An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. Joseph’s N.S
Kilmessan, County Meath
Uimhir rolla: 04210H
Date of inspection: 10 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Joseph’s NS, Kilmessan. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. He reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St. Joseph’s NS is a six-teacher co-educational primary school under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Meath. There are 116 pupils currently enrolled. While this figure represents a reduction in enrolment since the last school report was furnished in 1997, a steady growth in numbers is noted in recent years. The characteristic ethos of the school, as stated in the school’s mission statement and as exemplified in the general atmosphere of the school, is one of seeking the holistic development of every pupil and the inculcation of pride both in themselves and their work. In addition to the four classroom teachers, the school also has the services of a three-teacher education-support team. This support team comprises one full-time learning-support teacher, one resource teacher who provides supplementary support on four days of the week and a language teacher who provides tuition for nine hours per week. Pupil attendance is correctly monitored and good levels are attained by the majority of pupils. On completion of primary school, pupils transfer to post-primary schools in Navan, Trim and Dunshaughlin.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets at least once a term. Meetings follow the suggested format outlined in the Catholic Primary School Managers’ Association Handbook. Minutes of meetings are recorded and circulated to board members. Board members discharge their duties conscientiously and are enthusiastic in seeking the best for the school. The main issues dealt with by the board relate to the maintenance and functioning of the school. The board seeks to adopt a proactive approach to dealing with such issues. Sub-committees are formed to manage maintenance projects that may arise. This system has been used effectively to oversee the recent painting and re-carpeting of the school.
The board provides funding for psychological assessments that may be required over and above the quota allocated to the school by the National Education Psychological Service. In recent times, the board has begun to play a more active role in policy development on such issues as anti-bullying, relationship and sexuality education and substance use. Committees drawn from among the board, teachers and parents have been formed to develop these policies. For future policy development and review, consideration should be given to adopting a similar approach, where appropriate and beneficial to the area under deliberation. In line with best practice, all organisational and curricular policies developed by the school should be ratified by the board of management and dates set for their formal review. Effective channels of communication exist between the board of management, the staff of the school and the parents’ association. The board has identified the main challenges facing the school as seeking to make the best possible provision for the increasing population in the area and the provision of the most appropriate support for the increasing number of non-English speaking pupils attending the school.
The in-school management team consists of a principal and two post-holders: a deputy principal and a special duties teacher. The principal has been proactive in creating a positive school climate where communication is open, collegiality is valued and members of the school community have the opportunity to contribute to decision-making. This process has ensured that procedures and practices have been put in place for the smooth running of the school and the effective management of pupils. The principal has undertaken his role in leading school planning in a conscientious manner.
The work of the post-holders is of an organisational and administrative nature and this work is undertaken diligently. The impact which an in-school management team can have on the quality of teaching and learning in curricular areas is yet to be explored. It is recommended that members of the in-school management team each assume responsibility for a curriculum area with a view to monitoring existing practices and leading developments in that area.
The teaching staff comprises the teaching principal, three other mainstream teachers and three education support teachers. Three of the current teaching staff have recently been appointed, with two of them working in a temporary capacity while two permanent teachers are on approved leave from the school. A specialist music teacher is employed from Christmas to Easter each year to support the implementation of the music curriculum. This teacher is paid from school and parent association fundraising and all pupils have access to this resource.
The three support teachers provide supplementary tuition for 33 pupils. These pupils’ needs are met both by individual and pair withdrawal and through in-class support. There is scope for this provision to be developed to incorporate the withdrawal of larger groups of pupils, particularly in terms of meeting social needs and developing literacy and numeracy skills through a social context. A special needs assistant is employed on a full-time basis. In addition to fully meeting the needs of the child to whom she is assigned, the special needs assistant plays an integral and effective role in the implementation of a shared reading scheme throughout the school. The special needs assistant is also timetabled to each class to provide assistance with art and other activities under the direction of the class teacher.
It is commendable practice in the school that the class levels being taught by teachers can change from year to year. Teachers are informed of opportunities for professional development through notices displayed in the staff room. The board of management supports such professional development. It is reported that a variety of courses have been undertaken by members of the teaching staff in recent times.
The school was constructed in 1994 and has recently been re-painted and re-carpeted. The building comprises five permanent classrooms with toilet facilities, a general purpose room with catering facilities, a learning support room, a staff room and a staff toilet. Outside facilities comprise both hard-surfaced areas and grass areas. The school is to be commended for the very well designed garden/wildlife area with many educational features that has been created in recent years. The school is very well maintained and provides a clean and safe learning environment for pupils.
A range of materials to assist learning in every curriculum area is available in the school. The school has a well-stocked library and operates a very well-resourced paired reading programme. Teacher-devised materials are in evidence in terms of both charts and worksheets. Pupils’ art work is displayed in classrooms and along corridors. A good range of materials is available to support children with special educational needs. Computers are used effectively as part of this provision.
The parents’ association works effectively and contributes to the school in terms of fundraising, overseeing maintenance projects and being part of the policy making process in such issues as anti-bullying, relationships and sexuality education and substance use. Participating in such policy formation is a relatively recent development which the parents association reports as being very worthwhile.
Relationships and communication within the school community are good. Particular attention has been paid to this issue in recent years. The parents’ association is appreciative of the efforts made by the school to develop communication, and of the good quality relationships and channels of communication that now exist. There are many examples of teachers providing guidelines to parents regarding procedures and different concepts being taught. A presentation involving all teachers was made to the general parent body on the changes resulting from the Primary School Curriculum 1999. A booklet containing school policies has recently been developed and has been distributed to all families. The school has a strong identity in the local community and contributes regularly to a local newsletter which was instigated by one of the teachers.
To facilitate communication with parents regarding their children’s progress, formal parent-teacher meetings are held annually in November and report cards are sent to parents at the end of each school year. There is evidence of careful preparation by teachers for these meetings. Teachers are available to discuss children’s progress with parents at any time, by appointment. The parents’ association has expressed a wish that parent-teacher meetings be held in January or February rather than November and that the time allocated for individual meetings be extended. They would welcome more detailed information in the school report cards and would like these cards to be issued at a time that allows sufficient opportunity for discussion with teachers before the end of the school year.
A positive, warm and caring learning environment has been created by all teachers. Pupils’ behaviour is well managed and is characterised by mutually respectful relationships. Clear and effective procedures for the supervision of pupils during recreation breaks are in place. These procedures maximise both pupil safety and enjoyment. A code of behaviour has been drawn up and this has been circulated to parents.
School planning has been undertaken on an on-going basis. All required legislative policies are in place. Curriculum planning has been undertaken in line with the roll-out of the Primary School Curriculum 1999. Some aspects of these curriculum plans are more effective than others. Where these are judged to be effective, they have been developed with a clear focus on impacting on teaching and learning in every classroom through detailing particular practices and procedures to be followed. All curriculum planning should adopt this approach. The school should also ensure that its starting point for any whole-school planning work is determined by the needs of the school as evidenced by the teachers in their day-to-day experience of teaching these subjects, the children’s attainment levels in these subjects and the extent to which the full breadth of the curriculum for each subject is being realised. It is strongly recommended that this perspective inform the school’s planning as it begins to plan in the areas of History, Geography, Music and Drama. For this planning to be effective, the school should undertake its planning within the context of a development plan. This will ensure that planning includes reviewing present practice, identifying aspects in need of development, implementing, monitoring and evaluating changes before the final plan is agreed.
School planning is co-ordinated by the principal with individual teachers volunteering to coordinate planning in some areas. Members of the in-school management team also need to take on such curriculum co-ordination roles, which will involve overseeing the planning process as outlined above.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
All teachers engage in classroom planning both of a long-term and short-term nature and this informs the teaching and learning undertaken. However, the full extent of the curriculum is not being realised by all teachers in their planning for all subjects. Not all long-term planning is linked with the school plan. Some short-term planning needs to be more cognisant of differing pupil abilities within classes. There is very good practical preparation of lessons by all teachers. Monthly progress records are compiled by all class teachers. There is scope for development in the planning undertaken by the support teachers, particularly in terms of short-term planning and the procedure for reviewing individual education plans.
All teaching is undertaken systematically by means of structured lessons which are clearly delivered and include a variety of activities. Every teacher is engaging in well-managed class teaching. Teacher questioning of pupils is of a high order. It is clear that consideration has been given by each teacher to how the two grade levels in each classroom can best be taught and the resulting practices are generally effective.
The quality of pupils’ learning is good. There is a need, however, to maximise learning through a greater cognisance of pupil ability within the classroom, the more frequent use of active learning methodologies and ensuring that provision is made for the full range of learning experiences documented in the curriculum.
Múineann na hoidí an Ghaeilge le cabhair fearais agus learáidí agus cuireann sé seo le suim na ndaltaí. Baintear úsáid as comhrá beirte agus mionagallaimh ach b’inmholta an cur chuige seo a bheith lárnach do cheachtanna chun deiseanna rialta a thabhairt do dhaltaí scileanna cumarsáide a fhorbairt. San obair ó bhéal, tá gá le níos mó dúshlán a thabhairt agus an obair a chur in oiriúint d’aois agus do chumais na ndaltaí. Ó am go ham, baintear úsaid as modh an aistriúcháin agus níor mhiste an cleachtas seo a sheachaint. Cothaítear scileanna éisteachta go sciliúil. B’fhiú, áfach, níos mó béime a chur ar scéalaíocht i ngach rang chun stór focal na ndaltaí a leathnú agus chun rithim agus fuaimeanna na Gaeilge a chur ar a gcluasa. Is éifeachtach an cleachtadh atá le feiceáil maidir le foghlaim na filíochta de ghlanmheabhair.
Tá gá le timpeallacht litearthachta níos saibhre a chruthú chun na daltaí a ullmhú don léitheoireacht. B’fhiú teacht ar chomhthuiscint i measc na foirne maidir leis na cleachtais is éifeachtúla chun bunscileanna na léitheoireachta a fhorbairt. Tugtar deiseanna do dhaltaí scileanna scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt agus tá samplaí d’obair cruthaitheach le feiceáil. Is inmholta an cleachtadh atá le sonrú sna ardranganna maidir le litreacha a scríobh chuig peann cháirde. Is mór an tacaíocht don scríbhneoireacht agus don chaint an córas nua atá sa scoil faoina gcoimeádann gach dalta ó na meanranganna go dtí na hardranganna leabhar nótaí do frásaí de réir mar a fhoghlaimíonn siad iad. Cuireann seo go mór le leanúnachas a chothú san fhoghlaim. B’fhiú anois na caighdeáin scríbhneoireachta lena bhfuiltear ag súil ag gach rangleibhéal a shoiléiriú.
The teaching of Irish is undertaken using a variety of resources which impacts positively on pupil interest. Use is made of pair and dialogue work but this practice needs to characterise all lessons to a greater degree, so that pupils have regular opportunities to develop their communication skills. In oral work, there is a need to set sufficiently challenging tasks that take account of the pupils’ ages and levels of ability. From time to time, there is a tendency to use translation as a teaching methodology and this should be avoided. While receptive language skills are skilfully fostered, greater use of story-telling in each class would enrich pupils’ vocabulary and develop familiarity with the rhythms and sounds of the spoken language. Effective practice with regard to learning rhymes and poems is evident.
The development of a print-rich environment as a preparation for reading could be enhanced. It would be beneficial to review and develop a shared understanding to the promotion of early reading skills. Opportunities are provided for the development of writing skills and examples of the children’s creative work are displayed. A pen-friend scheme is in operation in the senior classes. The newly developed practice of maintaining notebooks of phrases to scaffold both oral and written work in the middle classes is a valuable resource for pupils as they move into the senior classes. This will assist greatly with continuity of learning. There is scope to clarify the standards of writing being expected at each class level.
The overall quality of teaching and learning in English is good. Provision is made for the systematic teaching of oral language skills. However, more frequent use of structured pair activity and group-work across the curriculum is necessary to maximise and enrich oral language development. There is also a need for teachers to develop a greater awareness of the appropriate standard of oral language to be achieved at each class level and for this to inform their teaching across the curriculum.
Class-readers, novels, a paired-reading programme and library books are used in the teaching of reading. The use of class readers however needs to be more cognisant of the varying abilities within the classroom. The paired-reading programme is very well managed and popular with the pupils. As part of the paired-reading programme, a comprehensive individual progress record is maintained for each child, to which parents contribute. Useful guidance is provided by the school to parents with regard to hearing their children read. To support the development of early reading skills, there is scope to expand the print-rich environment to include phrases and sentences as well as words, and there is a need to develop language experience charts. While there is some variety in the follow-up activities that are used to enhance learning experiences through the reading of novels, there is scope for further development in this aspect of the work.
While the teaching of spelling is a regular feature of the programme of work, further attention to the development of specific strategies to assist pupils in spelling words they encounter during writing activities will lead to greater independence for younger pupils. Punctuation, grammar and penmanship are taught systematically throughout the school. In the teaching of creative writing, attention is paid to expanding pupils’ vocabulary and the application of punctuation and grammar rules already learnt. There is a need for all teachers to develop the pupils’ abilities to structure sentences so that there is a continuum of progression in terms of complexity and accuracy of language from the junior to the senior classes. This explicit teaching of sentence structure should also be expanded into other curricular areas so that, according as the children progress through the school, their written work in the various curricular areas becomes increasingly characterised by the conventions of that curriculum area.
A structured and balanced programme is in place for the teaching of Mathematics, and in general the quality of teaching and learning in this curricular area is good. Whole-class teaching is the main method of instruction, supported by individual assistance as pupils complete their written assignments. This teaching is delivered clearly, is well-paced and is encouraging of pupils’ efforts. Visual stimuli are used effectively to support teaching and learning. In general, pupils are progressing well in all areas of Mathematics. However, greater cognisance needs to be taken of the range of pupils’ ability levels within classes, particularly in the middle and senior classes. To this end, greater differentiation in learning activities would be helpful. The use of concrete materials and active learning methodologies, such as pair-work, are managed well in classes. There is scope, however, for their further development, particularly in terms of deepening conceptual understanding, and consolidating and making connections between concepts learnt. A more explicit focus on language in mathematics lessons will also assist in this regard.
A large part of the History programme is drawn from a series of textbooks that is used throughout the school. Some very good local history work has been noted. According as the school now begins to plan on a whole-school basis for the teaching and learning of History, there is a need to discuss the extent to which current practice reflects the full breadth of the curriculum, in terms of developing research skills, and addressing all aspects of the programme at all class levels.
Some very good local Geography work was in evidence. Good quality project work has been done as part of the school’s participation in the EU Socrates-Comenius programme. However, for the most part, Geography is text-book based. Active learning methodologies and a greater focus on the locality need to characterise the teaching and learning of Geography to a greater degree.
A greater and more effective use of visual stimuli should be incorporated into lessons. According as the school now begins to plan on a whole-school basis for the teaching and learning of Geography, there is a need to discuss the extent to which current practice reflects the full breadth of the curriculum, particularly in terms of the range of sources that are used and the variety of learning experiences that are provided.
While a school plan for Science has been put in place, not all classes are implementing the two year programme described therein. For the most part the teaching of Science is textbook-based. There is provision in teachers’ planning for experiments to be undertaken, and teachers demonstrate scientific concepts in classrooms. There is a need, however, for pupils to engage in experimental work themselves and to develop their understanding of scientific concepts through personal discovery. Attention needs to be paid to the extent to which the science programme being implemented reflects the full breadth of the curriculum.
A balanced programme in Visual Arts is being implemented. There is evidence of very good practical preparation for lessons in this aspect of the curriculum. Some very good discussion during looking and responding activities was observed but this needs to be expanded on a systematic basis throughout the school. While pupils’ work is celebrated through display, consideration could be given to using these displays to further exploit learning opportunities associated with the themes explored in the art-work.
Pupils engage enthusiastically with the music curriculum. The children sing well and play the tin whistle with an appropriate awareness of pattern and rhythm. Some very good work in the listening and responding strand was observed and it was clear that pupils were developing their ability to listen to, understand and discuss features of excerpts of music presented. The school employs a music teacher during the second term. According as the school begins to put a whole-school plan in place for Music, consideration needs to be given to how the practices of each teacher contribute to the delivery of a cohesive music programme.
Provision is being made for the teaching and learning of Drama. Techniques such as ‘hot-seating’ and ‘teacher-in-role’ are used effectively as methodologies for lending an affective dimension to learning in a range of curricular areas. The current school year sees the nationwide delivery of in-service training in the teaching and learning of Drama. This will be of great assistance to St. Joseph’s in terms of enriching the provision it makes for teaching and learning of this subject.
Physical Education (PE) is taught on a regular basis. Teacher planning indicates that a balanced curriculum is delivered and that lessons are well-prepared, with appropriate resources being used. Pupils are well managed during PE lessons. Attention is paid to accurate skill development, enjoyment and participation by all. Parents fund swimming lessons that enhance the variety of leaning experiences for pupils. Opportunities are also provided for pupils to participate in a range of extra-curricular sporting activities that include competitions in hurling, football and soccer. A well-managed soccer scheme, open to both boys and girls, is implemented during the recreation breaks. This helps to maximise pupils’ physical activity during such breaks.
The school provides a positive learning environment for pupils and relationships among pupils, and between pupils and teachers, are characterised by mutual respect. The school has developed a two-year programme for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) that informs the planning of some teachers. There is a need for all teacher-planning to be informed by this two-year plan. While a series of textbooks acts as the main source for teaching and learning in SPHE, some teachers make use of a range of resources to enrich provision. Class discussion is the main methodology used for teaching and learning in SPHE. This discussion is well managed and encouraging of pupil participation and effort. In lessons observed, however, there was a need for teachers to set clearer learning objectives for such discussion and to structure lessons to better maximise and enrich pupil participation. To this end, the full range of methodologies mentioned in the curriculum needs to be incorporated into the teaching and learning of this subject.
A range of assessment modes is evident in the school. In addition to teacher observation and teacher-designed tests, standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered to all pupils from first class to sixth class. The Middle Infant Screening Test is administered to pupils in senior infants. It is planned to start using the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) with pupils in second class. The outcomes of the standardised tests are recorded and stored centrally. In line with good practice, the results from previous years are also retained in individual pupil profiles. These profiles are well organised and regularly updated, and they include a copy of the report sent to parents at the end of the school year and samples of the pupil’s work. Some teachers also maintain individual pupil profiles containing the results of class tests which are a useful resource for parent teacher meetings.
While there is evidence that the progress of individual pupils in receipt of learning support is tracked through analysing the outcome of assessment tests, it is less clear that these results are being analysed from the perspective of identifying trends and possible areas for development in the teaching and learning of English and Mathematics within the school generally. The outcomes of such standardised tests also need to more systematically inform teaching and learning in the classroom particularly in terms of adapting classroom content and methodologies to take cognisance of different pupil abilities.
Copy-books are generally well presented and monitored, with comments by teachers being particularly effective. The commendable practice of inviting the parents of pupils with special needs to document the strengths and interests of their children could be extended to the pupil population as a whole and also encompass the pupil’s own perspective.
A positive, nurturing approach is taken to the teaching of pupils with special educational needs. Some activities are challenging and appropriate to the identified needs of pupils. However, attention needs to be paid to the extent to which the range of needs identified in psychological assessment reports are being provided for in the individual learning programmes in the form of time-bound learning targets that are being addressed in a systematic way on a weekly basis. Support teachers have been pro-active in gathering information from parents regarding their children’s strengths and needs. The pupils themselves could also make a useful contribution to their own personal profiles. Support teachers need to ensure that the information provided is incorporated into their learning plans for these pupils.
All pupils in receipt of additional support are being withdrawn on an individual or pair basis. Careful consideration is given to the lessons pupils are withdrawn from, in order to ensure that in individual cases it is not always the same subject. Pupils in the infant and senior classes also receive in-class support. There is scope for expanding upon this provision to include in-class support at all class levels, as well as withdrawal in larger groups which would make better provision for the structured development and application of social skills.
Communication between support teachers and class teachers is characterised by openness and interest in the pupils’ progress. Some teachers have made their planning available to the support teachers. This practice should be reciprocated and adopted throughout the school. Where this happens, there is greater scope to provide a co-ordinated learning programme for the pupils involved. A particular consideration within this approach would be the extent to which support teachers can initiate, develop and/or consolidate the actual learning activities being undertaken by the children in the classroom. Pupils’ progress in these learning activities should be jointly reviewed by the class teacher and the support teacher on a frequent basis.
Ten pupils are in receipt of additional language support. Four of these pupils are new to the school. Communication between class teachers and the language teacher is in evidence. There is scope to develop this further with the aim of creating a co-ordinated language programme for these pupils. Such a co-ordinated language programme would more specifically target the language demands facing the pupils in following the class programmes. The school avails of the Giving Children an Even Break grant and teachers are sensitive to isolated incidents of disadvantage that may arise.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a very positive and collegiate atmosphere in the school underpinned by effective, enthusiastic and hard-working teachers.
· Classroom teaching is well structured and well managed. Lessons are suitably paced and the quality of teacher questioning is good.
· Teachers interact with pupils in a positive way and all pupils are encouraged to work to the best of their ability and to take pride in themselves and in their school. Pupil- behaviour is well managed and this is integral to creating the purposeful and well-organised learning environment that characterises St. Joseph’s.
· The variety of sources used within the English reading programme and the comprehensive recording of pupils’ progress contribute significantly to the very good attainment levels in English reading.
· Channels of communication between the school, the board of management and the parents are characterised by openness and a willingness to consider change.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Classroom teaching needs to be more cognisant of varying pupil abilities and needs to encompass a broader range of learning experiences.
· The planning and the implementation of special education provision within the school needs to more specifically target individual pupils’ learning needs.
· Provision for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) needs to be reviewed in order to reflect the full extent of the curriculum.
· Curriculum planning should focus to a greater degree on making a difference to teaching and learning within the school, particularly in terms of addressing identified school needs and implementing and monitoring the effectiveness of planning decisions made. All members of the in-school management team should assume responsibility for co-ordinating planning for specific aspects of the curriculum.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.