An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Saint Oliver’s National School
Stonetown, County Louth
Uimhir rolla: 16431Q
Date of inspection: 13 May 2009
A whole-school evaluation of Saint Oliver’s National School, Stonetown was undertaken in May 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, Irish, Mathematics and Geography. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Saint Oliver’s National School is a co-educational school located in a rural area of Co. Louth. A new school extension has recently been constructed and, as a result, the overall infrastructure of the school premises has been considerably enhanced. Population trends in the locality are relatively stable. School enrolments have been falling in recent years and a mainstream class third teacher is due to be lost for the 2009-10 school year, due to these decreasing enrolments. This matter is of significant concern to the board of management and to parents. This school is characterised for the most part by good standards of teaching and learning and excellence in practice in the area of Geography. Pupils in this school are courteous, well- motivated and eager to learn. Their use of Irish in the forms of greetings and general conversation outside of the classroom is of a high standard and the whole-staff commitment to this approach is worthy of much commendation. There is also laudable provision for pupils with difficulties. In general, there is a need to extend the learning experiences of above average and more able pupils.
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
1 (based elsewhere)
Special needs assistants
The school seeks to enhance the intellectual, emotional and physical development of pupils. This ethos of the school is reflected primarily in the excellent pupil behaviour that was evident during the course of the evaluation.
Saint Oliver’s National School is under the patronage of the Cardinal of Armagh. It is managed by a board of management nominated by the patron and constituted in accordance with section fourteen of the Education Act, 1998. The board meets regularly and a satisfactory record is kept of all proceedings. Financial accounts are maintained appropriately. The school functions in accordance with Departmental regulations on the length of the school day and school year. The board is to be congratulated on the beautiful new accommodation now in place in the school However, it is apparent that unless school enrolments improve, some of this additional accommodation will be under-utilised.
At present, the board has a particular responsibility in relation to a mobile home which is positioned in the school playing field. This is occupied on a full-time basis by the church sacristan, an arrangement which has been in place for a number of years. Recent board of management minutes record a decision to obtain legal opinion about this matter. At the post-evaluation meeting the principal reported that relevant discussions had taken place with the school solicitor. The health and safety implications of this situation for all members of the school community are further exacerbated by the maintenance of an untethered dog in the school grounds. It is essential that this inappropriate arrangement is urgently addressed by the board of management. The patron needs to be apprised of the situation and his involvement in resolving the issues may be necessary.
The board reviews school policies that have been prepared by the members of the teaching staff and, when finalised, ratifies them. In the light of the challenges present in the school and highlighted in this report, it is now recommended that the board adopts a more involved approach to school planning. The current priority of the board is the danger posed by the traffic outside the school as a result of the recent temporary closure of the main Dundalk to Carrickmacross road. The board is also concerned about falling enrolments, the loss of the third teacher next September and the subsequent challenges of operating with just two mainstream teachers.
At the meeting convened between the inspector and members of the parents’ association, some of the parents reported their satisfaction with standards in the school. However, other parents believe that the school is not preparing the pupils adequately for second-level education and that the standards being achieved by some children in core subjects are low. All parents were happy with the manner in which the school building project was brought to a satisfactory conclusion. However, some parents had significant concerns about leadership in the school. Parents, in general, felt that problems raised by them were not dealt with in an open, accountable way and that clear protocols were not in place to deal with their concerns. There is clearly a need for existing agreed grievance procedures to be clarified and adhered to by all parties concerned. Some members of the parents’ association reported there has been a history in latter years of parents expressing concern about educational standards and aspects of school leadership; this reinforces the need for the board, and especially the chairperson, to be proactive in the management of the school response to concerns arise. It is also important that the board is perceived by parents to be doing this.
At the post-evaluation meeting with the board it became apparent that the relationship between some members of the board and the principal has broken down. It is clear that there is an absence of mutual trust and confidence between the current board members and the principal. This situation is disempowering all parties and is having a negative influence on the overall governance of the school. It is strongly recommended the working relationship between the board of management and the principal be urgently reviewed in light of the statutory functions of both the board and the principal. Following this, the patron may need to exercise the power he holds under Section 16 of the Education Act 1998.
It is evident that the principal is committed to the school. His diligence in bringing the school building project to successful completion is widely acknowledged and all official documents including the attendance book, roll books and the register are maintained accurately. The deputy principal and the principal have organised the development of a school plan that consists of a range of policies for many curricular and organisational dimensions of school life. However, issues raised formally during the evaluation by parents in relation to alleged absence from class and perceived lack of action on complaints need to be addressed in an appropriate and purposeful manner. Now that the building project has been brought to a successful conclusion, the principal should re-focus energy and enthusiasm on teaching and learning and lead developments in action planning.
The deputy principal capably assists the principal in the day-to-day running of the school. Her contribution to the school plan and her care for pupils are commendable. It is now recommended that the principal and deputy principal meet regularly and devise an action plan focusing on addressing some of the matters of concern to parents, for example the improvement of more able pupils’ scores in standardised test results and the putting in place of agreed time-bound targets in relation to attainment levels. Prospective planning to meet the challenge of teaching two four-class groupings in the next school year will also be necessary.
Although many opportunities exist for the parents to meet with the teachers informally at assembly and dismissal times and formally as the need arises, a more open and accountable process of engagement with the parents of pupils in this school is necessary During the evaluation, representatives of the parents’ association indicated their awareness of the strengths and challenges associated with the school. It is recommended that the association should seek the advice of the National Parents’ Council (Primary) in order to further develop its role and functions.
During the evaluation effective classroom management strategies were in evidence and pupils were at all times respectful, diligent and enthusiastic. During the evaluation the learning environment appeared to be pupil-centred and supportive. In the light of concerns articulated by members of the board and by parents about tensions in the senior section of the school, there is a need to ensure that a positive atmosphere consistently underpins the cultivation and nurturing of mutually-respectful relationships with pupils by all members of staff.
The board ratifies all school policies and these ratified policy documents, including the school’s curricular programmes, form the school plan. All required curricular plans, in line with the Primary School Curriculum (1999), are in place. However, the school plan does not sufficiently reflect the need to differentiate learning for all pupils, especially for more able pupils. The plan needs to set out more clearly strategic, tightly targeted plans in relation to adopting whole-school approaches to teaching and learning. This is needed in Irish, English and Mathematics, in particular, and it should extend to defining very specific areas of concern and drawing up a framework for achievement, particularly in the domain of higher achievement in literacy. Ways to develop the quality of partnership and support between the members of the board of management, parents and the school staff should be explored. In general, the school plan should reflect more acutely the school’s circumstances and have additional regard for the needs, aptitudes and interests of the children, taking cognisance of multi-grade class contexts.
Staff meetings are organised on a regular basis. It is noted that, although these meetings do include discussion on curriculum implementation and the development of school policy, there is an over-concentration on organisational aspects of school life. Additional focused time should be spent on discussing curriculum issues and on improving the attainment levels of some children.
Teachers employ effective teaching techniques for the most part. The timetables of the teachers are organised to facilitate the implementation of the curriculum plans and appropriate attention is afforded to linkage and integration within and between subjects. Individual teachers’ planning is very satisfactory, with teachers providing long-term planning together with short-term notes with definite links to curriculum objectives. Teachers plan for the delivery of a broad and balanced, integrated programme to their pupils and there is satisfactory evidence of progression and continuity in the curricular programmes from class to class. A monthly record of progress is maintained in all classrooms. Teachers meet the needs of the majority of the pupils commendably well. However, they should now consider further the needs of the more able learners in their classroom planning as, overall, there is insufficient focus on stretching pupils to achieve higher levels of attainment in some areas of the curriculum. Differentiated approaches in respect of their learning needs would enhance current provision and may help to improve scores on standardised tests.
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.
Purposeful whole-class and group teaching techniques are employed as appropriate in all classes. Group teaching facilitates experimentation and articulation of pupils’ ideas. Suitable resources examples are used to stimulate pupils’ understanding and to encourage meaningful discussion. In general, teachers demonstrate a good understanding of the needs of individual pupils under their care. There is a general need to pay greater attention to the needs of more able pupils. Projects are carried out in many subject areas and linkages across the curriculum are actively cultivated. The teachers use a variety of active teaching methodologies and this is evident in classroom practice where discovery learning is promoted and where participative methods are fostered. The current involvement of the school in the Comenius project involves linking this school with other schools and is an exciting educational project for pupils. As a consequence, pupils have produced a most praiseworthy cookery book, in liaison with five other European schools. During the evaluation, the teachers’ interaction with pupils was caring and pupils’ self-esteem was actively promoted.
Múintear an Ghaeilge go díograiseach agus tá dearcadh dearfach i leith na teanga á chothú sa scoil. Tá ullmhúchán sásúil bunaithe ar théamaí an churaclaim á dhéanamh ag na hoidí don Ghaeilge. Baineann na hoidí leas an-tairbheach as an nGaeilge mar theanga bhainistíochta ranga agus úsáidtear straitéisi éifeachtacha sa scoil chun cumarsáid i nGaeilge lasmuigh den seomra ranga a fhorbairt agus a dhaingniú. Bíonn struchtúr maith ar na ceachtanna. Baintear úsáid éifeachtach as scéalaíocht, ról-ghlacadh, ceistiúchán agus cluichí teanga. Is léir go bhfuil forbairt shásúil á déanamh ar chumas cumarsáide na ndaltaí. Tá stór leathan de nathanna cainte ar eolas ag cuid mhaith acu. Moltar anois a thuilleadh drámaíochta a dhéanamh agus béim a chur ar chruthú neamhspleách na teanga. Aithrisíonn na páistí a lán dánta, rann agus amhráin sna ranganna uile le líofacht bhreá. Léann na daltaí na téacsanna ranga go réasúnta cruinn sna meánranganna agus sna hardranganna. Tá éagsulacht inmholta le sonrú sna cleachtaí scríbhneoireachta a dhéantar, ach tá deacracht ag cuid mhaith daltaí teanga a chruthú dóibh féin. Moltar cur chuige níos struchtúrtha agus níos dúshlánaí a chur i bhfeidhm maidir le múineadh na litearthachta le go mbeidh caighdeán níos airde á bhaint amach ag na daltaí. Moltar béim sa bhreis a chur ar ghramadach na Gaeilge a mhúineadh ar bhonn níos struchtúrtha agus measúnú leanúnach a dhéanamh ar fhorbairt na scileanna teanga ar bhonn uile-scoile.
Irish is taught with diligence and a positive attitude to the language is cultivated in the school. Satisfactory preparation, based upon curricular themes, is being conducted by teachers. Teachers use Irish very effectively as a language of classroom management and effective strategies to promote the development and consolidation of Irish outside the classroom are in place. Good structure is a feature of lessons. Effective use is made of stories, role-play, questioning and language games. It is evident that satisfactory progress is being made in relation to developing the communication skills of pupils. Pupils have a wide store of relevant phrases. It is now recommended that additional attention be given to Drama and that more emphasis be placed on the construction of language. Pupils recite a lot of poems, rhymes, and songs in all classes with laudable fluency. Pupils read class texts with due precision in middle and senior classes. Laudable practice is in place in respect of writing activities, but many pupils have difficulty constructing the language themselves. A more structured and challenging approach should be adopted in relation to literacy so that pupils would achieve a higher standard. More emphasis should be placed on teaching Irish grammar in a more structured way and the development of language skills should be assessed on a whole-school basis.
Teachers plan a broad programme of activities for pupils addressing the four strands of the English curriculum. Higher-order thinking skills are being actively developed during class discussions. Poetry is used to excellent effect in all classes with regard to the pupils’ language development and many poems have been committed to memory. Particular emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ emergent reading skills in the junior classes and very good use is made of large-format books. The current practice of withdrawing all pupils in first class for a short session every morning for explicit literacy intervention by the learning support teacher is working very well and is to be commended.
Reading standards are reasonably satisfactory across the school; few children are struggling with their reading and the school is to be congratulated for this success. Very high levels of reading fluency are not, however, in evidence in middle and senior classes. There are few children with high scores on standardised tests. Close analysis of these test scores is required and an action plan to increase scores should be devised. The range of reading materials available in school should be extended, books should be banded in accordance with reading difficulty, and shared reading should be promoted to foster both the habit and the love of reading.
In writing, very good standards of spelling, punctuation and use of language were noted in many instances. Creative work is displayed throughout the school and pupils are encouraged to write in a variety of genres. While some pupils are very gifted in their writing and show great promise as young writers, other pupils are less fluent writers. Even more work on extending the richness of language being used by pupils according to diverse written generic conventions is required. The standard of the pupils’ handwriting, in general, is laudable, but it needs more consistent attention and monitoring, especially in the senior section of the school.
The teachers’ planning in Mathematics is in line with curriculum documents and the school plan. Teachers teach the key strands of the mathematics programme diligently. The use of concrete materials to support the pupils’ conceptual development is praiseworthy in the junior section. A commendable stock of mathematical equipment is available in the school in support of the teaching of Mathematics. The mathematics lessons observed were well-organised and well-structured and mathematical concepts were explored in a logical and developmental manner. All classrooms present as mathematics-rich environments and teachers use number lines, charts, textbooks and a range of other equipment to support the pupils’ learning. There is satisfactory emphasis on oral work in Mathematics. Good work on problem-solving and activity-based Mathematics is in evidence. Pupils respond well, but sometimes inconsistently, to oral questioning. Tables need greater attention and more regular revision of number facts should be undertaken. Pupils record their work appropriately. Standardised test results indicate overall satisfactory pupil performance. However, few pupils in middle or senior classes are achieving high scores. Analysis of test results and of key skill achievement levels should lead to a more differentiated approach, with particular support given to pupils with average and above-average grades. A revision of the current learning support/resource format, as recommended in this report, should lead to the use of an in-class model of support which would promote this differentiation.
This is an area of significant strength in this school. Very good teaching and learning was in evidence in the area of Geography. Teachers plan a satisfactory programme of geographical activities to allow pupils explore their own immediate environment as well as the world around them. An appropriate blend of textbook and investigative work is pursued and the teachers supplement the lessons with a range of charts and other illustrative materials. Teachers embrace active methodologies and the lessons observed included many opportunities for pupil discussion. Pupils speak knowledgeably about the aspects of geography that they have studied. They display a sound knowledge of natural and human features in Ireland. Use of geographical themes in the teaching of Irish in the senior section is most praiseworthy.
There is evidence of the exploration of the local environment, thus helping pupils develop a sense of space and place. There is an emphasis on project work where pupils explore the geography of other countries. One excellent geography lesson on Australia was observed, with pupils engaging with boomerangs and didgeridoos. Excellent use of the interactive white board was a particular feature of this lesson. Children’s high standards of attainment in this subject area are testimony to the high quality work which many are capable of achieving across a wider range of curriculum areas.
Pupils’ progress is regularly monitored through teacher observation. Systematic correction of written work is a feature of most classroom practice and positive affirming comments are sometimes in evidence on the pupils’ textbooks. Checklists are used with regard to assessment of the pupils’ sight vocabulary in the junior section and regular assessments based on the mathematics programme are administered. The standardised tests being used include Micra T. and Sigma T. The results of all tests are filed and used to identify pupils experiencing difficulty. Involving the pupils in self-monitoring and in maintaining pupil profiles with samples of work from a variety of curricular areas, as a means of developing the school’s assessment policy further, should now be considered. It is noted that there are commendably few pupils with low or very low scores in these tests. Good provision is in place in the school for children with low scores. Equally, however, there are few children presenting with high or very high scores. In general, pupils’ learning should be stretched and the levels of expectations for them should be raised.
The school’s policy for the operation of the learning-support service for pupils with learning difficulties is in line with the Department’s learning support guidelines. This is being implemented by the learning-support/resource teacher in collaboration with the class teachers. The support teacher, based in Tallanstown National School spends three hours in St Oliver’s every day. In the current year, one special needs assistant (SNA) is employed by the school.
Comprehensive individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) and individual education plans (IEPs) are devised for pupils built around identified priority learning needs and these are regularly reviewed. Extensive and insightful progress records are maintained. There is evidence of much consultation with the parents of pupils in receipt of support teaching.
Significant support is provided in both literacy and number development. Concepts are explained clearly and reinforcement activities are appropriate to pupils’ needs. The overall provision for pupils with special needs is of a high quality and the care, attention, and professionalism evident in this provision are worthy of much commendation. The support teacher also delivers a literacy programme to first class for a morning session every day. This system is working very well. It is now recommended that the school explores additional methods of delivering learning-support, including shared teaching approaches whereby the learning-support teacher would work in the classroom supporting the identified pupils for some of the allocated time.
At present there are no pupils from minority groups attending the school. It is clear, however, from the admissions policy that all pupils are welcome in St Oliver’s.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
· St Oliver’s provides pupils and staff with an excellently maintained, attractive, clean, comfortable learning environment
· School records are maintained with precision and diligence.
· Individual teacher planning is insightful and reflects very good engagement with the educational principles and methodological practices of the curriculum.
· The use of Irish outside of formal class time is of a high standard and reflects the good standards in oral language being achieved by many pupils.
· Written work in English is of a very commendable standard, with pupils showing very good mastery of spelling, punctuation and grammatical features of language.
· Very good work in Geography is a feature of all classes in the school.
· Caring and insightful support to children with special needs is being provided
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· It is essential that the issues relating to the occupied mobile home on the school site are addressed by the board of management as a matter of urgency; in so doing,
the patron needs to be apprised of the situation.
· Agreed systems to deal with parental complaints need to be put in place and implemented.
· It is strongly recommended the working relationship between the board of management and the principal be reviewed in light of the statutory functions of both the board
and the principal. Following this, the patron may need to exercise the power he holds under Section 16 of the Education Act 1998.
· Reading and writing in Irish need to be extended and higher standards of attainment should be expected of pupils in the area of number operations in Mathematics.
· Whilst reading standards in English are, in general, satisfactory throughout the school, the reading levels of more able pupils need to be extended further and higher
expectations of achievement should be set.
· An action plan to deal with addressing parental concerns, improving standardised scores and general attainment levels in reading for pupils needs to be devised and implemented.
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 December 2009