An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint James’s National School
Circular Road, Bushypark, Galway
Uimhir rolla: 13856K
Date of inspection: 24 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St. James’s National School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, 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 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.
St. James’s National School is a co-educational school situated close to the Galway/Moycullen road in the mainly residential area of Bushypark, approximately 4 km from the centre of Galway City. In line with the expansion of the city and the demographic trends in the area, enrolments have increased considerably since the school was first opened in 1972. The school currently caters for 363 pupils and is staffed by a principal, 14 mainstream teachers (including two teachers employed in a job-sharing capacity), three resource/learning-support teachers, one language-support teacher and one special-needs assistant. Personnel working on a part-time basis in the school include a teacher of French, a secretary and a caretaker. The pupil cohort consists of children who reside in the parish of Bushypark / St. Joseph’s as well as pupils from other city parishes and outlying areas.
St. James’s National School in under the patronage of the Bishop of Galway and espouses a Roman Catholic ethos. In keeping with the school’s mission statement, the board of management, staff and parent body strive diligently to create a school atmosphere “which promotes a sense of mutual respect, responsibility and self-esteem in each pupil”. Parents are keenly interested in the education of their children, strongly support school initiatives and generously contribute towards school development projects. The board of management actively supports the work of the school and engages effectively with the staff and parent body in pursuit of the school’s stated aims. All the parties are to be commended for the level of commitment and cooperation involved in maintaining the school’s high standards of provision during the recent refurbishment and extension of the school building. The bulk of the work was completed during the school year 2004/5 and entailed temporarily accommodating some classes in the school hall. To the delight of all concerned, pupils and staff moved into the newly refurbished and extended building in Autumn 2005. The building was officially opened by Mary Hanafin, T.D.,Minister for Education and Science in June 2006.
The board of management is properly constituted and functions in accordance with the Rules and Procedures of Boards of Management (November 2003). The board meets at least once a term with additional meetings being convened as necessary. Appropriate notice of meetings is given, agenda are circulated and minutes are carefully maintained. Meetings regularly incorporate a principal’s report, a financial statement, discussion of specific matters and the formulation and ratification of school policies. Pertinent aspects of Departmental circulars are brought to the attention of the board by the principal and meetings conclude with agreement as regards information to be circulated to staff and parents. It is suggested that periods devoted to the study and discussion of relevant legislation and its implications for the school should also form part of board meetings.
The members of the board bring a wealth of personal expertise to the decision-making process and the board’s efficiency is enhanced by the formation of subcommittees which undertake particular tasks. The board has been directly involved in the formulation of some policy documents and takes an active role in discussing, reviewing and amending, when necessary, draft policy documents formulated by the staff. Of late, the work of the board has focused on staffing, safety and building issues. Current priorities include the extension of the school playground, development of the school’s central library and enhancement of the use of technology as a strategy for teaching and learning. The board pointed out however, that its work in relation to promoting the use of the school’s technological facilities is being hampered by ongoing difficulties with the newly installed broadband system.
The board is cognisant of its statutory obligations and of the requirement to comply with Departmental regulations. The school plan is available for viewing and incorporates policies on health and safety, discipline, child protection and special educational needs. The school is complying with regulations as regards length of school year and school day, deployment of teachers, retention of pupils and maintenance of pupil attendance records. The board should now explore ways of providing the parent body with an annual report on the operation of the school. It would also be of benefit if the board now drew up a three-year strategy statement detailing target dates for the commencement and completion of prioritised tasks relating to such areas as maintenance, administration, organisation, policy development, policy review and curriculum implementation.
The board supports the staff in effecting a range of strategies to foster good relationships and communications with the parent body and the wider community. A school calendar is issued at the start of each school year and parents are kept informed of activities and upcoming events through regular notes and letters. A newsletter is issued periodically and special meetings are convened, when necessary, to allow debate and discussion on major issues of concern for the parent body. Such meetings have been convened in the past to allow discussion on the building project and to facilitate consultation on particular curricular aspects. The school also organises induction meetings to familiarise new parents with school practices. Formal parent-teacher meetings are held once a year and parents are welcome to meet teachers at other times by appointment. Home-school communication is further enhanced by the effective use of homework journals and by issuing pupil progress reports at the end of each school year.
The board recognises its role in establishing effective modes of communication at school-based level. The chairperson maintains regular contact with the principal and the staff representative on the board of management communicates the decisions of the board to the staff in accordance with the board’s agreed report. A valuable practice has been established among the teaching staff whereby different members serve on the board for an agreed term of office. A significant number of teachers have now had experience of serving at board level which promotes a high level of awareness of the work of the board among the staff. Communication is further enhanced by the organisation of formal staff meetings each term. Active participation is encouraged through involving teachers in drawing up agenda, recording minutes, managing aspects of the meetings and formulating action plans. As a means of further developing the relationship between the board and the teaching staff, it is suggested that the board would meet the whole staff at some point during each school year and engage collaboratively in discussing aspects of teaching and learning in the school.
The members of the board of management give of their time generously and share their knowledge and skills willingly to provide efficient and effective support for the work of the school. They are to be commended for their dedication and professionalism in managing school affairs and for their commitment to working in partnership with the Department of Education and Science, school staff, parents and pupils.
The in-school management team consists of the principal, deputy principal, an assistant principal and six special duties teachers. The principal interacts and communicates in an open and professional manner with the board of management, staff, parents and pupils. A positive, collaborative school climate is fostered in which the knowledge, expertise and skills of all staff members are valued, fostered and shared for the benefit of the pupils. The principal articulates a clear vision for the school which is shared by post holders and other staff alike. The achievement of good standards and the provision of a well-balanced curriculum form part of that vision. The principal is actively engaged in advancing curricular and organisational planning on a whole-school basis. Post holders ably and willingly support the principal in this regard by assuming responsibility as coordinators of planning in particular curricular areas. Tasks are effectively delegated and staff members are consulted and involved collaboratively in the decision-making process. Effective school routines and timetables are established and official records are carefully and consistently maintained. During the evaluation, the dedication and commitment of the principal was acknowledged by the board of management and endorsed by staff and representatives of the parents’ association.
The duties attached to the posts of responsibility encompass mainly organisational and curricular areas. Post holders make a significant contribution to the positive working atmosphere in the school and successfully promote enthusiasm for the implementation of new curricular practices on a whole-school basis. Post holders are to be commended for the professional manner in which they set about fulfilling their duties. Annual summaries are submitted to the board of management which detail the work of each post holder over the previous year and set out planned activities for the new school year. Staff meetings are also effectively used to enable post-holders to communicate and disseminate pertinent information in relation to their area of responsibility and to facilitate collaboration and involvement of all staff members in the planning and development process. The duties attached to posts have been the subject of review as each new post was established. It would be of benefit to establish the regularity of reviews by including review dates in the school’s strategy statement. Future reviews should look towards formally incorporating pastoral aspects into the duties of posts.
Personnel and material resources are employed effectively in the school. The school’s 363 pupils are divided into ten single classes and three dual classes comprising 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th and 5th/6th class groupings. The board of management has facilitated a job-sharing arrangement for two mainstream class teachers during the current school year and procedures are in place to effect a smooth transition from teacher to teacher as well as continuity and consistency of approach in relation to teaching and learning in all curricular areas. The school’s support team comprises three teachers who cater for the needs of pupils identified with learning difficulties and special educational needs. A language-support teacher provides for the needs of pupils from non-English speaking backgrounds. The school has adopted a progressive and praiseworthy system of support which incorporates withdrawal from the mainstream classroom, provision of in-class support and implementation of early intervention and curricular support programmes. As a participant in the Department’s pilot scheme for the teaching of modern languages, the school has access to a visiting teacher who provides instruction in French to the pupils of 5th and 6th classes twice a week. The school is also involved in the Supply Teacher Scheme, the main purpose of which is to provide qualified substitute cover for short-term teacher absences. However, the board of management and principal indicated that the school is experiencing difficulties with the functioning of the scheme since it was extended to cover principals’ release days.
The professional development of staff members is recognised as an important aspect of school life and a number of well established school-based practices contribute to personal growth and to the development of skills and expertise among the staff. Teachers are provided with opportunities to teach different class levels, to alternate between mainstream teaching and support teaching, to serve on the board of management, to advise on and coordinate curriculum implementation and to undertake school activities which build on their individual strengths and abilities. Experienced teachers, recently probated teachers, curriculum coordinators and the principal are involved in providing support and guidance to newly qualified teachers on the staff. A number of staff members have participated in the Comenius European Project 2002-2005 which encourages contact and sharing of practice with European schools. The board should now incorporate a policy on professional development into the school plan to reflect these practices. The policy should also indicate the manner in which staff may be supported in undertaking relevant courses of study and should provide a framework for giving feedback to the staff and to the board of management.
In addition to the teaching staff, a special needs assistant provides appropriate levels of care and support specific to one of the pupils identified with special educational needs. The school employs a part-time secretary who provides valuable secretarial support for the principal and teachers. A safe, clean educational environment is maintained with the assistance of the school’s cleaners and caretaker. As part of a GAA initiative, an external coach is providing coaching in hurling to pupils from 1st to 4th classes during this school term. The board of management supports the use of the school premises for after-school activities and an extensive programme of activities is organised or provided by staff members, external personnel or parents.
Having been recently refurbished and extended, the main school building now provides thirteen classrooms, a library, a staffroom, a principal’s office, a secretary’s office, two auxiliary rooms, toilet facilities and some storage areas. Almost all of the classrooms are spacious and of a size which accommodates a variety of attractive learning corners and display areas. However, the school has an insufficient number of auxiliary rooms and an area of the school library is currently screened off to provide a fourth supplementary teaching area. It is difficult to predict whether the opening of new schools in other city parishes in the near future will impact on pupil numbers in St. James’s and whether accommodation will naturally become available in the school. The board of management may be in a better position to decide the future accommodation needs of the school in the next school year. If necessary, the provision of temporary accommodation should be considered as a measure until such time as the full impact of the opening of the new schools can be realistically assessed.
Adjacent to the school building is a fine school hall which was originally built in 1992 with the support of the community. Sound reverberates around the hard surfaces in the hall and the resulting echo creates difficulties for class activities involving such strategies as talk and discussion, oral presentation and performance. This matter was raised during the inspection and the school is now seeking advice on how this problem can be alleviated. The school grounds accommodate a hard surface play area, a grassed area and a small pitch. The board of management has availed of grant aid from the Department to extend the boundaries of the playground and the work is in progress.
The board is very conscious of its responsibility to provide a safe and healthy learning environment. A security system has been installed in order to control access to the main building and cameras are used to monitor movement in key areas of the school premises and grounds. The school premises are cleaned daily and the grounds are very well-maintained with pupils assuming a shared responsibility as regards keeping the environs free from litter. Parents have actively engaged with the management board in agreeing parking areas. The procedures for set-down and collection are regularly communicated to pupils and parents.
The school is generously resourced with teaching aids, materials, ICT hardware and software. Teachers also provide a rich array of teacher-designed materials, charts, games and books. The staff is to be commended for the high standard, in general, of classroom and corridor displays which incorporate pupils’ writing, artwork, project work as well as pictorial records of completed work and of the pupils’ involvement in a range of classroom and off-site activities. The displays contribute to the creation of a visually stimulating school environment conducive to promoting interest in all curricular areas. As curriculum innovation and implementation proceeds, further resources will be required to facilitate a hands-on approach to learning and to provide opportunities to use a variety of methodologies, strategies and approaches. It is noted that the areas used for support teaching could be more fully resourced. It would be of benefit if a supply of clearly-labelled learning-support materials, various parallel reading schemes and suitable visual aids were readily available in each of the areas.
The school has a highly interested parent body which actively supports school initiatives and projects. A parents’ association has been formed and is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. Officers and committee members are appointed at the annual general meeting and try to meet thereafter every four to six weeks. It was necessary to defer the annual general meeting this year and consequently inspectors met with outgoing representatives of the association at the commencement of the evaluation. Following committee meetings it is customary for representatives to meet with the principal, if necessary, while letters, notes, the school newsletter, a dedicated school notice board and coffee mornings are used to maintain communication with the general parent body. Parents are now seeking to develop the concept of ‘class parents’ whereby a number of parents are identified as the ‘contact personnel’ for particular class groupings.
Health and safety issues, parking difficulties, fundraising and the organisation of functions are matters regularly discussed at meetings. The allocation of funds is determined in consultation with the principal and parents have been instrumental in enabling the school to purchase substantial items of equipment including pianos, teaching materials, computer suites, other technological equipment and software. Parents have actively supported the school’s involvement in many school projects including the Green School’s Initiative, the Fionn Project and the shared reading initiative at some class levels. Parents are involved with the organisation of book fairs, swimming classes and sporting events. Assistance is given with curriculum implementation also. Parents have been specifically involved in delivering modules of the schools’ relationships and sexuality education programme and in guiding pupils in designing and making tasks as part of the visual arts and science programmes. Parents are also instrumental in promoting the environmentally friendly initiative of ‘The Walking Bus’. This involves a reduction in car usage on pre-scheduled days with parents escorting groups of pupils to school from designated starting points in the vicinity of the school. While parents were reported to have been involved in the formulation of some school policies, it is recommended that structures and procedures be put in place to involve the parents’ association formally in policy formulation and in the development and review of the school plan. Parents are now busily engaged in organising and computerising the school library, a task which they hope to complete shortly.
The parents’ association has identified future priorities which include seeking training for committee members as well as establishing new measures to enhance communication with the board of management and the principal. The parents’ representatives commended the broad educational experiences afforded the pupils in the school and the high standards achieved. They praised the open, welcoming atmosphere in the school and strongly acknowledged the dedication and commitment of the staff.
The board of management, parent representatives and staff members exude a deep sense of pride in the school. Pupil behaviour is sensitively monitored and careful attention is given to providing appropriate levels of supervision during the school day. School rules and the code of discipline are implemented in a quiet, consistent and effective manner. Emphasis is placed on developing pupils’ confidence and self-esteem and on guiding them to respect themselves, others and the environment. Pupils are mannerly and courteous and cooperate willingly with their teachers during all class activities. Pupils are regularly provided with opportunities to assume responsibility and are appropriately praised and rewarded for their efforts and their contributions to school and classroom activities.
The board of management, principal and staff engage collaboratively in developing school policy and in progressing curriculum implementation. Post holders have responsibility for developing policy and for coordinating implementation in specific areas. The school also avails of the support of the School Development Planning Service and of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme. Draft policies are presented to the board of management and are reviewed and amended as appropriate before ratification by the board. While parents have been directly involved in the formulation of some policies and are invited to comment on draft policies available in the school, the views of the parent body are mostly sourced through the parent representatives on the board of management. In order to enhance the consultative process and to foster increased levels of parental involvement, consideration should now be given to promoting understanding at all levels in the school of the role of parents in policy development and implementation and to establishing procedures which support and facilitate this involvement.
The school plan is presented in accessible format, is consulted regularly by the teaching staff and clearly impacts on school and classroom practice. The plan articulates the school’s mission and aims and contains a wide range of organisational and administrative policies relevant to the school. Curricular policy development has kept pace with the national programme for curriculum implementation. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. A number of policies are now ready for review and these should be included in the school’s long-term strategy statement.
All teachers are highly commended for the quality of their classroom planning. Detailed short-term and long-term plans are presented and a system for recording monthly progress is in place. Teachers make reference to the school plan and content to be taught is set out under the strand and strand units for each curricular area. Differentiation strategies are set out in a number of curricular areas and a diverse range of suitable learning experiences is presented to the pupils. All teachers’ timetables are organised to facilitate the implementation of curriculum plans and appropriate attention is afforded to linkage and integration within and between subjects. Strategies for assisting pupils with special educational needs are developed. It is evident from an examination of individual teacher planning that pupils are presented with a broad and balanced curriculum.
It is clear that the teachers devote a considerable amount of time to the planning process and they demonstrate an excellent commitment to ensuring the effective implementation of the curriculum. It is recommended that, in order to ensure the continuation of the good practice established, teachers should focus on the learning objectives to be achieved and avoid unnecessary repetition in their personal preparation. The present system of recording monthly progress in the school is in place for over a year. It is recommended that the present system should be re-examined in order to determine its practicality and effectiveness in meeting the school’s needs.
Teachers employ a wide variety of methodologies, strategies and approaches to mediate the curriculum at each class level. An appropriate balance between class teaching and group work is maintained and regular opportunities are provided for pupils to participate in paired work, independent learning and project work. Considerable emphasis is placed on the development of oral language skills with talk and discussion constituting key teaching strategies in all curricular areas. Linkage and integration are used very effectively to scaffold and consolidate pupil learning. Significant use is made of the local environment and the school also avails of opportunities to involve pupils in activity-based workshops and projects managed by local institutions and organisations. The school is now focusing on enhancing the use of technology in teaching and learning. Having invested in computer suites and with each room wired for interactive boards and broadband, the school is exploring the development of practice in this regard. The policy in ICT is being reviewed to incorporate the use of new technologies and to guide the development and use of a school website. It is evident that there is a strong collective commitment to achieving quality in classroom teaching and learning.
Tá an cur chuige cumarsáideach á láimhseáil go tairbheach i bhformhór de na ranganna sa scoil. Baintear leas as raon leathan de straitéisí chun suim a chothú sa Ghaeilge agus chun taitneamh agus spraoi a spreagadh le linn na ngníomhaíochtaí foghlama. Baintear úsáid as geáitsíocht, cluichí, ábhair nithiúla, cairteacha, lipéid, puipéid, rainn, amhráin agus drámaíocht chun dea-thuiscint a fhorbairt ar an bhfoclóir a bhaineann le téamaí faoi leith. Tugtar go córasach faoi eiseamláirí d’fheidhmeanna teanga áirithe a fhorbairt agus éiríonn go geal leis na hoidí comhthéacsanna fiúntacha a chruthú chun deis a thabhairt do na daltaí fíorchumarsáid a dhéanamh agus caint leanúnach a chleachtadh. Is inmholta mar a mhealltar na daltaí i ranganna áirithe chun labhairt go soiléir agus dea-fhoghraíocht a ghnóthú. Cuirtear ar a gcumas abairtí iomlána a úsáid agus ceisteanna a chur. B’fhiú an dea-chleachtas seo a scaipeadh go forleathan tríd an scoil. Tá moladh tuillte acu siúd freisin a bhaineann úsáid as an nGaeilge mar theanga bhainistíochta ranga agus mar theanga teagaisc in achair eile churaclaim.
Baintear feidhm as ábhar na cainte agus na filíochta, as téacsleabhair agus as roinnt fíorleabhar chun scileanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta a chur chun cinn. Léiríonn na daltaí dea-thuiscint ar an ábhar ar an iomlán agus tugtar faoi réimse cuí gnóthaí scríbhneoireachta i go leor de na ranganna. Bíonn idir liostaí, litreacha, dialanna, nuacht, tuairiscí beaga agus roinnt scéalta á scríobh. Déantar dea-chúram de thuiscint a ghnóthú ar struchtúr agus comhréir na teanga lena linn. Chun dúil sa léitheoireacht a chothú a thuilleadh, b’fhiú anois réimse níos leithne d’ábhair léitheoireachta a chur ar fáil idir leabhair bheaga, fíorleabhair, irisleabhair agus úrscéalta simplí. Níor mhiste na daltaí a spreagadh chun tabhairt faoin scríbheoireacht phearsanta go luath tar éis tosú ar an scríbhneoireacht, chun neamhspléachas sa scríbheoireacht a fhothú de réir a chéile agus iad ag dul in aois sa scoil.
Tá tús maith curtha leis an gclár Gaeilge a léiriú sa phlean scoile agus tá sé i gceist ag an bhfoireann athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar mhúineadh na Gaeilge sa scoil go luath. Le linn na hathbhreithnithe ba thairbheach an clár a shoiléiriú ag gach leibhéal ranga trí raon d’fhothéamaí a aimsiú faoi na mórthéamaí agus treoir chinnte a thabhairt d’oidí na scoile maidir leis an bhforbairt atá i gceist ag na rangleibhéil dhifriúla. Tá straitéisí ar nós ‘lá na Gaeilge’ agus ‘seachtain na Gaeilge’ aimsithe ag an bhfoireann chun úsáid na Gaeilge a neartú i dtimpeallacht na scoile. Tugadh le fios go bhfuil tuismitheoirí na scoile toilteanach tacú leo siúd agus go mbeadh suim acu freisin feabhas a chur ar a gcuid Ghaeilge féin chun cúnamh agus spreagadh a thabhairt dá bpáistí. B’fhiú don bhord bainistíochta dul i gcomhairle le cumann na dtuismitheoirí sa scoil chun pearsanra agus eagrais a aimsiú a mbeadh suim acu tacú leis an scoil maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge a chur ar fáil do thuismitheoirí.
The communicative approach is handled well in almost all of the classes in the school. A wide range of strategies is used beneficially to develop interest in Irish and to promote enjoyment and fun during the learning activities. Actions, games, concrete materials, charts, labels, puppets, rhymes, songs and drama are used to develop good understanding of the vocabulary pertaining to particular themes. Exemplars of particular language functions are approached systematically and the teachers successfully create worth-while contexts to provide opportunities for pupils to engage in real communication and to practice continuous speech. The manner in which pupils in certain classes are encouraged to speak clearly and to develop good pronunciation deserves praise. Pupils are enabled to use full sentences and to ask questions. It would be beneficial to promote this practice widely throughout the school. Those teachers who use Irish as the language of classroom management and as the language of instruction in other curriculum areas also merit praise.
Conversational and poetry material, textbooks and some real books are used to develop reading and writing skills. Pupils, in general, display good understanding of the material. An appropriate range of writing activities including lists, letters, diaries, news, short reports and some stories is undertaken in many of the classes. During these activities careful attention and care is given to developing an understanding of the structure and syntax of the language. In order to promote interest in reading further, it would of benefit to make available a wider range of reading material including small books, real books, magazines and simple novels. Pupils should be encouraged to engage in personal writing soon after commencing writing in Irish, in order to gradually develop independent writing skills as they proceed through the school.
A good start has been made on articulating the programme in Irish in the school plan and the staff intends reviewing the teaching of Irish in the school shortly. During the review, it would be of benefit to clarify the programme at each class level by identifying sub-themes under the major theme headings and to provide a definite guide to teachers as regards the intended development at the different class levels. Strategies such as ‘an Irish day’ and ‘an Irish week’ have been identified by the staff as a means of strengthening the use of Irish in the school environment. It was reported that parents are willing to support these strategies and that they would also be interested in improving their own Irish in order to be able to assist and encourage their children. The board of management should consult with the school’s parents’ association in order to identify personnel and organisations with an interest in supporting the school in relation to the provision of Irish courses for parents.
Discrete oral language activities are organised on a whole-school basis and are appropriately timetabled with a suitable focus on learning language and extending pupils’ oral language skills. Appropriate links are in evidence between teachers’ individual preparation, the guidelines provided in the whole-school plan and teaching in classrooms. Lessons are presented in a structured manner with a strong emphasis on linkage among strands. A cross-curricular integrated approach is effectively adopted. Pupils are given frequent opportunities to use and develop their language skills to explore, question, discuss, debate and express their opinions on a range of themes. Pupils’ vocabulary bank is developed in using a range of approaches including talk and discussion, open and closed questioning, hot-seating, the use of debate and drama. Other successful oral language strategies used include brainstorming, reading aloud, oral book reports and conferencing. Picture books, charts and picture stimuli are used to good effect. The listener-speaker relationship is well developed among pupils. Pupils can confidently discuss a wide range of topics and display a high level of interest in the themes chosen.
Pupils in infant and junior classes are given regular opportunities to listen and respond to a wide range of stories with predictable texts. Puppetry and drama are very effectively used in infant classes in providing pupils with opportunities to recount experiences and retell familiar and favourite stories. News time sessions, show and tell activities and discussions about current affairs provide very good opportunities for pupils in middle and senior classes to develop their competence and confidence, oral fluency and writing skills. These sessions are effectively integrated with Drama, Music and Visual Arts. Pupils recite a wide and suitable range of nursery rhymes in junior classes and a varied range of poetry across middle and senior classes.
Appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of an emergent reading programme. Pupils display commendable progress in their phonemic and phonological awareness skills in infant and junior classes. Letterland is used in conjunction with a school-based phonics programme and the phonetic approach is commendably developed as pupils progress from class to class. A multi-sensory approach is effectively used in some classes. Regular opportunities are provided to engage in collaborative reading activities using visually appealing large-format books and shared-reading experiences using sets of high interest little books in junior classes. Pupils have attained a very good understanding of the concepts of print and display a keen interest in books.
Print-rich environments, word wall displays and the use of flashcards and visual aids contribute greatly to the development of pupils’ sight vocabulary. Suitable attention is given to pupils’ word identification skills using a range of strategies. Uninterrupted sustained silent reading periods are organised in order to further develop pupils’ independent reading skills. Carefully selected class novels are introduced and comprehensively explored in middle and senior classes. Meaningful reinforcement follow-up activities are prepared and these activities focus on the development of pupils’ prediction and higher-order thinking skills. A paired-reading buddy system is in operation in all classes and parents are involved in a paired-reading project for a six-week period from second class upwards. Pupils in all classes have regular access to class libraries and reading records and book reports are maintained. It is planned that the range and variety of books available to individual classrooms will be restocked regularly using a centralised loaning system. Pupils read confidently, fluently and with understanding and display maturity in their reading. These high standards are reflected in the most recent standardised test results completed. Comprehension skills are well developed and pupils respond well to questioning. The use of reciprocal questioning by both teacher and pupils and differentiated teacher-designed activities greatly enhance this work. Newspaper articles are also used in some classes to further develop pupils’ analytic and critical skills and their awareness of topical global issues.
Very good attention is given to the fostering of pupils’ interest in writing and to the development of pupils’ functional, narrative, descriptive and creative writing skills. Suitable scaffolding frameworks are explored in supporting the development of pupils’ writing skills. Pupils are encouraged to prepare drafts and redrafts in a wide range of genres. Mind maps, brainstorming and writing frames are very effectively used to stimulate pupils’ thinking and their understanding of the structure of story. Pupils are proud of the writing samples displayed, which are suitably illustrated. Written work is presented neatly and is diligently monitored. Class booklets and individual pupil booklets are developed in many classes and the range of poetry samples composed is praiseworthy. The consistent emphasis placed on letter formation in infant and junior classes through teacher modelling and the early introduction of cursive handwriting have greatly contributed to the excellent standards and quality of pupils’ written work. The use of ICT is to be commended in supporting the attractive presentation of pupils’ finished writing samples, school magazine, class and individual booklets. Pupils are also given beneficial opportunities to participate regularly in the Write-a-Book Project in conjunction with Galway Education Centre. Spelling skills are developed using a combination of dictation and single word lists. Spelling tests are regularly administered and a good emphasis is placed on pupil self-evaluation of efforts made.
The school is participating in the pilot scheme for the teaching of modern languages in primary schools. The communicative approach to teaching languages is adopted during the twice weekly periods of instruction. All activities are provided through the medium of French with particular emphasis being placed on eliciting clear pronunciation and fostering careful but confident attention to accent. Activities are very well structured and effectively paced. A variety of strategies is successfully employed which incorporate active listening, movement, language games, focused discussion, song singing and a limited amount of writing and reading. The intricacies of syntax and grammar are approached in a systematic but enjoyable manner through poetry, song singing, drill and practice. Project work and art activities are used skilfully to develop understanding and to extend vocabulary. Pupils are provided with opportunities to link with other schools, to contribute to journal publications on language learning and to experience French culture by sharing typical French meals. Pupils are keenly interested in the activities, respond confidently to teacher questioning and exhibit pride in their increasing levels of competency in communicating through French.
A comprehensive whole-school plan effectively guides classroom practice and mathematical activities are commendably integrated, particularly with Visual Arts, Geography, Science, Irish and Music. The use of both open and closed questions provides beneficial opportunities for all pupils to think and talk through the mathematical processes and operations and engage in problem-solving activities. A consistent and structured whole-school approach is adopted towards the development of mathematical language in the school. It would now be of benefit if a mathematics dictionary and a mathematics journal were developed, particularly for pupils with special educational needs or pupils experiencing learning difficulty. The main teaching approaches and methodologies employed include the use of talk and discussion, whole-class, group work, individual work, circle work, mathematical games, environmental-based learning, active learning and the use of differentiated teacher-designed tasks. The school is to be commended on the progress made in relation to the provision of in-class support and to the attention paid to differentiation. Very good attention is given to regular review and consolidation of mathematical concepts covered. Information and communications technology is effectively used in a number of classrooms to support pupils’ understanding of specific mathematical concepts.
A wide range of manipulatives is accessible to pupils in each classroom and is regularly used to support the development of pupils’ problem-solving skills and understanding of place value. Designated mathematics areas include a range of teacher-designed prompt charts, maths-related art work, problem-solving activities, board games, calendars, books, clocks and brain teasers. Maths trails are informally incorporated into lessons. It is suggested that an audit be undertaken of mathematical trails developed at whole-school level to facilitate pupils in transferring mathematical skills learnt in the classroom to real life. Pupils’ copy works are carefully laid out, dated and regularly corrected. Whole-class interactive mental mathematics periods are incorporated into mathematics lessons. Pupils display a quick recall of number facts and mental problems and show very good progress in their ability to estimate and solve problems across the range of mathematical concepts covered. Pupils respond very well to questioning and these high standards are also reflected in the most recent standardised tests completed.
A broad and well balanced programme is implemented in History. Pupils study a range of people and events in the past in order to develop a balanced understanding of family, local, national and world history. Structured lessons are presented and pupils display a good understanding and respond well to the topics studied. There are clear links between the teachers’ long-term and short-term planning and the curriculum presented in the classes. The teachers display imagination and creativity in the lessons they deliver to their pupils. In all classes the teaching is stimulating and challenging with teachers successfully using a range of methodologies and strategies including whole-class teaching, pair work, guided discovery, projects, group work and talk and discussion to enable pupils further their understanding of History. Appropriated assessment strategies are utilised. A spiral approach is successfully used to enable pupils develop their skills and expand their understanding across all five strands of the curriculum. In the infant classes a range of activities such as sequencing of events in simple stories and the use of simple timelines is capably used to develop the pupils’ skills of working as historians. The skills of using evidence, examining change and continuity, reconstructing elements of the past and communicating findings through written work, oral presentations and drama are further developed at an appropriate level, in all classes. Cross-curricular themes are aptly explored and much of the work is integrated effectively with other curricular areas. The school is encouraged to add to its supply of artefacts, photographs and documents in order to stimulate further pupils’ curiosity and interest in the past.
The aim of the geography curriculum in relation to developing knowledge and understanding of local, regional and wider environments and their interrelationships is well addressed in all classes. Teachers plan a very good programme of geographical activities to allow pupils explore their own immediate environment as well as the world around them. Themes are integrated successfully with other curricular areas and are very well presented in many of the classes through the strands of Construction, Drawing and Paint and Colour in the Visual Arts. From the work observed it is clear that the pupils are well motivated to question, observe, investigate and appropriately analyse geographical data. Recording of work is of a high standard and is suitably integrated in many instances with the strand Writing in the English curriculum. A range of resources, including teacher-generated resources, is used well during the interesting lessons presented. Spatial awareness is very well developed in all classes. There is a commendable use of maps and, in particular, maps of the local area to assist with this development. Weather phenomena are also examined and recorded and teachers intend expanding this area in the future. Projects are well displayed in all classrooms giving a geographical focus for pupils. A significant amount of work is carried out in the Environmental Awareness and Care strand of the geography curriculum. The school is commended for its work in the Green Flag Initiative. The school has enrolled a number of pupils from a rich variety of cultures. It is now a challenge for the school to devise programmes of work that will allow pupils explore this rich intercultural heritage. It is noted also that a twinning arrangement is being initiated with Africa at senior class level in order to provide pupils with opportunities to examine aspects of cultural differences.
In this school pupils are well motivated to develop an interest in and curiosity about the world through the exploration and study of living and non-living things. Whole school planning in this curricular area is set out in a thorough manner with the strands taught over a two-year cycle. Pupils are encouraged to work scientifically with an appropriate emphasis on the development of the skills of questioning, observing, analysing, recording and communicating. The skills of predicting, estimating and measuring could be further developed in some classes. Illustrative and concrete materials are used in a productive manner during lessons and pupils are encouraged to actively engage in a number of experiments. In all classes appropriate printed materials in the pupils’ immediate environment focus on the scientific skills being developed. A very good range of methodologies and strategies including brainstorming, talk and discussion, group work and paired work is used successfully to enable pupils take an active part in their learning and much of this work is successfully integrated with many other curricular areas. The programme in environmental studies is closely linked to seasonal change and animal and plant life. Seasonal displays are used effectively to stimulate curiosity and reinforce learning. Very good work was also observed in the strands Energy and Forces and Materials. To further enhance its science programme the school has developed links with outside bodies including the National University of Ireland, Galway and the local Education Centre. These bodies have organised a number of projects in which the school has successfully taken part. Overall the teaching and learning taking place in the area of Science is commendable. As the school grounds are now being developed, it is expected that they will become a further resource for the teaching of Science. The school should consider planting a range of native trees, creating wildlife habitats and a wild flower garden and constructing bird-feeding stations. These would further assist the school in its promotion of Science.
A school plan has been developed in the Visual Arts which provides guidance in relation to a range of activities, methodologies and techniques for exploration at different class levels. Teachers plan a broad range of activities encompassing all strands of the visual arts curriculum. Pupils are provided with ample opportunities in most classes to explore, investigate, design and create using a variety of materials, media and techniques. Although template art features in many classrooms, teachers are conscious of providing opportunities for pupils to develop creativity and individuality in their work. Attractive classroom displays and photographic records reflect the integrated nature of much of the work and a good breadth of experiences. Portfolios are maintained in some classrooms and it is suggested that their use be expanded and developed throughout the school as a means of assessing development and progress on a whole-school basis. Pupils in some classes study the works and lives of different artists and ICT is skilfully used to access visual material and appropriate information. Consideration should be given to sourcing and acquiring a wide range of prints, books, slides, information and software to further support the work in the Visual Arts. Pupils discuss their work with interest and pride, and demonstrate a good knowledge of concepts and skills while detailing the contexts for their creations and the creative processes used.
The staff is developing a comprehensive school plan in Music, which addresses all strands and strand units of the music curriculum. There is a high level of musical expertise among the staff and pupils are exposed to a rich variety of experiences which enable them to develop a firm understanding of the elements of music through musical activity. Listening experiences provide pupils with opportunities to develop knowledge of musical instruments and to respond physically, verbally, pictorially and graphically to a broad range of musical styles. The school is to be commended for its regular participation in national, local and school-based workshops, projects and events which bring pupils into contact with live music in orchestral, quartet, group and solo settings. A range of commercially-manufactured percussion instruments is available in the school and pupils in many classes also made their own instruments. All are used effectively in the exploration of sound and in composition. Tin whistle is taught from 1st class onwards and pupils learn to play an appropriate repertoire. Song-singing is of a high standard in the school and is supported in many classes by accompaniment on piano, keyboard or guitar. A broad repertoire of songs is taught including pentatonic tunes and call and response songs, which support the school’s literacy programme. The school choir meets once a week and pupil’s interest in choral work is demonstrated by their participation in choral work as an after-school activity. The school’s structured approach to the development of musical literacy is praiseworthy. Future planning should seek to link the literacy programme more closely with the instrumental programme by presenting the instrumental repertoire in a format which includes both rhythmic and pitch notation. There is also a need to augment the range of percussion instruments in the school in order to provide ready access to instruments at each class level.
The school’s curriculum in Drama is being informed by the current programme of in-service provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme. While a whole school plan has not yet been formulated, all teachers plan a range of interesting activities to enable pupils to develop an understanding of the elements of Drama. Teachers use discrete time as well as an integrated approach to explore communication through Drama. Activities are well-structured, skilfully paced and incorporate group, paired and individual work. A good variety of strategies is used to engage pupils in make-believe and to enable them to develop their ability to move in and out of role and to create Drama. Pupils confidently use gesture, mime and frieze frames to explore characters and contexts. They comfortably participate in circle time, hot-seating and role play and are skilfully guided to develop an awareness of their audience. It is commendable how pupils in some classes are encouraged to discuss and evaluate their performances and to identify how their efforts to communicate through Drama can be enhanced.
The teaching of Physical Education (PE) in this school is of a high standard. The school has access to a large hall and to a wide selection of physical education resources. The pupils take part in games, dance, gymnastics, outdoor and adventure activities and athletics. The school intends introducing aquatics to the school programme in the very near future. The physical education lessons observed were undertaken in a safe and organised manner with the safety of pupils during PE classes recognised as of primary importance. Instructions were clear and succinct with skill development carefully planned and clearly explained to the pupils. The lessons ably assisted pupils experience enjoyment and personal achievement and to develop self-confidence while acquiring an appropriate range of movement skills in a variety of contexts. All pupils were actively and enthusiastically involved and co-operated well with others during the activities. Excellent use was made of Irish in delivering instructions to the pupils. The school receives assistance from a GAA hurling coach and all pupils in the participating classes take part in these well-directed, skill-development activities. Many of the pupils are encouraged to take part in team events and sporting activities organised by the school outside of school time. The teachers involved in the organisation of these extra activities and the parents who support their efforts are commended for their work in this respect. This commitment to the pupils is praiseworthy.
The school philosophy aims to create “a safe, positive and caring environment for the children, an environment where all aspects of the individual, including the aesthetic, creative, emotional, intellectual, moral, physical, social and spiritual, are developed, and where self-awareness and self-esteem, combined with a respect for the rights and dignity of others are fostered in each pupil and member of staff”. The social personal and health education curriculum (SPHE), as set out in the school plan, ably assists in the implementation of this philosophy. The school has developed other policies which assist in promoting the aims and objectives of the SPHE curriculum. These additional policies include a code of behaviour policy which expresses its aims in a positive manner and a policy on substance use and misuse. A healthy eating policy is aptly used to develop the strand unit Taking Care of my Body. A relationships and sexuality education policy (RSE) and an anti-bullying policy also assist in the development of the pupils’ self esteem and their understanding of their responsibilities towards themselves and others.
A positive school atmosphere and ethos reflect a firm commitment to the development and extension of the pupils’ skills in this curricular area. A varied and interesting programme has been set out based on a number of resources including Bí Folláin, Stay Safe, and Walk Tall programmes and supplemented where necessary by teacher-designed lessons. Discrete time is set aside for SPHE lessons and a range of methodologies and strategies, including games and discussion, brainstorming and circle-time activities, enable the pupils develop and enhance their social skills of communication, co-operation and conflict resolution. Creditable care is taken to promote the personal development and well-being of the pupils and to foster in the pupils a sense of care and respect for themselves and others. Many of the lessons are appropriately integrated with other curricular areas. Lessons observed promote self esteem, co-operation and respect for others. Respect for the environment and its long-term care is being developed through the school’s participation in the Green Flag Environmental Initiative.
The whole-school assessment policy was recently reviewed and it clearly highlights the school’s commitment towards assessment and record-keeping in informing and mediating the teaching and learning process across all curricular areas. Particular attention is given to the assessment of pupils’ progress on a whole-school basis in English, Irish and Mathematics, while all teachers use assessment for learning strategies in their respective classrooms. A variety of homework assignments is given ranging from oral work to practical work and written assignments. Formal and informal assessments are carried out and include daily teacher observation, the use of checklists in some classes, project work, pupils’ work samples, individual pupil reports, incidental reports of specific events and teacher‑designed tasks and tests. The Micra-T and Sigma-T standardised tests are administered to all pupils from first class upwards in English and Mathematics respectively. The Micra-T test is administered to first class at the commencement of the school year while the remaining classes complete these tests during the final school term. Results are carefully recorded and clearly presented and are appropriately used for screening purposes. Pupils’ attainment results indicate very high standards in English and Mathematics and pupils show commendable progress from year to year. An individual profile is developed for each pupil following the administration of The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP) at the commencement of the second term in junior infants. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is an additional screening measure used for pupils during the second term of senior infants. Pupils requiring early intervention have access to the Forward Together Programme. Cognisance is also taken of the need to provide additional challenging activities for pupils of exceptional ability.
Individual teachers pay particular attention in their short-term and long-term planning to the need to specifically identify and record assessment measures used to monitor pupils’ progress on an ongoing basis. This attention to detail is praiseworthy. A co-ordinated approach is adopted by mainstream class teachers and support teachers in the administration of class tests in English, Irish and Mathematics, which are administered mid-year and again at the end of the school year to measure pupil attainment, effort and mastery. These differentiated teacher-designed tests also prove to be an effective tool in revising and consolidating work covered. The success of this approach is evident in the high standards achieved. Account is taken of the importance of assessing pupils’ emotional and social development on an informal basis using teacher observation. A classroom diary is maintained by individual teachers of relevant observations. Spelling and dictation tests are administered regularly. Copies of these results are maintained and analysed centrally by the support teachers in collaboration with the principal to assist in the identification of pupils in need of supplementary teaching and in tracking individual pupils’ levels of attainment from class to class.
Progress reports are issued to parents/guardians of all pupils at the end of each school year and an opportunity is provided for parents to discuss their children’s progress at the parent-teacher meetings organised each year.
A clear, comprehensive and reflective special needs policy has been developed. This policy is effectively implemented and is suitably guided by three principles of inclusion, namely to set suitable learning challenges, to respond to pupils’ diverse learning needs and to overcome potential barriers to learning for individuals and groups of pupils. A special duties post-holder has overall responsibility for the co-ordination and operation of the policy in collaboration with the in-school management team and the principal. Roles and responsibilities are clearly delineated and the staged process of early intervention is suitably outlined and effectively implemented. The importance of the regular review of pupils’ progress is documented and the responsibility of all teachers to suitably differentiate the curriculum is appropriately highlighted. There is a good emphasis on early intervention.
The support teaching team is comprised of four teachers including the teacher providing language support for international pupils. One special needs assistant ably supports the work of a pupil on the autistic spectrum. Almost all support teachers have attended specific training courses provided mainly by the local Education Centre or the National University of Ireland, Galway. There is a commendable commitment to collaboration among the support teaching team and between individual support teachers and mainstream class teachers. A suitable balance is maintained between the withdrawal model of support and in-class support. The conscientious efforts made in relation to this partnership approach are to be commended. The whole-school policy provides practical guidance for the different models of team teaching and takes into account teachers’ differing teaching styles. Resources and experiences are shared and regular consultation occurs with class teachers.
Support is suitably directed to pupils’ individual educational needs following the administration of a range of screening and diagnostic tests. A total of twenty pupils with higher incidence learning needs currently receive support in English, while five pupils receive support in Mathematics. Six pupils in the lower incidence category of learning disability receive support across a range of curricular areas that support the development of social skills, self-esteem, co-ordination and communication skills.
Either an individual education plan (IEP) or a group/ individual profile and learning programme (IPLP) has been developed for each pupil and includes general information regarding each pupil’s strengths, priority learning needs, learning objectives, test results, materials and resources used and pupils’ progress. A record of the supplementary teaching support provided for each pupil is also maintained. Care is taken to ensure that specific classes are supported by a limited number of support teachers to ensure optimum continuity and to ensure that pupils are not absent from their mainstream class groups for an inordinate amount of time. Mainstream class teachers receive a copy of the learning targets set for each instructional period to ensure that each pupil’s learning targets are addressed across a range of curricular areas.
Pupils display satisfactory progress in the concepts covered and engage well during the supplementary teaching sessions. Lessons are carefully matched to the learning targets set and to pupils’ learning needs. Balanced attention is given to the oral, reading and writing strands and to the development of phonological and word attack skills in English. A kinaesthetic approach is effectively implemented for the teaching of spelling. Pupils’ efforts are affirmed and pupils enjoy the learning experiences provided, particularly when visual aids, concrete items, teacher-designed charts and manipulatives are used and a multi-sensory approach is adopted. The extended use of ICT should now be considered and the suitability of various computer programmes should be assessed in order to mediate pupils’ learning. Pupils’ written work is well organised and regularly monitored.
Regular contact is maintained with parents and their views are sought at all stages of assessment and provision. Individual education plans are discussed with parents of pupils requiring supplementary support. The views of pupils are also ascertained and the pupils are commendably involved in reflecting on their own learning. The home-school communication notebook provides an effective channel of communication with parents.
Although a specific policy on intercultural education has not yet been developed by the school, there is a welcoming inclusive atmosphere in evidence in classrooms and in the wider school environment. The first language support post was sanctioned for the school in 2002. There are currently 40 international pupils in attendance, 16 of whom continue to receive language support in English on a withdrawal basis.
The Integrate Ireland Language and Training Programme is effectively used to support pupils’ language needs. A language-experience and environmental-based approach is adopted and pupils are exposed to stimulating learning programmes. Pupils are enthusiastic in their learning and interact well with their peers and teachers. Individual learning programmes are in the process of being developed for each pupil receiving support. It is recommended that the pupils’ priority language needs be broken down into specific, measurable, achievable and relevant learning targets. It is suggested that these targets should be reviewed on a bi-annual basis using various assessment approaches such as checklists, cloze procedure tests, teacher-designed differentiated oral and written tasks. Progress is currently monitored mainly through the use of teacher observation and teacher-designed tasks and tests. It is intended that, following the recently assigned language teacher’s receipt of in‑service training in the current school term, a European Language Portfolio will be completed to record the progress of each pupil receiving support. It is suggested that an intercultural policy be developed to reflect the annual practice of the school in hosting intercultural days to celebrate diversity, multiculturalism and difference and to explore possibilities in the completion of various intercultural projects. Pupils’ awareness of culture and ethnicity is reinforced and supported by the school climate and atmosphere and through the social, personal and health education programme implemented on a whole-school basis.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· St. James’s National School enjoys a long-established tradition of parental and community support and is highly regarded in the local community.
· The newly refurbished and extended school building provides excellent facilities for the implementation of all aspects of the curriculum.
· The school is characterised by a positive, supportive atmosphere in which staff communicate openly and collaborate effectively to provide a very high quality of provision in all aspects of school life.
· The school has an active and well-informed board of management whose members give of their time, knowledge and skills generously, are progressive in their management style and manage the affairs of the school in a very effective and efficient manner.
· The parents’ association has developed a firm support network, is proactive in its approach and contributes significantly to supporting teaching and learning in the school.
· The principal and staff display high levels of commitment and dedication, and work in a spirit of openness and cooperation which positively influences the whole-school planning process and the quality of teaching and learning in the school.
· There is very good pupil discipline throughout the school and pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher relations are respectful and conducive to fostering the development of confidence, self-esteem and individual learning capabilities.
· The support teaching team collaborates very effectively with mainstream teachers to provide a variety of educational settings and programmes for pupils identified with learning difficulties and special educational needs.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should commence issuing an annual report on the operation of the school.
· The board of management should establish further structures and procedures to facilitate increased levels of parental involvement in policy formulation and review.
· The board of management should formulate a long-term strategy development plan to address the identified priorities and goals relating to building, maintenance, administration, organisation, policy development and curriculum implementation.
· Policies on staff development and inter-culturalism should be incorporated into the school plan to reflect current practices and to develop further initiatives.
· Further resources are required for support-teaching purposes and to facilitate activity and skills-based approaches to teaching and learning in particular curricular areas.
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.
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of St. James’s N.S., Bushypark, notes the contents of the W.S.E report. The Board appreciates the courtesy and professionalism of the reporting inspectorate team.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Working in harmony with a skilled and dedicated staff team and an informed and supportive parent body, the Board looks forward with confidence to the maintenance of the highest standards of educational provision in St. James’s N.S., Bushypark.