An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Gort Convent N.S.
Gort County Galway
Uimhir rolla: 13208V
Date of inspection: 22 October 2008
A whole-school evaluation of Gort Convent N.S. was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on aspects of the school’s provision including management, teaching and learning, planning and supports for pupils, with a particular focus on the quality of leadership. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
Gort Convent N.S. is a mainstream Catholic school situated in the town of Gort. It was established in 1879 by the Mercy Order. The Catholic Bishop of Galway is its patron. It is a girls’ school with boys attending until they graduate from first class. They then transfer, for the most part, to Scoil Eoin B.N.S. The school operates an open enrolment policy and this is reflected in the diversity of pupils attending the school. The school, in its mission statement, strives to “cater for the full and harmonious development of each child by providing a relevant curriculum in an environment characterised by care, justice and understanding.” This ethos is reflected in the open and harmonious relationships that exist among parents, board, staff and pupils. It is evident that the mission statement is lived and that it informs everyday practice in the school. Pupil numbers have increased dramatically over the last five years with the enrolment of a significant number of newcomer pupils whose first language is not English. This poses a considerable challenge to the board of management. The board has responded positively to the changing needs and circumstances of the school and in keeping with its recognition that “every person has a right to equal opportunity in education” and to “enable students to live in respectful and reverent relationships with each other” it has drafted and ratified a range of organisational policies which outline guidelines and procedures to ensure the effective integration of these pupils. Pupil attendance is carefully monitored and reflects very good attendance patterns amongst the majority of the pupils. Attendance levels of a minority of pupils give cause for concern. It is therefore recommended that the board of management review the current attendance policy to include a number of whole-school strategies to promote pupil attendance.
The board of management is very supportive of the work of the school. Meetings of the board are convened regularly; finances are carefully managed and are audited on an annual basis. Minutes of board meetings are carefully maintained. The roles and responsibilities of the board are clearly defined and board members undertake these responsibilities effectively. Individual board members have availed of training opportunities to prepare them for the effective discharge of their roles in managing the school an undertaking for which praise is deserved. It is evident that the board has a clear and shared understanding of the school’s organisational structure. It has drafted, reviewed and ratified an extensive number of organisational policies. The board is not involved in the drafting of whole-school curriculum plans but devolves this responsibility to the teaching staff. It does however discuss and ratify these documents. Parents are not involved in the drafting of whole-school plans and policies but the board ensures that all parents receive a copy of key policies including the code of behaviour, enrolment policy, and anti-bullying policy. Many of these policies have been translated into the mother tongue of the parents of pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL). The board is highly commended for this practice. It is now recommended that the board considers putting structures in place by means of which parents, including parents of EAL pupils, might contribute to the planning process. It is further recommended that the board would review its effectiveness in monitoring teaching and learning and the manner in which it ensures that appropriate support is provided for pupils. Such a review should result in the establishment of structures and the embedding of practices which would ensure frequent school self-evaluation and review. Evidence relating to the quality of the educational provision and pupils’ achievements from a variety of sources, including teaching staff, parents, assessment data, progress records on pupils’ learning outcomes, and formal reviews of whole-school planning implementation should be drawn upon to support this process.
The in-school management team consists of a principal, a deputy principal and four special duties teachers. The principal is held in very high regard throughout the school community. She has established a high level of personal credibility and she demonstrates professional competence and commitment in leading the school. She articulates a clear strategic direction based on the ethos of the school and a personal vision which takes into account the needs of the school and its pupils. She is praised for consistently sharing her high expectations with the pupils, the parents, the board and the staff. School activities are well organised and official records are carefully maintained. The principal leads and manages the whole-school planning process. She has assumed some teaching responsibilities during the current academic year. The time taken in undertaking this teaching responsibility reduces the principal’s availability to monitor the implementation of whole school plans and policies at classroom level. It is therefore recommended that future deployment of teaching staff be organised in a manner which allows for the principal to place increased emphasis on this instructional leadership role.
An extensive range of duties, curricular, organisational and pastoral, has been delegated to the post-holders. The in-school management team meets frequently and works collaboratively with the principal. Individually and collectively team members make a significant contribution to the management of the school and to the creation of a school climate that is characterised by positive relationships within the school community. The board is praised for periodically reviewing the contracts which outline the duties of the post holders. It is now recommended that these duties be reviewed annually to reflect the changing priorities of the school as a learning and teaching organisation. It is further recommended that duties and responsibilities focusing on the needs of EAL pupils be identified and assigned to post holders in the future.
All teachers are given an opportunity to experience a variety of classes and teaching contexts. The expertise of individual staff members is deployed effectively and matched appropriately to the needs of pupils. This good practice is praised.
The board ensures that the school building and grounds are clean, maintained to a high standard and that a safe and secure environment is provided for the pupils and staff. The school building is regularly utilised for after-school activities. It is recommended however that the learning environments of the school might now reflect to a greater extent, the language, ethnic and cultural diversity of the school community.
The board ensures that all teachers have access to a wide range of resources. A variety of concrete materials, charts, library books, and resource materials work is provided in classrooms and these are used creatively to support learning and teaching. Displays of pupils’ work are attractively organised in each classroom and in the corridors. The board expressed its concern regarding perceived inadequacies in the range and quality of information and communication technologies which is currently available to support pupil learning in the school. The board outlined its plans to address this issue in the short term.
The board of management reports that excellent relationships have been established across the school community. The school uses a wide range of methods for communicating with parents including the issuing of regular newsletters. The school is praised for taking full account of the needs of minority language groups when disseminating information. Annual parent teacher meetings are convened and the school is highly commended for providing translators to assist the parents of minority groups to effectively communicate with the teachers. Parents, however, do not play an active role in the life of the school. It is therefore recommended that the board promotes and encourages the establishment of a parents’ association.
Relationships between staff and pupils are very positive and standards of pupils’ behaviour and discipline are very high. Pupils work conscientiously and co-operatively with staff and one another and are very well behaved, polite and courteous. There are planned opportunities for pupils to show care and consideration for others and to develop the skills of active citizenship. Pupils are encouraged to participate in a wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Care however should be taken to ensure that all pupils are placed in age-appropriate contexts in compliance with circular 11/01.
The school is commended for the production of a comprehensive school plan. A wide range of organisational policies provides clear guidelines for whole-school practice and these policies reflect careful compliance with current legislation. Curriculum plans reflect the principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). All plans and policies have been ratified by the board. The fact that there is regular review of these policies was verified. The board’s commitment to such review is praiseworthy. Prior to future reviews of curriculum plans it is recommended that the learning needs of the pupils, particularly pupils from minority groups, are identified and that provision is made to outline methods though which these might be addressed. The school plan for English should also be reviewed to ensure that it fully reflects the principles of the English curriculum and that it contains specific policies on the implementation of each of the strand units within the oral, reading and writing strands, particularly in the early years.
The development plan is very well organised and it provides a clear summary of areas for development and of the progress made in achieving previous development priorities. Supporting action plans identify targets, tasks, time scales and success criteria. This process of tracking progress in achieving targets is commended. It is now recommended that information on pupil achievement would contribute to future selection of priorities for development. It is further recommended that the implementation of the development plan is evaluated in the future, fundamentally in relation to its perceived impact on improving the quality of pupils’ experiences and standards of attainment.
Classroom planning is systematically and comprehensively undertaken. To ensure that prior planning for formative assessment and ongoing tracking of progress occurs systematically, templates and other classroom planning material currently in use should now be revisited to ensure that concise specific learning outcomes are being identified in short-term planning. To avoid any assumption that learning has occurred when planned tasks have been carried out, the current method of recording monthly progress should be amended so that the focus is now on the extent to which key planned objectives have been achieved. Future decisions on the structure of short-term planning templates and monthly progress records within the school should be based on the principle of ensuring that follow-on planning will be based on the previous attainment of the pupils.
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.
In English, all pupils are making very good progress and very high standards are achieved by a significant number of pupils. During the evaluation period some very good practice in the teaching of English was observed. Lessons are well structured, paced and delivered. In some classes excellently organised group work was observed and such approaches should be extended to all classes. The majority of teachers identify clear learning objectives for their English lessons. Discrete oral language classes are delivered by each teacher. Contexts for oral language, including talk and discussion, story, drama, poetry and rhyme are well utilised. Praiseworthy attention is placed at all class levels to developing an appreciation of the listener-speaker relationship, to learning to attend actively, and to respond to verbal and non-verbal cues. The central place of language in developing thinking skills and in emotional and imaginative development throughout the curriculum should however be further explored by the staff. It is therefore recommended that a greater number of opportunities for sustained shared thinking would be organised in every area of the curriculum. Strategies whereby pupils are enabled to work collaboratively in groups should be adopted from junior infants onwards. As the quality of interaction between teacher and pupil is crucial, particularly in the early years, it is recommended that, in the future, whole class teaching should be de-emphasised generally. Play-based activities should be incorporated to a greater extent throughout the day in the infant classes and these activities should be rotated between groups. In utilising these more informal but age-appropriate approaches, the role of the teacher will be to actively observe the pupils while they are learning and to intervene appropriately to extend their learning.
In general, very good standards are achieved in English reading. Reading skills are successfully taught and the majority of pupils read accurately and display clear comprehension of lesson content. The skilful development of pupils’ phonological and phonemic awareness coupled with word identification strategies throughout the school is highly praised. It is now recommended that emergent reading skills would be gradually developed in the infant classes as recommended in the curriculum, through the use of language experience materials, pupil generated stories and the provision of opportunities for experiential and collaborative reading. In some classes flexible grouping structures for the teaching of reading were organised. In these cases pupils’ differing needs are addressed effectively. In general, however, reading material is not sufficiently differentiated within classes to meet pupils’ learning needs, with most pupils reading text at the same reading level. It is now recommended that a wide range of reading materials be utilised for reading so that all pupils throughout the school will be appropriately challenged. To utilise teachers’ skills at optimum level to meet the needs of pupils, the organisation of flexible group structures should now be extended to all classes.
The teaching of writing is systematically developed throughout the school and pupil achievement in writing is generally of a very high standard. Letter formation and handwriting skills are well developed at all class levels. Pupils’ handwriting and presentation skills are of a very high quality. Written work is regularly monitored and evaluated and particular attention is paid to grammar, spelling and punctuation. On a school-wide basis, written activities include the writing of poetry, the compilation of personal dictionaries, and functional and creative writing tasks. Teachers effectively scaffold the process of writing and in the middle and senior classes pupils are encouraged to select their own writing topics. Pupils at the infants and junior levels should now be enabled also to write occasionally on topics of their own choosing. In addition, the practice of displaying good quality written work which is operated in some classes should be extended to all classes.
The quality of teaching in Mathematics is of a very high standard and pupil achievement is in general very good. A good whole school plan in Mathematics informs teacher planning and practice. In this plan common approaches and specific objectives are outlined for each class standard. The individual planning of the majority of teachers indicates that an equitable balance is struck when addressing the strands and the strand units of the mathematics programme. All teachers should adopt this method of planning. The oral mathematical activities which feature in all lessons are a particular source of enjoyment for the pupils. A good range of mathematical equipment is provided throughout the school including charts, games, number lines and measuring tools. Commendable emphasis is placed on the use of these materials to reinforce the teaching of mathematical concepts. In the lessons observed, pupils engaged with concrete materials to support learning and were active participants in the learning process. Care is taken to ensure that the immediate and local environment and the life experiences of the pupils are utilised effectively to develop pupil learning. In the majority of classes some activities are organised during which pupils’ problem-solving abilities are developed. These activities also provide a context within which concepts and skills can be learned, higher-order thinking skills developed and co-operative working can be practised. However it is recommended that pupils be provided with an increased number of opportunities to engage in these activities to enable the further development of the mathematical skills of reasoning, applying and problem-solving and integrating and connecting. Very good work was observed in the teaching of mathematical language associated with the particular mathematical concepts. The provision of in-class support to EAL pupils assists greatly in this regard. Regular opportunities are provided for pupils to consolidate their learning. Written work is very neatly presented and is regularly monitored and evaluated. It is recommended, in order to further develop the current good practice, that mathematical interest areas within the classrooms be enhanced to further support pupil learning.
The quality of summative assessment in the school is very good. On an ongoing basis, teachers regularly verified pupil learning during the lessons observed through skilful questioning and the monitoring of written activities. The majority of teachers utilise a wide range of assessment modes including teacher designed tests and tasks and criterion referenced tests and these teachers maintain careful records of pupil progress. Some teachers compile portfolios and digital records of samples of pupils’ work across the curriculum. This good practice is praised. There is a need however, in the infant classes, to devise a means through which pupils’ learning might be systematically tracked and recorded particularly in literacy and numeracy. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are administered annually and the school is commended for the manner in which it utilises the results of these tests to identify and provide support for those pupils experiencing difficulties in numeracy and literacy. Teachers in support settings utilise a wide range of diagnostic tests. The results of these tests effectively contribute to the formulation of individual education programmes for those pupils in receipt of support. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered to pupils in senior infants. The results generated from this test, coupled with teacher observation, are used to plan early intervention programmes to support pupils’ learning needs. It is now recommended that a similar test be administered in the area of Mathematics so that the school can plan early intervention programmes in Mathematics also.
Comprehensive records on each individual pupil are maintained. These are effectively utilised to track pupils’ learning progress and to assist in the completion of end of year report cards. The teachers should now focus to a greater extent on the day to day formative assessment strategies they adopt. To involve the pupils in self-assessing their own learning, the planned learning outcomes should be shared with the pupils using age-appropriate language. The analysis of summative assessment data such as that which is produced in teacher-designed tests and in standardised test results to plan future learning should frequently be undertaken. It is therefore recommended that the whole-school policy on assessment be reviewed and that guidelines be outlined to direct teachers on the use of assessment data for learning.
A full-time learning support teacher and two part-time resource teachers provide very good support to pupils with special educational needs and learning difficulties. Each teacher, using a range of assessment data, outlines clear, focused individual educational programmes (IEP) for the pupils in receipt of support. Very good communication occurs with parents during the design of each IEP. Specific learning objectives to be addressed over a given time-frame and the strategies and resources to be employed in the achievement of the targets are outlined. Individual teacher planning in support teaching areas is documented through the comprehensive formulation of fortnightly plans, daily plans, folders pertaining to diagnostic testing, resource folders, and records of pupils’ progress and portfolios of pupils’ work samples. The support team and the class teachers plan co-operatively to ensure that in-class support addresses specific learning outcomes and develops pupil learning. This good practice is commended. Lessons observed were of a very high standard. A wide range of teaching strategies is implemented and very good use is made of concrete materials, appropriate teaching aids and teacher-made resources. Structured, well-developed teaching and learning activities are undertaken and very good pacing and development of lessons was observed. It is evident that all pupils in receipt of support are making good progress commensurate with their abilities.
In general the school creates a positive ethos which actively reflects values and affirms linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity. A culture of mutual respect for newcomer pupils is promoted and the diversity of the community is acknowledged in an inclusive manner. Multilingual welcome messages are prominently displayed in the school’s reception areas. Initial meetings are held with parents to explain school routines and procedures. Activities are arranged that encourage parents to participate in school events. The teachers who have been assigned to the role of supporting the development of English as an Additional Language (EAL) are professional and enthusiastic in their approaches. The school has defined clear roles for these EAL support teachers and they have accessed continuous professional development in the area. They apply the key principles of EAL pedagogy in their teaching. Pupils are given some opportunities to communicate with others in their first language. In the language support rooms the learning environment is stimulating and challenging. Resources, developed to support the teaching and learning of English as an additional language, are widely used in the planning and implementation of pupils’ programmes. Records indicate that pupils make satisfactory progress with reference to the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks. An individual language profile is compiled in respect of each pupil and this is reviewed regularly. Overall, progress is in keeping with ability and the teaching targets which have been planned.
The school, in keeping with its characteristic spirit and mission, encourages, facilitates and supports the participation of all pupils in the life of the school.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· The school is commended for the creation of an inclusive, caring school atmosphere in which pupils are valued and where their individual needs are assiduously
· The board of management is praised for responding positively to the changing needs and circumstances of the school and for the provision of accommodation and
resources to enable the school to focus on the quality of learning and teaching
· The quality of the whole-school plan and development plan is good and it is evident that the board and the staff have invested considerable time and effort in its
· The staff and the in-school management team work collaboratively and co-operatively in the best interests of the school and its pupils. The teachers are praised for the
professionalism they display in their attention to their duties.
· The quality of teaching and learning is, in general, of a very high standard and many excellent examples of good practice were observed during the evaluation period.
· The quality of support for pupils with learning difficulties is of a very high standard.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· The duties of the in-school management team should be reviewed annually to reflect the changing priorities of the school. Specific focus should be placed on the
assignment of duties to post holders who address the identified needs of EAL pupils.
· The board should ensure that it regularly oversees teaching and learning in the school and it should monitor, in particular, the provision of appropriate support for pupils.
· The whole-school policy on assessment should be reviewed
· Teaching strategies should be extended so that more opportunities for sustained shared thinking between teachers and pupils are provided.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and the staff of the school feel that the written draft of the report should be given well in advance of the follow-up visitation of the Inspectors so as to allow a more informed and effective post-evaluation meeting and discussion.