An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

                                                                                                                                       REPORT

 

Our Lady of Mercy NS,

Bantry, County Cork

Uimhir rolla: 09161W

 

Date of inspection:  3 March 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Our Lady of Mercy NS, Bantry, Co. Cork. 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 inspectors 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 inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation, the inspectors provided oral feedback 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.

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

Our Lady of Mercy N.S. is a Convent Catholic school under the trusteeship of the Mercy Order in the rural, seaside town of Bantry in West Cork.  The school was built in 1977 and additional prefabricated classrooms were added in 1984 and 1999, respectively. The patron of the school is the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross and it caters for boys from junior infants to first class and girls from junior infants to sixth class. Education for children aged four to eighteen with moderate, severe and profound general learning disabilities is provided for in two additional special classes. The ethos of the school is Catholic but children from other denominations and those who are non-denominational are also welcome to attend.

Enrolment figures have risen consistently in recent years and this trend is set to continue in the immediate term. Currently, there are 271 pupils enrolled and attendance rates compare favourably with national trends. There are 15 teachers in the school including an administrative principal, nine mainstream classroom teachers, four support teachers and two special-class teachers. Additional staff includes eight special needs assistants, a full-time secretary, a full-time caretaker and a part-time cleaner.

A number of international children attend Our Lady of Mercy and bring diversity and added value to the school community. They were observed to have integrated fully into the school community and were positively engaged in all aspects of school life.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

 

The board of management of Our Lady of Mercy N.S. is properly constituted, meets regularly and displays a clear understanding of its role and responsibilities. Correct procedures are adhered to, minutes of meetings are carefully recorded and the financial affairs of the board are effectively managed. Board accounts are audited annually in line with recommended Departmental accountability procedures and best practice.

The board is actively involved in the development of the school plan and in articulating a shared understanding of the organisational, curricular and pastoral objectives of the school community. All policies are subject to regular review in line with evolving school needs and changing circumstances and this process is underpinned by dialogue and meaningful partnership. A high level of compliance with regard to legislation and departmental guidelines exists in relation to the work of this effective school board.

The board is acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities that exist in the unique context of its school and its community. Individual members bring a wealth of experience and professional expertise to bear on board deliberations and the decision making process. They expressed their unequivocal satisfaction with the work of the principal and staff and with the achievement levels of pupils.

The current priorities of the board to replace side doors and cladding install a fire alarm system and update the school’s code of behaviour in line with new National Education Welfare Board guidelines are a positive reflection of their professional approach and effective strategic vision. Departmental approval for emergency funding for the work outlined above was confirmed during the course of the whole-school evaluation.

 

2.2 In-school management

 

Since her appointment in 2005 as the first lay person to lead the school the principal has effectively managed a period of significant change in Our Lady of Mercy N.S. She exhibits a facilitative and empowering leadership style and exerts a positive influence on all aspects of the life of the school community. A positive school climate enhances the work of individual teachers and mutual support and teamwork were observed in the context of collaborative planning between teachers with parallel classes as well as a willingness to share expertise and resources.

The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal, one assistant principal and five special duties post-holders. There is an excellent mix of organisational, pastoral and curricular duties ascribed to the roles of each person. The team is highly conscious of its leadership responsibilities and has been most successful in disseminating and implementing curricular polices that impact very positively on the quality of teaching and learning in the school.

 The in-school management team facilitates the smooth day-to-day administration and organisation of general school activities and there is a very discernible sense of good order and a commendable work ethic within the school community.

  

2.3 Management of resources

 

The effective deployment of teachers and other personnel is a commendable aspect of the principal’s work. Staff rotation policies are fair and transparent and serve the best interests of the pupils. Staff members are to be commended for their positive attitude to continuous professional development and for engagement with a range of in-service opportunities in support of identified school needs.

Eight special needs’ assistants provide invaluable assistance to and work in close collaboration with their teaching colleagues in support of pupils with special educational needs.

A full-time secretary provides excellent administrative and secretarial support to the principal and staff and a full-time caretaker ensures a high level of maintenance internally and externally in the school.

The board of management remains pro-active in the context of resource allocation in support of teaching and learning and also with regard to minor and longer term maintenance matters.

A development plan exists which has identified and prioritised future infrastructural concerns.

All classrooms are well resourced and a considerable investment has been made in providing interactive whiteboards in the majority of classrooms. These were observed to be used to good effect in support of teaching and learning in a range of curricular areas.

Classrooms, corridors and circulation areas within the school are well maintained and attractively decorated with art and project work. These exhibits show progression and continuity between classes and provide a stimulating and attractive environment for learning.

Outdoor facilities are well maintained but limited in scope given the current enrolment.

High levels of morale were observed at all levels within the school and leadership is distributed effectively throughout the school community.

  

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

The quality of relationships within the school community is exemplary. Home school relationships are actively promoted through a range of religious, sporting and community events. Parents are regularly informed of their children’s progress through informal communication and written end of year reports. The  parents’ association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council (NPC), plays an active role in supporting the work of the school, engaging in necessary fundraising and providing an organising and supervisory role in a range of co-curricular school events.

The inspectors met with members of the parents’ association in the course of the whole-school evaluation and they expressed satisfaction with the quality of teaching and learning and with the general levels of pupil attainment. Parents are fully supportive of the board, the principal and staff and are active partners in the education of their children.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

 

All partners in the educational process are to be complimented for creating a positive climate for teaching and learning. Pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil relationships were observed to be extremely positive and a safe and secure environment for learning exists within the school. Pupils are encouraged to participate actively in classes through the effective use of interactive teaching methods.

A very pleasant working atmosphere was observed during the course of the evaluation and pupils display age-appropriate levels of confidence and maturity and an impressive sense of  pride in their achievements.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

Under the guidance of the principal, an impressive school plan addressing all relevant curricular and organisational areas, has been collaboratively devised. Documents presented for evaluation were relevant to the unique context of the school and impacted positively on planning at individual teacher level. A partnership approach is used to devise, ratify and approve all planning documents and the board displays an appropriate awareness of its statutory obligations in this regard.

The school plan has been effectively disseminated throughout the school community and all partners and stakeholders share a common understanding of key organisational, curricular and pastoral policies and practices.

 

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.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

 

Classroom planning in the school reflects teacher awareness of the whole school curricular plans and of the principles of the primary curriculum. Meaningful correlation with the overall learning outcomes of the school was evident in the majority of the individual teacher planning documentation presented for evaluation. Aims, objectives, content and methodologies, the application of school resources, assessment practices and integration are all outlined in planning documents. A detailed monthly progress report is kept by all teachers. This critical information is used by the principal to ensure continuity and progression in the context of teaching and learning and to facilitate the effective delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

 

The teachers in Our Lady of Mercy N.S. are committed, professional practitioners and the quality of teaching within each class is high. Teachers were observed giving clear instructions with regard to learning objectives, using a variety of age-appropriate methodologies and making effective use of a broad range of appropriate resources.

Engagement with pupils in each class presented a clear picture of achievement and the ability of pupils in this school to communicate and present their prior learning was impressive.

Standards of literacy and numeracy were commensurate with pupils’ age and the breadth and balance of the curriculum was reflected in their achievements.

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Cuirtear béim le moladh ar theagasc na Gaeilge sa scoil trí cheachtanna a chur in láthair go bríomhar agus go haidhmiúil.

Sonraítear atmaisféar fabhrach don Ghaeilge sa scoil agus bhí leanúnachas na h-oibre ó rang go rang le moladh. Úsáidtear modhanna múinte an-spreagúla chun na ceachtanna a chur i bhfeidhm agus bunaítear an t-ábhar foghlama ar théamaí a bhaineann le saol agus le timpeallacht na ndaltaí. Léiríonn formhór na ndaltaí tuiscint an-oiriúnach ar Ghaeilge bhunúsach agus cuirtear béim inmholta ar ionchur teanga soiléir sna ceachtanna.

Léann formhór na ndaltaí go cruinn agus le dea-fhoghraíocht. Forbraítear cumas cainte na ndaltaí go leanúnach sna ranganna éagsúla agus bhí caighdeán na scríbhneoireachta ar chaighdeán a bhí an-oiriúnach d’aois na ndaltaí.

Déantar na ceachtanna a chomhtháthú leis an ndrámaíocht agus aithrisíonn daltaí i roinnt ranganna cnuasach deas filíochta go taitneamhach. Canann na daltaí amhráin tri Ghaeilge go fonnmhar agus baintear taitneamh as an damhsa gaelach sna h-ardranganna.

Chun breis forbartha a dhéanamh ar shaibhreas teanga na ndaltaí b’fhiú deiseanna labhartha sa bhreis a chleachtadh go rialta agus breis bhéime a chur ar na tréimhsí cumarsáideacha sna ceachtanna.

 

Irish

 The teaching of Irish is given praiseworthy emphasis by presenting lively and purposeful classes. A favourable attitude to the language was observed and the continuity of learning between classes was commendable. Highly appropriate teaching methodologies are used and subject material is based on themes which relate to the lives and the environment of the pupils. The majority of pupils display a very acceptable knowledge of basic Irish and new language input is given commendable emphasis in all classes.

The majority of pupils read fluently and with clarity. Language proficiency is developed incrementally across the classes and the standard of written work was clearly commensurate with pupil age.

Irish is integrated with Drama to good effect and in some classes pupils recite a range of poetry

with enthusiasm. Pupils sing Irish songs enthusiastically and Irish dance is enjoyed by the senior classes.

To develop further the language proficiency of pupils it would be worthwhile to provide additional opportunities for spoken Irish on a regular basis and to place a greater emphasis on the communicative stages of the lessons.

 

English

Good standards are evident in the teaching and learning of English in Our Lady of Mercy N.S. Stimulating print-rich environments were the norm in classroom settings and the majority of  pupils were observed to be confident and articulate. Standardised test results reflect age-appropriate levels of attainment in literacy. Oral development as a key learning objective was given appropriate attention across the curriculum. Poetry is used as an effective mechanism of language exploration and development in many classrooms.  Reading is taught effectively and the progressive development of basic reading skills and fluency is evident throughout the school. Phonological awareness is developed consistently in the junior classes using the ‘Jolly Phonics’ programme and this structured progressive approach is evident in the growing fluency in older pupils. Class libraries are well stocked and attractive reading areas are a feature of many classrooms. Close links are maintained with the local library and a continuous supply of suitable books for readers is made available at all class levels. Shared reading takes place in most classes and records are kept to ensure that pupils read a number of books each year. Class novels are used judiciously in some classes to further enhance the reading opportunities given to all pupils. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the writing process. Written work is carefully monitored, edited and published in many classes and the functional elements of grammar, spelling and punctuation  are given due attention. Attractive examples of pupils’ writing in a variety of genres, including poetry adorn corridors circulation areas and classrooms.

 

4.3 Mathematics

 

Standardised test results indicate levels of mathematical achievement commensurate with pupils’age in Our Lady of Mercy N.S. Age-appropriate methodologies are used at all class levels and knowledge and skills are developed consistently and incrementally. Pupils exhibit satisfactory levels of knowledge and display confidence and competence in basic number operations and in problem solving exercises.

New concepts are introduced effectively using appropriate resources and active methodologies are used to promote understanding of basic mathematical operations and skills.

Throughout the school there is an appropriate balance between mechanical operations and higher order thinking skills and the language of Mathematics is developed incrementally.

The structured, incremental approach to whole school planning is a factor in the achievement of a satisfactory level of competence. The achievement of key learning milestones and outcomes was a key objective at all class levels within the school. Teachers were observed to play an active role in stimulating pupil thinking and imparting information in the context of specific tasks. Individual teachers’ planning indicates balanced attention to all strands of the mathematics curriculum. Early mathematical activities, such as matching, classifying, comparing, ordering, and recognition of numbers and shapes, are covered comprehensively in infant classes. Pupils in middle classes showed good ability to relate number stories and to perform age-appropriate mental and written computation. Pupils’ skills of reasoning, estimating, predicting, calculating and problem-solving are extended appropriately in senior classes. An appropriate balance was observed between student-centred learning and teacher directed instruction in the context of mathematics teaching throughout the school and written work is, generally, presented neatly.

A wide range of equipment is available in support of the teaching of Mathematics and attractive mathematics areas are provided in many classrooms. 

 

 4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

The teaching of History reflects a keen awareness of the strands, strand units and principles of the revised curriculum for schools. In a sample of lessons effective teaching was observed. Pupils are encouraged to work as historians and to appreciate history as a series of interconnected events not as a simple list of facts. Their awareness of history was stimulated by project work, drama, the study of photographs and artefacts and the local environment. Timelines were displayed prominently in many classrooms and the concepts of continuity and change over time were given necessary emphasis. Commendable examples of projects encompassing the historical strands of life and society, work and culture, and eras of change and conflict are displayed in a number of classrooms. Pupils demonstrate good levels of interest in topics covered and discuss them with confidence. The programme allows pupils to critically examine significant events in their immediate past and to develop a deeper understanding of the local communities and of some major world events. History is integrated effectively with Geography, Music, poetry and Drama in some classrooms. 

 

Geography

The Geography curriculum is effectively mediated in Our Lady of Mercy N.S. Pupils are encouraged to act as geographers and show a commendable knowledge of the local environment and a growing sense of place. The breadth and balance of the curriculum presented is impressive and observed lessons were well delivered using a variety of resources and suitable teaching and learning strategies. The effective use of ICT was a notable feature of geography classes and the school’s involvement in the Green Schools Initiative is a commendable means of developing the strand on Environmental Awareness and Care.

The cultural diversity of the pupils is used as a means to develop an awareness and understanding of different customs, lifestyles and climates in other countries. The positive focus on intercultural education was a consistent feature in the whole-school approach to the teaching of Geography.

  

Science

A vast array of resources is available to support the teaching of Science. Classes are presented in a stimulating manner and pupils are active partners in the learning process. The scientific skills of predicting, reasoning, experimenting and recording are given necessary emphasis and pupils enjoy science lessons which make provision for hands-on activities. Some teachers also make excellent use of the local environment.

  

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The quality of visual arts activities is impressive and they provide pupils with opportunities for relaxation, expression, success, affirmation and enjoyment. Attractive visual arts displays are a feature of all classes and reflect a breadth and balance in the context of the strands of the curriculum. A suitable range of materials and media for making art is available to each class and pupils also have opportunities to look at and respond to works by famous artists. Classes are well managed and there is appropriate integration with other curricular areas.

It would further enhance good practice if art portfolios were maintained at each class level and passed on from year to year in order that progression and continuity is facilitated in the overall delivery of Visual Arts.

 

Music

The music programme enables all pupils to participate in a wide range of enjoyable music-making activities, such as performing, listening, responding and identification of rhythmic patterns. A considerable range of musical expertise is available within the school and many teachers are to be commended for their individual and collective efforts to promote Music in a whole-school context. A range of appropriate songs is taught at all class levels and musical literacy is developed incrementally. Pupils perform at a range of local events such as Christmas Mass, Christmas Concerts, St Patrick’s Day Parade and end of year school concerts. Senior classes display confidence and competence in performing on the recorder.

 

Drama

The active development of process drama is a well developed feature of  school work. All aspects of the Drama curriculum are embraced in an age-appropriate manner and sequentially developed across the classes. Drama contracts are displayed in all classrooms and the positive approach of teachers and their ongoing commitment to the further development of Drama in the school is commendable. Excellent examples of meaningful exposure to well managed drama classes, which nurture emerging talent and encourage dramatic potential were observed in the senior classes during the course of the whole-school evaluation.  Generally, drama classes were of a high quality and the integration of drama as a methodology with other subjects was a commendable feature of the work of the school.

  

4.6 Physical Education

 

The physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of pupils is developed in a range of suitable Physical Education (PE) activities which take cognisance of the breadth and balance of the curriculum. Indoor PE facilities support the effective delivery of a suitable programme at all class levels throughout the school year. Pupils have access to five strands each year (athletics, dance, gymnastics, games and outdoor activities) and from first to sixth class swimming is made available in definite blocks of time. Whole-school collaborative planning ensures that there is progression and continuity from class to class. The areas of dance and games were observed to be effectively used to positively address the diversity of culture within the school.

 

 4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

 

The ethos of the school, its traditions, customs and general practices observed during the course of the evaluation provide all pupils with a thorough grounding in citizenship. Concern for others, fairness, decency, mutual respect and inclusiveness are evident in all aspects of the school life and good example is consistently modelled by the principal and the staff.

A range of resources which includes the ‘Stay Safe’, ‘Walk Tall’, ‘RSE’ and ‘Be Safe’ programmes is used to support the delivery of the SPHE programmes and visiting speakers such as dental hygienists and health nurses are used in certain contexts. The teaching methodologies used in the context of the SPHE programme foster communication and promote self-esteem, pupil confidence and well-being.

 

4.8 Assessment

 

A broad range of assessment practices was observed to occur systematically in Our Lady of Mercy N.S. In all classes teachers closely observe pupils during activities and monitor their work carefully. Comprehensive records of pupils’ progress are maintained within the school and this work is effectively managed by a senior staff member with support from her in-school management colleagues.

The school makes good use of both screening and diagnostic tests that include Belfield, Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST), Quest, Micra-T and Sigma-T, when appropriate. The MIST test is administered in senior infants to identify pupils in need of specific intervention in the development of early reading skills. Effective intervention strategies are devised to support individuals identified by the screening process. School policy to broaden the range of interventions to include in-school support was noted and approved.

The Micra-T and Sigma-T standardised tests are administered to all pupils from the end of first class and these results are carefully analysed and used to inform future planning at individual teacher level.

Test results are effectively used to address the learning deficits of pupils experiencing difficulties. Teachers carefully explain results to parents at the annual parent/teacher meetings

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

 

Education for children aged four to eighteen with moderate, severe and profound general learning disabilities is provided for in two additional special classes in Our lady Of Mercy N.S. The quality of care provided is a very notable feature of school activities and the dedicated work of the staff is to be highly commended. Resource provision for pupils with special educational needs is impressive and the practices and routines of the school allow for high levels of inclusiveness and integration. The effective management of pupils with special educational needs is enhanced by the availability of an on-site multi-sensory room.

In addition to the special class teachers the school has the services of a number of resources, learning support and language teachers. They support identified pupils using a combination of individual withdrawal, group withdrawal, in-class support and whole-class teaching, on occasions. Individual education plans (IEPs) are provided for these pupils and records are meticulously maintained by the Deputy Principal. IEPs are devised collaboratively and reviewed at regular intervals. Emphasis is correctly placed on the development of literacy and numeracy skills and interventions are time-bound and specific.

One teacher provides language support for newcomer pupils using a combination of withdrawal and in-class support strategies. The Integrate Ireland programme (IILT) is used to good effect and the social language capabilities of newcomer children were observed to be satisfactory. Advice was given with regard to the need to monitor the cognitive academic language proficiency of these pupils.

 

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

 

A minority of Traveller children attend Our Lady of Mercy N.S. They are integrated successfully in the school and indistinguishable from the general population of pupils

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The board provides informed advice and sustained support to the school community and is committed to the welfare of the pupils.
  • Good co-operation and communication exists among the school trustees, the patron, the board, the staff, pupils, parents and the school community.
  • School planning documents are complete and comprehensive and impact positively on the quality of teaching and learning.
  • The Principal is a facilitative and empowering leader who exerts a positive influence on the school community.
  • A strong sense of purpose exists among school staff and high levels of collaboration and co-operation have created a nurturing and safe environment for learning.
  • Teaching and learning of a high quality occurs within the school and staff expertise is wisely deployed in the best interests of pupils.
  • There is an appropriate emphasis of high achievement across a broad range of parameters  and pupils exhibit a sense of pride and belonging to the school.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • The teachers should continue, with the support of the board of management, to develop their competencies in teaching and learning through a formal school based continuing professional development plan in order to continue to add value and build internal capacity.
  • The board should review school policy with regard to staff deployment in order to ensure that the educational needs of all pupils are fully supported to the optimum level within the current allocation of resources.
  • In order to facilitate future growth as a learning community the school should continue to introduce and experiment with new and innovative strategies in support of further enhancing existing good practice.
  • Additional opportunities to use Irish communicatively would further enhance the good work of the school in language instruction. In this context the advantages of adapting and extending use of ‘Séideán ’ as an appropriate resource might be considered.
  • It would be worthwhile for the school to consider formulating a five year strategic development plan with a view to maximising the use of existing resources and prioritising future expenditure.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2009