An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Brigid’s GNS
Old Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11
Date of inspection: 13 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of St Brigid’s Girls’ National School. 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’ 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 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 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.
Saint Brigid’s School is a twenty teacher girls’ school under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. The original school was founded in the nineteenth century by the sisters of the Holy Faith Congregation. The present school building, which was constructed in 1976, accommodates 465 girls, from junior infants to sixth class, who come from Glasnevin and the surrounding areas. This figure is a significant reduction on the enrolment figure of 569 at the time of the last school evaluation report in April 1995. The school is located on the Old Finglas Road and overlooks Glasnevin Cemetery and the Botanic Gardens in the northern suburbs of Dublin city.
The school’s mission statement prioritises the creation a school climate of love, trust, respect and tolerance. It recognises the need for the cooperation and involvement of the whole school community in order to establish the school as a centre of excellence where all children are treated fairly and equally. The school provides a caring and supportive educational environment for families of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds where differences in values, beliefs and traditions are acknowledged and respected. The spirit of the school is encapsulated in the dedication, commitment and hard work of the pupils and staff.
Enrolment trends are constant. The traditional catchment area includes the parish of Our Lady of Dolours and its environs. The majority of pupils transfer to the nearby St Mary’s secondary school. Recently, new developments of apartments in the immediate area as well as the changing profile of society at large have resulted in the enrolment of a number of foreign national children. Average school attendance levels are very high.
The board of management is properly constituted and provides strong leadership to the school. Board members have a wide range of expertise and display a strong commitment to the development of the school. They have clear, specific roles which ensures that management tasks are accomplished. Meetings are held on a regular basis. Minutes of the meetings are kept, financial statements are furnished regularly and accounts are audited annually. Effective channels of communication have been established to facilitate liaison between the board and other partners in the school. Two members of the parents’ association serve as members of the board of management and facilitate good communication between the two bodies. The chairperson and other board members are in regular contact with the principal. All partners and stakeholders of the school community are very supportive of the work of the board of management. The board is currently involved in addressing the school’s need for further accommodation and a new general-purpose hall area.
The board plays an active role in the development of a range of policies to respond to the requirements of relevant legislation and to support the smooth running of the school. All policies are made available to parents. Suitable attention is paid to compliance with Department of Education and Science regulations with regard to time in school, class size, retention of pupils and the employment of teachers. The board now needs to address the requirements of legislation with regard to formulating its policy on strategies to promote school attendance. It is also timely to develop a policy and procedures on job-sharing.
The principal provides effective leadership to the school. She has succeeded in creating a climate that is characterised by open communication, collaboration and team work. She has high expectations for all pupils and a strong personal commitment to the school and staff. Respect for tradition as well as individual qualities and strengths has created an atmosphere of pride and mutual support throughout the school. All members of the school community know that their work is valued and that they have an important part to play in the school’s development. Daily administrative and organisational tasks are completed efficiently and official records are carefully maintained. Newly qualified teachers and other members of staff are supported and the school plan includes a comprehensive information document which contributes significantly to this area.
The principal is supported ably by the deputy principal, by one assistant principal and by six special duties teachers. A broad range of duties has been assigned to post-holders and these are detailed in the school plan. They include responsibility for curricular areas, for aspects of school organisation and for pastoral care. Post-holders carry out their duties competently and diligently and report to their colleagues at staff meetings in relation to aspects of their duties. Currently, the in-school management team does not avail of opportunities to meet or to plan collaboratively. It is recommended that a schedule be formulated to provide for formal meetings of the in-school management team so that their contribution to whole school management, decision-making and school leadership can be developed and cultivated. When these organisational arrangements have been put in place, the in-school management team’s shared enthusiasm, expertise and commitment to the school should allow them to move towards the role of curriculum management and to contribute to instructional leadership in the school. It is also recommended that the duties of the post-holders be reviewed on a regular basis.
The teaching staff consists of an administrative principal, sixteen class teachers, two full-time and two shared special education teachers and a full-time teacher of English as a second language. Their employment and deployment are in accordance with Department regulations. The principal is conscious of the need for a consistent policy in regard to the rotation of teachers and every effort is made to allow teachers the experience of teaching in a variety of classes and contexts over a number of years. Teachers are consulted concerning deployment preferences and they are offered classes within their preferred range, in so far as is possible. All staff members attend summer courses on a voluntary basis and in recent times have attended courses on areas including learning support, Gaeilge, music and legal issues. One full-time and two part-time special needs assistants have been appointed to cater for the needs of a number of children in the school. A full-time school secretary provides valuable support to the principal and teaching staff. The school has a committed caretaker who plays a significant role in the upkeep of the school grounds and garden and ensures that the standard of accommodation is maintained at its current high levels. There are three cleaners and a housekeeper who serve the school very well and help to maintain the high standard of hygiene and cleanliness which is in evidence everywhere. The whole school area is exceptionally well maintained and the pupils, staff, cleaners and caretaker are commended in this regard. A number of external tutors are involved in the educational provision. Parents fund a drama teacher, a specialist PE teacher, Irish dancing and basketball coaching.
There are sixteen classrooms in the original school building as well as a computer room, administrative areas and a low-ceilinged hall. Two prefabricated units have been acquired to accommodate the special needs team. Outdoor facilities include tarmacadam and grass play areas. The children also have some access to the hockey pitch in the grounds of the secondary school.
The school is extremely well equipped with resources for learning. Each subject is supported by a wide range of text books, teacher-reference books and materials. Resources include a good supply of computers and peripherals, a range of audio-visual equipment, well-stocked class libraries, a wide variety of mathematics and science equipment and a range of visual arts supplies, musical instruments, supplementary reading materials and commercially produced illustrative materials across all curricular areas. Resources are well maintained and are updated and renewed regularly. They are appropriate and accessible and, in general, are used effectively. Classrooms are bright and comfortable and are well furnished. Most provide print-rich and number-rich environments. Many interesting and attractive examples of the children’s work are displayed in the classrooms and in the corridors.
The school has a very active parents’ association which fosters cooperation between parents, teachers and school management. Parents also support the school through fundraising and through involvement in school concerts, sporting, religious and environmental events. Parents’ representatives report that communication structures between the school and the parent community are very good. Parents’ views of the school are overwhelmingly positive and they have great praise for the broad education provided for their children and the healthy ethos of the school. They reported that while there has been good continuity in the parents’ association over the years they would welcome more support from the general parent body.
The board of management, principal and staff appreciate the importance of nurturing home-school links. The school communicates frequently with parents on relevant issues and a monthly newsletter containing items of interest to parents and areas of pupil achievement is circulated to all parents.
Common expectations of behaviour are applied consistently across the school. The school has a clear code of behaviour based on mutually understood rules and the pupils’ exemplary behaviour both inside and outside of the classrooms is a credit to both teachers and pupils. The pupils cooperate willingly with their teachers during all class activities. They are eager and willing to learn. Pupils realise the impact of their actions, behaviour and words upon one another. This makes for a caring and considerate atmosphere, where kindness and thoughtfulness are seen as routine features. The whole school community works collectively to create a climate where mutual trust, respect and confidence are evident throughout the school. There are planned opportunities for pupils to show care and consideration for others and to develop the skills of active citizenship. Children visit residents in the local nursing home and in Marian House, a retirement home attached to the local convent. Staff are alert to the emotional, physical and social needs of individual pupils and are sensitive to background information. The code of behaviour has been developed in consultation with the board, staff and parents. The school’s policy on bullying is now in need of review and updating.
The process of whole-school planning is an-ongoing one and involves the board of management, teachers and parents. A comprehensive school plan has evolved which outlines policies, procedures and programmes for a range of organisational and curriculum areas. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The teaching staff is commended for the planning work related to the Primary School Curriculum completed to date. The school plan contains comprehensive policies on English, Gaeilge, Mathematics, Visual Arts, Science, Music, Social, Personal and Health Education and Physical Education. All curricular policies are firmly grounded in the Primary Curriculum, reflect curricular principles and are based on the templates suggested by National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). The planning diary indicates that the English and Visual Arts policies will be reviewed this year and that policies on History and Geography are being developed.
In most classes the school plan is impacting positively on pupils’ learning experiences. However, in some cases, attention needs to be paid to the principles underpinning the curriculum. To ensure that the school plan is impacting effectively on teaching and learning at classroom level in all classes, a review of the plan should be undertaken in a staged manner. Emphasis should now be placed on the whole-school approach to the principles and approaches of the Primary Curriculum, as well as on the content of specific curricular areas. The review should include placing greater emphasis on the child as an active agent in her own learning and the principle of guided activity and discovery as enshrined in the curriculum. Continuity and progression in terms of the development of skills and knowledge in the various curricular areas will be central to this action plan. It is anticipated that teachers with curriculum responsibilities would lead the review of the implementation of the school plan in those areas.
All teachers are committed to long-term and short-term planning. In most classes long-term planning relates closely to the school plan and carefully reflects the structures of the curriculum. Teachers are given opportunities to collaborate in developing short-term work plans at all class levels. Variance in practice throughout the school with regard to individual teacher planning is noted. In a few classes, exceptional practice was observed in relation to short-term planning. In these cases classroom planning is based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum. Clear learning objectives are identified and the methodologies to be used are outlined, taking account of the school plan and the age and ability-levels of pupils. In some classes there is an over-emphasis on the content of textbooks and insufficient account is taken of the varying learning needs and interests of the pupils. It is recommended that the exceptional practice observed should be emulated by all teachers, that short-term plans should be prepared in accordance with the strands and strand units of the curriculum and that expected learning outcomes be clarified. Tasks should also be differentiated and closely matched to pupils’ learning needs.
Currently, teachers submit photocopies of their short-term planning as monthly progress records. In those classes where short-term planning is reflective of the curriculum structure, the cuntais míosúil supports continuity and progression in learning and can be used successfully to provide for systematic and regular monitoring of the implementation of the school plan. However, in other cases, the practice is unsatisfactory. It is recommended that the school’s practice regarding the monthly progress report be reviewed. This review should include arriving at a common understanding of the purpose of the monthly report as well as an examination of its possibilities for improving teaching and learning across the school.
Staff successfully promote a strong ethic of work and achievement throughout the school. Good attitudes to learning are shown in pupils’ attentiveness, in their receptiveness and in their generally keen response to questions. Pupils settle in quickly to their work. They are familiar with routines and organise themselves well in classrooms. They take pride in their achievements. Pupils work conscientiously and co-operatively with staff and are very well behaved, polite and courteous.
In the infant classes opportunities are provided for structured play and free play and a variety of activities is rotated on a weekly basis. The presentation of written work throughout the school is of a high standard, with children taking pride in the appearance of their work. In some classes the teaching provides opportunities for active engagement in a wide variety of learning experiences and encourages the children to collaborate and share ideas. In these classes the teachers ensure that the learning is fully productive and that the children are provided with effective learning experiences. Questions are skilfully used to probe understanding and improve pupils’ listening and speaking skills. The children’s higher-order thinking skills are fostered and developed through judiciously chosen activities. However, in many classes there are insufficient opportunities for pupils to engage in learning in an active and independent way. In these cases, the teaching is teacher-directed and the pupils are passive and have little opportunity to participate and to become active agents in their own learning. More widespread use of the school’s rich supply of concrete materials and resources, alongside further opportunities for group work and pair work, will facilitate the children’s social and personal development and will help them to appreciate the benefits to be gained from co-operative effort. Consideration should also be given to the provision of work for different attainment groups in order that each can be appropriately challenged and make progress. In general, the higher-ability pupils need to be sufficiently challenged in order for them to make as much progress as is possible. Further use of broad and open questions is also recommended to encourage the children to develop an investigative approach to problem solving.
Tá plean scoile leagtha amach don Ghaeilge ag na hoidí i gcomhairle lena chéile ina n-áirítear fís agus aidhmeanna na scoile i leith na teanga agus straitéisí len í a fhorbairt mar theanga bheo chumarsáide. Tá sé mar chuspóir sa phlean seo dearcadh dearfach i leith na Gaeilge a chothú i measc na ndaltaí agus is léir go ndéanann na hoidí an-iarracht atmaisféar fábhrach don teanga a chruthú sna rangsheomraí le raon leathan d’áiseanna teagaisc, lipéid agus postaeir greanta a chur ar fáil mar spreagthach don chomhrá. Tá an plean bunaithe ar bhunphrionsabail agus ar snáitheanna agus snáithaonaid an churaclaim agus tá clár fóinteach ann a aimsíonn mórthéamaí agus feidhmeanna teanga a bhaineann le suim na n-oidí agus comhthéascanna réalaíocha an pháiste, modhanna agus straitéisí teagaisc agus gníomhaíochtaí éisteachta agus labhartha. Cuireann gach oide pleananna oibre fadtréimhseacha agus gearrthréimhseacha ar fáil do mhúineadh na Gaeilge. Cé go n-ullmhaíonn roinnt oidí ag an leibhéal céanna pleananna i gcomhpháirt, baineann an-éagsúlacht i gcoitinne le caighdeán pleanála oidí aonair. Cuireann roinnt oidí pleananna cuimsitheacha ar fáil ina gcláraítear spriocanna foghlama faoi snáitheanna agus snáithaonaid an churaclaim. Ar an iomlán, áfach, braitheann oidí go ró-mhór ar scéim téacsleabhar Treo Nua i bhforbairt a bpleananna, agus dá bharr sin, ní chloíonn scéimeanna aonair agus chur chuige na n-oidí sin go cruinn leis an bplean scoile ná le haidhmeanna agus bunphrionsabail churaclam na bunscoile.
Le linn an mheasúnaithe, léiríodh cleachtas inmholta teagaisc i roinnt ranganna a bhain usáid tairbheach as straitéisí agus as ábhair léirithe chun ionchur nua teanga bunaithe ar théamaí áirithe a theagasc agus chun na cuspóirí teagaisc a leagadh amach sa phleanáil ghearrthréimhseach a chur i gcrích. Thug na hoidí sin faoi foclóir, abairtí, ceisteanna agus eiseamláirí difriúla teanga a fhorbairt ina gcuid gníomhaíochtaí teagaisc agus cuireadh béim chuí ar éisteacht ghníomhach agus ar obair i bpéirí. Freisin, baineadh feidhm thairbheach as postaeir, lipéid, sceitsí, drámaíocht, scéalta, rainn, amhráin agus cluichí suimiúla cumarsáide chun rannpháirtíocht na ndaltaí a chothú agus chun a gcumas tuisceana agus labhartha a chur chun cinn. Níor mhiste na cleachtais seo a leathnú sna ranganna uile, mar i bhformhór na ranganna, ní fhorbraítear an contanam cumarsáideach agus bíonn an béim ar an gcur chuige traidisiúnta, ar cheisteanna agus an slua fhreagairt in ionad cumas aonarach éisteachta agus labhartha na ndaltaí a fhorbairt. Bítear ag brath an-iomad ar théacsleabhair mar bhunús don teagasc agus don fhoghlaim agus bíonn deacracht ag líon suntasach daltaí abairtí a chumadh agus ceisteanna a fhreagairt. B’fhiú teacht ar chomhthuiscint i measc na fóirne chun comhcheangal agus réiteach a dhéanamh idir phleanáil agus chur chuige an oide aonair agus na snáitheanna agus na snáithaonaid atá cláraithe sa phlean scoile chun forchéimniú agus forás i scileanna chumarsáide agus i gnóthachtáil na ndaltaí sa teagasc a chinntiú agus a chur chun cinn ó rang go rang. D’fhéadfaí freisin breis béime fós a chur ar an drámaíocht, ar an díospóireacht agus ar an éisteacht chun saibhreas teanga a fhorbairt a thuilleadh.
Cruthaítear timpeallacht shaibhir phrionta i roinnt seomraí mar thaca don léitheoireacht agus don scríbhneoireacht. Léann formhór na ndaltaí go líofa agus is féidir leo ábhar na léitheoireachta a phlé go réasúnta cumasach. Bunaítear an léitheoireacht ar ábhar téacsleabhar go príomha agus tá an t-ábhar léitheoireachta a chuirtear ar fáil teoranta go maith i bhformhór na ranganna. Moltar athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar chlár teagaisc na léitheoireachta tríd an scoil agus raon níos leithne d’ábhair léitheoireachta agus raon cuí d’fhíorleabhair a bheith i ngach seomra ranga chun na scileanna léitheoireachta a leathnú. B’fhiú freisin feidhm a bhaint as leabhair mhóra tharraingteacha sna ranganna sóisearacha chun réimse teanga na ndaltaí a leathnú agus chun suim sa léitheoireacht a chothú. Déantar cúram cóir de mhúineadh na scríbhneoireachta agus taispeántar an obair go néata sna cóipleabhair. Tá cuid den obair bunaithe ar na leabhair shaothair agus an téacsleabhar agus tá gá anois le breis deiseanna a thabhairt chun saorscríbhneoireacht a dhéanamh a bheadh bunaithe ar spéis phearsanta na ndaltaí. Tá cnuasach rann, dánta agus amhrán Gaeilge foghlamtha ag na daltaí i ngach rang a aithrisítear iad go taitneamhach agus go fonnmhar.
The teachers have collaborated in outlining a school plan for Irish which lists the vision and aims of the school for the teaching of the language and strategies for developing it as a living conversational language. The objective of this plan is to cultivate a positive attitude towards Irish among the pupils and it is obvious that the teachers make a great effort to create a favourable atmosphere for the language in their classrooms by providing a wide range of teaching resources, labels and attractive posters as stimuli for conversation. The school plan is based on the principles, strands and strand units of the curriculum and it contains a practical plan that identifies themes and language functions related to teachers’ interests and realistic contexts of the children, teaching methods and strategies and receptive and expressive activities. Each teacher provides long-term and short-term plans for the teaching of Irish. While some teachers at particular levels prepare collaboratively, there is much variation in the standard of individual teacher preparation. Some teachers provide comprehensive plans in which learning objectives related to the strands and strand units of the curriculum are recorded. In general terms, however, teachers rely too much on the ‘Treo Nua’ textbook scheme for the development of their short-term plans and, because of this, the schemes and approaches of these teachers do not adhere precisely to the school plan and to the aims and basic principles of the primary curriculum.
During the evaluation commendable teaching practice was displayed in some classrooms where beneficial use was made of strategies and resources to teach new language inputs based on particular themes and to fulfill the teaching objectives outlined in short-term preparation. Through these language activities, those teachers endeavoured to develop vocabulary, sentences, questions and various language exemplars and appropriate emphasis was placed on active learning and on working in pairs. In addition, posters, labels, sketches, stories, rhymes, songs and interesting conversational games were used effectively to foster the participation, the understanding and expressive capabilities of pupils. It would be beneficial to extend the use of these practices to all classrooms as the conversational continuum is not developed in most classrooms where the emphasis is on traditional methods involving answering questions and unison responses, instead of developing the individual receptive and expressive capabilities of pupils. Too much reliance is placed on textbooks as a basis for teaching and learning and a substantial number of pupils have difficulty in the formulation of sentences and in responding to questions. It would be worthwhile for staff members to reach a common understanding in agreeing and making connections between elements in the individual teachers’ preparation and approaches with the strands and strand units recorded in the school plan in order to guarantee progression in pupils’ learning from class to class and the development of their conversational and participative skills. More emphasis could be placed on drama, on debating and on listening to develop richness of language.
Print-rich environments are created in some classrooms as a support for reading and writing. The majority of pupils read fluently and they can discuss the reading material with reasonable confidence. Reading, which is principally based on textbook materials, is limited in scope in the majority of classrooms. It is recommended that the programme in reading throughout the school should be reviewed to expand the range of reading material, and that a selection of real books would be available in every classroom to extend reading skills. It would be worthwhile, also, to use attractive big books in the junior classes to extend the range of the pupils’ language and to nurture their interest in reading. Writing skills are carefully taught and work is neatly presented in copybooks. Some of the work is based on workbooks and on textbooks and there is a need to provide pupils with more opportunities to develop creative writing based on their personal interests. The pupils in every classroom have learned a selection of Irish rhymes, poems and songs which they recite with pleasure and enthusiasm.
A comprehensive plan for the teaching of English, based on the principles of language learning in the curriculum, has been drawn up by the staff. The school is very well resourced for the teaching of English and a wide variety of suitable books and materials is readily available. The creation of a print-rich environment is a priority throughout the school’s public areas and in most classrooms.
The central place given to oral language throughout the curriculum is stressed in the school plan and the emphasis placed on oral language development is evident in the children’s ability to express themselves fluently and accurately. The children have good diction and good presentational skills. Stories, poetry, improvisational drama and class discussions provide opportunities for the development of oral language. Pupils are generally given opportunities to receive and to develop confidence in language in a range of curriculum areas throughout the school. In those classes where teachers’ planning is closely referenced to the curriculum objectives for oral language, the teaching is highly effective; the children display a high level of fluency; they engage actively in discussion and on tasks and they respond enthusiastically to higher-order questioning.
The commitment to reading is very evident in the school. Books and reading are seen as valuable and pleasurable and most children read fluently. The provision of additional materials such as big books, newspaper articles, fact books and good-quality story books further facilitates the pupils’ understanding of the conventions of print and develops their interest in reading. Emergent reading skills are developed well in the infant classes and the children are exposed to a rich print environment. Phonological awareness is systematically cultivated through the use of Letterland and pupils quickly gain the ability to decode text and associate letters with sounds. Poetry and rhyme are used effectively. Further work on the collaborative creation of experience charts would enhance provision in this area. In the junior classes, exposing the children to a high-quality print-rich environment should be prioritised. The provision of a differentiated approach to reading and the review of methodologies used to teach reading at these levels should also be considered. In the middle and senior classes, serial reading of class novels provides the children with opportunities to experience a shared response to fiction. Their comprehension skills are cultivated effectively and they are taught how to use questions to gain the maximum amount of information from text. The school provides many additional opportunities for the pupils to enrich their reading experience. The children participate in the MS Readathon; visits to local libraries are organised and opportunities are provided in class for DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time as well as paired and shared reading.
Early writing skills are carefully taught in the infant classes. Letter formation is well taught and written work throughout the school is presented with care and attention to detail. In most classes the children write in a variety of contexts including letter writing, recipes, imaginative and personal writing and writing in response to novels. There is evidence of pupils planning their work, making rough drafts and then producing a final, well-polished and beautifully illustrated product. In some junior classes, however, much of the writing is based on workbook activities. In the middle classes ICT has been used very effectively to allow the children to enhance the standard of presentation of their work. Written activities need to be preceded by more extensive oral preparation in some senior classes. In order for the school to improve the provision for writing overall, consideration should now be given to implementing a more consistent, structured approach; good stimuli need to be provided to inspire pupils to write and teachers must engage in modelling, scaffolding and conferencing.
The school plan for Mathematics outlines the principles and rationale underpinning the school’s vision and approach to the implementation of the curriculum in the teaching of the subject area. It identifies the key methodologies and strategies to be used in specific areas of the curriculum with a view towards ensuring continuity and uniformity of approach and progression in the teaching of mathematical language, concepts and skills in all strands and strand units throughout the school. There is evidence that this programme is being fully implemented and applied in those classes where short-term planning is contextualised in the strands and strand units of the curriculum and methodologies and resources are clearly identified. In the infant classes the children display a suitable understanding of correct mathematical language and they are provided with a good mathematical foundation. In the junior classes and in some senior classes, over-reliance on textbooks mitigates against the implementation of many of the changes in emphases and teaching methodologies advocated in the curriculum. In these classes there is a need for a much greater emphasis on active learning, discovery learning and engagement with concrete materials and the importance of estimation and problem-solving skills needs to be further highlighted.
Some excellent practice was observed in the middle classes and in some senior classes. Here, planning and classroom practice relates closely to curriculum objectives and purposeful mathematical activities are well supported with good resources. The school’s environment is used appropriately, work is based on real-life situations and is pitched at the interest level of pupils. Pair work and games are used to good effect to enhance participation and regular oral questioning develops the consolidation of understanding. An appropriate balance is struck between teacher-talk and pupils’ engagement with and discussion of concepts. It is recommended that these strategies and approaches should be practised in all classrooms.
Throughout the school the pupils generally display a commendable computational accuracy both orally and in their written work. Written work is corrected methodically and pupils are encouraged to present this work in a neat and ordered manner. Standardised norm-referenced attainment tests, textbook checklists and teacher-designed tests are used to assess children’s progress. The results of these tests need to be carefully monitored and tracked to establish whole-class patterns and trends and programmes of work planned accordingly.
Classroom planning in History is based on the appropriate strands and strand units of the curriculum. In the infant classes History is explored through the use of a variety of artefacts and through effective discussions and questioning. In some classrooms collections of artefacts are displayed. The use of photographic and documentary evidence is commendable. Appropriate simple timelines are used to help the children to place episodes studied in relative context. Oral evidence gives the children access to the experiences of older people in the community. Parents and grandparents have been invited into the school to share their knowledge with the children. A significant amount of local history has been gathered and, when supplemented with documentary and other primary evidence, will provide a valuable resource for the school. The school is now in a very good position to embark upon the process of whole-school planning in this area. When the classroom planning template is revised, greater emphasis needs to be placed on skill development.
Geography is supported by a wide range of texts and resources and there is a rich collection of maps and globes throughout the school. Visits within the local community are used to stimulate the children’s interest in the environment and to help the pupils to develop a simple understanding of the main topographical features of their locality. The school has been engaged in a number of Comenius projects and has developed partnerships with several schools in Europe. In the infant classes maps are used to enable the children to appreciate their uses and possibilities based on their interpretations of stories. In the junior classes, consideration must be given to the use of suitable maps in order to develop the children’s mapping abilities in a developmental and age-appropriate way. While some excellent work was observed on the exploration and recording of weather patterns, in general, planning for Geography is heavily reliant on textbooks and does not take account of the structure of the Geography curriculum. In the middle and senior classes greater emphasis needs to be placed on the development of geographical skills and on the provision of a broad and balanced geography curriculum. The collaborative compilation of a whole school plan for geography should contribute greatly in this area.
A very comprehensive whole school plan has been prepared for the teaching of Science and a useful range of resources has been acquired which provides for investigative work across the four strands. These resources are further supplemented by a variety of videos and computer software. In those instances where teachers do not use the commonly used planning template, planning is excellent and includes the required balance between content and skill development. In most classes teaching approaches provide regular opportunities for the children to engage in working scientifically. Opportunities are provided for the children to observe and interact with their environment on a seasonal basis and the easy access to the National Botanic Gardens is a distinct advantage to the school in their study of the Living Things strand. Some excellent Science lessons were observed in the middle classes where the key messages of the science curriculum informed and directed the teaching and learning. Attention now needs to be paid to the designing and making area of the science curriculum through which the children use their scientific skills and knowledge while applying these to practical tasks. A special programme entitled Education for Life is provided by medical personnel for sixth class girls each year. A high level of awareness is evident in relation to energy conservation and recycling and the school has recently been awarded its second environmental Green Flag from An Taisce.
Although the evaluation process occurred in the first school term, a good range of art making had already been undertaken. Pupils make drawings using a variety of interesting materials to good effect. Work based on drawing from objects at senior level includes the development of keen observation skills. Work in paint and colour is well represented. More emphasis could now be given to working with colour using materials other than paint itself. Work in the print strand explores simple print techniques such as using found objects to make a print. The print techniques learned could now be used by the children to make creative prints based on their personal experiences and imagination. Good examples of creating art pieces in clay is underway, with pots and sculptural pieces being made by the pupils. Looking at and responding to images of work in clay would enhance provision in this strand area. In the senior classes pupils engage in construction work that links both making and looking and responding to outdoor sculpture in the Botanic Gardens with great success. The resultant work is of a high standard. The idea of using the work of artists as a stimulus for the children’s individual work should be extended to all class levels. Some work is represented in fabric and fibre. The use of ICT in the creation of high-quality displays of art work is praiseworthy, as is the use made of digital imaging to record work made in class before it is brought home. Overall, in those classes where the child is recognised as the creator of the art piece, a greater level of pupil learning and achievement occurs. This practice should be replicated across all class levels and the use of a template approach to art-making, evident in some work, discontinued. In many classes very good use is made of looking and responding to the work of a variety of painters as a stimulus for art making by the children. However, the range of images used in looking and responding needs to be expanded on a whole school basis to include images from all the strand areas. The use of pupil art portfolios throughout the school as a method for supporting the assessing of individual pupil’s progress in the subject area is highly commended.
A school plan for Music has been formulated. The performance strand of the curriculum is well developed throughout the school with pupils singing tunefully in both languages. Pupils are actively engaged in the performance of the songs as they are guided through singing a graded series of songs. At infant level pupils perform from a wide canon of musical rhymes and songs. Children’s sense of rhythm is being developed to a level appropriate to their ability. They enjoy interacting with percussion instruments and it is recommended that all children have more frequent opportunities to engage with the instruments on an individual basis.
Some very good practice was observed at the senior level, characterised by excellent use of teacher-made resources to enhance the dynamics of performance. Children experiment with sound and express their own creativity through composing pieces of music for particular purposes. Work in the performance strand has been extended in several classes to include the teaching of recorder and tin-whistle. More emphasis needs to be placed now on implementing the school plan for listening and responding and on organising composing activities across all classes. Progression from class to class should become a core element of this planning for implementation to reflect the spiral nature of the curriculum.
The teaching of Drama in the curriculum is catered for through the work of the class teacher and of an external drama teacher. Class work at infant and junior levels explores the use of gesture and body movements to extend pupil meaning and understanding with overall successful learning outcomes for the children. At senior level, pupils explore the use of drama to create short dramatic sequences based on a given idea. Pupils from the senior classes perform in a school production every second year. Most of the work observed is characterised by good use of active pupil participation, a methodology which supports quality learning in the subject area. As a result, pupils are engaged in the work in hand and achievement levels are good. The work of the class teacher is complemented by that of the external teacher of drama which focuses on the development of overall drama skills and stage work. This work should act as a good base to implement and develop the Drama curriculum in the school.
A comprehensive school plan for PE has been developed. The commitment of the school to providing pupils with a broad and balanced PE programme is clearly evident and is to be commended. The staff share their acquired interest and expertise in this area and follow an appropriate routine of warm-up, drill and skill practice, games, free play and cool-down. Teaching observed was focused and involved the pupils in active participation throughout the session. Appropriate use is made of small, medium, and large-scale apparatus. The board of management has set as its target the upgrading of the indoor facilities for PE in the school. Nevertheless, good use is made of the present indoor general-purpose room and out-door facilities to promote overall fitness levels and to develop the children’s skills across the strands of the curriculum. The extensive range of PE equipment is well maintained and used effectively. As an extension to the current teacher-led programme, the board employs external basketball coaches from the local Tolka Rovers Club to teach basketball skills. Children from third class upwards participate in these sessions. All pupils have the services of a gymnastics teacher and a teacher of Irish dancing each week. The school has also established links with the local GAA club, Na Fianna, and with Croke Park to develop the children’s football skills. The children participate in Cumann na mBunscoil inter-school competitions and a sports day is held each year. In order to build on the good practice observed it is recommended that class teachers remain present during the coaching sessions and that all external tutors’ programmes of work take account of the continuity and progression inherent in the curriculum.
Provision for the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) of the pupils is one of the key strengths of the school. It is evident that the children respond positively to the interest which teachers show in their personal development, their educational progress and good behaviour. Very positive relationships exist between teachers, pupils and all in the school community. A strong sense of loyalty and mutual respect is evident. The general atmosphere of the school reflects a commitment to the development and extension of the pupils’ self-esteem and awareness. The principle of respect for the individual, which underpins all work in the area, is exemplified in the quality of the communication and interaction between all members of the whole school community. It is also evident in the range of inspirational posters and charts that adorn the school’s corridors. Children are given opportunities and are encouraged to participate in a range of extracurricular activities. The Rainbows programme, which is designed to support young children who have been bereaved, has operated in the school in recent years
A comprehensive and high-quality whole school plan for SPHE has been formulated in accordance with the curriculum and school policy in this area is devised in consultation with the parent body. This SPHE programme aims to foster self-worth and self-confidence, to build effective communication in the school and places particular emphasis on developing a sense of personal responsibility for one’s own behaviour and actions. In addition to the implementation of the SPHE curriculum, work in the classroom incorporates the Walk Tall, Stay Safe, Children First, RSE and Bí Folláin programmes. At classroom level, health and safety and personal development topics are explored. For the most part, lessons observed contribute to the enriched quality of interpersonal relationships evident in the school. Pupils’ overall achievement and engagement can nevertheless be enhanced by greater use of an active, child-centred, participative learning methodology as recommended in the curriculum.
A range of assessment tools is in use throughout the school. These include teacher observation, teacher-devised tests, monitoring of pupils’ work, and standardised and diagnostic tests in literacy and numeracy. A small number of teachers make reference to assessment modes in their long-term planning and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in their short-term preparation. In some classes teachers maintain excellent, detailed records of observations and of individual children’s progress.
Early screening and profiling of junior pupils’ individual strengths and weaknesses is undertaken through the administration of the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST). The Micra-T is administered to pupils to determine levels of attainment in English, while the Sigma-T is used to assess levels of attainment in Mathematics. The school has recently been involved in piloting the new Drumcondra tests. The Non Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is also administered. Results of these tests are kept on file and are used to support the identification of pupils with learning difficulties.
As part of the restructuring in this area, all teachers now need to take account in their planning as well as in the teaching and learning of pupils of differing abilities, challenging the more able and meeting the needs of the less able. Greater use could be made of assessment information to evaluate the effectiveness of learning and teaching and to inform future provision in the mainstream classroom. The school plan for assessment and reporting should also be reviewed.
Parents are informed of their children’s achievement during annual parent-teacher meetings and parents are welcome to make an appointment to discuss their daughters’ progress with classroom teachers at any time. A written progress report for each child is sent home at the end of the academic year.
All teachers assume collective responsibility for the support of pupils with special needs and for their successful inclusion in the mainstream setting. A whole school plan for learning support has been devised and is being implemented. The instructional term is approximately twenty weeks after which the pupil’s progress is reviewed. The support teaching team consists of two full-time and one shared special education teachers, one shared resource teacher for pupils with high-incidence learning disabilities and one part-time resource teacher for children with low incidence learning disabilities. The children are provided with attractive and stimulating learning environments and good use is made of quality resources to enhance learning.
Support is provided to pupils experiencing difficulties in English and Mathematics. Pupils are selected on the basis of their performance at and around the 12th percentile in standardised norm-referenced tests in English and Mathematics and Department of Education and Science Learning Support Guidelines are being implemented. Further diagnostic testing determines the pupils’ specific learning difficulties. Individualised planning in respect of pupils attending support teaching is then undertaken. Pupils currently receiving support teaching in literacy and numeracy are making satisfactory progress. Evidence of on-going assessment and records of pupil progress are maintained. Effective procedures exist within the school to enable the learning support team to communicate with class teachers on a regular basis and to plan together. Three special needs assistants work to support children with special needs in the classrooms. They provide positive support by meeting the care needs of these pupils and by enabling them to participate in school life as fully as possible.
The system of support currently operates on a withdrawal basis whereby pupils are taken, either individually or in small groups from classes for focused tuition. The school has previously explored the possibility of in-class support. It is recommended that the school should further explore alternative methods of delivering this support, including having support teachers engage in team teaching, working in support of targeted pupils in the classrooms. It is also recommended that the good practice observed with regard to planning, teaching and recording for pupils with special educational needs be extended across the whole special needs team, ensuring that all Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) include specific learning targets which can be attained in a time-defined period and that detailed short-term planning and recording of progress is carried out for all pupils. The school plan should include guidelines for planning in relation to supporting pupils with special needs.
The school has the services of a full-time English language teacher for foreign national pupils whose first language is not English. This is the first year of the programme. The provision is effective and the programme followed is structured, well-planned and resourced and is sufficiently challenging. Clear targets in language and learning are identified and met. The children are exposed to effective models of spoken language and a welcoming environment is created in which they feel confident to participate and contribute. Lessons draw on their own knowledge and understanding and are based on the Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) materials. The development of a policy on intercultural education in the context of a growing cultural and ethnic diversity among the school’s population is recommended.
The school’s enrolment policy articulates clearly the right of access for all pupils. Teachers are sensitive to instances of disadvantage among pupils and are careful to ensure that all pupils have access to the full range of school activities.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A bright, stimulating and attractive learning environment has been created for the children and attention to detail is obvious throughout the school, particularly in the high standards of cleanliness and maintenance.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The whole school needs to adopt the range of participative methodologies advocated in the curriculum, placing the child as active agent in her own learning and acknowledging the fact that children have different learning styles in both planning and teaching.
· An analysis of standardised tests results should be undertaken by teachers to identify strengths and common areas of weakness in pupils’ learning in English and Mathematics. This analysis should then be used to plan and direct differentiated teaching programmes in all classrooms.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of St Bridget’s GNS welcome the very positive comments outlined by the Departments inspectorate following the Whole School Evaluation process. The identification of excellent teaching practice and a caring environment of mutual respect within the school concurs with the views of the Board of Management.
The Board notes the comments and recommendations from the inspectorate on practices within the school and will endeavour to address same in the future.
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 established a separate finance committee to progress the schools desires in building a school hall, which along with added accommodation sought from the Department will go a considerable distance in providing the added facilities, space and educational environment that will ensure that St Bridget’s GNS will continue as an exceptional school.
The Board is committed to the introduction and review of written policies and strategies on:
The Board of Management will review the contents of the Evaluation report over the remainder of the year and consider all other points within the report.