An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

                                                                                                Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

St. Ursula’s Primary School,

Ursuline Convent, Waterford

Uimhir rolla: 12535I

 

Date of inspection: 3 March 2008

 

 

 

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

Summary of Findings and recommendations for further development

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St. Ursula’s Primary School. 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.

 

 

1.        Introduction – school context and background

 

St. Ursula’s Primary School is a Roman Catholic girls’ school, situated in an urban area, on the outskirts of Waterford City. It is in the Sacred Heart parish. The school is under the patronage of Bishop William Lee, Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, and under the trusteeship of the Irish Ursuline Union. The school was founded by the Ursuline Sisters in 1816. In 2006, the last of the sisters retired from the teaching staff, heralding the end of an era for Ursuline education in Waterford. However, the present staff of the school is committed to upholding the values and traditions that the sisters have worked so hard to establish down through the years. The teachers strive to make relevant at all times the valuable legacy of the Ursuline Order and the education officer for the Ursuline Sisters supports them in this. The education officer liaises frequently with the principal and makes presentations to the board of management and to the staff. Some Ursuline sisters continue to be involved in the life of the school by supporting various activities on a voluntary basis. The school emphasises the holistic development of the child, the importance of courtesy and kindness and the encouragement of a caring and respectful attitude towards self, others and the environment.

 

The school has an enrolment of 559 pupils and is growing on an annual basis. At present, the school is just about accommodating all the pupils that apply for places. However, trends suggest that there will be greater demand into the future, and the board of management will have to consider how the school will develop. The school’s accommodation is utilised to its full capacity at present so any further growth will necessitate the addition of new classrooms.

 

The school has enrolled a high number of newcomer pupils from 21 different countries and the school also caters for Traveller pupils, with 4% of the pupils coming from a traveller background. The school receives a grant from the Dispersed Disadvantaged Fund to help it to support pupils who they consider to be in need. By prudent management of these funds the school manages to organise a range of initiatives and it is lauded for its work in tackling educational and social disadvantage.

 

In all there are 31 teachers in the school and they are ably supported by a number of ancillary staff. The school and its environs are clean, tidy and very well maintained and the staff and board of management are to be commended for this. A carefully considered cleaning and maintenance programme directs the work to ensure high standards.

 

St. Ursula’s is very interested in issues relating to environmental awareness and care and prides itself on being a ‘green school’. It has a green flag since 2001 and over the years has won a number of environmental awards.

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

The board of management provides capable support and guidance to the school. All members show interest and dedication and are committed to the school and its development. The chairperson visits the school on an almost daily basis and liaises very closely with the principal. The principal delivers a very comprehensive report at board meetings and following discussion, actions are taken accordingly. Curricular and administrative policies are presented to the board for discussion and ratification.

 

The Board see the strengths of the school as the open, welcoming atmosphere that prevails in the school and the cherishing and respecting of all the pupils. They point out that the pupils are afforded immense opportunities and that there is excellent provision for pupils with special educational needs. Their priorities include future enrolment trends and the development of the school. The board is also working on a phased maintenance plan, which includes the provision of wheelchair access, extending the car park and work on the roof of the school.

 

The board reports that it has a good relationship with parents and works closely with them, particularly in relation to fundraising for maintenance projects. The board reports that the school welcomes parents and that their concerns are listened to, and acted upon as necessary.

 

2.2 In-school management

The principal and in-school management team provide excellent guidance to the school and carry out their duties with dedication and commitment. The principal, who was appointed in 2004, has been a member of the teaching staff for many years and is committed to carrying on the good work of her predecessors and the traditions and strengths synonymous with the school. She shares her vision for the school with the staff and offers support to teachers in realising that vision. She has a deep concern for the welfare of the pupils and staff, and fosters positive relationships with the parents and the community at large. Her focused, systematic approach to planning and organisation ensures the smooth running of the school. She is open and welcoming and sees communication and teamwork as being of paramount importance. All decision-making has a collaborative basis and the combination of all the skills and talent on the staff ensures the highest standards in all the school’s endeavours.

 

The in-school management team comprises of thirteen posts of responsibility with the deputy principal, three A posts, and nine B posts. The principal meets with the deputy principal on a daily basis to discuss events of the day and to respond to the on-going management issues that may arise. This arrangement works very well. Each post-holder retains a range of duties with curricular, organisational and pastoral care duties spread amongst them. These duties are assigned based on the needs of the school at any particular time, and are reviewed regularly. All posts contribute greatly to the working of the school. The in-school management team meets formally at least once per term, but informal meetings are held regularly.

 

It is fair to say that the principal and the board of management in this school acknowledge and support initiative in a very positive way. The professionalism of the teachers is acknowledged and all teachers are given encouragement to innovate, be pro-active and develop. In addition, the management team draws on the willing support of parents for both management and individual teacher initiatives in sports, environmental projects and choral singing. All of these factors when combined ensure that morale and cooperation are at a very high level.

 

2.3 Management of resources

The teaching staff consists of an administrative principal, twenty mainstream teachers, two full-time learning support teachers and one part-time teacher, one full-time and one part-time resource teacher, four language support teachers and one resource teacher for Traveller children. Ancillary staff in the school includes five special needs assistants (SNAs), a school secretary, a caretaker, four cleaning staff and a part-time general worker. The SNAs, under the guidance of the principal and teachers, carry out their duties with efficiency, commitment and care. The secretary provides valuable support to the principal and teaching staff. The caretaker plays a significant role in the school. The cleaners serve the school well and help to maintain the high standard of hygiene and cleanliness, which is in evidence everywhere.

 

The school consists of one main building, a four classroom infant block, a pre-fabricated classroom and a separate building to cater for one mainstream class and three resource rooms. It has a large playground and mature gardens. The Board is very conscious of its responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for both staff and pupils.

 

The school possesses a breadth of teaching and learning resources, and these resources are effectively employed in classroom settings. There is a very well stocked library. It contains a wide variety of books to suit different class levels. There are computers in every classroom with appropriate software across the subjects of the curriculum. There is connection to the internet via broadband and this facilitates the accessing of many websites. Of particular note are the resources developed by the teachers themselves and used to support the implementation of the curriculum in the school. This demonstrates reflective practice and optimum engagement with the curriculum.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Parents and teachers work in a spirit of cooperation and mutual care, and relationships and communication between all the stakeholders, are thus marked.  Many examples of this spirit were observed during the WSE, including the manner in which the school devised introductory packs for new parents. It is also exemplified in the culture of the school, whereby pupil achievements are celebrated, and parents are invited to join in these celebrations. Examples of such celebrations include International Day when the parents of international students are invited to both participate in, and lead activities. Concerts, celebrations for the awarding of Green Flags and the Active School Week all provide opportunities for parental participation. The achievement of four Green Flags since participation began in 1999 is a major initiative that ensures parental participation on an ongoing basis in the work of the school. It was also noted that there is a great concern for the vulnerable in the school. The school is involved in a pastoral care scheme, known as Rainbow. In addition, the Resource Teacher for Travellers (RTT) and the Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinator maintain personal links with parents and there is a culture in the school of following-up with parents on issues that affect their children.

 

The school also has very strong links with the parish and takes part in many parish events throughout the year. The choir sings at mass every second month and the pupils perform a nativity drama at the parish carol service every Christmas. The school also participates in the Junior Achievement Programme, which is run by volunteers from the local business and industrial sectors, and aims to encourage a spirit of enterprise among the school pupils. Hasbro Ireland, a local industry, supports the school in participating in the Steps to Engineering Programme. The school is part of an ‘Education Intervention Task Group’ set up by Waterford Area Partnership to help alleviate social and educational disadvantage. The school receives funding to provide counselling for families who are in need of support. The ‘Treo Eile’ programme is a back to education initiative, set up to enable parents in the local community, to develop their skills and gain a qualification with a view to gaining employment. The school is involved in the programme with another school in the parish. They identify parents who may benefit from the programme and encourage them to do the courses. The schools also assist with the organisation and running of the courses. The school works with the Mount Sion Development Group, which runs community based initiatives to support the international parents and pupils in the school. The school is also involved with the Birchwood Task Group, which was set up to offer support to the refugee parents and children living in Birchwood House, beside the school.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

Staff and pupils work together to create a climate of mutual trust, respect and confidence. The school celebrates the achievements of pupils across the range of domains including academic, sporting and artistic success at a weekly assembly for the whole school.  This is a very important tradition in the school and is used to reinforce the school rules, encourage good behaviour and personal responsibility and is very central to the life of the school. This tradition provides for cohesion and bonding in the in-school community and the school is to be commended for the way that it is conducted. All classes from 1st to 6th also take part in the weekly assembly, which involves each class on a rota basis, preparing a performance, which is based on SPHE, Alive O and seasonal topics.

 

The school believes that the pupils should play an active, positive role in the life of the school and have recently set up a pupil council. The pupil council is comprised of two representatives from each class, from third to sixth. The council is run along the same lines as the green school committee and meets once a month during lunchtime with the principal and the teacher with responsibility for the council. It is hoped that the sixth class pupils will chair the meetings after some initial training. The council involves the pupils in decision-making.

 

During the evaluation pupils were seen to behave with respect and courtesy and high standards of behaviour were at all times in evidence. The spirit of cooperation that exists within the staff and between staff and parents permeates through the school. During the WSE it was noted how courteous, friendly and positive pupils were in both the classrooms and in the corridors.  It is clear that positive attitudes to learning have been inculcated and because this is such an active school, pupils are thoroughly engaged in lessons. This is a happy school community due to the breadth of opportunity provided and the overall rounded educational experience achieved. These factors combined ensure that the school achieves high levels of success in the management of its pupils.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

The school is engaging diligently in the planning process and has prepared a comprehensive school plan. It is evident that all staff members have a role to play in the planning process. A vast number of organisational policies have been prepared and these are ratified by the Board of Management before being implemented. It is advised that the Board of Management should review the current enrolment policy to ensure that it conforms to current guidelines. The planning process is ongoing in the school and the long-term plans, as well as the annual action plans, are regularly reviewed. This ensures continuous school improvement. The principal provides noteworthy leadership in this process and she is ably supported by both post holders and other staff members. The compilation of a teacher induction pack for new teachers and an information pack for parents are commendable additions to the school plan.

 

A substantial amount of work has been done in the development of curricular plans. The school approaches the planning process in a professional manner and shows evidence of well considered reflection and review of plans. Teachers are encouraged to plan and pilot new programmes during an academic year and these are reviewed following implementation. This excellent practice demonstrates how the school constantly strives for improvement and development.

 

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

All teachers in the school produce comprehensive long and short term plans for their work. Teachers’ long-term planning notes include detailed strategies for team teaching, collaboration and co-teaching. A whole school template has recently been devised for short term planning and this is in use by all class teachers. This is also used as the monthly progress report where teachers can tick the work completed and add any comments that may need to be recorded. Copies of these are maintained by the principal and can be used to review the programmes being taught in all classes. Teachers are to be commended for the manner in which planning is clearly linked with the whole school plans for the various subjects and also for the links with the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Due account is taken of differentiation, resources and assessment in each subject area. Some teachers demonstrated the integrated nature of their planning and use templates to show the cross-curricular links around the theme that they are working on. There was excellent practice observed where some teachers based their planning on curricular objectives. This excellent practice should be considered by all teachers in order to ensure optimum practice in curriculum implementation at all class levels.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Chuir na múinteoirí i Scoil Ursula plean scoile fíor-úsáideach le chéile le haghaidh múineadh na Gaeilge sa scoil. Bhí sé soiléir ó chuairteanna ranga le linn an MSU gur chloigh na múinteoirí le moltaí an phlean agus dá bhrí sin chinntigh siad go raibh forbairt struchtúrtha ar fhoghlaim na Gaeilge sa scoil ó naoináin go rang a sé. Is mór an chabhair é an struchtúr a leagadh amach sa phlean ar mhúineadh comhrá Gaeilge. Tá tairbhe le baint as cur i bhfeidhm an struchtúir seo ag na daltaí uilig sa scoil agus iad ag athrú ranga bliain i ndiaidh bliana. Ón am a cuireadh an plean le chéile, táthar tar éis infheistiú a dhéanamh ar chláracha ríomhaire idirghníomhaíochta do na ranganna naoinán. Baintear an-leas as na cláracha seo agus as an gceamara digiteach chun grianghrafanna suimiúla a ullmhú do cheachtanna. Cabhraíonn an fearas seo le forbairt samhlaíoch a dhéanamh ar mhodhanna múinte na Gaeilge. Tá na hoidí sna ranganna naoinán ag baint leasa agus tairbhe as an teicneolaíocht seo, agus nuair atá aithbhreithniú á dhéanamh ar an bplean scoile, b’fhiú go mór taithí na n-oidí seo in úsáid na teicneolaíochta a chlárú agus a roinnt.

 

Chomh maith le seo, múintear raon leathan de Ghaeilge neamhfhoirmiúil sna ranganna naoinán agus baintear úsáid inmholta as raon ghníomhaíochta agus fearas praiticiúil chun scileanna éisteachta agus labhartha chomh maith le rannpháirtíocht a fhorbairt. Tá na daltaí in ann ceisteanna a chur agus a fhreagairt. Tá na hoidí le moladh as ucht an slí a nasctar gníomhaíocht, rainn, éisteacht agus cur i láthair i gceachtanna, chomh maith le úsáid na Gaeilge le linn na gceachtanna le haghaidh gnáth-threoracha. Sna bunranganna agus sna meánranganna leagtar béim ar chluichí chun an teanga a mhúineadh. Do na cluichí seo, cumtar scéalta agus comhráití, agus cleachtaítear iad le hobair bheirte. Sna hardranganna, leagtar béim ag tosach na gceachtanna ar thuiscint agus ar mhíniúcháin. Foghlaimítear ansin na scéalta nó comhráití agus forbraítear an fhoghlaim le hobair bheirte. Leagtar béim ar fhoghlaim chruinn agus cuirtear ábhar breise ar fáil chun an fhoghlaim a fhorbairt.

 

Bunaítear gníomhaíochtaí scríbhneoireachta ar ábhar na gceachtanna comhrá. Baintear leas as struchtúir a cumadh chun athrá a dhéanamh ar scéalta. I ranganna áirithe forbraítear ar an obair seo a thuilleadh le hionchur neamhspleách na ndaltaí. B’fhiú an nós seo a fhorbairt agus ionchur neamhspleách na ndaltaí a cheangailt leis an gcur chuige struchtúrtha. Tugtar tacaíocht d’iarrachtaí scríofa na ndaltaí le himshaoil prionta-shaibhir as Gaeilge. Ó thaobh na léitheoireachta de, tá na hoidí le moladh as ucht an úsáid a baintear as Séideán Sí. Tá ceangailt láidir idir an ceol/amhránaíocht le múineadh na Gaeilge agus deintear iarracht inmholta amhránaíocht nua-aimseartha a chur ar fáil. Baineann na daltaí an-taitneamh as na hamhráin seo agus cothathaítear rannpháirtíocht thaitneamhach agus iad á foghlaim.

 

Irish

The teachers in Scoil Ursula have devised a very useful school plan for the teaching of Irish. It was noticeable during class visits that most teachers adhered to the plan and thereby ensured that the pupils’ learning of the language from infants to sixth class is both structured and developmental. A most useful feature of the plan is the structure that has been agreed at whole-school level for the teaching of oral language. The general application of this structure ensures that all pupils benefit and its benefits are particularly noticeable as pupil progress from one class to another. Since the plan was devised, interactive whiteboards and the digital camera have been introduced into the infant classes. This development has opened up stimulating opportunities to develop Irish language teaching methodology. These opportunities are being exploited by the infant teachers and when the time comes to review the current school plan for Irish, the experiences of the infant teachers in using the interactive whiteboards should be documented and disseminated.

 

A wide range of informal conversational Irish is taught and very good use is made of action rhymes and props to both develop listening and speaking skills and to encourage participation.  The pupils are able to ask and answer basic questions. The teachers are to be complimented for the manner in which they combine activity, rhymes, listening and performance in lessons and for the manner in which Irish is used throughout. In the junior and middle classes much emphasis is laid on the use of games to teach the language. For these games, scenarios are devised, Irish dialogue created and pupils practise the dialogue in pairs. Pupils dress up and act out scenarios, having already practised them in pairs.  In the senior classes the whole class methods used lay emphasis in the beginning on understanding and meaning. This is followed by learning stories or dialogues through repetition, which is subsequently followed by paired work based on the material learned. Activities are designed to recall the story or dialogue and a laudable emphasis is placed on learning material accurately. This material is then expanded by supplementary oral language activities.

 

Writing activities are based on material learned in the oral language lessons.  This material is developed by teachers through structures that are taught for recounting a story. In some classes, this approach is further developed by pupils’ personal contributions. This is a practice which should be expanded and the very positive work that is being done in structured and supported writing should be combined with opportunities for free writing.  The written language is supported by a print rich environment in classes. The handwriting in copybooks is very neat and tidy. For reading, very good use is made of Séideán Sí materials, and the teachers are to be complimented for introducing this scheme into the school. Music and song are features of Irish teaching in this school and teachers make special efforts to find contemporary Irish songs. Pupils enjoy these songs and participate eagerly in the learning of such songs. 

 

English

In English, there are whole-school policies on handwriting, spelling, writing, shared reading, phonics and early intervention. The whole school planning for English writing includes the division of writing into specific genre-activities for each class. There is a whole school plan for use of novels covering the classes from 2nd to 6th. The lists of novels are decided and strategies for using the novel in class are listed on a whole school basis. There is a school-designed spelling programme for senior infants which lists the words to be learned and this work forms part of the Senior Infant Friday Test, the folder for which contains spellings, dictation, comprehension and sums. In infants the school makes use of nursery rhymes for school-designed cloze tests. This is very good practice. Teachers have designed specific books for use by the school in oral language lessons for both junior and senior infants. This initiative has been supported by the principal and the school management in general. Considerable effort has gone into the preparation of these handbooks and they have been professionally printed for the school. This level of support for teacher initiative is truly noteworthy and ensures that teachers are fully supported in their endeavours to improve practice at all times. These oral language booklets outline lessons for each objective of the oral language curriculum and once implemented in full will be an invaluable tool at ensuring high quality language experiences for the pupils. The teachers involved in compiling these books are to be commended. It may be worthwhile in the future considering the publication of these booklets as they would be a very valuable resource for other schools.

 

A strong emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ oral language skills, which involves the teaching of discrete oral lessons and also emphasising the language element of all other curricular lessons. Pupils appear confident and competent in their communication with their teachers and with each other and take obvious enjoyment from this aspect of their school life. An appreciation of poetry is fostered throughout the school with many examples of pupils’ own poetry on display. Nursery rhymes are taught effectively in the junior end and in most classes, pupils enjoy reciting from a repertoire of poems.

 

Reading is taught effectively, using a commercial reading scheme and supplemented by a variety of other texts. Pupils experience a print rich environment and have ready access to a variety of books. Big books are an essential part of the Junior Infant programme. As part of their planning, the junior infant teachers have identified five core big books, which must be covered during the year, and have made a list of other big books that can be used at each teacher’s own discretion. Lesson plans to show how each book can be maximised have been developed as a support for teachers. This level of preparation and co-operation is to be highly praised. The school follows its own phonics programme. However it is advised that more emphasis is placed on phonological awareness. In all classes observed, the pupils read accurately, fluently and with a good understanding of text. Novels are used effectively in the middle and senior classes to develop a variety of reading skills, including comprehension of text, discussion skills and a positive attitude towards books. Classroom libraries are well stocked and the school library is located in a central area in the school. The pupils choose a book and return it the following week. Through this the pupils are trained in book location skills, book selection skills, categorisation and alphabetical skills. Various authors are featured in displays in the library and pupils are encouraged to discuss, compare and profile a number of authors. The school sees the library as a valuable resource for independent reading. Book reviews are a feature of many classrooms. The school liaises closely with the public library and the pupils are encouraged to enter competitions organised by the library. Each year a member of the local library staff is invited to the school to speak to the pupils. Children and parents reading together (CAPER) and Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) are used extensively throughout the school to encourage reading.

 

Pupils are exposed to a regular writing experience. The work on pre-writing establishes a solid foundation for the teaching of formal writing skills. Handwriting and presentation of work are of a very high quality throughout the school. Use is made of ICT to enhance the standard of presentation and to produce compilations. Compilations include books of limericks, simile stories and poems, book reviews etc. Pupils are encouraged to engage in the writing process with editing and redrafting and there is appropriate emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation. Spelling is taught systematically throughout the school and strategies are in place to support pupils experiencing difficulties in this area.

 

4.3 Mathematics

 

The whole school plan for Mathematics provides clear guidance for teachers. The language of Mathematics is clearly outlined for each class and many teachers use this in their personal planning. A whole school approach has also been devised for the teaching of addition, subtraction, place value, and some aspects of multiplication and division. Maths trails are a regular feature of the programme in many classes and samples for various classes are provided as part of the school plan. Many classes have designated Mathematics areas and pupils can refer to charts and posters for relevant information and formulae. The ‘tables challenge’ is a commendable activity and pupils in junior, middle and senior classes are encouraged to beat their scores or times in order to improve their knowledge of tables. Strategies for learning tables are taught in some middle classes and these are especially valuable for pupils who have difficulty in retaining the number facts.

 

In junior classes, teachers practice a wide range of active methodologies and teachers demonstrate a keen awareness of the importance of concrete materials and manipulatives. Pupils are given opportunities to be active in their learning   Number work is given a good foundation with a wide variety of reinforcement and extension activities to enable pupils to grasp the concept of numbers.

Mental Maths is a central feature of lessons in middle and senior classes and many pupils are alert and competent in answering questions and solving problems. In some classes, manipulatives were readily available and Mathematics is clearly linked with the pupils’ environment and experiences in order to ensure relevance. This practice should be extended to all classes so that pupils can see a relevance to the topics being covered.

 

There is effective liaison between class teachers and support teachers in the teaching of Mathematics and well planned team teaching is practised in some classes. ‘Numero’ is one such activity and is played as part of an intervention programme for pupils experiencing difficulties in number. This activity is clearly enjoyed by the pupils and is aiding development of mental Mathematics skills. Mathematics trails are also used as a team teaching activity. 

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

The school enthusiastically engages in the Green Schools initiative. The commitment to care of the environment is ongoing and the enthusiasm for the work is unflagging even after almost 10 years of continuous endeavour.  The school has maintained records of all its action plans since 1999 and its list of achievements is impressive. Its first project on litter and waste awareness, which preceded the introduction of the plastic bag levy in Ireland, succeeded in achieving a 90% reduction in plastic bag use in the school community. Its second project was to reduce the electricity bill for the school and a reduction of 7% was achieved over a year. The third project involved improving the school environment and the development of the school garden grew out of that initiative. The fourth project on water conservation has been completed successfully and the school has been awarded its fourth green flag. The school is now working on its fifth project which will centre on the topic of transport. There is no doubt that the school will achieve its fifth green flag for this initiative.

 

The use of nature trails around the school is an exemplary exercise in devising a spiral curriculum. The school has set out a policy on these trails whereby pupils engage in the same trail throughout their school life but learn new facts about their school environment each time. The knowledge is colour coded for each double-year grouping and therefore allows teachers not only to extend pupils’ knowledge but also to revise previous work. This is a model example of a core spiral curriculum in action. At the end of 6th class the pupils will have built up an invaluable specific corpus of knowledge on their own school environment.

 

Geography

In the infant classes laudable use is made of the interactive whiteboard to teach Geography lessons. The lessons are well planned and pupils participate eagerly. The teachers are to be praised for their dedication in gathering stimulating material for the interactive whiteboard and for gathering practical hands-on equipment. It was noted that as is dictated by good practice requirements, discussion using the materials for lessons, precedes written work. Lessons in Geography are integrated very well with other topics in other areas of the curriculum. These areas include English and Science. In the junior and middle classes, lessons using pupil friendly maps were observed. The maps were created from internet sources and subsequently laminated for class use and longer term use. Grids were drawn onto the maps and the pupils were trained to read symbols and work on the grids. This early work in use of maps was developed in the senior classes where atlases are given prominence and the teaching of lessons is very much in line with the provisions of the school plan. This plan outlines the countries to be studied and given in-depth treatment in each class, thus avoiding unnecessary duplication of learning. Again in line with the school plan, pupils have undertaken geographical trails around the school. These trails are documented impressively and the results are on display. Very good use is made of Ordnance Survey maps to teach Geography in senior classes. Pupils work in pairs using the maps. At the end of lessons teachers draw the knowledge together, and it is advised that teachers ensure pupils take away five or six key points from the specific lessons taught. This is important in a broad subject such as Geography.

 

History

In the infant classes the teachers again make excellent use of interactive whiteboards to develop sequencing activities. The interactive whiteboard is an ideal medium to develop the concept of sequencing and narration. Interactive whiteboard activity is followed by practical activities using teacher-devised equipment to practise the sequential language needed. Further activities observed to practise use of the same language register included role-play and teacher in role. The practical approach is also very much in evidence in junior classrooms where museum corners are created in classrooms. The items that were contributed by parents and grandparents included World War II gas masks, old radios, anvils, and old telephones. Pupils were creating time capsules and discussing what they wanted to put in the time capsules.

 

In the senior classes there is much evidence of independent project work. In one class, pupils have written extensively on topics such as the Renaissance. Good use is made of whole class teaching, which is then followed by freeze frame drama to enact aspects of lessons taught to the whole class. The freeze frame drama is prepared in groups and pupils work willingly on the topic. In addition, use is made of songs and interesting activities such as writing diary entries and letters to bring History to life. In another class a lesson was based on the history of the school. Fascinating use was made of old roll books as primary sources of information. This work was undertaken as group tasks to find streets where pupils who came to the school fifty years ago resided. The learning that is to be derived from this practical work is elicited through discussion and talk. All these approaches create enormous interest in History as a subject.

 

Science

A broad and balanced curriculum is taught in all classes. Pupils’ existing knowledge provides a starting point for new learning and discovery. The nature trail that has been designed around the school grounds is an excellent and invaluable resource for both the ‘Living Things’ and ‘Environmental Awareness and Care’ strands of the curriculum. The school pond is a recent addition to the various habitats found on the trail and valuable use has been made of this resource by all teachers. The intention of making pupils familiar with the creatures and plants in their immediate environment is laudable. The Green Schools committee is coordinated by one of the post holders and is used as an active and relevant way of teaching the ‘Environmental Awareness and Care’ strand of the curriculum. There is a great sense of respect for the environment around the school amongst staff and pupils.

 

A range of resources has been acquired for the implementation of the Science programme and these were well utilised during the lessons observed. Interest areas have been developed in many classes and these comprise of nature tables as well as active experiments, records of experiments already undertaken and project work that has been completed. The lessons observed during the evaluation were well structured and pupils had many opportunities to engage in experiments. They were keen to predict results and discuss their findings.

 

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

The implementation of the Visual Arts curriculum in the school deserves much praise. The numerous displays around the school are of a very high standard and demonstrate the broad nature of curriculum delivery. The work of many famous artists is celebrated throughout the school. More in-depth work is undertaken in the classrooms at all class levels. During the evaluation, pupils engaged in the lessons with great enthusiasm. A variety of media were used and pupils were also given opportunities to respond to the work of various artists. Teachers seize chances for integration of the Visual Arts with many other areas of the curriculum including Music, SESE, English and History. The school also uses a local artist to undertake work with some classes and this is proving a worthwhile and beneficial opportunity for the pupils.

 

 

 

Music

Music is a well established tradition in St. Ursula’s Primary School. Pupils in all classes sing a number of songs in both English and Gaeilge. The quality is to be praised, as is the ability of pupils in some classes to sing in multiple part harmonies. Pupils use a variety of home-made and commercially produced percussion instruments to compose and respond to Music. Teachers should continue to implement the composition strand of the programme and provide pupils with opportunities to explore Music in a variety of ways. Some classes have been taught to play the tin-whistle but it may be worth considering the further development of this aspect of the Music programme and teaching tin-whistle in earlier classes. All class levels are exposed to a variety of genre of Music. A core list of songs and listening pieces of Music has been devised for all classes and this is praiseworthy in that it ensures continuity and a broad curriculum. The school should continue monitoring the implementation of this list and review its effectiveness to ensure a broad, spiral curriculum and try to ensure unnecessary repetition. The school choirs perform to a high standard and have participated in numerous events. These include school assemblies, concerts and events in the local church. All pupils have access to guitar lessons after school and pupils have reached a good standard in the relatively short period of time they have been learning

 

Drama

The drama plan is at the draft stage. The teachers are engaging with drama this year and trying out different aspects of drama. During the next academic year they will meet collaboratively to decide on the content of the school plan.

 

The school delivers an exciting and varied drama programme with pupils actively engaged. The elements of drama including belief, role and character, action and tension are well developed. During the lessons observed, there were whole class activities, group and paired work. Full participation by the pupils was facilitated and encouraged. The pupils experienced a range of dramatic activities from hot-seating, freeze frames, teacher in role, mime, improvisation to poems and stories being used as a stimulus. The teachers also integrate drama with other areas of the curriculum to enhance learning across the curriculum. As part of their weekly assemblies, classes prepare short dramas, and these are performed for the other classes. All the fourth class pupils participate in LAMDA Choral Speaking Examinations and individual pupils can continue to do these examinations on a voluntary basis with a number of places for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

4.6 Physical Education

The yearly plan for Physical Education outlines the strands which will be covered each month, and attention is taken to ensure that all strands are covered. The teachers plan their lessons well ensuring that they are structured to include warm-up and cool down activities with emphasis on the development of specific skills. Pupils engage enthusiastically in the lessons. Some teachers use Irish during instruction and this practice is to be commended.

 

The school has a hall for indoor activities and PE lessons. There are also grass areas for running and ball playing as well as decorated playgrounds. The school enjoys access to the secondary school grounds for hockey and other sports. It has a good selection of equipment.

 

The school promotes the active participation of pupils in sporting activities. An extensive range of extra-curricular sports is provided and these include camogie, gaelic football, soccer, athletics and hockey. The teachers are to be commended for their level of extra-curricular involvement. The school has enjoyed many sporting achievements and these include awards for best primary school in long distance athletics, All Ireland 5-a-side soccer champions, Munster Express Team of the Month, Active Schools award winners, first prize in Waterford swimming gala and prize winners in the Munster schools swimming competition, Cumann na mBunscoile finalists and basketball tournament runners up.

 

There is an active lunch scheme and this involves each class getting the opportunity to enjoy free play with different equipment, during their lunch break on one day a week. Equipment laid out for each playground includes everything from skipping ropes to hoops, all types of balls, bean bags, tennis raquets, target nets, hurdles and more. Some of the senior girls ‘buddy’ the younger pupils and show them how to dribble, throw and catch the ball as well as playing various playground games with them. There is a Sports Committee to oversee the active lunch scheme. The school also organises an Active School Week during which there are stations around the school with different activities.

 

The school also celebrates local sports stars and they are invited to visit the school. This all helps to promote the importance of sport and its necessity for longterm health and well being.

 

4.7 Social Personal and Health Education

The policy for SPHE was formulated through a process of consultation with the principal and teaching staff. Some SPHE related policies were formulated by the principal and teaching staff in consultation with the board of management and parents. These include Relationships and Sexuality Education, Substance Use, Anti-bullying policy and Enrolment. The strand units are covered over a two-year period. The teachers use a variety of methodologies to implement the programme. These include circle time, well organised paired work and group work and pupils demonstrate ability to work as part of a team. Story, role play, the use of pictures and photographs and writing and drawing activities enhance the teaching and learning. The school has accumulated an extensive range of resources 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 pupils’ council, school assembleys, the promotion of sports and games, healthy lunches, entering ‘Happy Heart’ competitions, participation in world development workshops, a school newsletter, making contributions to the local papers about activities in the school and the Green School initiative.

 

The plan for SPHE outlines a list of success criteria and it is suggested that these could be formulated into Evaluation Sheets, to be used by each class teacher.

 

4.8 Assessment

The school policy on assessment outlines two approaches to assessment in the school; assessment of learning to gauge what a child has learned and provide a summary of her achievements, and assessment for learning which focuses on helping the child improve her own learning by providing feedback so that she can learn more effectively.

 

Assessment is both formal and informal in nature. Teacher observation and questioning, work samples and projects, spelling and dictation tests, weekly tables tests, teacher designed tasks and tests, as well as end of term tests are amongst the modes of informal assessment utilised by the teachers. The Friday test in spellings has been a feature of regular school assessment for many years. This begins in senior infants and follows through until sixth class. At the end of the Junior Infant school year a comprehensive school designed test is administered to all the pupils. Formal testing is conducted through the use of the Micra T and Sigma T standardised tests, which are administered annually from first class to sixth class. The Middle Infants Screening Test is used at senior infant level. Standardised testing is organised and monitored by the learning support coordinator. The school compiles all the results into a data base and this facilitates the tracking of each pupil’s results from year to year. From the test results the learning support record for the next year is drawn up and the register for the more able pupils is updated. Occasionally screening or diagnostic assessment may be necessary if a parent, teacher or learning support teacher has a particular concern about a child and more detailed information is necessary about her progress or learning needs.

 

Following from the assessment of pupils a class profile is devised for each class each year. The class profiles record any differentiation strategies that teachers use with Stage 1,2 and 3 pupils, newcomer pupils and exceptionally able pupils. This is a very useful exercise and helps to ensure that pupils are being supported in the classroom based on their needs. The school has a range of recommended strategies for successful differentiation in the classroom and these include adapted questioning, modified activities, acceleration/deceleration of the curriculum, modified homework and peer teaching among others.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The provision for pupils with special educational needs is another of the strengths of this school and is characterised by whole school approaches to planning, excellent communication, school designed initiatives, liaison with external agencies and high expectations. Planning and teaching are of a high quality with teachers prepared to adopt new approaches and teaching methods in response to the needs of their pupils. A carefully considered programme, which includes withdrawal of pupils, team teaching and in-class support, has been devised to accommodate the needs of the pupils. In-class support is provided in Early Intervention, English and Mathematics. Early Intervention is a feature of the work from Senior Infants to Second class. Early intervention includes CAPER, sight vocabulary lists and sound linkages based on phonemes and rhyming. A special language enrichment programme has been designed for pupils with specific language needs. Either the Speech and Language Unit or the school Psychologist has identified these needs. A definite well-structured programme is followed with great variety and use of resources. Maths trails have been designed around the school and these are based on the strands of the Maths curriculum. The learning support teachers work with the class teachers on these trails to maximise their learning potential. Numero is also used in-class to improve mental maths. One of the resource teachers is acquiring mastery of Braille to meet the needs of her pupils. The classrooms are attractive and stimulating with a range of resources employed to support teaching and learning. Good use is made of ICT to reinforce concepts and enhance learning. An extensive range of resources is available in the school and these are used effectively and purposefully. A number of school-designed initiatives have been devised for learning support. These include: Tables challenges, Spellings programme for Senior Infants, Senior Infant Friday test, End of year check-up for Junior Infants, Cloze activities for use in conjunction with PAT nursery rhymes, More Extension Words and Extension Words Kits

 

A variety of testing materials are in use, which include standardised, diagnostic, screening, reading attainment and mathematics assessments. The learning support teachers, in consultation with class teachers, parents and in some cases pupils, prepare Individual Pupil Learning Profiles (IPLPs) for each of the pupils attending. In the resource setting an Individual Education Plan (IEP) has been devised for all pupils in consultation with all relevant parties. These documents specify the priority learning needs of the pupil as well as the learning targets. These are reviewed mid-year and targets are adjusted accordingly. Collaboration with class teachers and parents is seen as vital to the work. The school liaises very closely with the school psychologist and the speech and language unit. Members of the team are constantly upskilling themselves and have attended a range of courses.

 

The school caters for members of the Travelling community and the teacher with responsibility in this area engages well with the pupils. The holistic and caring approach towards all pupils was particularly notable while in the school. Appropriate education for these pupils is coordinated both within the resource setting and in the classroom and effective practice was observed during the evaluation. The promotion of the attendance levels of these pupils was a matter of concern to the teachers but action plans to address this issue have been implemented successfully and have led to significant improvements by the pupils. There has also been considerable success in increasing the levels of continued attendance at second level and staff continue to take interest in the progress of past-pupils of the school.

 

Overall, the team see their strengths as their very effective team work, the open door policy between them and their sharing of expertise and skills, the holistic approach of the team and their ability and determination to ‘face all challenges’.

 

There is one learning support teacher shared with a neighbouring school while there is a part-time teacher employed for Low incidence teaching hours. It is advised that efforts be made to try and secure the shared teacher full-time in the school to ensure the most efficient management of resources.

 

5.2Policy on Supporting More able pupils

The school has recently formulated a policy on supporting more able pupils and this policy outlines the assessment and identification of more able pupils and the provision, which will be provided for them. An information pack supporting more able pupils is circulated to all teachers to support them in their classroom work.

 

5.3 Language Support

The language support teachers’ long-term and short-term planning notes include clear and very helpful strategies to help international students in the school. These notes include lists of websites for aiding the preparation of lessons. Long-term and short-term plans are prepared in collaboration with class teachers and with each other as language teachers. As part of the whole school plan the school has adopted the Ursuline Programme for International Parents and Pupils (UPIPS).  Included in the plan is the school’s policy on cultural diversity and the creation of an intercultural environment. The teachers make very good use of Integrate Ireland Language and Training materials. The global benchmarks of communicative proficiency from the Council of Europe are included in the long-term plans and these benchmarks are related to the school and to the pupils in the school. The language support teachers also maintain records of attendance and basic records on each pupil, including country of origin. There is a strong emphasis on learning English through doing and to this end the long-term plans set out group activities for each month. For example, pottery lessons in January, puppet making in February, cookery in March, planting seeds in April, local history in May and a summer outing in June. This is very good practice. The long-term plans also contain ideas for integration across the curriculum and these ideas are organised around themes/topics such as Myself, Food and Clothes, Colour and Shape, School, People who help us etc. Literacy targets are also set out for pupils.

 

Four teachers work with 120 pupils and these teachers plan their work together regularly. They have devised very useful templates for planning. In order to give pupils the best service possible, the teachers have organised a buddy system between the Irish and international pupils. The school also has a strong track record in its work with and support of parents. The parents receive translated documentation and advice as to the availability of English language courses. The school is very involved with Birchwood –the neighbouring Refugee Centre. The pupils who come from the Birchwood Centre have many support needs and the school provides a daily homework club for both Irish and international pupils. There has been a tradition of support for international pupils since 1999 when the Kosovars first arrived in the aftermath of the Balkan crisis. The school is also involved in One World projects and in supporting Ursuline missionary efforts.

 

The language lessons observed during the WSE had clear structures and they delivered positive outcomes for the pupils. The pupils participated with enthusiasm and the teachers were able to draw on a wide range of resources, including rich selections of books. The teachers of the junior pupils support the rhymes and songs done in mainstream class and these rhymes are of enormous benefit for language development. Many integrated activities are organised for pupils and one which was observed included puppet shows performed by the senior pupils. It is intended that the international students subsequently perform these shows for the mainstream infant and junior classes. This is a very good approach. In order to develop this service further, language teachers might consider using stories from the countries of origin of pupils. The international pupils would know the stories in their own language and it would provide them with a useful exercise to recount those stories in English. Individual Proficiency Profiles are kept on each pupil in receipt of language support. Provision is made for assessment through teacher observation.

 

5.4 Other supports for pupils

The school engages in a range of activities aimed at enhancing provision for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is no officially designated home school community liaison teacher in the school. However a home school community co-ordinator is working in this area as part of her post of responsibility. This teacher makes home visits and works closely with the family counsellor. She visits the families of all the junior infant parents and makes home visits to families experiencing difficulties. She organises classes for parents including Personal Development, Computer classes and English classes. She links closely with external agencies working in the Waterford area, circulating information about courses and supports that are available locally. She also delivers the Headstart programme for parents and incoming junior infant pupils. This helps prepare the pupils for beginning school and provides a link between pre-school and school. She also acts as a contact person for parents.

 

The school runs a homework club four afternoons a week to enable pupils to do their homework in a safe, comfortable environment with support, encouragement and help when needed. A number of parents work as volunteers and they are supported and co-ordinated by a teacher as part of her post of responsibilities. An Ursuline Sister also assists in the running of the Club. There is also a breakfast club and the school caretaker handles the day-to-day organisation of this.

 

Considering that the school is not part of the DEIS programme it is to be highly commended for the efforts which it makes to support all its pupils and the measures it takes to tackle educational and social disadvantage. It is worth noting that the boys school in the parish is part of the DEIS programme and it would be of huge benefit to this school to also be part of this programme so that it would have greater resources to support the excellent work that it is doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Summary of Findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The school has a clear vision, which is shared by all partners, and which is pursued in a focused, assured way
  • The chairperson and board members display great commitment and interest in the operation of the school.
  • The principal provides effective leadership. She encourages collaborative team work, and facilitates the skills and talents of the staff.
  • The in-school management team are supportive of the principal and carry out their duties with care and diligence.
  • The entire staff are dedicated to providing high quality education in the school.
  • The pupils are courteous, friendly and positive.
  • There is a happy and positive school environment, which has the welfare of the pupils central to its work.
  • There is close liaison between the school and the community at large.
  • There is excellent provision for pupils with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • The curriculum is enhanced by the teacher designed booklets, which are mentioned in this report
  • There is a breath of extra-curricular activities provided by the teachers.
  • The class profiles of each class show a commitment to differentiation and to meeting the varied needs of all the pupils.
  • The nature trails exemplify the core spiral curriculum in action
  • The school is committed to its Green Flag status

 

 

It is recommended that the staff, as part of their on-going school development planning, considers and makes use of the advice suggested in the body of the report.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2008