An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Scoil An Chroí Ró Naofa
Church Avenue, Portlaoise, County Laois
Date of inspection: 8 February 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Scoil An Chroí Ró Naofa, Portlaoise. 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.
Scoil An Chroí Ró Naofa is an eighteen-teacher school, situated in the centre of Portlaoise town. It is a Catholic school under the patronage of the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, and under the trusteeship of the Presentation Sisters, who founded the school in 1824. The present building was constructed in 1930. The main building was extended during the 1960s and a building that had previously been utilised as an external shed was renovated in 1995 to accommodate a special speech and language unit. The first lay principal was appointed to the school in 1996. The Presentation Sisters maintained a teaching presence in the school until 2007 and one retired sister continues to work in a voluntary capacity with some pupils. The mission statement highlights the central position of the individual child in education as a fundamental tenet. It indicates that the ethos of the school is ensconced in Catholic values and aspires to uphold the Presentation spirit, but welcomes and cherishes equally pupils from all denominations and cultural backgrounds. The vision of the school is encapsulated as the promotion of a curriculum related to each child’s needs, which will enable and inspire every pupil to attain his or her full potential.
The school serves boys from junior infants to first class and girls from junior infants to sixth class, almost entirely from the urban area of the town. The current enrolment is 333 and, in recent years, application for enrolment has consistently exceeded availability. There is considerable social and cultural diversity amongst the pupil population and the school receives an annual payment from Dispersed Disadvantage Funding. School records indicate that overall attendance is good, yet the sporadic attendance of a minority of pupils is a cause for concern. Due to the age of the building, some classrooms are small and lack many of the amenities of modern buildings. Department of Education and Science sanction has been granted for amalgamation with two other large schools in the town, Scoil Mhuire and St. Paul’s NS, and a green-field site has been acquired to accommodate this development. The enthusiasm shared by all school partners at the prospect of improved facilities to enhance curriculum delivery is accompanied by a tangible apprehension and a strong resolve that the cherished characteristics of the school should not be stifled in the amalgamation.
The formation and functioning of the board of management are in accordance with Department regulations. During the meetings with the evaluation team, the board presented as committed, informed, enthusiastic, pro-active and highly supportive of the work of the principal and teachers. All board members have availed of training to augment their knowledge of management issues, and to enhance their competence in the governance of the school. The board meets a minimum of five times annually and in excess of this if required. Minutes of all meetings are recorded and maintained. A financial report is furnished by the treasurer at each meeting and school accounts are audited externally each year. The chairperson of the board, who is also the school chaplain, maintains close communication with the school through regular visits to the principal and to classrooms. Parents’ representatives liaise closely with the parents’ association and ensure that the wider parent body is kept informed about all relevant matters. The board participates actively in the compilation, review and appropriate dissemination of school policies. Ongoing maintenance and refurbishment of the very old building is a high priority for the board and it is commended for the visually attractive and educationally stimulating learning environment provided for the pupils in difficult circumstances. Members of the board expressed unanimous appreciation of the professionalism, dedication and approachability of the principal and staff, and a very high level of satisfaction with the quality of academic, pastoral and moral training provided for the pupils.
The board was advised that the length of the school day for infants must be reviewed to comply with Department regulations.
The quality of in-school management is highly commendable. The principal has spent her entire teaching career to date in the school and has served as principal since 1996. As such, she has an in-depth awareness and understanding of the educational, social and pastoral needs of the school population and the local community. Proficient skills in curriculum co-ordination, personnel management, delegation, communication and innovation effect a strong but sensitive leadership style, focused unequivocally on meeting the needs of pupils, teachers and parents. This is evident in the high quality of curriculum planning and delivery, the prevalent culture of inclusion, the harmonious inter-staff relationships, the courteous and pleasant deportment of pupils, and the extent of the school’s involvement in extra-curricular activities.
The principal is supported by a dedicated, hard-working middle-management team of deputy principal, two assistant principals and six special duties teachers, who clearly work very closely and co-operatively as a team. An appropriate blend of curriculum, organisational and pastoral duties has been assigned to each post. Delegation of duties is determined by the needs of the school and the individual expertise and aptitude of team members, and is reviewed every two years. Appropriate contracts have been signed by all post-holders. Each post-holder maintains a special-duties folder in which future planning and ongoing progress are documented. The in-school management team presented as highly committed to making a constructive contribution to management. Many members have undertaken additional training to enhance the competence with which they discharge their duties. The support given by the board of management to such professional development is acknowledged gratefully by the in-school management team. The team is also highly appreciative of the willing co-operation and involvement of the entire staff in all curriculum, organisational and social initiatives undertaken by management. All teachers attend one meeting after school each month. This facilitates an opportunity for all post-holders to report progress or discuss impending issues with colleagues. This practice is acknowledged by the management team as a vital factor in the successful and productive management of the school. The professionalism displayed by the in-school management team, and the spirit of collaboration and support afforded by all teachers, is praiseworthy.
Human, educational and technological resources are managed proficiently throughout the school. Allocation of classes is reviewed annually at an end-of-year staff meeting. Mutual decisions are generally arrived at following collaborative discussion on individual teachers’ preferences, specific needs of pupils or groups, and particular expertise of staff members. Five special needs assistants (SNAs) are employed in the school. To preclude over-dependence of pupils on specific individuals, school policy directs that SNAs be rotated to the care of different pupils each year. Observation of classroom practice indicates that this system works effectively and that the services of SNAs are deployed proficiently and productively. The school has a full-time caretaker and a part-time cleaner. The meticulous condition of all internal and external areas, together with the complimentary acknowledgement of the board of management and staff, testifies to the commitment and pride they both invest in their job. Two secretaries occupy one full-time post on a job-sharing basis. Their contribution to the efficient management of administrative, clerical, budgetary and communication tasks is recognised and valued by all school partners. Discussion during meetings with the principal, teachers and ancillary staff depicted very cordial working relationships, wherein mutual respect and appreciation generate a high level of job satisfaction right across the school.
Some of the twelve mainstream classrooms are small but limited space is utilised effectively. The architectural design of corridors and stairways necessitates continuous concentration on health and safety regulations. Pro-active attention to this is very evident throughout the school. A general-purpose room is contained in a pre-fabricated building. This is used to maximum capacity but the fact that it is shared with Scoil Mhuire, which is situated across the road, places considerable restraints on the timetable allocation for each class. Outdoor amenities consist of a small tarmacadam area and a shelter. The quality and comprehensiveness of curriculum delivery and pupil management observed, within considerable internal and external constraints, is commendable.
The school is abundantly equipped with a wide range of information and communication technology (ICT). Twenty-eight personal computers (PCs) and two laptops are networked to the school’s server. Sixteen of these are in the computer room and each classroom has at least one, from which every pupil can access his or her personal folder. The school also has two data projectors, six digital cameras, a scanner, a portable interactive whiteboard system and a variety of printers. In addition, each classroom has a television, a compact disc player, and either a video or DVD player. These resources are used extensively by all classes, as ICT is integrated resourcefully as a pedagogical tool across the entire curriculum at every level. The effective practice in the use of ICT is a justifiable source of pride to all school partners, and has merited a number of awards in recent years. In 2006, the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), in partnership with the Computer Education Society of Ireland (CESE), the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), awarded the school Digital School status in recognition of its excellence in integrating ICT into teaching and learning. In the same year, the school won a data projector for its entry in the Co-operation is Cool project organised by the Laois Education Centre. In 2007, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) requested submissions from primary schools of exemplars of good practice in ICT integration. Scoil An Chroí Ró Naofa submitted exemplars for Irish and Geography and received €4,000 worth of ICT equipment in recognition of these submissions. The school has also won awards in the Film In School (FIS) programme in recent years. The quality of use of ICT observed across all curriculum areas during the evaluation is particularly noteworthy.
All classrooms are also generously stocked with a variety of concrete materials and visual educational resources to enhance teaching and promote discovery learning across the curriculum. Productive use of these resources featured prominently in lessons observed. Each classroom has a library stocked with an age-appropriate supply of fact and fiction reading material, including a series of Irish books. Interest in reading is motivated and promoted progressively in all classes through the effective management of the class library. A striking characteristic of all classrooms is the range of attractive, colourful, print-rich material displayed on the walls. The quality and quantity of teacher-designed material is particularly noteworthy and reflects an immense amount of industry and innovation, for which the teachers are commended. Specific learning stations and designated display areas for each subject provide excellent stimulation for independent learning and reinforcement of content learned.
Evidence from consultation with the respective partners indicates that very productive relationships have been established between the board of management, teachers and parents. An active and supportive parents’ association has been in existence for several years. The association meets once a month and representatives report that attendance is excellent. The principal attends each meeting, accompanied by one member of staff. The staff member is organised on a rotational basis. All teachers attend the annual general meeting in September. One teacher from each class group gives a short briefing to parents regarding curriculum content, homework practices, routine procedures, and advice on how they can participate productively in their children’s education.
The active involvement of parents in fundraising to augment educational resources, and in assisting with a variety of sporting, social and curricular activities, is acknowledged appreciatively by the board of management and staff. Parents or local community members with particular expertise or experience are invited occasionally to speak to the pupils on various topics. Recent examples of this include a guard, a doctor, a drug awareness officer, an ambulance service person, a conservation officer from the Electricity Supply Board and a grandmother. Pupils’ accounts of such visits verify that this practice has the dual benefit of fostering constructive school-community partnership while simultaneously providing valuable educational experiences for the pupils. Parents are kept up to date with school activities through the school newsletter, which is issued once a term, and through the very informative school’s website. One formal parent-teacher meeting is held each year at which parents are informed about all aspects of their child’s progress. An end-of-year report on each pupil is also furnished to parents. Parents expressed a high level of satisfaction with the transparent partnership that exists between the board of management, principal, staff, parents and the local community.
The management of pupils is of a very high standard. School rules are stated clearly in the code of behaviour and the level of consistent implementation by staff, and compliance by pupils, is noteworthy. Simple classroom rules to promote courteous behaviour and to foster a positive learning environment are posted in most classrooms and are implemented affirmatively and kindly. The design of the building and the restricted playground area demand extra vigilance when pupils are transferring from one area to another. Orderly routines to address this issue are particularly evident in the daily schedule, and are adhered to admirably by the pupils. Observation of policies and routine practices indicate that attention to pastoral care encompasses pupil management throughout the school. Rewards and positive reinforcement are used constructively and pupils present as cheerful, courteous, confident, and comfortable in their relationship with peers and teachers.
The quality of planning at all levels across the school is very high. A comprehensive school plan has been compiled collaboratively by the relevant school partners, with the assistance of School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). Policies are tailored and contextualised constructively to meet the needs of the school population. The administrative section of the plan contains all policies required by legislation, together with those necessary to provide constructive regulation of day-to-day administration, and to ensure the effective and safe running of the school. A number of the administrative policies are produced in user-friendly booklet form and issued to all parents. Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
The curriculum section of the plan contains very functional policies to direct and co-ordinate balanced, developmental delivery of the curriculum throughout the school. Under the leadership of the principal and post-holders with responsibility for various curriculum areas, all teachers contribute collaboratively to the compilation of policies. The support of PCSP cuiditheoirí is utilised productively to complement the broad expertise of the staff. All policies provide detailed direction with regard to appropriate content, methodologies and assessment modes for each class to ensure continuity in curriculum delivery. The focused, practical guidelines in each curriculum plan for the integration of ICT into the curriculum are noteworthy. These contribute very positively to the constructive use of ICT observed throughout the school. Each teacher stores a copy of the relevant section of each curriculum policy in her planning folder and evidence indicates that the plan is implemented consistently throughout the school. As part of the school’s ongoing planning and self-evaluation process, all curriculum policies are reviewed regularly using the agreed success criteria. It is recommended that, as each individual plan is compiled or reviewed, board of management ratification should be verified by the signature of the chairperson.
The quality of individual teachers’ classroom planning reflects a high level of professionalism and commitment. All teachers provide purposeful long and short-term planning for their teaching to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs of the pupils in their care, and is delivered in an interesting way, which will maximise pupil engagement and participation. Collaborative planning by teachers who have responsibility for the same grade enhances consistency of content. It is recommended that the practice of preparing short-term schemes on a monthly basis, observed in a small number of instances, be discontinued to comply with Rule 126 of Rules for National Schools. Comprehensive monthly progress records are compiled by all teachers and are stored by the principal. The care and attention invested in planning is, in turn, reflected in the quality of teaching and learning, which is the central rationale of the school.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The overall standard of teaching and learning observed throughout the school is very high. Teachers’ prudent and professional forethought to selection of content, methodologies, resources and differentiation ensures that lessons are child-centred, interesting, and appropriately challenging. Human and natural resources in the local environment are used to very good effect to make the curriculum meaningful to the pupils. Excellent use of manipulatives, visual resources and ICT stimulates a high level of pupil engagement and participation, and facilitates productive, enthusiastic learning. A suitable blend of methodologies, coupled with judicious pacing and structuring of lessons, accommodates independent and collaborative learning for each pupil at a rate suited to his or her individual ability and aptitude. Pupils participate willingly in oral, practical and written tasks. Evidence from the work in copybooks, portfolios, projects and classroom displays shows a high level of pupil achievement across the curriculum. Interaction with the pupils, during the evaluation, verifies a very good ability to assimilate, discuss, explain, apply and transfer knowledge on topics covered.
Múintear an Ghaeilge go héifeachtach sa scoil seo. Tá dáiríreacht an phríomhoide agus na n-oidí faoi chur chun cinn na Gaeilge le moladh. Úsáidtear an Ghaeilge go hiomlán mar theanga chaidrimh i múineadh na Gaeilge agus úsáidtear go flúirseach í freisin ag amanta eile i rith an lae, go háirithe sna ceachtanna Corpoideachais. Déanann na hoidí an-iarracht dearcadh dearfach a chothú i leith na Gaeilge agus tugtar deiseanna do na daltaí an teanga a úsáid go neamhfhoirmiúil i rith an lae. Baintear feidhm inmholta as teicneolaíochta faisnéise agus cumarsáide trasna na scoile i múineadh na Gaeilge.
Cuirtear na ceachtanna Gaeilge i láthair go spreagúil agus cothaítear rannpháirtíocht na ndaltaí go cumasach trí ghrúpobair agus obair bheirte a bhunú. Bunaítear an t-ábhar foghlama ar théamaí a bhaineann le saol na ndaltaí. Tá réimse leathan d’áiseanna praiticiúla le haghaidh múineadh na Gaeilge ar fáil sa scoil agus tá cúinne Gaeilge cruthaithe i gcuid mhaith de na seomraí ranga. Cuirtear líonmhaireacht prionta, a bhaineann leis an nGaeilge, ar fáil sna seomraí ranga, rud a chuireann go mór le héifeacht na hoibre. Glacann na daltaí páirt sna ceachtanna Gaeilge go díograsach, toilteanach agus is léir go mbaineann said taitneamh as a bhfoghlaim. Leathnaítear foclóir na ndaltaí go córasach tríd an scoil agus labhraíonn siad go muiníneach, go hinniúil agus go líofa sa Ghaeilge.
Ó rang a dó thuas, baintear úsáid inmholta as sraith leabhair Ghaeilge sa leabharlann chun suim sa léitheoireacht a chothú agus scileanna léitheoireachta a mhéadú. Léann formhór na ndaltaí le líofacht, cruinneas agus tuiscint. Cuirtear cleachtaí scríbhneoireachta ar na daltaí go tráthrialta agus ar an iomlán, sroichtear caighdeán creidiúnach. Déantar monatóireacht rialta ar an obair scríofa sna cóipleabhair. Dírítear aire chuí ar chruinneas gramadaí agus ar usáid foclóra sna hardranganna. Déantar comhtháthú éifeachtach idir obair ó bhéal, léitheoireacht agus scríbhneoireacht. Aithrisíonn na daltaí raon maith dán le fonn agus fuinneamh agus canann siad cnuasach maith amhrán go binn. De bharr suim na n-oidí sa teanga agus an dea-chleachtas múinteoireachta don chomhrá, tá na daltaí báúil leis an gcoincheap d’fhoghlaim na Gaeilge agus baintear caighdeáin arda amach.
Irish is taught effectively at all levels in this school. The dedication of the principal and teachers in promoting Irish is praiseworthy. Irish is used consistently as the medium of communication during Irish lessons and is used extensively at other times throughout the day, especially in physical education lessons. The teachers endeavour to foster positive attitudes in relation to Irish and the pupils are given opportunities to use the language informally during the school day. Commendable use is made of ICT throughout the school in the teaching and learning of Irish.
Lessons in Irish are presented in a stimulating manner and pupils’ participation is cultivated competently through the use of group and pair work. Subject matter is based on topics relating to pupils’ lives. The school has an extensive range of practical resources to support the teaching of Irish and an area of interest dedicated to Irish has been established in many classrooms. An extensive range of Irish print material is provided in all classrooms and this impacts positively on the effectiveness of the work. The pupils participate eagerly and willingly in Irish lessons and it is evident that they enjoy their learning. The pupils’ vocabulary is systematically developed throughout the school and pupils speak with confidence, competence and fluency in Irish.
From second class upwards, commendable use is made of a series of Irish library books to stimulate interest in reading and to enhance reading skills. The majority of pupils read with fluency, accuracy and understanding. Writing exercises are set frequently for pupils and, on the whole, a creditable standard is achieved. Written work in copybooks is monitored regularly. Appropriate attention is focused on grammatical accuracy and dictionary work in the senior classes. Effective linkage of reading, writing and oral work is achieved. Pupils recite a wide range of poems in a lively way and sing a selection of songs tunefully. Due to both the interest of the teachers in the language and the good teaching methodologies employed, pupils are positively disposed to the concept of learning Irish and overall high standards are achieved.
The quality of learning and teaching in English is very good. The development of oral language skills is prioritised as a basis for the development of literacy skills at all levels. In infant and junior classes, the pupils are engaged in the development of phonological and phonemic awareness activities, which foster fluency and confidence in the use of language. At middle and senior levels, the pupils continue to experience and use more complex language and language structures. The high quality teaching is direct and clear. Overall, the pupils are very articulate, confident and willing to share their ideas and opinions. They provide succinct and informative responses when questioned informally.
The level of pupils’ achievement in reading is very good, as evidenced by observation during the inspection period and the results of the standardised reading tests. At infant level, very good use is made of a comprehensive range of large-format and picture books, which fosters a love of reading among the pupils. A buddy system is in operation whereby pupils from senior classes read to the pupils at junior level. These approaches are highly commended. Pupils borrow regularly from the well stocked class libraries and very good records are maintained of books read. At junior level, word recognition skills are well taught and are consolidated through the reading of the class textbook and the class novel. Most classes adopt a child-centred approach to the teaching of reading. This approach should be adopted consistently throughout the school, and the practice of unison reading by the class of the given text is discouraged. In the middle classes, pupils participate in paired and individual reading of the class novel and class reader to very good effect. In addition, the work completed in the class novel is used as a basis for imaginative work in Visual Arts. Throughout the school, pupils read from an exciting range of additional text sources. In the senior classes, the spiral nature of the curriculum is evident as the pupils demonstrate an increasing ability to read for pleasure and for research purposes in other curriculum areas. The pupils demonstrate the higher order skills of discussing, appraising and formulating personal opinions on the wide repertoire of books read.
The level of writing in English is very good. The whole-school approach to the teaching of handwriting is evident in the clear presentation of written work in the pupils’ copybooks in all classes. This work is corrected diligently. In the infant and junior classes, the pupils are encouraged to write using the correct posture and grip. This is further developed in the middle and senior classes as the pupils adopt a cursive style in hand writing. As a result, the standard of penmanship in the school is very high. The written word is often transferred onto computer, and pupils are adept in the skills of word processing and importing images to illustrate their personal writing. This work is praised, as it is a feature of the school’s normal approach to linking writing with ICT. Each class displays its written work along the corridor on a monthly basis, so written work is given an audience among the school community. At the infant and junior class levels, the pupils complete grammar exercises which enable the creation of more interesting sentences. The process of creating an initial draft of a written piece is embedded in the school’s practice. The pupils are encouraged to use their preparation copies during this process. This is an excellent practice. Pupils in the middle and the senior classes write in an impressive variety of genres, including letters, journalistic articles, poems, functional writing exercises and descriptive passages. The skills of research, analysis and interpretation of information and facts are applied with purpose to very good effect. A particular feature of the school’s approach to the teaching of writing is the correct balance it achieves between functional and imaginative aspects of the writing experience.
Strong emphasis is placed on the reading and the writing of poetry. At infant and junior levels, pupils recite from a wide canon of nursery rhymes and age-appropriate poems with accompanying actions. In the middle and senior classes pupils recite poems from memory with balanced emphasis on interpretation and performance. Collections of pupils’ personal poetry are displayed in booklet form in some classrooms. The teaching of English is integrated across many curriculum areas such as History, Geography and the arts. Overall, the English curriculum is very successfully implemented at all levels.
The overall quality of teaching and learning of Mathematics across the school is very high. All curriculum strands are covered in a balanced and developmental way. Attractive visual displays and learning stations create a mathematics-rich environment in every classroom. Topics are linked meaningfully to the pupils’ practical experiences and are integrated innovatively with other curriculum subjects. Early mathematical activities are covered effectively in infant classes. Pupils’ understanding of number, shape, measures, data and pattern is extended progressively as they advance through the school. Concrete resources, computer software and well-sourced websites are used extensively throughout the school. This stimulates discovery learning, fosters a high level of pupil participation, facilitates assimilation of concepts through pleasurable activities, and generates a very positive attitude to Mathematics. Pupils in all classrooms display age-appropriate ability to recall number facts and to perform mental and written computation. Skills of estimation, reasoning and problem-solving, across all curriculum strands, are extended appropriately through middle and senior classes. The strong emphasis on oral language in mathematics lessons, at all levels, enhances pupils’ ability to discuss processes used, and to explain procedures confidently and logically using appropriate mathematical language. Teachers are commended for the positive attitude to Mathematics portrayed by the pupils, and for the industrious, enthusiastic participation that prevailed during lessons observed.
The school’s approach to the teaching of History is highly commendable and generates a very high quality of teaching and learning. A whole-school history programme, specifically contextualised for the school, has been adapted from the curriculum handbook. An inventory of local sites and buildings of historic interest has been compiled to accommodate systematic study of local history from class to class. Each teacher has sourced appropriate reading material, websites, computer software, photographic resources, and artefacts to generate interest and stimulate research into relevant topics. Consequently, teaching and learning of History is concentrated on age-appropriate, pupil-centred, teacher-directed research and a specific class textbook is not used. Evidence from lessons observed and from discussion with the pupils indicates that this practice produces very worthwhile learning experiences and outcomes.
In infant classes, concrete resources, personal and family events, and stories are used to establish pupils’ awareness of chronology, continuity and change. In middle classes, hands-on activities, field-trips to local buildings, classroom visits, interviews with older people in the community, and exploration of photographic evidence enable the pupils to explore the past and extend their historical understanding in a very relevant manner. At the senior end of the school, pupils are facilitated and motivated to research people and societies from different ages and to explore eras of change and political conflict in Ireland and in other countries. From junior classes upwards, individual and group projects are a prominent feature of pupils’ learning of History. The quality of projects on display throughout the school is highly praiseworthy. The fifth class pupils recently won an award for a very impressive project on James Fintan Lalor. The local library has requested a copy of this project for its history section. The pupils’ ability to discuss in detail the content of projects and other topics covered shows a commendable understanding of, and enthusiasm for, History.
The quality of the implementation of the curriculum in Geography is very good. All the classrooms present as map-rich and globe-rich environments. Very good use is made of the local environment in the development of the skills of geographical investigation and in the development of a sense of place among the pupils. The pupils progress through a set programme, which is developmental in nature and spiral in structure. Pupils are encouraged to learn how to analyse and interpret maps. They take part in geographic trails based on the local environment. Their knowledge of local industry and its relationship to the wider world is praiseworthy. In the infant classes, the pupils are guided through the process of map-making based on well-known nursery rhymes with good learning outcomes. At junior level, pupils explore the lives of people in other lands through the creative use of attractive photographic educational resources, which provide opportunities for real discovery learning. This work is further extended in the middle and senior classes to include pupil-centred group work using rich artefacts and teacher-designed educational resources, which explore the lives of people in other countries. The work is intelligently related to the travel experiences of the pupils. The high level of pupil interest and enthusiasm in such self-directed learning results in real-life learning of the highest order.
The high-quality learning achieved is supported by the inventive use of ICT in teacher-created and pupil-created PowerPoint computer presentations, inclusive of real-life video footage from the countries being examined. The excellent application of ICT in bringing the wider world into the classroom is exemplary. The pupils are enabled to integrate their knowledge of ICT to represent their learning in Geography, as evidenced by pupils’ ability to formulate local travel guides. The quality of the teaching, and the high standard of the education resources available, contribute significantly to the quality of pupils’ understanding of geographical matters. Individual pupils’ written work is stored in subject folders and is reviewed regularly. The quality of pupils’ engagement and learning in this subject area is very high.
The quality of teaching and learning in Science is very good. A detailed list of science equipment has been compiled. Materials are stored centrally, catalogued by strand, to ensure ease of access. Lessons observed were structured clearly and a key characteristic of all teaching was the emphasis on active pupil participation and systematic development of scientific language. Pupils have developed a broad range of scientific skills, with an appropriate balance between working scientifically and designing and making. The use of ICT is skilfully integrated into all aspects of the teaching of Science.
Commendable examples of scientific work are displayed throughout the school and photographic records provide an excellent insight into the range and depth of practical work undertaken across all curriculum strands. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the local environment of the school, through the identification of local habitats, allowing pupils to apply their scientific skills to their own environment. Pupils in the middle and senior classes have participated actively in Discover Primary Science in recent years and received awards of excellence in 2006 and 2007. This involvement has resulted in the creation of impressive logs containing annotated photographic records of the work undertaken. Other events include inputs from local scientists and environmentalists, visits to places of scientific interest in the locality, and a number of science events within the school. Activities under the environmental awareness and care strand are closely aligned to the school’s participation in the green schools’ environmental project. The school has been awarded two Green Flags to date, one for litter and waste management and another for saving energy. The active participation and commendable effort of teachers and pupils in achieving these flags is well documented and is a source of great pride for the school. Pupils speak confidently and competently about their activities in Science and clearly derive great enjoyment from this aspect of their learning.
The quality of learning and teaching in the Visual Arts is very good and the visual aesthetic in the classrooms and along the corridor spaces is of a very high standard. The work of the pupils is celebrated through displays of a very high order, supported by the use of ICT. A broad and balanced programme, covering the six strand areas of the curriculum, is provided. Much work is completed in the making strand unit in all strands of the curriculum. A good balance is achieved between two-dimensional and three-dimensional aspects of the work. At present pupils are encouraged to look and respond to their own work and that of their classmates, which is in accordance with curriculum guidelines. Some commendable work is completed regarding looking and responding to the work of artists and crafts people, predominantly in the strand paint and colour. To further build on this, it is recommended that the school expand its programme on looking and responding to the work of artists and crafts people to include all six strand areas. This should be included in the school’s plan for Visual Arts.
Pupils are engaged in a variety of drawing activities using an increasing range of drawing materials and tools from infants through to senior classes. A wide variety of work is completed using paint and colour which indicates that the pupils are developing a good sense of colour and paint-skill. The school is excelling in learning and teaching using digital print techniques and animation. A truly wonderful digital film-making and ICT programme is underway on a whole school basis. As a result of this work, the school has recently won a category in the FIS project organised by the National Council for Technology in Education (NCTE) for best animation. The staff members involved in leading the animation work are commended for their commitment to attending in-service in this discipline in the Laois Education Centre. Based on this success, the conventional print programme should explore linking traditional and digital print-making processes. This will enrich the visual learning experiences for the pupils.
All the classes undertake three-dimensional work using clay, construction materials and fabric and fibre. Pupils demonstrate very good skill development in pottery techniques and in the creation of free-standing figures in clay. Cardboard and paper are used in the construction strand to create two-dimensional shape and three-dimensional form with interesting learning outcomes. The work in fabric and fibre includes both creating a new fabric by knitting, crochet and weaving and the changing of the surface of fabrics by sewing and adding rich fibres and threads. This work is highly commended and could be extended through the pre-dyeing of the hessian. Throughout the school the pupils speak enthusiastically about their art. A feature of the visual arts programme in the school is the successful integration of Visual Arts with other curriculum areas such as Geography and History, so that learning in one subject area supports the enrichment of learning in the other. The curriculum is being implemented in a child-centred and participative manner so that the pupil is the creator and the inventor of the art piece. Pupils’ art work is stored in individual folders and often recorded using digital technology, which facilitates assessment. Overall, the level of learning, teaching and achievement is high in the Visual Arts.
The standard of Music education in the school is very high. The lessons observed were characterised by skilled teaching, the reinforcement of the musical elements and literacy taught, emphasis on developing musical vocabulary, and obvious pupil enjoyment. Aspects of the music curriculum are integrated effectively with other curriculum areas, most notably Visual Arts and Physical Education. The pupils sing tunefully in all classes and opportunities are provided to perform in a variety of genres such as rounds, marching songs and popular songs. An inventory of the school’s musical equipment and materials has been compiled under the various strands and these are available centrally to teachers. An extensive collection of CDs provides ample material for pupils to listen and respond to a wide range of music in different styles and from different eras. The composing strand of the curriculum could now be further used to develop pupils’ creativity in making music. Pupils in the middle and senior classes participate in a school band and play a range of percussion, wind and string instruments very proficiently. The band is well-resourced with uniforms, music stands and equipment provided by the parents’ association. Its lively musical performances greatly enrich school ceremonies and celebrations. Three very pleasant, high-quality CDs have been recorded in recent years to make the band’s performances available to a wider audience.
The Drama curriculum is delivered effectively, through integration with a variety of subjects and through well-structured discrete drama lessons. Good planning and sensitive handling of lessons generate a high level of involvement by the majority of pupils. A simple set of drama rules are displayed in each classroom to promote co-operation, sensitivity to peers, and willingness to participate. These rules are reinforced positively at the start of each lesson. In infant classes, dramatic themes are linked closely to familiar activities, to content of other lessons, and to well-known stories and nursery rhymes. As pupils progress through the school, appropriate activities are selected to extend their imagination, to stimulate enactment of scenes in a variety of genres, and to encourage more complete and sustained absorption in roles. In general, pupils participate willingly and enthusiastically in dramatic activities. Lessons observed indicate that pupils’ imagination, improvisation, articulation and ability to express feelings through role-play and facial expression are developed appropriately.
The school makes very good provision for the teaching of Physical Education. The school policy, allocates specific blocks of time for each strand throughout the year. This informs individual teachers’ planning and ensures that all pupils benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum. Pupils from first to sixth class have access to the aquatics strand of the curriculum on a rotational basis during the school year. The lessons observed were based on the dance strand of the curriculum and these were characterised by good emphasis on warm-up and cool-down activities and skills development. It is clear that the pupils enjoy these lessons immensely and they displayed good ability to participate confidently in a variety of folk and creative dances. The services of an external tutor, funded by the parents’ council, are also engaged to enhance the teaching of creative dance to pupils and to develop teachers’ expertise in this area. Commendable emphasis is placed on the inclusion and participation of all pupils in physical education lessons. The school is involved in a variety of sporting competitions, most notably Cumann na mBunscoil and Portlaoise Athletics, and also hosts an annual sports day in which all pupils participate.
The quality of learning and teaching in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is very good. The work is underpinned by the cordial relationships fostered between teachers and pupils. The nature of the interactions observed between pupil and pupil and between pupil and teacher is exemplary. Pupils are encouraged to be active learners and are motivated to develop and voice their own opinions about topics. They are very willing to engage in discussion, when questioned. The pupils are interested in their work and apply themselves accordingly. At infant level, interest is fostered through the use of circle time, which affords the pupils ample opportunities to listen and learn from the opinions and experience of their classmates. In the junior classes, the pupils are active participants in the learning process, as they make good use of the range of visually attractive educational resources, which support focused learning. In the middle classes, the spiral and developmental nature of the school’s programme is evident.
The teaching of SPHE is characterised by clarity in instruction and the use of real-life situations and the local environment to focus pupils’ interest. The pupils are taught how to work in groups with specific tasks and roles being allocated to all. The sensitive approach adopted in the teaching indicates a trusting relationship between teacher and class, and creates opportunities for the development of pupils’ self-esteem, confidence and security. Pupils learn skills relating to real-life situations and how to avoid danger therein. Techniques, such as brain-storming and story-telling, are used effectively to stimulate learning. Pupils are entrusted to construct their own rules regarding themes such as food hygiene in the home. The work is differentiated to challenge and support the pupils as needed, and the questioning strategies are pitched accordingly. The quality of the pupils’ learning is commensurate with the quality of the teaching observed. Pupils’ written work is well presented and work is stored in individual folders. The staff decision to implement the SPHE curriculum without a textbook per pupil is lauded. The wide range of material sourced by the staff is testament to the success of this approach.
The school places significant importance on the value of assessment, and commendable practices with regard to assessment and recording of pupils’ progress were noted during the evaluation. A range of formal and informal assessment modes is used in all classrooms. Checklists are maintained in infant classes to record pupils’ progress in letter, sound and word recognition and in number identification, formation and understanding. Teacher-designed tests are administered regularly, in middle and senior classrooms, to monitor pupils’ progress in a variety of subjects, and results are recorded. Teachers maintain portfolios of pupils’ work in a range of subjects. Written work in copybooks is corrected consistently and appropriate feedback is given to the pupils.
Standardised testing is conducted annually in all classes from senior infants upwards. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is administered to senior infants at the end of the first term. Pupils whose performance in the MIST causes concern are screened again in first class through use of the Word Recognition Aptitude Screening (WRAPS) test. Standardised testing of literacy and numeracy is conducted with all pupils from first to sixth class, annually, using Micra T and Sigma T respectively. The results of these tests are analysed collaboratively by the class teacher and a member of the special education team. The school is commended for its representation of the results of these tests in graphic format, which facilitates the analysis of overall trends on a whole-school basis. A more specific error analysis is done on the tests of pupils who perform below the twelfth percentile to identify areas to be targeted in future planning. Results are discussed at staff meetings and are instrumental in identifying the pupils to receive support teaching, and in determining the most effective manner of delivering this support.
The school places a strong emphasis on its work with pupils with special educational needs. School policy states that additional learning support is provided within the mainstream class setting. The openness with which all members of staff have embraced this arrangement since 2004 is highly commended. Teachers from the special-education-needs team work alongside teachers in their classrooms. The quality of the teaching provided is very high. At times, they work specifically with a group of pupils, parallel to the class teacher. At other times, they adopt a seamless approach to team teaching, whereby both teachers prompt and support the pupils to participate successfully in the work of the class. The advantages of the latter approach should be further explored by the team. A very strong link is maintained between the work of the class teacher and the special-education-needs team at all times. Teachers describe this link as an invaluable advantage of the in-class model of learning support, and evidence from practice observed during the evaluation strongly supports this view. A specific member of the special-education-needs team is assigned to each class setting. All class teachers maintain copies of relevant individual education plans and individual profile and learning programmes. These are reviewed collaboratively, twice each term, by the relevant mainstream teacher and member of the special-education-needs team.
The special-education-needs team consists of: a learning support teacher; a resource teacher; a resource teacher for members of the Travelling community; a language teacher for pupils whose first language is not English; a teacher for the special speech and language unit; and a part-time resource teacher, based in Scoil Mhuire, who works for eight hours each week in Scoil An Chroí Ró Naofa. The team caters for the special numeracy and literacy learning needs of 42 pupils and provides resource teaching hours for seven pupils from first to fifth class. The team’s approach to teaching is sensitive, while challenging the pupils in an age-appropriate manner. The special-education-needs team meets with the principal at least three times per term to up-date planning and to evaluate progress in the various aspects of the team’s work. The quality of the planning and preparation is very high.
The speech and language class caters for the educational needs of seven pupils with specific language needs, ranging in age from four to eight years. In addition to the class teacher, the class has a full-time SNA and a part-time speech therapist and occupational therapist, all of whom work collaboratively to meet the pupils’ educational needs. The well-resourced accommodation extends over two adjoining rooms to accommodate easy access for pupils to the occupational therapist or the speech therapist, with minimum disruption to the class teacher. The pupils engage in all aspects of the curriculum, with particular emphasis on the promotion of their communication skills. Work is planned in tandem with the equivalent mainstream class teachers. Pupils engage in a variety of phonological learning activities and use the Toe by Toe phonics scheme. They engage in practical mathematical activities, which result in very positive learning outcomes. Their achievement is commensurate with the high quality of the teaching. Movement to music is used very effectively to focus and develop the pupils’ attention and listening skills, and to support their learning. The work of the speech therapist focuses on developing the pupils’ descriptive abilities to good effect. The pupils in the class are integrated with pupils in other classes for Physical Education, Visual Arts, Mathematics and ICT, and they participate in school outings and tours when appropriate. Very close home-school links are maintained.
Overall the entire special-education-needs team works cohesively as a unit, under the clear and purposeful guidance of the principal and the post holder with responsibility for special education. The team provides a comprehensive and thorough programme of support for the pupils under its remit.
Personnel provided within the school to support disadvantaged and minority pupils comprise a resource teacher for Travellers and a language support teacher. Grants from the Dispersed Disadvantage Funding scheme and the book rental scheme are used to ensure that all pupils participate fully in the life of the school. The school also maintains active links with community organisations that provide supports for pupils and families from disadvantaged backgrounds. The resource teacher for Travellers works as part of the special-education-needs team, providing seamless, in-class support for pupils in line with the principle of inclusion inherent in the school plan. Pupils for whom English is a second language are assessed by the language-support teacher soon after enrolment. An individualised learning programme is developed to enable each pupil to participate to his or her full potential in mainstream classes. These are reviewed collaboratively by the language-support teacher, classroom teacher and parents on a regular basis. Very good practice was observed in the delivery of second language tuition to pupils, with ample resources, and comprehensive record keeping informing the teaching and learning.
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 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 October 2008