An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Whole School Evaluation
Whitechurch National School
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Uimhir rolla: 11638N
Date of inspection: 19 October 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Whitechurch National School was undertaken in October 2009.This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and Drama. 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.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
Founded in 1823, Whitechurch N.S. is an eight-teacher, co-educational primary school under the patronage of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. In its clear definition of its ethos, the school promotes equality amongst and respect for pupils. It also promotes moral values such as honesty, justice, and civic responsibility, as well as the traditions and teachings of the Church of Ireland, freedom of thought, and tolerance and respect for religious differences. The school fosters and upholds its stated ethos in a practical and consistent way through its enrolment policy and procedures, its approaches to school and pupil management, the teaching and learning in classrooms, the links with the local church community, and communications with parents and the wider community.
The work of the board of management is commended. Under the pro-active, progressive leadership of the chairperson, the board fulfils its statutory and other regulatory duties in an exemplary way. Accounts are audited annually, school attendance strategies are in place, and matters regarding admissions and enrolment are dealt with in a fair and transparent manner. A code of behaviour incorporating the National Education Welfare Board guidelines is included in the school plan. A health and safety policy is in place, the implementation of which is diligently overseen by the board. Department regulations regarding the length of the school year, the length of the school day, the maintenance of roll books and registers, and the retention of pupils are observed.
Board members give generously of their time to attend the frequent board meetings, to engage in whole-school policy formulation and planning, and to avail of training. One of the particular strengths of this board is its strategic approach to planning as evidenced by its six-year school development plan and its active, consultative engagement in whole-school review and planning processes. The board is also praised for its practical commitment to supporting effective curriculum implementation through its ongoing updating of learning and teaching resources and its investment in the continuing professional development of teachers. Another impressive aspect of the work of this board is the measures it takes to nurture school-community links and to involve parents meaningfully in the work of the school. Of particular note in that regard is the detailed, informative report that the board issues annually to parents regarding the operation and performance of the school. Health and safety matters receive ongoing attention at board meetings. A priority concern for the board at the moment is the significant risk to persons attending and/or leaving the school caused by the speed of traffic on the narrow, winding road upon which the school is located.
The work of the principal in leading and managing the school is commended. She provides effective leadership in the curricular, procedural, organisational and pastoral domains of school life. Her work is characterised by commitment to promoting high quality teaching and learning, flair for facilitating teamwork and collaborative decision-making amongst school personnel, and skill in fostering partnership with the wider school community. She contributes in a significant way to the open, warm and welcoming atmosphere in the school, and to the school’s focus on the all-round development of every pupil in a secure, respectful and inclusive learning environment. She demonstrates a very good ability to reflect critically on the work of the school and is open to new ideas and methods in the context of ensuring ongoing school improvement.
The deputy principal and two special-duties teachers fulfil their currently-assigned duties effectively. As they are currently organised, those duties deal largely with organisational dimensions of school life with some pastoral and curricular elements also attached to some posts.
It is recommended that the curriculum component of the posts be developed in light of the current and emerging curriculum needs of the school.
One of the striking features of this school is the strong, open, and effective communication that exists within the school and between the school and the wider school community. Staff members meet regularly, on both a formal and an informal basis, and are generous with their time in so doing. The chairperson of the board visits the school frequently in relation to school, church and wider community matters. The school has in place a range of procedures to facilitate formal communication with parents. They include annual parent-teacher meetings, regular newsletters, a sophisticated and easily navigable web-site, induction and information-giving events, annual written reports on pupil attainment, and an annual report on the work of the school. There is also frequent informal contact between parents and teachers and between parents and special needs assistants (SNAs). Additional formal meetings with parents are arranged as the need arises. The school secretary contributes effectively to school communication processes.
The school’s Parent/Teacher Association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council, supports the work of the school in a number of significant ways. In addition to fundraising for school facilities and resources, the Association funds drama, French and dance classes for the pupils and organises swimming lessons. It assists with school maintenance, the school library, the delivery of reading programmes, and the supervision of pupils on school outings. Parents are also involved in the provision of a range of after-school sports activities for the pupils such as hockey and football. The Parent/Teacher Association expressed its satisfaction with the work of the school. It echoed the board’s view that that increased State funding is required to provide psychological assessments for a number of pupils attending the school.
The management of pupils is very good. A positive code of behaviour is successfully implemented. Expectations of pupils are clear and fair. Truth, respect, and turn-taking are valued and promoted by the teachers in their classroom interactions. Opportunities to develop the pupils’ self-esteem and confidence are well used in many classrooms. Overall, the pupils are attentive listeners and show an ability to co-operate and collaborate with one another and with their teachers and the SNAs. They generally engage actively and enthusiastically in their learning. Pupils in the senior classes are given regular, appropriate opportunities to participate in decisions regarding the organisation, direction and format of their work.
There is a well-established practice of whole-school organisational and curriculum planning and review in this school. The quality of that planning is very good in terms of its frequency, its collaborative, consultative nature, and its regard for developments in legislation and education. Whole-school planning matters form part of the agenda of most board and staff meetings. Parents are provided with opportunities to contribute to and comment on whole-school plans before they are ratified.
At an organisational level, policies are presented clearly and they address most legislative requirements. It is recommended that an equality statement be developed in line with up-to-date equality and employment legislation. At a curriculum level, plans are generally good. They take account of the national curriculum documents and, in that context, they detail relevant content, methods and resources. To develop the efficacy of the whole-school curriculum plans, it is recommended that they have a sharper, more customised focus on the progressive acquisition of knowledge and skills as the pupils move through the school, taking particular account of the overall needs of the pupils, overall patterns in pupil attainment levels, and the multi-class settings in this school.
Approaches to classroom planning by individual teachers vary. The strengths amongst the range of approaches currently used include: collaborative planning by teachers who have a class level in common, a clear focus on pupil learning outcomes in terms of the knowledge and skills to be acquired, and specific planned differentiated provision for individual pupils or groups of pupils, including mixed-class groups. In a small number of cases, individual teacher planning is textbook-focussed, with little practical or specific provision for differentiation. It is recommended that a more cohesive, consistent approach to individual teacher planning that incorporates the strengths of the current varied practices and that takes due account of whole-school curriculum plans, be followed. All teachers maintain detailed monthly progress records.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Skills Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Skills, 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.
Ar an iomlán tá cáilíocht theagasc na Gaeilge go maith. I gcuid de na ranganna tá cleachtadh an-mhaith le feiceáil. Go ginearálta cothaíonn na hoidí dearcadh dearfach i leith na teanga agus úsáideann na hoidí go léir Gaeilge mar mheán teagaisc i rith na gceachtanna. Úsáidtear raon maith de mhodhanna agus de straitéisí chun cabhrú leis na daltaí páirt ghníomhach a ghlacadh sna ceachtanna agus, sa tslí sin, a scileanna labhartha tuisceana agus éisteachta a fhorbairt. I gcuid de na ranganna, tá gá le níos mó deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí chun an Ghaeilge atá foghlamtha acu a úsáid agus a chleachtadh. Múintear an ghramadach, foclóir, an fhilíocht, an léitheoireacht agus scileanna teanga labhartha go rialta, diaidh ar ndiaidh ó rang léibhéal go rang léibhéal. Moltar an t-aire chúramach a thógann na hoidí le múineadh na gramadaí. Moltar freisin ábaltacht na ndaltaí ó thaobh na gramadaí de. Tríd is tríd bíonn struchtúr maith ar na ceachtanna agus bíonn luas maith leo freisin. Tugtar obair scríofa go rialta mar is cuí agus ceartaítear an obair scríofa seo go díograiseach. Moltar na tascanna scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt ionas go mbeidh níos mó den saor-scríbhneoireacht agus den scríbhneoireacht phearsanta i nGaeilge le déanamh ag na daltaí de réir mar a théann siad ar aghaidh ó rang go rang. Tá raon maith filíochta ar eolas ag na daltaí agus is féidir leo an fhilíocht seo a aithris go muiníneach. Tá na torthaí foghlama san achar curaclaim seo go maith, agus go han-mhaith i roinnt cásanna.
The overall quality of teaching in Irish is good. In a number of classrooms very good practice was noted. The teachers generally promote a positive attitude to the language and all teachers use Irish as the medium of instruction during the lessons. A good range of methods and strategies is used to involve the pupils actively in the lessons and, in so doing, to advance their speaking, comprehension and listening skills. In a number of classes, more opportunities for the pupils to use and practise the Irish they have learned are required. Grammar, vocabulary development, poetry, reading, writing and oral language skills are taught in a systematic, developmental way from class level to class level. The teachers’ diligent attention to and the pupils’ competence in Irish grammar are praised. Lessons are generally well-structured and well paced. Written work is given with appropriate regularity and is corrected diligently. The development of writing activities to include more free writing and more personal writing in Irish as the pupils progress through the school is advised. The pupils know and recite confidently a good range of Irish poetry. Learning outcomes in this curriculum area are good, and in a number of cases very good.
The overall quality of teaching in English is very good with some excellent lessons in this curriculum area observed during the evaluation. A language-rich environment is evident throughout the school. The quality and range of reading materials available in every class library are excellent. Guided talk and discussion, story, show and tell, play, games, rhyme, poetry, debates and ICT are amongst the strategies skilfully used by many of the teachers in their implementation of the oral language curriculum. The pupils generally speak confidently and demonstrate an ability to use language with appropriate sophistication to compare and contrast, analyse, reason and to express feelings and emotions. The teachers nurture a love of reading among the pupils at every class level. Author visits and attendance at reading-related events in the local library are part of the English curriculum experienced by all pupils in the school. The teachers teach reading skills thoroughly. A progressive, well-paced phonological awareness programme is implemented with success. In general, the pupils are enabled to engage with reading material appropriate to their interests and stages of development. Pupil progress in acquiring early reading skills is tracked in detail. Overall pupil attainment in reading is high with outstanding achievement in reading by some pupils in junior, middle and senior classes.
High standards in teaching and learning in English writing are evident in a number of classrooms. Pupils at infant level demonstrate very good skills with regard to letter formation and the writing of words, phrases and sentences that include a creative component on the part of the individual child. In a number of classes, and most particularly the senior classes, the pupils regularly and frequently engage in process writing in a variety of genres. They are given high-quality, formative feedback on that work and have produced some impressive writing that includes epic stories, character profiles, persuasive writing, book reviews, and summaries. The challenge for the school with regard to advancing teaching and learning in writing is to ensure that pupils at all levels are involved in frequent and developmental process writing experiences in line with curriculum guidelines. In that regard, the provision of formative feedback to pupils at all levels as they engage in process writing and the monitoring of individual pupil progress in writing will be important. Overall, the teaching and learning of English poetry in this school are of a very good standard.
The overall quality of teaching in mathematics is good, with some very good lessons observed in the course of the evaluation. In most classrooms a stimulating mathematics environment has been created with the language of mathematics, number charts and other mathematics illustrations and resources on display. Excellent work is undertaken in relation to the teaching of early mathematical activities and comprehensive checklists recording individual pupil progress in this regard are maintained. Other elements of best practice in mathematics teaching in this school include the identification of clear, skills-based objectives for the lessons, the use of active learning approaches with individual and group access to relevant resources and manipulatives, and the differentiation of lesson content in accordance with the abilities and needs of individual pupils and/or groups of pupils. Lessons are generally well structured and, in most classrooms, very good work is undertaken in relation to the teaching of mental mathematics and the application of mathematics to real-life problems. In a small number of instances, the learning activities organised for the pupils are not pitched at a sufficiently challenging level and an overly didactic approach is used.
Overall pupil attainment in mathematics is high with very high standards being achieved by a significant number of pupils. The achievements of the pupils in the senior classes in relation to mental mathematics and problem-solving are particularly praiseworthy. All teachers diligently monitor and correct the written mathematics work assigned to pupils. To advance mathematics provision in this school and to build on the very good work undertaken in many classrooms, it is recommended that a concerted whole-school effort be made to ensure that a differentiated mathematics curriculum is provided in accordance with individual pupil ability and need. The current split-class arrangement can be used advantageously in this regard to provide pupils within and across different class groupings with tailor-made mathematics challenges and activities.
The school makes very good provision for the implementation of the drama curriculum. Discrete time, in line with curriculum guidelines, is allocated to the teaching of drama. The school engages the services of a qualified tutor who is charged with delivering a significant part of the drama curriculum. The mainstream teachers implement some aspects of the curriculum and also employ drama conventions as a learning tool across a range of curriculum areas. Amongst the positive features of drama teaching in this school is the attention given to enabling the pupils to enter the fictional lens with growing conviction and to reflect on the dramatic action as it progresses. The bi-annual whole-school pantomime serves to enhance the pupils’ performance skills.
The teachers demonstrate a willingness to develop their pedagogical skills in drama through observing the lessons conducted by the specialist tutor. The next desirable step is to strengthen collaborative planning for, and delivery of the drama curriculum. To support such work, and to ensure continuity and progression across a broad and balanced drama curriculum, it is recommended that the whole-school plan for drama include specific, practical guidelines regarding the implementation of each strand.
A very good range of assessment modes is in use in this school. They include focussed, random and structured observation of pupils by teachers, teacher-devised tasks and tests, and nationally standardised tests in English and in mathematics. In a number of classes, conferencing and pupil self-assessment are also used. Some diagnostic testing is used in the SEN settings. The quality of record-keeping with regard to test results is very good. Class lists of standardised test results are filed from year to year. Checklists, pupil profiles and pupil compilations of work are also maintained. Procedures regarding the communication of test results to parents are also very good in terms of both frequency and the guidelines given to parents regarding the interpretation of assessment data. Some use is made of test results in the devising of programmes of work for some children. The challenge for the school with regard to assessment is to examine overall trends and patterns in assessment outcomes and to use that data in a more direct, specific and practical way to shape whole-school curriculum plans and to inform directly individual teacher classroom planning. Such formative use of assessment data should assist in strengthening provision for differentiation in curriculum delivery within and across class groupings and in providing programmes of work suited to the needs of individual pupils.
The quality of support for pupils with special educational needs is good. The special education team comprises a learning-support teacher and a resource teacher who each provide support in both English and mathematics. The school policy on special educational needs (SEN) incorporates the staged approach and places appropriate emphasis on early intervention strategies. Support teaching currently takes place in withdrawal settings exclusively. It is recommended that provision also be made for in-class support where feasible. The SEN classrooms are bright, attractive learning environments that contain a good range of learning resources. Lessons are well structured and, in the best instances, are based on clear learning objectives that equip the pupils with a range of strategies to promote their independence and confidence. The SEN teachers produce individual pupil learning profiles and individual education plans with targets that are based on information provided by the class teachers and parents in addition to the results of standardised tests and some diagnostic tests. Consideration should now be given to extending the use of diagnostic data to enhance the specificity of the pupils’ individual learning targets. Appropriate procedures regarding parental consent and consultation with parents are followed. The SNAs work effectively in supporting individual pupils with SEN. They demonstrate a very good understanding of their roles and responsibilities. The school is commended on enabling the SEN teachers to meet regularly with the class teachers to review progress and plan programmes of work. To complement this good practice, it is recommended that the SEN teachers be enabled to meet formally on a regular basis in order to promote teamwork regarding SEN provision and to facilitate the sharing of expertise.
A fundamental part of this school’s ethos as manifest in the day-to-day life of the school and its management practices is its commitment to treating all pupils equitably. Respect for all is explicitly and tacitly nurtured. Appropriate provision is made to enable all pupils to have access to and participate in all school activities. Where the school is aware of pupils experiencing disadvantage on a once-off, an intermittent or an ongoing basis, it takes practical measures to support them in order that they may avail of the full educational benefits the school has to offer.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The work of the board of management is commended.
· The work of the principal in leading and managing the school is commended.
· Strong, open and effective communication exists within the school and between the school and the wider community.
· The Parent/Teacher Association supports the work of the school in a number of significant ways.
· The management of pupils is very good.
· The overall quality of teaching in English is very good.
· Overall pupil attainment in English reading is high.
· Overall pupil attainment in mathematics is high.
· The school is committed to treating all pupils equally. Respect for all is nurtured.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· The curriculum component of posts of responsibility should be developed in light of the current and emerging curriculum needs of the school.
· An equality statement should be developed in line with up-to-date equality and employment legislation.
· The whole-school curriculum plans should have a sharper, more customised focus on the progressive acquisition of knowledge and skills as the pupils move through the school,
taking particular account of the overall needs of the pupils, overall patterns in pupil attainment levels, and the multi-class settings in this school.
· A more cohesive, consistent approach to individual teacher planning that incorporates the strengths of the current varied practices and that takes due account of whole-school curriculum plans,
should be followed.
· It is recommended that pupils at all levels be involved in frequent and developmental process writing experiences in English.
· To build on the very good work currently being done in mathematics, a concerted whole-school effort would ensure that a differentiated mathematics curriculum is provided in accordance with
individual pupil ability and need.
· The challenge for the school with regard to assessment is to examine overall trends and patterns in assessment outcomes and to use that data in a more direct, specific and practical way to
shape whole-school curriculum plans and to inform directly individual teacher classroom planning.
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 June 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
· We would like to thank the inspectors for their commitment to a thorough inspection of the work of the school. We are delighted that they affirmed the commitment,
dedication and hard work of the Board on Management, principal, teachers, special needs assistants and secretary.
· We welcome the acknowledgement of the very good practice and high standards of teaching and learning.
· We welcome the recognition of the inclusive ethos that permeates the school and that all pupils are treated with equality, fairness and respect.
· The Board of Management is gratified to have such a dedicated and committed staff working in the school.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
· A review of the curriculum component of posts of responsibility will be addressed in the next school year so as to ensure the emerging curriculum needs of the school are met.
· The school acknowledges the positive comments in the report concerning the high standard of pupil attainment in English Reading and Mathematics and will ensure that the pupils at
all levels will be involved in frequent and developmental process writing.
· The Board of Management will develop an Equality statement in line with the up-to-date equality and employment legislation.