An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Zion Parish Primary School

Rathgar, Dublin 6

Uimhir rolla: 14917J

 

Date of inspection: 7 October 2009

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

 

 

  

Whole-school evaluation

 

 

A whole-school evaluation of Zion Parish Primary School was undertaken in October 2009. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Mathematics and History. 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.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

105

Mainstream classes in the school

4

Teachers on the school staff

5

Mainstream class teachers

4

Teachers working in support roles

1

Special needs assistants

2

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

Zion Parish Primary School is a co-educational primary school under Church of Ireland patronage. It is situated in the heart of Dublin 6 and will shortly be celebrating its 150th anniversary.  The school atmosphere is welcoming, open and inclusive with the emphasis clearly placed on the holistic development of the child. A culture of learning and curiosity is fostered. The pupils experience a broad and challenging curriculum where personal and social development is effectively interwoven with academic development. Independent thinking and self-expression are encouraged as is respect for differences among people. The ethos of the school, which is directly informed by the values of the Church of Ireland, is defined, articulated and understood by the school community. The board, principal and staff are praised for their work in ensuring the clear articulation of the school ethos and its communication to all relevant parties. In a practical sense, the ethos is reflected in the organisation and management of the school, in the curriculum taught and in the focus on and the attention given to each pupil and to the welfare of each staff member. Zion Parish Primary school is at the heart of the parish community. Parents, staff members and pupils report a sense of belonging and of purpose which is reflected in the daily life of the school. The school is clearly inclusive in its practices and ensures that, while it works within the Anglican faith and culture, it encourages and promotes respect for other traditions, faiths and cultures. Pupil attendance is very good and pupils evidently enjoy their school experience.

 

1.2 Board of management

The board of management works very effectively and its responsibilities are carried out in a focused and systematic manner. The members of the board are very committed to supporting the work of the school and to ensuring high-quality teaching and learning.  The board is cognisant of its legislative obligations and endeavours to ensure that appropriate systems and procedures are in place to comply with statutory requirements. It uses available finances in a very effective manner leading to ongoing improvements in learning and teaching and in the school environment. The board’s decision-making procedures are open and effective. An annual report is published on the work of the school in accordance with statute and is shared with members of the school community. This practice is highly commended. 

 

The board attaches a high level of importance to whole-school planning and is committed to the development and review of whole-school policies and curriculum plans. In this context, it is advised that all polices and plans be signed and dated by the board at the time of ratification. The board strives for excellence in its communications with the parent body. All policies, plans and decisions are disseminated effectively to the school community.  The chairperson of the board attends staff meetings. The monitoring of teaching and learning by the principal on behalf of the board is very successful. The board members expend significant energy on addressing the needs of individual pupils to ensure that they can maximise their educational potential.  Parish links are very strong and the school contributes significantly to the life of the parish. The board is commended on its commitment to the welfare of staff members. Structures have been put in place to ensure that views and opinions are shared and that good work is affirmed and recognised. 

 

The board continually reviews its practices and is conscious of planning for the future of the school. It has a realistic view of the school’s strengths and challenges. It is committed to continuous improvement in learning and teaching and to reflecting on, and critically engaging in, dialogue regarding pupil progress and attainment.

 

1.3 In-school management

The principal’s work in leading and managing the school is highly effective. He, together with the board of management, has created and delivered a clear vision for the school that guides, directs and informs all school practices and behaviours. A culture of learning and creativity is fostered in the school that inspires and enthuses the staff and pupils. Individual roles and responsibilities have been clarified and each member of staff is enabled to work to his/her own strengths. Issues are openly discussed and decisions are reached by consensus. The principal’s commitment to child-centred education and to the development of enquiry and curiosity in children informs and influences all school practices. He is a skilful teacher who maintains high standards in teaching and learning and fosters and encourages similarly high standards among his colleagues.  He takes time to reflect, to analyse and to recognise and include the realms of feelings, attitudes and beliefs in the different aspects of school life. The close collaboration between the chairperson and the principal provides clear guidance and direction for the school and ensures that issues are addressed comprehensively and in the best interests of the pupils.

 

The principal leads and manages the whole-school planning process very effectively and provides highly competent curriculum leadership.  Priorities for development have been identified and formal action planning is used effectively as a tool for managing change. The principal’s ability to identify and develop the strengths and abilities of others, to foster initiative and to develop a sense of mutual accountability has created a culture of collaboration and team work that is highly effective. Self-evaluation, focusing on improvement in learning, is a central part of the culture of this school.  Outcomes of learning are closely monitored and structures for curriculum, planning, assessment and review work very well.

 

The two special duties teachers who constitute the formal in-school management team have a very clear and purposeful range of duties which they carry out individually in a committed and enthusiastic way. These duties are reviewed regularly and they reflect the changing priorities of the school. The willingness of the post-holders and other staff members to take on extra responsibilities as needs arise is highly commended. The in-school management team meets primarily as a whole-staff grouping. This is very effective in ensuring good communication among staff members, in supporting and fostering agreed approaches and a shared sense of purpose, and in providing opportunities for open and frank discussion.

 

1.4 Management of resources

The teaching staff are deployed appropriately. The individual skills of teachers at particular class levels have been developed effectively. The board facilitates staff collaboration, recognises and affirms good practice and actively supports the professional development of staff members. Staff morale is high and staff members articulate that they feel valued, consulted, supported and enabled to provide a high-quality education. External tutors and coaches work under the guidance of the class teachers and contribute effectively to the broad and balanced curriculum within the school. The school administrator plays a key role in the organisation of the school. Her duties are carried out effectively and efficiently. She provides significant support to the chairperson, the principal, the deputy principal, the board of management the parents association and the school staff. Her contribution to the smooth operation of the school is greatly appreciated by all. The two special needs assistants support the pupils in their care very effectively. They are valued members of staff and are regularly affirmed in their practice.

 

The original school building dates from 1863 and was refurbished significantly in 1998.  While the site is very restricted and space is at a premium, the school building is excellently maintained and provides a warm, attractive and supportive learning environment for the pupils. The board outlines a maintenance plan at the beginning of each school year which is carefully implemented and monitored. An annual safety audit is also carried out each year.  The grounds are shared with the local parish and are maintained to a high standard.  The commitment and diligent hard work of the caretaker is acknowledged in this regard.

 

A wide range of resources, including ICT, is provided. These resources are used creatively to support the teaching and learning process. Materials such as pictures, photographs, videos, local history materials, artefacts and timelines are available to support the teaching and learning in history.

 

1.5 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

Clear communication with all members of the school community is a priority for this school. Transparency and openness are the hallmarks of the communication fostered. Internal communication among staff is excellent and every effort is made to ensure that the same information is shared with everyone.  Communication with parents is also positively fostered in a number of ways. An information leaflet and folder is given to each parent when his/her child is starting school. New sections are added to this folder each year culminating in a comprehensive overview of the child’s time in school on leaving sixth class.  An induction meeting for junior infants is held in June each year and similar induction meetings for the other classes are held in September. Parent/teacher meetings are held annually and parents are very welcome to meet teachers informally as required. Other processes such as written and emailed notes home, a homework notebook, a home-school notice board and phone contact are also used to support communication. Parents are invited to attend daily assembly and many do so.

The Parents’ Association, which is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council, represents the diversity of parents and is actively involved in school life. Many parents participate in the school events organised and they facilitate a wide range of extra-curricular activities. They very willingly support the teachers by assisting with yard supervision. They are actively engaged in fundraising and they visit classrooms on request to support the teaching and learning. 

 

1.6 Management of pupils

A sense of belonging to the school community is fostered among the pupils. Self-confidence and self-efficacy are consistently encouraged among the pupils and mutual respect and appreciation of difference are effectively promoted. The pupils are articulate, speak confidently and are encouraged to express their own individuality. They are also encouraged to be active participants in their community and to contribute to the life of the school. Opportunities are given for them to experience being part of a wider community through school projects such as Communicating Europe Day. Pupil behaviour is excellent.  The children adhere respectfully to the code of behaviour. The welfare and pastoral needs of pupils is a priority for the school management and much time is afforded to ensuring that their emotional health and well-being is supported. 

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of whole-school planning is excellent. An integral part of the school self-review process is the identification of priority areas for the school. These are recorded in a planning diary and provide a schedule of work for the school on an annual basis. At the end of each school year a review takes place which audits the work completed and provides further guidelines for the next stage. This process works very effectively and facilitates ongoing school improvement. The organisational policies are comprehensive and outline clearly the procedures and practices to be followed in the school. They are presented and written in an accessible format and are available to all members of the school community. These policy documents have evidently been discussed and agreed and relate to the context and ethos of the school. They are regularly reviewed and updated and are ratified by the board of management. 

 

School plans are prepared for all the curriculum areas.  They provide an excellent overview of the content for each class level, the main emphases in the curriculum areas and the primary resources to be used in the teaching. The need for further clarity on how effective progression from class to class can be achieved and monitored has been identified by the school as part of its self-review process. It is advised that different approaches to monitoring progression in the various curriculum areas be explored and included in the school plan.     

 

The quality of classroom planning is very good.  While formats differ among teachers, long-term and short-term plans are generally focused and meaningful and provide clear guidance for each individual teacher.  The plans are written in accessible language and are user-friendly. Some teachers have supplemented these with comprehensive daily notes. Monthly progress is recorded by all teachers. Consideration should be given to reviewing the current format of the monthly progress record as part of the school’s work on planning for progression.

 

 2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Skills Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Skills, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 English

The quality of learning and teaching in English is excellent. Literacy is developed very effectively and in an in-depth manner throughout the school. Class libraries are very well stocked and a love of all types of literature is fostered from an early age. Each classroom provides a print-rich environment that includes samples of the pupils’ own work. A solid foundation in reading is laid in the junior classes where appropriate attention is paid to developing emergent and early reading skills. Phonics is taught consistently and pupils are enabled to read on an individual level. Very good use is made of supplementary and extension readers. Comprehension and spelling skills are competently developed and individual progress is carefully monitored. The introduction of a peer-tutoring programme on a pilot basis in the school reflects the commitment to exploring ways to improve learning and achievement. As pupils progress through the middle and senior classes, reading skills are fine tuned and a good range of novels is effectively explored. The use of drama in engaging with literature is highly commended. Pupils speak confidently and competently and the development of oral language skills is meaningfully linked with reading and writing and other curriculum areas. The standard of writing is very high and the school is particularly complimented on the teaching of process writing. Independent writing in a variety of genres is skilfully fostered and some excellent samples of the pupils’ work from all class levels were seen during the inspection.  The standard of handwriting and spelling is high. Pupils’ written work is regularly displayed and celebrated. The provision of opportunities for the pupils to see their own written work ‘in action’ has contributed significantly to the quality of the work produced. The school is commended on its commitment to exploring, creating and presenting poetry. The pupils demonstrate a keen awareness of poetry as a literary form. Through the school excellent examples of the pupils’ own poetry writing was witnessed.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The quality of learning and teaching in mathematics is excellent. Classrooms are mathematics- rich environments and the very good range of mathematics resources in the school is easily accessible to the children. Teachers encourage the development of mental mathematics skills using appropriate activities and games. Whole-class teaching is effectively balanced by opportunities for the pupils to work in ability or other such groupings. Teachers use a wide range of teaching approaches to foster the development of mathematical skills. The use of effective teacher questioning to develop mathematical thinking and to make links between mathematical concepts is commended. Mathematics lessons at all levels are well structured and well paced and concrete resources are used effectively to support the learning. The acquisition of concepts is carefully monitored and differentiated materials are provided in all classes to meet individual learning needs. In all classrooms emphasis is placed on the consolidation of concepts. The use of particular mathematical language is agreed on a whole-school level and is consistently taught. All strands of the curriculum are being covered and very good emphasis is placed on the teaching of problem-solving skills. Pupils’ work is diligently corrected and individual progress is carefully monitored. 

 

3.3 History

The quality of learning and teaching in history is excellent. A wide range of teaching strategies is used throughout the school to enable the pupils to work as historians. From junior infants to sixth class, appropriate emphasis is placed on actively engaging the pupils in their learning. This work is skilfully guided to enable the pupils to develop a sense of time and chronology, an understanding of continuity and change, and the ability to use evidence and to empathise with others. These skills are consolidated through the very effective integration of History with English and Drama and through meaningful linkages with Science and Geography. The pupils’ own knowledge provides the starting point for learning and lessons are structured, paced and developed to ensure that the pupils engage with topics in an in-depth and challenging way. The teachers’ questioning skills and their own preparation for the topics being explored ensure engagement at a very high level. Local history is given very good attention in the school. Local people and local materials are used to inform projects on different aspects of the immediate area. Textbooks are used judiciously to provide background information on topics.  Suitable resources are available to pupils to enhance their engagement in lessons. These include ICT, relevant artefacts, pictures and photographs, newspapers, stories and items from the pupils’ past. All such resources were used effectively in lessons observed.

 

3.4 Assessment

The school uses a range of assessment modes to monitor the progress of the pupils. They include individual portfolios, checklists, teachers’ observations, teacher-designed tests and pupils’ written work. Standardised tests in English and Mathematics are carried out by the learning-support teacher on an annual basis. All formal assessment records are carefully maintained and are used meaningfully to determine levels of achievement and to identify areas of difficulty. Pupils are given opportunities to present their work and to critique the work of others. Further opportunities for self-assessment should be considered to complement the school’s emphasis on pupil self-reflection and self-evaluation.

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

The strength of special needs provision in this school is the concerted and highly effective whole- school approach to its delivery. The needs of each individual pupil are explored and interventions are assigned to the relevant personnel. As a result of this holistic approach and shared responsibility, the outcomes for pupils receiving additional support are very good. The support team consists of a learning support teacher, a part-time resource teacher and two full- time SNAs. The learning support and resource teachers work very closely with the class teachers. Support is provided on both a withdrawal and an in-class basis depending on what is most appropriate for the individual needs. Priority for supplementary teaching is clearly given to the lowest achieving pupils and to those in the junior classes who are experiencing particular difficulty. Appropriate and effective teaching approaches are used in the support settings. Pupils are encouraged to learn independently, understanding is regularly checked and material is presented at a level and pace suitable for the individual pupils. Overall progress is in keeping with the targets set in the Individual Education programmes. The quality of assessment of progress in these settings is also very good. Comprehensive written records are maintained, test results are recorded systematically and progress is shared regularly with parents and relevant teachers. Outcomes are used to inform the development of individual learning targets and areas of priority.  Plans are in place to review the school policy on special education needs. This coincides with the appointment of a new learning-support teacher. Much time and energy is expended on working with outside agencies and parents to ensure high-quality support for the pupils. A very positive attitude pervades all of the work with pupils with special needs and their emotional health and well being is always a consideration in any provision being made. The commitment and engagement of the two special needs assistants contribute significantly to the progress being made by the individual pupils in their care.

 

4.2 Other supports for pupils: disadvantaged, minority and other groups

The school’s ethos, practices and atmosphere all nurture the individual child regardless of race, ethnic origin, circumstance, ability or religion. All pupils are encouraged to value their own heritage and are given opportunities through projects, school events, poetry, drama, literature and rituals to explore and value the heritage and backgrounds of others. Mutual respect and responsibility and a community spirit are fostered very effectively.  A very good balance is struck between developing individual self-worth and developing the individual as a citizen. Pupils contribute to local, national and international projects and a wider world view is encouraged and promoted.  Pastoral support for individual pupils and their families is a long-standing tradition in the school and pupils are supported as their needs and circumstances dictate. The school is commended on its discrete provision of additional support where appropriate.

 

 

5.     Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

·         The quality of learning and teaching in this school is excellent.

·         The board is highly effective.

·         The ethos of the school is clearly defined, articulated and disseminated.

·         The leadership of the school is excellent. The work of the principal is exemplary.

·         The school contributes significantly to the life of the parish.

·         The contribution of parents to the work of the school is commended.

·         The pastoral care provided by the school is excellent.

·         Communication within the school and with the wider school community is excellent.

·         The school atmosphere is positive, open and inclusive.

·         An impressive culture of school self-review exists.

·         The quality of, and the processes used in, whole-school planning are excellent.

·         The quality of special needs provision is commended. In particular, the whole-school approach to its delivery is highly praised.

 

The ongoing challenge for this school into the future is to maintain the high standards in all areas of its work. It will be necessary to continue to reflect, refine and customise practices in light of the changing needs of the pupils and developments in education.  

 

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

 

 

 

 

Published June 2010