An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Cóbh, County Cork
Uimhir rolla: 12281D
Date of inspection: 01 October 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Walterstown NS. 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 visit, the inspectors 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.
Walterstown NS is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cloyne. The school aims to promote the harmonious development of all its pupils and it also seeks to encourage respect for individual pupils and a sense of responsibility to the wider community. The school’s Christian and Catholic ethos is emphasised in its documentation.
The original school was built in 1884 and this building was in use until 2002 when a commendably designed new school was constructed. The school was built with a red brick that matched the Belvelly brick of the original 1884 building. The new building has four classrooms, support rooms, and ancillary rooms. It also has a general purpose room at the centre of the building.
This year the school was granted temporary developing school status due to continuing high levels of enrolment and a classroom has had to be placed in the general purpose room. There is considerable anxiety in the school community regarding the loss of this room as it was used daily for extra-curricular activities. The anxiety is heightened by the fact that from September 2009, the temporary developing school status will convert to permanent status and Walterstown NS will be a five-teacher school. Current projected enrolments point to Walterstown NS maintaining this status into the long-term future.
The last report on the work of this school was issued in September 2000. The school files contain the evaluation reports on the school for 2000, 1993, 1988 and 1973.
The board of management is properly constituted and meets at least twice per term. The issues most commonly raised at meetings include finance, accommodation, policies and enrolment. The reverend chairperson has weekly contact with the school and board members willingly undertake various responsibilities. A regular report is issued to the board on the school’s finances. The latter are not audited but it is intended to ensure certification henceforth as is required by the Education Act. The board has prepared a maintenance plan for the school and the implementation of this plan is very much helped by the pro-active involvement of the caretaker. The caretaker, the board and the staff are to be complimented for the high quality of maintenance of the school in evidence during the WSE. The board has received training for its tasks but the board itself feels further ongoing training is required to meet the complexity of its obligations under the Education Act. The board supports the staff in its own training requirements. The board is more than willing to support teachers in any perceived training needs, but it expressed a concern that currently the capitation grants are inadequate to meet all the demands on the board’s finances.
The main issue of concern to the board at present is that of enrolment. The school has an enrolment figure at present that will result in a new permanent appointment next year. The school had expected to attain developing school status this September and proceeded to make an appointment on this basis. Unfortunately, the school is 4 pupils short of that status. Pending an appeal the school continues to employ a fifth teacher. In order to cater for this extra class, a class had to be housed in the GP room. This has been a cause of concern to both board and parents as the loss of this very important facility has been keenly felt throughout the school community. The board is in contact with the DES on the matter.
The principal reports to the board at each meeting on school matters. It is advised that these reports should also contain the principal’s views on progress in teaching and learning in the school. Overall, the board expressed satisfaction with standards of teaching and learning in the school and the board identified the following strengths of the school: the leadership of the principal, the commitment of all stakeholders, the communication processes in the school and the full support of the parents.
At the meeting between the Inspectors and the board, board members gave fulsome praise for the manner in which the principal leads the school. This report concurs with the board’s views and acknowledges the valuable work of the principal in developing the school and maintaining the support not only of the board but of the parents who were also fulsome in their praise for his leadership style. The principal’s contribution to the life of the school is made that much more challenging by the triple responsibilities he has of class teacher, administrator and curriculum leader. He fulfils all those responsibilities with the utmost of dedication and devotes much personal time to his roles. He has succeeded in achieving high standards in his three roles. One of the foundations of this success is that he places commendable emphasis on communication processes among the stakeholders in the school. The principal meets the executive of the parents’ association every month and he is very aware that the fund raising issue has tended to dominate meetings. He is keen to extend the role of the parents’ association, particularly in the area of policy development. As part of the communication processes initiated by the principal, all teachers accompany pupils to the exit gate of the school every day. This action has both a safety element and a communicative element as it allows parents approach teachers quite easily for the purpose of brief communication exchanges regarding pupils. He has also initiated a policy of issuing regular newsletters to parents.
The principal is supported by two other members of the in-school management team - the deputy principal and a post-holder. They offer immense support to the principal by engaging in an extensive range of duties, which they undertake with commitment and dedication. It is evident that there is excellent teamwork among members of the in-school management team and this contributes to its overall effectiveness. This teamwork filters down to the staff as a whole and there is very much in evidence throughout the school a sense of community and sharing. Teachers give of their time for after-school activities. In particular, teachers are involved in the organisation of school sports, school outings and concerts.
The classrooms are decorated brightly with colourful charts and pupils’ work. Junior classrooms are very well equipped with toys and equipment to aid the teaching process in most areas of the Curriculum. The school has well stocked libraries, a suitable stock of PE equipment and good use is made of the school’s broadband facility and ICT equipment for research during classroom projects.
This is an open and welcoming school that has the full support of the parents. This support was expressed to the Inspectors by the parents’ representatives during the pre-evaluation meetings. The process whereby teachers accompany pupils to the school gate every day was commented upon in a very favourable way by the parents’ representatives. They acknowledged the benefits of meeting teachers at the exit gate for brief communication exchanges. If a more elaborate discussion needs to take place regarding pupils, the view was expressed that parents always feel welcome to initiate more formal discussions.
The parents are very involved in fundraising for the school and this area is a regular item on the agenda of the monthly meeting of the parents’ association. The parents are also involved in hosting after-ceremony events for both First Communion and Confirmation. The association organises a coffee morning for new parents on the pupils’ first day at school after the summer break. The parents also help out on sports day. In order to develop parents’ involvement further, the school should now consider involving parents more in policy formulation and also consider providing parents with information on programmes and methodologies used in the school. Overall, the parents expressed positive views on the standards of teaching and learning in the school. Communication is further enhanced by the monthly newsletter for parents and in addition, the school produces a Green Schools newsletter once a term. A whiteboard is in the staffroom to keep staff informed and each staff member also has a pigeon-hole for copies of newsletters and other items of information for staff.
New pupils are inducted into the school in June and the principal ensures that all pupils have equal access to sports.
The school has a very good policy in place to encourage and value the efforts of pupils. Some of the strategies employed include Student of the Week and the recognition of individual pupils’ birthdays. For the latter, the principal calls to the class of the pupil involved, wishes the pupil a happy birthday and gives the pupil a small present (pencil) from the school. There is also a monthly assembly to celebrate achievements. All of these actions encourage pupils and during the WSE, it was noticeable that pupils were friendly, courteous and confident in their responses.
The school plan has policies on priorities for the year, ethos, visitors, enrolment, equality, bullying, child protection, code of behaviour, harassment, safety, Gaeilge, assessment and reporting, SNA, Visual Arts, Drama and SEN policy. All policies are signed and dated by the chairperson of the board of management. The staff prioritises one curricular area and one organisational area each year. For the previous year the staff had prioritised Gaeilge and Equality. In developing this plan, the school made use of the PCSP services and a cuiditheoir called to the school over two days. This current year, the staff has prioritised Mathematics and Internet Acceptable Use policy. This is a good approach. However, considering the number of subjects on the Curriculum and the necessity to review existing policies regularly, it is recommended that the school work on two curricular subjects during the year in order to ensure that policies for the full Curriculum are generated within a reasonable timeframe and that a reasonable timeframe for review is also initiated.
The school has a clear enrolment policy which emphasises inclusiveness, equality of access, parental choice and respect for diversity. The board has ultimate responsibility for decision making regarding enrolment including deferrals in exceptional circumstances. The board is advised to keep this provision under review in order to ensure compliance with current equality legislation. The school emphasises fairness in its implementation of its equality policy.
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.
The monthly reports (cuntais mhíosúla) are maintained by the principal as is required by regulation. The teachers have devised a common template that integrates both short-term planning and the monthly report. The templates are filled in by the teachers using ICT; therefore all planning is typed and presented in a very neat manner. The teachers are to be commended for the work undertaken in ensuring that planning is presented in such a clear and efficient manner. Classroom planning and the school plan are linked in many instances. Planning is also linked to Curriculum strands and strand units. Notes for long-term planning vary. Some teachers in their long-term planning give detailed statements of content for each of the curricular areas. This is commendable practice as it offers a blueprint of the work which will be undertaken during the year and ensures that all the strands and strand units are covered. It is advised that this very good practice be extended to include all teachers. It is recommended that the staff review approaches to long-term planning and discuss possible common formats that would link all areas of planning including whole school, long-term, short-term and monthly reports.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
During the WSE, the pupils displayed confidence as learners. They recited rhymes in Irish and English with enjoyment, they wrote neatly in English and they spoke about their work courteously and without hesitation. In some classes, there was a very good balance between direct teaching methodologies, activity learning and group work. In other classes, some imbalances in the methodologies employed were observed. The curriculum could be further enhanced in the school through the use of a greater variety of methodologies to include direct teaching, activity learning and group work in all classes.
Sa phlean scoile don Ghaeilge, cuirtear béim ar Ghaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil timpeall na scoile. Tá liosta déanta amach sa phlean den Gaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil atá le múineadh i ngach seomra ranga. Sa phlean, chomh maith, tá liosta de rainn, amhráin agus dánta le haghaidh gach rang. Tá siollabas scoile cuimsitheach pleanáilte le haghaidh múineadh na Gaeilge. Moltar é seo go hard mar nós imeachta.
Déantar iarrachtaí oiriúnacha atmaisféar fábhrach don Ghaeilge a chothú sna ranganna. Baintear dea-úsáid as ábhair chorpartha agus postaerí mar thacaíocht don teagasc. Cruthaítear timpeallacht shaibhir phrionta sna ranganna. I gcuid de na ranganna baintear úsáid éifeachtach as cluichí éisteachta, obair bheirte agus as an drámaíocht. B’fhiú anois béim ar leith a chur ar na modhanna seo a chleachtadh i ngach rang tríd na scoile chun deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí an foclóir agus na frásaí atá ar eolas acu a úsáid, agus a líofacht a fhorbairt. Aithrisíonn na daltaí i ngach rang cnuasach breá de rainn agus de dhánta go bríomhar.
Léann an chuid is mó de na daltaí sna meán agus ardranganna le líofacht oiriúnach ach is gá aird a dhíriú ar dhea-fhoghraíocht níos forleithne. Bunaítear na gníomhaíochtaí scríbhneoireachta cuid mhór ar na téacsleabhair ach tá sé sa phleanáil go mbeidh deiseanna ag na daltaí scéaltaí beaga a scríobh. Chun dul chun cinn sa scríbhneoireacht a threisiú tá gá deiseanna a thabhairt do na daltaí na scéalta sin a scríobh go rialta agus tabhairt faoin saorscríbhneoireacht go rialta chomh maith.
An emphasis is placed in the school plan on use of informal Irish around the school. The plan also lays out the range of informal language to be taught in every classroom. The plan contains lists of rhymes, songs and poems for each class. Overall, the school has devised a comprehensive school plan for teaching Irish. The practices contained within the plan are to be praised highly.
Appropriate efforts are made to develop a favourable atmosphere for learning Irish in the classrooms. Good use is made of practical equipment and posters to support teaching. A print rich environment in Irish is created. In some classes, effective use is made of listening games, pair work and drama. It is now advised that these methodologies are used throughout the school to ensure pupils have the opportunities to use the vocabulary and sentences that they have learned and to develop their fluency further. Pupils in all classes recite a good range of rhymes and poems in a lively manner.
Pupils in the middle and senior classes read with suitable fluency. However, more attention should be paid to correct pronunciation. In the main, writing activities are based on textbooks even though school planning promotes independent writing of simple narratives. In order to strengthen progress in this area, more opportunities should be provided to enable pupils write independently in Irish.
There is appropriate emphasis on oral English as a foundation for later work in the infants’ classes. Emphasis is placed on initial letter-sound recognition with the help of visual stimuli. Rhyme awareness/ phonological awareness, including onset and rime, are regular features of the work. In one instance, it was noted that pupils learn rhymes in class and then teacher makes photocopies of the rhyme and sticks it into copies that are taken home for further learning. This is a very good way of involving infants’ parents in oral language learning. In later classes, observed instances of good practice for developing oral English included the integration of oral English with SESE where pupils discussed and gave feedback on the Green Schools project, history projects and fieldtrips.
The development of reading and writing skills in early classes is undertaken in an interlinked manner. Informal reading activities are also engaged in when use is made of classroom libraries and these are well stocked. Stories, big book, rhymes and poems all feature in teachers’ programmes. There is a print-rich environment and pupils are trained to read from this material. In one observed instance, pupils are being introduced to reading through real books and from an early age pupils take home books at night for shared reading activities. This is very good practice and is to be encouraged. Oral, reading and writing activities are all linked very well in the infants’ classes. Pupils learn to recognise words, read them and then write using these words. The print rich environment is also enormously helpful for the development of writing activities. Free writing is encouraged and pupils are helped to put their own individual ideas into writing. This is very good practice. In another early class observed, pupils engaged in prediction activities in pairs and a variety of other strategies were employed to ensure enjoyable pupil engagement.
In the middle classes and senior classes, variety is evident in reading tasks. Tasks in reading vary from silent reading for a purpose to reading aloud and use of dictionary. Pupils make use of dictionaries during lessons and recall skills are practised after reading. The pupils write stories regularly and handwriting is neat throughout. At this stage, as the groundwork has been well laid in previous classes, it is recommended that middle and senior classes move entirely to a programme of class novels for reading lessons. Commendable work has been done in these classes in the development of writing skills by means of the process approach. Pupils’ writing is displayed prominently in the classroom. The end result of the process approach is very neatly displayed and demonstrates very good narrative skills on the part of the pupils. When questioned, the pupils were confident when describing the processes they engaged in to produce the written end results.
In the early classes, pupils are very well organised for practical work with equipment. There is much evidence of use of practical equipment for Mathematics lessons, simple equipment such as number lines are used for simple number operations. Visual material is also used for developing understanding and this material is manipulated by both teacher and pupils. Games are also used in the development of skill proficiency. The pupils move between tasks in an orderly fashion and even at an early stage in the school-year, young pupils are very well trained to cooperate with each other, move between tasks and work quietly and calmly. Pupils continue to engage in practical work in junior and middle classes and the pupils are trained to use practical equipment to develop skills and concepts. The practical work is followed by writing activities in copies and the work is laid out in a neat fashion. In the middle and senior classes, the earlier foundations are built upon with a judicious mix of both practical work and more abstract written activities. Practical equipment is used to reinforce more abstract learning and teachers are reminded that it is important to relate lessons to real life contexts as much as possible. In the senior classes, pupils work through mathematical processes and procedures with care. Throughout the school standards of presentation are maintained at high levels.
The use of the project approach was observed in the teaching of History in later classes. During the WSE, the pupils had been working on a class project on the Aztecs. The pupils were divided into groups and had researched the topic under different headings using the school internet facility as well as online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and Encarta. In general, very good use is made of ICT and library books for project research. The pupils displayed confidence in reporting back to the whole class on the results of their research. Time-lines are in evidence in the class in order to ensure skills in chronology are maintained.
There is commendable emphasis placed in this school on its rich geographical environment for work in this area of the curriculum. Trips to local areas of interest are regular features in the programmes taught in the classes. There were numerous displays around the school of field trips undertaken. The teachers involved are to be commended highly for organising this work and ensuring the learning outcomes are reinforced through attractive displays.
The school is working towards the attainment of a Science Excellence award for the current school year. In working towards this award the school has been involved in trips to woodlands, the seashore and Fota Island. The school took part in science days organised in Cork City Hall last year. The school is also involved very much in the Green Flag programme and achieved its first Green Flag last year.
Lessons in Science are linked to the local environment of the pupils and pupils engage in exploration of that environment through teacher-guided walks. Topics are extended over a period and individual lessons are linked with care to previous work. Teachers make very good use of investigation tables that contain material relevant to the topic being treated. During the WSE, the following practices and methodologies were observed: teacher demonstration of experiments with the class, use of practical equipment, integration with English through the use of large format books and emphasis on the local environment. In all the classes, Green Flag activities provide a focus for Science lessons.
The Board ratified a new Visual Arts policy for the school in April 2008. The teachers provide a varied Visual Arts curriculum, with many lessons integrated with other areas of the curriculum. Attractive displays are evident in all classrooms and on corridors. There is a range of materials and resources to support the work. Talk and discussion are usefully engaged in at the outset of lessons, with visual and other stimuli being used to encourage pupils’ involvement. Pupils show great enthusiasm and interest and participate purposefully in the activities.
The pupils enjoy the music programme with song-singing, listening and responding, and instrument recognition all featured in the lessons observed. The programme is also linked with other areas of the curriculum. One example of good practice observed involved integration with the English programme where phonological awareness and rhythm development were treated as a combined activity. A unifying feature for the whole school is the musical play that is performed every Christmas with each pupil involved. This is an opportunity for pupils to perform on a stage setting and to showcase their musical and performing skills for their parents. The staff report that this show has a very positive impact on school life and is eagerly anticipated each year. Parents become involved in supporting the staging of the show with props, costumes, make-up and supervision of pupils.
The Board ratified a new Drama policy for the school in April 2008. Drama is taught as a discrete subject and is integrated with many other subjects. Stories, poems and letters are used as a stimulus for activities. Features of lessons include mime, teacher-in-role, brainstorming, hot-seating and still pictures. In some classes the pupils engaged in purposeful group work. As mentioned above, all pupils are afforded the opportunity of participating in the school’s Christmas concert.
The temporary loss of the general purpose room has been detrimental to the teaching of a varied Physical Education (PE) programme in the school. Activities are now dependent on the weather, as teachers make use of the playground for lessons. While all class teachers engage in PE activities on a regular basis, some teachers are very involved in after-school sports with teams. Boys and girls have equal access to team games and the teachers are to be commended for their involvement in these activities.
The creation of a happy school environment is central to life in the school. The overall atmosphere is child-friendly, welcoming and respectful. The pupils show care and consideration for each other. The staff work with dedication to promote positive values and the teachers are assisted in their endeavours by the school secretary, special needs assistants, caretaking and cleaning staff. The school secretary ensures that all visitors are welcomed with courtesy.
In most of the SPHE lessons observed, story was used as a stimulus leading to class discussion and written activities. In some classes pupils worked meaningfully in groups and this good practice should be extended throughout the school. Overall a greater variety of teaching methods and strategies needs to be employed to maximise the learning outcomes in this area. At a whole school level there are a number of features that make an important contribution to the overall implementation of the SPHE programme. These include the promotion of sports and games, the milk scheme, the savings scheme, student of the week, birthday chart, the once a month assemblies which celebrate achievements and monthly newsletters. The senior classes are encouraged to take an active role in the school with rotas for performing various jobs such as helping junior infants in the classroom and yard, giving out milk, passing around roll books, assisting with recycling and composting and various other jobs. These jobs help the pupils to see the school as a community that they are central to and have ownership of.
The range of assessment modes includes both screening tests and diagnostic tests. The screening tests used include Belfield Infant Assessment Programme, Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST), Neale Analysis of Reading Ability, Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT), Aston Index, SigmaT and MicraT. The diagnostic tests include: Neale Analysis, Jackson Reading, Aston Index, Drumcondra Spelling tests, Phonological Assessment Battery, Ted Ames Diagnostic, Quest Reading and Quest Mathematics, RAIN sentence test, Bangor test, Marino, Schonell and Dolch Sight Vocabulary tests. Informal methods of assessment include teacher observation, teacher designed tests, projects and homework. A file is kept on each pupil and maintained in the office. The school has implemented the new reporting procedures to parents. The results of standardised tests are tracked.
The provision for pupils with special educational needs is a strength of this school. The special educational needs policy guides the work and it clearly indicates that the role of supporting learning is a collaborative responsibility shared by all. The roles and responsibilities of the BOM, principal, class teachers, learning-support teacher, resource teacher, parents and pupils are clearly stated. The learning support and resource teachers plan diligently for their work. Individual Education Plans are devised for each pupil attending for resource hours and all the partners involved in the pupils’ education are consulted. Parental involvement is encouraged at all times and regular meetings are held as needs arise. Parents are also advised on how to support their children at home. The plans also contain a section for the class teacher advising them on how they can support the pupils in the classroom setting. Education Plans for each group of pupils attending for learning support are also devised and these also offer advice to the class teacher and parents. There is regular review of the plans with learning targets adjusted as necessary.
Withdrawal individually and in small groups is the main form of support. The teachers have now extended provision to include early intervention with support in English provided to senior infants and second classes. This support includes language development, vocabulary extension and creative writing. The learning support teacher also co-ordinates the shared reading programme which all the pupils in the school engage in. The resource teacher takes 4th class for comprehension skills and grammar and uses the Science Reading Association books to support her in this work. She also works on a class novel with 6th class. The teachers are to be commended for the ways in which they are extending provision in the school. It is evident that there is careful review of provision and that every effort is made to ensure that the available time is maximised to the full.
The learning support classrooms are attractive and stimulating with an extensive range of resources available to support teaching and learning. Pupils engage meaningfully with the work and the teachers show flexibility in adopting new approaches and methods in response to the needs of the pupils. This includes work on life-skills, map reading, maths trails, cooking and baking, events books, local history, project work and the adventures of Padraig Bear. The teachers have attended a variety of courses.
The Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) offer tremendous support to their pupils and the school in general. They attend staff meetings, are involved in school planning and in the life of the school as a whole. They each have interests from visual arts to knitting and sewing, which they share willingly with the pupils. They also source materials, which they think are suitable for their pupils. The principal and staff spoke very highly of the contribution which they make, and it was evident during the evaluation that the SEN team work together very capably and effectively. Overall, one of the striking features of the provision in this area is its positive nature and the entire team are to be commended for creating and sustaining this atmosphere.
There are no groups of pupils with designated disadvantage, minority or other status in the school at present. The school’s enrolment policy is open and welcoming to all pupils.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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, February 2009