present themselves confidently and speak highly of their school experience. The school is committed to the ongoing assessment of EAL pupils in the four language functions; listening, speaking, reading and writing.

 

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

 

Among its enrolment, the school serves the needs of a diversity of minority groups, pupils from the Traveller community and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The school participates in the rural DEIS initiative and a rural co-ordinator, based in the school for two days per week, supports these pupils. In addition, the school deploys its resource teacher for Travellers and its language support teachers very effectively to foster integration. Initiatives, such as the homework club organised in the nearby childcare centre in co-operation with the school, provide valuable educational support to some of the pupils from minority and disadvantaged groups. The school uses various grants to ensure that the resource and material needs of disadvantaged pupils are met with discretion and dignity.

 

5.             Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

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.