An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Presentation Convent National School

Portarlington, County Offaly

:Uimhir rolla: 15556I

 

Date of inspection:  12 October 2007

  Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

1.     Introduction – school context and background

2.     Quality of school management

3.     Quality of school planning

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

5.     Quality of support for pupils

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Presentation Convent NS, Portarlington. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupils’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

 

 

 

1.     Introduction – school context and background

 

Presentation Convent NS is a twenty-three teacher Catholic school under the trusteeship of the Presentation Sisters and under the patronage of the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. The school is situated at the Mountmellick end of Portarlington town and serves the community of the urban area and the surrounding rural hinterland. The Presentation Sisters set up the school initially in 1855, in two classrooms, which were built as an extension to the convent building. As the school expanded over the years, additional classrooms were built, adjoining property was acquired, and several pre-fabricated classrooms were erected to accommodate both primary and secondary pupils in one campus. In 1964 a new junior school was built across the road from the convent and in 1983 the secondary pupils transferred to a new school. Hence, the present primary school is now located in two campuses separated by a very busy street. The location of shared amenities, such as the staff-room, computer room, school hall and learning support rooms, necessitates pupils and staff having to cross this busy street several times each day. All school partners assert that this arrangement has proven difficult and hazardous over the years. The fact that work has now commenced on the building of a new school on a green field site is warmly welcomed by all.

 

The school accommodates junior and senior infant boys, and girls from junior infants to sixth class. Present enrolment is 459, and recent trends signify a consistent marked growth in enrolment, and increasing diversity amongst the pupil population. School records indicate that attendance is very good. The aims and vision of the school, as recorded in the mission statement, aspire to uphold the Catholic ethos and the Presentation spirit by providing a holistic Catholic education for each child, where respect and care for all are central values. In conjunction with the Catholic ethos, policies and practice in the school prioritise the promotion of inclusiveness and respect for cultural, religious and social diversity, and strive to create a happy, productive environment where each child, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or social status, can achieve his or her full potential.

 

 

 

 

2.     Quality of school management

 

2.1 Board of management

 

It is evident, from the pre-evaluation meetings and from observations during the evaluation, that the school is managed by a highly competent, committed and supportive board of management. The formation and functioning of the board are in compliance with Department of Education and Science requirements and with the Education Act, 1998. A minimum of one board meeting is held each term, and in excess of this as required. Formal minutes of all meetings are recorded and maintained. The principal submits a report to each meeting, to ensure that the board is kept up to date at all times with day-to-day events in the school. A financial report is furnished by the treasurer at each meeting. School accounts are audited by an external accountant and are submitted to the Bishop annually for inspection and endorsement. Board members are highly commended for the extensive level of training they have undertaken, throughout their term of management, to enhance the efficiency with which they execute their role. Consequently, the board presented as admirably knowledgeable and conversant with curricular, administrative, organisational, financial and legal aspects of school management. The parents, principal and staff all acknowledge the benefits to the school of the pro-active and informed governance of the board, which constantly ensures that all necessary supports and resources are available to maximise the quality of education and pastoral care provided in the school.

 

The cultivation and promotion of collaborative working relationships between all school partners is clearly afforded significant priority by the board. The chairperson of the board maintains close communication with the school through frequent visits. The parents’ representatives and the principal attend all meetings of the parents’ association to ensure that parents are kept informed about relevant actions and decisions taken by the board, and to encourage renewed interest and participation of parents in their children’s education. The board participates productively in the development of the school plan, and an appropriate system of reviewing and ratifying policies has been established. Despite the fact that the buildings are very old, and that a new building is imminent, the board operates an ongoing maintenance programme to ensure that pupils are provided with the best quality learning environment possible. Board members unanimously expressed a high level of satisfaction with the dedication and professionalism of the principal and teaching staff and with the standard of academic, moral and social training provided for all pupils in the school. They also expressed their appreciation of the relentless support and co-operation provided by parents.

 

2.2 In-school management

 

The overall quality of in-school management is praiseworthy. The principal of the school was newly appointed to that role at the start of the current school year. However, having served in the school since 1980, she is thoroughly familiar with the school community, with all school procedures, and with the educational needs of the staff and pupils. There was widespread evidence, during the evaluation, of efficient day-to-day running of the school, meticulous planning, collaborative relationships between school partners, pleasant rapport between members of staff, and respectful demeanour of the pupils. All this bears testimony to the principal’s effective leadership qualities and to her commitment to fostering transparency and co-operation between school partners, creating a pleasant working ambience for staff, and providing holistic education for each pupil. Despite the inconvenience of having to operate between two campuses, she maintains a visible presence throughout the school and displays a high level of awareness of the quality of curriculum delivery and pupil progress in all classrooms. Her leadership style focuses predominantly on ensuring that the ethical aspirations outlined in the school’s mission statement are applied conscientiously in practice.

 

The principal is supported by a competent, co-operative in-school management team of deputy principal, two assistant principals and five special duties teachers. Due to recent changes of staff and in-school promotions, two additional special duties posts were vacant at the time of evaluation. Procedures to fill these posts were underway. Contracts have been affected with all members of middle management. The duties assigned to each post are clearly defined in the school plan and represent an appropriate balance of curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities. At the end of every third school year, each post-holder is requested to prepare a written self-assessment of the difficulties and accomplishments experienced in carrying out the duties assigned to the post. These reports are submitted to the board of management for discussion and form the nucleus of the subsequent review of duties. This constructive system of review is commended. It is apparent from discussion with the middle management team, and from procedures observed, that post-holders carry out their duties with a very high level of professionalism, dedication, and responsibility, and that they recognise the importance of their contribution to the effective running of the school. The high quality of in-school management is reflected in the highly proficient administration, planning and curriculum delivery observed throughout the school.

 

2.3 Management of resources

 

Human and concrete resources are managed proficiently and productively, with a judicious focus on ensuring comprehensive, balanced coverage of the curriculum in all classrooms, maximising job-satisfaction for staff, capitalising on the personal skills and expertise of individual teachers, and providing an attractive, stimulating working environment.

 

The staff consists of a principal, seventeen mainstream class teachers, five support teachers, four special needs assistants (SNAs), a secretary and a caretaker. An agreed policy on staff rotation stipulates that each teacher is afforded an opportunity to change class every fourth year. This accommodates an appropriate level of stability for staff members, while precluding stagnation. Should any teacher request a change in the interim, every effort is made to meet such a request. Teachers who have responsibility for the same standard are encouraged to plan collaboratively and are allocated time to this weekly while the principal conducts assembly. A mentoring system ensures that each newly qualified teacher is afforded support from an experienced colleague. A very useful information folder is issued to every newly appointed teacher, or substitute, on commencement of employment in the school. This succinct document outlines essential information on availability and location of resources, practical school routines, timetabling of shared areas, responsibilities of post-holders, salient content of vital policies and relevant contact addresses and telephone numbers. This pro-active practice is lauded. The importance of continuous professional development of staff is recognised. Records of all courses completed by teachers in the previous three years are maintained in the school plan. These are reviewed regularly and discussed at staff meetings as a means of fostering shared responsibility for maintaining the collaborative expertise of the staff at an appropriate level to meet changing circumstances in the school and new challenges in the education and social systems.

 

Three full-time and one part-time SNA are employed to address the care needs of seven pupils with specific needs. Practice observed during classroom visits indicates that the SNAs work in close co-operation with the teachers, and have established an informed awareness of the needs of the pupils whom they assist. Support is provided in an unobtrusive, constructive manner and facilitates the successful integration and inclusion of the pupils with special needs into all aspects of school life. SNAs are deployed productively to offer support and assistance to other individuals or groups, as deemed appropriate by the principal and classroom teachers. The school has a full-time secretary, who has served in the school for eleven years. Her valuable assistance to board of management, principal, and staff, and her efficient handling of a diversity of administrative and communication tasks is acknowledged by all parties. A full-time caretaker tends to the upkeep of internal and external amenities. He has also been employed in the school for eleven years. His diligence, willingness and co-operation were noted by the principal and staff and he is complimented for the meticulous condition in which he maintains the entire premises, despite the age of the buildings. All ancillary staff expressed a very high level of job satisfaction and spoke approvingly of the collegial atmosphere that prevails in the school.

 

The two permanent buildings contain eleven classrooms, five support rooms, a computer room, a staff-room, toilets, cloakrooms and storage areas. Eight other classrooms are located in pre-fabricated buildings on the campus. The school also has the use of the adjoining convent hall and a parish room. Despite the fact that all permanent classrooms are outdated, small, and lack basic facilities such as running water, every effort is made, through regular painting, and provision of modern furniture and resources, to create a bright, stimulating ambience for pupils and teachers. The board of management, principal and teachers are highly commended for the commitment and resolve that enable all aspects of the curriculum to be delivered at a highly effective level despite the physical restrictions imposed. Outdoor amenities consist of two small play areas in one campus, and one large tarmacadam area and a grass playing pitch in the other. The erection of pre-fabricated buildings over the years has grossly eroded the playground area. All outdoor amenities are maintained neatly and attractively and the entire area is litter free.

 

The school is equipped with a generous stock of concrete and technological educational resources, which is managed and utilised proficiently. The computer room contains twelve computers, all networked and connected to Broadband. In addition to this, there are eleven laptop computers in use throughout the school. Every classroom is furnished with a computer and a printer. There are four televisions and one overhead projector stored centrally, and every teacher has a CD player. A vast stock of useful educational computer software has been accumulated over the years. Some very effective use of technology was observed during the evaluation, and this is commended. Every classroom has a library, stocked with a suitable supply of age-appropriate reading material. Attractive visual resources are a feature of all classrooms. Department grants, board of management funds, and proceeds from parents’ association fundraising events have been used to provide a copious supply of concrete materials to enhance teaching and learning across all curriculum areas. There is consistent evidence of gainful use of these materials by teachers and pupils in all classrooms.

 

2.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

 

Policies and practice in the school promote positive and productive home-school partnership. The school has an active and supportive parents’ association but it is not affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. All parents are invited to attend the annual general meeting, at which a committee of thirteen members is elected. The constitution of the parents’ association, which was recently reviewed, decrees that both parents’ representatives on the board of management will be members of this committee but will not hold any office. The committee meets once a month. The parents’ representatives who met with the evaluation team reported that attendance at these meetings is very good and that there is a high level of willingness amongst parents to support the school. Parents are involved in a number of fund-raising, social and curricular projects such as: the weekly school draw; sports days; the school credit union; participation in the joint committee to draw up the RSE policy; Communion and Confirmation meetings and celebrations; and parents with specialised knowledge in various fields have been invited to speak to pupils on occasion.

 

Effective structures are in place to keep parents suitably informed about school procedures and pupils’ progress.  The school booklet, which is issued to every pupil at the start of each year, contains a synopsis of the salient content of relevant school administrative policies. A newsletter is circulated biannually to all parents, outlining all significant incidents, events and achievements in the school. Items for inclusion in the newsletter are submitted by all teachers and a different colleague volunteers to edit and produce each issue. One parent-teacher meeting is held annually, at which parents are provided with a comprehensive report on all aspects of their children’s progress. Parents are encouraged to meet with teachers or the principal, by appointment, at any other time, to discuss any issues or concerns either party may have. Written reports on pupils’ progress are furnished to parents at the end of each school year. A constructive school policy outlines rational, practical procedures for dealing with complaints from parents, should they arise. The school website, which is regularly updated, also serves as an invaluable information medium for parents and the wider community. The quality of the website is highly commendable. It provides a comprehensive overview of the school procedures, photographic and anecdotal accounts of special events, and samples of pupils’ work across various curricular areas. Parents expressed unreserved satisfaction with the level of transparency, communication and inclusion, which the school extends to parents.

 

2.5 Management of pupils

 

The school code of discipline and anti-bullying policy are constructive and are stated clearly, in language that accommodates appropriate awareness of the content by all relevant parties. All pupils, parents and staff members are furnished with copies of these policies and there is evidence that they are implemented consistently and affirmatively throughout the school. Simple rules to promote safety, respectful behaviour, and a productive learning environment are displayed in classrooms, and systems of positive reinforcement are used widely to encourage observation of rules.  Attention to pastoral care permeates the entire school and pupils’ willing compliance with practical, positive routines is a notable feature of the school. The pupils present as cheerful in their general demeanour, courteous to peers, staff and visitors, confident in making contributions to lessons, and conscientious in their attitude to their work. The pleasant, happy and orderly atmosphere that pervades the school should be a source of pride and satisfaction to all who contribute to the competent, caring management of the pupils.

 

 

3.     Quality of school planning

 

3.1 School planning process and implementation

 

Documentation and practice observed bear testimony to a well-established, collaborative whole-school planning process. A focused, functional school plan has been compiled collectively to support and sustain the quality of administration and curriculum delivery in the school. The services of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) have been deployed productively to guide the planning process. The board of management and parents make appropriate contribution to school planning. Administrative policies envelop all essential areas to comply with Department regulations and legal requirements, and to support the efficient and safe running of the school. These policies are tailored appropriately to the specific context and needs of the school community and are all reviewed and revised regularly to ensure that they stay abreast of changing circumstances. Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. Planning tasks prioritised for the current school year include compilation of a policy on integration of new-comer Irish children and revision of the enrolment policy. It is recommended that the revised enrolment policy should be fully compliant with current legislation.

 

Curriculum planning is generally guided by the principal and post-holders with special responsibility for various curriculum areas. The teachers have collaborated in the development of very comprehensive, informative, useful whole-school curriculum plans for all subjects. Each plan provides unambiguous guidelines to ensure consistency, continuity, balance and progression in the delivery of all strands of each subject throughout the school. Agreed strategies for assessment of pupils’ progress and assignment of homework are recorded in each plan. Individual teachers’ planning and classroom practice provide discernible evidence that the school plan is implemented purposefully throughout the school. A date for review of each plan is determined and the criteria by which the effectiveness of each will be evaluated during review are set out. All school partners are to be highly complimented on the excellent quality of whole-school planning observed.

 

3.2 Classroom planning

 

All teachers display a high level of professionalism and dedication in their reflective classroom planning. Well-structured long and short-term schemes of work guide teaching and learning in all classrooms. These schemes are closely aligned to the school plan and are tailored aptly to consider the ability and needs of the pupils. Focused objectives and appropriate attention to suitability of content, activities, methodologies, integration, and assessment procedures accommodates effective delivery of interesting lessons, and stimulation of individual and collaborative learning. All teachers complete detailed monthly progress records outlining the content covered in each subject. Copies of these are maintained by individual teachers and also stored in the principal’s office until the end of the subsequent school year. The consistently high quality of classroom planning is commended.

 

 

4.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

4.1 Overview of learning and teaching

The affable atmosphere that prevails in the school, the professional commitment of the staff, the pleasant disposition of the pupils, and the visually stimulating presentation of classrooms constitute an environment very conducive to learning. Consequently, the quality of teaching and learning observed is commendable. A positive, happy work ethic has been established in every classroom. Teachers employ a blend of motivating teaching methodologies to stimulate independent and collaborative learning. Creative use of concrete and technological resources accommodates active discovery learning, in which the pupils engage enthusiastically. Interesting presentation of content, and suitably pitched activities, ensure that all pupils are appropriately challenged. Pupils are encouraged to make oral contribution to lessons, which they do with confidence and ease. Pupils show good ability to think rationally, reason, and solve problems. They were confident and knowledgeable in discussing with the inspectors topics they had covered previously and written and project work they had completed.

 

4.2 Language

 

Gaeilge

Tá dearcadh fábharach ag na hoidí uile i leith na Gaeilge agus comhoibríonn siad go h-an éifeachtúil lena chéile mar fhoireann chun freastal ar riachtanais na ndaltaí san ábhar. Tá freagracht ar leith ag oide amháin as chúrsaí Gaeilge agus oibríonn sise agus an príomhoide as lámha a chéile chun an teanga a fhorbairt tríd an scoil agus ar mhaithe leis na polasaithe i leith na teanga a chinntiú. Ullmhaíonn na hoidí ranga scéimeanna fiúntacha a réitíonn leis an bplean lárnach. Cabhraíonn an pleanáil sin go mór le forbairt na ndaltaí sa chumarsáid, sa léitheoireacht, sa scríbhneoireacht agus san fhilíocht. Is deas mar a leagtar  béim  ar an gcur chuige cumarsáideach sna ranganna éagsúla agus go mbaintear úsáid as an nGaeilge mar theanga chaidrimh le linn na gceachtanna Gaeilge agus ag amanta eile i rith an lae. Pléadh slite ina bhféadfaí freagraí níos muiníní fós a shaothrú ó na daltaí i gcuid de na seomraí agus tuairimí faoi chleachtais éifeachtúla a mhalartú ar bhonn foirne.  Moltar an caighdeán ard a bhí le sonrú sna ranganna a chonacthas le linn an fhiosraithe seo.

 

Úsáideann na hoidí modhanna spreagúla le linn na gceachtanna, leagann siad béim oiriúnach ar éisteacht ghníomhach chun tuiscint a chothú agus léirítear eiseamláirí d’fheidhmeanna teanga faoi leith trí chomhrá, cheistiú, drámaíocht, amhránaíocht agus aithriseoireacht. Soláthraíonn  na hoidí fearas nithiúil mar spreagadh do na daltaí agus tá na seomraí maisithe le saothar na ndaltaí féin, le cartaí léiriúcháin  agus le foclóir fairsing. Cruthaíonn na daltaí go hábalta  ag cur ceisteanna ar a chéile agus tá forás le sonrú san obair ó bhun go barr na scoile.

 

Baintear úsáid inmholta as leabhair mhóra, leabhair leabharlainne, leabhair saothair, páipéir grinn agus léaráidí tarraingteacha eile ar mhaithe le tuilleadh tacaíochta a sholáthar don chlár léitheoireachta. Bunaítear an obair scríofa cuid mhaith ar ábhar na cainte agus is minic go dtéitéar i muinín an ríomhaire agus na drámaíochta chun an fhoghlaim a chinntiú. Coinníonn na hoidí cuntas iomlán ar dhul chun cinn na foghlama sa Ghaeilge agus éiríonn go críochnúil leo freastal ar chumais dhifriúla.

 

Irish

Teachers are very favourably disposed to the teaching of Irish and they collaborate very effectively as a team in order to discharge their responsibilities to the pupils. One teacher has particular responsibility for the development of Irish and she and the principal work hand in hand to promote the language throughout the school and to refine its policies. Valuable schemes of work are prepared in keeping with the whole-school plan for the subject and these support the development of pupils’ the communication, reading, writing and poetic skills. Positive emphasis is placed on the communicative approach in the various Irish classes and the language is used successfully as an instructional medium during lessons and at other times. Ways of fostering still greater oral confidence in the pupils in some classrooms and the merits of disseminating good practice at whole-school level were explored with the teachers. The teachers are commended on the overall standards achieved in the classrooms visited during this evaluation.

 

Teachers employ stimulating methodologies during Irish lessons, they place appropriate emphasis on active listening to promote comprehension and certain language exemplars are illustrated through questioning, dramatic activity, singing and recitation. Teachers provide an ample supply of reinforcing equipment as a stimulus for the pupils and the classrooms and display areas are attractively decorated with pupils own work, with illustrative charts and with rich vocabulary. Pupils acquit themselves very well as they ask each other questions in Irish and there is evidence of steady development of the work as they progress through the school.

 

Great use is made of the big book format, library books, workbooks, comics and attractive illustrations to reinforce the reading activities. Written work is for the most part based on the conversational material and very often computer technology and dramatic activities are employed to consolidate the learning. Teachers are meticulous in their recording of achievement landmarks and in their provision for difference within the classroom setting.   

English

The teaching of English throughout the school is guided by a very comprehensive and collaboratively devised whole-school plan. It provides teachers with realistic targets at each class level for all aspects of the English curriculum and this approach is very valuable in assisting the implementation of the plan at classroom level.

 

The acquisition and development of oral language skills are given priority in most classrooms throughout the school through the use of oral language programmes and teacher designed approaches. The use of circle time, group work and pair work in many classrooms is very effective in encouraging pupils to engage in meaningful dialogue, discussions, word games and debate. Skilful questioning by teachers in most classrooms elicits very good oral responses. Pupils are encouraged to use descriptive language and to convey meaning with clarity.  Listening skills are well developed and pupils are encouraged to express themselves clearly in the knowledge that their contributions will be listened to and affirmed by their peers and teachers. Pupils  explore and recite a wide variety of poetry and rhymes and this enhances emotional and imaginative development.

 

An age-appropriate and print-rich learning environment has been created in all classrooms through the use of posters, labels, word banks, phonics charts, class libraries and displays of the pupils’ own written material. Phonological awareness is fostered especially well in the junior and middle classes through the use of graded programmes in accordance with the school plan. Most pupils in these classes display a good understanding of onset and rime and they have developed an appropriate level of word attack skills relative to their age and ability levels. In the junior classes pupils derive pleasure and benefit from exploring large-format books and pupils in all classrooms enjoy reading books from the class libraries. All pupils are encouraged to read from a variety of suitable texts with commendable emphasis being placed on articulation, expression and comprehension. Many teachers designate time for the Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) initiative to encourage silent reading. A buddy system for reading operates, whereby older pupils assist younger pupils with reading for short intervals over a six week period. Overall, there is a commendable standard of reading throughout the school and there is appropriate assessment and early intervention to identify and support pupils experiencing difficulty with reading.

 

A commendable programme of pre-writing and early writing activities is introduced and developed in the junior classrooms ensuring that pupils master letter formation and writing grip techniques at an early age. Pupils’ writing is carefully monitored in these classes and pupils receive supportive affirmation and feedback for their efforts. Writing corners have been set up in some classrooms to develop the pupils’ impetus to write. In the middle and senior classes pupils are encouraged to write in a variety of genres and to write from different points of view and for different audiences. Pupils demonstrate a very good understanding, for their class levels, of the conventions of writing, including grammatical concepts. The writing process is in evidence in many classrooms and pupils’ letters, poems, diaries and book reviews are displayed. Information and communication technology is sometimes used in the presentation of final drafts. Pupils’ writing has been presented to a wider audience through the school’s involvement in the “Write a Book” project in recent years. The school’s handwriting scheme encourages the development of a cursive style of writing in the middle and senior classes. The quality of pupils’ handwriting is generally of a high standard.

 

4.3 Mathematics

 

A very well-structured school plan, and clear, focused classroom planning ensures that all strands of the Mathematics curriculum are implemented. An age-appropriate range of teacher-made and commercially-designed illustrative resources is displayed in each classroom, to enhance assimilation and reinforcement of mathematical concepts. Content of lessons is linked purposefully to pupils’ practical experiences, and the innovative integration with other curriculum subjects, observed in some classrooms, is creditable. Discussion is a central feature of all Mathematics lessons, and relevant mathematical vocabulary is reinforced appropriately. Concrete materials are used to very good effect to stimulate discovery learning.

 

Early mathematical activities, such as ordering, classifying, comparing, sequencing and counting are covered comprehensively in infant classes. Pupils’ understanding of number operations and of shape, measure, algebra, data and chance is extended progressively as they advance through the school. Memorisation and retention of number facts are integrated into enjoyable activities and games.  In middle and senior classes, suitable activities are planned to extend pupils’ proficiency in estimation, mental and written computation, and problem-solving. Pupils in senior classes display very good ability to identify and apply the appropriate mathematical operations to solve problems, and to discuss, explain and justify the procedure used. Standardised tests in Mathematics are administered annually to pupils from first to sixth class. The teachers are commended for the creative methodologies used in the teaching of Mathematics, for the quality of teaching and learning observed, and for the very positive attitude to Mathematics that is evident throughout the school.

 

4.4 Social, Environmental and Scientific Education

 

History

Planning and presentation of History lessons are of a high standard. In line with recommended practice, topics at junior level focus predominantly on pupils’ familiar surroundings and experiences. In infant classes, pupils’ personal experiences, family events, stories, and appropriate materials are used purposefully to develop an age-appropriate understanding of chronology and change, and to inspire a sense of curiosity about the past. Pupils’ interest in local heritage and folklore is extended as they progress to middle standards. Very effective use of photographic resources, to enhance pupils’ awareness of change and continuity in Portarlington over the years, was noted. An informative history of the school has been compiled. An attractive photographic record depicting the evolution of the buildings and business premises in the town is displayed in the front hall of the school for the benefit of pupils, parents, and in particular, the growing number of migrants to the town.  In senior standards, a suitable range of topics from the various strand units of the history curriculum is presented in an interesting and creative way. Focused discussion, appropriate resources and artefacts, and skilful questioning stimulate pupils’ desire to research historic themes. Project work is used extensively to motivate pupils to investigate and record information on significant events in local, national and international history. Development of oral language skills was integrated closely into all history lessons observed and pupils displayed very good ability to discuss topics covered articulately and knowledgeably.

 

Geography

The Geography programme is broad and balanced and in keeping with the parameters set out in the school plan. Teachers availed of the various support services in order to update their methodologies and to familiarise themselves with the opportunities outlined in the curriculum handbooks. Excellent use is made of the local environment as a starting point for geography studies and a comprehensive supply of resource materials has been assembled and catalogued to support the learning. Amongst the resources sampled were CDs, computer software, maps, globes, story kits, weather charts and photographs. Teaching methodologies are lively and stimulating and the teachers are particularly commended for the manner in which new topics are launched, for the degree of pupil engagement in the various activities and for the consolidation of work. Integration of curriculum is commonplace throughout the school and several opportunities for pupils to engage in group activities and to take on leadership roles are presented. Many of the lessons fostered in pupils favourable attitudes to conservation, an understanding of other cultures and respect for democracy. The teaching and learning accompanying the exploration of topics such as houses, weather, the Kenya story, the banana industry and mapping provided lively classroom exchange and the enhancement of other curriculum areas including language, Drama, poetry, Art, and Music. Pupils demonstrated high levels of achievement across the various strands of the curriculum and they articulated their opinions and arguments with conviction and confidence.

 

Science

The teaching of Science throughout the school is directed by a collaboratively developed whole-school plan for science. The plan is very explicit in outlining the implementation of all strands and strand units over a two year cycle and also for the development of scientific skills. Throughout the school there is very good balance between the implementation of skills and content objectives, but there is insufficient attention given to Design and Make activities in some classrooms.  All teachers have been provided with details of a wide variety of experiments which are suitable for their assigned classes and this greatly fosters pupil involvement and active learning methods. Most lessons begin appropriately with pupils’ own ideas and teachers are skilful in developing investigations and experiments through the use of circle time, pair work and group work. There is commendable use of posters and resources during most lessons. Teacher observation is the preferred mode of assessment in most classrooms and records of these observations are used purposefully in reporting on individual pupils’ progress. Pupils in all classrooms demonstrate very good knowledge of relevant scientific topics and they are keen to speak about experiments undertaken. They also display a sound understanding of Living Things and of their local environment. Some classes undertake field trips to study interesting habitats.  The school is to be commended for achieving the award for excellence in Science in the 2007 Discover Primary Science project organised by Forfás. The teaching of Science is further enhanced by classroom visits from external speakers with particular scientific expertise, including parents, local professionals and an astronaut.

 

4.5 Arts Education

 

Visual Arts

There is abundant evidence from displays in classrooms and corridors, from pupils’ art portfolios, and from samples of pupils’ work exhibited on the school website, that all strands of the Visual Arts curriculum are implemented comprehensively, and to a high standard, in all classrooms. A very functional and practical whole-school plan ensures that each strand is developed progressively throughout the school. Other curriculum subjects, seasonal events, pupils’ imagination, and works of renowned artists are used effectively to stimulate creativity. Each lesson contains an initial stimulant, followed by clear instructions and sufficient demonstration to provide appropriate guidance for pupils without stunting individual creativity. Pupils’ engage eagerly in artistic activities and discuss the process and product of their work enthusiastically. Displays of pupils’ work portray a high level of innovation and originality. The orderly management of Visual Arts lessons, and the quality and variety of the work produced, is particularly commendable in light of the fact that the majority of classrooms are devoid of running water. Pupils have participated with considerable success in a variety of art competitions in recent years. A school art exhibition is organised at the end of each year, to which parents, relatives and friends are invited. Samples of work from this exhibition are displayed on the school website for a larger audience.

Music

The whole-school plan for music provides a well-structured framework for the teaching of the subject in the school. All strands of the curriculum are addressed in the plan and there are specific guidelines for their balanced and progressive implementation at each class level. A music co-ordinator has been appointed from within the staff to promote and support the subject. Pupils sing a variety of English and Irish songs very tunefully in all classrooms. Some classes have extended their repertoire very successfully to include two-part harmony. The school choir performs a range of suitable songs to a high standard. In the middle and senior classes, pupils are learning to play the recorder under the instructions of some class teachers and an external tutor. Pupils engage very precisely in rhythm work, using body percussion and the school’s own selection of percussion instruments, to embellish vocal performance and to develop their understanding of pulse and beat. Musical literacy and composing skills are developed appropriately throughout the school. Pupils enjoy listening to the music of famous composers and they respond imaginatively to the meaning and tone of the musical pieces.

 

Drama

The quality of teaching and learning in Drama is of a high standard and the curriculum is implemented through discrete, well-structured drama lessons and through carefully managed cross-curricular integration. The broad parameters of the curriculum and the range of methodologies employed in its delivery are laid down in the school plan and teachers are determined to extend the boundaries of the subject in conjunction with the curriculum support and planning agencies and from their exploration of reference books, computer packages and internet websites. Pupils demonstrated great enjoyment in their various drama roles and through such activities their social skills, their leadership skills and their self confidence in particular were developed in a supportive and stress-free setting.  Very fruitful use of Drama to support aspects of language, History, Art, and Social Personal and Health Education were observed during this evaluation and the dedicated lessons in the subject yielded a high level of engagement and success.

 

4.6 Physical Education

 

The school’s plan for Physical Education (PE) is very effective in guiding curriculum implementation at each class level. The plan also defines and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of teachers and external tutors to ensure that all strands of the curriculum are addressed, and that pupils’ safety is safeguarded. Teachers use both outdoor and indoor facilities in delivering the PE curriculum and this necessitates classes being escorted safely across the road to the indoor hall. The school has a suitable range of equipment to facilitate teaching across most strands of the Physical Education programme.

 

Teachers plan their work very effectively and this provides very good structure for lessons, ensuring that pupils warm up and cool down appropriately. Instructions are issued with clarity, and safety issues are anticipated and addressed.  Pupils co-operate well and participate very enthusiastically. They demonstrate good skill development in gymnastics, athletics, games and dance. Many of these skills are utilised and extended through the pupils’ involvement in the Cumann na mBunscoil football competition and County Offaly track and field events. The parents’ association assists financially with travel arrangements for these inter school competitions and there is strong parental involvement in organising the school’s annual sports day.

 

 

 

4.7 Social, Personal and Health Education

 

Teachers devote much effort to the development of a comprehensive programme of work in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for their pupils, taking account of the various strands as detailed in the curriculum handbooks and the overall guidelines set out in the school plan. Greatest emphasis is placed on promoting the health, safety and citizenship of pupils and on equipping them to take responsibilities and make informed decisions. Lively lessons are arranged in response to differing interests and abilities and ensuring maximum participation. Pupils responded enthusiastically to the various topics under consideration and their learning was facilitated through dramatic activity, role-play, poetry, music, art, computer technology, project research and examination of pictures and artefacts. Many opportunities were provided for pupils to work individually, in small groups and in teams and their leadership and decision-making skills were fostered with great sensitivity. Teachers are commended on their selection of suitable study topics from such a wide range of reference material and on the extent to which they created opportunities for pupils to be part of a democratic process in the classroom. There was much evidence of SPHE learning in the classrooms and many samples of pupils’ work were prominently displayed throughout the school.

 

4.8 Assessment

 

Effective assessment and recording of pupils’ progress is an integral part of planning and teaching in all classrooms. A variety of suitable assessment modes is implemented on an ongoing basis throughout the school. Oral, written and practical work is well monitored and teachers use a range of methods to record individual pupils’ progress. Teacher-designed tests are administered regularly to determine pupils’ assimilation and knowledge of topics covered. Effective check-lists, anecdotal records, work portfolios and report cards were observed in many classrooms. Standardised testing is conducted annually in all classes from senior infants upwards. Senior infants are tested using the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) test and classes from first upwards are tested using Sigma T and Micra T. Teachers alternate classes for administration of these tests. The results are analysed by the special-education team and are instrumental in identifying pupils to whom supplementary teaching is offered subsequently. Results of standardised tests are stored centrally and are available to teachers in the subsequent year to inform planning for differentiation.

 

 

5.     Quality of support for pupils

 

5.1 Pupils with special educational needs

A very pragmatic and pupil focused approach to the provision for pupils with special educational needs permeates the working of this school. The special-needs team collaborates very successfully under the guidance of the principal and the relevant post holders to ensure that maximum advantage is gained from the plentiful resources available. All members of the teaching and support staff are informed about the various special-needs strategies and they deal sensitively and professionally with the pupils concerned. Of particular note is the successful inclusion of all pupils in mainstream setting, the easy movement of pupils to and from special-needs tuition and the synchronisation of the learning activities. Teachers are commended on the efficient timetabling of work and on the variety of structures in place using both withdrawal and in-class support models to enhance the learning potential for the particular pupils. Support classrooms are tastefully adorned with stimulating displays of pupils work, of language and mathematical illustrations and of resource materials. Many other resources are stored and catalogued in the rooms for ease of access and additional support materials are often accessed via the internet. Good quality interaction between teacher and pupils was witnessed and the level of engagement with computer technology, poetry, drama, story and number activities was very high. Teachers adopt an early intervention policy for special needs education and they provide more challenging and stimulating learning experiences for high achieving pupils.

 

Teachers keep in close contact with parents and, where appropriate, with other professionals in designing the most suitable programmes of work. Sometimes individual learning plans are developed and, on occasion, small groups are clustered where the identified needs are similar. Very high quality records are maintained and these are used especially in offering feedback to parents and colleagues, in monitoring progress over time and to facilitate further refinement of learning targets. All members of the special needs team have participated in various courses to update their skills and to become familiar with modern approaches and some have completed further academic studies in the subject. As with all course attendance, school policy provides for the subsequent sharing of ideas and documentation within the staff. Special needs assistants operate very discretely to ensure maximum integration of pupils with special needs in whole school activities in a stress free environment. Some of the teachers are involved with very successful after school activities to support pupils and their families in a voluntary capacity.  

   

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

 

Currently there are pupils enrolled in the school from Ireland and from at least thirteen other countries around the world. The school, in its policies and practices, strives very successfully to support this diversity and to facilitate all pupils in accessing the curriculum. A whole-school policy on intercultural education is at an advanced state of development. There are many initiatives in place to welcome international pupils to the school including translated school letters, coffee mornings for newly arrived parents, and information displays in the school’s entrance hall. The school has the services of a language-support teacher to provide further support, in addition to classroom teaching, for pupils whose first language is neither English nor Irish. Language support teaching is provided on a withdrawal basis, following initial assessment of each pupil’s language needs. Appropriate individual learning targets are drawn up for these pupils and there is a high quality of tuition in the withdrawal group lessons. The learning environment is further enhanced by the use of a wide range of teacher-designed and commercially-produced resources. Pupils in the language resource classes demonstrate very good progress in acquiring English, despite their short time in the locality.

 

The school also has pupils from the Travelling community among its enrolment. In compliance with Department policy, the school provides integrated support to these pupils on the basis of assessed educational need. Some of these pupils receive support in literacy and numeracy. The resource teacher for Travellers works as part of the SEN team, providing support for a variety of pupils on a withdrawal and in-class basis. Carefully planned programmes of work are prepared on a group and individual basis for these pupils, and effective teaching was observed during the evaluation. Suitable resources are used to stimulate and support learning. The pupils are progressing well, relative to their age and ability levels, and there is systematic monitoring of their work and recording of progress. The school is very fortunate that some of its pupils have access to one of the two homework clubs available for pupils outside of school hours. These homework clubs are successful due to the combined efforts of some members of the school staff, Presentation sisters and other volunteers.

 

 

 

6.     Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

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