An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St. George’s National School
Hampton Street, Balbriggan, County Dublin.
Uimhir rolla: 15315J
Date of inspection: 16 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St George’s National School (NS), Balbriggan. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management and representatives of parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
St George’s NS is a three teacher, mixed primary school in the town of Balbriggan, Co. Dublin. The school is under the patronage of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. Current staffing comprises a teaching principal, two mainstream class teachers and a special education support team of temporary language support teacher and part-time learning support teacher, both of whom are based in the school. The school also has a dedicated school secretary, a hard-working caretaker and enthusiastic special needs assistant. Serving the hinterland surrounding the school, St George’s NS currently has an enrolment of fifty-nine pupils. Some of the pupils come from diverse national backgrounds and have neither English nor Irish as their first spoken language. Enrolment in the school has been steadily increasing over the past three years and projected future enrolment indicates a continuation of this trend. Generally, pupil attendance levels are at a very satisfactory level.
The school is managed by a committed and active board of management, constituted in accordance with Section 14 of the Education Act 1998. The board meets very regularly and discharges its duties effectively. Financial reports and minutes are furnished frequently and are of a high standard. The board ratifies school policies on a regular basis. It actively seeks to involve parents in the life of the school, particularly the parents of newcomer pupils attending the school. In so doing, the board is keenly aware of the support needs newcomer pupils and strives to provide an effective education for them. It is notable that a very considerable amount of the board’s time and energy is directed towards the maintenance and upkeep of the school premises. The board’s vigilance in this regard is commended. The board has identified the provision of improved school accommodation as its current major priority and envisages the solution to its current accommodation concerns as the provision of a new four-teacher school on a nearby green-field site.
A very strong sense of teamwork is evident among the school staff. This teamwork is characterised by a caring and conscientious concern for all pupils in the school. Such a strong sense of community serves to create a very welcoming and happy school environment. The school principal is commended for the key role she plays in developing such a positive school climate. The principal has very strong interpersonal skills and a style of leadership characterised by collaboration and consultation. Staff members feel empowered to contribute to and partake in school activities at the highest level. Such a collaborative approach translates into very effective management and pastoral approaches. In particular, the principal is commended for her mentoring of newly qualified teachers, for promoting positive pupil behaviour and for communicating effectively with the diverse parent population of the school.
The in-school management team consists of a deputy principal and a special duties post-holder who support the principal very capably and contribute very significantly to the smooth running of the school. The in-school management team meets very regularly, largely on an informal basis, before and after school hours. In-school management issues are frequently discussed at staff meetings. The duties of the in-school management team are focused primarily on organisational and pastoral responsibilities. The team undertakes these duties competently and professionally. It is recommended that these duties be reviewed to consider more opportunities for curriculum leadership.
The main school building was completed in 1859. This building comprises two classrooms, an office, a staffroom/language support room/computer room and a storage room. The building also has an upstairs section which is used for the storage of school resources. This school building is complemented by a prefab which houses the learning support room and the senior classroom. It is noted that on two of the days of classroom inspection, the heating system in the main building malfunctioned. It is strongly recommended that the school’s current accommodation needs be seriously reviewed bearing in mind the age and suitability of the main building. Furthermore, the small yard space used for physical education lessons restricts the scope of some lesson activities. It is recommended that the provision of appropriate physical education facilities be examined. A pre-school currently exists on the school site.
Overall the school premises are very well-maintained and properly cleaned. The extensive painting and decorating work undertaken by the parents’ association and board of management on a voluntary basis is highly commended and clearly contributes to the colourful and appealing aspect of the classrooms and corridors. Classrooms and corridors display many examples of the pupils’ work.
The school has a policy of staff rotation which provides teachers with an opportunity to experience a variety of classes and contexts and allows the sharing of expertise at different class levels. Teachers are active in undertaking professional development courses. This year, the school plans to avail of the services of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) which will provide skills development classes for all pupils.
The school has a good range of teaching and learning resources. There is also an appropriate selection of large equipment. Resources are easily accessible, stimulating and interactive in the main. Teachers make good use of these resources in their teaching. The school has nine computers and a very suitable selection of educational software. Five of these computers are housed in the language support/staff room. It is recommended that in reviewing the accommodation needs of the school, the suitability of housing these computers in a multi-purpose room be examined.
The school communicates very effectively with parents. This communication occurs at both formal and informal levels. The school operates an open-door policy with parental concerns and queries being closely listened to. Parents receive a written report on the progress of their child on an annual basis. Parent-teacher meetings are held in the first term of each year. Parental assistance with school homework is well-structured with very commendable use being made of the ‘Book Worm Club’ to involve parents in their children’s reading. Regular information fliers are sent to parents informing them of school activities and events.
The school has a very supportive and active parents’ association. The association meets very frequently each term. It engages in a wide variety of activities such as painting and decorating the school interior, fundraising for school resources, assisting with school outings and involving newcomer parents in the school community. It has also set out a number of laudable priorities for the near future, such as the development of play-areas for children on the school grounds and the development of resources for Social, Environmental and Scientific Education.
The school has very well-established organisational and procedural practices which serve to protect the school’s timetable and which create a sense of order and safety in the school environment. Pupils are clearly comfortable and happy with these practices. Pupils are friendly, welcoming and confident and are very well behaved. In particular, the pupils are notably respectful of school staff and of school property. A spirit of cooperation and helpfulness permeates many of the interactions between adults and teachers and equally the interactions between senior and junior pupils. Teachers interact with pupils in a very affirming and pleasant manner which serves to build their confidence and self-esteem. The school has a well constructed code of behaviour. Yard supervision is carefully carried out, but at times the fragmented nature of children’s play areas can make this supervision difficult.
The school plan is well presented, revealing a consistent and dedicated approach to planning. The school has put very careful thought into formulating a most comprehensive selection of organisational policies. Equally, the school has formulated school plans for all curricular areas, with the exception of Drama for which the school is awaiting in-service. In particular, whole school plans for Music and Visual Arts are notably comprehensive and useful. With a view to the future development of these whole school plans, it is recommended that the school creates a planning diary as recommended by the School Development Planning Support service. Curricular policies are commended for their clear delineation of content, their clear aims and their careful planning for summative and formative assessment. This clear and succinct approach facilitates effective continuity and progression from year to year and promotes consistency of lesson content from class to class. It is recommended that this high quality planning be extended to a closer analysis of differentiation and integration approaches for the multi-grade teaching contexts of this school. The school’s board of management states that it is involved in discussing and commenting on organisational policies. It is also involved in the ratification of both curricular and organisational policies. Parents’ representatives noted the value of school planning documents such as the homework policy and code of behaviour policy.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and the staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, 2004). 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 department’s guidelines.
Teachers are implementing the 1999 Primary School Curriculum effectively, preparing carefully and creatively for their lessons. An analysis of the planning by individual teachers reveals a conscientious and focused approach, underpinned by reflection and due regard for curriculum strands and strand units. In particular, teachers are commended for their creative preparation of lesson resources. Teacher planning makes provision for a diverse range of learning experiences. In some cases, teachers’ plans could make more definitive reference to integration and differentiation practices. In so doing, these plans could be informed by advice and suggestions from the special education support team. Assessment procedures and practices are undertaken very satisfactorily with teachers maintaining consistent and comprehensive records on pupil progress.
Teachers’ short-term planning clearly influences the teaching observed. Careful attention is devoted to organising and planning active learning experiences and discovery-based approaches for the pupils. Many aspects of the school plan are seen to inform teachers’ individual planning. Approaches to developing pupils’ phonological awareness and to writing genres were just two examples observed of how school planning transferred effectively to individual classroom planning. School planning for Mathematics makes a very clear and concise outline of content for the relevant class sections, but is overly dependent on textbooks. All teachers complete a monthly progress report.
Teachers in St George’s NS adopt a wide number of teaching methodologies and approaches which serve to motivate and stimulate pupils’ interest in their learning. A very warm and pleasant pupil-teacher relationship exists which creates a very positive, nurturing learning environment. Pupils are actively engaged in their learning with teachers making very judicious use of resources and lesson activities. Pupils show a natural curiosity in their learning and have developed many commendable skills as independent learners. Well-established class and school organisational practices have been put in place, and these contribute effectively to the smooth running and operation of the school learning day.
Tá caighdeán na Gaeilge ar léibhéal an-sasúil sa scoil seo. Baintear úsaid inmholta as comhrá neamhfhoirmíuil le linn an lae. Léiríonn na daltaí cumas ard sna snáitheanna eagsúla, go mórmhór na snáitheanna Éisteacht, Labhairt agus Léitheoireacht. Baintear an-úsaid as áiseanna chun suim na ndaltaí a mhúscailt agus chun iad a spreagadh chun cainte. Bíonn na daltaí an-ghníomhach ina bhfoghlaim agus baintear úsáid as modhanna teagaisc eagsúla chun deiseanna labhartha a thabhairt do na paistí. Tá stór leathan focal ag na daltaí agus tá siad in ann léamh go líofa. Léiríonn na daltaí tuiscint chumasach ar na réimsí gramadaí, agus tá siad in ann scríobh go sasúil sna hard-ranganna. Moltar fhorbairt sa bhreis a dhéanamh ar an gcumas seo tré scríbhneoireacht chruthaitheach a leathnú sna h-ardranganna.
There is a very satisfactory standard of Irish in this school. Informal Irish is used in a praiseworthy manner throughout the day. Pupils show high levels of competence in the different strands, especially the Listening, Speaking and Reading strands. Very good use of resources is made to stimulate pupil interest and to prompt them towards conversation. The children are very active in their learning and a variety of teaching approaches are used to provide children with opportunities to converse. The pupils have a wide store of vocabulary and they read fluently. The pupils show competent understanding of grammar conventions and they write satisfactorily in the senior classes. It is recommended that this competence be further developed through the development of creative writing in the senior classes.
Overall, the quality of teaching and learning in English is very good. Teachers’ planning in this area is detailed, with laudable provision being made for phonics. Teachers use a variety of resources and games to promote oral language development. Pupils are encouraged to voice opinions and written exercises are grounded in talk and discussion. Such an emphasis, coupled with the sound development of pupils’ phonological awareness and word identification skills throughout the school, results in strong levels of pupil competence in reading. Pupils read with fluency and show a keen interest in reading. The school is commended for its ‘Book Worm Club’. Providing a structured framework for each individual child’s reading, this ‘club’ actively involves parents in their children’s reading. It also develops reading fluency and word identification skills while fostering pupil interest in reading for pleasure. The school undertakes paired reading.
The school has a very good selection of library books and pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure. In the junior classes, the creation of print-rich environments and the use of Big Books serve to stimulate pupil interest in language and reading. In such classes emergent reading skills are given appropriate attention. It is recommended that the school considers further opportunities for developing print-rich environments on a school-wide basis. Pupils write in a variety of genres and show considerable creativity in their writing. Such written work shows a strong foundational knowledge of grammar and writing conventions. There is a good balance between functional and creative writing. It is recommended that the school should consider more ways to display this work and make it available to a wider audience. Pupils are exposed to a wide variety of poems with praiseworthy emphasis being placed on the appreciation of poetry. Pupils recite poems and rhymes with ease and enthusiasm.
Mathematical concepts are clearly presented, with teachers making appropriate use of concrete materials to explain and reinforce concepts. All strands of the curriculum are explored and teachers make very effective use of inter-strand and inter-curricular integration. Pupils show very good skills in the fields of problem-solving, estimating and reasoning. Pupils reveal a keen interest in mathematics lessons, frequently asking questions to deepen their understanding of particular concepts. Such curiosity is developed through effective learning experiences such as guided-discovery learning. Mathematical language is used effectively and pupils are given opportunities to use this language through well-structured activities and group work. Pupils’ written work is of a high standard and is regularly monitored by the teachers. Some lessons relate the content very effectively to the life experience and environment of the pupils. Pupils show strong knowledge of number facts, particularly at junior class levels. It is recommended that strategies be explored to further develop pupils’ knowledge of number facts on a whole school level. The school must be commended for its recent decision to join the Balbriggan Credit Union Savings scheme which, in this context, will serve to develop pupils’ computational skills.
Overall the quality of teaching and learning in History is of a very high standard. Pupils show a keen interest in history lessons, which are very well presented with excellent use being made of resources, particularly artefacts. These resources are creatively used to stimulate discussion and analysis, thereby developing the pupils’ skills as historians. The pupils reveal a sound understanding of historical topics and themes, frequently asking questions during lessons and revealing a laudable curiosity in the subject. The subject is creatively and effectively integrated with many other curricular areas. Teachers are also very interested in local history, with projects planned for a local church and local street.
Teachers plan a very broad and varied geography curriculum with due regard and attention being given to all three strands. A variety of teaching methodologies is used to develop pupils’ skills, with pupils showing good knowledge of geographical topics. The school is actively involved in the Comenius project and is commended for the manner in which it approaches this project. The project is used, not only to develop the pupils’ skills as geographers, but also to develop their skills in many other curriculum areas. For example, the project will involve the writing of poems, the production of a play, the creation of art work, the study of European trees and an in-depth geographical analysis of the partner country. Pupils’ information and communication technology (ICT) skills are also effectively developed through involvement in the project.
Science lessons are presented in a very creative manner with the pupils being given opportunities to experiment, explore and test scientific hypotheses and theories. Lesson content is very effectively related to the environment and life experience of the pupils. Pupils show a strong foundational knowledge of scientific concepts, principles and facts. The school makes very good use of the local environment, most notably the school grounds, local beach and a local demesne. Science is creatively linked with other curriculum areas.
The school makes very adequate provision for all strands of the visual arts curriculum. A wide and very impressive selection of the pupils’ visual arts work is on display throughout the school. Pupils are active in exploring, experimenting and enjoying art. The subject is integrated creatively with many other curriculum areas. Many classes have impressive pupil art portfolios. It is recommended that the creation of pupil art portfolios be extended to all classes.
The school has developed a very impressive whole school plan for the teaching of Music. This plan translates to effective individual teacher planning with appropriate provision being made for all strands of the curriculum. Pupils display notable competence in the strands of performance and listening and responding to musical pieces. Pupils clearly enjoy music lessons, showing high levels of physical, verbal, emotional and cognitive responses to music. Pupils sing very well, with very commendable provision being made for multi-cultural songs and musical pieces.
Teachers make effective use of drama, most especially in Irish lessons. Pupils engage in drama activities with enthusiasm. These activities contribute positively to pupils’ self-esteem and to their oral language development. In those cases where drama was observed, it was used very effectively to develop and consolidate learning outcomes.
Physical education classes are conducted in a safe and organised manner. Appropriate warm-up activities are undertaken with well-selected activities to develop pupil skills. Pupils clearly enjoy these well-structured lessons and partake with enthusiasm. With no general purpose room, the teachers make highly commendable and creative use of the resources available to them. For example, outdoor and adventure activities are undertaken on the local beach and in Ardgillan Demense, while some gymnastics lessons are undertaken in classrooms. The physical education programme is to a very significant degree restricted by the school’s dependence on weather and a small yard space on the north wing of the school. It is recommended that the school’s present resource capacity to provide for all strands of the physical education curriculum be reviewed.
The school has a well formulated policy on Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) which draws on the wisdom of other programmes such as ‘Walk Tall’, ‘Stay Safe’ and ‘Lift Off’ (Amnesty International) programmes. The school has a very good cross-curricular approach to SPHE with appropriate provision being made for all three strands in an integrated manner. The SPHE programme is supported and promoted through the caring atmosphere of mutual respect fostered in all classrooms. SPHE lessons are effectively related to the experience of the pupils, with pupils displaying very good listening and communication skills during these lessons. Some very creative use of drama is made to develop pupils’ understanding of particular issues and themes.
The school uses a wide variety of formal and informal assessment tools to evaluate pupil progress. Standardised tests are undertaken each year in both Mathematics and English. These tests results are augmented by teacher-designed tests, by teacher observation and by a very commendable range of screening tests. Such test results are used effectively for parent-teacher meetings and to identify the specific learning needs of individual children. Teachers are commended for the care and attention they devote to giving the pupils regular and formative feedback on the progress of their written and oral work. Very comprehensive and detailed records of pupil progress are maintained. These records are used effectively to provide guidance for the special education support team.
The school has prepared a comprehensive and detailed whole school policy on education for pupils with special educational needs. This policy closely reflects the principles of learning support as recommended by the Department of Education and Science. Similarly, the school has developed a commendable policy for special needs assistants. The school uses a wide variety of formal and informal testing to determine those pupils in need of special educational tuition. It is a matter of school policy that parents of children with special educational needs be regularly informed of their progress. Parents are also consulted on the development of Individual Education Plans and Individual Pupil Learning Profiles. The school has developed an effective approach to early intervention.
At present, the school is in receipt of 20.5 hours of special education tuition. During this particular academic year, the school has had some difficulty in appointing a fully-trained teacher to this position. It is recommended that Individual Education Plans and Individual Pupil Learning Profiles be now reviewed and updated. In so doing, it is recommended that these plans be written in consultation with the school policy on special education and with due regard for strategies for developing learning targets and strategies for evaluating their success. In making provision for these strategies, it is recommended that individual teacher planning be undertaken in consultation with the Learning Support Guidelines of the Department of Education and Science.
Instruction in learning support classes is effective, using a variety of visual and concrete materials during teaching and learning sessions. Pupil interest is effectively stimulated during these classes. The school has a very comprehensive selection of learning support materials, particularly in the area of English reading. It is recommended that the current selection of mathematics resources be reviewed and augmented. The school is commended on the wide and judicious selection of ICT resources it has compiled for learning support classes. The vast majority of learning support intervention is focused on the development of pupils’ reading abilities. It is recommended that the school review the nature of this provision with a view to incorporating more learning support for pupils who require support with Mathematics. The primary method of support involves withdrawal of individuals and groups of children for support in the learning support room. Some in-class support is also undertaken. It is recommended that the school explore further opportunities for this form of provision.
A significant proportion of the school’s population is made up of newcomer pupils. The school makes deliberate attempts to welcome these pupils and actively strives to celebrate the multi-cultural richness which these pupils bring to the school learning community. The school is currently in the process of drafting a whole school policy on intercultural education. The school has qualified for a temporary teacher to provide language support to nineteen of its newcomer pupils. At present a qualified post-primary teacher has been appointed to the position. Pupils are selected for language support based on teacher observation and principal observation of the pupils in question. Such support is undertaken primarily on a withdrawal basis, with some in-class support being undertaken. It is recommended that the school further explores the possibilities for in-class support. The progress of these pupils is regularly monitored through teacher observation and with reference to the guidelines for language support from Integrate Ireland Language and Training (www.iilt.ie).
Commendable efforts are made to regularly inform parents of the progress of their children and teachers actively seek to empower these parents toward supporting the language development of their children. Planning in the area of language support shows breadth of vision, detailing initiatives for skill development in the areas of oral, pre-reading, reading, writing, recording, spelling and listening skills. Individual Pupil Learning Profiles are in place for pupils attending language support. In drawing up these profiles, the relevant school professionals and parents are consulted. The present language support teacher has reviewed and updated the individual pupil learning profiles. It is recommended that this work could be further enhanced by making closer reference to learning support activities for those class teachers who have pupils attending language support. Language lessons observed showed a high quality of interaction between pupil and teacher. Pupils were encouraged to communicate using English. A variety of resources was used to stimulate directed discussion and language acquisition.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A warm, positive and caring school learning environment exists which serves to develop the pupils’ self-esteem, build their confidence and develop their abilities as independent learners.
· A strong sense of professionalism, commitment and team-work is evident among the school staff.
· A culture of co-operation and empowerment exists among all the stakeholders in the school community.
· Teachers employ a wide variety of teaching methodologies and approaches which serve to create stimulating and interesting lessons.
· The school has established systematic and co-ordinated assessment practices which inform teaching and learning.
· Pupils show a keen interest in reading and do so with fluency and enthusiasm.
· Very high standards of pupil competence in oral Irish, Visual Arts and History were observed.
· The school’s approach to the Comenius project has created a number of very positive learning outcomes across a wide number of curriculum areas.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is strongly recommended that the school’s current accommodation needs be seriously reviewed bearing in mind the age and suitability of the main building.
· The vast majority of learning support intervention is focused on the development of pupils’ reading abilities. It is recommended that the school reviews the current nature of this provision with a view to incorporating more learning support in the area of Mathematics.
· While the duties of the in-school management team are focused primarily on organisational and pastoral responsibilities and the team undertakes these duties competently and professionally, these duties should be reviewed to consider more opportunities for curriculum leadership.
· Teachers should consider further opportunities for developing print-rich environments on a school-wide basis.
· Strategies should be explored to further develop pupils’ knowledge of number facts on a whole school level.
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.