An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Catherine’s National School
Donore Avenue, Dublin 8
Uimhir rolla: 15625B
Date of inspection: 30 September 2009
A whole-school evaluation of St. Catherine’s National School, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8 was undertaken in September 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 Geography. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:
Pupils enrolled in the school
Mainstream classes in the school
Teachers on the school staff
Mainstream class teachers
Teachers working in support roles
Special needs assistants
St. Catherine’s National School is a seven-teacher, co-educational primary school situated in the inner city of Dublin. It was established in 1901 and was considerably extended and refurbished in 2003. It is under the patronage of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. Its enrolment policy indicates that the primary purpose of the school is to meet the education needs of the Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral group of parishes. The school, which has deep roots in the local community, also enrols pupils of other religious denominations living in close proximity to it. Its stated Christian ethos, friendly, family-style atmosphere, and commitment to developing the full potential of every child are reflected in the organisation and management of the school, and the rich learning experiences of the pupils attending it.
The board of management works effectively to support the all-round education of all pupils in this school, including pupils with special education needs. It is properly constituted and meets approximately eight times per year. The board members are assigned specific duties. They avail of training provided by the Church of Ireland Board of Education on a range of matters including child protection, law and finance issues. They have an up-to-date knowledge of the statutory and other duties of boards and of significant education initiatives and developments. The board takes an active role in the devising, ratification, review and amendment of whole-school organisation and administration policies. It also ratifies whole-school curriculum policies as they are devised and amended. It oversees the management of the school’s finances and the funding of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and other learning resources for pupils very effectively. It ensures that the school building is properly maintained, cleaned and heated. Communication between the board and the school is effective. The chairperson visits the school frequently to meet the principal and staff and to keep informed of day-to-day happenings in the school. The staff representative on the board also contributes effectively to board-school communications. Formal communication by the board with parents of pupils in the school needs to be developed in light of the requirement under section 20 of the Education Act 1998 to establish procedures for informing parents of matters relating to the performance of the school. The board has a clear vision for the school in terms of enrolment numbers and teaching and learning resources. It intends, in the near future, to look closely at the issue of improving the attendance of a number of pupils who are absent for between eleven and twenty days per year. In that regard, the documenting of school attendance strategies in accordance with the Education Welfare Act 2000 is recommended. The board’s provision of funding for teachers and special needs assistants to attend courses of direct practical benefit to the pupils in the school is commended.
The principal leads and manages the school very effectively. She skilfully promotes effective teamwork among the school personnel in order to ensure that high education standards are maintained at all class levels. She engages in and promotes open, reflective dialogue among the teachers on curriculum implementation and development in the context of the particular abilities and needs of the pupils in this school. As a result, there is an ongoing focus on refining teaching methods and on ensuring optimum pupil attainment levels across the curriculum. Furthermore, the principal ensures that opportunities for curriculum enrichment through, for example, ICT, the Green Schools Initiative, progressive music education methods and participation in national music events are realised in every classroom in the school.
The other members of the in-school management team are the deputy principal and one special duties teacher. They attend to their currently-assigned duties diligently. As they are currently organised, the responsibilities attaching to the posts of these teachers do not have a clearly defined curriculum component. There is a need to review those responsibilities now and from time to time in the future in order to ensure that they take account of current and emerging curriculum needs of the school. Department guidelines regarding the arrangement of duties assigned to special duties teachers should also inform such review.
The management of teaching personnel is effective in both mainstream and special education settings. The school’s policy on the allocation of teachers to particular classes allows for rotation of class levels among teachers and for movement between mainstream class and SEN settings. Special needs assistants are properly deployed and work co-operatively and flexibly with the class and SEN teachers in supporting pupils and in promoting the development of independent learning skills. Very good administrative support is provided by the school secretary.
The quality of school accommodation is very good. Classrooms are bright, airy, and well heated. Outdoor play areas are well maintained, well utilised and well supervised. All classes have timetabled access to the school hall for sports, assembly, music and other activities. Pupil work is celebrated in corridor and classroom displays. A print-rich, arts-rich environment is evident.
The school has a very good range of resources to support teaching and learning at all class levels. Of particular note in this regard is the high-quality ICT available for pupil and teacher use. Extensive classroom libraries, excellent play materials for the junior classes, and very good music and science equipment and materials are also available. The teachers are commended on the skilled way in which those resources are used in the lessons. The school also has a good range of materials to support teaching and learning in a number of strands units of the geography curriculum. The provision and use of a wider range of good quality maps and globes to support the development of the pupils’ geography skills is recommended.
The school has an active parents’ association that is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council. The parents’ association supports the work of the school in a significant way through fundraising, the organisation of community and social events involving parents and pupils, helping with the maintenance of the school grounds, and the organisation of a broad range of extra-curricular after-school activities for the pupils. The association liaises frequently with the principal who is, at all times, welcoming of parents to the school.
The school has in place a range of procedures to facilitate formal communication with parents. These include annual parent-teacher meetings, annual written reports to parents on the progress of their children, a regular newsletter to parents, and the school web-site to inform parents of school events, policies and celebrations. In addition, the teachers give generously of their time to meet parents on a more informal basis as the need arises. They demonstrate a praiseworthy willingness and ability to deal promptly and thoroughly with the concerns of parents. The parents’ association is interested in becoming more familiar with aspects of the curriculum being taught in the school. The dissemination of information to parents regarding key aspects of the curriculum programmes to be taught to their children from year to year is recommended.
The management of pupils is excellent. A positive code of behaviour that takes account of the National Education Welfare Board guidelines is implemented fairly, consistently, and effectively throughout the school. Respect for all is actively and consistently fostered. The pupils are enthusiastic and motivated in their learning. They are helped to take personal responsibility for both their behaviour and learning. They are given opportunities to participate meaningfully in relevant decision-making as evidenced, for example, by their work in the democratically elected Green Schools Committee. The extension and development of the voice of pupils through the establishment of a student council is advised.
The quality of whole-school planning is good. Board members work together effectively in fulfilling key obligations under legislation and Department of Education regulations regarding the content of whole-school organisation and administration policies. The teachers also make a significant contribution to the organisational whole-school planning process. Parents have been provided with some opportunities to contribute to policy development in the school, most notably in relation to the devising of policies on homework and the school’s code of behaviour. The introduction of procedures to allow parents to contribute to other aspects of whole-school organisational policy development and review is recommended.
Under the leadership of the principal the teachers have devised practical, useful, and informative whole-school plans for most curriculum areas. Those plans are subject to regular updating and review in the light of the needs of the school and developments in education. The whole-school curriculum plans for English and for Mathematics are appropriately detailed with a very good focus on skills development in each of the two curriculum areas at each class level. They take due account of the national curriculum guidelines and the abilities and needs of the pupils attending this school. Very good use is made of information on pupil achievement in English and in Mathematics in the school’s regular review of the two plans. In the whole-school plan for Geography, there is a clear delineation of the content to be taught within most strand units at each class level. To improve the overall implementation of the geography curriculum, a sharper focus on the incremental teaching of graphical skills is required in the whole-school plan. Furthermore, it is recommended that the field trips to be undertaken over the course of the school year be planned in terms of how they can contribute to the achievement of specific curriculum objectives.
High-quality long-term and short-term individual planning is consistently undertaken by all class teachers. Clear learning objectives and targets that are linked to the school plan are set out. There is evidence of planning for differentiation in lesson content and assigned tasks to meet the needs of lower-achieving and higher-achieving pupils. Relevant teaching methods and resources are identified. All teachers maintain comprehensive monthly progress reports.
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.
The teaching of English in this school is excellent. All classrooms provide print-rich environments in which language and reading are promoted. The teachers approach English lessons in the strand units with skill and flair. Oral language is thoroughly taught at all class levels. The pupils speak confidently and they demonstrate an impressive ability to use language to analyse, synthesise, describe and summarise. Paired work and small-group discussion are used to very good effect during oral language lessons. The teachers, pupils and parents are commended on the very high standards in reading in all classes in the school. The teachers cultivate a love of reading among the pupils from their first days in school and they nurture that interest as the pupils progress through the school. Their commitment to ensuring that pupils are suitably challenged and stimulated by the reading material given to them is particularly praiseworthy. Large-format books, class readers, supplementary readers, and library books are very well used. Excellent work is undertaken on the study of novels. A well-structured, progressive phonological awareness programme is systematically implemented from class level to class level. There is excellent integration of music, rhyme and vocabulary development in the junior classes. Very good work on the analysis of poetry is undertaken in middle and senior classes. The teaching of writing is commendable. The pupils are enabled to engage in writing in a very good range of genres and are provided with ongoing, systematic formative feedback on their work. The pupils’ reflective, creative and confident approach to writing in the senior classes is particularly impressive.
The quality of teaching in Mathematics is very good. A mathematics-rich environment is evident in all classrooms. Very good use is made of resources during the lessons. Of particular note in this regard is the use of play materials in the junior classes as the pupils engage in early mathematical activities and work in other strands. Very good use is made of mathematical games in all classes. Consistent and developmental use of the language of mathematics is evident from class level to class level. Another of the positive features of many mathematics lessons in this school is the designation of a specific part of the lesson for the teaching of mental mathematics. Good use is made of mental mathematics textbooks to support this work. The development of the teaching of mental mathematics to include some open-ended, non-textbook based and differentiated activities is recommended. Overall pupil attainment in Mathematics is high, with a number of pupils showing outstanding ability in the subject. A number of the pupils who attain high levels in computation do not achieve at a commensurate level in problem-solving. More focussed, differentiated teaching of practical problem-solving within each strand, with opportunities for pupils to solve problems co-operatively, is recommended.
The teaching of geography is good. Lessons are well structured. The pupils’ previous learning and/or ideas are used as the starting point of lessons. New content is introduced and supported by relevant resource materials. Consolidating tasks, frequently incorporating workbook-type activities, are assigned. Paired work, ICT, brainstorming, project work and related research, and free exploration of materials are among the methodological strengths of the lessons. Field trips in the locality and to other places of geographical significance are regularly undertaken. The pupils, under the guidance of their teachers, engage purposefully in geography activities related to the Green Schools Initiative. Some mapping work is undertaken at each class level. The methodology of story is well used to enable the pupils to construct maps of imagined and real places.
The pupils have a good understanding of much of the content of the three strands of the geography curriculum. The language of geography is confidently used and appropriately applied. The pupils have a good sense of place and space in terms of Europe and the wider world. Their sense of place and space with regard to Ireland is not as well developed. The project work of pupils in the middle and senior classes shows an ability to research topics, synthesise geography information and draw together learning across a number of curriculum areas, most notably English, History and Science. The pupils’ presentation of their work, oral, written and pictorial, is of a high standard. The school is congratulated on achieving a second green flag under the Green Schools Initiative.
To develop the geography curriculum in this school, it is recommended that a spiral approach to the teaching of graphical skills be followed. Greater formal and informal use of increasingly sophisticated maps and globes as the pupils progress from class to class is also required. A more systematic approach to advancing the pupils’ sense of place and space in the context of Ireland is needed. Development in the emphases of field trips to ensure opportunities for the teaching and consolidation of specific, progressive, curriculum-appropriate skills is also recommended.
Very good assessment practices exist in this school. All teachers use a broad range of assessment modes including standardised tests, observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, and checklists. The results and other outcomes of assessment are used to monitor individual pupil progress, identify pupils in need of support teaching, and to inform future plans of work. The results of standardised tests are communicated and explained to parents. Pupils are enabled to reflect in a critical, positive way on aspects of their work. Given their very good work on assessment to date, the teachers are well positioned to develop ipsative assessment in the school as well as strategies for monitoring the implementation of the geography curriculum with a particular focus on pupil acquisition of skills.
The support given to pupils with special education needs (SEN) is excellent. The work of the SEN teachers is guided by specific, goal-focussed, realistic, individualised plans. These plans are based on data from psychological reports, school-based reports, and teacher observations. They are drawn up in consultation with the class teacher, support teacher(s) and parents. The extent to which individual pupil targets are achieved is assessed systematically and individual work programmes are modified accordingly. Support is offered mainly on a withdrawal basis with some provision for in-class support based on the needs of the child. In addition there is a special class for pupils with mild general learning disabilities. Excellent resources appropriate to the needs, abilities and learning styles of the pupils are available in the SEN settings and are very well utilised. Support teachers work with skill, diligence and kindness towards the pupils in their care. They keep a keen focus on language, literacy and numeracy development. At the same time, they ensure that as rich a curriculum as possible is provided for the children in their care with due attention to the nurturing of the pupils’ social skills and the promotion of independence in learning. Active learning methods, well-paced and stimulating lessons, and celebration of pupil effort and achievement are the hallmarks of SEN provision in this school. When in the mainstream classroom, pupils with SEN are fully included in the learning activities and are provided with additional, individualised support as the need arises.
This is an open, welcoming school in which respect for all is expected and actively promoted in the management and day-to-day life of the school. The inclusion of all pupils in all activities during the school day is actively facilitated. Extra-curricular, after-school activities are open to all pupils on a fee-paying basis. The parents’ association funds the participation of a number of pupils in these activities. The board also funds participation of children in co-curricular activities. A part-time language-support teacher provides high-quality support to pupils for whom English is an additional language. The communication of key procedural information and policy documents to parents who do not speak or read English is a challenge for the school.
The school’s commitment in practice to creating and maintaining an inclusive school environment and to promoting equality of curriculum access is not fully reflected in its policy documents. It is recommended that, in future reviews of the school plan, the school’s practical, proactive, and positive approaches to inclusion be documented in the relevant sections of the plan.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· This is an open, welcoming, and inclusive school that is committed to the development of the full potential of every child. Respect for all is actively promoted.
· The principal leads and manages the school very effectively.
· The board of management works effectively to support the all-round education of all pupils in this school, including pupils with special education needs.
· The management of pupils is excellent.
· The support given to pupils with SEN, including pupils in the special class for mild general learning disabilities is excellent.
· The management of teaching personnel is effective.
· The quality of school accommodation is very good.
· The school has a rich range of resources to support teaching and learning.
· The parents’ association supports the work of the school in a significant way.
· The long-term and short-term planning undertaken by the class teachers is of a high quality.
· The teaching of English is excellent.
· The teaching of Mathematics is very good.
· Very good assessment practices exist in the school.
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· It is recommended that the board ensure that legislative requirements regarding school attendance strategies and reporting to parents on the performance of the school are complied with.
· The responsibilities attaching to special duties posts should be reviewed to take account of the current and emerging curriculum needs of the school and Department of Education and Science guidelines.
· A sharper focus, in planning and in practice, on the teaching of geography skills is recommended.
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
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
On behalf of the whole school community, the Board of Management thanks the inspection team for the courteous and professional way the evaluation was handled. We are delighted with the many positive comments in the report, especially those relating to the happy atmosphere, the behaviour of pupils, the leadership of the school, the quality of provision for special needs, and the high standards in English and Mathematics. We would like to endorse all these and congratulate the children, their parents and staff.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board of Management has started a process of consultation with the staff as to the allocation of duties to the posts or responsibility. Based on this process there will be thorough review of these duties and all post-holders will have curricular, pastoral and organisational duties from September 10 on.
The Board also plans to issue parents with an annual report on the work of the school, starting in June 10.
The Board is committed to involving parents in the development on school policies. We are currently looking at how best to further this involvement.
The staff are in the process of finalising a policy document on the development of graphical skills, which we expect will enhance our provision of Geography teaching.