An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills


Whole School Evaluation



Our Lady of Good Counsel GNS

Ferrybank, Waterford

Uimhir rolla: 12007G


Date of inspection: 03 December 2009






Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils


School response to the report




Whole-school evaluation


A whole-school evaluation of Our Lady of Good Counsel GNS, Ferrybank was undertaken in December 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, Mathematics and History. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the evaluation, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.



Introduction – school context and background


Our Lady of Good Counsel GNS, Ferrybank is a girls’ school located just inside the Waterford City boundary. The school was founded in 1959 by the Sacred Heart of Mary Sisters and is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. The first lay principal was appointed in 1994, but the Sisters remained as trustees of the school until 2002, when it was transferred to the patronage of the Catholic Diocese of Ossory. A majority of pupils live locally. The school community is derived from twenty different countries and newcomer pupils constitute just over one quarter of the total pupil population. Pupil enrolment is increasing steadily year on year and this trend is expected to continue into the future.  Overall, pupil attendance levels are good. The development and implementation of a formal attendance strategy is recommended so as to continually improve attendance figures. 


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

 2 full-time 1 part-time

1 shared

Special needs assistants

2 full-time



1.     Quality of school management


1.1   Characteristic spirit, mission or vision


The mission statement expresses the school’s commitment to fostering the development of the child as a whole person in an environment that is happy, caring and enriching. During the course of the evaluation, it was evident that the school is committed to living its mission statement in the course of its day-to-day activities.


1.2 Board of management


The board of management operates effectively and it displays laudable commitment to supporting the work of the school. It is properly constituted and meets on a monthly basis. The financial accounts of the school are audited annually. Clearly-defined responsibilities are allocated to individual board members and are undertaken diligently. Presently, the school’s increasing pupil enrolment and the concurrent demand for greater school accommodation is a key priority of the board. The board takes an active role in the consideration of curriculum plans and organisational policies. A strong sense of teamwork both within the board and between the board and school staff is reported. The board is also committed to increasing parental involvement in the work of the school.


1.3 In-school management


The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal and three special-duties teachers. The principal is very efficient in leading and managing the school. She exemplifies excellent professional standards and communicates high expectations for the staff and the pupils. Her capacity to advance curriculum and organisational planning and her progression of a range of whole-school priorities are praised. In fulfilling her duties, the principal is supported by the members of the in-school management team. Each member of the team has been assigned specific duties which are undertaken conscientiously. As a means of building on the existing capacity of the in-school management team, it is recommended that their curriculum leadership roles be strengthened. In so doing it is advised that specific annual priorities be established and that they play a greater role in monitoring the effectiveness of curriculum implementation.  It is also recommended that formal meetings of the in-school management team be convened on a regular basis and that written records of actions agreed be maintained.


1.4 Management of resources


The teaching staff comprises the principal, seven mainstream class teachers, a full-time learning support teacher, a full-time teacher of pupils for whom English is an additional language, a part-time resource teacher of pupils with special educational needs and a shared resource teacher of Traveller pupils. Individual teachers have participated in a range of professional development courses and the board of management is commended for its support of continuing professional development. The school has accessed the national support services for primary schools on a number of occasions. Two full-time special needs assistants (SNAs), a full-time secretary, a shared caretaker and two part-time cleaners are also employed. The work of the SNAs, under the direction of the class teachers and the support teachers, contributes to the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs.  The secretary provides valuable secretarial support to the principal and teaching staff. The school building and grounds are maintained to a high standard and they provide a safe and stimulating environment for the pupils. A wide range of teaching and learning resources is provided. Overall, these resources are well organised, accessible and used effectively. There is limited use of information and communication technology (ICT) and it is recommended that the use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool be developed.


1.5 Management of relationships and communication with the school community


The school maintains good communication with its parent community through the publication of a fortnightly school bulletin. Parents play an active role in the Green Schools committee and some opportunities are provided for parents to share their areas of interest and expertise with the pupils. From time to time, the school organises mathematics workshops and English classes for parents. During the school’s intercultural week, the parents of newcomer pupils play an active role in fostering the pupils’ understanding of aspects of different cultures. While parental involvement in the school is increasing, it is recommended that the school continues to explore opportunities to actively engage parents in the day-to-day work of the school. The parents are kept informed of their children’s progress through annual parent-teacher meetings and through the issuing of written end-of-year reports. Additional parent-teacher meetings are convened during the course of the school year as necessitated.


A parents’ association was re-established in the school in September 2008 and it is striving to generate parental interest and involvement in its activities. The parents’ association provides assistance in organising a range of school events, including the annual book fair and sports day. Some opportunities have been provided to input into the development and review of whole-school policies. The parents’ association also coordinates a number of fundraising events and it has contributed to the development of the school’s ICT facilities.


1.6 Management of pupils


The management of pupils is very good. Pupils were observed to behaved in an exemplary manner and were courteous at all times. They demonstrate a praiseworthy capacity to work both independently and collaboratively with their peers. Positive teacher-pupil relationships are in evidence and the pupils are continually guided to respect themselves, others and the environment. The school is commended for its work in devising a new code of behaviour. It is advised that the school be cognisant of the diversity of its parent community and ensure that the language of pertinent policies, such as the code of behaviour, be fully accessible to all parents.


2.     Quality of school planning


2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning


The quality of whole-school planning is of a high standard. Curriculum plans for all areas of the curriculum and a range of organisational policies have been collaboratively devised by the principal and the teaching staff in consultation with the board of management. The school is praised for taking due account of the needs of the pupils and a variety of school context factors in developing the school plan. Specific curriculum and organisational priorities have been identified and are being progressed to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The parents are provided with access to the school plan. The school’s newsletter is usefully employed to update parents on ongoing developments in whole-school planning.


Overall, the quality of classroom planning is good. All teachers provide long-term plans of work to inform teaching and learning. The introduction of a schoolwide approach to guide short-term planning is commended. While most teachers engage in suitable short-term planning, this practice should be extended to all teaching contexts. Monthly progress records are maintained by most teachers and are retained centrally. It is advised that such progress records be maintained by all teachers.


2.2 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 English


The quality of teaching in English is good and appropriate learning outcomes are being achieved by a majority of pupils. The pupils’ oral language abilities are developed appropriately through the implementation of discrete oral language lessons and through the integration of language learning with reading and writing activities. Most of the pupils communicate confidently and competently across a range of topics. The quality of teacher questioning is skilful and it results in the fostering of the pupils’ higher order skills. To further assist in this process, the provision of regular and structured opportunities for the pupils to engage actively with the views and opinions of their peers is advised. The pupils are exposed to a wide variety of poetry and rhyme. Their expressive skills are encouraged successfully and they recite poems expertly, and with interest and enthusiasm.


The pupils demonstrate suitable reading standards commensurate with their different ability levels. All classrooms are suitably print-rich with attractive and well-stocked library areas. In junior classes, the pupils’ phonological awareness is developed purposefully. Shared-reading initiatives with parents and peers are well structured, resourced and implemented across a range of classes. Graded reading schemes and class novels are used to develop the pupils’ reading competence. It is advised that a greater range of class novels be employed in middle and senior classes and that the pupils be exposed regularly to a wider diversity of reading genres. In this context, the number and range of textbooks and workbooks currently in use should be reduced. The school is praised for its active encouragement of the pupils’ engagement in personal and independent reading, including the hosting of an annual book fair.


Handwriting and presentation skills are promoted actively and successfully on a schoolwide basis. The pupils are making suitable progress in regard to the development of their functional-writing skills. In a majority of classes, the pupils are exposed to a selection of writing genres. The pupils completed works are attractively presented in their copies and in classroom anthologies and displays. There is scope for development in the extent to which the pupils engage with the full range of writing genres and experience a process approach to writing. A reduced focus on the use of workbooks to promote writing competence is advised.


3.2 Mathematics


The quality of teaching in Mathematics observed was very good. In the main, the pupils demonstrate suitable understanding of mathematical content previously addressed. A mathematics-rich environment is in evidence in all classrooms. Lessons are well designed and are presented competently. A variety of teaching approaches is employed including whole-class teaching, group-based activities and pair work. Well-structured talk and discussion and skilful teacher questioning facilitate the pupils’ understanding of the mathematical concepts being investigated. There is a laudable focus in all classrooms on the development of appropriate mathematical language. Very good use is made of the school and home environments and a broad range of manipulatives to reinforce learning. The school is praised for its innovative work in the development of mathematical trails which consolidate effectively the pupils’ learning across a range of strands.  The school has also recently introduced a programme of games which serves to promote the pupils’ mathematical competence at each class level. Each year the school celebrates Maths Week through the pupils’ involvement in a variety of suitable activities. The standard of the pupils’ mental mathematics and problem-solving skills is variable. It is recommended that a more coherent and systematic approach to the advancement of these skills is implemented at a schoolwide level. This should include the provision of regular opportunities for the pupils to collaboratively construct and solve mathematical problems based on themes of interest and relevance to them.


3.3 History


In most classrooms, a broad and balanced history programme is being implemented. The teachers display imagination and creativity in the design and delivery of history lessons. Stimulating and challenging teaching is in evidence in all classrooms. The teachers draw on a suitable range of active-learning approaches including talk and discussion, guided discovery and project activity. The pupils display good understanding of content previously addressed and they respond well to newly introduced topics. The use of the local environment is a feature of work in History, including availing of the services of a local historian. The use of this approach should be exploited further at a whole-school level. In the junior classes, story, simple timelines and appropriate artefacts are used capably to develop the pupils’ skills to work as historians. The examination of evidence, the investigation of issues of change and continuity, the reconstruction of elements of the past and the communication of findings through written work, oral presentations and drama are developed at an appropriate level as the pupils progress through the school. Some opportunities to celebrate the richness of the pupils’ cultural diversity are utilised successfully in history lessons. Much of the work in History is integrated effectively with other areas of the curriculum. A review of the classroom planning of some teachers confirms an over-dependence on the use of commercially produced textbooks and workbooks. It is recommended that all teachers plan their annual programme of work according to the well-considered whole-school plan for History.


3.4 Assessment


A variety of assessment modes is used to evaluate the progress of individual pupils. These approaches include teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, project work, checklists and the monitoring of pupils’ written work. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered annually from first class upwards. A screening test is also administered in senior infant classes. In the proposed development of policy to guide assessment activity, it is recommended that a more consistent approach to the collection and utilisation of assessment data be agreed and implemented at a schoolwide level. The guidance issued by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in its publication Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum: Guidelines for Schools should be used as a basis for developing a continuum of assessment to address all areas of the curriculum.



4.     Quality of support for pupils


4.1 Pupils with special educational needs


A detailed learning support policy has been devised to guide provision for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and is subject to regular review. It is recommended that this policy formally include the staged approach to assessment, identification and programme planning, as per the provisions of Circular 02/05. It is further advised that the policy guide and incorporate the school’s provision for the additional learning needs of Traveller pupils. Supplementary teaching for pupils with SEN is currently provided by a range of school personnel. In deploying personnel resources, it is recommended that the school identify all the pupils in need of supplementary teaching and that a team approach to the structuring and implementation of interventions be adopted.   


Provision for pupils with SEN is of a high quality. A range of well-designed interventions to promote achievement in literacy and numeracy is currently being implemented including prevention, early intervention, and in-class and withdrawal support. Individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) and individual education plans (IEPs) have been devised for all pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching. Overall, the IPLPs and IEPs are clearly constructed and regularly reviewed and they provide for appropriate consultation with class teachers and parents. Further consideration should be given to the more direct involvement of older pupils in the identification of their personal learning targets. Lessons are well structured, implemented and resourced. The pupils engage purposefully in a suitable range of learning activities in English and Mathematics. Teacher-pupil interactions are encouraging and serve to build the pupils’ self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. Positive pupil progress in the achievement of their learning goals, commensurate with their differing ability levels, is in evidence.     


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


Our Lady of Good Counsel GNS is characterised by the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere it provides for all its pupils. The pupils’ awareness and appreciation of world cultures is promoted through the implementation of a wide range of intercultural activities and practices. It is now opportune that a formal policy on interculturalism be developed.


A significant number of pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL) attend the school. Language support for these pupils is provided primarily on a withdrawal basis and is complemented by the provision of some in-class support. The department’s Primary School Assessment Kit is used effectively to assess the pupils’ language abilities and their progress is monitored appropriately on a continual basis. Lesson provision for EAL pupils is interesting and well paced. Good use is made of a variety of active-learning approaches. A suitable emphasis is placed on both the acquisition of relevant vocabulary and on its application in pertinent contexts. The pupils engage enthusiastically in their learning and they interact well with their peers and teachers. A bright, stimulating print-rich environment has been created in the EAL room. It is advised that the proposed development of a formal policy to guide EAL provision proceed as a matter of priority.


A number of pupils of Irish ethnic minorities also attend the school. Supplementary teaching in literacy and numeracy is provided for Traveller pupils on a withdrawal basis. In employing IEPs to guide provision, it is recommended that greater attention be given to the use of more focused assessment to devise clear learning targets and structured intervention programmes for individual pupils. The effectiveness of these intervention programmes should be formally evaluated on a mid-year basis. A variety of teaching approaches and resources is used in teaching new concepts and skills and some pupil progress is in evidence. Regular attention to the revision, consolidation and reinforcement of key concepts and skills is advised.   



5.     Conclusion


The school has strengths in the following areas:


·     The pupils’ learning is enriched by the range of teaching methodologies and approaches in use.


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 May 2010




School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management



Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     


The Board of Management of Our Lady of Good Counsel GNS welcomed this Whole School Evaluation as an opportunity for all school’s stakeholders to learn and to improve.


It is pleased that the dedication, commitment and sense of teamwork among pupils, staff, parents and Board members is recognised, endorsed and commended in this report.  The Board is also pleased that the Plean Scoile is acknowledged as recognising the needs of pupils and the various context factors influencing the work of the school, as it believes that policies and plans should be working documents that are relevant to our school.


In relation to recommendations in the body of the report, the Board wishes to make the following observations:



Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection          


The Board’s response to specific key recommendations is as follows:


·         Formal In-school Management Team meetings have been implemented.  Each Post is currently structured around Curricular, Administrative and Pastoral duties.  The Board is considering how the curriculum leadership roles of the in-school management teams may be strengthened.

·         A review of the Oral Language strand of the school’s English plan was completed in the 2008-09 school year.  A review of the Reading and Writing strands is ongoing.  Advice has been sought from the PPDS, and the WSE recommendations in relation to textbooks, workbooks and writing genres will be considered in the context of this review.

·         In accordance with the school’s Strategic Plan the policy on Learning Support is scheduled for review in June 2010.  The recommendations outlined in the WSE report and the guidance sought from the PPDS since the conclusion of the WSE will inform the review process.

·         The Board contends that a team approach is evident in all the work undertaken at Our Lady of Good Counsel GNS and is pleased that the WSE report recognises that ‘provision for SEN pupils is of a high quality’.  Given the resources available to the school, every effort will be made to maximise the benefits for SEN pupils.


In conclusion, the Board of Management thanks the members of the Inspectorate who carried out this evaluation.  The Board also wishes to sincerely congratulate the staff and pupils of the school and to assure them of its on-going support.