An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Uimhir rolla: 15781P
Date of inspection: 17th October 2008
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ballintemple National School, Crab Lane, Cork. 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 schoolís board of management, and representatives of the parentsí association. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with pupils and teachers, examined pupilsí work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Ballintemple National School is a co-educational school that is situated in the south side of Cork city. It operates under the patronage of the catholic bishop of Cork and Ross. Since the last school report in March 2000, the staff has increased from six to twelve teachers. In all, there are now eight mainstream class teachers and, in addition, there are three special needs teachers. One of these is shared with another school.
Pupil enrolment has been steady in recent years and this sustains the current level of mainstream staff. The vast majority of pupils in the school are Irish and the number of newcomers is small.† Pupil attendance is generally very high.
Due to the demand for places in the school and its consequent growth, the school is currently located on two sites, with the infant section of the school accommodated on a site one kilometre from the main school. The management of the school has been actively pursuing the construction of a new school on a site provided by the Society of African Missions (SMA), Blackrock Road.
The board of management follows appropriate management procedures and systems in the discharge of its role. It convenes frequently and retains minutes of key decisions made at meetings. The allocation of responsibilities to different board members facilitates efficiency in the organisation of the boardís work.†
The board is commended for its work in the development of the school plan. It is actively involved in the ongoing development and review of a range of administrative policies. It regularly approves curricular policies that the school staff has developed and reviewed. The commitment of board members to developing their role is evident in their participation in training courses provided by the patron for boards of management. The board is cognisant of the value of an action plan and is well positioned to act on and implement priorities identified in accordance with school need.
The board of management is very conscious of its role in supporting and engaging with the members of the school community. In particular, the board engages with parents and does so in a positive manner. This contributes to the maintenance of a productive working relationship with parents and the wider community.
The board meets its responsibilities regarding staff development through actively supporting and encouraging the professional development of staff in practical ways and this is commendable. This is seen, for example, in its funding of individual staff in their pursuit of professional qualifications and their attendance at courses that enhance their skills.
The board of management has policies and procedures in place to facilitate compliance with relevant legislation and circulars issued by the Department of Education and Science. However, it is noted that there has been ongoing correspondence between the board and DES Primary Administration Section in relation to the length of its infant school day, which falls thirty minutes short of that specified in Circular 11/95 Time in School. It is recommended that the board acts to ensure that the length of the school day for infant classes complies with DES policy.
The quality of in-school management is very good. In close collaboration with the three special duties post holders, the principal and the deputy principal capably attend to core in-school management activity. With specific responsibility for the day-to-day management of the infant campus, the deputy principal fulfils a particularly important role and discharges her duties with due diligence.†
The effectiveness of learning in Ballintemple NS emanates from the principalís visionary leadership, which is driven by his strong commitment to school improvement and the development of the pupils to their full potential. The principalís personal, organisational, communication, facilitation and problem-solving skills allow him to successfully cultivate the co-operation and respect of all members of the school community in pursuit of this vision. Under his leadership, a positive learning climate prevails. This is characterised by high expectations, high levels of teacher and parental collaboration, positive patterns of pupil behaviour and high standards of academic achievement. The principal gives due priority to his role as instructional leader and this results in ongoing and systematic action throughout the school to improve curriculum implementation and learning outcomes for pupils. He implements† effectively a range of quality assurance mechanisms and these include regular visits to classrooms, monitoring of monthly progress records, analysis of pupil achievement and modelling of good teaching and learning practice in the classrooms.
The formal duties of the other members of the in-school management team are mainly organisational and appropriately arise from a process of prioritisation engaged in by school management and teaching staff. In parallel, the members of the in-school management team acknowledge the importance of including a curricular dimension to their duties. In practice, this is seen in special duties post-holders assuming a responsibility for elements of curricular areas in response to needs identified by the teaching staff as the school plan evolves.
The members of the in-school management team work well together. They meet regularly on a formal and informal basis and are actively involved in decision-making and review processes. They also make a significant contribution to the instructional leadership in the school through their helpful involvement in mentoring new teachers and in leading the development of curricular aspects at salient times. The members of the team are now alerted to the value inherent in establishing the review of duties on a more formal basis, and with due regard to duties in the curricular areas.
There is effective management and development of resources in the school. In particular, the school is fortunate to have a capable and committed teaching staff that has high expectations for the pupilsí learning and works diligently in a cohesive manner to realise those expectations.
The school has a number of systems in place to promote the ongoing professional development of staff both on and off site. It is commendable that teachers have the opportunity to experience teaching at different class levels and contexts on a rotational basis. Staff members are encouraged to engage in continuing professional development outside of school and many have attended in-career courses and/or have pursued further academic qualifications. The quality of professional development in the school is evident from the high level of expertise among the teaching staff and the application of their teaching skills within the classroom.
Under the guidance of the principal and the class teachers, the seven special-needs assistants in the school are used in an effective and imaginative fashion to ensure that targeted pupils receive the support necessary to meet their needs. In tandem with this, the assistants contribute effectively to the general management of the classrooms.
External tutors are employed with discretion to attend to identified needs. For defined periods, these tutors provide instruction to particular class groups in areas such as Music, swimming and tag rugby. Parents fund swimming activity and the board of management or the parentsí association fund other activities as required.
The school accommodation on the main site comprises six permanent classrooms and other rooms such as offices for the principal and the secretary. There are also prefabricated rooms to accommodate the teachers for special educational needs on the main site while the third special educational needs teacher uses the staff room/kitchen in the main school building. The site at a distance from the school accommodates two temporary classrooms, a small lobby and toilets.
The management of the school is highly commended for the very good decorative order of the buildings on the main site and the manner in which it utilises the limited space available. All this contributes significantly to the establishment and maintenance of a safe and secure learning environment for the pupils. With a view to enhancing the pupilsí awareness of and interest in environmental issues, it is commendable that the school plans to participate in the Green School project during the current school year. The management also deserves acknowledgement for its efforts to compensate for the lack of sports facilities by liaising with other organisations in the locality. The availability of facilities from these organisations gives pupils valuable opportunities to engage in sports activities such as basketball and GAA games.
However, the limited space in the school places considerable constraints on pupilsí recreational activities, on storage facilities, and on sanitary facilities for staff, particularly at the main site. There is concern about the fact that the children have to walk some distance along a busy road to access the sportsí facilities available to it in the locality. In an effort to address these shortcomings, the board of management is engaged on an ongoing basis with the DES to expedite plans for the construction of a new school building. The board is very grateful to the SMA religious order for making a site available in the locality for the new school but is anxious that the order will withdraw the offer if the building project does not progress in the near future. Hence, it is desirable that the project is advanced as quickly as possible to facilitate the education of children attending the school on the one campus and to address ongoing concerns about recreational, sanitary and storage facilities.
The array of up-to-date stimulating displays both in the classrooms and in the corridor gives due recognition to pupilsí work and development and greatly enhances the learning climate in the school. The staff provides a variety of material resources to support the teaching of English and Mathematics, the curricular areas evaluated during the whole-school evaluation. Effective procedures are in place to ensure that resources for these subjects are easily accessible to teachers when required. The multiplicity of teacher-devised materials provided in the classrooms complements the materials centrally provided by the school. The school is especially commended for the rich selection of resources available for pupils with special educational needs. Some mainstream teachers could further develop this very good work by enhancing the mathematical environment for Mathematics in their classrooms and by establishing distinct subject areas corners for this subject and for other subjects such as Science.
The school has taken commendable steps to enhance the provision for ICT as evidenced by the availability of a mobile computer unit. ICT is used to good effect particularly to support the development of literacy skills and the learning of pupils with special educational needs. The school could now advance the integration of ICT in teaching and learning through referring to the framework for ICT developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The school can access this framework, ICT framework A Structured Approach to ICT in Curriculum and Assessment on the NCCA website www.ncca.ie or at www.action.ncca.ie
The school is fortunate to have an active and supportive parentsí association that meets on a regular basis and supports the work of the school in consultation with the principal. The association has a positive working relationship with the principal who attends all their meetings. The association supports the school through fundraising activity, the organisation of events such as sports and festive activities and through encouraging the school community to promote activities such as shared reading. The parentsí association supports the whole-school planning process as necessary through the involvement of a nominated representative. The parentsí association maintains regular contact with the wider school community through its Annual General Meeting, informal meetings and its newsletter.
The school is diligent in its endeavours to foster positive relationships with the parental body and the local community. Parents are warmly welcome to consult with teachers regarding their children and they regularly do so at mutually convenient times. The school newsletter facilitates the dissemination of relevant school information to parents. The annual curriculum evenings for parents of pupils in junior infants and sixth classes provide these parents with valuable insights into the learning programme for the year and ways in which they can support the school in this work. Given the critical role that parents play in their childrenís education, the school might now consider building on these good practices to promote parental involvement, particularly in relation to literacy and Mathematics.
School management takes pride in the close links that it has established with the local community. The school has benefited greatly from the generous support of local sporting organisations that provide regular access to their facilities.
The management of pupils is highly commendable and an air of industry permeates the school. The pupils are courteous and co-operative and exhibit a positive attitude to learning across the curriculum. Interactions between teachers and pupils are vibrant and productive. Management and teachers show a high level of commitment to the welfare of the pupils and to the development of positive patterns of behaviour, participation and application among pupils. This work is supported by the implementation of a carefully devised and comprehensive code of behaviour.
The school presents a comprehensive school plan that embraces organisational and curricular elements of the schoolís work and is relevant to pupilsí needs and the school context. There is clear evidence of collaboration with relevant parties in the ongoing development of the plan, and it is acknowledged that data on pupilsí achievement and progress is used to good effect in its review. In addition, in-school management has commendably provided a series of detailed documents that address learning objectives, teaching approaches and assessment procedures for the different curricular areas at each class level.
In collaboration with a willing staff, the principal conscientiously attends to the implementation of the school plan so that all elements are addressed in a purposeful and thorough manner. As a developmental point, the staff could usefully focus attention on the crucial importance of ensuring linkage between curricular planning and its implementation in the classroom.† This would prove particularly valuable in evaluating the success of various teaching approaches identified in the plan.
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.
The quality of individual planning provided by teachers is commendable. Each teacher provides long-term and short-term planning with useful support documentation. While there is some evidence that teachers are attempting to introduce a measure of differentiation, it is likely that their efforts are limited by the constraints imposed by the short-term template used in some classrooms. As a developmental point, the school might reflect on planning more usefully for the provision of differentiation activities.
The teachers provide careful and detailed monthly records of pupilsí progress on a newly introduced common template that includes aspects such as content covered, methodologies used and assessment approaches. The principal makes effective use of these records to gain an overview of curriculum implementation. As a point of development, the teaching staff is advised to consider further the nature and structure of the monthly progress record and its potential as a reflective tool for promoting improvement in teaching and learning.
4.1 Overview of learning and teaching
The quality of teaching as observed during the evaluation of English and Mathematics is very commendable. The teachers mainly engage in purposeful whole-class teaching that is complemented by some effective use of individual, pair and group approaches. The interaction between teachers and pupils is lively and productive.
The quality of pupilsí learning and achievement is very good in English and Mathematics, and progress and achievement in these curricular areas are highly creditable. This is evidenced in the quality of pupilsí work, in their enthusiasm to demonstrate the range and depth of their learning, and in their highly impressive levels of attainment in standardised tests in Mathematics and reading.
The staff is also highly commended for the promotion of Irish as the language of communication and classroom management throughout the school. This contributes significantly to the cultivation of positive pupil attitudes towards the language and a welcome preparedness and confidence to use the language throughout the school day.
In English, the quality of the teaching is praiseworthy and this is reflected in impressive standards of achievement. Throughout the school, the work is firmly rooted in the Primary School Curriculum (1999) with its strands and strand unit components and this ensures there is a high level of consistency in the key approaches and methodologies used in all classrooms. In accordance with intentions expressed in the school plan, the development of oral skills is promoted in a purposeful manner and lessons observed are characterised by lively oral interaction between teacher and pupil, and pupil with pupil. Poetry is presented in a stimulating manner and children discuss and recite a range of suitable poems with clarity and expression.
The teaching of reading is a key strength and this is reflected in high levels of enthusiasm among virtually all pupils and in the highly impressive test scores attained in standardised tests. Their success is rooted in an effective development of phonological awareness from infants, coupled with the acquisition of a useful sight vocabulary and a commendable mastery of phonic skills. Allied to this is the admirable in-class support and individual support outside the classroom provided by a highly motivated learning support team. Important initiatives in the areas of shared reading with peers, and paired reading with parents too, complement regular silent reading sessions that contribute to an impressive interest in the high quality childrenís literature available in all classrooms.
Clearly, writing forms a central element of the work in language and overall the standard is commendable. In all classrooms, there were collections of carefully marked exercises drawn from different areas of the curriculum and regularly integrated with Visual Arts. Significantly, the computer is utilized on a regular basis to extend the range of experience, and the printed efforts of the children on display in most classrooms give testimony to preparedness on teachersí part to embrace the technology in creative ways. Teachersí written preparation indicates that as the year progresses the variety and depth will be systematically expanded, and this is appropriate. It is clear that the children in general are well positioned to enhance their competence in writing for different purposes and with a sense of audience, and to this end teachers are now invited to focus particular attention to these features of the revised curriculum in a purposeful way. In addition, there would be a value in considering how they might more productively adapt their monitoring processes to promote a more personal and reflective engagement with topics.
The teaching of Mathematics is very good and some examples of excellent practice were observed during the evaluation. Lessons are well structured and high levels of pupil application and participation prevail. The organisation of early mathematical activity and rotational group activities for Mathematics is particularly commendable. In accordance with the carefully devised and useful school plan, teachers use a number of approaches that reflect the key principles of the mathematics curriculum. Throughout the school, there is an effective use of active learning methodologies, talk and discussion. There is also commendable emphasis on the development of mental skills and language, and on the use of the environment to present and clarify the mathematical concepts.
Some teachers emphasise the use of other curriculum approaches that are highlighted in the school plan and that might gainfully be adopted by colleagues. These include the use of collaborative learning (e.g. in pairs), differentiated teaching and challenging problem-solving activities which give pupils opportunity to explore and apply different problem-solving strategies. There is also evidence of skilful development of estimation strategies and skills at particular class levels that could now be included as a central part of each lesson in Mathematics. In an attempt to consolidate pupilsí understanding of mathematical concepts further, all teachers should adopt the effective practice of systematically linking the strands of the mathematics curriculum.
The quality of pupilsí learning in Mathematics is very good. Most pupils show a deep enthusiasm for and interest in learning Mathematics and an impressive knowledge and understanding of aspects covered during lessons. This is reflected in the performance of pupils in standardised tests and in the consistently high levels of achievement in Mathematics that prevail throughout the school. The confident participation and response from special-needs pupils during mathematics instruction both in the mainstream and special-needs learning context is particularly commendable.†
Assessment in an integral part of the schoolís approach to learning in English and Mathematics and this is reflected in the use of formal and informal assessment approaches as is outlined in the primary curriculum. Vibrant and incisive questioning form a central element of the assessment approaches and of particular note is the schoolís systematic approach to the tabulation and analysis of standardised test results that, in turn, informs whole-school decisions on planning, teaching and learning.
The school maintains careful records of individual pupilsí progress and there are systems in place to facilitate their long-term storage. The school facilitates the communication of childrenís progress through annual Parent/Teacher meetings and the issuing of school reports. Parents are also welcome to consult on their childrenís progress with individual teachers and they regularly do so. These consultations with parents may include the communication of standardised test results.
In the interest of further development and as part of its ongoing review of the school plan, the school is now advised to update its whole-school approach to assessment and reporting in the context of DES circular 00138/2006 and the guidelines on assessment provided by the NCCA Assessment in the Primary School Curriculum Guidelines for Schools.
The quality of support for pupils with special educational needs is highly commendable. The school has developed a useful whole-school special educational needs policy that is implemented effectively. Individual planning by teachers in the special educational needs context is very effective and is characterised by a high degree of relevance, detail and challenge for individual pupils.
Teachers show high levels of interest in and commitment to their pupilsí learning. Their teaching is very well organised and a warm and positive atmosphere underpins the learning.† A range of resources that includes ICT is used effectively to motivate pupils and support the implementation of their individual learning plans. The special education needs team works closely with the principal and class teachers to promote consistency and continuity in the level of support they provide. It is evident from their responses and the assessment data provided that the pupils are making systematic progress in accordance with their abilities. The main organisational approach used to support pupils with special educational needs is withdrawal from class and implementation of individual programmes. In parallel with this, some learning-support pupils receive support within the classroom to very good effect. Class teachers and the learning-support teacher are commended for their purposeful and complementary interventions during these lessons.
The special educational needs team adopts a systematic and comprehensive approach to monitoring and recording pupilsí progress. The team utilises a wide range of relevant assessment approaches that include teacher-designed and diagnostic tests, all of which inform the development of individual programmes for pupils.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and addressing 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.
Published, March 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
††††††††††† Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management invites the Department of Education and Science to again engage with it in a realistic manner concerning the provision of a new school for the Ballintemple area. Such a development would help resolve the Boardís concerns regarding the length of the Infant day.