An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Holy Family NS
Rathcoole, County Dublin
Uimhir rolla: 13217W
Date of inspection: 24 February 2009
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Holy Family NS, Rathcoole. 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.
Holy Family NS is a twenty-teacher primary school located in the parish of Saggart/Rathcoole, Co. Dublin. It operates under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. It caters for the educational needs of boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class, with the majority of pupils being drawn from the immediate area. The trend of increasing pupil enrolment that has been experienced in recent years is likely to continue and it reflects a growing diversity in pupil enrolment. While overall attendance levels are generally satisfactory, a significant number of pupils are absent for between eleven and twenty days per year. The school’s attendance policy, the careful monitoring of pupil attendance and the recently-introduced initiatives to acknowledge full attendance are praiseworthy. These latter interventions should now be extended.
The school’s vision statement is clearly articulated in the school plan. It aspires to nurture happy, confident pupils who are enthusiastic, independent and respectful. In so doing, it also aims to identify and address their intellectual, spiritual, physical, moral and cultural needs. This characteristic spirit is manifest in the breadth of school activities provided and in the positive and respectful interactions in evidence between teachers, pupils and their peers.
The board of management functions in an effective manner and it makes a significant contribution to the successful operation of the school. It meets on a regular basis and detailed minutes and accounts of expenditure are carefully maintained. Clearly-defined responsibilities are allocated to individual board members and are diligently undertaken. The board’s decision-making procedures are transparent and effective. The board takes an active role in the consideration of the full range of curriculum plans and organisational policies. In general, it operates in compliance with statutory legislation and with departmental regulations. The proposed review of the school’s code of behaviour is noted. Consideration should also be given to ensuring that its enrolment/admissions policy is reflective of the school’s current inclusive practices. Positive and productive relationships between the board and school staff, parents and the local community are reported.
The in-school management team comprises the principal, the deputy principal, two assistant principals and six special duties teachers. Under the principal’s leadership and management the school functions very effectively. He demonstrates praiseworthy dedication and commitment to the welfare of pupils and to the ongoing development of the school. The principal is commended for the successful cultivation of a positive school climate that is characterised by supportive working relationships. He constructively promotes a culture of team work, collaborative decision making and positive relationships across the school community.
In fulfilling his duties, the principal is actively supported by the members of the in-school management team. Each member of the team has been assigned specific duties which are conscientiously undertaken. The recent review of allocated responsibilities and their increasing responsiveness to the changing needs of the school are lauded. As a means of building on the existing capacity of the in-school management team, it is recommended that each member be allocated explicit curriculum-leadership roles. This should include the assignment of a discrete area of the curriculum to each post holder; the detailing of attendant duties; the establishment of specific annual priorities; the monitoring of the effectiveness of curriculum implementation; and reporting to the staff and to the board of management on progress in teaching and learning. The convening of regular meetings of the in-school management team and the support provided to the principal in fulfilling his role are acknowledged. In order to enhance this practice, it is advised that meetings be used more purposefully to address the school’s identified priorities; that they be convened on a monthly basis; and that written records of actions agreed be maintained.
The teaching staff comprises the principal, fourteen mainstream class teachers, two full-time learning-support teachers, one full-time and one part-time resource teacher for pupils with special educational needs and two full-time language-support teachers. Eight full-time special-needs assistants, and a part-time secretary and a part-time caretaker are also employed. A detailed policy on the allocation of teachers has been formulated. While it provides for teachers to experience a variety of classes and contexts and a sharing of expertise at different class levels, further attention should be afforded to its effective implementation throughout the school. The staff’s involvement in continuing professional development is a noteworthy aspect of provision. It is informed by the priority needs of the school and it contributes to the quality of teaching and learning provision. The special-needs assistants are directed in their work by class and support teachers. Their role in the classroom is clearly articulated and their work successfully contributes to the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs. The secretary and caretaker are an integral part of school life and they make a significant contribution to the effective day-to-day operation of the school. A number of external tutors assist with the implementation of programmes in physical education, music and information and communication technology (ICT). The collaboration of teachers with these tutors broadens the curriculum experience for pupils.
The school building consists of both permanent and temporary accommodation. The board of management has made application to the Department for the provision of increased permanent accommodation. The building and grounds are maintained to a high standard. The school is very cognisant of health and safety issues and a safe and stimulating environment has been created. Displays of pupils’ work both within classrooms and in circulation areas are praiseworthy. Also commendable is the provision of playground markings which promote pupils’ involvement in a range of games and activities. The school is praised for its fostering of links with the local community and for making the premises available for use by community and other groups outside of school hours.
The provision of an increasing range of resources to support the implementation of all areas of the curriculum continues to be a priority of the school. Consequently, a wide range of teaching and learning resources is provided. The positive contribution of the parents’ association, parents generally and the wider school community in the provision of resources is acknowledged. The resources are well-organised, accessible and used purposefully. Significant advances in the utilisation of ICT, in particular the use of interactive whiteboards in all mainstream and some support-teaching settings, have been made in recent years. Consequently, the effective use of ICT to support pupils’ learning is in evidence in many classrooms. In order to maximise the utilisation of ICT as a teaching and learning resource, it is advised that ongoing, school-based professional development opportunities be provided to continually develop teachers’ skills and expertise.
The parents’ association plays a valuable role and is highly commended for its ongoing commitment to the work of the school. It assists in the provision of a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. It makes a worthwhile contribution to the formulation of organisational policies. Through its fundraising initiatives, it ensures pupils’ access to the full range of school activities. It also provides direct support for the engagement of a variety of external tutors. Effective communication between the school, the parents’ association and parents generally is maintained through the school’s website and the issuing of regular newsletters. Information evenings for parents are held annually and the recent introduction of a meeting for parents of new entrants is welcomed. Parents are provided with regular opportunities to discuss their children’s progress through formal and informal parent-teacher meetings and the issuing of an annual written report. In light of the recently-published Draft Report Card Templates (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment), it is now timely that the reporting format currently in use be reviewed. Some examples of the purposeful involvement of parents and members of the wider school community in day-to-day, in-class activities were in evidence. Opportunities for the increased utilisation of parental skills and talents to aid curriculum implementation should now be considered.
Pupils are valued members of the school community and are treated with equality, fairness and respect. Their pastoral needs are managed effectively and their holistic development is nurtured. They are provided with opportunities to contribute to the formulation of school and classroom rules. Commendable levels of pupil behaviour and co-operation are in evidence throughout the school. They demonstrate positive levels of confidence and self-esteem. They are eager and motivated in their learning and they participate enthusiastically in all school activities. It is now opportune to plan for the increased involvement of pupils in school-based decision making. The proposed re-establishment of the Green Schools’ initiative is timely in this regard.
Whole-school planning is of a competent standard. Curriculum plans and an extensive range of organisational policies have been collaboratively devised under the direction of the in-school management team. These plans and policies have been considered and ratified by the board of management. A selection of pertinent organisational policies has been placed on the school’s website to facilitate access by parents and members of the wider school community. Curriculum plans provide assistance in guiding teaching and learning at a schoolwide level. As a means of optimising their effective implementation, specific priorities for development should be identified. Action plans should be devised and implemented to ensure that areas for improvement are successfully addressed. The implementation and impact of all curriculum plans should be monitored on a cyclical basis.
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.
All teachers in mainstream and support-teaching settings engage in long-term and short-term planning. The standard of long-term planning is generally satisfactory. The quality of short-term planning varies. Some short-term planning clearly details the specific curriculum objectives to be addressed, the teaching methodologies to be employed and the manner in which learning opportunities are to be differentiated. Short-term planning in other contexts is overly content based. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to short-term planning be agreed and that short-term plans be prepared on a fortnightly basis in compliance with Rule 126. Monthly progress records are maintained by all teachers. It is recommended that these records focus more particularly on the learning outcomes achieved by pupils. Such records should be centrally maintained. They should be constructively used to monitor curriculum implementation and to ensure appropriate continuity and progression in learning throughout the school.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
Overall, the quality of teaching is very good and all teachers are successful in creating a positive learning environment. High expectations of pupils’ engagement in their learning are clearly communicated and the pupils respond well. New content is presented successfully and teachers’ questioning is skilful and elicits thoughtful responses. Teachers engage in purposeful, whole-class teaching. Effective examples of well-structured, collaborative learning opportunities were in evidence in the majority of classrooms. It is advised that the use of these latter approaches be extended on a schoolwide basis and that further cognisance be taken of the breadth of curriculum-specific methodologies and approaches. In some classrooms, effective practice was observed in the designing, structuring and implementation of differentiated learning tasks in response to the diversity of pupils’ learning needs. It is recommended that purposefully-differentiated learning tasks and activities be a significant feature of all classrooms.
In general, the quality of pupils’ learning and achievement is very good. They display a positive attitude to learning and participate enthusiastically in the range of learning activities provided. In the main, commendable levels of skill, knowledge and understanding are demonstrated by pupils across the curriculum. In most classrooms, interesting and enjoyable learning contexts and activities are provided. A greater focus on the inclusion of creative and investigative activities where the pupils use higher-order and critical-thinking skills to solve problems and construct new meanings and understandings is advised.
Tá múineadh na Gaeilge sa scoil ar chaighdeán an-mhaith. Éiríonn leis na hoidí dearcadh dearfach le haghaidh na Gaeilge a chothú. Forbraítear gnéithe d’fheasacht cultúir na hÉireann trí chluichí, trí dhamhsa, trí cheol agus trí imeachtaí oiriúnacha a eagrú i rith Seachtain na Gaeilge. Úsáidtear an Ghaeilge le linn na gceachtanna agus go neamhfhoirmiúil tríd an lae. Baintear úsáid éifeachtach as raon straitéisí mar obair bheirte, cluichí agus drámaíocht chun scileanna éisteachta, labhartha agus tuiscint na ndaltaí a chothú. Tá an ghramadach comhtháite go héifeachtach ins na ceachtanna agus tá an dea-chleachtas seo le moladh. Úsáidtear acmhainní go torthúil chun an t-ábhar a mhúineadh go héifeachtach. Éiríonn le cuid is mó de na daltaí fíor-chumarsáid a dhéanamh le linn na ngníomhaíochtaí labhartha. I bhformhór na ranganna aithrisíonn na daltaí raon amhrán agus dánta le brí agus le tuiscint. Tá stórfhocal oiriúnach ar eolas ag na daltaí i ngach rang agus tá an chuid is mó díobh in ann ceisteanna simplí a chur agus a fhreagairt. Chun cur leis an dea-obair seo moltar aithbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an bplean scoile agus scileanna teanga níos soiléire, bunaithe ar na téamaí, a leagan amach do gach rang mar threoir do na hoidí i múineadh na Gaeilge. Bunaítear an léitheoireacht agus an scríbhneoireacht ar an iomlán ar na téacsleabhair agus na leabhair shaothair. Baintear caighdeán cuí amach ag an gcuid is mó de na daltaí ó thaobh na léitheoireachta de. Is fiú machnamh a dhéanamh anois, áfach, ar éagsúlacht ábhar léitheoireachta a sholáthar agus a úsáid ag gach rang leibhéal chun léitheoireacht neamhspleách na ndaltaí a fhorbairt. Múintear scileanna scríbhneoireachta go dícheallach. Cleachtann na daltaí scríbhneoireacht fheidhmiúil don chuid is mó ach tugtar roinnt deiseanna éifeachtacha dóibh freisin scríbhneoireacht phearsanta a chumadh.
The quality of the teaching of Irish in the school is very good. Teachers succeed in cultivating a positive attitude to Irish. Aspects of Irish culture are promoted through games, dance and music and through the activities organised during Seachtain na Gaeilge. Irish is used during lessons and informally throughout the day. Effective use is made of a range of strategies such as pair-work, games and drama in cultivating pupils’ listening and speaking skills and their understanding. Grammar is integrated efficiently in lessons and this good practice is praiseworthy. Resources are purposefully used to aid teaching. The majority of pupils demonstrate genuine communication skills during language activities. In the majority of classes pupils sing a range of songs and recite poems with enthusiasm and understanding. Pupils in each class have a suitable vocabulary range and the majority of them are capable of asking and answering simple questions. To add to this good practice, it is recommended that the school plan be reviewed and clearly identifiable language skills, based on the themes, be outlined for each class to guide teachers in the teaching of Irish. Reading and writing are primarily based on the textbooks and workbooks in use. The majority of pupils demonstrate appropriate reading standards. Consideration now needs to be given to the provision and use of a range of reading material at each class level in order to develop pupils’ independent reading skills. Writing skills are diligently taught. Pupils practise functional writing skills in the main with some effective opportunities provided for the development of their personal writing skills.
The teaching of English is of a competent standard. Pupils’ receptive and expressive language skills are suitably developed through discrete oral-language lessons and through the integration of language learning with other areas of the curriculum. Pupils communicate confidently and competently across a range of themes. They are provided with some structured opportunities to engage with the views and opinions of others and such practice should become a more regular feature in all classrooms. In a majority of classes, laudable approaches to the experiencing of poetry are in evidence and the pupils recite a range of rhyme and poetry with appropriate expression, intonation and interest.
The standard of pupils’ reading is very good. The school is commended for the breadth of approaches employed to promote pupils’ interest in reading. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ phonological and phonemic awareness, particularly in infant and junior classes. Large-format books, pupil-generated books, graded reading programmes, class novels, and paired-reading and reading-buddy initiatives are suitably used to promote reading competence and to foster a love of reading. Particularly effective use of the class novel to ensure a comprehensive, co-ordinated and differentiated approach to language learning was in evidence in a small number of classrooms. This practice is worthy of extension to all middle and senior classes. Due regard is placed on the development of pupils’ comprehension skills.
The school is praised for the attention afforded to the development of pupils’ letter formation, handwriting and presentation skills. They are provided with regular opportunities to engage in a wide range of functional writing tasks. Some good examples of pupils’ engagement in process writing across a variety of genres were in evidence in pupils’ copies and were attractively displayed. ICT is usefully employed in the publication of pupils’ completed works. However, scope for development exists with regard to the regularity with which pupils engage in the breadth of writing genres and in the prevalence of pupil-initiated, process-writing approaches. The earlier introduction of opportunities for pupils to engage in independent, personal writing is recommended. In so doing, the present use of commercially-produced workbooks is worthy of review.
High-quality teaching is in evidence in Mathematics and it results in positive levels of pupil achievement commensurate with their differing ability levels. Lessons are well structured, concepts are clearly explained and insightful teacher questioning is used to aid pupils’ understanding. A range of manipulatives and resources, including the environment and ICT, is effectively employed. Opportunities for the pupils to work collaboratively in addressing particular mathematical concepts are skilfully employed in some classes. The pupils are exposed to and utilise appropriate mathematical language and their mental mathematics’ skills are encouraged. The use of estimation skills is keenly fostered in a variety of relevant contexts. In the main, the pupils display laudable understanding of content previously completed across the strands. However, a greater level of structured differentiation is required to respond to the significant variation in individual pupils’ ability levels in some settings. The pupils would also benefit from more regularised and structured opportunities to develop their mental mathematics’ and problem-solving capacities.
Teaching and learning in History are satisfactory. Time and chronology skills are skilfully fostered through the exploration of stories, myths and legends. There is evidence of the use of oral and photographic evidence, and historical timelines in many classes. Pupils’ appreciation and knowledge of local history is promoted, including through the purposeful use of ICT. Some opportunities are provided for pupils’ engagement in project-based work across a range of historical themes. In response to the recent completion of the whole-school plan for history, it is recommended that a strongly co-ordinated approach to curriculum implementation be instigated. In particular, the specific content to be addressed annually at each class level under each of the strands should be agreed, including the manner in which the skills of working as historians are to be developed.
Competent practice was noted in the teaching of Geography. Pupils’ knowledge and understanding of human and natural environments, and environmental awareness and care are encouraged. In some classes, ICT is used particularly effectively to support pupils’ learning in this area of the curriculum. The pupils are encouraged to ask questions about natural and human features and processes in the environment and this is complemented by skilful teacher questioning. Their sense of space and place, and graphical skills are developed suitably and the quality of pupils’ completed work is praised. Opportunities for engagement in relevant educational outings are availed of. In the main, the pupils display a good understanding of work previously completed.
The quality of teaching and learning in Science is good. Overall, lessons are well designed, paced and implemented. The pupils are provided with well-structured opportunities to work collaboratively using a range of scientific equipment. The investigation of scientific concepts is usefully linked to their everyday application and the pupils are introduced to appropriate scientific language. In implementing the science curriculum on a schoolwide basis, a more comprehensive emphasis on the development of the skills of working scientifically is recommended in addition to the judicious use of textbooks. The school’s ongoing involvement in the Discover Primary Science initiative is commended and its achievement of awards of science excellence is acknowledged.
The standard of teaching and learning in the Visual Arts is commendable. Teachers succeed in providing pupils with a broad range of experiences in making art, and in looking and responding to art across the strands. A variety of stimuli is successfully used to encourage pupils’ creativity and to facilitate well-structured talk and discussion. A breadth of skills and techniques is capably taught and pupils are provided with well-structured opportunities to utilise them while engaging with a range of visual media. The quality of the displays of pupils’ completed works in classrooms and in circulation areas is highly praised. They confirm an appropriate progression in pupils’ skills and creativity.
Praiseworthy work is undertaken in implementing the curriculum in Music. Pupils tunefully and enthusiastically sing a repertoire of songs in Irish and English, both traditional and modern. A range of percussion instruments is usefully employed to develop their instrumental performance abilities. The services of an external music tutor are engaged to teach tin whistle in a range of classes, with laudable performance abilities in evidence. Opportunities to listen and respond to music are provided for across a range of classes. The pupils display a keen understanding of a variety of musical elements and their creative responsiveness is keenly fostered. Regular opportunities are provided for them to display their musical talents and abilities in a range of public fora, including accomplished performances by the school choir at religious celebrations.
In Drama, positive learning outcomes for pupils are in evidence. The teachers successfully create a safe environment through the use of games and, in some contexts, the implementation of drama contracts. Drama lessons are well designed and implemented, while drama is also successfully used as a teaching and learning approach in other areas of the curriculum. The pupils are provided with well-structured opportunities to collaboratively engage in improvisational drama, including the thoughtful use of space. They willingly enter into belief of the fictional world created. The use of improvisational drama is complemented by the effective employment of a range of drama strategies including teacher-in-role, still imaging, mime and thought-tracking. The pupils display a commendable capacity to co-operate and communicate both in and out of role, as well as an appropriate ability to reflect on the meaning of the drama for them.
A broad and balanced physical education curriculum is being implemented, with appropriate use being made of the school’s range of equipment and resources. Lessons are structured to facilitate all pupils’ active engagement and are successful in this regard. A suitable emphasis is placed on the development of skills and understanding and on their subsequent usage in a range of game contexts. Positive levels of pupil achievement are in evidence commensurate with their differing ability levels. The pupils in middle and senior classes are provided with regular opportunities to engage in aquatics training. They also participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities including gaelic football, basketball and athletics. The school has access to the services of visiting coaches in hurling and gaelic football and close links have been fostered with the local GAA clubs. Pupils’ physical development is purposefully promoted during recreation periods through their participation in a variety of playground activities and games. The involvement of parents in the facilitation of an after-school games’ club for infant pupils is lauded.
Teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is of a competent standard. Learning is capably promoted through the positive school climate, discrete lessons in this curriculum area and through its integration with other areas of the curriculum. Issues of significant importance to pupils’ personal development, health, safety and general wellbeing are capably addressed. Respectful engagement with the views and opinions of others is encouraged in a safe and inclusive learning environment. Commendable efforts are made to link the concepts being explored to real-life situations and to the experiences of the pupils themselves. The use of a range of active-learning approaches, including circle time, story, games and ICT, is praised. Activities in SPHE, and in curriculum provision generally, confirm the school’s commitment to developing the pupils’ social responsibility and respect for human and cultural diversity.
A whole-school policy to guide the assessment of pupils’ progress has recently been devised. However, there is significant variation in the quality of assessment practices and in the use of these results to inform planning and teaching from one class setting to another. Assessment modes in evidence include standardised assessment in English and Mathematics, teacher-designed tasks and tests, commercially-produced tests, teacher observation, checklists and portfolios. Pupils’ written work is regularly monitored, with some useful feedback being provided. The results of assessment are shared between teachers and are communicated to parents. It is recommended that a more systematic approach to the formative and summative assessment of pupils’ learning across the curriculum be implemented. The results of such assessment should be subsequently used in planning and implementing programmes of learning to provide for the varying abilities of pupils. Consideration should also be given to the development of pupil self- and peer-assessment practices.
The school is commended for its recent review of policy and provision for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). In particular, the formal introduction of a staged approach to intervention and the commencement of in-class support to complement withdrawal support are praised. Provision for pupils with SEN is very good. A variety of tests is administered to identify individual pupils’ particular learning needs and to assist in the development of individual education plans (IEPs). The intention of the school to augment the range of diagnostic assessment in use is welcomed. Overall, IEPS are clearly constructed and regularly reviewed involving appropriate consultation with class teachers and parents. The more direct involvement of older pupils in the identification of personal learning targets is praised and would benefit from wider application. Further clarity of the learning targets as recorded would aid in the monitoring and review of individual pupils’ progress. Lessons are well structured and teacher/pupil interactions are encouraging and supportive. The pupils engage purposefully in an appropriate range of learning activities in English and Mathematics. SEN provision is highly responsive to individual pupil needs and serves to challenge them at an appropriate instructional level. Positive pupil progress in the achievement of their learning goals is in evidence, including the development of their self-confidence and their sense of achievement.
Pupils in Holy Family NS experience being educated in an inclusive environment. The financial support received under the Department’s Giving Children an Even Break initiative, in tandem with additional financial support from the school’s parents’ association, is purposefully used to ensure all pupils’ access to the full range of school activities.
A significant number of pupils from international ethnic groups attend the school. Language support for these pupils is provided primarily on a withdrawal basis and is complemented by the provision of some in-class support. Teachers are supportive in their interactions with pupils and suitable use is made of songs, rhymes and poems in the development of pupils’ vocabulary. Resources, including the Integrate Ireland and Language Training (IILT) programme, are used to support teaching and learning. The recent introduction of the Primary School Assessment Kit to assess pupils’ language-learning needs is noted. Scope for development exists in the planning and provision for pupils for whom English is an additional language. It is recommended that the results of assessment be used to group pupils according to their language-learning needs. Clear learning targets, in particular in relation to language and grammatical structures, should be identified. Methodologies that foster the development of pupils’ language fluency should be systematically promoted and clear records of individual pupils’ progress should be maintained. It is further recommended that the effective language learning practices established in the context of SEN provision inform language-support provision.
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 November 2009